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A couple of tall and bearded men.

New Delhi, May 7 -- Two unusually tall and bearded men were part of Sri Lanka's mainstream narrative this past week though for widely and wildly different reasons.

The inevitable happened after Osama Bin Laden's death on May 2: plenty of discussions and write-ups followed comparing al-Qaeda and LTTE and Laden and V Prabhakaran. And how - a minister actually made this facile comparison - Sri Lanka was able to eradicate terrorism from the country after killing the portly LTTE chief while the death of Laden doesn't mean the end of the organisation he launched in the late '80s.

There was no official reaction from the government on Laden's killing. Privately though foreign minister GL Peiris congratulated visiting US diplomat, Robert Blake. Probably, Colombo couldn't openly and loudly cheer Laden's death because ally Islamabad was involved.

There were expected murmurs about US's double standards: while Washington could violate a country's sovereignty to take out its most wanted, it still wants Colombo to be hauled up for war crimes; for targeting a 'terrorist' within its own country. Wasn't Laden unarmed when he was shot dead was the rhetorical question during discussions about war crimes.

Someone wrote LTTE killed many more Sri Lankans than al-Qaeda killed Americans.

The 2009 FBI report that strangely foisted a much weakened LTTE as the number one terrorist organisation, above al-Qaeda, was quoted.

There were inevitable comparisons between Prabhakaran's and Laden's deaths. Even I got a little misty-eyed remembering the days when I was at my closest to being a war reporter in 2009 - barely 400 km away from the theatre of war - while covering the end of the Lankan civil war from the perils of my drawing room.

Lanka and the US might be going through diplomatically indifferent times, but I don't think many here would have shed tears at Laden's death. On the other hand, much is being written, and rather fondly at that, about the other tall, bearded and Bengali man.

I had written elsewhere in the newspaper about Rabindranath Tagore's influence on Sri Lanka's national anthem and his naming of a university near Colombo. A postage stamp on Tagore is being released later this evening to mark the great poet's 150th anniversary, which incidentally, falls today.

Tagore's influence on the Island nation's art and culture as it turns out goes way beyond simply influencing Ananda Samarakoon's song, 'Sri Lanka matha.'

"Tagore is fondly remembered by a wide spectrum of Sri Lankan society, by artistes, poets, dramatists, literary critics as well as by common people and if we are to mention one foreign figure who has had the widest influence over the cultural life of Sri Lanka the name that will come up readily will be that of Rabindranath Tagore," KNO Dharamadasa, who taught Sinhala at the Peradeniya University, wrote this week in the Daily News.

The Rabindranath Tagore Society of Sri Lanka, going through a revival of sorts, has come out with a commemorative journal 'Tribute' to celebrate the poet. It has more than 20 articles in English and Sinhala about Tagore's impact.

The government, the Indian Council for Cultural Relations, the High Commission of Bangladesh and many individuals through the Society are coming together to celebrate Tagore through the year. Seminars, exhibitions, staging of his dance dramas and film festival are few of the functions on the Tagore calendar here.

"Sir Ivor Jennings, a former Vice-Chancellor of the University of Ceylon had said 'Tagore had more influence than anyone on the revival of the arts in the island. His love of learning, his deep sense of poetry and his feeling for literature makes his light a beacon for youth of Ceylon to follow,'" author Shireen Senadhira wrote in a recent article.

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Geographic Code:9SRIL
Date:May 7, 2011
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