27 November 2008

Letter 4.33

(Few Buddhist monks have probably had this affliction: computer problems. First Bob couldn't get in Sri Lanka the particular 'thimbles' or daisy-wheel-like print elements for the diverse typography of the book's text, then Spinwriter ELF blew a gasket...er power distribution chip...even Singapore didn't have them in stock, so it had to be 'got down' from Japan...and fickle local electricity filched floating memory. -- Hūm)

While my days have been spent for the most part, east of the subroutine and west of the monitor, the trip to Colombo, even Kandy, kept getting bumped into the future, till I realized it might just stay there...

Unlike here, in Kandy there is daily evidence of security: armed soldiers guard main intersections and sometimes stop cars, the road past the Temple of the Tooth is closed to traffic, although there seems little danger of an attack on the Temple: this obliged me to frequently make a long detour around the other side of Kandy Lake to get to and from town. When news was heard of the killing of the 32 monks in the Eastern province, almost all the houses and shops in town flew yellow flags in mourning and protest. This got a big play in the paper which, however, virtually ignored an inter-religious peace march of about 500 people from Kandy to Anuradhapura which started while I was there. (I walked in it for a few miles.)

Then on to Colombo, where my printer was finally repaired, after nearly 3 months to get a single part from Singapore! My order for fresh ribbons, placed 2 months ago, had still not been filled, so obviously attempting to get thimbles would be as futile exercise. My teeth have taken about as long to repair with about as much satisfaction. I still may end up losing the molars with the root-canals, because a low-grade infection seem to stay with them which nothing but antibiotics can check. I usually get some other bug in the city that I'm spared in the country. This time it was more serious, however: paratyphoid. It's a water-borne virus from contaminated water. I usually am very careful, but such things are a monk's occupational hazards. Atleast, it was mild case, from which I'm mostly recovered. I had it once before 15 years ago; worse, as I remember. The latest plague in the city are the virus' infecting computer software, I have learned. The virus' are encoded in the software turning it to gibberish on unaware command. Almost all software is pirated here, even that which is sold by established firms at list price. Unlike imitation watches, it is, except for the label, indistinguishable from the original, being-an electronic copy. The virus' are employed as protection against piracy, for piracy, and by piracy. Except through the most reputable agents I'd be very leery about purchasing any more software locally.

I saw some destruction in Colombo: the burnt hulks of buses and other vehicles alongside the road, stretches where telephone poles were broken, the wire missing, black patches in the road where tires had been set alight. Some telephone exchanges are totally destroyed, and I've been told other tales of destruction of many millions of dollars of government property, in protest against the recent peace accord signed by Jayawardene and Gandhi.

The accord is basically between Sri Lanka and India, not between Sri Lanka and the Tamil separtists. The Tamils are granted some concessions, but it is not entirely to their liking since it doesn't give them the separate state for which they have been killing and dying, and the unification of the Northern and Eastern provinces is contingent upon a referendum, which the East, it seems, will probably reject. But they have no real choice in the matter, since the accord offers, in exchange for Gandhi's promise to deny the separtists a base in India (without which they would have no possibility of being a credible presence), a de jure recognition of India's de facto dominance in the region, guaranteeing strategic concessions (a non-militarized Trinco bay, etc.) which India has long sought.

It's probably the best deal that any of the parties could have hoped for, but some Sinhalese in particular are unhappy about it, regarding it as a sellout. And the JVP (the radical party that was behind the '71 rebellion) will no doubt use it as a rallying cry for sympathisers, who are very nationalistic and anti-Tamil, The Indians are quite pleased about the pact, mistakenly regarding themselves as having successfully brokered peace between two factions: what they've really done is to have agreed, for a price, to stop supporting one of those factions.

But it has yet to actually be implemented: very few weapons have been surrendered, parliamentary debate will surely be stormy, even within Jayawardene's own party, and there was quite a bit of rioting and some killing when Gandhi came to Sri Lanka to sign the pact. Perhaps you saw the video clip of the Sri Lanka sailor trying to knock off Gandhi's head -- he'd have succeeded if there hadn't been an alert officer at hand who deflected some of the blow. I heard the live commentary of the proceedings on the radio, but the announcer made no mention at all of the incident and I didn't learn of it till later. I don't know if he failed to see it, though that seems unlikely, or was too stupid to think it worth mentioning (a distinct possibility: Sri Lanka Broadcasting Corporation is an outfit of incompetents if there ever was one), or was afraid to speak of it without official approval, also distinctly possible. Anyway the coming weeks or months will tell whether the accord, still just a piece of paper will become anything more than that.

Another project I'm involved in presently, apart from the book, is called, among the few of us who are taking it up, the Hopelessly Poor, and its purpose is to find, among those who are hopeless because of dire poverty, individuals who if helped might be able to earn their own living instead of being dependent on begging. These people, who are a small minority of the hopelessly poor, would be trained in whatever skills they would like to learn and which we can arrange for and would be lent funds (which we will be contributing collectively) and whatever else is necessary to get them going. When they are self-sufficient they will be expected (without bated breath) to repay (without interest) what has been lent them, so that these funds can form a revolving account. Only when they have repaid the money will they be considered rehabilitated. However, we will continue to make contributions to our kitty for as long as is necessary or useful. We are doing this quietly, privately (although a few government people have been informed so that we will not unwittingly get ourselves into unforeseen difficulties with suspicious bureaucrats), and experimentally. I don't know how it will turn out but I think it's a worthwhile thing to do with the income being generated now from my share of the LA property (as I also think the publishing project to be worthwhile).

Three Dutch students are staying at the estate for a few months (in the quarters of the Dutch Catholic priest, who is away), partly to do some engineering on behalf of 'Uva Spice', the non-profit spice exporting unit that has recently been established by said priest. They want to be sympathetic to ideas which are new to them, but I find it interesting to see how difficult this task is for them. Several times I've talked to them about a perspective to which they are unaccustomed -- once specifically on the Buddha's Teaching, but the other times on more general cultural perspectives -- and I discover that even with reasonable good will on their part, they aren't really able to see what I'm getting at. Always, they put my words into their own perspective, which automatically prevents them from seeing any perspective other than their own. (And since they are, all of them, committed to Christianity, our more specific discussion produced even less comprehension. They could not fathom that what seems important to them is, from another point of view, irrelevant; and try as they might to understand, they kept missing the central point, however directly -- or indirectly -- I stated it.) Curious to think that at one time I was in their position exactly. Even the most sympathetic Westerner, bound to his Western perspective, is bound to sympathetically misunderstand the Third World and any point of view with which he is not already comfortably familiar.

Fortunately, due to my weakened condition, I had an unusually comfortable ride back to Ella from Colombo. An Englishman who lives on the estate with his wife happened to be coming up at the same time I was: in a big chauffered air-conditioned car belonging to his company. And since getting back to my kindly hosts, the Congreves have been looking after me to the small extent that I need.

I'm sorry about the rather poor quality of the printer. The ratchet which holds the thimble steady when a letter is printed has become partly worn and can no longer do its job. As a result some of the letters tend to be a bit out of place It's just a little plastic bit that fits in with a c-clamp, but until a new one can be got down from Singapore we'll both have to put up with it. Still beats a typewriter, though.

Well, if they've added color to Casablanca I assume they will also have changed its title to Casarosa. Did you know that Ronald Reagan was one of the candidates for the lead part in the film? He didn't get it then, but some 35 or 40 years later he nailed down the translation rights. Just goes to show the translation is never as good as the original.



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