Check point travails

Eve | Published on May 1, 2011 at 11:21 pm

JANUARY 13, 2008: There is a pathos that consumes my soul as I observe policemen stationed at every foot nay every inch of the road liberally dotting the city, arms and ammunition at the ready, while the anticipated bomb and claymore mine always seems to explode somewhere else.

It is difficult to imagine the really hardened terrorist patiently waiting in line at number 782 in the vehicle queue while check point personnel haven’t yet done asking those vital and strategic questions from the owner of car number 10.

Under such circs,two simple options lie before the criminally minded blackguard. Breakaway from the queue and take a road less traveled or detonate that bally bomb for maximum effect. What better time to create the best impact in terms of life and property damaged than explode the thing at a horrendous traffic jam created by the vital check point.

The futility of the barricade so well articulated in the recent Supreme Court judgment is further underscored by the fact that not 48 hours after the city was held up for hours by a massive check point operation Sunday where the government claimed 198 suspicious persons were rounded up and taken into custody, a claymore mine killed Minister D.M. Dassanayake.

Anyway Eve and check points have had an illustrious 12 year history mainly due to a driver I once employed by the name of Lord Stan. The 15.02 readers of this column 10 years ago may recall Stan’s antics of which I at the time meticulously chronicled and recorded.

Old Stan used to spot a check point a mile away and slow down considerably to about 1 mph from his daring 10 mph.

When I explained to Stan at the time that if we stopped at a check point without being asked, our behaviour may be deemed suspicious and may even prompt the jittery chaps to shoot at us and ask questions later, Stan dismissed me with a flap of his ham like hand.

‘No madam only if we go fast they kill. We stop. We show them we have nothing to hide.’ Ah, the good ole days when being innocent meant something.

Today check points make me quiver at the knees. If I’m driving back alone after work I don’t fear the lateness of the hour, I don’t fear the drunkard on the street and let me tell you I don’t even fear the terrorist, I merely fear the rude and the unexpected at the check point.

The other day I was hailed down like a common or garden taxi cab. ‘Where do you work?’ The policeman asked. ‘I am a journalist’, I said in Sinhala.

‘Are you Tamil,’ he immediately asked. ‘Can’t you speak Sinhala’ he barked his eyes squinting dangerously. ‘From where are you?’ Now wasn’t that a loaded question on so many levels!

For years I had been under the impression I spoke the mother lingo quite well and now this son of a bohunkus was giving my vernacular language skills the bally once over.

Hot under the collar I pursed lips and hissing venomously thrust out my government media card. An immediate change occurred and I was passed through with a smile. Together with the miraculous change of demeanour the officer also offered some kindly advice. ‘Don’t travel alone like this miss, it is dangerous. You must get someone from office to escort you home. It is too late for a lady to drive in these times.’

I must say I had never been hassled at check points by the military though my husband and editor Lasantha always got mixed reactions. So usually he preferred that I traveled alone in anticipation of  such challenges to our daily lives. When they found out who he was some would wave him through with a smile while others took the opportunity to hassle and delay him.

Flash your media card one of my colleagues advise me. They have been given strict instructions not to harass media. Hah! Tell that to the marines and somebody forgot to tell Mervyn Silva.

But I remain to this very moment loathe to ‘flash’ my media card because I am reminded of that hapless reporter not long ago who did just that when he was asked to show some ID at a check point. The next thing he knew he was being beaten mercilessly and dragged off to the police station.

I may be the proud daughter of a police officer and a gentleman but that was in the day when decency and dignity prevailed. I’d rather visit a way side lavatory than a bally police station now, thank you very much.

So I’m compelled to desist all this flashing of media cards and depend on my legal credentials to get me past the check point.

Anyway the government seems to work in strange and mysterious ways. Just the other Sunday there I was warbling Abide With Me in the precincts of my church even as others in the congregation shifted uncomfortably. Bless me if I didn’t notice one or two even cringing a little. What I lack in singing talent I try to make up for in volume but hardly ever to an appreciative audience.

But I digress. While all this cacophony was going on inside the church, outside, a suspicious looking black car was parked. All night as it happens. And even though telephone calls had been made to the police, the army and finally to 119 the vehicle was allowed to remain till morning with only a message the owner should report to the police station no sooner than he arrives to claim his car.

But wait for the significance of this. The car was parked dangerously close to the heartland of the army – the army headquarters. No number of check points and barricades could have prevented this car from exploding if indeed that had been its mission.

As I glanced out the window between the reading of the Nunc Dimmittis and the Epistle I beheld a disheveled man with what looked like a terrific hang over wobble towards the car and attempt to put his key through the side mirror. For the moment it seemed the army headquarters and the place of worship were safe except for a mild smell of some cheap alcohol.

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Life with Eve

Check point travails

JANUARY 13, 2008: There is a pathos that consumes my soul as I observe policemen stationed at every foot nay every inch of the road ...