17 October, 2019

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The Sri Lankan Obsession With Superlatives & Superiority

By Emil van der Poorten

Emil van der Poorten

Emil van der Poorten

It is said that first impressions are the most vivid and I can, certainly, recall the tone and content of my early contact with the language that was spoken on radio or tv or appeared in print for either the purpose of selling some product or in the dissemination of information when I returned to Sri Lanka about a decade ago.

Having found the North American, particularly the USA, claims that the product being spoken of was top-notch in every way and having reached the point when such rhetoric made one want to puke, there was an expectation that laid-back Sri Lanka would be haven from such basic boastfulness.

Did I have a surprise coming!

It seemed like anything and everything we, in Sri Lanka, said or did was “the greatest.” The boxer who gave that particular word credibility and new meaning was that black fighter from Louisville, Kentucky who, during his transition from Cassius Clay to Muhammed Ali, applied that sobriquet to himself and repeated it, seemingly, ad nauseam. At first, it was taken as simply promotional hype and, given the often-bizarre conduct of the man who kept repeating it, was simply taken as an eccentricity and did, at worst, prove the time-worn contention that there is no such thing as bad publicity. However, the difference was that Ali did prove that he could “float like a butterfly and sting like a bee,” backing his boast every foot of the way with his balletic foot movements and lightning fast fists.

I sometimes wonder whether modern Sri Lanka’s predilection for repeating the mantram of “we are the greatest” harks back to its taking of the World Championship of Cricket in 1996. The fact that the competition had, overshadowing it, the spectre of terrorist violence which led to some of the premier competing countries refusing to compete on Sri Lankan soil out of fear for their lives, appears to have deliberately been downplayed and when, referred to at all, has been preceded or followed by the accusation of lily-livered cowardice on the part of the opposition, that accusation being picked up by more than the usual proportion of the international media as a result of it being uttered by no less a person than the country’s Minister of Foreign Affairs. The dapper and debonair Lakshman Kadirgamar whose public persona, as projected to the western media in particular, was, if not the epitome of all that was bright and sophisticated, certainly was more worldly and intelligent than many who preceded him and certainly streets ahead of those who followed him in that ministry!

Was that pride in being “World Champions” in a sport essentially restricted to those countries that labored under the yoke of Imperial Britain for eons justified? If taken in context, perhaps an answer of “yes” could be justified because it brought us out of the backwaters of cricket to which we had been relegated by the chief practitioners of the brand of apartheid that prevailed in the hierarchy of international cricket up to that time when we were permitted to enter the hallowed circle reserved for a select few, mostly “white” nations.

But to use that achievement as a means of vaulting ourselves to being “the greatest” in any endeavour where such a boast might go unchallenged primarily because achieving such a “pinnacle” was not thought to be of any real importance by the world at large, only serves to demean us and devalue our reputation as a (one-time, perhaps) beacon of democracy and good governance in Asia.

This demonstration of behaviour that can only be described as a evidence of an inferiority complex does not do us one bit of good in the matter of standing as an equal in the larger community of nations.

I know “the Royals” of such places as Swaziland have graced our shores at inordinate expense to our meager financial resources. But while rubbing shoulders with such “dignitaries” might shore up the confidence of those who believe we are “the greatest” in all of Asia, it merely serves to demean us in the eyes of any who would be justified in trotting out the old adage that goes, “Tell me who your friends are and I’ll tell you who you are!”

It seems like we’ve become a part of this web of self-delusion, believing that we are part of some kind of “master race.” This stupidity has been reinforced by the might of the state that put down with absolute ruthlessness and consistency any who sought to inject a note of reality into this whole discussion of “greatness.”

Inevitably, this delusion, driven by people who used all of this mumbo-jumbo to protect themselves from so much as a suggestion of their duplicity and dishonesty appears to have achieved the status of an infection that has entered every part of our body politic.

In passing, one must give credit to this tsunami of self-appreciation for developing an industry of some consequence because the public lauding of all and sundry and the never-ending distribution of trophies of one kind or another as “honours” of one kind or another has elevated the manufacture of trophies of various kinds to alevel of some importance!

Despite all of the fooforaw around events held in recognition of what are described as contributions to the well-being of one’s fellow citizens, more often than not, it is simply a means of currying favour with the “awardee” to either use their influence to advance one’s own fortunes or to seek reciprocation of the gift at some future time.

What to me epitomizes the hypocrisy of all this is the behaviour of the hero of that event without equal in Sri Lankan sporting history referred to earlier in this piece. I speak here of a gentleman called Arjuna Ranatunga.

Here is a man who has throughout his career in politics given ample evidence of the fact that he used the gift of opportunism that was such a plus on the cricket field to that of politics. I would even venture to suggest that there hasn’t been evidence of a moral bone in his political skeleton during the time he left the limelight of the flannelled fools to enter that of “public service.”

It is one of the more poorly guarded secrets that had he been given the Sports Portfolio by Mahinda Rajapaksa he would readily have sworn eternal fealty to our would-have-been Monarch. I would, in fact, submit that should such an opportunity present itself, his political colours will change faster than that of the proverbial chameleon. In fact, the move from MR to Sarath Fonseka and now to … ? (I don’t remember to which party he currently belongs!) In the meantime, this man who could do no wrong purely by virtue of having captained the winning team in one single international competition will continue to enjoy the adulation of a population who continues to see him as the one who elevated us to the level of world champions in the most “imperialistic” of sports!

This kind of distortion of morality and standards has carried over into every field of endeavour in our country. It seems like we’re not ready to simply admit to being human beings possessed of the same frailties as humanity at large, capable of making the same mistakes as others of our kind and also possessing a similar proportion of the virtues of homo sapiens.

It is time that we started cleaning out our own stable and admitting where the detritus we are dumping outside originally came from. The report and resolution for which the United Nations Human Rights Council bears responsibility provides us, possibly, the last opportunity to prove that we are capable of looking inside ourselves as a nation and admitting our frailties rather than keep blathering what amounts to the simplistic “master race of Asia” claim. We need to show ourselves as being one possessed of the skills and the determination to look in the mirror and deal with whatever blemishes we see rather than continue the terribly damaging fiction of our perfection.

As unrealistic as it might seem, I believe that if you protect our people from the threateningly-overarching sloganeering built around some concept of “Racial Superiority,” they have the capacity to renew themselves and this nation and come out of that particular fire cleansed and ready to take this nation to the place of decency and good sense that it once occupied. We never were perfect and the sooner we admit to that simple fact and get on with our lives accordingly, the better for us all!

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    [Edited out]

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      Have aproblem with our “Obsession With Superlatives & Superiority”, ha?

      So are you saying that we are “inferior” to the European Jews who stood over us for 500 years, carrying Portuguese, Dutch and British flags?

      Did you know that we have athe history of our country’s history written in a chronicle that began over 3000 years ago, and has been updated daily?

      Have you seen our irrigation tanks and canals, dagobas, Sigirya and Polonnaruwa?

      Name another country that was as civilised 3000 years ago.

      Or shut the two ends of your anatomy you seem to speak from and pay espects to these giant achievements that make us the centre of the globe and superior to pretenders like Britaain and America who live on indigenous blood.

      Or go back to where you came from.

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        Most of the known world was civilised 3000 years ago.

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          Think about learning how to count!

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        Helaya

        “Did you know that we have athe history of our country’s history written in a chronicle that began over 3000 years ago, and has been updated daily?”

        No I don’t, therefore could you give us the name of the history book. Please note I am not versed in Pali.

        “Name another country that was as civilised 3000 years ago.”

        Indus Valley civilization
        Xia Dynasty
        Shang Dynasty
        Zhou Dynasty
        The Assyrians
        The Persians
        Mesopotamia
        Ancient Egypt
        Ancient Andes
        and many other civilisations that you have no knowledge of since you are gloriously sitting on your brain and in a ghetto from the day you were born.

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          Yes the world knows.

          These civilisations were “backdated” as part of the Jewish colonialist project. Sri Lanka flourished long before them though your corrupt and ignorant mind does not want to believe it.

          They also spread the myth that the Indus valley civilisation was started by Aryans who came from the caucuses because the “dark” people of the Indian continent would not have been capable of such a civilisation. Only the Mein Kampf put that lie right. Still, theIndus valley did not have a written language or innovative irrigation schemes anyway.

          What we have now is a thuppahi culture being spread by the left overs of European vagabonds and thieves who came here with the Chinese invention of the gun since the 16th century. They destroyed Buddhist temples of the kind they had never seen. They believed in the myth of buildinga temple in Jerusalem being the path to salvation!

          So the pansi laska’s attempts to rewrite history will never succed. Because they are Mlechchas.

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        Helaya,

        Careful what you say. For all our ‘illustrious’ history, we ran for the hills and hid behind the bushes when the first little contingent of Portuguese adventurers turned up. There would have been thousands of us, and tens of them, and we were fighting on home ground. Instead, they prevailed and we showed, not for the first time, that we had no balls for the fight. Instead we let them have free reign. Indeed most of us cooperated with them, did business with them, accepted their forms of government. Some went the extra mile and adopted the horizontal for them.

        So Helaya, be careful. This free speech lark is in reality a trap for the unwary.Shut your cake-hole and do not draw attention to the proven cowardice of our ancestry. Fate has been kind to us, as it was not to the aborigines further south, and other hapless races around this blessed globe.

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          Spring Koha

          “Careful what you say. For all our ‘illustrious’ history, we ran for the hills and hid behind the bushes when the first little contingent of Portuguese adventurers turned up.”

          Don’t you remember as recently as in 1987 when we heard the roar of two Mirage 2000s escorting 5 AN 32s our armed forces ran for their women folks and hid behind them?

          Incidently those Anatanovs were sent to drop Chappati floor to the starving Northerners, not bombs.

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          Buddy Spring,

          Portugal was captured by the French almost bloodless because its government lacked the will to resist.

          The French threatened with a humiliating ultimatum and the Portuguese government acceded to most of the demands of the French.

          Ceylon only lost the low-lands to the Portugese. The French captured entire Portugal in 1807.

          So you know people as well as entire nations get caught napping in certain situations.

          Do you see how humiliating it is when you know little?

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            Vibushana,

            I think you are being a bit economic with the actualite here, but I understand your reason for not telling us the whole long story about European history. I couldn’t care a rats-arse about what happened in Europe. Suffice to say that I am only concerned with how we seemed to have got ‘caught napping’ for all of 450 years.

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              Dear RMB,

              Well, its a bit of a stretch for you to be considered part of the Sri Lankan fabric isn’t it?

              You are like the “Man Friday” the famous Robinson Crusoe left behind.

              I think you belong back in the slave ship. Ideally Robinson should have taken you back with him instead of leaving you here to become a nuisance.

              Thank you

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        Good one Emil! Thank you.
        Sri Lankan politicians the greatest at corruption and deluding the moda Sinhala masses.

        Yahapalanaya is a joke today!

        Ranil Wickramasinghe the so called PM for Ayahapalana is promoting corruption and hate speech of Wimal Weerawansa and providing immunity and impunity for corrupt politicians.

        Civil society groups must file a case against PM Ranil Wickramasinghe for corruption and aid and abetting corrupt politicians like Wimal Weerawansa to avoid the law.

        Ranil has also humiliated CID and airport security officials who rightly arrested Weerawansa and is promoting a CULTURE OF IMPUNITY AND IMMUNITY for corrupt politicians. Ranil Wickramsinghe’s intervention to facilitate Wimal Weerawansaas’ travel is a grave injustice against the people of Sri Lanka who voted for good governance.

        Wimal Weerawansa and his wife have 2 passports each. There is one law for ordinary people who have only one passport and another for corrupt politicians. Weerawansa is corrupt and gave houses to his relatives but is scott free. So too is Ranil Wickramasinghe who has systematically encouraged a CULTURE OF CORRUPTION AND IMPUNITY in Sri Lankan POLITICAL CULTURE. The politicians of all partieis think they are above the law because both Ranil and Mahind Jarapassa are alike – literally, morally and ethically CORRUPT.

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    —and plenty of hypocricy, superficiality , falsehood, hyperbole and intrigue!

    Dr. Rajasingham Narendran

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    I thought Mr Ranatunga , our Minister of Ports and the brother of the Chairman (or, is it CEO ) of the Ports Corporation is now a full financial member of the Elite and Anglican party of Batalanda Ranil, the UNP..

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    Whoa! Mr v d P….whoa! “”””I speak here of a gentleman called Arjuna Ranatunga……”””. Shurely shome mishtake!

    Those who have suffered watching Arjuna Ranatunga at close quarters will confirm that, notwithstanding his ability to bat well, this man you speak of is no gentleman. He became captain of our national team by default (and if truth be told, to stop him being a bloody nuisance) and when we went on to success (in no small way due to the efforts of good people like Ana Punchihewa and the support team that he put together, and in circumstances that you correctly described ) Ranatunga seized on the opportunity to milk the moment. In fact in spite of our success, he, as captain, was never respected by his peers in the world game. Those who watched him at close quarters would have seen him as vituperative and vindictive, and ready to plot and scheme to ensure that nobody shared the limelight for any of the team success.

    Ultimately his captaincy ended in failure, and he transferred his dubious ‘talents’ to the political arena where he immediately felt at home among the parvenus and crooks that inhabit our political cesspit. You have correctly identified his slippery, slimy, obsequiousness as he searches for political opportunity. His latest outrageous appointment of his brother Dhammika recalls those long ago days when he allegedly manipulated team selection to give his brothers test experience.

    It is unfathomable that President Preachy and Prime Minister See-No-Evil are standing by in a state of atrophy at this blatant show of impunity.

    If this is Yahapalanaya, then I am a Chinaman. All we are left with is the age-old lament, woe is us, woe is us, thrice woe is us!

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    I returned to Sri Lanka about a decade ago.

    Well, what made you return? The balance of reasons would have been in Ceylon’s favour for you to make a comeback.

    So what were the positive reasons that made you want to come back?

    Are you constantly complaining because it hasn’t worked out the way you wished?

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      Vibhushana:
      For starters, let me say that it’ll be a bloody cold day in hell when I allow such as you to determine whether I should return to the land of my birth!
      Since you choose to ignore the facts, let me remind you of a couple: after the “suddhas” left in 1948l we were the envy of Asia, both in the matter of our governance and the huge foreign exchange balances that were lying to our credit. But then why would one expect such as you to know this information and, more than that, acknowledge any FACTS that would suggest that the Rajapaksa years weren’t golden ones without parallel in our history?

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        Pootan,

        I did not question your lineage. What I question is you always complaining about Ceylon.

        I am asking whether there is any positive experience since you returned to your motherland?

        You seem to hate everything about the experience of having to return.

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          Vibhushana:
          For the record, I certainly don’t “hate” the general population of this country. I DETEST its self-appointed political elites and their camp followers who have brought us to this sorry pass.
          I am one of the fortunate few who DO have a choice as to whether I do or don’t want to live here. I have chosen the former and I’ll be damned if anyone tells me that I have to put up with the charlatans and thieves that have ruled the roost (and still do?) in this country.I have not and will not surrender the right to criticise the unmentionables who have arrogated unto themselves the right to fatten their purses and drive the vast majority of this country’s people to penury. If you read this as some kind of “hatred of Sri Lanka,” that’s your problem, not mine.

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    Nationalism has always been the tool that has been used to rally the Sinhala public behind the machinations of monarchs and their hind-legs.

    The sporting minister is probably learning the finer points of his political schooling at the hands of the rainbow coalition which no doubt believes in sharing the spoils rather than merely taking turns at the trough.

    What is put forth at international fora by those burdened with that responsibility when travelling to more civil settings (albeit with sinister geopolitical agendas rather often)is quite contrary to what is lavished on the eager local media mafia in Sri Lanka.

    Both solicitor and buyer in this game are almost equally after their own dollar at whatever cost to the sensitivities of the public. Therefore, it is only to be expected, that insincerity, double standards and duplicity rule in most matters!

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    Mr Van der Poorten

    Apart from what you say is quite true, there is another aspect in our collective character that we should examine and admit to. We rile against imperialism, against English, against western culture. We do so particularly if we are not competent in English, if we do not have the means to play the part of the WOG, the Westernized Oriental Gentleman. To cover our self-perceived inferiority, we call our culture the greatest, our Buddhism the purest, our Sinhalese the most unique language delighting the aural sense of the listener. Yet, secretly, we wish to be something else, to shed our cloth and banian to a three piece suit, to speak English as a BBC broadcaster rather than be “embarrassed” with how we pronounce the letters “o” and “s” and words like physical and physics as “pisical” and “pisics”.

    All this stems out of pure envy. I know of Sri Lankans, from a purely Swabasha backgrounds, migrating to Western countries and bending over backwards to embrace all that they were previously against. Psychiatrist Frantz Fanon, in his book Black Skin, White Mask, analyses this phenomenon extensively. Although Fanon wrote this masterpiece in the 50s, it still applies to us Sri Lankans (mostly Sinhalese) in 2015.

    Let me give an example. Way back in the 60s, a group of undergraduates from Peradeniya were going in a procession to bring down the statue of Sir Henry George Ward that stood facing the Kandy Lake. On the way they passed the Queen’s Hotel, where there was (I think) the Bradby Shield Ball, or some other dance in the Ball Room. The fact was advertised on a banner outside. The undergrads tore the banner down, hooted at those inside, and condemned the event as one of “Thuppahi” culture. To be sure, it may have been. But that is not the point. It was the envy that brought up their anger, being bitter about what they are not or what they cannot be.

    But the interesting part is this. These very same undergraduates, or those like them, having migrated as professionals some twenty years later to places like Australia taking up ballroom dancing, at functions ranging from weddings to other social events. They take pride in the fact that their children cannot speak the mother tongue, or if they do speak the parents’ native lingo, they do that with a “delightful” European accent. And they rejoice in the fact that their children marry a “white” boy or a girl.

    Therein lies what ails us as a nation. We have, falsely, a deep sense of being inferior to the West. And therefore we call ourselves the “greatest”. Humility is not part of our character.

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      “We have, falsely, a deep sense of being inferior to the West. And therefore we call ourselves the “greatest”. Humility is not part of our character.”

      Of course, otherwise how do you explain a name like “KEN” Dharmapala?

      By the way, read the above comment to Jim. Hope you r brain will migrate from the buttocs to the cepal cavity.

      Moron.

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        Truth does hurt sometimes. Sorry about that.

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          Truth :

          Your version of truth.

          The things that you believe as the truth.

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        Aththa,

        Before you go on about ‘KEN’ think of the illustrious names that grace our history. Names like:
        Solomon West Ridgeway D B
        Junius Richard J (though he hated it and tried Jeevaka Ravi)
        Sir John Lionel K (he had no problem hating his own)
        Sir Oliver Ernest G (Uncle Oliver, smart but forced to suffer fools)
        George Peiris M (Gunapala Piyasena was his own shot at revision)

        Another illustrious namesake of our Ken, was DON DAVID H who in a flash of inspiration changed to ANAGARIKA D.

        So Aththa, what’s in a name, ha? I admire Barack Hussain Obama for not changing his name, and I salute the American people for electing the man and not the name. We have a very long way to go to this in our little miracle. We are all creatures of circumstance. Our birthright and the names we are given (lovingly by those who brought us in to this blessed world) were beyond our control. I think it is bad form to disinherit your family and race.

        Now Aththa, Aththa surely cannot be your real name. Go on, admit it, it must be Boruwa, or even Booruwa, otherwise you surely wouldn’t have changed it.

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      Ken Dharmapala

      “We have, falsely, a deep sense of being inferior to the West.”

      Its not fear but real.

      The European treat their people well unlike here in this ghetto falsely called Serendipity.

      As long as they sit on their brain and being afflicted by paranoia, not only they will continue to feel inferior but are in fact inferior.

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      Good analysis there. Do take a moment to read my article in CT about how some Sinhala people are ashamed to speak in their own language and do comment too.

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    Mr. Vander Pooten has made a mess here.

    He can not differentiate the Race, Religion, culture and civilization.

    HE should first explain why Europe let immigrants there and now they are worried about the loss of their cultures.

    When Europeans were monkies, Asia had developed cultures.

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      Silindu Jim:-

      It is not Emil, but you, who has failed to understand the Real Concepts of ‘Race, Religion, culture and civilization’

      These are not Isolated Characteristics of any people who are confined to a Geographical Location.

      1.’Race’ how do you Define your Race? Did you have your DNA tested?

      2.’Religion’ By Religion, do you mean the Mistaken Beliefs and Rituals practised by the Majority, or The Essence of a Teaching by an Enlightened Teacher e.g. The ‘Budhu Dahama’ etc. etc.

      3.’Culture’ is something a Person Possesses within Him/Herself, and is obvious to Anyone who comes into contact with them. Culture is not confined to any particular Place or Country.

      ‘Civilisation’ is The Ability to live Peacefully with Others in ‘Any’ Environment, not bounded by your ‘Narrow Domestic Walls’ of ‘Race, Religion, culture and civilization’, as Rabindranath Tagore said, so long ago.

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    Well said Emil. “The Sri Lankan Obsession With Superlatives & Superiority” explains why a few of our idiots think that the “Maha-WANSHA” is the world’s greatest chronicle throughout (civilized) human history, and buffoons like MR are the King Dutugammunu’s, and monkeys and pimps like “WEERA WANSHA” are the true patriots, and the card board heroes like Arjuna Ranatunge and his clannish family are the God’s gift to Cricket. The Ranatunge family is no exception to the norm that if money is to be made and seets to be plundered, they will stamp their feet in any venture to make a fast buck. The Ranatunge scoundrals are the ones who in cahoot with the bookie-pala’s, Adharma-dasa’s, match fixers, Up-prassanna mudalalis and the underworld that did collateral damage to Cricket in this country. I know for a fact how they railroaded our true cricketing hero Mr. Ana Punchihewa who in my view won us the 1996 Cricket championship with the rest of our cricket team being secondary. Ana’s many heroics are not known to many. I share this article with you to shed some light for those who don’t.
    [Edited out]

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    It is a waste of time to show this guy Putin how intellectually challenged he is. His answer will be, as usual “you are trying to trap me with your questions and I am not going to answer any of your questions”!

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      Eusense:
      Your brilliance, as usual, is only too evident from the stupidities you keep uttering every time someone refuses to descend to your level of discussion. Such brilliance is what has brought this country to the sad state it has descended to. But what to do, machang, them’s the breaks I suppose!

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    I don’t know what to say but it was lovely reading Spring Koha and Ken Dharmapala.. I’m sure this swabhasha thing spoiled Lanka and many lives. SWRD was a curse for Lanka. If not him, another stupid like JRJ idiot would have brought it anyway. All these guys had no vision and are pure racist rascals.

    I’m learning a lot reading all your comments & so we all can.. Thank you Spring Koha and Ken Dharmapala. I like your honest opinions.

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    Ranathungas are up for special game. They are in the process of grabbing the control of all the parties starting from UNP, SLFP, UPLF and other parties. At the moment the brothers pretend to be on a divergent path on their ways in politics. I am very sure they are bluffing the public and also the individual parties to which they belong. They all are crooks doing a lip service to YAHAPALANA. Their intension is bring one of their crooks to the box seat in governing. For that they all be united for they have the corrupt gene inherited.

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    Just wondering

    Will rubbing shoulders with the “Royals” of Europe give us more validity on the World Stage than rubbing shoulders with the “Royals” of Swaziland, Japan, Fiji, Thailand etc ???

    So what if we feel good about ourselves ?? Who says we have to await the gracious nods from our Western Masters in order to do so ????

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    Really enjoyed your article Emil. Also got a kick out of the ripostes. This is a touchy topic for many and there are some hard truths in the mentality displayed by a lot of people. I was troubled by a comment which said “Go back”. That is the racist mentality found in backward racists in some western nations when they refer to emigrants of color. I do not expect a Sri Lankan to tell a fellow Sri Lankan who made a choice(foolishly during a war?) to return to his motherland and work and live there. I on the other hand is a coward who did not return during the 1987-89 period when UNP and JVP were killing dozens in merry mayhem. Two of my former students at USJ disappeared probably to that ahimsa wonderland at Batalanda or someplace else when Sinhala was butchering sinhala and no one spoke out or spoke up. Really enjoyed your article. Sorry about the insults by those hiding behind anonymity.

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