It’s Time to Join the Queue ….. Sri Lanka Today

Capt Elmo Jayawardena

President gets ousted, Prime Minister gives a ‘walk over’ and Ministers join the soul-selling market to hang in there. Where? Of course, in Diyawanna Oya.** Though my senses overflow with the desire to write these stories, I, being a coward, feel ‘discretion is the better part of valor’ and will leave politics and politicians alone. What to write anyway? Things change so fast that by the time I get published the whole fairytale may change.

So, I’ll touch on the perennial tableau that is the flavour of the season. Join the queue. This time, to get some petrol into the car, 7000 rupees worth! Saturday (23rd July) I qualified as my car registration had the numeric 2 as the last digit. Someone said they were pumping petrol that day at a shed which was a kilometer from where I live. Off we went Mr and Mrs Jay to join the queue.

I must say that after a lot of experiments, the Donkey Serenade in charge of distribution hit a pass mark. Saturday being for numerics 0,1 and 2, out of 10 cars crying for fuel only three were eligible. It was a good way to reduce the snaking queue. A week before that, I had stayed overnight in a queue and was holding almost the ‘poll position’ like Lewis Hamilton, when the Air Force team in charge of security came, and having taken down our car and mobile numbers, told us to go home. We had no choice but to reluctantly vacate our privileged positions and disperse. They said they will text us when the fuel bowsers came. That was another Santa Claus story.

This time we joined the queue on the new Galle Road between Moratuwa and Panadura and settled down for the long wait till whatever time the fuel would come. The sea breeze was refreshing, and the south-west monsoon wind blew constantly cooling and calming everything. Not a bad place to linger, it sure was comfortable. Of course, I did not know how long the queue was, so I decided to leave the car and walk to the filling station counting the vehicles. The pavement was lined with clusters of people hanging around their fuelstarved cars. Some were chatting and some were loudly cursing. Some played cards and others were stretched and dozing in their reclined seats. The moods were not bad, it was still too early for the blood to boil and tempers to flare.

I got an offer from a body builder type ‘Thada Banda’ in a tight sleeveless skinny and tattooed Sisyphus shoulders. “Sir, for 3000 I will give you a closer slot”. I politely declined and walked on doing my count. By the time I reached the petrol pumps where it all began, I had passed 220 vehicles. That was my official number in the queue. God only knew how many would parachute when the fuel came. Even then I would be ok as the bowsers brought around 6000 litres and they were giving each car Rs 7000 worth which approximately amounted to 15 litres. In the 220 vehicles between the shed and my car there were many three-wheelers, which were supposed to get around 7 liters according to the master plan. Of course, I knew there would be some ‘Hora Police” action, but so what, it still looked good for me at number 220. As long as the last numeric qualification in the number plate held, mathematically I was ok to get fuel. My co-driver too was there to share the long wait. It was like ‘Le Mans’ the 24-hour French auto marathon. The difference was we were on a permanent pit-stop and allowed to change seats anytime.

The fuel bowser came, and the excitement ran to fever pitch among us, the fuel beggars. It took some time for the queue to get moving, crawling like a caterpillar towards the pumps. We got our turn at 4 pm. Not bad, relative to people I knew who baton-changed and ran the fuel relay for two or three days. What a waste of time.

And now they are going to do away with the somewhat successful last digit eligibility and bring the ‘QR Code’. At least the registration number successfully reduced the length of the queue. They can bring the ‘QR Code’ or for that matter, bring codes for the entire alphabet, but if they do away with the numeric separation on selective days, we will be aiming at another battle royal at fuel stations.

The powers that be are sure playing Russian Roulette; one can only hope that they know what they are doing. If truth be told, we, the citizens of this misplaced paradise are suffering inconceivably on all fronts whilst Diyawanna Oya is waiting for ‘ships that don’t come in’.

“C’est la vie” – or should I simply say ‘that’s life’.

  Capt Elmo Jayawardena  …………


** “Diyawanna Oya” is Captain Elmo’s satirical term for the Parliament of Sri Lanka (because of its location) …. 


Groundviews: “In conversation with Elmo Jayawardena,” 29 July 2011,


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