Nov 27

Recently, Mr Kesaralal Gunasekera, Dr K.N.K.Wijayawardana and Dr D.P.Atukorale have each written to the press expressing their displeasure about the loud music at many Sri Lankan weddings. Readers will, no doubt, recollect reading several similar public complaints in the past.

Virtually without exception, Sri Lankan parents feel obliged to give their children a grand wedding because they fear that failing to do so would affect their standing in the eyes of relatives, friends and even others. As a corollary, parents consider it vital to invite all their close relatives; others whom they or the children like; many to whom they are obliged in some way; those who may be too important to be ignored; those whom they meet frequently at work or elsewhere; those who might feel offended if they were to be left out; and a few others, on various additional grounds.

One need not hesitate to assert that the principal objectives of a Sri Lankan wedding are to get family and friends together to wish the young couple well on their long journey ahead and to make use of the occasion to let the guests, many of whom may be meeting each other after a long interval of time, to exchange news of their near and dear. In contrast to these two primary objectives, there are two other lesser ones, namely, to treat all the guests to a good meal and, in weddings of those who belong to what we may call the more westernised classes of society, to provide an opportunity for those so inclined to enjoy the pleasures of the bar and the dance floor. Sadly, the primary objectives tend nowadays to be pushed well into the background and greater prominence given to food, drink and dancing.

In the majority of weddings, we find that the band for the wedding is chosen by the young couple on the grounds that the music of the favoured band had been fun to dance to at some nightclub, disco, ball or gala. Whilst these bands may be the rage at a particular time, it would not be too far from the truth to state that the members of such bands, almost universally, have not the faintest idea about acoustics or high fidelity amplification. It has been revealed by medical doctors that these musical groups often consist of persons who, having listened to their own output at full volume for some years, have now lost part of their hearing. Consequently, the man at the amplifier tends to set the bass, treble, reverberation and volume settings to the maximum, whatever be the capacity of the amplifying equipment, and whatever the size and acoustics of the wedding hall. The members of the band are not concerned whether the high notes of their music pierce the eardrums of those guests who are unfortunate enough to have to sit close to their monstrous loudspeakers or whether the low notes force the chest cavities of those present to resonate disturbingly, causing actual physical distress, as has been reported in some instances.

Besides the painful assault on one’s eardrums and lungs, the sad part is that one cannot often hear what even one’s immediate neighbour is saying, let alone what someone on the other side of the table is trying to convey. The strain of shouting one’s questions or answers is a severe assault on the throat and one is, in any case, not certain whether the other party has heard correctly whatever is said. Thus, instead of leaving us with a sense of contentment at having been able to interact happily with our fellow guests, we are left frustrated and angry at the crass insensitivity of the band leaders who, for the most part, do not respond at all positively to requests to cut down on the volume of their blaring loudspeakers.

The end result of all this is that the young couple end up by marring the one unrepeatable day of their lives by subjecting so many of their guests to severe acoustic torture. With a little consideration for their guests, the bride and groom could surely leave some of their dancing for the thousand opportunities which will undoubtedly present themselves during the rest of their married life.

Young couples might controvert this point of view by insisting that it is their wedding and, if they and their friends want to dance to a noisy band, no one should begrudge them their fun on their one special day. They certainly have a point there but, in the light of this conflict between the primary and secondary purposes, some kind of compromise needs to be forged. It is, therefore, suggested that, when a wedding is being planned, parents should tell the young couple that there will always be two basic groups of people at Sri Lankan weddings – the older generation, who would like to interact with the other guests without painful discomfort, and the younger generation, the majority of whom might like to dance in preference to talking. The parents and the couple should then adopt a middle path by agreeing that the wedding ceremony proper would be followed immediately by soft music of some kind (not necessarily by the band) for, say, two hours to allow the guests to wish the couple and to move around and re-establish contact with those whom they might meet only on these occasions. This arrangement would have the added advantage of sparing the couple the tiresome chore of walking through the crowds to each table to meet all the guests. Thus, the newly-weds would themselves need to go up only to those few guests who might be too old or in too poor health to get about easily.

Dinner should be served early so that those wishing to leave before the cacophony commences could do so. Those who wish to drink, eat later and also dance could do so after the first two hours of relative quiet. Even if most of the guests do not leave early, at least they would have had a reasonable amount of quiet time to catch up with at least a few relatives and friends, and can thereafter resign themselves to remaining silent during the second half of loud music and dancing, till the newly-weds depart.

By this modus vivendi, both the primary and secondary objectives of having a grand wedding could be reasonably satisfied, and good governance of all aspects of the wedding established

Nov 13

One gathers from recent newspaper reports that the Government of Sri Lanka intends, or has already decided, to abrogate unilaterally the commitments undertaken in the documents which were signed at the last six or so meetings in Oslo, Tokyo and Geneva.  Considered in the light of the circumstances surrounding the tearing-up of the Bandaranaike-Chelvanayagam Pact and the Dudley-Chelvanayagam Pact, and the deliberately slow implementation of the various laws passed in respect of the national and official languages, as well as the failure to pass the requisite laws to make effective nationally the many important international covenants, protocols etc which were signed by our nation’s representatives many years ago, one could hardly be blamed for thinking that, when a Sri Lankan government signs a document saying AYes, it may well mean A No.

If memory serves us right, one of our Prime Ministers, in a rare moment of candour for a politician, confessed, on a public platform, that everyone in Sri Lanka knows that election promises are meant solely to secure votes and that all citizens are well aware that most such promises will not be fulfilled.  It did not need his confession for the people to realise that this type of deplorable hoodwinking, by political parties and their candidates deliberately lying to voters, continues to be the norm.  However, our people have been most forgiving, perhaps believing implicitly that this type of vice, sin or crime is meant only for local consumption and is, therefore, not something about which one should fret too much because, in any case, one may discount appropriately the value of any election promises before casting one’s vote.

We also recall how a Adharmishta form of government was promised and how it led to a cooked-up referendum, and the stoning of the residences of some of our then revered Supreme Court judges.  Promises of a guaranteed price for paddy and bread at Rs3.50 per kg were just two other low frauds.  Moreover, it did not take too long for one and all to fathom years ago that the 1994 election undertaking to have the Executive Presidency abolished was a premeditated deception.

Then there are the oaths and affirmations, taken by those thousands who are required to do so, to uphold the Constitution.  We have learnt from increasingly bitter experience that most of these thousands, irrespective of their rank in the national hierarchy, do not appear ever to have intended to honour such oaths or affirmations.  The Constitution continues to be brazenly violated, particularly under the cover of the so-called Ablanket immunity, which is said to apply to all presidential acts, even if they are patently unconstitutional or unlawful.

The Commissioner of Elections has been asking, for several years, to be allowed to retire.  The last time was when the 2005 Presidential Elections were concluded.  On this occasion he was publicly and smilingly given the nod to go on his well-earned retirement.  But, what do we have?  A less than acceptable excuse that he cannot be released because the Elections Commission cannot be appointed owing to the fact that the Constitutional Council cannot function lawfully without its full complement of ten members, ignoring the fact that it had functioned for some time with only nine members (upon the resignation of one of its better known members), and that its quorum, in any event, is only six.

It now appears that the international community, too, is expected to swallow our politicians’ unserious undertakings in the same manner as our apathetic citizenry do in respect of unfulfilled vote-catching slogans.  This is an utterly shameful situation.  We need to accept in all humility that the unilateral abrogation of solemn commitments made to other parties in the name of the State is just not compatible with integrity or good governance. The time is ripe, therefore, for Parliament, now hopefully bipartisan, to pass laws that would bind the government for the time being, whatever its political colour, to honour at least the international commitments made by all preceding governments from the time of independence, including the passing of any necessary national legislation so as not to harm Sri Lanka’s standing and reputation in the world community, not to mention the loss of credibility and the sympathy of all the other 191 nations which, together with Sri Lanka, comprise the UN.

As for the hundreds of broken election promises, we shall have to wait for more favourable litigational conditions to prevail, whereupon the public may be sufficiently emboldened to sue politicians in their personal capacity for cheating the public with evident fraudulent intent.

All the improprieties referred to above arise because the Rule of Law has been progressively undermined by politicians with no little assistance from many others.  It is vital that we take steps to stop this rot, but the onus for doing so lies largely with our legal fraternity.  It is dispiriting to see, though, that most Sri Lankan lawyers are content to focus solely on how quickly and thickly they can line their pockets, with no thought of their civic responsibilities, for which they have been uniquely empowered unlike other citizens.  We appeal to the Bar Association of Sri Lanka to do their duty towards the welfare of future generations of Sri Lankans by energising and motivating each of its members to help restore the Rule of Law, not only during Law Week but every day of the year.