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Advice to Youth; environment; one in a thousand

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A video clip of part of a conversation of local radio commentators with probably the DJ joining in during a music session, had them with good humour thrashing Meghan – the wickedly whining Duchess of Essex – on her recent Oprah Winfrey interview. They very rightly said that in Sri Lanka folk invariably comment on the skin colour of a newborn – “kaluda sududa?” and no one takes the slightest offence. People go further macabrely, Cass adds, commenting on the laid-out dead – “Myee how dark she looked. Aney, poor thing!” The final punch line of the video was the best: “Meghan had better beware of tunnels”! That was great. Cassandra now adds her own set of warnings to peoples of this fair isle of ours:

To young bucks: do not play rugby, aim at captaincy or cock a snook at those who think they are special and superior to all else.

To journos: For goodness sake, if you value your life, do not go into investigative journalism about certain families.

To the outspoken: Hold your tongue Stupid! You may land in prison for life just for one statement you make which really harms no one, except that you are of the wrong political colour and too free with your accusations.

To those who abhor corruption: pretend to be all of the three proverbial monkeys. Honesty is the worst policy. This applies especially to environmentalists now.

Misinterpretation of a single word

Cass needs to elaborate on a phrase in her last Friday’s ramblings. She had a sharp critic laugh maliciously at her (unintended) imputation that the ‘Good Morning Britain’ show anchor Piers Morgan of ITV, had a love affair with Meghan Markle during her single days. Cass wrote ‘Morgan is supposed to have had a relationship with Meghan and she had dropped him…’

It was a friendship that Cass meant and the fallout was that Morgan took offence at not being invited for the Windsor Chapel wedding to which Meghan had invited her many friends. So, he continued to thrash her on his morning talk show. ‘Relationship’ as written in the original Cry of Cassandra was not meant to be a love one, but a platonic friendship. ‘Relationship’ need not mean only sexual love; it has its many connotations.

The environment – topic of present times

‘The Environment’ is the A1 topic at the moment and widely discussed in the press, social media and talk shows. Rightly so too. There has never been such a rape of forests and over-exploitation of resources like sand, as of now. And very fortunately the young ’uns have rallied round. They have done it peacefully: planting trees; marching in protest and hoisting a huge banner-picture to awaken the somnambulant to the great danger the country faces: further depletion of its forest cover from the meager 17% of now. And how has the government taken it? The knee-jerk reaction of the President himself has been very disappointing, to say the least, and administrators have come forth in dissent to override the earnest youth. Threats have been issued and the mounted frieze in Viharamahadevi Park ordered to be brought down, in spite of official, written permission having been obtained by the young protestors from Municipal authorities. It was a completely peaceful gesture of awareness creation and timely warning. The large mounted picture was no threat to plant, animal or human, so why did the Municipal Commissioner and others see red and order it brought down? High ups work in mysterious ways.

The environment was the topic thrown forth for discussion by Shameer Rasooldeen to four environmental experts on Monday 22 March at the MTV Channel I Face the Nation panel discussion. Dr Sevvandi Jayakody – Director/Environment Foundation Ltd; Dr Ajanta Perera – scientist, activist; and Attorneys–at-Law Jagath Gunawardena and Ravindranath Dabare –Director/ Centre for Environmental Justice; took up the challenge very forcefully, convincingly and knowledgeably and in one voice pronounced our environment, and within it invaluable ecosystems, were in the height of danger from what is being perpetrated now by unscrupulous violators of law and decency. Destruction goes on apace though protests are loud and justified; the perpetrators of crimes seem to be winning. Like in the case of 19-year Baghya, who spoke of the destruction of a part of the Sinharaja forest before her very eyes, the messenger is targeted and threatened while miscreants and criminals go free to continue their rape and pillage. Another consensual fact expressed by the panel members is that the youth of the country have awoken to the danger of the undercover destruction of our natural environment and illicit exploitation of natural resources. Consensus was that they should be encouraged in their sincere crusade and not stymied or worse, marked for punishment, as they are now.

Attorney-at-law Dabare explained his theory: humans spend nine months in the environment of the mother’s womb given all nourishment and sustenance. When they are born, it is to the womb of the Environment, which again sustains them and gives them what they need. So how destroy it?

Dr Ajanta Perera was loud and clear in her condemnation of rackets of tree cutting etc going on with the patronage of VVIPs and lesser officials. She clearly explained the terms

economic development and environmental development. It had to be sustainable development without disturbing Nature. An ecosystem once harmed cannot be rejuvenated, she emphasised. A consensual and very clear opinion was that no reservoirs should, and could, be built within the Sinharaja Forest as announced by Minister Chamal Rajapaksa recently. No one can touch a heritage site without it being downgraded. Harming it is an act of robbery against future generations of Sri Lankans. Laws must be abided by and law breakers punished. Also, all MPs, top politicians and administrators should be made aware of environmental issues and world opinion and take note of dire warnings of the likely destruction of our Earth. Nature now is over-exploited without the correct action of protecting it, which is the bounden duty of a government.

Honest three-wheeler owner/driver

Readers of Cassandra have been introduced to the charioteer who spins Cass around Colombo on errands. She detailed in a previous Cassandra Cry how he redid his three-wheeler and made it a showpiece only to have it confiscated by the police disbelieving him and evidence that it was 30 years old. It lay ten days in the police station waiting to be sent to the RMV office. Ten days more in that office and what did this mean in rice and sambal terms? Tuan’s earnings were curtailed and his family suffered. Finally, a fine of Rs 50,000 was clamped on the poor man; a sure case of he who fell off a tree gored by a buffalo!

He phoned Cass on Saturday last to say a woman had travelled in his three-wheeler far out of Colombo, and getting down – nikan para meda – had left one of the two bags she carried. He discovered the bag tucked at the back of his vehicle only when he returned to Colombo. He has dropped Cass at Crescat Apartments, where she has friends, so since the woman with the two bags got in at the halt opposite the building, he requested Cass to find out if her friends had heard of a bag-losing-employee in one of the apartments. Entrusted mission was not carried out – very careless of Cass. Then on Monday he says he would hand over the bag with a pair of specs, clothes, umbrella and Rs 10,000 to the police. He did not see any boutiques or houses where the woman had alighted so no going again to the place to question people over there. Going to Vision Care to check on details of the sale of the specs seemed to be too far-fetched. At the mention of his decision on Monday 22, feeling very guilty at her remiss, Cass asked him to hold it until she phoned her Crescat friend. Merciful! Unbelievable coincidence!

The bag belonged to my friend’s house maid. Tuan was well compensated, but money alone or appreciation is insufficient to acknowledge the extent of honesty and concern. So, my friend insisted I make this tale known wider.

A very happy note to end this day’s conversation with you. There are honest persons in this fine island of ours; maybe in the proportion of one to twenty rascals, but getting better in proportion as we descend the money and clout levels. And this Muslim knew full well the woman who got in was Sinhalese. There really is no racial disharmony among the ordinary Menikas, Daisies, Naliahs and Mohammeds of (so far) Free Sri Lanka.

It’s the unscrupulous, power hungry, always eyeing the next election politicians who create the trouble, added to by thugs and now a small fraction of the Sangha. However, those in yellow robes exposing environmental abuse seem to be sincere and motivated by concern for the country.



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Features

Strong on vocals

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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

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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

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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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