Captured terrorist air strips: new hope for Civil Aviation in Sri Lanka?

Sri Lanka Air Force is to establish new bases at two former LTTE air strips at Iranamadu and at Mulliyawali near Mullaitivu.  The Lankapuvath news item (26th of May 2009) about this latest development has only two details:

  1. The Iranamadu airstrip (made famous by the first LTTE air raid on Colombo in 2007) will be a “small air base with a station”.
  2. The larger 1.5 km Mulliyawali airstrip (details on the Lone Ranger blog) will be “developed for the use of Sri Lanka Air Force”.

Despite their military nature, these developments hint at an opportunity for Sri Lanka’s tiny civil aviation industry to blossom.

Sri Lanka’s aviation infrastructure has always been a “civilianisation” of military developments. Most of the country’s current airfields were created as military airbases during World War 2. Even during the war, the military and civilian aviation literally shared the same runways – particularly at Katunayaka and Ratmalana. A “peace time” Sri Lanka Air Force could see an expansion of that pattern to include new and existing airstrips.

During the last 30 years of war, any form of non military aviation was subject to tight security restrictions. Yet programs such as the “Ruhunu Open Skies” manage to putter on despite the set backs – indicating a determination of the domestic aviation industry to survive in the face of adversity. It also point to a history coordination between military and civilian aviation that could become easier if not profitable in peace time. Capt. G. A. Fernando’s article about the hopes for peace time general aviation in Sri Lanka covers the possibilities in broad strokes. How such things will be realised is of course a matter of time and evolution.

Strange Trishaw

This is possibly the strangest trishaw I have spotted so far. Odd how just one element of its design can change the look. Perhaps its just me. The picture is below for you to decide. Verdict goes in the comment box,

Odd Trishaw rear window

Rare powerful Sri Lankan sculpture

Image below shows (with close up details) of a rare powerful piece of non religious public sculpture in Sri Lanka. Rare in that it is NOT embarrassing to look at. It actually communicates a human emotion that touches a suspicious nut like me who is sceptical about everything — including cynicism.

Non religious monumental art in Sri Lanka is generally disappointing and almost always embarrassing. Usually it is a bad pompous imitation of something that just outside the reach of recollection. A typical example are those out of proportion statues of soldiers on plinths. They look like bad enlargements of plastic toy soldiers that melted in the sun. The fiendish green applied to make the cement look like aged bronze amplifies the plastic look.  Another monumental style is bass beliefs aping the Picasso-esque style of the late George Kyet. The result is tired unconvincing, institutional and dehumanised visual clutter that people block out – like online banner ads. The kind of crap that was lathered on the decorations of government sponsored events during my school days.

This sculpture by contrast tells a story. From the reliefs on the base it looks like train disaster — most likely a collision of a bus and a train (not infrequent in Sri Lanka). It stands at the rail crossing where the A6 crosses the North bound rail track at a confusing angle. I cann’t remember the exact spot but I think it is the place of the 2005 rail crossing disaster at Polgahawela. If anyone else knows the actual details please do add them in a comment.

The most poignant element of the sculpture is the lonely figure. It sits in moaning above the crowded details of the event. The drooping stalk like thing amplifies the figure’s emotions. The human like details in the stalk that seem to commune with the seated figure. I think it is the most visual powerful expression of loss I have ever seen on a public sculpture in Sri Lanka. Then again, you may not agree which is fine with me. But enough with words. I’l ket the picture do the talking.

Rail disaster monument, Sri Lanka

People watching Colombo Sri Lanka

People watching in Colombo is more interesting in December. Hordes of expatriate Sri Lankans here – resulting in gobs of family “get togethers” around the season’s pre-sex parties. I am on leave after many months at the yoke and I have been assigned to the family transport pool. My official responsibility is getting expiate family members around town alive through the terrors of Colombo traffic. The role has given me a perfect seat to sniff the aromas of Sri Lankan social life in the early 21st century.

Of course pecking out this kind of post is utterly dangerous. There are plenty of slippery slopes into stereotyping especially when it comes to describing visiting expats. Cultural variation is a very subtle thing. We tend to notice it in petty variation from our “local” standards – such as wearing Bermuda shorts and Nikes outside the house. American, Australian and UK accents are dead give always from that carefully cultivated Colombo accent of not sounding “go-day” while not sounding foreign. Proper pronunciation of Sinhala half tones is the key indicator.

The best place for all these observations is the Odel near the eye hospital – that island of first world department store shopping. Besides Odel, I’ll be doing a House of Fashions (should I say Gas Chamber of Body Odours?) run. I don’t want to think ahead about the parking ordeal that awaits me so that’s’ another post.

The annual pilgrimage to Odel is a fixture of my chauffeuring duties. This time I made a successful attempt to stay away from the expensive yet tempting book section. The interesting characters local “hip dudes” with their bangles and fancy hair hanging out with the hip hop dressed friends from abroad. Addressing each other as “Machan” in affected upper class British accents.

Inevitably, we meet some visiting “aunty” from abroad with an “uncle” (almost always in a polo shirt) tagging along. The only thing I am not fully comfortable with about these meeting is the cheek to cheek hug/kiss ritual. It is sort of French/Middle eastern but it feels quite awkward. Thankfully these chit chat (which mostly involve the women) don’t drag on. Everybody has somewhere else to go and chances are the conversation will reveal that we are all destined to meet at the same pre-sex party. Not an easy thing to manage as you might think.

Social coordinating during this time frame is similar to a mission to Mars. You got to plot trajectories of multiple bodies moving through vaguely defined and radically changing schedules. One person’s schedule change can wreck the calendars of other. Further complicating things is the insane politics of people to meet and people to avoid. Ironically, the whole thing requires you to have a highly organised yet utterly flexible schedule. The processing complexity is enough to melt a supercomputer.

One of the many things I have realised this “season” is that there are too many good people in my family in exile. When they do get here, the maelstrom of the “social scene” never really lets you spend quality time with all of them. I pushed my mingling skills to the max at the last dinner but somehow it felt flat.

Before I finish I’ll through out an odd sociological situation I have noticed. Visiting couples split up for the duration of their visit – with each person staying with parents. It creates this bizarre if not fun “dating” situation. Along with the politics of how many lunches and dinners you have had with each other’s parents. I knew about this before but the reality of it has hit only recently after observing it from close range.

Thus ends a skimmed version of my amateur anthropology. I am sure I am not the only Sri Lankan blogger noticing these things. Please do share interesting social habits/trends you have noticed this “new year season”.

The comment box humbly awaits your input.

Colombo sunset

Cut open a ripe mango and there it is – the glorious orange of a classic Colombo sunset. I’ve been unable to properly reproduce in any media – digital or otherwise. Of course if you’ve got access to ripe mangoes you are very lucky. Or you live here and know the colour.

For me it has less to do with the colour of the sky when the big orange takes its evening dip in the sea (best viewed from a place like Galle face “green”). It is the colour of the light hitting wall, buckets and cheesy plastic chairs that takes my breath away. The every day magic that we take for granted. Its only in the last few years that I’ve made the effort to notice these things. A few times I’ve managed to break the spell and fumble for the camera – never with really satisfying results. I’m quite sure Dominic has a decent stash somewhere. A lazy search revealed this shot of the Barefoot cafe which catches the mood somewhat. Most humans though seem to prefer something operatic. Very understandable.

A sunset anyway is a flash of the cosmic Kaleidoscope – generated by geography, atmosphere, season, and mirrored by the perceptions of the beholder. Never to be repeated again. All the places in the world I have lived have had a character to their sunsets. Futile to describe and impossible to fully capture. Its best to absorb the moment and be very happy to have experienced it.

Of all the sunset I have seen, the ones in Colombo are the best. You can enjoy that light without requiring a view. Even when sitting in a chariot chugging along through the evening clog of infuriated deranged drivers. You can still be filled with happiness in the way that mango light hits the sides of grimy buses, grubby buildings or a shrapnel pocked wall. Always changing. Gone by the time you reach for the camera.

The joy of this mango colour is dangerous to describe – particularly with words. People will think you are mad or worse eccentric. It is more productive to share the joy with stunning photographs that reduces the rationalists to infantile oohs and aahs. Failing that the sensible thing and blog about it. Which I don’t mind since I feel comfortable admitting to all the silly charges of romanticism, naiveté, and other yada yadas.

I love the yumminess of mangoes anyway.

If you got a good picture of the Colombo sunset light illuminating something interesting send me the link. The comment box is below:)

Sunrise in Colombo has its own magic, but that’s another post:)

Graphic design of war

These are images of what might be termed as “pro-military” / “pro-war” / “pro-government” posters and bill boards seen in around Colombo. Click on the images for commentary about each of the images. I’ve taken a crack at translating the slogans to English though its turned out to be harder than I thought to find the correct English phrases..

I’m not sure how useful the notes feature for translating/describing the images. Please let me know if you found in useful or annoying. You know where the comment box is:)

“Anti LTTE” poster

Pro-military Poster

The flickr page of the image has translations of the wording on the poster.

The face in the cross hairs it that of the Velupillai Prabhakaran, head of the LTTE. Symbolically, he represents not just the LTTE, but also the “enemy” itself. Sort of the way Hitler was the face of Nazi Germany. Thus the poster reflects the perception that destroying the LTTE and ending the war is about hitting a single target. Part of this perception must be influenced by the fact that the JVP uprising was snuffed out with the death of it’s leader in 1989.

“Pro-Military” poster

Pro-military poster

More comments and details on this image on its page

Pro Government poster ridiculing the main opposition party

Anti UNP poster

More details on this image on its page

Military recruitment poster

Military recruitment posters

This design is in the style originating from WW1. More details and commentary on this image on its page

Pro Military Billboard

Pro Military Billboard

More details and commentary on this image on its page.

Service Excellence Sri Lanka

Customer service horror stories are a bonding conversation topic. The trauma cuts across most barriers of identity and other human eccentricities. Similar to the shared ordeals of Colombo traffic. Mentioning regular encounters with consistent excellence sounds like gloating. The perception is that good service is a luxury – acquired at high costs which the recipient can then boast about.

Yet I’ve found good service is the most unglamorous places. Specifically at the small sports ground I go for my evening run. The club that owns it rents the grounds to assorted sports coaching camps. When I get there at the end of the day, the cramped parking area is ant heap of sweaty kids and their stressed out parents trying to leave. Without the lone security guard the place would be log jam of angry drivers.

He’s an old guy. Hair almost white. Hardly any teeth yet always in a crisply ironed uniform and well kept Stalin moustache that radiates quiet authority. With a few deft hand gestures he averts disasters while getting me a parking spot. I’m out of the chariot and puffing through the perfume of cut grass (the non smoking kind) in seconds.

There are no shouted commands or angry faces. Even the fussiest of the parents seem relieved (after he has tamed them) that there’s someone who knows what he’s doing. Having watched him at work I’d say he has a better sensitivity to spacial awareness than most. Not to mention the rare gift to deal cooly with fussy characters.

The 2 weeks he was on leave was chaos. The club had to hire extra staff to clear the car park – which took twice the usual time. Fender benders are avoided by a hairsbreadth. I had to alter my schedule just to save time. I’ll let you imagine the collective relief when he came back.

I make it a point to let him know that his work is very appreciated. Not with flattery – just recognising the facts (and a gift on holidays). He takes it with a shy its-another-day-at-the-office type shrug. Which he is how he responded when I told him about the chaos during his absence – though this time I think I did spot a smile before it got camouflaged by a convenient cough.