So Erik Asked Me....
my contribution to the peace talks
With apologies to P.G. Woodhouse
whose style I seem to have borrowed or so Mrs F tells me...
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!
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..
My story is datelined June 11
(Gf Madp) for the benefit of future
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
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
so I suggested a slow walk to his next appointment and
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
'No, no, no, no, no, no it is dynamite!'
'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
'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
'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
The penny dropped!
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
' It only causes diarrhoea' I assured
'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
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
'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
'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.
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