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Armchair Philosophy

Delegates at Hambantota trying to pose for the massive group picture.

Delegates at Hambantota trying to pose for the massive group picture with the president.

I know a lot of people here are idealistic, I am too. I’m just a little cynical about the mechanisms we usually use in order to get what we want. Getting what we want (‘we’ being ‘the youth’, an over-homogenized entity that sometimes does not make sense), being the primary goal here at WCY2014 and similar conferences we attend. My frustration usually stems from the fact that no one usually looks in-the-face of the most urgent problems of our time, problems from which most of the issues we want to tackle arise from the first place.

There was very little deep discourse, for instance, on the wars and oppressions raging in the world today. Where essentially respected nations within the global community are carrying out dastardly acts with grave violations of human rights. There was next to no discussion about the corporatocracy, the military industrial complex, puppet regimes, the exploitation of resources in the name of capitalism, phenomenon that are invariably nicely packaged in boxes labelled ‘democracy’, ‘progress’ and ‘freedom’ for gullible minds to consume, distorting what those original concepts should mean to us to begin with.

Take the Arab Spring, the most touted example of this century, bandied about by practically everyone trying to convert people into believing in the ‘potential of youth’. The Arab spring has completely failed in almost all the places it has ‘sprung’ up in, with Tunisia being the only possible exception. Wherever else the Arab Spring raised its head, born by the boiling frustrations of young people long oppressed by regimes backed by the global status quo, it has only been compressed again, the most blatant example of this being Egypt, where a military coup that killed nearly 700 innocents is now holding forth as the only hope for democracy in the country. A regime fast gaining support and legitimacy from around the world despite its many ongoing violations.

We talk about climate change and the carbon footprint, yet most climate problems stem from activities of large corporate entities that are simply not represented here. This literally makes it impossible to engage meaningfully with one of the main stakeholders on the issue. These same corporates, again, are supported by governments that bring legitimacy to conferences such as these, and preserved and natured in the name of capitalism and economic growth. So, I think, what kind of game are we playing here? Are conferences such as these merely put in place to pander to the enthusiasm of youth? A way of harnessing their energy? A way of diverting it away from where it would have been expended otherwise? In bloody smash-yourself-against-the-wall-revolutions born of desperate frustration perhaps?

Young people almost by definition are frustrated. I think being frustrated and concerned about problems and issues is something that ties us together as idealists, as those that are young. Because what else does? I have met many kinds of young people. Strong, weak, happy, sad, apathetic and simply downright evil. I have met young people that in my opinion should in no way be allowed anywhere near a position of power. Young people in that sense are just like old people. But young people at least, are less likely to take things lying down.

Most of the ‘old people’ that spoke to us over the last few days, like John Ashe, the president of the general assembly of the UN, indicated how the baton is now being passed, about how his generation was not as successful as he hoped it would be. How the world’s problems, decades on, are still more or less the same. This is a huge responsibility and also a burden on our shoulders. Because what guarantee do we have that our approach will yield better results? Are we, in an Einsteinian spell of madness, going to go about solving our problems in the same way as those before us, repeating their oversights and mistakes? Or are we not only going to aim for change, but also in a change in how we approach change?

From the beginning of the conference, the unofficial word on the street was that we were not to expect a revolutionary outcome document. The point is the process, changing the process here is what was important. Wangari Maathai, the famous Kenyan activist, left us with the tale of the hummingbird, who patiently travelled back and forth from the river in an attempt to douse the flames consuming her jungle home even as all other animals fled. We must all be hummingbirds for change, she said. And hummingbirds are what I see when I look at the delegates of WCY2014.

Plenty of people here believe this conference can and is contributing to change in a positive way. At least in terms of process. If this goes ahead as planned, the post-2015 development goals will essentially be influenced by actual youth input. For the first time in like, ever, young people would have actually contributed their bit into global policy formulation; having their say in how policies of countries around the world address issues such as gender, human rights, health, governance and what have you. This, even I can admit, is nothing to sneeze at.

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illustration by KAL (great to have met him in Sri Lanka at the US Embassy btw)

“Kabul ain’t Colombo” I said unthinkingly. My Afghan friend laughs. Leaving things in one’s car while one wanders off into a restaurant or a mall isn’t done in Kabul. Not if you want to find them still there when you come back.

Kabul isn’t Colombo by a long way. Katmandu isn’t Colombo either. For one thing we have better roads, cleaner streets and better public services. Neither is Karachi, Lahore, Delhi (our rape count is much lower for instance) or Male for that matter. For a country that likes to complain a lot, Sri Lanka has a pretty good capital city. Sure, Colombo is kind of boring and it can sometimes feel very claustrophobic and stuffy (that’s what long weekends are for) but you can still travel in public transport with relatively low risk of getting pick pocketed, same goes for the rest of the country. You don’t have that luxury say, in Europe. No Colombo and Sri Lanka are comparatively crime free.

Or perhaps I should say Sri Lanka is pretty street crime free. Most of the crime committed in Sri Lanka is carried out by the so-called civilized. The new elite and the haute bourgeoisie of post war nepotism, which is more a culture here than a contrived state of affairs. From bribery and corruption to burglary, murder and kidnappings most high profile crimes today lead upwards; into rarified stratospheres the country’s weakened law enforcement mechanisms dare not venture into.

Economically, Colombo and Sri Lanka appear to have it pretty good. We’re growing at above six percent a year, we’re doing well on indicators like global competitiveness and our human development indicators trump most of our South Asian counterparts. But Colombians and by extension Sri Lankans don’t seem to be happy. The numbers tell us that we have it good, but we’re not happy. Why?

One explanation could be that I’m an elitist. Living in a bubble of economic prosperity and social comfort that the vast majority are deprived of. Another explanation is that Sri Lankans are just a bunch of unsatisfied materialists that will stoop to anything to get at personal prosperity. And in a context of rapid development, tend to forget their own modest improvement in the face of the vast wealth accumulated by the ruling classes.

Yet another explanation is that yes, there is jealousy. But there is also strong economic discontent and dissatisfaction, exacerbated by the feeling that the top of the pyramid has it easy. The evidence is in front of us, the amount of people complaining about the rising cost of living aren’t just restricted to the poorer segments of society anymore, the number of people taking to the streets in protest of not having basic services is indicative of the failure of the state’s administrative capacities at that level.

In Sri Lanka it is normal for leaders to steal from their subjects. It is almost expected of them. The petite bourgeoisie needs role models after all. And rarely does a Sri Lankan from any walk of life think of not taking advantage of his/her position if they can. Just walk into any government public services department, have a euphemism laden conversation with a traffic policeman or see how many times that bus conductor will hand over your change voluntarily. But at the larger level, Sri Lanka’s nepotistic and hand-out based economic structure seems to be unraveling.

As an example, take the numerous accounts of foreign investors being turned away due to the myriad bribes, protection fees and other baksheesh demanded by its bureaucracy and organized crime networks, which are incidentally indistinguishable from each other. Any foreign projects approved are locked up tight with contracts awarded mainly to parasitic contractors with connections to the ruling classes. Trickle down is minimum What is worse, as the pagawa demanded rises above all reasonable levels, the amount of investment coming in is stalling, drying up reserves of cash that could otherwise have gone into appeasing the people. What trickle down there is, is stalling.

And it’s all about trickle down. Because leaders, while being allowed to enrich themselves, must also ‘take care’ of their subjects. The people must be given a part of the spoils. In effect steal from the poor and give back to the poor, but with a significant cut. The cut is forgiven if their share comes fast enough. Efficient government services thus become a hindrance to this system of patronage. But some rudimentary form of it needs to exist in order to be put into motion as and when the need to dispense some patronage comes up. It is perhaps telling that increasing breakdown of public services is happening though, that means that the upper echelons are either getting too greedy or simply running out of money.

I suspect it’s the latter. Rampant corruption has begun to deprive the economy of what efficiency it had. Political gridlocks and deep rooted biases are pitting it against an international community in a battle that threatens to permanently damage its reputation. And somewhere in the complicated system that is Sri Lanka’s political/social structure, the cogs that facilitate the smooth functioning of this hand-out machine are clogging up. Favors are not being churned out at the pace they should be. Whether there is recourse to address this problem through the coming elections is questionable. In fact, no real solutions other than the ending, or at least cutting back, of corruption can help. Aberrations, like the recent spurt of racist propaganda, have failed to distract. And people are getting angry.

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This post was originally published in The Platform

I dislike the label ‘activist’, armchair or otherwise. To be defined as an activist is to be defined by the inactivity of others. Armchair activism, as I see it, is a constant struggle against (to paraphrase Milton Freidman) ‘the tyranny of the status quo’; that dread inertia that prevents people at large from forming the critical mass required to propel decisive solutions to social issues that affect them all.

Armchair activism is different in nature from ‘on-the-ground’ activists who have a gamut of other responsibilities, like standing in front of tanks and bulldozers should the need arise. (Raashid Riza has an excellent post on contemporary activism, armchair activism and cynics of all forms in the light of recent events here.) Armchair activists are more specifically involved in spreading the word in the domain of public opinion – they are in the fight against ignorance, cynicism and apathy.

The goal of the armchair activist, conscious or otherwise, is to convince OTHER people of the need for altruism and moral consideration. Theirs is a sustained effort at tipping the balance of this inertia, at creating that critical mass. Social media has contributed to a phenomenal rise in armchair activism. The ability to influence public opinion is now at our very fingertips.

But armchair activists are rendered outcasts in an environment still dominated by  the primary tyrannical force, materialism. Materialism breeds selfishness, and selfishness is protected by cynicism. Cynicism denies responsibility for the actions of others, even individuals the cynics themselves have elected into power. Cynics deny that one can make a difference, but know that many can. However they doubt that enough will overcome their own cynicism in order to join together convincingly, thus building a self fulfilling philosophy that makes selfishness always comfortably right.

This is played out in social networks, both real and virtual, everyday. People cannot understand why other people get all up in arms about things that happen thousands of miles away. These others can’t understand how some can idly sit by and look at pictures of kittens when not only kittens but children are being slaughtered indiscriminately ONLY a few thousand miles away. Vocal cynics resent being reminded of the latter. And say so. Scoffing at idealists is a popular pastime when idealists get active.

And then there is the silent majority, too caught up with its own affairs to even bother with vocalising its cynicism. To all of them, the ‘voice of the people’ is a myth. Or if it exists, it only exists in order to elect the next American Idol, or president.

This disillusionment with the power of the ‘voice of the people’ is the primary source of conscious or unconscious ire for the armchair activist. Forever trying to influence and educate, shock and engage the public at large, armchair activists capitalise on critical events they see as having the ability to finally tip the majority in their favor. These are the times when they get really active, because to them it is all about critical mass.

And they help. Public outrage in the wake of Israel’s illegal Operation Pillar of Cloud helped accelerate the ceasefire agreement; public outrage at the Deepwater Horizon oil spill sparked investigations debating BP’s drilling practices, the risks of oil spills and key environmental issues in general. But have they done enough? I’d say no. The underlying causes of these issues remain, ready to burst forth in some new form of violence in the future. Change more radical than this would need to happen for a permanent solution, the kind of solutions that all activists, everywhere, ardently hope for.

But, unfortunate as it may be, this kind of critical mass manifests only when a major crisis is imminent. Only when the disease spreads to the very foundations of the materialism that breeds the cynicism, that breeds the apathy of public opinion, will the majority awaken from its inertia. But when this does happen, to paraphrase Friedman again, their actions will depend on the ideas that are ‘lying around’, the discourses, social infrastructure, alternative policies and theories of change that have been kept alive by activists of all kinds, waiting until the ‘impossible’ becomes the ‘inevitable’.

This is probably why activism and armchair activism appear futile in the short term and only superficially effective in the medium term. For long lasting change to occur, whatever that may mean, the efforts of activists are not enough.  It takes the efforts of non-activists as well, in the process converting everyone into someone who acts, removing the need to define what an ‘activist’ is altogether.

Nice guy Pakistan fan at Pallekale

Halaal Sri Lanka tweeted the below this morning. The ACJU already sent what i think is a mass SMS via dialog saying the same.

Interesting. I think the ACJU message was a little blunt and slightly tactless. But in the context of the recent protests i suppose they rightly thought to quell any antagonistic behavior from more disruptive elements that work not out of any loyalty to the Prophet (peace be upon him) or Islam but for their own/inciteful reasons. So maybe we should applaud the ACJU for taking the initiative, but also one wonders if they couldn’t have done it in a more subtle manner. Indi has a post on it here.

As for why some Muslims in Sri Lanka support Pakistan over Sri Lanka. Personally i don’t know. But i can make a few guesses. Number one it is pretty much the only Muslim country that plays cricket. And if you look at the Muslim psyche there is a strong affinity towards Islamic collectivism (since Islam in essence doesn’t subscribe to nation statism). But Muslims in Sri Lanka identify themselves both as this global community of Muslims as well as Sri Lankans.

When it comes to cricket, almost every Muslim i know, including me, will support Sri Lanka over Pakistan. But i have known some Muslims who have opted to support Pakistan. Most of them come from communities that are very tight knit and isolated. So i’ve known this to happen in certain parts of Panadura like Sarikkamulla. I’ve heard of open and defiant support for Pakistan being expressed in towns like Maradana, Thihariya etc. Or at least, i think i have. Some of these displays have been very in-your-face. Like crackers being lit etc. Not very nice.

Muslims openly supporting Pakistan, to me, is quite a dated phenomenon. If you were to ask me what i think, based on my experience, i would say that i used to be aware of this a lot more when i was younger. But as time progressed, especially after the ’96 world cup, a lot less Muslims supported Pakistan over Sri Lanka. So i think it also has something to do with having a strong team in Sri Lanka to support. If your national identity doesn’t work for you, you switch to the alternative. Its an easy way of finding a winning team to root for.

My enthusiasm for cricket also changes with the Sri Lankan team’s performance. Although I’ve never supported anyone against our team, after the world cup throw away i got so dejected that i didn’t really start showing any interest in cricket until Sri Lanka’s last two matches in the World T20. Let’s face it, our team has an uncanny knack of never failing to disappoint. At the most crucial moments. So much pain.

Anyway does Pakistan’s team even represent Islam? I don’t know. Most of them are Muslims that is true. But i don’t even always support Pakistan when they are playing against another team. Truth be told to me cricket is not about religion. Cricket is about cricket. Entirely a different thing. And honestly i think this is the case for most Sri Lankan Muslims. I was at Pallekale for the Pakistan-New Zealand match. I was supporting Pakistan. But there were hundreds of Muslims in the crowd from Kandy. And most of them were cheering for both teams. Some of them even only for new Zealand.

So i don’t know how sports here in Sri Lanka mixes with identity politics. Indi says that even Prabhakaran supported Sri Lanka, but then again did he really have a lot of reasons to support India? If Eelam became a reality would they be sending a team to the SLPL? One thing i have noticed though is antagonism viz India. So much hate for India. I wondered why and asked around. People apparently don’t like their team members’ ‘arrogance’. And there’s also the perception that India has been historically always interfering with Sri Lanka’s internal affairs.

Generally speaking though. Sports is a major outlet of dissent. Take Scottish soccer for example. So if there are elements supporting other teams against Sri Lanka, it’s probably prudent to check why these elements apparently feel so disenfranchised.

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Today at the barbershop i had an epiphany about films. An old Sinhalese film, must have been from the forties, was playing on the small TV. The barber told me that those actors are all probably dead now. The move is called ‘Geetha’, the full credits roll by in the beginning, but there’s a short intro into the whole theme with a scene before that.

The son has just come from England. He sports a little Hitler mustache. He is wearing a dress shirt, pants and tie. The father is dressed in a suit. They are rich people. The mother is absent. She has apparently gone to yet another meeting of a ‘women’s club’. It is a habit of hers to throw away money on these clubs and receive high positions in them. She has taken the good car to go for a function now. The son ridicules his mother’s behavior and questions her objectives. The father says that he has no real say in the matter, since he is a poor man and his wife owns all the money.

Soon the mother returns, bearing a heavy basket of flowers which she was gifted at the event as the chief guest. The son accurately guesses that she must have donated ten thousand rupees to this particular event judging by the weight of the basket, which weighs ten pounds, and the going rate for gifts of flower baskets in return for donations must be a thousand rupees for a pound. This angers his mother. She is dressed in an immaculate sari and sports one of those elaborate 1940s hairstyles that curve around a woman’s face. Further argument is suspended when a worker from their factory comes calling, to tell them that his daughter is getting married. The worker is dressed in an old but neat suit and sarong, his wife wears a carefully preserved white sari.

They have obviously come to ask for financial assistance. but as custom dictates, they don’t say so openly. All pretension is to the effect that the visit is merely to ‘inform’ for propriety’s sake. The father invites them in, the son asks them to sit down. The worker and his wife sit with great hesitation. The father and son then ask some random questions like “where is the groom from?”. The groom is from Kandy and works in the civil service, apparently his salary will be increased once he gets married.

Further conversation is interrupted when the wife loudly calls the husband aside.

“What are these poor people doing sitting in our living room, she asks, “who are they?”

“He is a worker in our factory with his wife”, says the husband.

The wife becomes livid, “poor people have their place and they should not be sitting around becoming pally with the likes of us, have you no shame?”

“well, what do you want me to do?”

“tell them to bloody leave!” she yells, so loudly that the worker and his wife get up, startled, and make as if to go away.

The husband though, plaintively persists “his daughter is getting married, we should give them something, how about five hundred rupees?”

“Are you mad? We already pay them salaries and bonuses. Just give the man five rupees and send him off”.

At this moment, the wife sees some of her acquaintances from her club coming to pay a visit. She becomes alarmed. “Chase those two away at once, what will my friends think of me if they realize the kind of people we welcome into our house!”

The women have come to diplomatically elicit yet another donation, in return for which they will nominate the wife for a post in the parliament. The wife is more than eager to agree. And shells out ten thousand rupees, which must have been a thumping amount at the time, on the spot. Meanwhile the son muses on the fact that his mother loses no time in throwing away ten thousand rupees to become a ‘public servant’ when she can’t stand the sight of the general public inside her own house.

Who in Sri Lanka makes films like this anymore? All i see are movies aping Bollywood. And ‘comedies’ with jokes so lame they need crutches. Some might say that good films with strong messages do get made, but either they get no exposure, or there simply isn’t a market for them.So is something wrong with the Sri Lankan film goer? Have the people no more appetite to ponder ground realities like the class and political differences that underpin the way we live today?

Many Sri Lankans today are sold on cardboard dreams built on TV reality shows and dolled up movie stars. The typical poor Sri Lankan is caught up with the glamor of the rich, and wants to own it as soon as possible. So when he sees the politician roll by in his cavalcade of Range Rovers and matt black BMWs he doesn’t see a vile rogue who owes everything he has to corruption and abuse of power, he sees the epitomization of his own dream. The only way to stop being oppressed is to become the oppressor.

Programming; slightly trickier that making accharu, though principally the same. Photo by @aufidus

I have long since been fascinated and frustrated by computers. I’m not ashamed to say it, i don’t understand them. All i know  safely is that they are some sort of glorified abacus. But I’ve been given to understand that even this definition might be somewhat of an oversimplification.

Time was when I used to need to call a friend to even install a desktop computer. A laughable matter to me now. After a following a short course in the rudiments of computer hardware i can now safely identify the physical makeup of a ‘machine’ (as the computer is known among us connoisseurs) for instance, from the stomach contents of a dead, man eating crocodile. A vast improvement. But the inner workings of the soul of the machine, the mind they call ‘the software’ has always been about as clear to me as a brick wall.

Recently to try and break that wall down a bit, and to ward off disturbing visions of me becoming a bitter old man removed by degrees from understanding technology completely, i started a course at MIT. Not the MIT in Maradana, the one in Massachusetts. It’s a free online course and is very insightful. For one thing, I discovered that ‘computing’ or ‘programming’ is actually a deeply philosophical pursuit, tackling fundamental questions about how we look at learning and solving problems. Most startlingly ‘Computing’ they tell me, has about as much to do with computers as geometry has to do with your average compass.

Now there’s a thought to mull over..Computers have nothing to do with computing? Surely you are joking, professor.

But the science is so new that the association it has with its tools are still too strong in our minds. Its like looking at a microscope and saying ‘ah, biology!’ and refusing to acknowledge that it applies to our bodies and virtually the whole of nature. Computing is the science of processes.

These processes function like ‘recipes’ to find solutions, powerful recipes capable of taking over the solving of complex human problems. Automated recipes that just need the ingredients of basic facts in the form of ‘primitives’ to arrive at the delectable dish at the end. The program is the recipe; the computer is the pot, spoon and kitchen infrastructure. And, just like the recipe is written down before it can be used to cook, the program is first written in a ‘language’ which requires proper sentence structure (syntax) and good sense (semantics). I suppose then a programmer is some form of chef. And at the end of the day, food is all about the cooking, not the pot.

Anyway, I’m still trying to get Python to run on my Windows 7 computer. They are cumbersome creatures these primitive tools. I tried everything, and command prompt is refusing to run my little “hello, world” program. The first program I ever wrote and I can’t run it. Some programmer I’m turning out to be. If anyone out there can help, I installed Python 2.5.4 (old but that’s what the course wants) and created a folder to put my little program file in. After looking online, I added both the Python folder and the folder I put my program file into the PATH variable.

When I type ‘python’ in command prompt the Python console shows. But whenever i type the path to the folders e.g. c\python25 or c\Pythonpractice i keep getting a ‘syntax error’ saying that there is an ‘unexpected character after line continuation character’.

Hello IT?

My Uncle, circa the 1970s

At Lunch. My uncle Mubarak, dad, aunt and mom are done. I’m just beginning. My uncle; “so how was Knuckles?” I tell him the story. “There are animals there” he says, “leopards etc. Did you see any snakes?” “No”, I say, “but I hear that it houses some of Sri Lanka’s most poisonous snakes”. “That’s right” he agrees.

Needing no further encouragement, my uncle launches into a series of stories. I serve myself more chicken.

The first concerns a religious student from Ulapone who went home one day and on the way he thought he got bitten by a rat, at home his mother applies some ointment but later he wakes up heaving and vomiting. At the hospital they treat him for a rat bite, but he dies the next day. Turns out he was bitten by a snake.

We marvel at the way things work out. He then launches into something he saw on Discovery. In Thailand a snake was cut in half and its blood was poured into six glasses. It’s heart was taken out and, still beating, munched down and washed down with a swig of snake blood. The host then also partakes of an alcoholic cocktail chiefly composed of, wait for it, snake bile. The bile is cut out and squeezed from gland in the snake’s body. Others ferment dead snakes in glass bottles and drink the juice after a nice few days have passed. Yum.

Meanwhile, my brinjals begin to look like cut up pieces of snake flesh, the soft squishy insides relaying a not-so-pleasant sensation via my fingers.

The conversation comes back to Sri Lanka. Did i know that a couple of con men in Maradana sold chicken kebabs for five rupees each but they were actually crow meat? They would bait pieces of food with fishhooks and wait for the crows to swallow them. Then they catch them, chop their heads off, clean them and fry them. Anything can be made to taste like fried chicken with a bit of ajinomoto. They only invoked suspicion because their kebabs seemed ‘too cheap’.

The chicken on my plate is now looking decidedly dodge. But thankfully he switches to a story about a similar group of tricksters who sold dog meat claiming it was wild boar, this time in Kandy.

Soon we are moving on to monkey meat. Back when Appa (my mom’s dad) was alive and still had his police shotgun (he had to turn it in once the JVP troubles started), he used to shoot the monkeys who invaded his grounds (in Nawalapitiya). You might think it cruel, shooting innocent monkeys. But you haven’t seen them like i have. They would come from the jungle, whole swarms of them; big, wild and fearless. Running amock and destroying everything in their path. Us kids and most of the ladies would retreat indoors while Appa took the double barrel out.

Appa and I, circa 1986

He might not look fierce in the picture, but usually the sight of appa and his gun was enough to scare the hordes, but sometimes it just made them angrier. Once I remember a pissed off big languor, must have been about 4 feet tall perched on a tree only a few feet off the ground, facing down Appa, its face a terrible grimace and its fingers clawing the air threateningly,looking like it was about to pounce on him at any moment. I think it got shot. Because another childhood memory brings me the picture of Appa hefting the dead body of a similarly sized male languor over his shoulder.

Anyway, my uncle tells me that nearby lived a Mr. Cooray. Everytime Mr. Cooray heard appa’s shotgun go off, he would come over ‘Ah, Mr. Hamid!’ he would say “ah yes Mr. Cooray, you can take it and go” Appa would reply. The monkey then met with an appetizing end in the stomachs of Cooray and family.

“Monkey meat was very popular with the veddahs no” I venture. “it’s also very popular in a certain East Asian country” says my uncle. He saw a TV show where they fastened live monkeys in holes in the dinner table so that only their heads over above the surface. The cook would then artfully open their skulls and the diners would pick out choice bits of live, vibrating monkey brain with their chopsticks. A later internet search reveals that this story is probably made up to discredit the Chinese.

I am now hurriedly trying to finish the rest of my lunch, my digestive system is giving me markedly dangerous vibes.

The next story again originates in that same East Asian country. They would take a whole dead buffalo, and stuff it in a concrete box. Worms would attack the carcass and become as big as bread loaves. Then they’d eat the worms. The internet has no record of such goings on.

My uncle is never short of a good story to tell, and he knows how to tell them. Countless hours he has regaled us with one story or another, some of them probably at least marginally apocryphal. Thankfully, by this time I am done and my uncle gets distracted by the prospect of dessert. I politely refuse some but soon change my mind, ice cream is ice cream, snake meat, monkey brains or buffalo worms notwithstanding.

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