Ding dong bell
Who put her in?
Little Johnny Flynn
Who pulled her out?
Little Tommy Stout
What a naughty boy was that
Try to drown poor Pussycat,
Who ne’er did any harm
But killed all the mice
In the Farmer’s barn!
Nursery Rhymes were a British Colonial trademark that influenced the early lives of Sri Lankans, especially during the Colonial era. Actually, many of them were hardly happy and spoke of some misfortune, like getting thrown down the stairs and someone breaking his crown. We sang these songs with the joie de vivre of youth, with nary a thought about their real meaning. I cannot help but draw a parallel to what is going on in our country in so far as us being the participants, unwillingly or not, just as we were when we were singing these songs on our mothers’ knees. “Ding Dong Bell, Pussy’s in the Well!” I cannot really explain why but the thought crossed my mind that it is indeed Mr. Maithripala Sirisena who has taken Pussy’s place.
Mr. Sirisena was undoubtedly the winner in the Presidential election. However, it was a bit of an ‘All are Indians and no Chiefs’ kind of situation that preceded his election, with Madam Kumaratunga and Mr. Ranil Wickremesinghe shouldering him on and Athureliye Rathana Thero, Sobitha Thero, Champika Ranawaka, General Sarath Fonseka, Mr. Arjuna Ranatunga et al, all would-be heroes of the New Empire, shadow-boxing at his rear. Mr. Sirisena was, naturally, very happy to stand on the podium and acknowledge to the people that he was indeed there to make everything that was wrong, right in a hundred days. The people had given him the mandate to do so. In fact, in a speech made later, the new President did ask that he be left alone to carry out his duties – which was a diplomatic way of saying that he wanted no interference either by his party members or by those who were his satellites. This is well and good but by agreeing to be the Common Candidate, he had, inadvertently, agreed to being in a spot of trouble, right from the beginning.
“Ding Dong Bell, Pussy’s in the Well; Who put her in? Little Johnny Flynn”. I would wager that that Little Johnny Flynn did not have malice before thought, which would be a requirement in such a crime as murder or grievous bodily harm, when he threw Pussy into the well. However, in the dark world of politics, dominated by greed, ruthlessness, hypocrisy, lies, intrigue and deception, Little Johnny had no qualms at all it, I would equally wager, when he pushed Mr. Sirisena in. The next scenario that unfolds will depend on the following: Mr. Sirisena – a) is a good swimmer or is able to stay float for hours on end, until someone rescues him – b) has a loud voice so that would be rescuers can hear him – c) has good negotiating skills in case the would be rescuers are bargain hunting – d) is not able to swim or float and he drowns.
Mr. Sirisena is still in the well. The water is deep and is churning because of the activity of the underground water bed and he has to use his skills to keep afloat. For the moment he has two floating aids – the UPFA and the SLFP but the air is slowly leaking from the SLFP one. There are no would-be rescuers. While he floats, he has to ward off many threats from the outside and some end up hitting him. India wants more than what he can give. The TNA and the Northern PC are flexing their muscles and fine-tuning their vocal chords. CBK has already got a ‘thanathura’ and is nudging him about some other things. He will soon have to use his brains and legs harder. The Central Bank Governor has done some ‘jugglery’. His party MPs are behaving like frogs in heat and jumping from one pond to another at the least provocation. The former President is drawing huge crowds and the thought is making him swallow more water than is good for him. The PM is doing a side show called “The 19th Amendment” of which he is the Director and Producer and has started a new game called “Getting Two Thirds”.
Okay. Let me say that Mr. Sirisena has been rescued or it will break our hearts. Even Richard III reigned for longer than a 100 days but he was the Sovereign in every sense of the word. Unlike him, Mr. Sirisena now faces downsizing because it is thought that it is the best way forward. It would be, if it were not a Presidential system of government but the People have no say in this nor did they have one when a Prime Minister was elected. The Constitution says that the Prime Minister is the person “most likely to command the confidence of Parliament” which means he should be capable of getting the majority in Parliament. If these rules were followed, Mr. Wickremesinghe would not be occupying his present seat. What happened to the previous Prime Minister? Who got him to vacate his position and send him home? Who had the right but the people? Obviously someone else did for not only did we have a new Prime Minister, we had a new Leader of the Opposition from a party that is part of the Government! Constitutional Law is being re-written. Further, the changes proposed by Articles 33A(2) and (3) means that the President shall ALWAYS act on the advice of the Prime Minister except in the appointment of the Prime Minister. If the Amendment goes through, the Parliament will be like an aerobic class for Mr. Sirisena as he will be bending sideways all the time. Pruning the power of the President cannot at the same time, increase the power of the Legislature. The people did not vote to create a Prime Minister and Cabinet with absolute power but that seems to be on the cards.
The origins of this nursery rhyme date back to the 16th century and the era of Shakespeare who used the phrase “Ding Dong Bell” in several plays. The original lyrics of “Ding Dong Bell” actually ended with the cat being left to drown! These words were modified and the cat was saved by ‘Little Tommy Stout’ to encourage children to understand that it was unacceptable and cruel to harm any animal ‘who ne’er did any harm’.
I leave Mr. Sirisena in a difficult spot. His landscape has a blott but it is nothing that is going to disappear soon nor will he be able to do much about it. I don’t believe that Tommy Stout is anywhere close by to help him. “The Prince” by Machiavelli might be good bedtime reading for him. It describes how powerful “princes” in Italy and elsewhere, those contemporary to him and in the past, had gained power and created stability in their kingdoms. “It is necessary, [however,] to be a great hypocrite and liar: and men are so simple-minded . . . that someone who deceives will always find another who will allow himself to be deceived.” It is also about shaping the politician of today.
Pussy may have drowned in the original version but I prefer the version I was taught. Saving himself is a priority. It is about staying afloat. I prefer Mr. Sirisena to be the cat’s whiskers rather than someone else.
Ding dong bell! Pussy’s in the well!