By Gamini Weerakoon
We live in a time when a man’s success or ability is measured by his ability to get a loan or his ability to repay not so much the loan, which sounds far-fetched, but at least a portion of the loan per agreement .
A dashing figure of late is the dapper Central Bank Governor (Cabinet Rank), Nivard Cabraal, who defies all criticism that the country is on the verge of bankruptcy and that Sri Lanka will not be able to repay interest payments as required. Cabraal does it at the last moment as James Bond does, shooting the villain through his forehead with his last bullet hanging from a rope while swinging above the fires of hell below, saving Britain and civilization.
Watching all this entertainment on state television took our minds back about six to seven decades when the principles of the future conduct of our lives were taught to us at home and in the classroom. One of those sayings that lurked behind our minds was: “Neither a lender nor a borrower is”.
Curiosity has led us to research the origins of this advice which is totally ignored or dismissed in this quarter of the 21st century where radio, television and print media with the active support of patriotic leaders are all for financial disbursements – simply called ready – if ‘development’ is to take place.
Advice against borrowing or lending dates back to William Shakespeare’s Hamlet in which Polonius, adviser to the Danish king Claudius, gives advice to his son Laertes who leaves Denmark for France. He says:
Give every man your ear but few your voice
Take censure from every man but reserve your judgment
Expensive your habit and your purse can buy
But not expressed in rich or garish fantasy
For your clothing often proclaims the man….
Neither a borrower nor a lender
For a loan often loses both itself and a friend….
This above all; be true to yourself
And it must follow like night and day
So you can’t fool anyone.
We weren’t students of English Literature at that time to admire the famous bard’s words and thoughts. Instead, we were busy cutting up toads, rats and the like and wondering why flowers fornicate and conifers don’t mate. Yet Shakespeare’s words “neither lender nor borrower” have stuck in our minds all these years. Not being literate at that time, our reading was limited to those delightful comic strips, in which we were engrossed even as the math teacher worked out “the length of the hypotenuse of a right triangle…. We had our various cowboy heroes like Roy Rogers, the hard-hitting king of the cowboys; Gene Autry riding a beautiful white horse while strumming a guitar; Tom Mix brawler par excellence in the saloons and deadly precise with his shots in the great outdoors.
Our favorite was the Lone Ranger, a masked cowboy on top of a beautiful, pristine white Silver stallion, with his partner Tonto, a Native American also riding his pet horse. Together they annihilated many villains in the Wild West and their good deeds were fulfilled, the Lone Ranger with his black mask shouting, “Hi-yo Silver!” Away and they gallop on the horizon. It was good fun but had great risks in the days when ballpoint pens ruined your writing and comic books with their Americanisms ruined your English.
How did the Lone Ranger come into our thoughts as we pondered about borrowing and lending in our “hansiputuwa”? Have we confused the phonetics: LONE Ranger with LOAN Ranger?
At present, since obtaining a foreign loan for Sri Lanka is considered an invaluable patriotic service to the nation – regardless of whether the details of the agreement are disclosed or not – there are many Loan Rangers visible. Loans can be in cash or in kind. Reports speak of Udayaya Gammanpila knocking on doors in UAE for oil; Bandula Gunawardena claims to have succeeded in “begging” a million tonnes of rice for free from China; Basil Rajapaksa claims to have obtained billions from India and the guarantee of the loans remains unclear. Of course, the best known Loan Ranger is the inimitable Governor Cabraal who was, even in his previous role as Minister of State, borrowed from China’s Xis and paid India’s Shri Modis and vice versa, to many times.
But there is no money in the country today despite all the loans and the Loan Rangers. Power cuts come on sweltering afternoons – Nawala is swimming in 80% humidity and 32 degrees Celsius; the horn has stopped but the gas is still missing; power plants receive daily or periodic distributions of coal and fuel, and food prices now circulate in space. Basic reason for all this ‘kollopang’: No exchange despite the Loan Rangers. A wave of Omicron is coming, experts anticipate as the valiant leaders who are believed to have successfully fought off the waves of COVID-19 have now turned their attention to agriculture. There is more to come. The pharmaceutical industry warns of an imminent disruption of the drug supply! Reason: No exchange, but don’t worry. A long-term project to manufacture most of the medicines needed by Sri Lankans has been launched!
Hi- Yo Lone Ranger and Silver. Return from the horizon you disappeared into with vials of insulin and metphormine before entering the world of nothingness. Our Loan Rangers can’t beat the bad guys.