My favorite things Sri Lanka

This is a tough one, and I admit failure in advance, and yes I will call upon the diaspora in this case.  But even that doesn’t much help me.  Here goes:

1. Popular music: M.I.A., with Arular and then Kala being my favorite works by her.

2. Science fiction writer, lived in: Arthur C. Clarke lived there for over fifty years.

3. Author: Michael Ondaatje was born in Sri Lanka, I like but do not love his work.  Two quite recent Sri Lankan novels are Michelle de Kretser, Questions of Travel, and Ru Freeman, On Sal Mal Lane, both noteworthy.

4. Movie, set in: I can’t think of one.  Bridge on the River Kwai was filmed here.

5. Architect: Geoffrey Bawa, some images are here.

Is Lal Jayawardena the most famous Sri Lankan economist?  And I have had excellent Sri Lankan food in Germany, most of all in Berlin.  There is a takeaways Sri Lankan place in Derwood, Maryland, Spice Lanka, which I have yet to try.  When I was much younger, the Sri Lankan chess player Sunil Weeramantry was always very cordial to me.  And my grandmother had a Sri Lankan friend who, when I was a small boy, used to bring us cashews.  I liked him.  I think of the music — perhaps unfairly — as falling into the “raucous, influenced by cinema, good jolly fun but I’m not going to buy it” category, but I would gladly receive your better-informed recommendations in the comments.

Sorry people, I’ll try harder next time.  I don’t follow cricket and I know virtually nothing about cinema here, I hope to learn more.


You really need to follow cricket then.

Least Favourite sportsman: Arjuna Ranatunga.

Sri Lanka may be the only country that has become a world power in cricket since the 1970s (Pakistan).

It's a shame that there isn't a Sri Lankan team in the IPL. That would be a spectacle.

Sunil was the chess instructor at my elementary school! (Hunter College Elementary School in NYC.) I got a weekly chess lesson from him for 7 years. I was never a good player but he was a delightful teacher and we were lucky to have him. I'd be fascinated to know how you met him!

And on a more bitter, derisive note, the reason the LTTE (Tamil Tiger north Ceylon separatists) were defeated by the Sri Lankan military in 2009 is the same reason the Germans in WWII defeated the Allied partisans (by and large, and this is not me saying this but the imminent war historian John Keegan), and that is, the unrestricted use of terror against civilian populations and disregard of the rules of war. By not obeying rules of engagement, the Stri Lankan military was able to defeat the separatists. It's probably also true however that the civilian population was not really in support of LTTE, which was itself a brutal organization. It's also true that if the US military were to adopt these kind of "Nazi / Soviet Style" tactics, it could 'win' in Afghanistan and Iraq, and would have won in Vietnam, but at such a Pyrrhic cost that it would have damaged American ideals and US society. Enjoy your tea.

Its fair to note that the Germans did not defeat the partisans in Russia nor the Red Army. Once you live and die by these methods, eventually you run into someone stronger than you are.

Where there are large conventional armies, even the most brutal counterinsurgency tactics are not enough. Similarly, the Vietnam war was won by the NVA and its international allies much than than by the efforts of the Viet Cong.

However, not everyone has such backup. The Tamils is Sri Lanka don't, and nor do many populations in the of Russia and China.

I have to agree with Adrian Ratnapala, as an armchair war historian myself. It's true that conventional armies won the war in the eastern front in WWII (namely, the Soviets at Stalingrad and Kursk) and in Vietnam (the North Vietnamese VPA), while the 'partisans' did little or nothing except, in the case of WWII, arguably (and it's highly debated) 'tie down' some German divisions that could have been used on the eastern front. As for the Viet Cong (South Vietnamese) they were largely wiped out by US forces, and had no effect. As for liberal rules of engagement and kill ratios, it's common sense that if you have free fire zones and can kill at will, you will kill the enemy faster. As for the Tamil Tigers, they had dwindling support from India, from their own population, and as such they were (in retrospect, admittedly) like a dead tree limb waiting to fall.

Indian sympathies died entirely, after the LTTE assassinated an Indian ex-head of state. Quite a moronic move that for the LTTE, whoever planned it.

Prabakharan. Nothing like that happens without his say so.

The guy seems to be a genius at the level of setting up an effective organisation but an agressive fool at the border between politics and strategy. Prabakharan killed Rajiv Ghandi. Years later, he kept Tamil voters away from the polls in a close election because he wanted the more aggressive Rajapaksa in charge. Then Rajapaksa killed Prabakharan.

Re #4: One of my parents' favourite films is Gamperalya I've never seen it.

As for food culture, Sri Lankans know coconut. And they have some of the highest saturated fat content in their diet (due to coconut) of any people in the world, and one of the lowest rates of heart disease.

Supposedly the saturated fat and heart disease link breaks down does not hold for coconut oil on account of something or other to do with lauric acid:

By way of the Europification of the US update, here is the FDA's warning letter to the people who make the really good coconut oil based coffee creamer.

Only relevant in that I was simply looking for a healthy coffee creamer and lo and behold I of course came across the government telling people they can't promote healthy things.

Arular was named after MIA's father, a Tamil activist who had buddies in the LTTE. So unlikely to earn you points in Sri Lanka.

Popular Music: The producer behind Rebecca Black's excellent and insightful single, Friday, – Clarence Jey – is of Sri Lankan origin (

More profound than MIA, wouldn't you say?

And having been a teenage girl in the 80s, I can tell you that Sri Lanka came on my radar in a big way after Duran Duran's "Save A Prayer" video.

I agree re: Ondaatje - the one book of his I really love, worth reading if you have not already, is RUNNING IN THE FAMILY.

A recent book very much worth your while: WAVE, by Sonali Deraniyagala.

I can very much second Running in the Family - it's great fun and gives a lot of context. Reef by Romesh Gunesekera is really wonderful and gave me a much better understanding about the 1950s-1980s.

London also, has relatively few Sri Lankan restaurants, which is a real shame as rice and curry is so wonderful. I have asked for rice and curry instead of the exclusively Western dishes on a hotel menu (which I realise sounds a bit precious) and they were pleased that we asked and gave us some wonderful dishes.

I hope you have/had a great time.

Parts of "Sita Sings the Blues" are set in Sri Lanka since it's based on the Ramayana.

Did you get a chance to meet the Dictator there? Did you spot any white van on your en route?

Paul Bowles lived in Sri Lanka for several winters. He wrote "The Spider's House" (or most of it) there. I have vague memories of some of his short stories being set in Sri Lanka.

MIA is terrorist-loving ghetto trash--for shame, Tyler!
"The Terrorist" is a good Sri Lankan movie and perhaps would sensitize you to why MIA is so disgusting.

And Picasso was a communist. Blah, blah, blah, etc. It's very good music.

MIA is very much English.

Wasn't the movie "The Terrorist" set in/ shot in Sri Lanka? If you haven't seen it, check it out; it's quite good. I came to it after a Malkovich review in the New Yorker, over a decade ago.

What about the cricket-themed novel Chinaman?

I think it sold under a different title in the US.

If it's not in your library yet, check out Rice and Curry, a good cookbook of Sri Lankan food.

I'll overlook the ethnical implications of listening to MIA's music and contest this pick on the basis of technical skills: she's hardly a musician. Listen to Diplo's music, and you'll begin to understand why her songs were semi-tolerable in the beginning. For some reason, this confused diasporite takes refuge in her radical views of a conflict that she hardly understands in order to commodify the idea of it AND YET! and yet, extremely talented musicians - AR Rahman, Diplo - have collaborated with her. Baffling, to say the least.

Muttiah Muralitharan, arguably the greatest ever spin bowler.

Controversial, and provoked a change in the laws of cricket:

"...Muralitharan's doosra was the subject of an official report by match referee Chris Broad during Australia's tour of Sri Lanka in 2004, for illegal bending of the arm at the elbow during the bowling action. Subsequent biomechanical tests conducted at the University of Western Australia in Perth showed that Muralitharan was straightening his arm by angles of up to 10 degrees prior to delivering doosras, well outside the International Cricket Council acceptable guideline of 5 degrees for spin bowlers. (Straightening the bent arm at the moment of delivery imparts added ball speed due to the action of the triceps muscle: this is one of the ways baseball pitchers generate ball velocity.) Muralitharan was subsequently instructed by Sri Lanka Cricket not to bowl the doosra in international cricket. In November 2004, the International Cricket Council conducted more research into illegal bowling actions and found that many great bowlers like Glenn Mcgrath, Jason Gillespie, Shaun Pollock, whose actions were considered legitimate were actually transgressing the rules. A rule change was proposed and accepted at a meeting of ICC chief executives in early 2005, stating that any bowler may straighten their arm up to 15° (which was earlier 9° for spinner and 12° for seamer) and Muralitharan's doosra once again became a legal delivery.
In February 2006, in an attempt to silence the Australian crowds and their 'no ball' chants, Muralitharan took another test at the University of Western Australia, which saw all of his deliveries deemed legal, including the doosra."


No middle class
250% on imports
Nazi Buddhist

Things I think Tyler would have enjoyed most:

1) Music: Sri Lankan classical is very close to Indian, I think Sri Lankan Baila is pretty unique although no guarantees anyone not understanding the meaning would really enjoy it.

2) Books : Anything by Shyam Selvadurai (funny boy, and his latest hungry ghosts ) and most definitely Chinaman by Shehan Karunathilake would be high on the recommended list, although the latter is a cricket-oriented book, it's really about life in Sri Lanka a few years ago.

3) Movies : For contemporary Sri Lankan culture -- Machan based on true events around a Sri Lankan handball team.

4) Food/Restaurants in Colombo -- Gallery Cafe and the Ministry of Crab for tourists on the up side. Most folks visiting also like the 'egg hoppers', Kottu and the Lamprais (

Economists -- Not too sure who's most popular, among contemporary economists Prof. Razeen Sally is of Sri Lankan origin.

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