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And So Erik Asked Me....
my contribution to the peace talks
Gyan Fernando
Curry diplomacy backfires on Norway's Solheim June 10 (AFP) The man who led Norway's attempt to broker peace in Sri Lanka was careful in his gastronomic choices lest he antagonise ethnic rivals, but the curry diplomacy failed to save him from the firing line. Norwegian peace envoy, Erik Solheim, has been burnt in effigy and accused of being a "flamboyant playboy as well as a rogue" by nationalists in the Sri Lankan parliament, yet he kept a cool head opting for fiery local dishes. After 15 months of shuttle diplomacy that also allowed him to indulge in his favourite South Asian curries, Solheim has been shunted sideways, this time by a Sri Lankan government increasingly irritated by his style. more..
Whilst idly surfing the net this morning I came across the above item on the usual wire services that we journalists subscribe to. Memories flooded back. The last time I said goodbye to Erik I promised him I wouldn't tell anybody this story but since it now seems that the whole business has been misreported and Erik cast in the role of a pariah I decided that it was time that the true story emerged. For poor old Erik's sake!
My story is datelined June 11 (Gf Madp) for the benefit of future historians.

Erik Solheim and I have known each other for sometime and we have had a few beers at the old Taprobane in Colombo and at the White Horse in our little village in Devon. The last time I met him it was outside his hotel in Colombo (the name of which I cannot divulge for reasons of security).
I was waiting for the great man and nearly failed to recognise him when he eventually emerged. He was wearing a cream pair of slacks and a Batik shirt. He looked rather pale, drawn out and slightly furtive. 'Hi Erik! Its Guy-Anne of Gyan's MadPage ' I shouted over the din of the passing mid morning traffic and mispronouncing my own name. He woke up with a start, put both hands together and said 'Vannakkam!' in a thick Norse accent. Realising his mistake he said 'Ayubowan' in a thick Norse accent.
Preliminaries thus having been sorted out I asked him what was the matter with him as his appearance concerned me. 'Thisss is bad for me!' he said with a sad shake of his head 'Thissh is bad for me!'
Another serious diplomatic setback, I thought…so I suggested a slow walk to his next appointment and he agreed.

It is quicker to walk in Colombo than to drive. There is a constant "block eka" on the roads. It was a rather mild day but Erik was sweating. 'Is everything allright, Erik?' I asked. 'Non!' he said suddenly lapsing into French. 'I thinks I'm going to die!' he said. 'Yu got any Pepto-Bismol tablets on yu' he asked.
'Ha! Ha! It's the food isn't it?' I laughed, suddenly enlightened. He looked bothways like a hunted man and said 'Guy-Anne, do yu know what I had for breakfast'
'Bacon and eggs?' I ventured brightly. (It was that sort of posh hotel.)
'No! No! It was that ghastly Kiributh!'..... I felt a little bit miffed...... I like Kiributh...... 'Kiributh is nice, Erik' I said cheerfully. 'I like Kiributh.....'
'No, no, no, no, no, no it is dynamite!' said Erik
'You mean the Lunumiris is dynamite! Ha! Ha!' I said.
'Call it what yu may it is still dynamite!' said Erik with some heat.
We were now walking through Vihara Maha Devi Park and the great man suddenly ran into the bushes. It took me a short while to work out why. Diplomatically, I struck a non-challant pose against a tree and lit a cigarette. Time passed. A couple of pimps approached me. Having walked Soho in London on my own I was used to this. Eventually Erik emerged from the bushes mopping his brow. The pimps raised their eyebrows and walked away with knowing looks. We resumed our walk. Eventually he relaxed and asked me 'Do yu know what I had for dinner last night'…
'Go on' I said.
' It was some ghastly concoction called Kotthu Roti!'
'Hot, was it?' I asked absent mindedly.
'Hot!? Hot!!? Hot!! HOT!!' he said with vehemence 'There was a whole battalion of chillies trying to get me! Whole battalions of chillies!!' he emphasised, in the plural. 'There were green chillies, red chillies and, and, and, those verry, verry small chillies'
'Tut! tut!' I said consolingly.'Tut!Tut!!', I said, for emphasis.
' And..and' he went on with considerable emotion 'Do yu know what I had for the drinks, for the drinks? ARRACK! Bloody Arrack, Araack, arr!'

This of course struck me deep and hurt my nationalistic pride. It is one thing to criticise hot Srilankan food, but Arrack! I had to draw a line somewhere. So I said rather sharply, 'C'mon Erik! Arrack is our National Drink! It's a bloody good drink! You come here and insult our national pride!' I tried to sound annoyed.
'It bloody tasted like bloody paraffin!' he said with some heat 'and every time I burp I taste bloody paraffin!'

The penny dropped!….'Sorry, old chap!' I said soothingly 'What happens is that the locals use the empty bottles to store Kerosene oil and of course the distilleries reuse the bottles! By sheer bad luck you must have got a kerosene bottle!'
He didn't say anything but just gritted his teeth.
After a while he looked thoughtful and said ' Look, yu are a doctor. Ha?'
I assured him on that point; rather pleased that he didn't call me a "bloody doctor"….
'What does Kerosene do to your insides Ha?'
' It only causes diarrhoea' I assured him.
'Only bloody diarrhoea! Ha!' he said with a certain amount of venom.

Trying to draw the conversation back towards more important topics I asked him how it all went up in the North.
I was somewhat taken aback when he almost shouted ' IT WAS BLOODY WORSE! BLOODY AWFUL WORSE!'
' Tut! Tut!' I said ' So they didn't agree to your proposals?' I asked.
'What bloody proposals?' he asked. 'I spent the whole bloody time in a BLOODY pit latrine!'
I maintained a diplomatic silence. We were now on Lipton Circus. Old memories flooded back. Memories of nurses, the Medical School and Malu Paan. I longed for a MaluPaan from The Bake House. I hadn't had breakfast and was feeling rather famished but my companion was showing all the signs of a man who had been pushed to the limit. What if he were to find a large chillie in his MaluPaan? I decided against it. Reluctantly. We walked in silence towards old Rosmead Place.
Suddenly my companion asked me 'What do they call those bloody pancakes up in the North?' …
' You mean Thosai?' I asked and before he could say 'Bloody Thosai'. I added 'Thosai is pretty mild!'
'Not the **** relishes that you get with it!' he said. 'And what do you call those infernal doughnuts? They should be banned by international agreement. They are**** landmines!'…..

'Doughnuts? landmines? Oh! You mean the Ulundu Vaddai!' I said.
I was about to add that they were rather nice but something stopped me. There was no need to goad a man who was obviously in his death throes.
'I haf only one clean pair of underpants!' moaned Erik. More meaningful silence. Embarrassing silence. We were now on Kynsey Road my old hunting grounds.
I brightened up!
Eventually I ventured: 'Bet you enjoyed the Palmyrah Toddy. Our Tamil bretheren are brought up on the stuff!' I said brightly. ' I used to have a lot of Tamil friends in Medical School' I said by way of conversation and in the forlorn hope of helping old Erik sort our problems for us. He looked at me like a broken man. In a small barely audible voice he confided in me 'That was the problem.The toddy. It is a live beer full of yeast!'

Live it is! Full of amoebae from crow droppings!, I thought. Somethings are better left unsaid, I thought. No need to rub it in, I thought. I felt sorry for poor Erik. What a way to work your way up for the Nobel Peace Prize!

We had now reached his next appointment, which of course I cannot divulge. I knew it would be a long time before we saw each other again and it would probably be in some other part of the world. We shook hands warmly with mutual expressions of good wishes. Erik was sweating again.
So I gave him my Pepto-Bismols.
And my last toilet roll.

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 11th of June 2001
With apologies to P.G. Woodhouse whose style I seem to have borrowed or so Mrs F tells me...{short description of image}

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