Should we be averse , in this backwater state, to talk about British royalty in con nection to what has come close to being a global event? We've never seen the world media go into this kind of frenzy....
Why did Diana die is the media's million dollar self - flagellating query . Some of the mediamen say that it was because of their paparazzi "cousins''.
But, Diana was the queen of causes. She was also the underdog, which is why collective underdoggery is so hysterically sad about her death. But, if she was the queen of causes, perhaps she would have liked her death, above all, to serve a worthy cause. In the end, its common opinion that she was genuine about the causes she espoused.
Look at the facts of her death. They say, quite conclusively, that the sole survivor of the disaster was the Princess's bodyguard - incidentally, the only person who was wearing a seatbelt when the car crashed into a pillar and bounced onto a wall.
Then, look at what has been conclusively said about the driver, Monsieur Paul, who had imbibed a quantity of liquor that put his blood-alcohol count around three times over the permissible limit in France. That's apparently, around the equivalent of one and a half glasses of wine, or five bottles of beer, according to reports in the press.
Now, we have seen the television frenzy that followed the accident. It will go down in history as one of the most co-ordinated and continuous live reporting events that took place in the history of media reportage. In that earthshaking hurry, messages and opinions began to be voiced and repeated with such amazing speed, that some of them, in a manner of speaking, got cut into a groove. With each revolution of the record, (in this case each time the tape was played) each message got repeated.
The "paparazzi" of course were the first to be caught up in this whirlwind of high speed journalese. The papa- who? people wondered, because some were indeed hearing of the Italian origin nickname for freelance photographers for the first time in their lives. There is no intention of repeating the record here - there was "paparazzi" apparently on the trail of Princess Diana and his companion, before the car crashed into a pillar killing the famous occupant and her fellow travellers inside.
Once this record had been played and replayed over the airwaves, there also came the wisp of news that the driver was drunk. And the fact that the occupants in the car were not wearing seatbelts.
But, by this time, BBC had interviewed Walter Cronkite, Liz Taylor, and celebrities ranging from Tom Cruise to experts on the "paparazzi" who became instant celebrities in their own right.
The story had been indelibly embedded in the psyche of a shocked people who identified with this Princess, with her frailties frills and all.
By this time it was difficult to undo a story that had been blown out of proportion by hyped frenzied satellite journalism at its best.
But, the queen of causes perhaps would have liked if the story was looked at a little differently. Her driver was drunk, yes? Yes. Said one British security expert, in a rare moment that was granted to him on television, that its "not only the IRA but also drunk drivers who can kill people like Diana who belong to British royalty." He added that security and a driver provided by the British government could have prevented the accident.
In some of the quaint and relevant details, Princess Diana is said to have refused the services of bodyguards and drivers extended to her by the British government, because the title Her Royal Highness was taken away from her by the Queen of England.
It meant that she naturally resorted to her own devices, or the devices provided by her hosts. In this case, the driver provided by the Ritz was merrily drunk on over one and a half bottles of perhaps some of the most sparkling wines available in that part of Paris.
That was drunk driving, and the man had no business being behind the wheel of any vehicle, leave alone a vehicle carrying occupants as well known as the worlds most popular Princess.
Now, we know drunk driving of that nature kills. For example, it is said that the impact on a man crashing into a barrier if he was travelling at 65 miles per hour is the same as if he was falling from a sixth floor building. And, any seat belt simulator will show how seat belts can save lives.
There is no chance for drunk drivers who crash at such speeds, and for their passengers, who do not wear seatbelts. Now, that the paparazzi triggered a chase of sorts or not is still possible - but the fact is that a drunk driver doesn't help in that situation either. Perhaps, a sober driver would have called the police, if there was a "paparazzi" chase, and we would have still had this debate about press intrusion without anybody having died.
The highly Quixotic aspect of this all is that the West is generally an astute and tough stickler for seatbelts. Going at speeds generally kept by cars in slick Western cities, drunk driving cannot be tolerated at any levels; the less said about three times more than the permissible level the better. Then, why is the press not talking about the fact that liquor and lack of seat belt restraints killed the Princess? If the Princess of causes had her way, she would perhaps have made this a case for the likes of Dr. Dianath Samarasinghe to take over. They have always said alcohol kills, no matter how loved the imbiber. Why don't we dedicate the disaster that led to Diana's death to the cause of saving more lives, by making it a lesson on drunk driving and seatbelts. Or are we afraid a now holier- than -thou media will eat us up if we trifle with their earlier story?
The melancholy of many - tinged with the indifference of a few - settled over Colombo last week after the abrupt death in Paris of Diana, Princess of Wales.
The news of Aug 31 that she had - along with her rich lover and their driver - passed through a tunnel from here to the unknown was generally taken in the Sri Lankan capital as another tragic turn in the wheel of life.
In the days which followed, most English-speaking Lankans who were approached in the capital for reactions to her death, immediately took compassion on this lady of light and grace whose life ended in a flash.
"It's so sad, it's so sad," was how a local school girl shyly put it.
None of them had ever met Diana. They had known her only through the images from which the media had relentlessly moulded her public - and, at times, private - persona before, during, and after her long and turbulent marriage to Prince Charles.
In the eyes of Lankans, we in the press had breathed life into her. But we had also delved far too deeply into her personal life. And, as borne out by that fatal twist of fate on the night of Aug 30-31, ultimately, we probably robbed Diana of her physical life at the untimely age of 36.
"I am depressed about it [her death]" Mohamed Husni Ziard, told The Sunday Times outside the general post office in the Fort district. " The reporters shouldn't have followed her around like that."
Some in Sri Lanka would remember Princess Di for her glamour and how she never failed to dazzle high society. An employee at Laksala, the national handicrafts emporium, confessed to having avidly read the gossip columns, in which the most photographed woman was laid bare for the world to see.
But for most Lankans, the memory that would stick was of the late princess making time to confront issues they could relate to. In all her missions around the globe as a goodwill ambassador from Britain, Diana had never set foot on this island.
Yet she would be remembered here for how she tended to the poor, the sick, the maimed, and the other less fortunate ranks of humanity in far-off lands. On this aspect, the praise from Lankans never ceased. More often than not, women and men alike who paid tribute to her, were close to tears.
"Women especially are sad," said Dhammika Wijeratne, "She loved children, especially the sick. She represented women at a higher level."
"It is a loss," added Christopher Fernando. "She had given people inspiration."
Their words clearly came from the heart. But, after a while, the words began to repeat themselves to the point of ringing hollow.
One wondered whether the mediatisation of Diana had already played a part in making for her a new legend that she would carry into the afterlife. Diana - as the early comparisons drawn to Marilyn and JFK already indicated - will likely take her place right up there in that hall of fame of the good and the great who died young.
"When you look at the TV, you can see that the whole world is thinking of her today," said a 27-year old woman.
This was evident from some of the condolence messages sent to Westminster House, the British High Commissioner's residence in Cinnamon Gardens, on Monday. Tagged to bouquets of flowers were media-spun words of homage like "the Queen of Hearts", "the Jewel in the Crown", and, of course, "the People's Princess."
The last of these phrases had - within the space of 24 hours since Tony Blair had coined it in his tribute to Diana - almost become the stuff of clichés. There was never any let up. Over and over, the British Prime Minister's words were beamed through television screens into countless living rooms worldwide.
For those who heard it on the radio last Sunday, it was hard to connect the reality of Diana's death to the reality of life in Sri Lanka. Blair's farewell speech sounded distantly removed as it came in over the crackle of the BBC's short-wave signals.
Minutes later, the scene in front of the British High Commission on Galle Road was all the more unreal. The street - as normally is on Sundays - was deserted.
The height of the Union Jack on its pole was the only visible sign on that day of change. The British flag was flying at half-mast.
Life, here, continued.
And, as Sunith Perera, an architecture student, observed bluntly: "We don't react to death as other countries do, because we have so many deaths every day. Like if you say that 10 to 15 people die in a bomb blast, we are so numb. Speaking for myself, I cannot say that I am shocked by [Diana's] death."
In gauging the mood of Lankans in the wake of Diana's death, what stood out ironically was how the commoners - who had little in common with the Princess of Wales - were generous in offering their condolences.
But the behaviour of a majority from the more well-off segments of Lankan society bordered on rudeness. Most of these who were spotted on Monday fleeting by the British Council - one of the bastions of Anglo-Saxon culture in Sri Lanka- brusquely turned down requests for comment.
Several declined to share whatever feelings they harbored about Diana's death, saying they were "in a hurry". As they passed, they plainly took their time, however, going to wherever they had to get to.
A family of three, decked out in the latest Western sportswear, laughed mockingly as they brushed aside an interview request. One young woman, when asked if she'd care to comment on Diana's demise, fixed her questioner with a cold gaze.
"No, I wouldn't," she replied haughtily. Then, turning on her high heels, she regally walked away, leaving a strong scent of an expensive perfume in her wake.
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