Kudos to Cassandra!
Posted on August 1st, 2018

By Rohana R. Wasala

KUDOS to Cassandra for her interesting and lightly entertaining feature article under the long title ‘People’s eternal grouses and profligacy of the past regime Cassandra Cry: A Woman’s Judgmental View of the Past Week’ (The Island/July 27, 2018). Her candid confirmation of a home truth (i.e., an unpleasant truth about herself) in the title itself is praiseworthy: her view is judgmental”. The adjective ‘judgmental’ is not positive; it is a negative one. It can mean a wide range or variety of negatives: too critical, subjective, prejudiced, silly, frivolous, capricious, eccentric, irresponsible, irrational, fanciful, offhand, supercilious, and other similar descriptions. Her article is full of assertions that illustrate most of these adjectival notions. (This article describes my personal point of view for what it is worth. Meaningful criticism is welcome.)

Her choice of ‘Cassandra’ as her nom de plume is appropriate in a twisted manner. The Trojan Cassandra was one of the many daughters of king Priam of Troy, hence sister to Priam’s eldest son  Hector, the foremost Trojan warrior who corresponded to the Greek Achilles on the enemy side during the Trojan War, which forms the background to the epic poem ‘Iliad’. It was another brother of Cassandra known as Paris, who abducted Helen, the most beautiful woman of the world at that time, who had been married to Menelaus, king of Sparta. What really happened was not an abduction, but an elopement. Helen ran away with Paris, a royal guest of her husband. The scandal caused the ten year armed conflict celebrated in Greek mythology as the Trojan War.

According to one story, Cassandra was given the power of prophecy by that model of male beauty god Apollo of no little machismo, who had ulterior designs on her. He wanted to seduce her, but she refused his advances. The humiliated Apollo, in his annoyance, cursed  her so that although she did prophecy correctly, no one ever believed her prophecies! That was her unhappy plight! The situation of the senior citizen Cassandra of The Island seems to be that she is a victim of a different kind of curse to that which afflicted the young Cassandra of Troy. The former’s predicament is this: Apparently a spell has been cast on her that stimulates her to make bona fide  assertions which are nevertheless economical with the truth about the relative merits or demerits of the previous and present regimes, and all these assertions without an exception are bound to be rejected by the majority of sensible, sufficiently well informed readers.

However, there is such a divergence between each one of her statements and the obvious reality it relates to that I wonder whether senior citizen Cassandra is having a laugh at the expense of those whom she apparently praises. For example, she has a grouse against the media. It is that though they are quick to point out the negatives of the present government, they try to suppress its positive achievements. But she may be saying the opposite. Referring to 9:00 o’clock news in English on an unnamed TV channel that gives prominence to the ‘Voice of the People’”, she writes:

…. Hearing them (ordinary people interviewed on the TV program) grouse, one would imagine the government just sat on its bum metaphorically, twiddled its thumbs, enjoyed perks and benefits and did nothing for the citizenry of this country. That just is not true. They, our elected representatives who hold Cabinet posts do work for us, often tirelessly, many of them. Consider the Finance Minister and his right hand Eran Wickremaratne, and Health Minister just to mention three such who work for us and have conferred benefits to us. Thus the justified annoyance amounting to disgust at every man and woman interviewed by a journalist holding a microphone giving vent to a volley of grouses ranging from no drinking water to no cheap vegetables to no tarred roads and bridges. There are of course short comings and large lacunae in providing basic amenities to people, but one thing that has to be stated strong and loud is that people are very reluctant to self help; they want the government to do everything for them expect imbibe in the evenings and have sex”.

If Cassandra is being sarcastic here, she is in good company. But she may well quite literally mean what she writes.  Her carping at the hoi polloi about being very reluctant to self help” and their alleged dependence on the government for everything except drink and sex reminds me of Marie-Antoinette’s quip Let them eat cake” when told that the French people were starving because they had no bread to eat just before the French Revolution (1789-99). The wife of king Louis XVI of France is an appropriate analogy for Cassandra because she tells us that she was sick to her eyeballs at seeing people, most looking ugly sorry to say, accusing the government of dire neglect of their personal needs”, which shows her callous insensitivity to the suffering of ordinary people.

Again, she writes:

They don’t complain about not having roofs over their heads. Is it that Ranasinghe Premadasa and now his son Sajith have seen to this need adequately or is the TV Channel that blares forth people’s complaints partial to the latter? Let us viewers, once in a way at least, hear some good words spoken about the government, an MP, a Minister, a successful project”.

Here too, Cassandra may be justifiably sarcastic or irrationally serious.

She is very angry about doctors taking legitimate trade union action as a last resort:

Cannot doctors express displeasure by shouting or throttling themselves with their stethoscopes, and negotiating their demands which may be negotiable and not absurdly protesting government decided economic moves. We’d better complain to the pigtailed Chinamen. We will certainly not find one among the sudden influx of Chinese who move around in cities, hamlets and even villages”.

It is true that medical strikes cause hardship to the poor patients. But we know that doctors and nurses take every precaution to minimize it, and usually ensure that emergency services are not interrupted during strikes. There could be exceptions due to unavoidable circumstances, though. It is the inescapable duty of the government not to wait until medical workers feel compelled to resort to trade union action. They do not go on strike because they enjoy doing so. Of course, there may be a few in the healing profession who are after money. However, moral perfection is not to be expected from human beings. It is the responsibility of the government authorities to create the right environment for providing  a good health service for the public. Cassandra is enamoured of the government’s decided economic moves” which people who are better informed about such things including these doctor activists know all about. Probably, Cassandra is unable to appreciate the fact that the innocent poor village people whom she calls ugly” are more understanding and more graceful than her towards striking doctors because they know they won’t do so if they could help it.

In a much more heartless silly comment in an earlier write-up in The Island (July 20, 2018) entitled Cassandra cry: A woman’s jubilant view of the past week”, Cassandra denigrates our war heroes. Actually her target is certain patriotic ex-military officers who are actively campaigning to defend the good name of our armed forces against false war crimes allegations raised in the world body, and also to defeat attempts currently in progress to deliver on a platter (by means of a fraudulent federalist constitution that does not reflect the popular will) to the minority of Tamils who are still dreaming of a separate state what they could not get through terrorism. Cassandra refers to herself in the third person:

Cassandra’s short comment, seconded by the opinion of women she spoke to is: they joined the armed forces knowing full well this was in line with duty; they had to serve the country, run personal risk and save the country at any cost when called upon to do so. So the eternally touted boast they saved the country risking their lives has to stop. It holds no water with thinking people. They did save the country from the LTTE menace and the civil war ignited by those northern terrorists, but they had to fight and do their utmost to save the country as they were trained and paid to do so. It was their job, in short.”

I don’t need to say anything about this to my fellow Lankaweb readers because Sugath Samarasinghe has given her a very good answer in his excellent article ‘O Cassandra………O Cassandra’ published in these columns on July 29, 2018.

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