Flying Elephant in Trafalgar Square
Subramanian Suleiman Senanayake, West London, UK
19 June 2006
Tamil protest mars UK tourism push
"A major effort by Sri Lanka to promote tourism from Britain did
not make much headway last week as British television and
newspapers simultaneously gave considerable coverage to the
spiraling violence in the island and highlighting fears of a
slide back to war. Moreover, the grand finale of a ten-day
festival promoting Sinhala culture held in Trafalgar Square
Saturday drew a novel protest by Tamil youth organizations in
London – traditional Tamil arts being performed for the public
while volunteers distributed leaflets highlighting the
bloodletting underway in the distant island.
Tamil Traditional Dances at Trafalgar
At Trafalgar Square, Sri Lanka hosted a Tea Party1
to which SL Foreign Minister Mangala Samaraweera was in attendance
along with a Sri Lankan Dumbo. Both wanted high security for some
reason. While this was happening; the British public was treated to
an alternate view on the Sri Lankan state of Affairs. The London
Tamils were there on site to protest and highlight to the public,
the plight of the fellow Tamils in their homeland. There were also
some attractive creative elements to the protest. Bharatanatyam and
Quite by mere coincidence great friends of mine for many years – a
couple were passing by. Once they saw the Tamil protest they decided
to stop, watch and “take it all in what was coming from both camps
as it were…!”
Nigel, a Theologian and a social scientist with an analytical mind
observed it perhaps from a stiff-upper lip academic school. He said
“The Tamils made their points adequately. However, the flyers should
give bullet points rather than trying to stuff lot of information.
Too much information can only confuse people who are new to the
Tamil-Singalese issue”. As for the Singalese “The elephant was a
great attraction alongside the fire-eaters”. But he said, “Tamils
counteracted it with their drumming and dance, however, the message
of the dance was not clear to us – ‘the foreigners’. Or was it just
meant to make a ‘cultural point of difference’. Was it meant to
convey a particular message?”
His wife had a more Celtic take on it. She said “the dance was
graceful and noted even the drumming was different”. How do you
mean? “The elephant camp had a very aggressive approach to the
beat.” Dancing to different beats? “Perhaps that defines the
diversity of points of view” she added. Was their a counter point?
“…well, the placards spoke of tea and blood. So I couldn’t
participate in the tea party…I couldn’t drink tea – Ceylon Tea” Ha,
the quiet message has worked? “Depends how sensitive one is. You
begin to associate things don’t you? Blood and tea - That’s a
Nigel wearing his Social scientist cap on urged: “The Tamils must
use such an opportunity to do a quick survey. They should go round
the crowd and ask them brief questions and fill out a questionnaire.
It is matter of asking pertinent questions and filling out the form
with replies. Feed-back will give you an idea as to public
perception. One can of course get volunteers to do it. By doing so,
the information you gather is useful to you, and the conversation
you engage in educates the public. It’s a two-way thing. You are not
just there to perform but the exercise becomes educative on both
Nigel made a point to speak to both sides at the Square: “I asked a
Tamil chap whether he supported a separate Tamil state or a federal
state under the Singhalese flag. The reply came ‘I am not sure’.”
Was it a good enough reply? “At least he was being honest.” Nigel
pointed out. When the same question was put to a bystander who
happened to be a Tamil who works in a Souvenir shop near the Square.
The man explained “The history in a nut shell and blamed us [the
Brits] for the folly of colonialism. He didn’t answer my question
though.” Nigel who is an expert on the history of British slave
trade understood this narrative as a “chain of events that has
shaped the history of many countries that came under the folly of
Rule Britannia and its exploits.”
They both felt that “The Singhalese camp was polite, courteous, with
a developed sense of ‘burying the head in the sand’ complex.”
“What’s happening out side, your fellow county men are crying out in
pain…?” Nigel asked a High Commission Official. “Sir they are all
LTTE terrorists, they are part of a banned organisation in this
country. More tea Sir?” The man was in a hurry to switch subjects.
“Such an attitude won’t solve any problem” The couple quipped. “Are
you being served?” a sales person from the Tourist Board asked
Corine. A hilarious irony!
“I have stopped drinking tea” was the reply. “Thank you, no Thank
1. Tea Party included Visual and musical
presentations; featuring Kandyan dancers and drummers; photographic
and art exhibition; handicraft demonstration complete with Ayurvedic
massage. And first time ever live elephant in the Square. I also
noted two important occasions where the Tamils’ <Operation
Embarrassment> would be most effective.
1) SriLit Festival at Foyles Book Shop, 119 Charing Cross
Road, London W1 until Friday 23rd. Info call: 020-7437 5660.
Special guests include Christopher Ondaatje [Michael’s brother].
It must be noted that the Ondaaatje brothers have more Tamil
blood running in their veins than the Colonialist’s Dutch blood!
Ondaatje-madam is a toponym in East Eelam!
2) Sri Lanka Cinema Festival, Nehru Centre, 8 South Audley
Street, London W1. First time ever film festival dedicated to
the diversity of Sri Lanka and its people. From Thursday 22 to
Saturday 24th. Further info: 020 7491 3567.
KEY PHRASE: FIRST TIME EVER!