The ‘Fast to Death’ Farce and the Self-Immolation Stunt

by Sachi Sri Kantha

Here’s a toast to the memory of Anne Bancroft (1931-2005), whose Mrs. Robinson character mouthed some memorable lines, written by Calder Willingham and Buck Henry, in the movie The Graduate (1967).  The following lines of Mrs. Robinson to her young and reluctant companion Ben – played by Dustin Hoffman in the movie - are apt to the recent ‘Fast to Death’ Farce enacted by Ven. Omalpe Sobitha Thera, starting from the day Anne Brancroft died [June 6] to June 11th.

"Mrs.Robinson: Can I ask you a personal question?

Ben: Ask me anything you want.

Mrs.Robinson: Is this your first time?

Ben: Is this – what?

Mrs.Robinson: It is, isn’t it? It is your first time.

Ben: That’s a laugh, Mrs.Robinson.  That’s really a laugh.  Ha ha.

Mrs.Robinson: You can admit that, can’t you?

Ben: Are you kidding?

Mrs.Robinson: It’s nothing to be ashamed of –

Ben: Wait a minute!

Mrs.Robinson: On your first time –

Ben: Who said it was my first time.

Mrs.Robinson: That you’re afraid –

Ben: Wait a minute.

Mrs.Robinson: Of being – inadequate – I mean just because you happen to be inadequate in one way."

What a dud the ‘Fast to Death’ Farce turned out to be on Saturday, June 11th!  As Mrs.Robinson needled Ben, "You happen to be inadequate in one way."  After five days of fasting, the Sinhalese politician in the yellow robe meekly surrendered his will to the pangs of hunger and thirst.  His will to live vanquished his will to die by fasting.  There is nothing wrong in Omalpe Sobitha Thera ending his fast after five days.  But, the glaring hole between his mouth and his scalp was exposed for all to see.  All things considered, Ven. Omalpe Sobitha Thera cannot hold a candle to LTTE martyr Thileepan, who in 1987 accomplished what he professed on a ‘Fast to Death’ vow.

Self-immolation of Thich Quang Duc in Saigon June 11, 1963

Then there was the freak-show this month in Colombo, of one Kamburupitiya Pannasara Thera, a 26 year old monk, sitting "on an iron barrel with a bottle of gasoline vowing to set himself ablaze if assurances on the deal are not provided." as per Shimali Senanayake’s Associated Press report of June 10th.  That this Pannasara Thera was nothing but a publicity seeker was inferred by columnist Rajpal Abeynayake, in his Sunday Times (June 12th) column.  To quote Abeynayake,

"This columnist also last heard that fellow monks were throwing matchboxes at a younger monk who was holding onto a container of gasoline opposite the President’s house, threatening to immolate himself.  They were teasing him, and later, taunting him. ‘Take these matchsticks and do it,’ they shouted."

That Kampurupitiya Pannasara Thera is a Sri Lankan Buddhist priest and not a Vietnamese Buddhist priest should not be ignored.  42 years ago [on June 11, 1963], in Saigon, a Buddhist priest named Thich Quang Duc, of Linh-Mu Pagoda, burned himself to death at a busy intersection.  Whether 26 year old Kampurupitiya Pannasara Thera knew about this particular self-immolation is a moot point.  But then, Thich Quang Duc was 67 years when he received posthumous worldwide media attention.  This leaves Kampurupitiya Pannasara Thera another 41 years to follow in the foot-steps of Thich Quang Duc if he has a serious inclination to reach media immortality.

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Posted June 14, 2005