Trinco, The Police And Simply Pusswedilla
By Faraz Shauketaly
Sri Lanka is so diverse is what I continually say to anyone who will listen. Indeed it is so. Our beaches, our hills, our 2500+ year old history, our barren North and our colourful temples and our fascinating and very expensive gemstones. We have the highest membership of Chartered Accountants outside England and yes, lest we forget them over a million migrant workers who keep topping up our foreign reserves – reaching parts that other money simply does not. It is so diverse that popular perception especially when one reads this rag is that land grab is big business and that the Police are a law unto themselves. One just about believes that to be true.
Acting on instructions received from my old aunt – she lives abroad and her knowledge of the web is limited to sending emails to her son who wanders around the world lecturing – I was asked to visit Trincomalee. Old Aunt therefore is unlikely to read this else I may be at the receiving end of an email about ‘less of the old’. The family land in Nilaveli is a hazy recollection somewhere in the deepest corners of the grey matter. I faintly recall plans to expand their leisure operations from Mount Lavinia to the North East which fell by the way during the infamous rule of the woman who went from the kitchen to Temple Trees complete with man-size handkerchiefs to dab at the tears over her assassinated husband. After many telephone calls to friends who live in Trinco to ask if a 17-year old car would make it on the road we embarked with some trepidation on more than one front.
One front was of course the information about the road. Be warned they said, it’s a road made for Dilantha all the way to Kanthale. From there it was they said ‘formidable’. Never have I been so traumatised on a road in Sri Lanka. The road builders are indeed very busy from Kanthale to Trinco so that stretch of the road was wretched. For a while I thought I was back on the Malindi – Garsen road in Kenya. We arrived late in the night and as the owners of the Aqua Inn had promised, a man was awake to let us in and show us our room. It was only in the morning that I fully appreciated that Aqua was located on the beach. The pristine beaches and the crystal clear waters made me salivate and yearn for more of this. Good for the soul good for the mind and great for the Tourists. I had enough time to contemplate what I had been asked to do by The Aunt. Visit the land and demand from the Police why it was that they were putting up more structures on The Aunt’s land especially when The Uncle had only ever given them permission to have a teeny weeny little Police Post. Go with a lawyer said some friends. When I heard of his estimate of costs to accompany me I felt an urgent need for a valium. There was no need to ask The Aunt. We would have both needed valiums. No need to spend when there’s no need right? Bad move said my doomsday soothsayer friend. That’s why we have lawyers he said. As for me led by The Aunt I didn’t see much of a problem. I did however make all the ‘necessary’ calls to put various friends of mine who enjoy a modicum of ‘authority’ and put them on notice of my impending problem. It was after all in Trinco where until the famous Rajapaksas arrived in Colombo from Medamulana, there had been a civil war and where the LTTE had bombed almost everything except the Nilaveli Beach Hotel; possibly because that was the hotel various foreigners were staying in and even the terribly atrocious and callous LTTE recognised you simply did not bomb the hell out of them ‘white folk’ lest they lost all their international support. Many of the “Authoritative” friends warned me to expect the worst. You will need to employ charm said they. What charm I wondered. Usually the minute you mentioned the name of this rag, the other side would suddenly take off into thin space, the corner shop or simply switch off the mobile.
I was warned. The Police were likely to be laboriously slow, they would be painfully bureaucratic and they would bring new meaning to the word ‘pedantic’. I was not to have a ‘short fuse’ they warned. And they said do remember to smile through all of this. Imagine you are in a toothpaste advert. I thought it would have to be an advert for why teeth whiteners were invented.
After enjoying the calm and clear Indian Ocean and watching quite a few obviously touristic types (read they were ‘white’) walk the beach, it was time to go back to Fernando & Jo. An amazing 6 cups of tea later and a fortifying breakfast of fruit and a shower it was time to make the 10 km further North to Nilaveli. You guessed it that in an age where the Dollar was fetching Rs. 130 and coconuts were nearly Rs. 40. The Budget did not extend to staying at ‘the hotel the LTTE did not bomb’. We hunted down the former caretaker who spoke no English and very little Sinhalese and because I spoke no Tamil and very little Sinhalese we employed the services of Mobitel. We called a common friend who was in Colombo and did a conference call so that I spoke in English caretaker in Tamil and I got back exactly what he was saying thanks to the translation skills of my friend who just happened to be Sinhalese but spoke fluent Tamil. There you are, its that Diversity thing all over again. Off we went to The Land. The sentry Police was puzzled, friendly and said he knew nothing. Why, I demanded to know are you constructing these little structures on our land. I really don’t know I only came here last week pat came the reply. Ha! A likely tale I thought. But I smiled. The ice broke, the Constable was helpful, ‘our Sir will be able to answer you’. For a moment I thought he meant the ‘Sir’ who resides sometimes at Temple Trees or further away in Fort. Off I went to the Police Station. The trepidation returned for no particular reason other than I was going into some place which features way down my wish list.
“Sir is at lunch” said a curious Sargeant. “Oh I will wait Sarge” I responded in the best Queens English I could muster. “Would you like a cup of tea?” “Wonderful but Cold Water please” and moments later a glass of cold water which would be the envy of any hotel was presented. I waited. Caretaker waited too. He was very sceptical. It did not help my trepidation. I found my cell phone internet connection most useful.
It took my mind off the subject matter. “Yes Can I help you please?” boomed out this voice. Clearly this was “Sir”. A friendly sort, who had evidently just finished his meal. I explained my mission. I represented the owners of our family land and I wanted to know about the construction (which had been abandoned) and I told him we wanted the land back now that the two-legged tigers had mysteriously disappeared. I said all this so fast that Muhammad Ali would have been envious. “Oh Good… Good… Very Good! We have been waiting for the owners to contact us! We have instructions to give the land to you! If you like you can give us a small piece for a small post but thank God you are here! We will vacate soon after you give it in writing! I was flabbergasted and speechless. I wanted to tell this “Sir” that he was a super dude. I told him The Aunt would be happy to consider this request and would be writing to him. “We will be away within a few months” said “Sir”. So here I am. I arranged for the heavy ammo to be on stand-by, the legal eagle to be on stand-by and had a full strategy laid out to tackle the Police if they so much as gave a slight indication of wishing to hang on to this plot. Instead it was all rather very ‘pusswedilla’ like. Indicating the strength of our Diversity. The Aunt was very very happy.