Friday, February 8, 2008

To Colpetty along Cotta Road - Crossing the Lanes - Looking for the TigerLeopard

Long time ago, one day I was sitting in the front seat of a van getting a ride from a friend down a rare empty street in Colombo. At that time, I was fresh from some long overseas stay and very much struck by the reverse cultural shock. The tingling elements of “foreignness" made me capable of seeing things rather different - those insignificant things which we ignore now.

It was late in the evening and the winding road was quite empty other than the enigmatic shades. My friend was driving at a reasonable speed. And suddenly I noticed that we are cruising right across two lanes for such a long time.

As many of who know Sri Lanka would argue that I have noticed nothing important. Yet those alien elements tingling in me kept me thinking about it.

Road was practically empty. We were not doing any bad on speed meter. Curve of the bend is milder in the outer lane than in the middle. And it makes not much difference whether you take either of the lanes. So why is he driving right across them?

This is a question of no value. It is not a magic to see Sri Lankan auto-mobiles ignoring the white dotted lines quite often. But there is one important philosophy in the deep roots of it.

Let us get to it in a different angle. Let us consider a road in western world. There exists this empty winding road that you are travelling at a reasonable speed. Would you expect to see yourself across two lanes? I would not. Let me release the potential police punishments. Still not, to me, it won’t happen there.

Digging to the roots of a tale of this sort needs consideration of past many centuries. The elementary questions; Who brought vehicles? Who built roads? And most importantly who drew lane marks on them?

The culture and civilization that we embrace with or without our will is brought upon us in the hard way. Before the colonials came, we were a different nation of different habits. The fundamentals of the nation and its civilization were tuned at a different frequency and it never resonated with what we received from the visitors. There was technology before the colonials. There were tanks, canals, perhaps at a better precision than the tarred roads and its lane marks. Nevertheless we had no tarred roads, no cars or vans and definitely no lanes.

Western rulers enforced their system upon us. It was brought upon with the absolute humiliation of surrender. Despite how right it stood, how easy or advanced it would become the locals denied it in their hearts. They followed it scared of punishment, but despised it at their best. They were just forced to accept it.

And the colonials built roads, brought cars and vans and drew lanes. And then came the RULE that when you travel along THEIR road, in THEIR car or van you are NOT supposed to stray on THEIR lane marks. You ought to keep yourself within a lane unless you are changing it. So was THEIR RULE.

This does not justify the way we see it. The whole bloody thing is OURS. And it is not at all bad to learn a good habit from anyone. But the reality is that our people still find themselves so alien in complying to THEIR ways of life, be it right or wrong.

And then they left - leaving host of such rules in the hands of the confused local. So we have rules and we have a system. We have very much educated folks too. But it so happens that my friend, and many others, stray across the lanes when they drive. 

We do it in such a brainless fashion. Some friend once told me [WARNING: Rumours can be untrue] that every time you register a land ownership, there is an excess photocopy of the documents that nobody knows the use for. The unfortunate extra photocopy is equivalent to ancient hand-copied document sent to her "majestic" majesty. Sixty years after independence and thirty five years after kicking her majestic butt from the head of state position, we still make her copy.

There are lots of other confusions and habits we are left with, which we take for granted and switch off the reasoning modules. One is the weird system of cross-language place holders. Today's Singlish (the spoken dialect of Sinhala with an English icing top) is heavily affected with this. Some people think Sinhala "ne" means English "no" (I'm also addicted to this no). Also they think "will you" is the filling for sinhala "ko". They say, "vadi vennako" (meaning please sit) as "sit, will you". Fine, but when they want to say, "mama yannamko" (I will go) they use "I'll go, will you" and shoot the union jack point blank.

I'm not offended. I think that this is Sri Lankan English. If Aussies can have one, and Americans can have another why not us. So let that old lady tell the doctor "Standing sitting belly going medicine took took, still no good" (meaning “indala hitala bada yanawa. Beheth gaththa gaththa thawama Honda ne”).

Still I get bit offended when someone calls Kollupitiya as Colpetty or wallawatta as wEllawatta. I don't see any logic behind this. These are desperate attempts of the colonial rulers to spell out the simple sinhala words. Pretty stupid of us to continue those gibberish while we have seasoned tongues and lips for the original. And pathetically some think that the English translation of Kollupitiya is Colpetty!!!

We still have boards stating “Cotta Rd” which is read as "Kota" rd. For those who never bother which "Kota" lived on that road it never occurs that it is the way how colonials spelled Kotte rd. Hard luck.

Nevertheless, I’m little less confused or offended on the use of Galle (for Galla, which was written with wrong vowel), or Negombo or Batticaloa. Maybe the fallible human of myself is contradicting its own ideals. Fine. Let’s accept the Singlish cocktail all together.

Another mess is made upon the jungle bigcat with lots of nice spots on it. In Sinhala we call this lad Kotiya and Diviya. Lots of research by my pals in Avro group ( – a group debating nothingness and insignificance :)) left us still in cold on the differences of two names. I believe that both were interchangeably used for the spotted lad who is the only bigcat prowling in the dark jungle shades of Sri Lanka.

Came the Sudda named it “Tiger” whereas Tiger is not the spotted kitty. Tiger has stripes on it. It is called viyagraya (no no not the drug) in Sinhala and we have no traces of it ever taking citizenship in Sri Lanka. Had the initial English name been Leopard and problem would have never arisen. But thanks to whites who hardly knew the differences of the tropical bigcats, we now use a cocktail of translations between {tiger, leopard} set and {kotiya, diviya, viyagraya} set.


Colonials, thank you very much for the confusions. Locals, way to go - keep acting dumb and dumber, which makes your colonial masters laugh for another two centuries.

But these are very minute in fact, considering the rest, in example how we do politics, economy and multiculturalism.


  1. nice try...keep going pal..

  2. More things to think. n forgive me f any wrong in this because m using English after a long time.

    Till this moment i thought kotiya is The tiger as well as lots of others. But in future I have to think using that. K try to do something change. ;)

    N thanx for introducing your blog ayya. :)

  3. හා පැටික්කි;

    ආවාට බොහොම ස්තුතියි.

    වැඩේ පැටලිලා තියෙන්නේ එක තැනකින් කොහේ හරි. මං තවම හිතන්නේ සුද්දට වැරදුනා කියල. කොහොම උනත් ඕක අර කිකිලියි බිත්තරෙයි වගේ සිද්දියක් වෙලා. විකියේත් තිබ්බ ඕක ගැන.

    බ්ලොග් එක ඉංග්‍රීසියෙන් ලිව්වේ සිංහල ලියන්න නොදත් කාලේ.දැන් බාසා දෙකෙන් ම ලියන්න ඉන්නේ. කැමති ඕන බාසාවක් :) හැබැයි සිංහල තියෙන නිසා ඉංග්‍රීසියෙන් ඈත් වෙන්නත් එපා. ජිවත් වෙන්න කඩු හරඹ කරන්න වෙනවනේ.

  4. වැරදු‍නේ කාට උනත් ඉතින් අපි‍නේ ඒ වැරැද්ද භාවිතා කරන් ‍නේ අයියා. ඔය කිකිළි‍ගේ කතාවටනම් මං හිතන්‍ ‍නේ බිත්තරේ. කිකිළි පරිණාමය උන මාර්ග‍යේ ‍කිකිළිට ආසන්නතම අවසන් සතා‍ගේ බිත්ත‍රෙන් ඉපදු‍නේ. එ‍හෙමනේ. ;)

    බො‍හොම ස්තූතියි. ඉංග්‍රීසි භාවිතය සිංහල බ්ලො ග් ලිවීමත් එක්ක නැතිම ‍වෙලා ගියා. ‍වෙන එකක් තියා ඉංග්‍රීසි කී ‍බෝර්ඩ් එකට වඩා සිංහල මතකයි. ඒත් ඉතින් දැන් යන්න ඉන්න තැනට කඩු සටන් නැතුව බෑ. ආ‍යෙමත් ඒ නිසා සටනට හුරු ‍වෙන්නත් ඕනි. :D

  5. I came across this from the link you posted on Kathandara'a blog. Interesting. However, I have a different explanation about the first part - the 'I don't care about the lane' phenomena. I think nowadays it is more to do with how we learn to drive rather than WHOSE rules they are. For example, passing a driving test in SL is not a problem at all. If you can take a vehicle a couple of hundred meters you will pass. Obeying lane discipline, obeying traffic rules, being patient, using your head, hand and feet to drive rather than the horn are not taught in our driving lessons and not thoroughly tested at the driving exam.

    Now take a driving exam in a western country. All these road manners are drilled in to you during your driving lessons and tests. So automatically, the good driving traits you acquire stay with you for the rest of your driving lifetime. Plus the policing on the streets. That's why people who do cowboy driving in SL go to Western countries and drive well. The system there is designed that way and it works. Our system has failed. Just my humble two cents. I like how you have connected it with the second part.

  6. Starting from the first few words, to the last,"Pirate of the High Seas" has said what I wanted to say. No point in repeating.

    Until now I wasn't aware of your English Blog.