By Emil van der Poorten –
A short while back I chronicled what poor rural folk had to undergo in their pursuit of an honest living. The central thrust of that piece was the fact that, in the absence of anything resembling the rule of law, misery is the lot of the less powerful in this land through absolutely no fault of theirs.
Shortly after those shenanigans we were treated to pyrotechnics of a natural kind when several “fire-bugs” in our neighbourhood decided to test the combustibility of vegetation that is still suffering under unusually severe drought conditions.
The photographs that accompany this piece (if the editor finds them adequate for reproduction) hardly show the extent and ferocity of the fires that consumed our hillsides at several points of the compass that evening.
It all began a little before sunset and got steadily worse. The good news is that there was no loss of life. However, the economic loss, even given the fact that most of the land around here is, to all intents and purposes, fallow thanks to the hang-over from the late Hector Kobbekaduwa’s attempt to extract revenge in the name of “land reform.” However, one pyromaniac’s efforts were rewarded by a neighbour’s rubber trees having the bark “boiled” off them, as one of the rubber-tappers described it to me.
We suffered “collateral damage” thanks to the wind helping the fire jump the road that separates us from the rubber plantation. This led to the dry leaves and other debris in the beginnings of a vanilla planting igniting and scorching several of the young vines which were putting up a valiant struggle against drought conditions up to then. Significant loss but not as devastating as that to some around us. The fact that an entire Champak tree (Gini Sapu) appeared to be scorched beyond recovery is indicative of the temperature generated by a fire which qualified for the “grass-fire” designation.
As someone who has witnessed the ferocious summer fires of boreal forests in particularly dry spring or summer conditions, I was particularly surprised by how this skimpy vegetation in a humid tropical zone could burn so fiercely.
I subsequently learned that a neighbouring garment factory had to call in fire protection and, if those who claimed first-hand knowledge of what transpired are to be believed, the fire trucks manned by armed forces personnel from more than twenty kilometers away (Kandy), were reduced to dousing the buildings with water from their own storage tanks to reduce their inflammability. Preventive action taken, I am sure, with a silent prayer for divine intervention to ensure its success!
These fires, on this or any other day, aren’t the effort of a platoon of demented pyromaniacs working in concert. These were random acts of destruction engaged in, probably, by people under the influence of liquor and/or non-prescription drugs while “having a good time.”
Bad enough? Consider the fact that NOTHING will be done to apprehend the miscreants who, in any event, are not likely to be “squealed on” by their neighbours because that could present significant danger to any informant’s health. Remember, this is, after all, the Miracle of Asia an appellation that carries with it the adhesion to a particular brand of the Rule of Law. A particularly peculiar brand of that commodity, perhaps, but, nevertheless, one whose characteristics have been before our eyes every day of the year, for several years now.
There are still many who will insist on claiming that every one of these events is unique and refuses to join the dots that connect them which lead inexorably to the standards set by the highest in the land who decide in advance that “Apey minissu” will be immune from the consequences of their conduct because of their standing as acolytes or sycophants of our rulers, take your pick. For these, afflicted with terminal myopia, I have news: your turn at victimhood will arrive sooner or later!
Something that is fascinating and which is beginning to take shape and grow on the sidelines of all this is the indignation expressed by many who, up to now, have accepted this “reality” fatalistically, with little protest.
Before this year’s durian mayhem, in anticipation of it given the fact that in two preceding years the successful lessees had been subjected to similar “raids,” the suggestion was made, more than once, that it might be an appropriate time to set a few trap guns.
For the uninitiated, a “trap gun” consists of a metal tube, generally galvanized iron water pipe, about three feet long. One end is sealed and some explosive – gun powder, generally – is first put in with a “cap” attached to it on the outside of the “barrel.” This provides a means of detonating the explosive which then expels the load of lead and metal pieces that is separated from the gunpowder by wadding of some description. The projectiles are held in place by similar material. The “barrel” is appropriately located so that its contents will do significant damage to anyone tripping a taut wire laid along the intended path of the “shot.” It has been a long while since I’ve seen one of these contraptions and I expect that an apology is due in advance for any shortcomings in this description!
In any event, trap guns are illegal and not to be recommended under any circumstances. However, suffice it to say that they are in common use and one of our neighbours has been reduced to serious disability by crossing his own “maru-vela” (“death line”) more than once, inadvertently of course, after having imbibed a significant quantity of an illicit, spirituous substance!
In any event, we succeeded one more time in preventing trap guns being employed. However, these lethal weapons are in common use – set up to kill pigs, porcupines, muntjac and chevrotain – and I expect it will be just a question of time before otherwise-law abiding citizens will be sufficiently fed up and driven to employing them as their only means of self-defence. When that happens and I use the term “when” rather than “if” for obvious reasons, all those self-righteous members of the middle-class in the cities of Sri Lanka can again mount their high horses and go tut-tutting around the block! Those of us not prepared to use trap guns, however, will be left to their own devices, still to be determined given the fact that the Rule of Law has ceased to exist in the Debacle of Asia!