A Dark Side To Vesak
How many hundreds of millions were spent on the Vesak celebrations this year? I know i sound like a wet blanket. Why can’t I just chillax and enjoy the party? Incidentally, do Sri Lankans party to forget everything else, or do we forget everything else when we party?
That question is purely academic, but the government knows the only important answer. Give us a party and we are ready to forget, and at least temporarily forgive, anything. High fuel prices? Borderline monetary policy mismanagement? Pending international condemnation? Rise in prices of everything from milk powder to cement? How do we solve these pressing economic problems? Simple, throw a party for Vesak. Have the loudspeakers sing the praises of the President. Have various philanthropers give free food to the masses and have them blinded by mesmerizing, colourful fairy lights.
Colombo was decked out to kill. The Beira was lit up by fairy lights consuming electricity in quantities probably enough to power North Korea for a couple of nights. People were out in force, enjoying themselves. Families were traveling from far off places in the backs of lorries and hand tractors to witness the spectacle. Dansals were sporting queues hundreds of meters long. Even Beyond Borders, that is me and my friends, had what we called an ‘inspiration dansal’; we distributed stickers with enlightening quotes promoting peace and tolerance, for what it was worth.
The complete front facade of the Museum was made into a surrealist pandol composed of light projections. Very postmodern and very, very expensive. How expensive? Sadly we will probably never know. It was sponsored by the milk board or the National Livestock and Development Board (NLDB) an entity already bleeding cash, suffering from acute mismanagement and misappropriation of funds.
So as Sri Lankans ‘shoo’ and ‘shaa’ at the beautiful bright lights and marvel at how far the country has come there is a greedy elite basking in the success of yet another PR event of massive proportions aimed at pulling the wool over the public’s eyes. Or maybe i don’t have a right to comment since i’m a Muslim, and have no understanding of the need to spend needless millions on a religious festival that is really about contemplation and inner peace.
Maybe such lulling is needed to calm the people. Imagine Sri Lanka was a small household, spending more than it earned and very much in debt to outside parties. But still with enough hope and potential to make it out of the doldrums, if they manage things carefully. Would it make sense for a family like this to throw massive birthday bash when their daughter turns sixteen? Not really, no.
Lack of transparency does not help. Everyone seems to think that the government sponsors these things by plucking money from trees, to use an old adage i heard occasionally in my childhood. But in reality it is the people who are footing the bill. Would everyone walking around shooting the breeze at the Beira this year been just as calm and relaxed if they knew that half that month’s paycheck was going to fund the festivities? I think not. Yet this is exactly what happens. Whenever the government spends, they spend the people’s money, and contrary to complacent observers here, they have no right to do whatever they please with it.
Maybe my idea that the recent Vesak extravagance only serves to emphasize the cronyism and institutional corruption prevalent in our state is manifesting in my brain because i just don’t know how to have a good time. Maybe i should just get out more instead. And yes, maybe the sus domesticus is aerially mobile. But maybe as Sri Lankans we should all start thinking about economics a little bit more and maybe that’s one clear way we can really make a difference and ensure that our newfound hope for the future isn’t wasted away, trickling into slush funds, white elephants and mass scale public bribes. Feedback: