Sri Lanka’s New President, Maithripala Sirisena, Starts Off Inauspiciously.
by Anura Guruge
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I had been visiting the ‘Colombo Page’ on a regular basis Thursday to get updates, from the horse’s mouth, as to how the election was going. I saw this ‘News Flash’ item late on Thursday afternoon shortly after I had written my post about the futility of Sri Lankan astrology and ‘dirty string’ mumbo jumbo.
It was very disappointing to see that the new man was continuing to propagate the ‘auspicious time’ mumbo jumbo that the outgoing president, Mahinda Rajapakse was so famous for. He called the snap election, which he lost, at an auspicious time given to him by his now ‘Major Egg on Face’ astrologer. He filed his election papers at the auspicious time given to him by his charlatan astrologer. He cast his vote at the auspicious time given to him by his now discredited astrologer. He did NOT, however, concede defeat at an auspicious time. But I gather, old habits die hard, and he left the Official Residence, much, much earlier than he needed to do, because that was an auspicious time. When will they ever learn?
Sirisena, had the chance, to do away with this rank, Dark Ages superstition. This is 2015 and Sri Lanka by and large is a modern, fairly high tech, very literate country. Auspicious times.
Yes, yes, I know Nancy Reagan. She believed in auspicious times too.
I remember the damn auspicious time, one in particular. Sinhalese New Year Day, April 14, is riddled with auspicious times. You kind of trip over from one another. There is one for lighting the first fire. One for cooking the milk rice. Another for eating the cooked milk rice. Then there are auspicious times for ‘First Footing‘ — and they give you a few because everybody can’t First Foot at the same time. Then there is one for doing your academics for the day. Well that is where it all went wrong. I was probably 10 or 11. My adoptive family, big into all things superstitious and religious, was really into the auspicious times. My mother was SO superstitious that she would spit on any hair that came out when you were combing before she would throw it away. Why? Because like so many Sri Lankans she believed that somebody could get hold of that hair and do ‘voodoo’ on it to harm you! She was obsessed by ‘Evil Eye’. And that required a lot of ‘pssh’, ‘pssh’, ‘pssh’, discreet spitting, with your head averted to counteract ‘Evil Eye’.
Anywho. I had to do some academics at the auspicious time. There was no escaping that. It would involve some reading, writing and arithmetic. The 3Rs. But given all the activity and celebrations taking place, my adoptive father, pragmatic if nothing else, would try to make the exercise quick as possible. This one year, thinking that he was doing me a favor, for the arithmetic portion, just wanted me to tell him what the square root of 100 was. Yes, in the Sri Lankan system, with 50 to 60 kids in a class, we knew how to do square roots by the time we were 10 or 11. But confronted by “what is the square root of 100” my mind went blank. For the world of me I could not think of the answer or even how to go about working it out. Deer in the headlights situation. My father initially thought I was kidding and messing around. Then he realized that I did not know. He was not amused. He made me do a ton of square root stuff BEFORE I could come out and enjoy the celebrations. So while everybody else was having a good time, eating, firing crackers and running around, I had to sit in my room and do stupid square roots. Bloody auspicious time.
It is inconceivable to me how grown men, with some education, exposure to the world and a semblance of reasoning can believe in stuff like auspicious times.
The new president, like everybody in Sri Lanka, had to have known that his defeated opponent was a slave to auspicious times, dirty white strings and gold amulets. But he lost. It was like a referendum.
But Oh, No! We still persevere with auspicious times.
Now you know what to look for, each time you see a picture of him see if he has a dirty, sweat stained white string tied around his right wrist. If he does, turn your head sideways, and discreetly go ‘pssh’, ‘pssh’, ‘pssh’, pretending that you are spitting, to show your displeasure at this guy’s superstition.