It is safe to assert that.-there is no country in the world
where quarrying where quarring is practiced and where there is an effective method of ensuring that every entire stick of dynamite can be
accounted for with complete and certain accuracy. In one way
or another before, during, and after quarrying has taken place,
some portion of the charges and detonators will eventually
find a route onto the black market, a market which thrives in
coastal lagoons and which causes indiscriminate destruction of
In response to urgent representations by Fishery Officers
and others concerned with the preservation of stocks in
coastal waters, the Government Analyst undertook to carry
out experiments with the aim of finding a method of quickly
recognising dynamited fish on display in the markets.
But first of all he had to obtain a temporary licence to possess and use explosives and then he had to find someone who was expert in the technique of
dynamiting fish; ie, weight of explosive necessary for
modest results; type of detonator; length, of fuse etc in
relation to the depth of water.
But enough of such official idiom, let us have the real story:
The first step was easy. The Criminal Records Offee did not need to spend
much time in turning up the name of Simon Hettiarachi, better known as "Dynamite
Simon". He had a string of convictions as long as your arm in every
Magistrate's Court from Negombo to Bentota. He ought to fit the bill as expert
whether voluntarily or not.
The next step was to find him. Enquiry among the pool of plain clothes
Detectives in the CID turned up the knowledge that PC Podiappuhamy came from the same village as Simon, so he was despatched to bring him in
for a talk. He returned in a couple of days and reported that Simon
was "missing". Obviously and not very surprisingly, he was shy of
authority and had gone underground. A further attempt to contact him
would need more careful preparation and patience, to convince him
that he, Hettiarachi alias Dynamite Simon, was being invited to give
a public demonstration of his expertise without penalty.
PC Podiappuhamy was very carefully briefed on the why and the wherefore
of the proposition he was to put to Simon, and told not to hurry
back until he had contacted Simon in person and secured his willingness
to cooperate in the experiment.
After a few days, Podiappuhamy returned and reported that he had made
contact with Simon who, though at first convinced that the authorities were laying a trap for him, was eventually persudded to "think
about it" and even to visit Colombo so as to hear more of the proposition.
It took a prolonged parley and the promise of Rs 25 to secure
his final acceptance to carry out a "controlled Explosion" in the
presence of the Government Analyst.
A quiet corner of Colombo Harbour was selected for the experiment, free
of launch traffic and few people on shore. The Government Analyst appeared
with the DIG and we all looked round for PC Podiappuhamy and his
charge. For 10 minutes or so there was no sign of them, but finally two
figures approached down the jetty: Simon and his "escort". He was a
slim figure, very dark from frequent exposure to all weathers, and
dressed simply in a cotton vest and sarong, with a loose turban wound
round his head. He looked shyly at the assembled company and clearly
would have liked to flee but his way back along the jetty was barred.
Then he saw a small bundle of dynamite sticks, with a coil of fuse
and some detonators lying in a box at his feet, and his interest overcame
his misgivings. It really was true: the invitation to give a
demonstration of his artistry was genuine.
He inspected the sticks of dynamite, remarked that it was "good stuff"
(Which indeed it was: Eley Kynoch fresh from the Colombo Commercial Co)
and turned his attention to the fuse and detonators. These too were
given the seal of expert approval, and Simon pronounced himself ready
to start, if someone would kindly tell him whether they wanted lots
of fish or only a few for starters. A few was prescribed.
A solitary stick of dynamite was detached from the little bundle and
handed to Simon who looked round about as though searching for something.
He spotted a pencil sticking out of PC Podiappuhamy's breast
pocket and deftly extracted it, looking to see if it had a sharp
point. He then bent down, picked up a detonator, bit off a short
length of fuse and paused for dramatic effect. With gusto and energy
he started boring a hole in the end of the stick of dynamite, briskly
pushed in the detonator, and turned round to see if everyone was
watching. They were, but from a distance of several yards
which unanimously and athletically the assembled company covered in
a single bound.
Siimon remained a solitary figure at the end of the jetty, but all could
see him draw himself up and cast the charge 8 or 10 yards from the
jetty. The duty boat nervously backed water. After what seemded quite
a long pause, there was a modest swirl on the surface of the water,
and every eye watched for results. Nothing happened for quite some
time, and then suddenly the surface was broken by the silvery
shapes of fish rising belly uppermost and obviously dead or stunned.
The duty boat was hailed to come inshore and pick up the catch, which
numbered six or eight fish of about a pound in weight.
Simon turned round and spoke with briskness and authority; what had
been achieved so far was pretty modest stuff, and he suggested that
a second shot should be fired and at a greater depth so as to get some
realy decent fish. Approval was given and he busied himself for a second time
with preparing the charge. The spectators crept a little nearer
in fascination, but not too close. Again the charge was cast out
from the jetty and this time the wait seemed longer before the surface
boiled into a mushroom-shaped dome of water. Again the wait before
the surface was broken by some much bigger silvery shapes, which were
collected gleefully by the crew of the duty boat.
At this point, the Government Analyst and the DIG said that enough
fish had been "caught" for the purpose of the exercise; the fish
were brought ashore, and the company prepared to leave. All that is
except Simon who felt that he had only just started. There were four
sticks of dynamite lying there unused, and he could do something
really big and useful if allowed to continue. Sadly, he accepted that
the display had ended, glanced wistfully at the explosives wich were
being whisked away, but accepted with dignity the thanks of the powers
for his collaboration, and tucked the promised Rs 25 into his waist
band. Meantime, the crew of the duty boat made off at speed with the
remainder of the fish after the Government Analyst had selected
enough for his experiment.
And the outcome of that Experiment? Precisely nil in terms of visible damage or injury to the fish. Only by dissection of the head and examination of the fishes' brainpan could any clear distinction be made between a dynamited fish and any others on the fishmonger's slab
in the market. Which was not much use to the Fishery Officers, or
anyone else looking for a shortcut to apprehend Simon and his
fraternity. Still, it had been fun, and a novel experience for Simon to be working with the forces of law and order rather than against them!