On July 29, 2015, the Afghan government announced that the Taliban leader Mullah Mohammed Omar had died in April 2013. Quite a few may remember that 14 years ago, this same Mullah made a wave in Colombo’s political circles, when he ordered the demolition of the huge standing statues of Lord Buddha in Bamian.
Then, I wrote a sarcastic commentary on the actions of two Lakshmans – Kadirgamar and Jayakody, who were Cabinet members of President Chandrika Kumaratunga, to the now defunct Tamil Nation website. This was couple of months before I was invited to contribute to the sangam site, by its previous editor Dr. Rajan Sriskandarajah. Thus, to include this commentary into my sangam site index, I provide it here again.
Quite a few common threads on the two Lakshmans, viz Kadirgamar (1932-2005) and Jayakody (1930-2010). Both have died now. First, to the Lakshman name they shared. Lakshman is a holy name for Hindus, being the one carried by the younger sibling of Lord Rama, in Ramayana epic. But, while Jayakody was a Buddhist, Kadirgamar was a Christian. Secondly, both were contemporaries at the Trinity College, Kandy. Thirdly, Jayakody entered the parliament in 1960 by contesting Divulapitiya constituency as a SLFPer and repeatedly winning the same constituency in 1965 and 1970 elections. From 1970 to 1977, he served as the Deputy Minister of Defence and Foreign Affairs under Madam Sirimavo Bandaranaike. Kadirgamar entered the parliament only in 1994, as a nominated MP as a SLFPer, and was appointed as the Foreign Minister by Madam Chandrika Kumaratunga, playing a Tamil puppet politician role adeptly for almost 10 years. Fourthly, both Kadirgamar and Jayakody died in August, five years apart. Kadirgamar was assassinated on August 12, 2005. Jayakody died a natural death on August 30, 2010. Fifthly, Sri Lankan Tamils never had high regards for the politics of both. It was during Jayakody’s time as the Deputy Minister of Defence, harassment of Tamil youth by Sinhalese gumshoes and service personnel were initiated. Tamils never warmed up to Kadirgamar because he projected himself as a political clown of ‘Johnny Come Lately’ category. Sixthly, both were snobs of a singular kind as I had dissected their grandstanding in 2001.
One final note: The Economist weekly, always a magazine with a high quotient of British snob appeal, had captioned its obituary of Mullah Omar, with ‘In the Land of the blind’ [Aug.8, 2015], as a non-sexual double entendre on Taliban leader’s visual impairment, achieved in battle ground. Can the editors of the Economist show to its readers, a land of enlightenment or wisdom in the current world now? – Will USA, Russia, UK, China, India, Japan, Iran or Israel qualify?
Snobs of a Singular Kind: Two Lakshmans – Kadirgamar and Jayakody
by Sachi Sri Kantha
[originally posted in the Tamil Nation website, March 21, 2001]
It is an open secret that majority of the Sri Lankan politicians lack many talents which are urgently needed to navigate the moribund Sri Lankan state. But one skill in which majority of the politicians are abundantly blessed comes to the forefront at regular intervals. Of course, I refer to – snobbery of a singular kind. First, to the latest news, if some have missed this item. The Sunday Times of Sri Lanka (March 18) reported the wish of a ranking presidential advisor, under the caption, ‘Lanka wants to rebuild Bamiyan statue’. I reproduce this news item in entirety.
“Sri Lanka is to make a formal request to Afghanistan’s Taleban rulers to hand over the rubble or remnants of what used to be the Buddha statues in Bamiyan, Presidential Advisor Lakshman Jayakody said.
He said Sri Lanka was willing to buy the damaged statue or even the debris and erect a similar statue from it in Sri Lanka and a formal request to Taleban rulers would be made after President Chandrika Kumaratunga returned from her European tour. ‘We have the expertise and experience in erecting such monuments,’ Mr.Jayakody, a former cultural and Buddha Sasana minister, said.
He said Sri Lanka would raise the funds necessary for this operation through international organizations such as UNESCO.”
Now, do not misunderstand me. The destruction of the majestic, standing Buddha statues in Bamian by the Taliban folks was a tasteless act by any cultural standards. It hurt the sentiments of pious Buddhists, idol-worshippers of other religions and students of ancient culture. But the recent pronouncements of Presidential advisors Lakshman Kadirgamar (before demolition) and Lakshman Jayakody (after demolition) in trying to harvest some cheap publicity for them in the international media is nothing but snobbery of tallest proportions.
Here is my classification of these two high-ranking snobs. Lakshman Kadirgamar is a nominal non-Buddhist, pretending to be the Number One Buddhist of Sri Lanka. Lakshman Jayakody is a nominal Buddhist of Sri Lanka, posturing as the best Buddhist of the civilized world.
Ernest Van den Haag published a paper on snobbery in the British Journal of Sociology (1956, vol.7, pp.212-216). In it, he stated,
“a reputation can be built without achievements or deeds of valor simply by being associated in the public eye with those who have high status. One can manipulate one’s status without changes in the status base. With this discovery snobbery was born.”
Furthermore, this study inferred that
“the essential characteristic of the snob is his thirst for unearned glory. Thus snobbery is concern with repute and unconcern or spurious concern with cause or merit of it, a desire for prestige unearned.”
More than a month ago, the snobs of Sri Lankan government wouldn’t have even bothered to know where Bamian was. Once the fate of Bamian Buddhist statues received full notice in the international media, Sri Lankan snobs tagged on to the high status symbol with a motive to better their own tarnished images. I’m somewhat relieved that average Sri Lankans have a good sense of humor and are not fooled by such snobbery by the political big-wigs. Here is an entertaining opinion by one Dharmapala Senaratne of Gothatuwa, which appeared in the Island newspaper of March 19, the day following Lakshman Jayakody’s pronouncement. Excerpts:
“A cynical friend tells me that Taliban must have learnt the art from Sri Lankans. Asked to explain, he elaborated that digging holes in ancient Buddha statues of much archaeological value – thus practising a most degrading form of vandalism – has been practised in our motherland long before Afghans tried their hand at it.
Not long ago, it was reported in the press that two Buddha statues were missing from a temple in the Anuradhapura district. Two days later, there appeared a further news story to say that they were found in a drain a distance away wrapped in polythene sheets. If this is not Talibanic activity, what then is it?….
Helpless, dumb animals in their vast numbers are taken to the killing ground much against their wish and their throats are slit, so that the poor animal slowly and surely bleeds to death in excruciating agony. The state sponsored gruesome act is performed in all parts of the country day in and day out right round the year, except on Poya days, thereby violating the very first of the five precepts. Further, the state has made arrangements to export local meat. This is Talibanic without controversy…..
Bribery, corruption, fraud etc. which are contravenous to the 2nd precept are so commonplace today that they hardly need any elaboration. Instances of Cabinet Ministers running on the road crying out ‘Eureka’, in Archemedes-like garb have been reported, and that obviously goes against the third precept. The fourth precept relates to uttering falsehoods and our rulers do it, million times a day, 365 days a year….
So, why go all the way to Afghanland across the Pamir mountains, the roof of the world, when we have Talibans nearer home just under our noses?”
Well said, Mr.Senaratne. One could add more.
For ages, Tirukethesswaram in Mannar has been held in high esteem as a holy shrine by the Hindus. Like the Bamian Buddha statues, it has a comparable 1,500 years of history, as revealed by Saint Tirugnanasambanthar’s thevaaram hymn of the 7th century. Precincts of this sacred Hindu temple has been defiled beyond proportions by the Sri Lankan army for years now, but the snobs of Chandrika’s circle turn a blind eye for vandalism occurring closer to them.
Even if one accommodates a saner reason that Hinduism is a step-child in Sri Lanka and thus suffers from lack of political patronage, snobs like Lakshman Kadirgamar and Lakshman Jayakody also know well the fate of Buddhist monasteries in Tibet. As attested by Dalai Lama and other neutral observers, thousands of these monastries have been defiled and demolished by the Chinese communist regime during the past five decades. But for reasons of convenience, the mouths of Sri Lankan snobs keep silent, demonstrating that these snobs are hypocrites as well. How can lowly snobs offend their patrons who provide armaments for their war against the Tamils?
Lakshman Kadirgamar, on his regular jaunts all over the world, delivers invitations to every dignitary of his host nation to visit Sri Lanka. But he will not do the same to Dalai Lama to avoid the displeasure of China’s ruling clique. Attributes like conscience, logic and rationality are not in the dictionary of snobs like him.
I’ll let the noted lexicographer Eric Partridge to have the last word. Snobs like the two Lakshmans of Sri Lanka offer positive proof for what Partridge wrote 50 years ago in his essay, ‘The speech-habits of Snobs’.
“Many snobs are stupid; not quite morons, yet certainly stupid rather than intelligent. With a touch of acuteness not, among such persons, so rare as one might think, these particular snobs have come to make a virtue of their lack of true intelligence. Nowadays, it is regarded as ‘cute’ to be shrewd yet not noticeably intelligent. And it is very ‘cute’ indeed to be merely ‘smart Alec’ instead of genuinely smart. That, however, constitutes a form of snobbery unlikely to last more than a few years”. [Eric Partridge, in From Sanskrit to Brazil, 1952]
I’m sure none will disagree with Partridge’s biting inference.