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A wonderful beginning to a new life




by Senior Retired DIG Edward Gunawardene

In the year 1957 I sat two public examinations conducted by the Public Service Commission, the constitutionally created independent body for recruitment to the Public Service. My father gladly gave me the examination fee of Rs. 250/= to apply for the Ceylon Civil Service examination. But it was with reluctance that he gave me Rs. 150/= to sit the examination for the selection of Assistant Superintendents of Police.

Finding a job then did not appear to be a problem. By the time the results of the Police examination were announced I had received several letters of appointment to various jobs at staff level. The three that I remember are: Assistant Assessor of Income Tax, Assistant Superintendent of Surveys (Geological Survey) and Assistant Superintendent Government Stores.

However, with my coming first in the Police examination by ever 100 marks I had little choice. Everybody, especially my brothers, said “Take it”. The man I had beaten to second place ‘Brute’ Mahendran was a triple international having represented Ceylon in Athletics, Rugger and Boxing. I had only taken part in games. At the interview ‘Brute’ and I had been asked the same question, “Can you tell us where the game of Rugby originated?” The man who was playing rugger for Ceylon was not able to answer.

The Board of Interview appointed by the Public Service Commission for the Police examination was chaired by Gunasena de Zoysa, Permanent Secretary to the Ministry of Defence and External Affairs. The Minister was the Prime Minister himself, S.W.R.D. Bandaranaike. The other members of the Board were Brigadier Anton Muttucumaru, the Army Commander, and C.C. Dissanayake, DIG, who was then acting as IGP.

When I walked in dressed in a white satin drill suit with the words ‘good morning’ in my mouth, the entire board looked at me. They were all smiles. Perhaps they were amused at this small but confident looking youngster. As soon as I sat down the Chairman spoke, “you have an excellent degree, a geography second”. Mr. Dissanayake looked at me and said, “I find that you have played rugger at Peradeniya, but you have not played rugger for your school.”

“St. Josephs is not a rugger playing school. Soccer is their game”, interjected the Army Commander who was an old Josephian.

After a short pause Dissanayake asked me where the game had originated. I replied that it began at Rugby, the famous British grammar school during a game of soccer. “What else do you know about this school?” was his next question. I then mentioned the name of Arnold, the famous principal, and explained to the Board that he is still remembered as a stern disciplinarian. That was the end of the interview. The final results showed that I had received 350 out of 400 marks.

It was on February 1, 1958 that I entered the Police Training School. Mahendran and David, the other two Probationary ASPs, accompanied me from Colombo. We were picked up at the Kalutara railway station by my friend Nehru Goonetillake and driven to the Training School. At that time Nehru had received his LLB degree from Peradeniya and was following lectures at the Law College in Colombo. His father P.F.A. Goonetilleke was a leading citizen of Kalutara. He was not only the Crown Proctor but also the President of the Kalutara Bodhi Trust. Over 50 years later, Nehru at the time of his premature death was not only a leading President’s Counsel but the President of the Kalutara Bodhi Trust.

As we stopped at the Training School gate a constable approached the car. When I told him that we were the new ASPs, he stood to attention and saluted smartly and directed us to a place called the Charge Room. As the three of us entered this room an officer shouted, “Charge Room, Attention!” Simultaneously, a young constable escorted us to an open area with seats of cement slabs where there were several persons in informal dress as well as police uniforms.

The most impressive of the lot was a handsome, middle aged, blue eyed gentlemen dressed in a white shirt and blue shorts. Smoking a pipe he looked very relaxed. “Here come the new Probs”, he told the others there. By ‘Probs’ he meant Probationary ASPs. He then walked up to the three of us and warmly shook our hands saying “Welcome to the Police, Gentlemen”. He introduced himself as Fred Brohier, Assistant Director of Training. He apologized for the absence of the Director, Stanley Senanayake who was attending the funeral of his sister, Mrs. Wanasundera.

With Brohier were three other ASPs Murugesupillai, Terry Wijesinghe and Van den Driesen. They were all introduced to us. Whilst these introductions and pleasantries were taking place there was also chatter behind. An oldish man in shorts was heard to remark (referring to me) “the short fellow looks a tough nut.” I later came to know that he was Inspector Suraweera of Monte Cristo fame. The story current at the time was that Suraweera had taken an armed police party to Monte Cristo estate to quell a riot; and the man leading the mob had dared to advance towards the police raising his sarong and exposing his person. Suraweera himself had opened fire, with a shot gun blasting the genitals of the mob leader! The latter had not succumbed to his injuries. The labour unrest on the estate ceased; and Suraweera had been commended by Sir Richard Aluvihare who was the IGP then.

Soon the Asst. Director commanded a mustacheod uniformed officer, “Major, take them round on a whirlwind tour of the school.” Boarding a hood less jeep we set off. “I am Sergeant Major Nallawansa. You see, like the IGP there is only one such officer in the police,” was how he introduced himself. He then suggested that we could go to our lodgings first, the SSM (Senior Staff Mess), do a change etc. before doing the full round of the school.

The SSM had many rooms including a spacious dining room and lobby with a regulation size billiard table. Most of the rooms were occupied by a new batch of trainee Sub-Inspectors of Police. A few rooms were also occupied by staffers. Alex Abeysekera and Terry Amarasekera were two of them. The three of us were allocated rooms in different areas of the building. After lunch we were met by Inspector Ekanayake, the Chief Lecturer. He explained to us the daily routine of training. For three young men just out of University it was a rigid program indeed. However before long we began to enjoy the healthy mix of physical exercises, parades, lectures on law, criminal investigation, Police role in the maintenance of public order etc. More than even Mahendran and David, I took a special liking to the riding of motor cycles and horses. A probationary ASP had to be competent in the riding horses for confirmation in the rank of ASP.

On my second day at the Police Training School (PTS) Feb. 2, 1958, whilst taking part in Physical Training exercises dressed in blue shorts and white shirts, my colleagues and I were intrigued to see a handsome gentleman dressed in riding trousers and polo shirt riding a chestnut coloured horse on the perimeter of the parade ground. Sub-Inspector Somapala who was the P.T. instructor was quick to announce to us that the gentleman on horseback was the Director, Stanley Senanayake. That moment I thought that I had selected a great job.


That same evening at about 7′ O’Clock the three of us were picked up from our lodgings and driven to the Director’s residence for dinner. As we entered the verandah we were warmly greeted by Stanley Senanayake and his charming wife, Maya. From the moment we met this couple I realized that life in the police will be pleasant and rewarding. We were indeed fortunate that Stanley and Maya were at the helm during our stint at the Training School.

Stanley had been an outstanding student at the University, and had chosen to join the Police as an ASP prior to graduation. Maya was an honours graduate. She was the daughter of P. de S. Kularatne. Even before joining the Police, Stanley had earned recognition as a handsome sportsman and an accomplished horseman. In fact in 1948 during the independence celebrations I had seen him and Sydney de Zoysa act as Dutugemunu and Elara in that epic Pageant of Lanka enacted at the Colombo racecourse.

Others present at this dinner were Fred Brohier, Terry Wijesinghe, Murugesupillai and their wives. From the following morning for more than a week continuously we were shuttling to Colombo and back with the Asst. Director, Fred Brohier. He had to get our uniforms ready as a matter of priority. Orders for the tailoring of uniforms were placed at Millers, Fort. This up-market department store, owned and managed by Englishmen, was the traditional uniform maker for senior Police officers. Several types of uniforms had to be turned out:

Ceremonial White Uniform consisting of tunic, long trousers and cross-belt. A white pith helmet with a spike and large silver badge and a ceremonial sword accompanied this uniform.

Ceremonial Riding Uniform The difference was that instead of white trousers dark blue serge pantaloons and riding boots with ceremonial spurs were worn.

No. I Khaki Uniform – White shirt with black tie, khaki long trousers, tunic coat and Sam Browne belt.

The Normal Working Uniform consisted of a light khaki tunic and long trousers.

The riding boots had to be specially made. This was an expert job undertaken by a boot maker on Hospital Street in Fort.

The Headgear – The white pith helmet, braided peak cap and a felt slouch hat with a broad puggaree; the crossbelt and Sam Browne belt; and insignia, epaulets, nickel plated buttons and officer’s baton had to be obtained from the Inspector-General’s stores at Police Headquarters.

After equipping the three young ASPS with their uniforms, Brohier had to perform a traditional task of a different but pleasant nature. This was by appointment to introduce the three of us to the Governor General, Prime Minister, the Chief Justice, the Army Commander and the IGP. Of all these meetings the meeting with the Prime Minister, SWRD Bandranaike, turned out to be the most informal.

He was completely relaxed. He asked only one question from each of us, “Who is your father? What is he doing?” He was pleased at our frank and forthright replies. When I told him that my father was the Assistant Manager of the Fountain Cafe, his immediate response was, “I am sure, I’ve met him”. Fountain Cafe was Colombo’s leading restaurant. My father who had been there since its inception, had befriended even Caldecott, Sir Geoffrey Layton and Oliver Goonetillake. As a schoolboy I have seen leading jockeys Fordyce and Cook talking to him. Bandaranaike was certainly more pleased at meeting and conversing with three young graduates of the University of Ceylon rather than three new ASPs.

I was to meet this great man twice in 1959 before his cruel assassination in September the same year. Whilst attached to Colombo Division for practical training I once accompanied the Supdt. of Police Colombo, H.K. Van den Driesen to the Prime Minister’s Office. Van den Driesen had to brief the Prime Minister on the labour unrest that was prevalent in the Port at the time. My final meeting with him was when he had to officially open the new Kelani bridge. I was the only Senior Officer present. It was not a grand show. Mr. Premaratne, the Director of Public Works was present with a few officials together with the workers who had taken part in the construction. The Prime Minister had to cut a ribbon that had been strung across the bridge. Mr. Premaratne received him with a sheaf of betel while another official offered him a pair of scissors on a silver tray. The Prime Minister took the scissors, paused a while and handed them over to one of the workers to do the honours. Once the ribbon was cut, the Prime Minister himself led the applause. At the time of his assassination I was the ASP, Batticaloa.

(Continued next week)

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Strong on vocals



The group Mirage is very much alive, and kicking, as one would say!

Their lineup did undergo a few changes and now they have decided to present themselves as an all male group – operating without a female vocalist.

At the helm is Donald Pieries (drums and vocals), Trevin Joseph (percussion and vocals), Dilipa Deshan (bass and vocals), Toosha Rajarathna (keyboards and vocals), and Sudam Nanayakkara (lead guitar and vocals).

The plus factor, where the new lineup is concerned, is that all five members sing.

However, leader Donald did mention that if it’s a function, where a female vocalist is required, they would then feature a guest performer.

Mirage is a very experience outfit and they now do the Friday night scene at the Irish Pub, in Colombo, as well as private gigs.



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Dichotomy of an urban-suburban New Year



Ushered in by the ‘coo-ee’ of the Koel and the swaying of Erabadu bunches, the Sinhala and Tamil New Year will dawn in the wee hours of April 14. With houses to clean, preparation of sweetmeats and last-minute shopping, times are hectic…. and the streets congested.

It is believed that New Year traditions predated the advent of Buddhism in the 3rd century BC. But Buddhism resulted in a re-interpretation of the existing New Year activities in a Buddhist light. Hinduism has co-existed with Buddhism over millennia and no serious contradiction in New Year rituals are observed among Buddhists and Hindus.

The local New Year is a complex mix of Indigenous, Astrological, Hindu, and Buddhist traditions. Hindu literature provides the New Year with its mythological backdrop. The Prince of Peace called Indradeva is said to descend upon the earth to ensure peace and happiness, in a white carriage wearing on his head a white floral crown seven cubits high. He first plunges, into a sea of milk, breaking earth’s gravity.

The timing of the Sinhala New Year coincides with the New Year celebrations of many traditional calendars of South and Southeast Asia. Astrologically, the New Year begins when the sun moves from the House of Pisces (Meena Rashiya) to the House of Aries (Mesha Rashiya) in the celestial sphere.

The New Year marks the end of the harvest season and spring. Consequently, for farming communities, the traditional New Year doubles as a harvest as well. It also coincides with one of two instances when the sun is directly above Sri Lanka. The month of Bak, which coincides with April, according to the Gregorian calendar, represents prosperity. Astrologers decide the modern day rituals based on auspicious times, which coincides with the transit of the Sun between ‘House of Pisces’ and ‘House of Aries’.

Consequently, the ending of the old year, and the beginning of the new year occur several hours apart, during the time of transit. This period is considered Nonegathe, which roughly translates to ‘neutral period’ or a period in which there are no auspicious times. During the Nonegathe, traditionally, people are encouraged to engage themselves in meritorious and religious activities, refraining from material pursuits. This year the Nonegathe begin at 8.09 pm on Tuesday, April 13, and continues till 8.57 am on 14. New Year dawns at the halfway point of the transit, ushered in bythe sound of fire crackers, to the woe of many a dog and cat of the neighbourhood. Cracker related accidents are a common occurrence during new year celebrations. Environmental and safety concerns aside, lighting crackers remain an integral part of the celebrations throughout Sri Lanka.

This year the Sinhala and Tamil New Year dawns on Wednesday, April 14, at 2.33 am. But ‘spring cleaning’ starts days before the dawn of the new year. Before the new year the floor of houses are washed clean, polished, walls are lime-washed or painted, drapes are washed, dried and rehang. The well of the house is drained either manually or using an electric water pump and would not be used until such time the water is drawn for first transaction. Sweetmeats are prepared, often at homes, although commercialization of the new year has encouraged most urbanites to buy such food items. Shopping is a big part of the new year. Crowds throng to clothing retailers by the thousands. Relatives, specially the kids, are bought clothes as presents.

Bathing for the old year takes place before the dawn of the new year. This year this particular auspicious time falls on April 12, to bathe in the essence of wood apple leaves. Abiding by the relevant auspicious times the hearth and an oil lamp are lit and pot of milk is set to boil upon the hearth. Milk rice, the first meal of the year, is prepared separate. Entering into the first business transaction and partaking of the first meal are also observed according to the given auspicious times. This year, the auspicious time for preparing of meals, milk rice and sweets using mung beans, falls on Wednesday, April 14 at 6.17 am, and is to be carried out dressed in light green, while facing east. Commencement of work, transactions and consumption of the first meal falls on Wednesday, April 14 at 7.41 am, to be observed while wearing light green and facing east.

The first transaction was traditionally done with the well. The woman of the house would draw water from the well and in exchange drop a few pieces of charcoal, flowers, coins, salt and dried chillies into the well, in certain regions a handful of paddy or rice is also thrown in for good measure. But this ritual is also dying out as few urban homes have wells within their premises. This is not a mere ritual and was traditionally carried out with the purification properties of charcoal in mind. The first water is preferably collected into an airtight container, and kept till the dawn of the next new year. It is believed that if the water in the container does not go down it would be a prosperous year. The rituals vary slightly based on the region. However, the essence of the celebrations remains the same.

Anointing of oil is another major ritual of the New Year celebrations. It falls on Saturday, April 17 at 7.16 am, and is done wearing blue, facing south, with nuga leaves placed on the head and Karada leaves at the feet. Oil is to be applied mixed with extracts of Nuga leaves. The auspicious time for setting out for professional occupations falls on Monday, April 19 at 6.39 am, while dressed in white, by consuming a meal of milk rice mixed with ghee, while facing South.

Traditionally, women played Raban during this time, but such practices are slowly being weaned out by urbanization and commercialisation of the New Year. Neighbours are visited with platters of sweetmeats, bananas, Kevum (oil cake) and Kokis (a crispy sweetmeat) usually delivered by children. The dichotomy of the urban and village life is obvious here too, where in the suburbs and the village outdoor celebrations are preferred and the city opts for more private parties.



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New Year games: Integral part of New Year Celebrations



Food, games and rituals make a better part of New Year celebrations. One major perk of Avurudu is the festivals that are organised in each neighbourhood in its celebration. Observing all the rituals, like boiling milk, partaking of the first meal, anointing of oil, setting off to work, are, no doubt exciting, but much looked-forward-to is the local Avurudu Uthsawaya.

Avurudu Krida or New Year games are categorised as indoor and outdoor games. All indoor games are played on the floor and outdoor games played during the Avurudu Uthsava or New Year festival, with the whole neighbourhood taking part. Some of the indoor games are Pancha Dameema, Olinda Keliya and Cadju Dameema. Outdoor games include Kotta pora, Onchili pedeema, Raban geseema, Kana mutti bindeema, Placing the eye on the elephant, Coconut grating competition, Bun-eating competition, Lime-on-spoon race, Kamba adeema (Tug-o-War) and Lissana gaha nageema (climbing the greased pole). And what’s an Avurudhu Uthsava sans an Avurudu Kumari pageant, minus the usual drama that high profile beauty pageants of the day entail, of course.

A salient point of New Year games is that there are no age categories. Although there are games reserved for children such as blowing of balloons, races and soft drinks drinking contests, most other games are not age based.

Kotta pora aka pillow fights are not the kind the average teenagers fight out with their siblings, on plush beds. This is a serious game, wherein players have to balance themselves on a horizontal log in a seated position. With one hand tied behind their back and wielding the pillow with the other, players have to knock the opponent off balance. Whoever knocks the opponent off the log first, wins. The game is usually played over a muddy pit, so the loser goes home with a mud bath.

Climbing the greased pole is fun to watch, but cannot be fun to take part in. A flag is tied to the end of a timber pole-fixed to the ground and greased along the whole length. The objective of the players is to climb the pole, referred to as the ‘tree’, and bring down the flag. Retrieving the flag is never achieved on the first climb. It takes multiple climbers removing some of the grease at a time, so someone could finally retrieve the flag.

Who knew that scraping coconut could be made into an interesting game? During the Avurudu coconut scraping competition, women sit on coconut scraper stools and try to scrape a coconut as fast as possible. The one who finishes first wins. These maybe Avurudu games, but they are taken quite seriously. The grated coconut is inspected for clumps and those with ungrated clumps are disqualified.

Coconut palm weaving is another interesting contest that is exclusive to women. However men are by no means discouraged from entering such contests and, in fact, few men do. Participants are given equally measured coconut fronds and the one who finishes first wins.

Kana Mutti Bindima involves breaking one of many water filled clay pots hung overhead, using a long wooden beam. Placing the eye on the elephant is another game played while blindfolded. An elephant is drawn on a black or white board and the blindfolded person has to spot the eye of the elephant. Another competition involves feeding the partner yoghurt or curd while blindfolded.

The Banis-eating contest involves eating tea buns tied to a string. Contestants run to the buns with their hands tied behind their backs and have to eat buns hanging from a string, on their knees. The one who finishes his or her bun first, wins. Kamba adeema or Tug-o-War pits two teams against each other in a test of strength. Teams pull on opposite ends of a rope, with the goal being to bring the rope a certain distance in one direction against the force of the opposing team’s pull.

Participants of the lime-on-spoon race have to run a certain distance while balancing a lime on a spoon, with the handle in their mouths. The first person to cross the finish line without dropping the lime wins. The sack race and the three-legged race are equally fun to watch and to take part in. In the sack race, participants get into jute sacks and hop for the finish line. The first one over, wins. In the three-legged race one leg of each pair of participants are tied together and the duo must reach the finish line by synchronising their running, else they would trip over their own feet.

Pancha Dameema is an indoor game played in two groups, using five small shells, a coconut shell and a game board. Olinda is another indoor board game, normally played by two players. The board has nine holes, four beads each. The player who collects the most number of seeds win.

This is the verse sung while playing the game:

“Olinda thibenne koi koi dese,

Olinda thibenne bangali dese…

Genath hadanne koi koi dese,

Genath hadanne Sinhala dese…”

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