By Vijitha Yapa
As I was crossing the road one day, a car screeched to a halt on a zebra crossing. I was annoyed so I tapped on the window of the vehicle and wagged my finger. The driver was irritated; he lowered his window and shouted: “Bastard!” To which I retorted: “Thank you for informing me of your parentage!”
I then raced across the road in case he tried to run me over.
My retort was automatic. But the point I’m trying to make is that many such retorts escape our lips only to be soon forgotten. Not so with Ashok Ferrey who remembers them for what seems like eternity – and uses them skilfully in his books.
Cut Pieces is full of such retorts and the author uses them like Muhammad Ali would deliver a powerful punch. For example, he has his own definition for SMS: ‘Sri Lanka Mother’s Syndrome.’
Even a visit to a restaurant turns into an event. The cost of juices, which are often more expensive than wine, means he orders water. “Sparkling or still?” inquires the waiter who sounds displeased since the service charge will be less.
Ferrey says he did not know that tap water sparkled. The waiter hisses: “Tap? We do only bottled. Small or large?” Ferrey replies: “Seven inches.” And then asks the waiter: “And you?”
He says that Sri Lankan children don’t leave home because of sheer economics. To him, Sri Lankans are probably the laziest people on Earth and they take great joy in abdicating their responsibilities – they let others take charge and then blame them forever for bad decisions.
And Ferrey slings barbs at everyone.
“Far be it for me to suggest that we are a nation of emotional retards but perhaps a slight tendency in this direction may be one of the main reasons for this screwed up state, this ability of ours to live at ease with simultaneous absurdly contrasting sets of values,” he writes.
He mulls over the feeling that the world owes us a living and that whatever we do, it will come out all right in the end. Is this why our current leaders blame their predecessors for borrowing excessively and then promptly obtain new loans?
The author is harsh on Sri Lankans whose discontent leads to their craze for migration. They feel that the jobs available in Sri Lanka are too menial for their status in life but once abroad, they’ll be happy performing tasks they avoided back home!
He believes that Sri Lankans are masters of self-deception – honour is all, reputation is paramount and the truth be damned. The entire ‘slave economy’ of Italy is run by Sri Lankans, “quietly competent and supremely efficient,” he notes.
The anecdote I like best is the one where his neighbour threw live rats over the garden wall into Ferrey’s patch because conscience didn’t permit her to kill the rodents. It reminds me of some Buddhist monks in Colombo who provide a list of food they expect at an almsgiving, which in some cases includes meat.
His take on bankers is that their philosophy to customers is that they should use credit cards, enjoy themselves now and spend the rest of their lives repaying their dues. He thinks such moneymen are no better than drug pushers at the school gates, offering seeni bola with heroin to unsuspecting schoolchildren.
Ferrey believes that Sri Lanka is the land of the leaking roof with our island being shaped like a raindrop. He writes of a friend who had moved into a house designed by the late Geoffrey Bawa. When he complained to the famous architect about the leaks in his house, Bawa had advised him to “put out more buckets.”
Even the internet and texting receive mentions, although the author says he isn’t a great admirer of computers and mobile phones. He claims he invented a new word: ‘homotextual,’ which is the practice of same-sex texting – but it isn’t in the Oxford Dictionary yet.
He reveals that the black dots painted on the foreheads of babies is to convince evil spirits that these infants are disfigured and not really worth possessing.
The author also focusses on the ‘lime cutting ceremony’ where misfortune is entrapped in the lime, which is then cut to neutralise it. He prefers a large arrack punch over such lime cocktails so that any evil spirits neutralise him! Wonder what the kattadiyas will say to that twist?
Ferrey is convinced that authors simply cannot resist advertising their qualifications. Two instances he cites set the tone: Frogspawn by the Very Reverend Coomaraswamy Croak, OSB (Order of the Selfish Beast) or Childcare by Professor Aravinda Raincoat, FRCP, DOC (Fellow of the Ratnapura College of Paedophiles, Dirty Old Codger).
Though Cut Pieces has only a few pages, it makes excellent reading since Ashok Ferrey is once again at his delightful best.