On post-election ululations
Whenever I came across a word I didn’t know the meaning of, my father
would say ‘check in the dictionary’. My Vice Principal, E.C. Gunasekara
was like that. He would pick a word that a student has just used and ask
him to give a definition. He would then pick a word from the definition
offered and ask for its meaning. At some point the student would trip
and he would then tell him to check the definition in the Concise Oxford
Dictionary, a key element of the torture instruments at his disposal.
I learnt a lot of words from the Reader’s Digest. Every month there
was a page where the reader is quizzed on his/her vocabulary (Word
Power). These days, my friend Errol Alphonso sends me ‘curious’ word he
picks off the internet. I also get words from a quiz in the Daily
Mirror, where we are asked to make words using the letters in a given
word. The word is mentioned, along with pronunciation and meaning. A few
days ago, I came across a word that had me in fits of laughter:
To ‘ululate’ is to howl, wail or lament loudly. It refers to the act
of wailing or hooting and also the sound thus produced. One definition
goes thus: a loud emotional utterance.
Interestingly, the online dictionaries are all accompanied by the
image of a fox, with raised head and howling. But it was not ‘fox’ that
came to mind. The word reminded me not of a nariya but the ulama
(devil-bird) reputed to have a sound that is akin of a piercing and
There’s a way in which the right word comes at the right time. I
couldn’t help laughing because the word ‘arrived’ just after the various
parties announced their respective ‘National Lists’ following the
completion of counting in the re-polled areas in Nawalapitiya and
It was bound to happen. All parties submit full lists, i.e. ideally
(in an impossible result) the party would get all the votes and
therefore return all 29 national list MPs. The time between announcement
of results and the announcement of the national list by the particular
individual tasked to do so by the particular party is traumatic,
naturally, for all those in these lists. ‘Am I in?’ they wonder. ‘Am I
out?’ they ask themselves. The truth comes out and when it does, some
are relieved and some are not, some are overjoyed and some are livid.
I wrote in the year 2001 that ‘national lists’ were like ‘refugee
camps’. They do not serve the original purpose, that of reserving a
certain number of seats for professionals to correct the error of party
and voter in electing incompetents to Parliament. There have been some
professionals who have been brought in to Parliament this way but by and
large ‘national lists’ have been instruments to keep members of
political alliances happy, correct for ethnic and gender imbalances and
placating those whom the voters have rejected.
This time around we have not had losers being brought in through this
‘back door’ and that’s thanks to a lot of public resentment over such
patently anti-democratic acts. So the people have not had reason to
whine on this account. But whining there has been.
Mano Ganeshan ululated: ‘UNP leader a treacherous opportunist!’
Amazing. The man hung on to the elephant’s tail for dear life and thinks
that the mahout should do his bidding, truly an ‘alinge ape kathava’
(taking credit for what the elephant did by tagging oneself to the
pachyderm). He believes that his party (not a three wheeler, not a bike,
but a one-wheeler, the voters finally decided) was at the forefront of
the anti-Government campaign. This means that ‘exaggeration’ should go
out of the dictionary. We should replace it with ‘Ganeshaning’ (makes
for suitable play with ‘gnashing’)!
Wimal Weerawansa has ululated. He wants two slots for his party from
the UPFA list. The voters returned just him. SLFPer secured more than
120 seats and they are not demanding an appropriate slice of the
National List, one notes. The Jathika Hela Urumaya had two MPs returned.
Are they then eligible to slot in four names for the UPFA National List?
True, if Wimal’s party was to get just one, then the UPFA Secretary
should have out of courtesy at least asked the party which person it
prefers, but the ululation is most certainly out of order.
Rukman Senanayake is ululating about the UNP Leader. Wrong moment,
wrong context. He should have ululated years ago when Ranil
Wickremesinghe first showed that he was the most anti-democratic
politician that party ever had the misfortune to have as leader. He was
bone lazy and he paid the price. Too late for ululation, one is
persuaded to think.
There is going to be more ululating once the Cabinet is announced.
Some will be ministers, some will not. Some will be downgraded and some
sidelined. Ululation we can expect. It’s alright. Just for a few days.
We don’t have great-hearted, principled men and women here, folks. We
don’t have the grin-and-bear types. That’s us, the voters. We have
ululated enough and have given up. It also means that we are not moved
by ululation. We are amused by it.
The bottom line is this: the more you ululate the more ridiculous you
sound. We prefer the ulama. Or the fox.