‘A wonderful writer’

– Alexander McCall Smith


Situated at the very heart of the ancient Maritime Silk Route, Sri Lanka is probably the most colonized country in South Asia, having played host during its two-and-a-half-thousand-year history to numerous civilizations that have made it their home giving its people and customs a certain quirkiness.

In this collection of humorous essays – Ashok Ferrey’s first work of creative non-fiction, the author attempts to come to grips with the gloriously complex, hugely illogical, absurdly satisfying society that he has been privileged to call home for the past thirty years.

Book Cover Credit

Ashok Ferrey

The Designer & the Cover

We were just about to commission a perfectly decent designer for the cover of this book when the author stepped in, begging to be allowed to do it himself.

‘During my London days,’ he boasted, ‘they used to say I was a brilliant painter.’
It now transpires he was in fact a painter of houses.
And what they actually said was: ‘Who painted this house? A blind man?’
And he would reply: ‘Shocking, isn’t it? I sacked him.
I just had to.’

In this painting of the cover of Cut Pieces, Ashok has attempted to express the subtly complex yet many-flavoured quality of the Sri Lankan psyche: hot and strong, surprisingly sweet, but at times shockingly coarse-cut. Like marmalade. Though whoever heard of marmalade with chillies in it?
They say you must never judge a book by its cover. Nobody ever listens to this advice of course: we all make judgments – hasty and ill-advised though they may be – by looking at the outside of the book. In this case we earnestly beseech you not to. Because if after you do, you say those immortal words, ‘Who painted this cover, a blind man?’ we will be forced to reply: ‘We sacked him. We just had to.’

Publisher’s Note: Ashok Ferrey’s wry wit appears both in cover illustration and essays. We urge you to call him if you need your house painted.

27. Sri Lanka and the Gentle Art of Madness

“No mad person ever believes that they are mad: they are uniquely wholesomely sane, and it is the world around them that is mad instead. We here in Sri Lanka believe that we are uniquely wholesomely sane; that the madness only begins once you leave our shores.”

Please don’t draw any conclusions from these two statements, dear reader; not till you have fully heard me out. Sri Lanka may be justly famous for its cinnamon and sapphires, its ebony and its elephants. But madness? I must be joking, right? Yet the more I think about it, the more I realize that madness is both a strength and weakness of our Sri Lankan society, the invisible thread that runs through the fabric of our lives. So if the UK can include cocaine and hookers in the calculation of its gross domestic product, why can’t we include madness in the calculation of our gross domestic happiness? Now, you may think I’m particularly off in this case – and I am sure you won’t be far wrong – but please have a little patience while I lead you down the crazy-paved path of my tortuous imaginings.

First of all, let’s get one thing clear: by madness I don’t mean lunacy – the cut-your-Granny-into-pieces-and keep-the body-parts-in-the-cellar type; not exactly. I mean instead that fully comprehensive range of behavior, from stark raving bonkers right down to what we charmingly call ‘mildly eccentric.’ In Sri Lanka we specialize in madness of every shade and colour; indeed, we are to the madness born. I have a friend whose grandmother was fond of taking her clothes off and running stark naked through the streets. Of London. I myself had a great-aunt who every afternoon, when the shadows lengthened on the lawn, would sense the presence of devils – she would berate them loudly as if they were recalcitrant children. Finally (perhaps because she got no satisfactory response from them) she would turn on us children and drive us out of the house, blaming us for this postprandial invasion of evil. It was a good thing she lived next door to her (only slightly more) sane sister: otherwise we children would have been put out on the streets. Then, of course, there is my mother. Please don’t get me started on Mother or we’ll be here until the end of time.

Now I know what you will say: It is nothing new, every family has them, every country. Trust me, dear reader, you don’t. Not the way we do. We Sri Lankans have taken the subject to another level: we have honed our madnesses to the very pitch of musical perfection and we have the certificates to prove it, framed and hanging on our walls.

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Ashok Ferrey

Ashok Ferrey has been many things: failed builder, indifferent mathematician, barman, and personal trainer to the rich and infamous. He lives in Colombo with his wife, two kids and his cholesterol.


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