15 August, 2020

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The Story Of Red Traffic Lights

By Mahesan Niranjan

Prof. Mahesan Niranjan

Prof. Mahesan Niranjan

On a cold winter evening in 1984, a handsome young Sri Lankan was cycling in the Dutch city of Eindhoven. He had arrived there the previous day, his first time out of Sri Lanka, and the experience of freezing cold and early sunset were amusing for the young fellow. Having read that the landscape of The Netherlands was as flat as his village back in the north of Sri Lanka, the first thing the young fellow did was to purchase a bicycle.

“Do you also want a puncture kit?” the salesman asked. The young man was puzzled. Back home, you simply wheeled it to a shop and the local Oliver fixed it for 50 cents, right? “How much is it?” he inquired. “2.5 guilders.” “If I had a puncture and brought the bike here, how much would you charge?” “12.5 guilders!” So the young man purchased the kit, cycled to his apartment, pierced a hole in one of the tyres and followed the instructions to fix the puncture himself. Bravo! He then went out on a test-drive.

At a junction, the traffic lights were red against him. He noticed there was no traffic perpendicular to his direction of travel, decided to ignore the red and crossed. He was stopped by a policeman on the other side.

Now, The Netherlands has a minority population from its former colony of Surinam, a place with an artificially mixed population whose members look like those from India, Africa, China and a colourful combination of these. The statistics the policeman has learnt associates Surinam immigrants with petty crime, localised violence and drug peddling.

That prior belief the policeman held was unfortunate for the young Sri Lankan fellow and he had to listen to a long lecture: “glug glug bla bla glug glug bla bla glug glug.” After listening to it patiently, the young fellow responded in English “You know, all those things you said, I didn’t understand a word of it.” The realisation that it was a foreigner he was dealing with, and not a member of his country’s ethnic minority community, produced an instant change in the policeman’s attitude. “When the light red is, crossing forbidden,” he said rather politely. Not wanting to end up in jail on the second day in that country, the young man thought of an ingenious way of getting out of the situation he was in. “Sorry officer, in my country, if it is red you go, green you stop!”

The young fellow, if you have not guessed already, is the Sri Lankan Tamil chap Sivapuranam Thevaram, my regular drinking partner these days in pubs in Bridgetown, UK.

Several years after that encounter, Thevaram and his son Samaanthiram, cycling in Bridgetown, stopped at a traffic light on red. There was no other traffic around them. “Let’s go Appa (dad),” said Samaanthiram, “there is nobody coming from the other side.” Thevaram refused and waited until the lights turned green. He gave junior a long explanation. “You see putha (son), when an arbitrary person makes an error, it counts as an instance of individual guilt. But when an ethnic minority fellow makes an error, the guilt – as measured by newspaper reports, or the statistics accumulating in a policeman’s head – is a shared guilt, a community-wide guilt. So, I have to be a little bit more responsible:

“I should not just cross on red, I should not even be seen to be crossing on red!”

It was not clear what young Samaanthiram made of that observation, but Thevaram is of a generation of immigrants to whom over-performance as a way of gaining equal recognition is an engrained trait. It does worry him that in modern day Britain, the next generation may not see their environment as that black and white, and are likely to face disappointment by expecting parity in recognition and performance.

We now turn to a rapid summary of modern Sri Lankan history.

A long running war in our country ended in 2009. Though the foundations for the defeat of the Tigers were laid by our current Prime Minister, who during his previous term in office offered peace to the rebels – a shocking concept they were not ready for – and the systematic work put in by a Foreign Minister, whose diplomatic skills cut off supply lines, Mahinda Rajapaksa, the President in 2009, claimed all credit for the defeat of the Tigers and went onto celebrate a grand victory over the Tamil people. For several years after 2009, he systematically alienated the Tamil people, telling them they do not belong in our country, thereby putting the finishing touches to what SWRD started for short term political gains, and JR continued with exceptional efficiency.

Then dawned 2015.

The first to predict the defeat of Mahinda Rajapaksa at the 2015 elections was the seasoned politician himself. Rather early that night of January eighth, upon seeing the voter turnout reported in the North, he knew what the outcome was going to be, before the rest of us. If you can predict the future, even just a few hours, you have a crucial advantage. Rajapaksa exploited that advantage by calling in the favours he had previously dished out to his Leader of the Opposition. As the counts were being reported, and we were all getting excited about a military coup, a deal was struck. Signed and sealed in the early hours of January the ninth: “will go without a fuss, protect the Royals!” That a year and a half after that mini revolution, the longest to be held in remand prison is the former Eastern rebel Pillaiyan should be proof enough to anyone doubting that there was indeed a deal.

The new government gave citizens much hope, but bad behaviour of the Sri Lankan political class is engrained in the epigenetics of its makeup, too. Uncontrolled urchin behaviour of offspring and favours for a sibling have been reported. The highlight of nepotism was the appointment of Arjuna Mahendran, as the Governor of our Central Bank, who probably broke a record by achieving the shortest time between appointment and scandal. The report of an inquiry is out now, charging him with direct involvement in a decision so unfavourable to our country and massively benefitting a member of his family.

It was reported – almost celebrated as evidence of a new era of reconciliation — at the time of his appointment, and of course his name suggests so, that Arjuna Mahendran is ethnic Tamil, the minority community in Sri Lanka in whose name that long running war was fought and most horrible crimes committed, and whose members were massacred in very large numbers in the process of bringing that war to an end. That puts a certain spotlight on him, just as happens at traffic lights on red. Under that spotlight, he had an enhanced responsibility: not to cross on red, and not to be seen to be crossing on red.

To be fair, it is entirely within our space of imagination that when Mahendran was parachuted in, vultures within might have been out to get him, and he naively fell into a set up. Had that been the case, one would expect him to have stepped down sooner and taken time to clear his name, rather than holding onto the job on the strength of schoolboy friendship.

At best it was carelessness, at worst his is a serious offence.

Let us not wish upon Mahendran the standard practices of law enforcement in our country – the beatings, the suspensions under gravity, and the applications of chilli powder shocks to private parts. Given his standing, we can be confident this is unlikely. Let us hope he will be charged in a court of law and can defend his position. Should such due process find him guilty, let us wish him a long term behind bars at Welikada, where he will be in the company of about two hundred other ethic Tamils languishing without charge or trial for two decades.

If on the other hand, Mahendran is cleared of bad behaviour, let us still not forgive that trespass of the ethnic minority man, forgetting the higher level of responsibility on him, carelessly let himself be seen to be crossing on red, just as with a Surinam immigrant caught by a Dutch policeman.

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Latest comments

  • 12
    0

    “suspensions under gravity” Ha, ha, ha, ha ……..

    Mr Mahesan Niranjan,

    Some grave matters put across with humour that would not offend the majority unlike if the same were put across more bluntly. In a strange way, the humour cuts through the usual acrimony and makes one focus on the seriousness of the issues.

    The crooks of the previous regime saw the working-man’s EPF as an easy pot of gold to be pilfered. They found an accomplished enabler in Cabral who had the skills/knowledge to set up the pilfering-apparatus. Mahendran walked into such a set-up – he did not set it up himself – the only difference is the magnitude of the amount.

    Reading your piece, one salient point that struck me was an unseen attribute of the much maligned “presidential system of governance.” Like, Rajapakse learnt and Sirisena found-out, the minority-vote has a major “say” in the electing of a president. So, it’s in a president’s “interest” not to alienate the minorities. Unlike the first past the post parliamentary system which will give the majority-Sinhalese a majority large enough – like in the past – to totally disregard the minorities.

    I don’t think, a presidency with vastly curtailed powers, counterbalanced and checked with the parliament and judiciary is such a bad thing for all the “citizens” and their rights.

  • 7
    10

    Mahesan Niranjan writes:

    “At a junction, the traffic lights were red against him.”

    Was it at Baekeland Square the red lights invited him to cross the street?

    How much did it cost him to get the gun repaired?

  • 6
    5

    Prof. Mahesan Niranjan

    RE: The Story Of Red Traffic Lights

    “The young fellow, if you have not guessed already, is the Sri Lankan Tamil chap Sivapuranam Thevaram, my regular drinking partner these days in pubs in Bridgetown, UK.”

    “The highlight of nepotism was the appointment of Arjuna Mahendran, as the Governor of our Central Bank, who probably broke a record by achieving the shortest time between appointment and scandal. The report of an inquiry is out now, charging him with direct involvement in a decision so unfavourable to our country and massively benefitting a member of his family.”

    “Under that spotlight, he had an enhanced responsibility: not to cross on red, and not to be seen to be crossing on red.”

    “Let us hope he will be charged in a court of law and can defend his position. Should such due process find him guilty, let us wish him a long term behind bars at Welikada, where he will be in the company of about two hundred other ethic Tamils languishing without charge or trial for two decades.”

    Thanks. Good narrative.

    However, the Sinhala “Buddhist” killers and crooks, called Rajapaksas and theit cronies are still free and bring defended by the Traitor “President” Gon Sirisena Gamarala and Defense minister Rajapaksa.

    Will Ranil W. defend Mahendran and sink with him?

    “Sorry officer, in my country, if it is red you go, green you stop!”

  • 16
    3

    very good piece of writing. Thank you .

  • 9
    0

    The two high rank Tamil appointments-the CJ and GoCB of SL -this government made as soon as it assumed office was a tactical trade off to neutralize the west’s stand in favor of SL, which was at a all time law.

    Mahen, if he has the talent and, the experience gained working for Government of Singapore and Dubai as being reported, he should have foreseen the pecuniary interest he was hooked into, because of his nephew working for one of the companies biding for the bonds will come back and haunt him. Like Thevaram, is he able to say what he did here was what he had done whist working in Singapore and escape? Is it careless?. His actions in this regards should have been passed the test of ‘beyond doubts’ or ‘seen to be done justice too’. Anyone would doubt an auction process if someone bought something at a premium. More so if the doubters found that the auctioneer was being the father-in-law so to speak. It would only help compound such doubts. GoCB could not have involved in any wrong doing or in any malpractice, yet people don’t know if his nephew was able to access any classified documents without his knowledge because his relationship. A thorough investigation getting to the bottom of all these is necessary to clear such doubts. If found guilt, they should face the full force of the law, given we see, for a few hundred of rupees, the poor fellow who sells something on the streets for feeding his family being taken to the court and punished, the white collar crime costs billions, so punishment should be proportionated in that scale and match the crime. Undeniable, whatever outcome might be of a court case, he can lay claim for a fair share killing the credibility of the good governance and for providing the opening for MR that they desperately looking for, with that gone the green light many shown to this government and all the far worse crimes that MR&Co. committed with full knowledge that what they doing were against the law, including murders and war crimes.

    Agree with the view presented here that he should have set the bar high for himself, being a Tamil. Not sure the same kind of publicity and the kind of focus with which the common opposition going after it, would have given if he was a person from the majority community. People could have some sympathy for him, had he opted to terminate his position voluntarily, given the issue was brought to COPE.

  • 3
    6

    Chumpachaya said Batalanada Ranil hasn’t done it ..

    Now Father in Law says he or his SIL didn’t do it .

    Both said they read the COPE Report and it has given them all clear.

    Now who done it?…And what is his big fuss about it?…

    Yahapalana suckers in the PAYE category have to cop it sweet, and keep paying the Interest and the the santhosam to PT share holders for the next three decades…

    • 2
      7

      looks like ‘Handun’ went through a mountain of labour and gave birth to a dead mice!
      COPE report does not implicate PM Ranil therefore he is innocent !
      Arjun acted upon Ranil’s instructions therefore he is innocent !!
      Alosyius is no longer a member of PT Therefore he is innocent !!!

      Who dunnit? Who else… of course……… we dunnit *&&^^%%$$####@@!!~~

      No worries.

      We can pay for the rest of our lives and our children too.

  • 12
    1

    I hope to visit this Bridgetown Pub one day. I wish that the GOSL arranges a “study” tour of Bridgetown for our journos to learn how to write reports with political satire nourishing the content. I am sure Peroni has the right ingredients to stimulate idiomatic expressions.

  • 10
    0

    It is true that when you migrate to a new country, one has to be ‘a little bit more responsible’ as Thevaram advised his Putha. I do the same. Also to gain equal recognition, sometimes you have to ‘over-perform.’ This is unfortunate, nevertheless true.

    But in a country where you are born and bred it should not be the case, in principle, even if you belong to the minority. When Mahendran was appointed, he was on the spot light (nearing the red light) no doubt, given the attitudes of the majority of the majority. The context also was after a long and a bitter conflict/war. Even Indrajit has declared he is under tremendous pressure now. This is quite unfortunate. It is in this case that both Mahendran and Ranil should have been more careful and allowed the resolution of the problem earlier without dragging it on for so long.

    If I remember correct, the President very initially suggested Mahendran’s resignation to allow a proper inquiry. He has now declared that there should be an independent judicial process to investigate, the inquiry completely devoid of any political interference. I believe he means opposition political interference as well. I hope he has the resolve to ensure this. Corruption or wrong doing occurs irrespective of ethnicity. It is quite unfortunate, if such investigations are coloured or influenced by ethnic prejudices.

    • 4
      3

      Utter nonsense. Sirisena was well aware of what was taking place. That’s why he chose to throw DEW’s COPE report in the trash.

      Ranil Wickramasinghe took full responsibility when he appointed Arjun Mhahendran illegally and unconstitutionally.

      Now, he MUST live up to his responsibility. He can not save his skin by just throwing Mahendran to the wolves.

    • 1
      0

      Dr Laksiri
      There is an vast difference between the appointment of Mahendran and that of other Tamil officials.
      He was technically a non-national appointed to a key post.
      It took very little time for him to be in the middle of a scandal.
      Once the scandal came to light, Mahendran should have stepped down even before anyone even suggested. That is honourable conduct.

      The CJ and the present Governor, Central Bank may be under pressure of sorts, but those are not wholly based on nationality. The political dimension always plays a big role.

  • 9
    2

    Prof Niranjan

    Great stuff , thank you .

  • 4
    10

    Prof.Mahesan Niranjan,
    beware you are encroaching on Tiger vocabulary.

    • 8
      1

      Really – I don’t see it that way. Care to expand on the claim?

  • 4
    1

    Your man in Netherlands did not purchase an inflator to use after patching up a puncture.
    No “puncture kit” includes an inflator.
    Or, did the bicycle come with one?

    • 0
      0

      In the good old days, when a bike was just a means of transport, it came with an inflator as an optional accessory (with provision for mounting it on the bike). Puncture kit sold with the bike was unheard of.

  • 4
    20

    Tamils are crooks and bigots. How easily they distort and misinform anyone who can bear to listen to them ! Reading such rubbish as this is a waste of time Putha ………….. aaaaaaaahhh!!!

    • 19
      1

      Dear Gos,

      Why do you read what you consider to be rubbish?

      I find some of this uncomfortable – and the reason is that I know that many of my fellow Sinhalese do put a “higher level of responsibility” on Tamils, and we have no right to be so bigoted. There may be bigots among the Tamils, but Niranjan and his “Sri Lankan Tamil chap friend Sivapuranam Thevaram” are not among them. I’d really like to meet these two guys!

      Among the Sinhalese, I’m afraid that you come perilously close to being the stereotypical bigot.

    • 12
      0

      Gos,

      This is pure, unadulterated bilge; sheer crap. Such generalisations as yours are the work of unthinking people who have no place in today’s modern society everyone is trying to build.

      You should go back to the Dutugemunu era, and stay there.

      For your information I am Singhalese and a buddhist.

  • 4
    2

    This new GoSL is not as worse as the previous one but still no good.

  • 0
    6

    So basically MR is the bad guy crooks rogues criminals…huh as if we’ve had clean sheets guys from the 1st executive president. Really professor either you’re naive or takes us or fools like some folks in the comments forum..
    So MR did basically nothing but took all the credit…let’s face it professor off. The bat..the tamils are just mad angry with MR that includes you…he has on numerous occasions held his hand out..he was defeated by the minority votes but one should be gracious for a man of your esteemed calibre to acknowledge the fact and givery credit.

  • 2
    4

    So MR said, “will go without a fuss, protect the Royals!” Now Ranil should say “will go without a fuss, protect the Royalists!” and get lost. He got his chance and squandered it unnecessarily and idiotically. He thought he is protecting a Royalist only. But he was mistaken. He was protecting a Tamil too.

    He should have known that all Tamils big or small are traitors. Take Balasingham. Take Prabha. And now Arjuna Mahendran. They are all big time traitors. Tamils will do anything to get asylum in a Western country. They will lie on the beaches, They will lie on the landing grounds, They will lie in the fields and in the streets, They will lie in the hills; They will never give up until they get asylum status. And then of course citizenship is just one step more.

    Arjuna Mahendran did not have to do that much lying to get his citizenship in Singapore, there being no hills of any significance in Singapore. Having done all the lying necessary to achieve that goal, do you expect him not to screw the country he hated and make billions in the process? That is the chance our clown of a Prime Minister offered him on a golden platter.

    The author hopes that he will not suffer “the beatings, the suspensions under gravity, and the applications of chilli powder shocks to private parts”. If I were in charge, I promise him that such punishments will not be used. Instead I will be using the 32 fold punishments of the olden days on this world class crook.

  • 2
    3

    Describing your self and your family? If your actual name is Edwin Rodrigo you must be a Tamil Paravan(Bharatha) whose family originated from the Thoothukudi area in Tamil Nadu now masquerading as a Sinhalese Catholic Karawa, who themselves again are all of recent South Indian origin and posting anti Tamil garbage on this forum.

    • 0
      0

      [Edited out]

      • 0
        1

        My reaction too strong, eh? Let us try this for size, shall we?

        Look Sarma, I don’t know where Thoothukudi is. But I remember my mother saying ‘What kind of Thoothukudi has this man has gone to (Me miniha mona Thoothukudiyaka giyada manda”, when my father disappeared from her sight for days, God only knows doing what!

        So I am a Tamil Paravan in your eyes? I don’t know who Paravans are but I am sure that they must be some lowly caste like Sakkilis in your eyes. I don’t mind being a low caste man in your eyes. In fact the lower in your eyes I look the better I like it. But I certainly do mind being called a Tamil. For a Ravana blooded true Sinhala it is a big insult.

        I hope that is mild enough for publishing.

    • 1
      0

      CT (for your eyes only)

      Making inaccurate statements is one thing and can be addressed sensibly.
      People are entitled to their prejudices although eventually only to their own peril.

      But that there should be editing out of abusive caste, race, gender and other identity-based name calling.

      • 1
        0

        Agree absolutely. Is in bad taste, and takes the focus out of the topic being discussed.

  • 3
    0

    Prof. M.N.
    Now you too seem to cross on red.
    “You see putha (son)…”

    Thevarm would never have uttered such a thing. He would have said something like:
    “Mone, incha paar…” or
    “You see, thambi (that is how many sons are addressed by parents in Jaffna)…”
    Precision is everything in narrating history.

    Nevertheless, it is a most enjoyable narrative.
    Thanks.

    • 2
      0

      I think an even bigger twist in this story is young Oliver running a bike shop in Jaffna :-)

    • 1
      3

      Sekara,

      Sivapuranam = Mahesan; Thevaram = Niranjan; Samaanthiram = Niranjan’s son; Bridgetown = Cam”bridge”. It is all autobiographical, so your comment is kind of irrelevant.

      • 1
        1

        Agnos
        Thank you for your wisdom.

        My comncern was about the prospect of a Tamil father addressing his son “putha” and you have let me into the secret that (Professor) Sivapuranam (= Mahesan) Thevaram (= Niranjan;) addresses his son Samaanthiram as “putha”.

        May I, out of curiosity, kindly ask if by any chance you know Samathiram’s real name. That will make your highly pertinent comment complete.

        • 1
          1

          Sekara,

          I don’t know. Sorry.

        • 0
          1

          Too bad.

      • 4
        1

        Such admirable detective work!

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