22 April, 2021

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The Story Of Explaining An Election Vote

By Mahesan Niranjan –

Prof. Mahesan Niranjan

At the last general elections in the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, held in 2019, my occasional drinking partner, Pol, cast his vote in favour of the Conservative and Unionist Party of Alexander Boris de Pfeffel Johnson, thereby spoiling the chance of working towards an equitable society in which big corporations were to pay their share of taxes, education was to be free at point of delivery, the lower ranks of the workforce was to be paid decent wages and the bombing of far-away places was to stop.    

Now Pol, as he is known for short, is Polgahawela Aarachchige Don Solomon Rathmana Thanthiriya Bandarawela. From his name, you will immediately guess, unlike my regular drinking partner Sivapuranam Thevaram, the Tamil fellow, Pol is of Sinhala ethnicity. For the story today, this is irrelevant. Though the meaning of the word pol (පොල්) in Sinhala being coconut has some significance.

What matters is, Pol is a highly successful Sri Lankan, naturalized as British. An educational culture during his youth in Sri Lanka has stretched Pol’s mind to excellent standards of curiosity and knowledge. Here in Bridgetown, Pol has shone in scholarship, reaching fantastic heights. He is not alone. There are several successful Sri Lankans, who shop in Waitrose, admire Her Majesty the Queen and voted Brexit. There is a pol in many of them.

Now, the UK is the fifth largest economy in the world, inheriting much of its wealth from the Empire it once ruled and thanks to the technological advances of the Industrial Revolution. But the attack by the virus on such a powerful nation has been devastating. Deaths per million population is highest in the world, and, apart from the vaccine rollout which is working very well because it has been left to the professionals to carry out, every other aspect of handling the pandemic has been to line the pockets of friends of those in power by signing lucrative contracts with no due process. 

Yet Pol admires Alexander Boris de Pfeffel Johnson as a competent leader and would vote for him again. 

What’s more, poverty has risen at an alarming rate. Children, over a million of them, live under the poverty line and are entitled to free school meals. During school holiday they do not get enough to eat and a children’s charity has called for a reduction in the school holidays from six weeks to four, so the children may go hungry less. I could read Oliver Twist again and be forgiven for mistaking it to describe the present times.  

And yet Pol admires Alexander Boris de Pfeffel Johnson as a competent leader and would vote for him again. 

In the wake of the brutal murder of George Floyd in the United States, there is much talk about racism, institutional racism and the notion of Equality, Diversity and Inclusiveness (EDI). If 20 years ago, the Metropolitan Police was found to be institutionally racist by the Macpherson inquiry, last year, British universities have been declared the same by the Equalities Commission. They ignore what is structural – i.e. the reinforced glass ceilings that keep the “other” out of high office — and focus mostly on behaviour, i.e. the use of foul language, the N-word, the P-word etc. In this area, too, the track record of the Prime Minister is not great. He has been careless in his description of Muslim women and Africans. 

Still, Pol is oblivious to Alexander Boris de Pfeffel Johnson’s shortcomings and would vote for him again.

“What drives Pol?” I asked Thevarm when we met for a drink over zoom, with our own bottles of Peroni. 

“Pol’s acceptance of and admiration for Johnson, machan (buddy),” Thevaram said after a minute’s pause, “is simply a reflection of his own thoughts.

“Pol has views similar to Johnson. He thinks people are poor because they are benefit scroungers, children go hungry because the parents are lazy to feed them and he himself wants to describe Muslim women and Africans in the same language Johnson has used.

“But in the educated professional circles he moves in, he cannot say the things he wishes to say, and suppresses his inner thoughts.

“So his vote for the Prime Minister is simply placing himself in the imagined world of Johnson and pretending to articulate those views that he cannot in his normal world do.”

I could sense this was heading in the direction of Sigmund Freud’s line of psychoanalysis, not a particularly healthy one for our drinking session.  Perhaps sensing this, Thevaram referred to a Tamil literary figure to make his point.

“Remember the good old days, machan, the evenings we used to spend at the Jaffna Public Library and the Pannai bridge?” he asked.

“We have actually discussed Pol’s psyche there!”

How can I forget those days? In late Seventies, we were in secondary school at Jaffna Hindu College. After classes in the afternoon, we would cycle down to the library to spend a couple of hours reading. We would then walk along the Pannai causeway chatting about various things: mathematics, politics, philosophy and literature. No topic was off limits.  

This was possible because the library had not been burnt yet.

Among our favourite authors of the time was the Tamil novelist D. Jeyakanthan. His short stories were immensely powerful, brilliantly subtle and probed deep into sociological issues of the Tamil society. Though based in South India, much of Jeyakanthan’s writings had wider resonance. Critics of the time thought, and I largely agree, that DJ was good with the lower strata of society but somewhat wide of the mark when dealing with the middle class. 

I have not read Tamil authors of such standing since those days. Among contemporary writers, A. Jesuthasn (writing under the pen name Shoba Sakthi) is impressive. His early work Gorilla, on a Sri Lankan Tamil child soldier, centred around his own childhood experience is a gripping read. The language is rough, but draws the reader into the context of family struggles, atrocities by security forces, life in the rebel group and his wake up call to slip away at early signs of fascism in it. A smaller piece I enjoyed much is a hilarious short story கண்டி வீரன் (Kandy Veeran), which mocks Tamil rebel groups, their incompetence  and internecine rivalries. The writing is beautifully creative and shows the rebels no mercy. Shoba is also a successful actor, and one of his films Deepan features here. 

Returning to Jeyakanthan,  Thevaram asked me to recall a particular short story we had discussed in detail from the Pannai causeway. It was based in Madras in South India – now Chennai — about a manual labourer and his wife, living a hand-to-mouth life of daily work and food. They were addicted to cinema. As a source of entertainment, stress relief and make-belief, cinema dominated the lives of people. Hero actors were idols of worship, and Gods were losing out in competition.

The man and his wife were fans of the actor M.G.Ramachandran (MGR for short, also referred to as vaaththiyaar by fans). The couple had seen every one of MGR’s films multiple times. Earnings from the day’s labour is carefully managed on food and cinema tickets. On some days of low earnings, cinema ticket got priority over food. 

Their relationship as husband and wife is at the heart of Jeyakanthan’s story. Over time, the man observed declining interest from his wife towards sexual activity. This was not a consistent decline, for then he might have attributed it to physical exertion of manual labour. 

There were nights she would respond to his advances with immense passion and energy, and their love making was sensual and memorable. But then there were other nights when she would simply push him away, faking a headache. 

The volatility in her behaviour puzzled him. 

In frustration, the labourer decided to do a controlled experiment. He would systematically note all events and actions of the days in which pleasure was achieved and contrast them with the days in which he was rejected. Every single detail of his actions, from wishing her well in the morning to the hoppers they had for dinner, were meticulously noted in his lab book. One by one, he eliminated each one of the hypotheses as the discriminating aspect of reward and rejection. And then he had his Eureka moment! 

It was the T-shirts he owned featuring vaaththiyaar, posing in great hero style.  

The night he realized it, he collected his T-shirts with vaaththiyaar’s picture on them, lit a fire and burnt them all, saying 

Vaaththiyaar, to everyone in the whole world, you are a hero. 

“Only to me, you have become the villain!”

“Does that not explain Pol’s vote machan?” Thevaam asked, “to situate oneself in that imagined setting that is either not allowed or not accessible, and modulate your behaviour accordingly?”

It was clear Pol’s vote for Alexander Boris de Pfeffel Johnson at the next election is assured!

“Cheers,” I said to Thevaram.

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Latest comments

  • 1
    4

    Prof

    Gist of the story is “what goes around comes around”?

    One thing for certain is many folks do not want to work and still live off the state for most of their life…blame it on many things..”low wages and the foreigners”………….story line has not changed for decades.

    we have no cleaners…no one ot pick the rotting vegetables…yet so many unemployed and want to bump around the world on back packing??? nothing has changed for the past 40 years I known this place……I do kind of agree on these with “Pol” and our Hon PM on this particular point..unless otherwise Nigel Farage get his army of patriotic workers to do a days work and serve the Nation (at-least to pick the trashed and clean the landscape for which one does not need a lot of skill)………we served them all hoping when we get older others/children will serve us…….it ain’t happening….

    • 3
      5

      Dear me, Rumble
      I see the bumble!
      It is not very humble
      to brag of 40 years,
      to show not much
      between thine ears.
      Read more, Sir.
      I wish you good, that
      ignorance may tumble.

      • 2
        2

        Mr SAV

        At least you can have the courtesy to point out what I said you disagree or wrong or misunderstanding of the article??

        yet you thin ears..read more??????????? I was sharing my actual life experience over a 40 year period…may be this requires some exchange of thoughts?? perhaps I can learn and be corrected??

        Bit of positivity and a critical feed back as suppose to insulting and patronising sentences goes a long way to be mindful??????

      • 3
        0

        SAV,

        Rumble is the son of Thiagarajah, the Vaddukodai MP who was shot dead by militants in the 1970s. He used to write under his real name but came under an alias after not being taken seriously by people who got tired of his constant focus on the loss of his father.

        • 0
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          Agnos
          I do not think that he changed the identity because nobody took him seriously.
          Not many take most of us seriously, but we box on unconcerned.
          *
          The father was insulted unfairly for views expressed by the son.
          He is somewhat justified in holding the FP/TULF responsible for his father’s death, and he is not the only one with like obsessions. But he had tired everybody by going on and on with it.
          I think that he acted wisely But his obsession with the FP/TULF/TNA is still a little over the top, and brevity is not his forte.

        • 0
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          Dear Agnos

          The fact you couldn’t analyse a fact I laid infant of you objectively and respond all this while shows all other failures that has resulted in the current predicament that you all find it is your “birth right” to share your thoughts quite rightfully so…however I set out to lay facts based on my observation “some” may not have facts to work with so the space become a productive space/exchange of thoughts/changes in a progressive manner.

          Have noida what you hold against me as a “born free” in my world for my opinions nor against Mr Thiagarajah…another “born free’ inches planet worked within the parameters set out by the law and order of his land to deliver what he delivered as a patriotic citizen of the Community/Nation/World at large…a journey that never asks you the permission to do so….I denotive such devils advocate definitions to your life is an example…specially not knowing who you are etc.

          • 0
            0

            The fact you did no-show compassion let alone absolute respect to a fellow being who lost his Father because you disagree with him or me for that matter says all we need to know about your existence/duplicity/double standards…I can say will never advocate your death because I disagree to belong to any “respectable society”let alone humanity period.

            Hence the priority for us in SL is to remove FP/TULF thuggery before focus on all all else regards to human rights…..as a starter you can walk into a any police station any where you’ve and tell them you support slaying of people whoimyou disagree with and see the response for a reality check.

            I am in this forum for a reason….just to demonstarate what we have as issues to related to humanity…that is thuggery in Jaffna..that we need to eradicate first before all else…we have always been at the front line/martyrdom to this cause first.

            So I want you to do continue this conversation with me as to what you know about my Nation and my people by telling me a bit more (no personal details required) about yourself/your interest/source of your information directly with me please.

            • 0
              0

              I am not sure your age/interest in social work & politics then or now/where you live/what you are now and your interest today?? does not matter for us to exchange as fellow cohabiting humans in our planet is where all journeys start???

              (1) Trump may have supporters who are fascists and racists…what percentage is anyones guess?? Labour Party always had a base and lost that due to Brexit issues raised by the leavers…that requires listening not insults (I am a remainer does not give me the right to hold a gun??) is exactly what happened in Jaffna too..since 1970 FP/TC losses..yet others were elected on their personal track record with a National party with national policy yet carried Tamil name so what…Tamil Congress. Those folks (WHO WERE ELECTED UNDER TC) who worked hard to shape the society all their life did not expect this diabolical betrayal by the TC because the leader no longer goes to parliament as they have done since the Independence.

              • 0
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                (2) When elected and lost candidates encourage somebodys child to do the killing of their opponents what you call that outfit?? against the Tamil voters and against their evaluation/opportunity to make decisions accordingly in a democracy?

                (3) then you tell the world you have a mandate what you call that?? you have seen the results to date (still do not know your background and knowledge) we lost all we had..pride/dignity/life’s/arms and limbs.

                (4) What I have been through in Vaddukottai tells me a lot about this outfit that you are not privy to as an outsider unless otherwise you are one of the culprits who committed the crime/participant in the crimes itself…..there is a huge list yet to be discussed hence the investigations by the UN should start in 1970.

                (5) The investigations into LTTE/GoSL by UNCHR will not address nothing until the creator of all the monstroties by the FP/TULF are addressed and then we move to the next phase of addressing all else…all the youths/children and us all are the victims of FP/.TULF Ratha Pottu Mafia…the same Mafia not seen at the front line since the beginning to 2009 but UNCHR investigating GoSL/LTTE should tell you all you need to know??

    • 2
      2

      I am also aware many Tamil Conservatives (naturally) in the UK and one of the Tamil Businesses one of the largest contributors to the Conservative party in the past???

      It is also the trend that many are labour/socialist oriented when they are young and as they get older many become “conservatives” psychologically too.

      However we have benefitted collectively based on all what we had as elected governments Labour or Conservative…some we agree and some we do not…only common denominator (most of the mainstream parties) that I do personally find it revolting is our Foreign Policies of both the Major parties and the human rights issues that has resulted does not speak for our Nations Values..just as the ridiculous amount of money we spent on the Military/Trident etc.

      • 1
        1

        Can not protect the borders of illegals/can not even regulate the consumer items (specially in the wake of Brexit) QA/QC aspects, can not even “Keep Britain Tidy”, sent our trash around the world yet speak of human rights every where, green deals for the planet…arms and arms and endless defence budget….only think that requires defending is the “environment” in the UK?? we spent last 5 years talking about Brexit…but not about the “Consumer” trashing market…science/research and development of all that is dying around us?? same issues world over……just we are still discussing “national question”…absurdity beyond comprehension.

    • 3
      0

      Nigel Farage and Boris Johnson are the UK versions of Trump. If you are a supporter, then you don’t deserve to be part of respectable society.

      • 0
        1

        Agnos

        thin ears..read more…..you do not deserve to be part of a respectable society……..

  • 5
    0

    Prof. MN is hilarious. This Pol guy sounds a lot like Kapoor/Cooper from “Goodness Gracious Me” . Are they related?
    A little quibble. Pol’s real name seems unlikely. “Now Pol, as he is known for short, is Polgahawela Aarachchige Don Solomon Rathmana Thanthiriya Bandarawela. ” .As far as I know, no genuine Govigama has three village names. Perhaps he has something to hide there too?

    • 3
      0

      Dear “old codger”,
      .
      I’m trying to work out the significances of the vote. Has it got anything to do with Geneva voting, I wonder?
      .
      As for Prof. MN’s talent for coining names, that has to do with his childhood spent in “my area”. He’s been using this full name of “Pol” for many years.
      .
      As a schoolboy, Niranjan used to live about a mile away from the centre of Bandarawela town, on the road to Badulla. That area is called Thanthiriya.
      .
      I hope that this explanation doesn’t take away some of the romance. The question is, is there anybody who is a genuine Govigama, or for that matter a pure Sinhalese?

      • 4
        0

        S.M,
        I think one can be a Govigama through descent, but not necessarily ” pure Sinhalese”. You had better ask our resident immigration consultant, Eagle.
        Thanks for telling me where Thanthiriya is.

  • 5
    2

    British deaths per million population is highest in the world?
    Sorry, Old Empire is lagging behind the Chech Republic, Belgium, and Slovenia which are still holding strong.
    The NHS has to be screwed up further to win the prize.
    There is a consolation. British occupied Gibralter is streets ahead of all others at 2760 per million (but with only 93 deaths).

    • 1
      1

      Cinimavukkuppona Siththalu -( the laborer-girl who went to cinema) is a short story by a well known short story writer- Jeyakanthan.

      In this short story he simply ridiculed the female fans of MGR giving a sexual twist.

      He was a poorly educated youth when he was young, was a member of the communist party in his youth, but his stories could never be categorized under socialist realist or even realist category and he was always a rebel,

      When he advanced in age, he self learnt and almost became an academic and a celebrity, but moved away from communism, became an ardent Hindu theist and moved in so-called respectable societies.

      He became arrogant and died a few years back at a ripe old age.

  • 3
    2

    “Critics of the time thought, and I largely agree, that DJ was good with the lower strata of society but somewhat wide of the mark when dealing with the middle class.”
    *
    DJ had moved away from working class themes by the late 1960s, when his themes had become very much middle class. Serialization of the novels could have affected the writing a little, but he addressed issues and portrayed characters sensitively.
    He was greater short story writer, but very few talk about it.
    The novel ‘sinimaavukkup pona siththaalu’ was among his worst, designed to belittle MGR (whom DJ immensely disliked) and inspired by the attempted murder of MGR by MR Radha, a fellow actor. It belonged to a generation of novels published as a monthly magazine, to take advantage of price concessions for periodicals and targetting a large circulation among commuters.
    *
    All of that apart, it is not my dullest moment of the day, but I, somehow, find the intended parallel as rather hollow.
    I wonder if the Tamil middle class of Britain had an approach to Brexit that was distinct from that of Pol. I have heard many who deeply resented the ‘scrounging’ by the East European ‘parasites’.

  • 2
    0

    Structural, institutional is the worst form of racism, but the great defenders of human rights in the west is more concerned about racist foul language than on institutional racism.

    As rightly pointed out by Prof Niranjan, it is the glass ceiling that selectively prevent upward mobility is racist in the extreme.

    Western countries are guilty of this institutionalized crime and almost overlook this crime against humanity .

  • 0
    0

    George Floyd was murdered? Don’t be silly. Just look at the police cam footage.

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