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Stand up and be counted...twice (PART1)
Gyan Fernando
Stars in the wrong place.....
Stars in wrong place for Sri Lanka census June 21 (AFP) Sri Lanka's first national census in 20 years is to be brought forward by a day because the authorities had chosen one of the most astrologically auspicious days of the year for the head count. Census chief A. G. Nanayakkara said the July 18 date set aside for the nationwide count of Sri Lankans would coincide with a large number of marriages because the day was seen as particularly lucky. more..

I came across this news item this p.m. whilst idly browsing the wire services. This of course took me back to the old Rep. Metaphorically, that is!

After 20 yrs the Srilankan government had decided to hold a population census and they appointed a guy called A.G."Godaya" Nanayakkara as the head of the Ministry of Census.
With due respect to "Godaya" Nana it is probably not entirely his fault and apologies are due where apologies are due, but Srilanka is not an easy country to carry out a population count. I felt sorry for old Nana. Nana was an old classmate and I am sure he will endorse my views. They couldn't have appointed a better guy than him to oversee the census. In school Nana certainly was good with logarithms and calculus and that sort of thing...The sort of thing which was, and still is, a total mystery to me. As far as I am concerned, it is a good thing that they based the digital system on the number of fingers on humans. My associates know me for my ineptitude in the mathematical department!
Old Nana of course thrived on figures, statistics and that sort of thing. He read his log tables every night before going to bed!

Old Nanayakkara may be good with "logs" and that sort of thing but when it comes to culture he can be utterly thick! In fact he is a bit like Bill Windows. Good in somethings but a bit of a nerd. (The resemblance of course ends there. Nana is a poorly paid civil servant.)
Who in his right mind would have fixed a census to coincide with an auspicious day?! In a country where every occasion is determined by the date, the time, the phase of the moon and the compass, and marriages are made or not made by horoscopes!......
Most Srilankans would know an auspicious day when they saw one. But not old Nana! So I decided to give Nana a call on a cheap crackly 30p-a-minute-line.
Nana was pleased to hear from me or so he pretended. (Working on British Summer Time I got my calculations wrong. It was 2 a.m. in Srilanka!)
Preliminaries having been sorted out I got to the matter in hand. "Nana, I am surprised that you chose the wrong date" I said.
"I didn't" said Nana sleepily and slightly irritably "I consulted an astrologer beforehand"
"What? You consulted an astrologer?" It took some time for this info to settle in. Nana had a mathematical and logical mind and it came as a total surprise to me that he had consulted an astrologer! I expressed my surprise in no uncertain terms, lapsing into the vernacular and calling him a "Pol Buruwa" and other names in the process.
"Of course Gyan!" said Nana wearily "You should know that here in Srilanka we don't do anything without consulting an astrologer! Even Chandrika has her own team of astrologers"
"How come then that you got the date wrong? " I asked.
"Well it is an auspicious day"
"Yeaash. I know that!"
"Unfortunately it is an auspicious day for both the census as well as for weddings"
"Tut! Tut!" I could see the problem. "So what are you going to do?" I asked.
"Well, we have decided to hold the census on two days. On July the 18th we are going to carry out our census as originally planned but only at wedding parties"
" Good thinking!" I said approvingly. "Think of all that food and free booze in the big hotels. You'll get to kiss all the brides! Ha! Ha!" I said brightly and rather nostalgically. I liked that sort of thing! Gate crashing weddings and kissing brides. Used to do that sort of thing as a medical student. Nana didn't respond to that. He was not that crazy about booze and girls unlike some of us!
"Then on the 25th of July we are going to carry out the census in households"
"But wouldn't that inflate the figures?" I asked, cleverly spotting the fatal flaw in his plan.
"Yes it will but that's what we want" said Nana triumphantly.
The penny dropped or so I thought! "Let me get this right Nana. You wan't to inflate the population figures. Right? Is this to boost the war effort? I mean is it to show that we have more people to carry on the war and that sort of thing?"

Nana was mortified at this suggestion! "No,no,no,no Gyan. It is for foreign aid. Not the war. Not the war."
Srilankans have a habit of saying the same thing twice! Nana was obviously fully awake now and talking rapidly like Srilankans do. "You see Guy-ya the more people we have the more aid we will be able to squeeze out of the aid agencies from your part of the world. WHO, UNICEF, UNESCO, Oxfam and that sort of organisation. In fact we are thinking of revising our literacy figures"
"Well Srilanka has one of the highest literacy figures in South-East Asia" I said proudly and displaying my knowledge in that department. "Better than Laos. Better than Vietnam. Better than Kampuchea. Better than Bangla….."
"That is the problem" said Nana, cutting me short "We will have to downgrade the figure. That way we will get more aid"

It is not easy to talk to a mathematical genius and Nana happened to be one of the top ones but I was beginning to get his drift.
"What about infant mortality?" I asked. "That's another problem" said Nana "Our figures are so good that we are the last in line for aid. We will of course have to adjust the figures"
"Downwards of course" I said. I was in on this one.
"Downwards! The same with Life Expectancy, and per capita income and the GNP" said Nana.
"The meek shall inherit the Earth" I quoted, knowingly. "What did you say? What did you say?" asked Nana. Being a Buddhist he was not up on that sort of thing so I let it pass. Two a.m. Srilankan time is not the right sort of time for a discourse on the Testaments.
I of course remembered the delightful stories that Nana told me after he came back from his sabbatical in Nigeria. (He lost all his underwear at Lagos airport, by the way.) I have no doubt that's where Nana got his ideas from...from Nigeria that is, not from Lagos airport.
Apparently because of the so-called AIDS epidemic (which if the statisticians had got their figures right would have now left about 2335.8 people still alive in Africa) the Nigerians get a lot of aid from international aid organisations. They of course spend it all on cheap booze and tarts. And scam letters!
To "upscale" the figures (if "upscale" is the correct word, or is it "upgrade"?) they have resorted to all sorts of number manipulating games. A favorite is the Cause Of Death and death statistics. When an HIV positive guy gets knocked down by a truck or gets incinerated in a fireball whilst trying to steal petrol from a pipeline, the death gets classed as an AIDS death. The same with suicides, crocodile attacks and snake bites. In fact these days most people die of AIDS in Nigeria. The relatives want it that way.
In Nigeria, Gabon and Malawi as well as in the Cameroon Republic it is now considered poor form to be HIV negative and die in bed .

Two x plus two y equals...
I certainly admired Nana's original thinking. I never knew the guy had it in him. I felt a new respect for the guy. I was sorry that I nicknamed him "Godaya" during our school days. I certainly was sorry for grabbing him by the collar in 1964 for laughing at me when I got my 2x+2y=Z totally wrong. I wished him goodluck.
It is the poorly paid bespectacled civil servants like old Nana who keep the old People's Republic running.
Not my old friends Chandrika or Ranil.
The Nerds Shall Inherit the Earth , I thought......

Note: This article should be taken for what it is: a humorous piece, and not political commentary...
©Copyright Gyan Fernando 2001 First written on the 22nd of June 2001

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