How Sri Lanka’s constitutional crisis mindset is in all of us


Sri Lanka’s constitutional crisis (circa late 2018) reminds me of family alms givings. Both highlight unmentionable characteristics of Sri Lankan society and culture. This post is my attempt to make sense of it all in under three minutes.

Home sermons and alms givings for monks are part of growing up Sinhala and Buddhist in Sri Lanka. They are extreme emotional weather events in the climate of extended family relationships. Building up to orgasms of devastating emotion. Like the Jhala in Indian ragas. Or ‘O Fortuna’ from Orff’s Carmina Burana for you decadent westernised types.

Yet the impending disaster is avoided at the last minute. A result attributed to good past karma, miracles and THE GODS. The actual rescue happened due to quick thinking by unsung heroes. The resulting ordeals becoming bonding experiences for each generational group in the family.

The build up starts during event preparation. Everyone has a different understanding of responsibilities, events, times, locations. It is the perfect storm of information anarchy. The ultimate project management nightmare.

Each person assumes command. Issues directives to who he or she sees as their lessers. Contradictory incomprehensible orders spew from the same person in the space of minutes. None have any context. People scream the orders becoming enraged that no one can grasp their genius. In a flash the psychological knife fighting has spread all over the hot cramped kitchen. All I can do is wave off flies from the Gilanpasa offering.

Blame games derail crisis responses as the chaos spikes. As per Sri Lankan tradition, disasters are ALWAYS somebody else’s fault. Other people are always stupid. If only people didn’t ask questions and just obeyed… People shout at each other in the kitchen. Then become pious smiling Buddhists as they preen over the monks. Trying to cajole another spoon of diabetes inducing pudding into a begging bowl.

For the monks it is an occupational hazard. At one post alms giving sermon, a monk remarked that alms givings have a duality. In the front room: piety and peace. Back in the kitchen: a battle field. I wondered if he had heard the shouting a few minutes earlier. The ironic weariness in his voice told me that he had heard it all – far too many times. The aunties who had done the shouting seemed oblivious. They nodded with the usual pious bland far away faces.

All family alms givings have variation of this pattern and its intensities. Trying to prevent the chaos is futile. You cannot use a parasol against a tsunami. Is there something different I can do? If there is, it escapes me.

Yet such things are not the purview of us useless males. We exist to adjust the mike, drive the monks, carry the Karanduwa and move furniture. The wiser uncles are content to chat in the shade and out of sight. Avoiding getting summoned for a random task of an enraged aunty. Dreaming of the after Bana lunch curries. Even the bliss of a nap after a mid afternoon arrack.

I can’t help but feel that there is a cultural disfunction buried in all this. But anthropologists are in short supply. So I turn to you, who has persevered to read this far, for wisdom. Is this a common phenomenon? Doesn’t it echo of the constitutional crisis scream fest? Or is family nuttiness far cry from politicians fighting for their turn at looting the country?

The comment box awaits your insights.

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