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David Blacker’s Blog

Build a Bridge, One Kevum at a Time — the One Plate Project

ads hand The One Plate Project is an initiative by Yamu and ad agency JWT to create a uniquely Sri Lankan practice online. During most religious and cultural celebrations such as the Sinhalese and Tamil New Year, Ramazan, Thai Pongal, and Christmas, people of all ethnicities look forward to the celebrations, regardless of whether that particular festival is one relevant to one’s community or not. And there’s one simple irreligious reason for that — Sri Lankans love food. As a Christian Burgher, I look forward to Avurudhu and Ramazan almost as much as I do to Christmas because I know there’s going to be a load of great Sinhalese, Tamil, and Muslim food coming my way from the neighbours.

In multi-ethnic neighbourhoods — mostly in Sri Lanka’s bigger cities, it is considered a common — and neighbourly — practice to send your neighbours — especially those from other communities — a plate of food if you’re celebrating something. So at Ramazan, some biryani and wattalappam is pretty much guaranteed; sweets and milk rice will be loaded onto a plate for Avurudhu; and at Christmas, thick wedges of breudher are piled onto plates and dispatched to the neighbours. Everyone gets to enjoy everyone else’s party. What makes this doubly cool is the fact that no one wants to return an empty plate to its owner, so usually there’s a frantic scramble to find something tasty to fill that plate for its return journey.

This is precisely the experience the One Plate Project replicates in a virtual neighbourhood. Hosted on Anything.lk this Avurudhu, the project allows you the chance to buy a plate of food — ideally one belonging to your community — and have it delivered with a personal greeting to a random person from another community. In return, you yourself will receive a surprise plate of food from some other neighbourly stranger off the net. How it works is that one selects one of four plates, each belonging to one of the four major ethnic communities of Sri Lanka — Sinhalese, Tamil, Muslim, and Burgher — and pay for it. All plates are priced the same at Rs 500. That’s it. Your address will be saved on the site, and on delivery day you’ll receive something in return.

The project was launched by Yamu and JWT this New Year, and is planned to run throughout all the major festivals for a full year, culminating next year with the Sinhalese and Tamil New Year. To simplify matters, the organisers have decided to stick to just sweets for now which are less perishable and therefore easier to deliver. They have also restricted the project to Colombo for now, but if all goes well we’re likely to see both the menu and the areas expand rapidly over the next year. For now, the Sinhalese plate consists of aasme, konde kevum, kokis, and thala karali; the Tamil plate has jelebi, rava laddu, sweet murukku, and boondi; the Muslim plate is actually a bowl of legendary watalappam; and the Burgher plate gives you the equally famous breudher.

Speaking to me, Indi Samarajeeva, one of the owners of Yamu, said that the “One Plate [Project] is an experiment to see if online food sharing can help bridge divides between communities. Sri Lankans traditionally share food at holidays with their neighbors. One Plate is an attempt to extend that behavior online.” At a time when Sri Lanka has been experiencing a new wave of ethnic tension, Indi went on to say, “We hope that people will take the chance to do something concrete to promote fraternity and goodwill among all the communities of Sri Lanka.”

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May 13, 2013 Posted by | advertising, Politics | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Sinhala Only — Sri Lankan Government Abolishes Tamil Version of National Anthem

On Wednesday 8th December, 2010, the Government of Sri Lanka decided to do away with the Tamil language version of the country’s national anthem. The decision was made at the first cabinet meeting to be held since President Mahinda Rajapakse’s return from the Oxford Union fiasco. The unfortunate decision itself, as well as the timing of it, has resulted in much speculation as to whether it is an act of revenge for the British Tamil diaspora’s recent machinations.

The decision clearly isn’t grounded in any factual concerns — those voiced range from the inaccurate (no other national anthem is sung in more than one language — MR) to the absurd (India with 300 languages has a Hindi national anthem — Wimal Weerawanse). It is not surprising that Weerawanse, a man who was once hilariously unaware that The Old Man and the Sea was written by Ernest Hemingway and not Guy de Maupassant would be ignorant of the fact that the Indian national anthem is in Bengali, but I am surprised that President Rajapakse is unaware that nations such as South Africa, Canada, and New Zealand (amongst others) have multi-lingual anthems. What makes Weerawanse’s statement ridiculous, is that while it may not be possible to incorporate 300 languages into one anthem, it’s pretty simple to do so with two.

Excuses aside, there doesn’t seem to be any necessity to make this change. Traditionally, the Sinhalese version of the anthem is sung in Sinhalese-majority areas, and the Tamil one in Tamil-majority areas. There is an English version apparently, which I’ve never ever heard sung and which looks a bit cheesy, to be honest, when written down. Many Christian churches conducting services around Independence Day usually opt for WS Senior’s beautiful Hymn for Ceylon instead, set to music by Deva Suriya Sena. If the GoSL felt a need for some sort of standardization, the sensible (and sensitive) option would have been to have a verse in each of the official languages, with the majority language sung first, depending on the area. Continue reading

December 13, 2010 Posted by | government, Politics | , , , , , | 17 Comments

Out in the Wilderness — Dayan Jayatilleka on Pleading the 13th, Being a Hippy, and Getting Sacked by Boggles

Out in the wilderness. DJ in the Alps, soon after his dismissal was announced

Sri Lanka’s soon-to-be-ex-Permanent Representative to the United Nations in Geneva took time off from his busy schedule of sipping martinis, getting up the Americans’ noses, and fighting on the Western Front, to have a little chat with us. This is his first interview since the Foreign Ministry announced that he has been recalled from Geneva, effective August 20th.

David Blacker: First off, there seem too be two opinions on your sacking. One, that you were too pushy about the 13th Amendment. Two, that you pissed off the Israelis. Which is it?

Dayan Jayatilleka: It could be either, both or neither. The editorials in The Island and the Daily Mirror on July 20th, indicate that it could have a personal aspect. Let’s unpack the other opinions. If I were ‘pushy’ about the 13th amendment I was only pushing a line that was the official stance of the government of Sri Lanka as contained in two post-war joint statements, of May 21st and 23rd. I was doing so in the English language, trying to convince the international community and the Tamil Diaspora of the sincerity of the Government’s commitment to devolution and a political solution, in a context where there was and is a powerful campaign calling for international intervention of one or other sort on the grounds that the Government will not implement such reforms. I was also waging an ideological struggle against those hard-line fringe elements who were opposed to the 13th amendment and playing into the hands of Sri Lanka’s enemies. I was not instructed to do otherwise.

As for the charge that I should not write to the papers or express my views in the media, I have always done so with the disclaimer that these are strictly my personal views. There are other diplomats who have done the same. The controversial articles in the New York Times and the International Herald Tribune, by Dimitri Rogozin, Russia’s serving ambassador to NATO in Brussels, and a political appointee, not a professional diplomat. The respected diplomat, Kishore Mahbubani of Singapore was a star speaker in New York’s seminar circuit where he would preface his remarks by saying ‘these are not the views of the permanent representative of Singapore but simply of Mahbubani’. In our own diplomatic history, there is the example of Ambassador Ernest Corea, the former editor of the Daily News who was posted by President Jayawardene to Washington DC, precisely so he could use his journalistic skills.

The Israeli story is old hat. That issue came and went, and I was sent a letter signed by the Secretary to the Foreign Ministry which said that H.E. the President wished me to stay on in my post until May 31st 2010. Furthermore, after I received instructions, I have stayed off the Israeli issue. Therefore, that is probably just an excuse.

DB: For months, there have been ominous warnings of your head being on the block — particularly over the Israeli issue, but these seemed to come to nothing, and you say you were personally assured of your position by The Man himself. So is this sacking in deed a personal vendetta by the Foreign Minister? The Island suggests he feels upstaged by you. What do you have to say about that?

Dayan Jayatilleka: What I have is a letter dated March 26th, signed by the Secretary to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs which says that H.E. the President has decided that I should stay on until May 2010. This was after the initial controversy involving Israel. Even if some one had a personal vendetta against me, I am not naive enough to think that this sort of decision, in the wake of an earlier unsuccessful effort to remove me and in the aftermath of the successful Special Session of the Human Rights Council, would have been implemented without some semblance of a green light, however fleeting and flickering, from the top political leadership. So it was probably a confluence of factors.

DB: Many people feel you’d make a better Foreign Minister than Rohitha Bogollagama, and he knows it. Do you agree?

Dayan Jayatilleka: Is that meant to be some kind of a compliment? Continue reading

July 23, 2009 Posted by | government, Politics, Security, War | , , , , , , , , , , | 39 Comments