22 May, 2024

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“Weli Park”, An Old Message Revisited

By Ravi Perera

Ravi Perera

Breaking the urban disarray of the hectic Nawala-Nugegoda Road is the charming walkway commonly referred to as the “Weli Park”.

The park’s immediate surroundings are oppressively commercial, hundreds of shops sitting cheek by jowl, selling hardware, tiles, bathroom fittings, interspersed with Banks, eateries, one even selling pet food. Not a planned development clearly; one by one, all the dwellings with a road frontage have been turned into business places, buildings seem to have come up in defiance of regulations, standing monstrously in tiny plots of land. Often an entire row of shops would be selling bathroom fittings; made in China, same thing, same price, only the discount varies!  Like the rest of Colombo, there is inadequate provision for parking along the Nawala-Nugegoda road, forcing the vehicles to jostle for the few spaces available, obstructing the moving traffic. The competition for business is fierce, disfiguring the shop fronts are huge hoardings and glaring neon lights advertising their wares.

Then, unexpectedly there is this most welcome openness, a park on a slightly raised landscape with a right angle carpark extending from an intersection of the road. A gravel walkway runs inwards from the park along a canal with steep banks; the water is stagnant. Across the canal there are largish houses, of different shape and style; the fetid water creates a waterfront, apparently adding to the value! The view however is only notional, in the design of many of the houses there is no suggestion of openness – forbidding gates, high walls, barred windows, tiny balconies; security concerns have overridden the aesthetics. The walkway runs on a straight line for a couple of hundred yards and then loops back, traversing between the stagnant canal and   patches of mangrove whose waters merge with the swarms extending towards Kotte. A remainder of the wetlands that once defined greater Colombo, a good location for a walk.

Small in dimension, with less range than parks in other countries, the “Weli Park” and other similar recreational spaces that were created around the same time have nevertheless contributed towards making Colombo a more liveable place. They are popular, providing recreational spaces for the city dwellers, otherwise confined by the constrains of the metropolis; fresh air, lush greenery and the wetlands spread yonder.

And as it happens in nearly every Sri Lankan endeavour, there is a discordant note, by the entrance to the “Weli Park”, a public project created by State institutions, is a plastered concrete plaque commemorating its launch. Although after ten years of standing in the sun, rain and humidity some of the wordings are now faded, the savagery of the message lingers in what is legible.

The Urban Wetland Park is hereby vested  in the citizens of Sri Lanka by His Excellency Mahinda Rajapaksa President of the Democratic Socialist Republic of Sri Lanka and would remain a lasting testament to the glorious vision contained in the ‘Mahinda Chintanaya’ of ushering in modernity to the State, sound health to the nation and picturesqueness  to the environment while bringing more lustre and grandeur to the renowned  city of NugegodaGotabaya Rajapaksa, Secretary Ministry of Defence and Urban Development  on this 12th day of January 2013”

It is humiliating that we live in a country where such an arrogant uncouth message comes to be openly displayed, and of all places, at a small park meant for recreational activity. Such parks are standard features in every city of the world. This plaque at ‘Weli Park’ is a perfect metaphor for what the relationship between the rulers and the ruled in this country has become. A confounded people, utterly abject, willing to lap up any abomination with reverential gratitude.

A shameless glorification of the ruler’s benefaction coming from his own brother would have been an embarrassment in another culture. The ten-year gap between this grandiloquence and now, gives us perspective; the poor results, emptiness of the actors, the failure of these men and their methods. Sharply clashing with the trees and flowers of the “Weli Park “is a rusting armoured car, World War Two vintage or thereabouts, reminding the park goers that he is also Secretary of Defence.  

Who would presume to bring “more” lustre and grandeur to the “renowned” city of Nugegoda! Only a person who has never gone outside of Nugegoda, if in body, certainly not in mind! Words robbed of meaning, an indescript Nugegoda made ‘grand and lustrous’ by mere declaration! Where a better educated mind would have desisted, Gotabaya Rajapaksa, now wearing the shoes of Secretary of Urban Development, foolishly glorifies his President brother, the source of his own power. 

There is sanction for this unabashed exaltation of own family, DS Senanayake our very first post-independence Prime Minister manoeuvred to have his son Dudley inherit the premiership after him. That gave the go ahead to an ingrained attitude, something waiting to happen; father to son, husband to wife, brother to brother, politics became an heirloom, no surprise he is called the father of the nation!

The resultant culture has given rise to a deplorable national leadership, wholly occupied in self-perpetuation. Seizing every opportunity to exalt their supposed big deeds, even the most commonplace is made to sound like a benediction the people have received, because of them. According to our self-declared visionaries and doers, we enjoy democracy, the right to vote, public highways, irrigation schemes, electricity to even recreational parks only because they have gifted these to us. However, the country, economically, politically as well as socially   has only deteriorated-relative to East Asia sharply, and now a steady decline even against South Asian countries like India and Bangladesh which are burdened with enormous structural issues including massive populations. We have become a non-performer, a country emblematic of failure. 

This is not a failure that occurred overnight. Blunder following blunder, each act of omission more criminal than the last, every government outdoing its predecessor in covering up corruption. The Sri Lankan failure has gradually built up from almost the time of independence, when a peaceful nation with a reasonable economy was handed over to our leaders to govern. There is a wearisome sameness about our leaders; coming from a handful of families, invariably second or third political generation, same secondary schools (established by the colonialists, a fact proudly stressed), exaggerated religiosity (the rituals) or cultural adherences (white sarong in public), pretences of knowledge/ability (heavy sounding, jargon filled speeches) yet, it is only big talk followed by small deeds, a country otherwise mediocre in every way.

In the sweltering midday heat at the ‘Weli Park’ meanwhile, the sun beats down fiercely, young lovers seek relief under the shade of trees, the putrid water simmers in the heat and the old message on the plaque keeps growling.

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    Ravi Perera,
    Well said and hopefully, citizens may awaken to the primary (definitely not the ONLY) “MALAISE”, afflicting our society!!! NEPOTISM at its height and best altitude, which is only less in contempt, than Bribery and Corruption, in our thrice blessed country!!!
    Stop electing same old edifice, as if due to addiction!!!??? Seems the electorate is confused due to multitude of mixed messages!!
    Let’s forget about mass scale looting of Public Funds on procurement tenders for another occasion, lest we further muddle and confuse the Public and the electorate!!!??
    As far as I could remember, that emanated from 1975 onwards, all the Chinthanaya’ s came into Sri Lankan political space, with great aplomb and euphoric welcome by the masses, ‘IMPLODED’ AND CAME TO NOUGHT, if not negative effect!!??
    MAHINDA CHINTHANAYA, is NO exception!!! Served its purpose to defeat LTTE and conclude ‘30 YEAR WAR’ and then was an UNWANTED MACABRE THOUGHT AND WENT EXTINCT!!!

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