The Sunday Leader

Immortality Of Frogs, Scientists And Politicians

A team of dedicated herpetologists (Herpetology: Study of reptiles) has discovered eight new species of frogs after a long period of search and study in the humid, rain-drenched, mosquito and leech infested jungles around Sri Pada.

The discovery of eight unknown species, we are told by authoritative biologists, is quite an achievement.

The modest scientists could have sought immortality by naming the newly discovered species after themselves, but in true scientific spirit they have instead named them after eight Sri Lankans who have committed themselves to protection of the environment and the conservation of the wilds. They could have even considered naming the frogs after our national heroes who have saved the nation. Such commitment to ‘nation building,’ we know, will not go unrewarded. But naming politicians after a frog could be quite a tricky business.

Gus Gemba

We recall an incident in our school– Lower Third form— when a young boy with a protruding back was bestowed with the name of Gas Gemba (Tree Frog). The recipient of that honorific title was not amused, but furious and it resulted in torn shirts, pulled hair and bleeding noses in a vicious revenge fight after school.

As a consolation, it could be pointed out that one of the newly discovered species has been named Veera Puran Appu (1812-1848) who is said to have led the Matale rebellion against the British. But whether descendants of Puran Appu who are ‘Moratuwites’ would like their national hero to be associated with a frog will be known only after sometime. The newly discovered frog’s name is Pseudophillus Puranappu – all the newly discovered frogs falling into the group Pseudophillus.

Politicians in our opinion could fall easily into the category of Amphibian as toads or frogs. The OED describes ‘toady’ as: sycophant, obsequious hanger-on. No such meaning is attached to the word ‘frog,’ but frogs are adept at performing the same feats as politicians: Long jump, high jump, hop-step-and-jump and flying high. They have a thick skin and croak annoyingly. They have swollen heads as tadpoles, which disappear with age, but as scientists say — even though the morphological appearances disappear, the physiological functions of a swollen head are retained.

We held back our inclination to name some of our favourite politicians as a species of Pseudohilllu…….. Discretion is a better part of valour, these days in our profession.

Orchids and women

In contrast to zoologists, botanists or horticulturists do not hesitate to name flowers if not after politician husbands, after their ever loving wives. Some of our botanical gardens have had no restraints in naming beautiful orchids after not so beautiful wives of politicos. But if the old boy is pleased, that’s what matters.

Immortality of politicos

Immortality is a craving of the great majority of people whether they believe in life after death or not. Immortality to most people means their remembrance, in favourable light, by the living after their death. Colossal monuments, statues, foundations in their memories for varied purposes, biographies and even plaques and crosses in cemeteries are instruments of immortality.
Politicians naturally love to be immortal having striven hard to be remembered in their lifetime.

Some would strive to be remembered by building monuments while they are alive. These may be for very laudable public purposes, but they could also be misguided in their objectives for they may turn out to be white elephants.

Sri Lanka’s history is replete with monument builders, but a noticeable fact is that none of the ancient monuments were built for the purpose of immortality of the builders. Mighty dagobas and monasteries such as Ruwanweliseya or Kalawewa were not named after the kings that constructed them. The dagobas for reverence of the Buddha and the reservoirs were for the benefit of the people.

Post-independence leaders

Post independence Sri Lanka launched on development projects for the sake of development. The Dry zone was cleared of jungle, irrigated by new and reconstructed reservoirs and the Raja Rata civilisation restored under the direction of D.S. Senanayake. There is no monument built by him for himself. Only the statue of himself built after his death towers over the Senanayake Samudra. Indeed a fitting tribute to a man who restored an ancient civilisation.

Solomon and Sirima Bandaranaike had roads and even bylanes named after them round the country by an adoring public. There are only a few monuments to remember SWRDB – one a statue in front of the former parliament and another facing Galle Face Green which faced threats of removal following sale of land to build a Chinese Hotel. The other is the BMICH which the Chinese Government built in his memory and the Bandaranaike International Airport at Katunayake. Sirima Bandranaike has only a memorial building named after her in the BMICH premises

Chandrika Kumaratunga was not a monument builder. She was splitting intellectual hairs and trying to build peace instead of monuments.

Mahinda the builder

Mahinda Rajapaksa wrote himself into history books by quashing the LTTE and thereafter set upon monumental projects at public expense over which he had no qualms about, naming them after himself.
Hambantota has:

Mahinda Rajapaksa Magampura Port – Cost $ 360 million
Mahinda Rajapaksa International Cricket Stadium – estimated cost Rs 600million
Mahinda Rajapaksa Telecinema – esimated cost Rs 2 billion
Mahinda Rajapaksa International Airport – cost $ 210 million
Mahinda Rajapaksa International Sports Complex at Diyagama, Homagama (First Stage) – cost Rs 118 million
A sports Complex at Kilinochchi which cost Rs 325 million has been inaugurated, but whether it will be called a Mahinda Rajapaksa Sports complex is not known.
The Theatre of the Performing Arts was initiated and pushed through by former President Chandrika Kumaratunga, but with President Mahinda Rajapaksa taking over presidency; it was named the Nelum Pokuna Mahinda Rajapaksa Theatre. The total cost of the project was estimated at Rs 3,080 million of which the Chinese Government’s contribution was estimated at Rs 2,430 milllion.
How many other Mahinda Rajapaksa projects have been launched and are to be launched at State expense we are unaware of.
We apologise to readers of this column for once more repeating the poem of English poet, ‘Percy Byssche Shelly,’ Ozymandias, which well demonstrates the idiocy in the quest for immortality.
I met a traveller from an antique land
Who said: Two vast trunkless legs of stone
Stand in the desert. N ear them on the on the sand,
Half sunken a shattered visage lies whose frown
And wrinkled lip and sneer of cold command
Tell the sculptor well those passions read…………..
And on the pedestal these words appear
My name is Ozymandias King of Kings
Look on my works, ye mighty ssnd despair
Nothing beside remains, round the decay of that colossal wreck
Boundless and bare
The lone and level sands stretch far away.

(Shelley composed this poem when the remains of the statue of Pharaoh Ramses 11 was brought to the British Museum in 1816)

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