Ilankai Tamil Sangam

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Association of Tamils of Sri Lanka in the USA

El President Fakes a Paul Newman Act

At the UN podium

by Sachi Sri Kantha, October 7, 2008

President Rajapakse’s scriptwriters should have told him this Tamil proverb; ‘Padikkirathu Thevaram – Idikkirathu Sivan Kovil’ (Reciting holy hymns, but desecreating Lord Shiva’s temple).

I wonder how many Tamils and those who sympathize with the Tamil cause would have been fooled by the news of Sri Lankan President Rajapakse’s faking a Paul Newman act at the UN podium by pretending to speak in the Tamil language. Here is the story for the record, ‘Rajapakse speaks in Tamil at UN’, from India’s rediff.com (Sept.26, 2008) report.

“Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapakse, who perhaps became the first Head of State to speak in Tamil at the UN General Assembly, has conveyed that the government puts the language on equal status with that of Sinhala, a top minister said. ‘The President's actions (on Wednesday) makes its clear that we are a government committed to promoting and nurturing diversity,’ Human Rights and Disaster Management Minister Mahinda Samarasinghe said. ‘It was a very strong signal to the people of the north and east that Tamil, an official language of Sri Lanka, is used and respected by the head of state and government,’ the minister told a meeting.

Rajapakse, who spoke a few lines in Tamil said, ‘While my mother tongue is Sinhala, let me elaborate a few thoughts in Tamil. Sinhala and Tamil are the two languages of the people of Sri Lanka. Both these have been used through the centuries, are rich in literature and are widely used in my country with recognition as official languages. With the widening of democracy in our country, the bonds between the Sinhala and Tamil people of Sri Lanka will grow and remain a major force for its future development. We will march towards a richer freedom and lasting unity that await us as a nation,’ the President said. Rajapakse had used Tamil in an extempore speech in Colombo during a meeting a few months ago.”

El President’s stupid, cheating UN act in speaking a few sentences in Tamil, coupled with the saddening news of Hollywood actor and humanist Paul Newman’s (1925-2008) death that followed, prompted me to reminisce on Paul Newman’s signature role as a bumbling Butch Cassidy in 1969. Paul Newman in his role as a comedian cheat delighted his fans with a fumbling act as a bank robber, pretending to speak Spanish to scare the customers and bank workers. To relish, here is a verbatim script of the screenplay by William Goldman, in the Butch Cassidy and Sundance Kid movie. Butch and his sidekick Sundance Kid, played by Robert Redford, enter a Bolivian bank. Both jump into action, as scripted below:

Butch: Esto es…es… (yanks out his crib sheet) Robo! [Before Butch can even finish, everyone in the bank quietly raise their hands and back quickly against the wall.]

Butch: (to himself) Raise your hands. (out loud). Manos arriba.

Sundance: [moving nervously among the people in the bank, frisking them for weapons as he goes.] They got ‘em up – skip on down.

Butch: (to himself) Raise them! (out loud) Arriba!

Sundance: skip-on-down.

Butch: (to himself) Back against the wall. (out loud) Arrimense a la pared.

Sundance: They’re – against-the-wall- already!

Butch: (furious). Don’t you know enough not to criticize someone who’s doing his best? (going to Sundance, showing the paper at him) Here - you’re so damn smart, you read.

[The Bank people, standing quietly confused, hands raised, looking at each other.]”

Like the Bolivian Bank customers of that movie, El Presidente’s tacky act of speaking Tamil at the UN podium, would not have gladdened any Tamil hearts. There is a proverb in Tamil that castigates this sort of rowdy behavior. President Rajapakse’s scriptwriters should have told him this Tamil proverb; ‘Padikkirathu Thevaram – Idikkirathu Sivan Kovil’ (Reciting holy hymns, but desecreating Lord Shiva’s temple).

With every bombing act perpetrated by El Presidente’s military minions in the Tamil territory, President Rajapakse’s shmooz (idle talk) act of speaking Tamil projects him as a master of schlock (someone who specializes in selling cheap merchandize).

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