19 April, 2019

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Gentlemen Are Recognized

By Ravi Perera

Ravi Perera

“Gentlemen are recognized…” goes the introduction to a much repeated radio advertisement promoting a  brand of men’s  clothing , they ; “ … choose  shirts with firm collars , neat cuts, send flowers to their mothers, walk old ladies across the road, are interesting and  are not ‘ smelly’… ”. Apparently, apart from admiration of the opposite sex there are many bonuses awaiting the (Sri Lankan variety of )gentleman, including automatic up-grades at check-in counters, presumably at the Bandaranaike International Air Port and now at the newly opened  Mattala.

Commercials, although seldom reflective of everyday realities, can nevertheless tell you a lot about the target group; their ambitions, yearnings and even fears. We don’t see on TV ads eateries with the inevitable flies, dead cockroaches, open drains, smelly toilets etc which according to our health inspectors are the general standard here. Instead, what will be generally shown is a plush establishment serving food to a yuppie looking crowd. And according to the commercials most people in this country live in large well turned out houses and spend their time pronouncing wise sounding statements about various commercial products.

It is only natural to want something different, particularly if it appears a better choice than the accustomed fare. Looking at popular Indian commercials today for instance you can be forgiven for thinking that the sub-continent is packed with casual looking youngsters, running to the beach for water sports and a sun tan. The picture is bright clean and open, with hardly any people and no mangy dogs or emaciated cows to distract us from the slithering Indian beauties munching their vegetarian hamburgers. It almost seems like the USA has added a large exotic State to its union.

But that picture does not fit in with our perceptions of that country. The endless crowds, the depressing poverty, the noise and the dirt have left images of a perennial India which is at variance with the world of the advertisers. The typical Indian, if it is possible to stereotype when describing a billion people, is of a certain resigned complacency, heavy ritualism and that confused aggression of a people living on the edge. Slightest deviation or compromise with the exactness of the ritual, even when performing the simplest domestic act, can push one in to a mental abyss. But what has gone on for centuries in that land is not the stuff that can sell the wares of the advertiser. So they create a fairy tale made up of foreign things and settings, so alien in the context that they become slapstick.

For the Sri Lankan men’s wear commercial to be effective, recognition as a gentleman ought to have social value in society. The idea of a gentleman, a superior kind of male defined by a man’s qualities rather than his birth, came with the European colonizers. Like many other ideas that had to cross a huge cultural barrier, the concept of a gentleman too had to undergo a localizing process before comprehension. It needed to be understood through indigenous eyes to make sense in the new setting. Attributes such as Western attire, an aversion to any outdoor activity or physical exertion and the use of the English language have come to the fore in determining a gentleman. A culture, where to be served first or not having to stand  in line is considered a symbol of a higher status, redefined the concept of a gentleman in its own image.

In the age of imperialism building far flung empires called for, tough, brave and capable men. The scope of the empires built by small countries like Portugal, Holland and England speak amply for their mettle. (It is noteworthy that even in the much changed world of the 21 Century these countries are very much in the First World category)  But in that culture men were also expected to be chivalrous and gentle. These were prerequisites for promotion in the social ladder in the mother country with many advantageous attached to being considered a gentleman. This did not mean that a gentleman was not martial or lacking in manly qualities. But only that these qualities are tempered by a certain code of manners and conduct. Among other things,  a gentleman will be    up-front , play by the rules, pay  his bills promptly, honour his word, hold  doors for others and not jump a queue. It is difficult to envisage a gentleman who is not of a serious turn of mind and of a certain level of learning.

Of course one person’s pirate is another’s admiral. A chap who will be peremptorily shown the door at a gentlemen’s club in England may become the toast of the town in Colombo. But realistically, no society can operate happily having as their   governing rules the opposite of what is expected of gentlemen.  It is inconceivable for any group to function on the principles of   unreliability, dishonesty, arbitrariness or social insensitivity.

At the highest levels of society, among our legislators, top public servants, professionals, businessmen and artists who can we confidently say would qualify to be thought of as a gentleman? Only yesterday, while driving I was suddenly confronted by a convoy of fast moving and powerful vehicles. Because of the tinted glasses   on them it was impossible to say who the VIP the convoy was transporting. The motor cyclists acting as out-riders performed crazy maneuvers to cut a path for the convoy while the other escorting vehicles blinked their lights and honked endlessly to shoo the road users away from them. In case their message was unclear, they also waived their hands vigorously as if performing an endless exercise of calisthenics, but with a definite air of intimidation. For a person seeing this phenomenon for the first time the whirlwind of the convoy’s rapid movement would have looked like the rapid movement of a supernatural force, a powerful being on a mysterious journey.

But all the rude hurry and disruption was for one man to go somewhere. His trip was more important than whatever else the others were doing on the road at that time. That man sat   cozily in one of the limousines, indifferent to the inconvenience his travel was causing thousands of commuters on his way. Perhaps those thousands are themselves unable to assess the true nature and meaning   of that one man’s conduct. For both the perpetrator and the victims there was nothing wrong with the picture on that busy Colombo Street, sweltering in the hot sun. In the mindset of the madding crowd it may even be a gentleman on the move.

No wonder they all want to be recognized as such……

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Latest comments

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    These are times when our representatives deal in drugs, rape under aged children. Our leaders abduct and kill people etc. Religous monks parade on the streets, abuse minorities and throw stones at minority owned property.

    Thousands of displaced people are left destitute whilst the sons and daughters import Lamborghinis and Roll Royce. So the impunity they show when driving on the road is only a minor inconvenience.

    Gentlemen there are none today, since the rest choose to remain silent and mind their own business.

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      There was a time Colombo 07 was famous because the elite lived around. Today almost all the elite have left and the place is swamped with Mudalali’s of various types from Politics to bookies to drugs to skin trade and they believe they are the new elite.

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    Dood, what a long winded tale to say that the Sri Lanka president, who is a corrupt thug Mahinda Rajapassa, and his family and their crony politicians who drive in convoys are NOT gentlemen but rather uneducated morons who are desperate for the trappings of power!

    Next time be direct and keep it short dood – and have the courage to name names!
    This article is so reflective of the defensive and cowardly mentality of so-called intelligentsia and civil society in Lanka today. God help us with regime change!

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      Dinuk, Why did you interpret the article that way? Rajapaksas are not the only people who behave poorly. I think the writer intended to show that we must have a different yardstick to recognize a ‘gentleman’.

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    The facile use of the term ‘regime change’ ignores one important possibility. The new one could be worse! The term ‘resigned complacency’ applied to India, could very well be used to describe us as well!
    Interesting piece.

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      Dood, nothing could be worst that the 4 uneducated Rajapassa brothers and their Balu Sena running amonk – so don’t construct a straw man if you want to support those criminals!

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    Dood,

    What is the difference between “localization” and “Yakooisation ” ?

    It will help us better understand what you are trying to convey.

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    Sri Lanka was habited by Evils Devils and also they say that All devils were choosen away or came to an extint. But that is not true. All rajapssas, JR JAYAWARDANAS, Ranils, wimal, rajithas,Mrvyns bodu balu senas are devils (YAKKU). So that story wsa incorrect. Also Mervyn had reported that if he wants he can by a rolls royce or Lambogini to his son. Actually his son drives a Lambogini. I want to ask thug Mervyn and his son from where did you steal the money? KAPPAM?

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    A thought provoking article.We are just wearing western clothes and think we become gentlemen.There is no cultural demand for such behaviour in the country.People like Dinuk argue in a crude way and would be satisfied if we abuse the Rajapakses in filthy language. But does this solve the problem ? Would Ranil Wickramasinghe (Is he a gentleman or a lady ?)or Sarth Fonseka or even the other commanders who also have similar convoys be any different ? We need to understand that these chaps are just exploiting a situation created by western institutions/concepts such as the constitition, parliament, armed forces etc so that they can call themselves President, leader of Opposition, Army Commander etc and go about in convoys and just exploit the dumb masses.

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    Are there any gentlemen left in the SL political scene?

    Regime change wont make a change in the way any of these goons rule us.

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    I think Sri Lanka needs more articles like this. We should go below the surface and examine the realities of this society. Most of the people who live in big houses and drive big cars are not gentlemen.There are many stories of corruption among the professions and the bussiness community. The parlimentarins are just playing games at our expense.Although some are rich in rupees in actual mentailty they are poor and small minded.Just observe the way these chaps behave in front of the President and other powerful people. Shamelessly servile. Even most of the clergy (of all religions) try to live off their devotees.We dont have gentlmen but only pretnders.The way out ? I wonder whether such a mediocre and unprincipled people will ever find a way out.We will always be a small third world country for ever in crisis and ruled by bogus democrats like Rajapakses, Wickramasinghes and Chandrikas. That total fraud Chandrika is now thinking of a come back! Do we need another statement on how pathetic the Sri Lankans are ?

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