Photo of kiri bath courtesy le sauce

Most performances of Dhananjaya Karunarathne’s brilliant script Last Bus Eke Kathawa (The Story of the Last Bus) are memorable not just because of the acting, but also because the audience becomes, without at first knowing it, part of the theatre. Chewing gum or boiled sweets are distributed to the audience before a performance begins. Most take one. Some take a lot. Everyone takes a bite. It is only at the dénouement of the play that the deeply troubling story behind the sweets is revealed.

Much like Karunarathne’s script, those who take one bite, or many from the world’s biggest rice cake (kiri bath) in Colombo today may come to realise that what they have eaten into is actually an outrageous obscenity.

Let get the facts. The UN’s World Food Programme (WFP), as of September 2010, was feeding,

  • 25,000 IDPs in camps
  • 50,000 IDPs in host families
  • 110,000 people on 6‐month return packages immediately following resettlement
  • 120,000 people on extended rations after the 6‐month return packages
  • 300,000 children under the school meals programme in the Northern and Eastern Provinces
  • 200,000 pregnant/nursing mothers and children under five years in the Northern and Eastern Provinces
  • 35,000 people under regular Food‐for‐Work and Food‐for‐Training programmes
  • 30,000 people under soft Food‐for‐Work programmes

Furthermore, the WFP is the sole source of rice for 96% of hosted IDPs in the Jaffna district. To reiterate, it is the United Nations through foreign aid and NOT the Government of Sri Lanka that is feeding hundreds of thousands of citizens in our country, even post-war.

Though exact figures are hard to come by, the WFP has noted that it provides about 400 grams of basic food needs per person per day for most IDPs, consisting of 200 grams of rice and 200 of wheat flour. So for a week, an IDP would consume 1.4kg of rice.

In comparison, the President’s record-breaking rice cake is 12,000kg. We can break that figure down in a number of ways. For the same quantity of rice,

  • A single IDP could be fed nearly 165 years.
  • An IDP family of 3 adults and 2 children could be fed for 41 years.
  • As of 8 October 2010, even if half the remaining 25,000 IDPs in Menik Farm are adults, they would require 17,500kg of rice per week. Over just a single day, the President’s rice cake takes up nearly 69% of that requirement.

This obnoxious rice cake in Colombo will feed just a fraction of the children, women and men still displaced in Sri Lanka without proper food, and worse, many who don’t need to eat rice cake for their primary sustenance. Even if the President wanted to have his cake, could it not have been distributed amongst those far more deserving, and genuinely hungry? Leave aside the IDPs – often out of sight and out of mind for most of us. There are thousands in and around Colombo who, after recent floods, could have used rice rations.

Satiated somnambulism, particularly in the South, appears to be a good recipe for the President’s second term. Life does have an ironic way of imitating art.

  • Arosha Bandara

    I also note that there is no part of the week-long inauguration celebration that includes handing over land deeds, housing grants or even dry rations to those displaced by the war.

  • Kappal

    For Mahinda Rajapaksa’s inauguration for the second term there was 4000 kilograms of kiribath, the traditional Lankan coconut milk-rice dish fom the ingredients: 1200 kg of white rice, 300 kg of cashew, 250 kg of jaggery, 1500 coconuts and a group of five-star chefs. Why such a luxury while the poor in Sri Lanka are starving. ??

    • Correction, the BBC notes that the kiri bath will require “Some 12,000kg of white rice, 1,500 coconuts and 300kg of cashew nuts are some of the ingredients for a very special Sri Lankan recipe.”

  • SD

    Sanjana,

    I disagreed with you earlier when you raised a similar issue with regard to advertising campaigns during the elections. This time however, I do agree, you seem to have been right about the problem all along.

    RE: “Over just a single day, the President’s rice cake takes up nearly 69% of that requirement.”

    Given that Cashew nuts cost 10-20 times as much as rice, and looking at the rest of the “kingly” ingredients, this milk rice business would have met 100% of the requirement.

    How many people are rich enough to eat rice cake with cashew nuts?

    I, for one, did not support Rajapakse for a second term so he could indulge in megalomania. He is a public servant and has a mountainous job to do, such as bringing the “Asian miracle” to pass, and the people in the North must feature highest on our list of priorities. Instead, we get this mindless celebration of his repeat ascension to what? kingship? At what stage did we get this excess of money where we could afford to throw parties to celebrate the election of a public servant? As long as people continue to have this king-vassal mentality, and fail to put these shameless politicians in their place, the only Asian miracle we will have a chance to witness is a reversion to a feudal age.

  • Chee Lanka

    You NGO spoilsport, you should not be saying such unpatriotic things on this most precious, momentous and auspicious day. You should be glad to be alive and be able to witness the ascension, at last, of the Diyasena Kumaraya whose arrival was prophesied long years ago. Finally, we too have a king — just like the bees and ants. Nothing else matters.

  • Janaka

    There is a well known phrase by the French Queen : ‘ Let them eat the cake”

    Similarly here “when people in Sri Lanka are strugling for the daily bread the king Mahinda orderd them to eat cake”.

    What an insult and callous disregard for the ordinary Sri Lankans !!

  • Dilkusha

    Feel angry at this waste, guilty that I cant think of doing anything concrete about it, and feel helpless. Grateful to local theatre which has the courage to highlight these issues.

  • Anbuchelvanthillai

    Rajapaksa megalomania is sweeping the Sri Lanka , but the war on journalists continues !!

    Rajapaksa is still arresting journalists ??

    British Tamil journalist arrested in Sri Lanka

    Sri Lanka State Intelligence officers arrested a London based Tamil journalist Wednesday at the Colombo Airport, while the journalist was on his way to visit his family, Journalist for Democracy in Sri Lanka (JDS), a dissident

    A British passport holder, Karthigesu Thirulogasundar, 37, was arrested by the officers attached to Sri Lankan state intelligence agency and currently being held in an undisclosed location. Thirulogasundar was previously attached to London based popular TV channels Deepam TV and GTV.

    He is currently working as a full time journalist for London based radio station

    http://www.tamilnet.com/art.html?catid=13&artid=33049

    ————————

    Few days ago another Tamil journalist attacked , beaten in Colombo, Sri Lanka and end up in hospital.

    Unidentified gang of eight persons severely assaulted a Tamil journalist Lenin Raja, 28 in Wattala area in Colombo when he was returning home after duty at Vetri FM electronic media operating from Colombo Tuesday night around 11:00 p.m. Lenin Rajah rushed with the injuries to Wattala Police Station made a complaint in this regard.

    Lenin Rajah was later admitted to the nearby government hospital, media sources said.

    This is a second attack on him his year. Lenin Rajah was seriously injured in an assault on the Vetri FM station by an unidentified gang in July

  • Paul

    When one third of the population suffer without their basic needs,you make kiribath to offer the people who are not starving and still promise for economic revival.This is mere ‘personal glorification’ and nothing else.Helpless people try to make you happy when they themselves are not happy.

  • Chef Tilak

    Your web site carries bogus figures about the largest ever national milk rice made by group of chefs represent from most of the hotels island wide. Everyone has forgotten that we did this to set a world record as well as to commemorate H.E. President Mahind Rajapaksa’s second term in the office.
    People can talk and make comment as that they can feed certain segments for days and months. In that case we can’t do anything but to feed all those IDP camps in the country. Hello!!! The country should move on.. We as chef’s are proud that all of us work as one unit .. aim one goal..we achieved it..

  • Mawatha Siva

    AyyoBowan, Our Dictator and King Mahinda has arrived

    Spending counterfeit incentive
    Wasting precious time and health
    Placing value on the worthless
    Disregarding priceless wealth
    You can wheel and deal the best of them
    And steal it from the rest of them
    You know the score, their ethics are a bore

    Eighty-six proof anesthetic crutches prop you to the top
    Where the smiles are all synthetic
    And the ulcers never stop
    When they take that final inventory,
    Yours will be the same sad story everywhere
    No one will really care, no one more lonely than
    This rich important man, lets have your autograph
    Endorse your epitaph

  • Kshama

    Chef Tilak, the grand aim of your group would have been better served and well appreciated if the kiribath was made to feed those disadvantaged and maligned in society, not to prop up a meglamoniac and his lackeys.

    This is wasteful! The issues of the IDP’s and all others who strive hard to earn a decent wage should be the main focus for all of us.

    At least you made a pongal shoru instead of a kiribath.

    Sanjana, thanks for the breakdown.

  • The Mervyn Silva

    The Kshama,

    Don’t be worrying the Chef the Thilak. He is only trying to break record. And he is not telling what is the whole record which is to be making big cake when there is big starving in the country. He is too modest-like to be telling the whole story.

    The Sanjana, I am happy you are giving the figures about the UN feding the peoples. I am telling president this is very good but not enough. We must be getting UN to be feeding all the peoples in the country all the times so that we can have all the foods for making bigger cake and having bigger party. All the times.

  • Conscience

    What an obnoxious display to satiate egocentric power at the people’s monetary cost, for sure. That is what dictatorships are made of. Those whom the Gods want to destroy they first drive mad.

  • yapa

    In my view making kiribath in a special occasion cannot be considered as unworthy. Further, I don’t think it was a waste, as it was fully consumed by the general public of this country. If it was thrown away, definitely it could have been considered as waste. Really all the ingredients used for the kiribath had been in the market for consumption as food, and they were consumed and duly used for the purpose. If this should be considered as a waste, I think there is no reason why all “Danselas” given during the Vesak and Poson seasons should not be considered as waste. Even alms- giving to Malwatta temple and Asgiriya temple will have to be considered as waste. Alms-giving at Kovils and churches in this case cannot be considered as exceptions.

    I have no idea about how the kiribath was funded, with public fund or not. If public fund is inappropriately spent for the occasion, it is a separate matter, otherwise I don’t see any wrong of it, when the particular incident is taken separately.

    On the other hand I don’t think it as a massive expenditure in regard to government expenditure. Expenditures of this scale are done even by small scale business units of this country, keep aside a government. Further, considering the explicit and implicit objectives of the event, my assessment is it is worthy of the purposes and going in consistent with the declared vision of the government, though I have no idea whether the vision is genuine or not.

    The government declares that it aims country to become the “Miracle of Asia”. To achieve this seemingly high up goal, the country as a whole must have very high soaring vigour. The country and its people must have a high national pride. We must have national symbols to show to the world that we have reasons to be proud. Our cricket team showed this to the world with a massive expense. We spent much on our boxing players in international tournaments no other than this purpose. We sent Susanthika to train her in the USA. India is spending billions on space exploration projects while millions of their people are starving, and without having even the basic education facilities. I don’t think the vision, objectives, policies and strategies of a government should be simplified to a “simple equation”.

    Rajapaksha may be wrong in all his vision, but what I have to say is making kirbath is not a waste and it is in consistent with his vision for the country. Uplifting National Pride is a first and foremost condition in any massive development plan of a country, that had/has a long backward mentality due to various negative attributes. If you have the right mentality, in my view half the game is won. Without it you will never achieve any.

    Thanks!

  • The Mervyn Silva

    The conscience said,

    “Those whom the Gods want to destroy they first drive mad.”

    Bad news for the Chef Thillak ????

  • longus

    Dear The Mervyn Silva

    First of all I am thanking you for being taking your valuable times to write here. Now you are got promoted to a full minister of ‘Pubic Relations’ and something are you going to tell us the pubic duties you are hopping to perform? Are you going to be willing to be perform standing up to the person or lying down humbly like a real pubic servant? Are you hopping to be the protector of the small man and small woman? Why is the King always defending you like a puppy? That man said you go mad before God(s) punish you, but that man don’y no that you are a brave-heart person who don’t scared of the gods of their goons!

  • The Mervyn Silva

    Dear the longus,

    I am thanking you for your message. The president is very wise man. He is knowing how to separate the dog from the puppy and puppy from kitten.

    Of course I will be performing standing up, but on the man lying down!

    And I am always protecting the small man and the small woman but before protecting i am making them smaller. Then they are easy to protect.

    And I am very humble person also. You can always be finding me at the feet of the president.

  • citizen

    Sanjana>> sri lankans prepare ‘kiribath’ in special occasions. guess there is nothing wrong in it. wut is this ‘rice cake’ ma’am? 😉
    i think ur terms/usage shows where u r standing.

  • The Mervyn Silva

    Well said the citizen. There, the Sanjana, why are you not getting your terms in the right way? Now everything else you are saying is useless because you are getting the cake mixing up with the kiri bath!