Patronising puffery to choon-paan tune

Foreign journalists have written sporadic articles glorifying Sri Lanka’s choon-paan bread trucks. So much for not being patronised by those who don’t understand the needs of island dwellers and plain old common or garden variety householders.

Do they love choon-paan trucks? Go tell it to the persons who wrote syrupy articles about choon-paan playing Beethoven and people trilling to the Music of the 19th century German — go tell them that there is nothing the people hate more than choon-paan loudspeakers. Beethoven or no Beethoven, they don’t want these pesky bread businessmen playing their insensitive call-up music so they could sell their bakery items.
People in this country meditate. Their children work. Yes, and their babies do go to sleep. Old men and women are convalescing at home. If anyone thinks that Beethoven played on tinny loudspeakers is to be romanticised, they ought to get their heads examined.

But that’s what the foreign travelogue writers or itinerant contributors, whatever they are called — all foreign — tell us. That we love the choon-paan man because his music is good even if it’s tinny and he downloaded it by accident. My foot.

These people are a menace. There were the good old days when the bread delivery-man, or the milk delivery-man politely rang bicycle bells when they reached the houses of those who had ordered from them. There were either bicycle bells and plain old doorbells that were rung.

These didn’t wake babies up at ungodly hours. They didn’t give out the message that as long as folk could sell, they shouldn’t care about keeping the peace, or being civic conscious. But here is the disconnect between people who write for foreign publications who are told to write certain tracts romanticising the unthinkable, and people who live here in Sri Lanka and are rooted in our own circumstances. People who live here know what irks them.


Choon-paan sounds should be banned, period. That there was a revival of these trucks or three-wheelers during the Covid pandemic was one of the many associated tragedies of Covid. That Sri Lankans had to stomach the romanticising of this cacophony-causing phenomenon, was of course a case of adding egregious insult to injury.

Would it be that any of this loud and intolerable nonsense would be tolerated in the West where they write these articles romanticising the choon-paan in Sri Lanka? Of course not. But that’s how it gets.

They’d have the cops descend on these drivers in no time and have these noise-making loud speakers banned. But no matter. Foreign travelogue writers and assorted patronising editors and their trail of pliant reporters want to portray our countries as places where we haven’t emerged from anancientunchanging primitive state. What’s not good for them is certainly good for us, they insist, and of course the ‘natives’ of Sri Lanka would accept anything as long as it makes some noise.

It’s plain garbage. If the writers of these romanticised puff pieces wanted to known, they should have spoken to any numbers of residents living along urban lanes who would have told them that the choon-paan noise is torture by Beethoven.

Residents don’t give a rat’s bottom on whether these fellows downloaded Beethoven by accident, and are in fact playing Fur Elise. Wait! Next time they’d tell us that Sri Lankan patients don’t mind dying as long as it’s a blonde, white matron who is the nurse-attendant.

This is not the only patronising puff piece of journalism about Sri Lanka that was written during the pandemic. There were many others and some were the usual comments about how the locals suffer because the hospitals are overcrowded or some such thing.

It was not as if Covid was a walk in the park in the West. But they have to tell us that in Sri Lanka people are buoyed because at least they have Beethoven blaring on the bread-mobile!


As if all this was not enough, there are some who wrote effusive travel magazine articles about the choon-paan man offering what’s referred to as the “only constant for children who needed something to hold onto.”

Apparently choon-paan was the only physical and psychological lifeline during Covid according to these folk that regularly like to beat the maudlin drum about down and out little Sri Lanka. Their assessment is wrong on many levels. These were so many delivery people who were allowed to sell ‘essential items’ during Covid and 99 per cent of them had the decency not to make an obnoxious din.

Are Sri Lankan children tone-deaf? Do they regularly want their sleep, or their immersion in video games even, or their slumber parties with siblings, disturbed by uncouth bread-men blaring, we are told, Beethoven? Certainly real children don’t want any of that, though children in the fantasies of some travelogue writers may have been like that …

Of course children may have liked kimbula banis but so did they like biriyani or the plain Kiribath with salmon (canned sardine) curry delivered by sundry delivery persons who were neither loud nor insistent. For this among other reasons, writers that romanticise the most passionately hated sounds and sights in Sri Lanka ought not to be banned, but they ought to be exposed.

They are pathetic because for one thing they are just echo chambers — if one of them says the choon-paan man is oh so romantically doing his best for the poor starved Sri Lankans, the others would follow suit and write a whole bread-basket of sickeningly maudlin articles on the same lines. Never mistake the urge to patronise ‘natives’, as a sign that these people have anything close to an imagination. They are the written-word version of tinny loudspeakers touting bread. Full of sound and crass insensitivity, signifying abject vacuity.


Let’s get this straight. Sri Lankans have functioning ears and functioning brain cells inside of their craniums. They don’t also, all own bakeries. Their children are civilised by the way and are not in love with tinny sounds, period.

They also positively don’t like foreigners or foreigners employing locals, telling them what they are supposed to enjoy. That’s like pornographers portraying what lesbians are supposed to enjoy.

Writers, read the regular letters to the editor decrying the choon-paan phenomenon. They are all about tinny choon-paan sound of Beethoven being bastardised followed by the howls of all the stray bitches in the area mounting their own show because even they are not fans of Beethoven, who the foreign travelogue writers insist, is what’s good for us, because we are taken up by Beethoven even in the form of a menace.

Maybe they are taken up. That’s the real secret. The writers and editors of foreign travelogues come here and they have been told this choon-paan tune is Beethoven and they want to show off to us that they are all cued in with classical music. It’s like that guy in the television series MASH, that used to have reruns here, who used to like to exclaim “Ahh Bach”.

Every time he heard some classical music from an Austrian composer he said knowingly “ahh Bach.” He wanted to impress, but nobody was biting. Nobody is impressed by visiting travelogue writers telling us that they think we like Bach or Beethoven. The fact is these journos don’t know anything of Bach or Beethoven and wouldn’t recognise a piece by any of these composers if it hit them in their eardrums at a halfway decent level of decibels.

But if somebody tells them it’s Bach, they’d go ‘ahh Bach’. Or “ahh Beethoven”. That’s exactly what happened. Somebody told them the choon-paan tune is Fur Elise a la Beethoven. Ever since that they have been telling us we like it when the fact is they just think they are impressing somebody by inserting Beethoven somewhere in their banal little article headline. Shhh, they hadn’t even heard of Beethoven anymore than they had heard of the local Babanis, until they looked him up on google.

It’s the bland flatbread version of journalism. Insipid, utterly unpalatable — but yet sold with a tout’s conviction about how shoddy-wares can be blithely palmed off.