SRI Lanka's 50th Independence Day celebrations seem to have been jinxed from the very beginning. First South African president Nelson Mandela, who had confirmed participation as guest of honour, postponed his visit to the island nation by a month. Then with two weeks to go, Tamil rebels struck with a devastating bomb blast at the country's most sacred Buddhist temple—the Temple of the Tooth—in the hill station Kandy, proposed site for the Independence Day festivities on February 4. This forced the government to shift the venue to the capital Colombo after millions of rupees had already been spent on giving Kandy city a facelift.
And since superstition has it that bad things come in threes, Sri Lankans were reconciled to the probability of another disaster. It came in the form of a controversy involving British-born science fiction writer Arthur C. Clarke, who has lived in Sri Lanka for more than 30 years and is one of the country's favourite sons.
Less than a week before Independence Day, 80-year-old Clarke decided to go public with a confession most people in Colombo had known for decades. In an uncharacteristic interview to the British tabloid The Sunday Mirror, Clarke allegedly admitted that he was a paedophile and then went on to defend paedophilia, arguing that if the child had consented, it should be no one else's business.
That did it. The international media, which had arrived in Colombo to cover the Independence celebrations and chief guest Prince Charles' visit, found it had a better story to chase. Anyone who knew Clarke was hounded while the writer locked himself up in his house in the exclusive Colombo 7 residential area.
The alleged confession was especially puzzling, given the fact that while in Sri Lanka, Prince Charles was to carry out an investiture ceremony in...