HOWZAAT – While the nation faces its toughest Test, some players are batting around the wicket in an ODI (One Day I-will-win)
A recent decision by the Sri Lanka Examinations Department had learned dons and lapsed dunces alike scratching their heads for a reason. It was that permission had been granted to students of Accounting, Bio Systems Technology, Engineering Technology and Science for Technology subjects to use calculators at the GCE Advanced Level exam this year.
In my day, we considered ourselves lucky if we got to apply ballpoint pens to paper. The wars raged – there were two – on the ‘northern’ and ‘southern’ fronts. Suffice it to say that lockdown in the time of coronavirus pales in comparison to six-month-long all-island curfews and study packs to be picked up at the school-gate and shoved on the top shelf at home.
Of course, scholars among the number-crunchers of today have the lighter burden. It is the reader in contemporary history who shoulders the heavier load. At large in the country and out of the stifling cloister of the stuffy classroom, they – we – you – have to make sense of sundry happenings in our island-nation. Can it be that all of us – sad Sisyphuses atop the mount of politics – have nothing to look forward to but that ‘a stone will be a stone’ under governing gravity?
The acid tests below – do take these now, dears – will reveal if we’re destined to roll to the bottom of the hill in the most ignominious and irreversible of fashions. There are helpful instructions in parentheses. (This means in brackets, in case you’re not Sajith Premadasa.)
1. PRE-EXAM. Ready? Go!
(First wash your hands. Then put on your facemask. And now, you’re ready to begin answering those questions that have been bothering you of late! Pl do not write to the Editor or the Election Commissioner about the surveillance camera under your seat. It is par for the course under ‘test, trace, isolate’.)
2. TICK THE BOXES. Which of the following statements are true to you?
(If you’re apolitical, a simple upended tick will do. If civics and governance are your bread and butter, you may mark the preferred option with a cross. If you think that it’s wrong, place a cross there anyway – it’s what most people do every once in five or six years in any case.)
a. I live in a country where there are two types of people: citizens and covidiots.
b. My nation-state is on the cusp of history. Or – as it is known on the legal-eagle cocktail circuits and constitutional coffee klatches – a coup d’etat.
c. The three branches of government in Sri Lanka are the Executive, the Election Commission and the Editor-in-Chief of a newspaper that shall remain nameless.
d. That ‘most elusive of men’ refers to a Commander-in-Chief who won’t change his mind for anyone; the Admiral of the Fleet who can’t be found for love or money; the Attorney-General who couldn’t be bothered with both or either; a former Captain of Cricket who wouldn’t be badgered by anyone even if they’re bigger than he is or think they are – so there.
e. “So there!” Famous last words – of anyone; someone; no one; everyone; the one who chaired two recent meetings but insists he actually said “now here” to his MPs at the first, and “nowhere” to MJ and RM at the second.
3. MCQ. Pick the statement that sounds most right.
(Pl note that there may be more than one right response. Press conferences to determine the right and wrong of the matter are strictly prohibited, and may result in severe penalties including having the hoi polloi violate quarantine rules to agitate for your pointless release, Rajitha.)
A. A Cabinet Spokesperson’s primary duty is:
i. Be a mouthpiece for the otherwise unmentionable.
ii. Do a number without a calculator – e.g. live on Rs. 500, give Rs. 5,000, dive in the deep for USD 40 million
iii. Go to extraordinary lengths to demonstrate that there are lies, damned lies, and statistics.
B. An example of ‘cabinet responsibility’ is:
i. Do whatever the chief wants without a fuss.
ii. But make sure you salve your conscience and contribute a mite by nodding vigorously from time to time.
iii. Have a meeting with carefully selected stakeholders including fans, close friends, ardent supporters, yes-men, no nuisances like Mahela-type folks.
C. The worst thing about a skeleton in the cabinet, er closet, is:
i. It sits there grinning away like nobody’s business – especially when it is not their business.
ii. It puts on weight as time goes by, contrary to Accounting, Bio Systems Technology etc. (Quick – use that calc.)
iii. It doesn’t ever seem to want to go away and let us be rid of it and its bruising, bone-rattling, body-politic-bashing ideas.
4. FILL IN THE BLANK. Choose from among the idiomatic options given in the parentheses NB: ‘brackets’. (This is easy… isn’t it? You’d think so. Try it. Good luck.)
A. A friend in need is a ___ indeed. (fiend/Cabinet Spokesperson/definitely not Mahela or Mahanama)
B. A(n) ___ whose time is now. (idea/ideal/idiot/covidiot/coup d’etat)
C. The bigger they are, the harder they ___. (fall/put/try/try to ‘put to fall’/fail)
D. Good wine needs no ___. (Bush/Basil/Bandula)
E. Where ___ dare… (eagles/legal beagles/eager beavers/pall-bearers/lawyers against lawlessness/all of the above)
5. ESSAY. Is democracy doomed?
(Argue the case either way. No, not with your counsellor, you covidiot! Use that brain. Cite examples from contemporary history – hint… The Slow Boat To ___ fill in the blank if you dare? Don’t look at me, I didn’t set this syllabus. Under no circumstances are you to use a calculator – unless it’s to estimate what the LKR will be worth to the USD by mid 2020, how we’re going to B our BOP or P our outstanding debt, or convert the COVID-19 fund into petty cash for family and friends. Be careful – Big Brother is watching you.)
Done? Do not leave the exam hall quite yet. That funny-looking fuzz in mufti would like a word with you before you go to gaol… or your job again.
(Journalist | Editor-at-Large of LMD | Writer | Student of politics since 1987-89, and a savant after that at asking questions)