Reminiscences upon turning 100:
The comprehensive and interesting article written by Capt. Elmo Jayawardena in The Island newspaper of 06 October 2020 under the title, ‘First Pilgrimage to Mecca by Air,’ described the daring flying capabilities of the Ceylonese pilots with limited navigational facilities when Civil Aviation commenced in Ceylon in 1947.
The final pilgrimage to Mecca by Air Ceylon was to take a group of pilgrims organised by Adamjee Lukmanjee family and friends not only on pilgrimage to Mecca but also on a tour to Cairo and Damascus.
The crew consisted of Capt. Peter Fernando, Co-Pilot. P.B. Mawalagedera, Co-Capt. Ken Joachim, Radio officer D. L. Sirimanne and Flight Engineer G. V. Perera.
The Ratmalana Airport was chock-a-block with well wishers, relations and friends. The pilgrims were all dressed in white. The DC3 aircraft had 21 slumber lounge seats for luxury travel. The aircraft loaded to full capacity finally took off on a beautiful clear morning and set course to Bombay on its first lap. It was a four-and-a-half-hour flight flying at 8,000 feet. Approaching the Indian air space, we were cleared to ascend to 12,000 feet to fly over the Western Ghats. Heavy cloud formations were encountered. Fasten-seat-belts warning was switched on and the aircraft got enveloped in thick clouds; the flight became extremely bumpy, rough and turbulent. Down drafts almost sucked the passengers off their seats. It lasted for about half an hour and then the plane shot out to blue skies and steady smooth flying again to the joy of the frightened passengers and landed at Bombay for refueling.
The passengers were relieved to stretch their legs and attend to toilet facilities at the airport. Lunch was served and when ready took off to Karachi, a three-and-a-half-hour flight. The weather was superb. Nearing Karachi, the evening sky became hazy turning red in the setting sun. The famous R 101 Hangar at Karachi Airport was visible from as far as 70 miles which was a useful navigational aid for homing. It was a huge aluminum roofed hangar which reflected the setting sun like a glistening star. It was built in 1929 for the R 101 Airship to fly long distance in the British Empire, but on its maiden flight from England, crashed over France killing the crew and passengers. On landing at Karachi, the BOAC agent took the passengers and crew for a night stop to their BOAC ‘Speed Bird’ transit hotel at the Karachi Airport similar to the KLM ‘Midway House.’ It had comfortable rooms with sleeping and toilet facilities and attendants at the press of a button. A sumptuous biriyani dinner was served.
Early next morning after breakfast, we left Karachi and headed over the sea to Salalah on the Arabian Coast. The five-hour flight was smooth and uneventful and we landed at Salalah for fueling. Since it was midday, the lunch packets and drinks loaded at Karachi were served on ground. Refreshed, we took off and did a five hours flight in clear weather and landed at Aden for a night stop. Aden was beastly hot and unbearable. The BOAC staff welcomed us and took the passengers and crew to a comfortable hotel in the city centre for the night.
Early in the morning, we took off, and after a three-hour flight landed in Jeddha, a busy transit airport for Hajj pilgrims to Mecca. The Adamjees thanked us and bid farewell on their journey to Mecca on a Saudi Airline as foreign aircraft were forbidden to operate to Mecca. We returned empty to Aden for a three-day stay. To our annoyance, the Aerodrome Control instructed us to park in a remote area far from the normal parking bay. Three miserable days later we left Aden and arrived in Jeddah. The pilgrims having finished their rituals at the sacred Kaaba in Mecca were gleefully waiting excitedly to tour famous Cairo and Damascus. The leader of the party had brought two large barrels of Holy Water and requested they be loaded. Capt. Fernando politely refused to take them as the aircraft was loaded to capacity and suggested they be shipped to Colombo.
The BOAC Representative informed that it was a mandatory requirement for passengers visiting Cairo from Jeddah and South Africa to spend three days quarantine in El Tor as a precaution against Yellow Fever. On the navigation chart we observed it was almost on our heading to Cairo. The four-hour flight was uneventful and we homed on El Tor NDB. We got landing instructions and the runway was an improvised airstrip marked with white painted stones and a small building at the end. We landed and taxied to a camp spread in front of the building which, we later learnt, was a base hospital with spacious tents for accommodation.
After immigration formalities, we were taken over by a Medical Officer and a batch of nurses who attended to the passengers, and the crew was taken to a separate tent with beds, enclosed toilets and shower facilities. A little later, a nurse in uniform gave each of us a test tube with a small piece of wire tipped with a swab of cotton and a small bottle for specimens of feces and urine. After a while she came back with a tray to take them. We were unable to have them ready and requested her to come in the evening. She was furious and returned with a bulky health officer who asked us to comply immediately. Otherwise, he would be compelled to take samples by force. We had to give in as we did not like anyone poking wires into our anuses and requested a little more time. Our Flight Engineer G.V. Perera said he has an inclination and retired to the toilet. He came back with his test tube full. We shared what he brought amidst peals of laughter. The nurse came and took the samples away. We all chuckled. What if G.V’s had anything infectious? All of us would have been in quarantine for a longer period!
We were made comfortable during the three days with food, drinks and listening to the blare of Egyptian music and songs on a loudspeaker broadcast for the whole establishment. The nights were cool although no trees were within sight. There was a billiard table that kept us in good spirit. Three agonizing days in the sweltering desert heat dragged by and finally were given a Clean Bill of Health to proceed to Cairo.
El Tor airport had no control tower but only a cabin. Peter asked me to get flight clearance from the Controller. The Controller said he could not do it as Cairo was in fog. After an agonising wait of more than two hours, clearance was granted. It was a tricky take off from that short sandy runway in the desert. I held my breath with prayer as we just managed to clear the end of the runway on full power; luckily there were neither trees nor high obstructions to fly over. After an hour’s flight we landed in Cairo, a huge busy international airport with modern navigational and landing facilities. The fog had dissipated, the temperature was rather cool compared to Aden and Jeddah.
The BOAC handling agents cleared formalities and took over the passengers to a hotel, and the crew to Shepherds, where international flight crews stayed. A magnificent hotel built by the British during their occupation of Egypt to accommodate royalty and other dignitaries including King Farouk of Egypt. The hotel was like an Egyptian palace with huge pillars painted red and gold and even the rooms were large with high ceiling and huge king-size beds. The ornate lobby had a palatial atmosphere and the waiters were six-foot Nubians in colorful robes. The hotel was located overlooking a broad avenue where thousands of cars roared past without sounding their horns, a continuous mushy sound indicating how busy modern Cairo was. The food was delicious and served with wine. One had to be in full dress for dinner and we went in our Gabardine ceremonial uniforms.
The following morning, we visited the famous Cairo Museum, a vast building and saw the Mummies of King Tutankhamen and Queen Nefertiti and a huge collection of ancient artifacts of ancient Egypt and then ended with a boat ride on the Nile. There were many interesting places to visit in Cairo and further south. In the afternoon, we motored to a hotel in Giza to see the Pyramids. We hired a tour guide and six camels, one each with its keeper. I was the last to follow the batch. Half way, the camel suddenly sat on its belly and wouldn’t move. I shouted to the rest of the crew to stop and help me, but they didn’t hear and I felt frightened to be left alone with the camel keeper in the desert. He tried everything possible for the camel to get up but it wouldn’t. Then the camel keeper asked me for some ‘buckshee’ (money) and in desperation I gave him a few Egyptian pounds. He tucked it into his waist and fed something to the camel. Suddenly, it rose to its feet and started trotting at speed to follow the rest. The Pyramids are made of massive blocks of stone and there were several of them in the distance. The biggest was next to the Sphinx. We got down and there was a large hole at the base of the pyramid and we climbed within, one behind the other, an unending ladder leaning at about 40 degrees. It was dark and each was given a torch and, on all fours, we reached the middle chamber of the pyramid and strangely there was a ray of sunlight. There were empty ornate royal coffins or sarcophagus, lots of statues, and other ancient relics in it. A little while later we started descending until we came out into bright sunshine, which hurt our eyes.
In the afternoon while we were in the spacious verandah of the hotel watching the rich visitors who come to the hotel, a Muslim gentleman visited us and introduced himself as Majeed, a Ceylonese businessman owning a jewellery shop opposite the hotel. He had heard some Ceylonese had arrived and are staying in the hotel. We told him that we were an Air Ceylon crew bringing a group of Muslims on pilgrimage to Mecca and they are touring Cairo for a couple of days. He was delighted to meet us. We ordered tea. While chatting, Majeed said he had heard there was a high-level diplomatic conference at the hotel that afternoon and the Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru and Prime Minister D. S. Senanayake were expected to arrive here on their way after attending a Commonwealth Prime Ministers Conference in London.
It was wonderful news and we waited anxiously to meet our PM. Little later Mr. Senanayake with two gentlemen arrived, and Capt. Peter Fernando went and greeted our PM with due respect and invited him to join us. Senanayake was surprised to meet Ceylonese in Cairo, and when told that we are Air Ceylon crew flying a group of Muslim pilgrims to Mecca and touring Cairo and Damascus, he congratulated us. There was a commotion and Jawaharlal Nehru arrived with a large retinue. Our PM wished us goodbye and joined them.
It was the time King Farouk was forced to abdicate and Abdul Nasser had taken over the government. The British were sent out of Egypt and the Suez Canal was taken over. Our Co- Capt. Ken Joachim, a fair Burgher in Gabardine uniform looked handsome like a British military officer. He had seen a beautiful French sales girl in a perfume shop nearby and would go on the pretext of buying some perfume. The police had stopped him and questioned him as to what he was doing in Cairo. When told he is a pilot from Ceylon bringing some tourists, they let him go. Ken got scared the Egyptians would lynch him mistaking him for a Britisher, begged me to chaperon him when visiting the perfume shop. On the last day in Cairo he bought a bottle of perfume for his wife. A message was received the passengers were ready to proceed to Damascus. We took off from Cairo at noon the following day and after a three-hour flight landed in Damascus.
Damascus is the capital of Syria. Due to turmoil in the Middle East, the Damascus Airport was full or fighter planes and soldiers. The passengers and crew were cleared and taken over by a BOAC Officer to a hotel in the centre of Damascus. Something amusing happened there; a high-ranking Air Force officer at the airport with lots of medals asked Captain Peter Fernando, from which country we were from. When told from Ceylon, he was surprised for he thought Ceylon was part of India. He wanted to know how many planes Air Ceylon had. Peter without batting an eyelid lied: ‘We have six DC4s, ten DC3s and we operate to cities in India and East.’
The pleasant and amiable BOAC Officer visited us that evening and took us to dinner at a restaurant in the Damascus City Square and then to a nightclub. It looked like a dark little den, crowded with Syrians in their traditional dress and seated on cushions on floor, smoking hookah. The air was pungent with a strong tobacco smell. We were distinguished guests and being foreigners, given front row seats. A waiter wearing tiny cups around his belt would stoop down gracefully filling the cup with strong spicy coffee from the container strapped on his back and a brass tube curved over shoulder with the snout offered coffee free on request.
Loud Syrian music by a band of musicians started playing and with a rousing applause, a fair young buxom Syrian beauty appeared on the stage scantily dressed in a sequined bra and flimsy colorful veils hanging from her waist covering a sexy bottom and shapely legs she danced her belly and hips in an erotic rhythm displaying shapely thighs, and the audience applauded with delight. Most of them were bearded old men. While dancing she snatched a veil from her waist revealing a bit of her pubic region and threw it to the audience who grabbed it gleefully throwing money to the stage. One by one while dancing she removed leaving the last to cover her nudity. The crowd in ecstasy screaming wildly threw more money at her feet. The dance went on and suddenly she coyly removed her bra, revealing beautiful dancing breasts with pink nipples, and threw it to our group. The audience was in raptures. Our amiable BOAC Officer caught it quickly and threw it back to the stage with a handful of money and hastily took us out saying she expected a night out with us.
The following morning, we went on a conducted tour of Damascus. The place that interested me most was the window in the Wall of Damascus, where St. Paul escaped in the night from certain death and fled to Jerusalem. We entered the massive market called ‘Souq’ in Arabic, is a labyrinth of passages lined with shops under one vast roof where one could get lost. Bargaining was a customary ritual. It had a variety of merchandise including beautiful clothing, genuine Persian carpets, gold, jewellery, perfume etc. I bought an attractive brocade dressing gown. Peter was looking for wartime medals, especially the “German Iron Cross,’ a medal given by Hitler for bravery. He tried to take a snap of some beggars and the police snatched the camera saying photography was prohibited. Probably, they did not want the world to know that poverty prevailed in Syria.
After three days of sightseeing, the Adamjees were ready to get back home and so were we. We flew to Sharjah for refuelling and then to Karachi for a night stop. The next morning, we took off, had lunch in Bombay and reached Ratmalana in the evening where crowds were waiting to receive the pilgrims with garlands. Thus, ended a memorable and exciting adventurous flight.
Breathe clean for better health
Air impurities enter the respiratory system via inhalation, causing various health effects in all age groups.
Air pollution and climate change were recognized as the top environmental global threats to human health in 2019 by the World Health Organization (WHO).
Air impurities enter the respiratory system via inhalation, causing various health effects in all age groups. The health of susceptible and sensitive individuals (pregnant women, kids, elderly and people with severe disorders) can be impacted even on low air pollution days.
Short-term exposure to air pollutants is closely related to cough, shortness of breath, wheezing, asthma, and other respiratory diseases, with high rates of hospitalization. Long-term exposure to these also leads to severe conditions like lung cancer, heart disease and central nervous system dysfunctions.
Nasal hygiene matters
Your nose is a passage to various air impurities; hence it is important to take care of your nose. Air impurities e.g. allergens, pollutants, bacteria or viruses etc. may enter the nose and get trapped, leading to complications.
Take care of your overall health:
*Manage diet – Antioxidants, fibre, protein and polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFAs) may help you beat the effects of air pollutants.
*Regular Nasal Washing -Saline sprays wash out the impurities and debris trapped in the nasal passage and helps to prevent allergy symptoms and sinus infections. It also supports natural nose functions.
Benefits of nasal saline wash
* It is a good habit to use a saline wash every day to clean the trapped debris and impurities.
* It also helps to moisturize your dry nose, especially in winter.
* If you are taking any steroids or medications to treat your nasal allergies, it is suggested to rinse your nose with saline before using them. It will clear out debris/mucus and help medications work better.
Take care of your nose and practice nasal hygiene regularly to breathe cleaner.
Minimise the exposure to air pollutants:
* Shift from motorized to active travel e.g. walking and cycling
* Track the air quality index in your area
*Exercise regularly but moderate outdoor activity when air pollution levels are high
* Ventilate your kitchen or cooking room
Places and people
Raddella and Karangoda
By Uditha Devapriya
With input from Roshan Jayarathna
From Panadura to Ratnapura the bus takes three hours to complete the ride. It goes through Horana, Ingiriya, Idangoda, Kiriella, and Kahangama before reaching its destination. The bus stop at Ratnapura is largely empty after six in the evening, and after eight there’s no one. It was raining last December. I was getting late. The clock struck 4.30 when I reached Kiriella. Another hour or so, and there wouldn’t be anyone to take me. I had come to visit Raddella, 25 minutes away. I would be staying for Christmas: I wanted an escape from the fireworks, and I wanted some peace and quiet. Raddella promised both.
Tucked away in a far off corner, Elapatha is one of 17 Divisional Secretariats in the Ratnapura District. The road to it is small, just wide enough for two vehicles to pass each other. Located seven kilometres from Ratnapura Town, it turns and swerves for three more kilometres before you reach a village called Karangoda. From there to Raddella it takes 10 minutes. Filled with forbidding roads and welcoming homes, Elapatha, to which it belongs, is located in Niwithigala, in turn a part of Palle Pattuwa in the Nawadun Korale.
The area is of immense historical interest, though it’s not obvious at first glance. Ratnapura, of course, features in the travels of Marco Polo. Yet this part of the country figured in the country’s history long, long before Polo’s visit, particularly in the reign of Parakramabahu I. In 1156 AD he faced a revolt in Ruhunurata led by the mother of an aspirant to the throne, Manabharana, whom he had defeated and vanquished. The mother, Sugala Devi, provoked an uprising in the South in the hopes of restoring the monarchy to her son.
Parakramabahu was by then engaged in bringing the country under one dominion, a feat unaccomplished since the days of Dutugemunu. Perturbed at the machinations of Sugala Devi, he ordered two of his generals, Damiladhikari Rakkha and Kacukinayaka Rakkha, to traverse to Ruhuna and subjugate her. The mission took years, and it threatened to drain the country’s resources. Yet in the end, the king triumphed.
Codrington speculated that Kacukinayaka Rakkha proceeded to Devanagama, or Dondra, after suffering defeat at Mahavalukagama, or Weligama. From there he and his army made their way through Kammaragama (Kamburugama), Mahapanalagama, Manakapithi, the ford of the Nilwala River, and Kadalipathi. Damiladhikari Rakkha, on the other hand, had taken the route from Ratnapura: Codrington wrote that he may have gone through the mountains between Rakwana and Deniyaya, or the mountains of the Kolonne Korale on the outskirts of the Ratnapura District. Either way, he reached Koggala, and from there to Magama, where he waged a series of battles after which, finally, he won the war.
As they marched through Ratnapura, Damiladhikari’s troops captured the villages of Donivagga (Denawaka) and Navayojana (Nawadun). From there we are told they advanced to Kalagiribanda, or Kalugalbodarata, encompassing the Kukul, Atakalan, Kolonna, and Morawaka Korales; from there, to the Atakalan Korale, Dandava between Kahawatte and Opanayake, Tambagamuwa near Madampe, Bogahawela, Binnegama, and finally Butkanda. Nawadun, roughly the Nawadun Korale of today, hence became the army’s first priority; so impossible to claim did it become that the army despaired of it as “hard to pass through.” During the civil war Parakramabahu had waged with Manabharana, he set about taking the region from Manabharana’s forces, and eventually succeeded in doing so.
The writing of the Tripitakaya precedes Parakramabahu, Manabharana, and Sugala Devi by several centuries. It was in Nawadun that the first puskola poth on which it would be written were made. Two kilometres before Raddella, you stop by the village of Karangoda, which reputedly got its name from the word given to the remnants of ola leaves after they’ve been used to make books. Here, at a temple less well heard of than anything Parakramabahu built and came up with, the first talipot books were put together for the Fourth Buddhist Council. Thus the region from Elapatha to Raddella is linked to two of the most important events in our history: the unification of the Sangha by Vatta Gamini Abhaya, and the unification of the polity by Parakramabahu I a thousand years later.
After Vatta Gamini Abhaya suffered defeat at the hands of a South Indian dynasty, he and a group of his most faithful followers retreated from the capital, Anuradhapura. Among them was a monk, Kushikkala Tissa; he would settle in Karangoda with his disciples and several other refugees from the war torn capital. The village of Weragama is not too far away, and there a sentry by the name of Bodhinayake, who befitting his title had been in charge of the Sri Maha Bodhiya, founded a settlement of his own, giving it its present-day name. Those who hail from the Bodhinayake line, according to local sources, continue to reside in the area. Its history, and the history of the sangha parapura from Kushikkala Tissa, has a great deal to do with that temple in Karangoda: the Potgul Viharaya.
Locals call Potgula the second Sri Pada. There’s no real resemblance: the association with the latter comes off mainly in the fact that locals, and even those passing by the area, tend to pay their respects to it before making their way to the Holy Peak. Not unlike the maha giri dambe at Sri Pada there’s a series of steps – 460 according to a pamphlet issued at the temple, 469 according to Explore Sri Lanka – to ascend before reaching the viharaya. The climb stiffens the limbs, though shorter than Dambulla. Yet despite its reputation, not many seem to have heard of it: an anomaly that proves to be more curious when you consider its history is tied, inextricably, to the history of the Buddhist order in Sri Lanka.
A. H. Mirando has written of the emergence of Ganinnanses or lay monks, comparable to the Achars of Cambodia, in Kandy in the 17th and 18th centuries. With vast sections of land coming into their possession, he observes, they remained priests in name only, contravening the rules of Vinaya and getting involved in the affairs of the laity. Owing to their persecution by the tempestuous Sitawaka Rajasinghe, many Buddhist monks fled to Kotte, contributing to the disintegration of the Sangha in the upcountry further. Dutch and British annexation of the littoral regions distanced the Kandyan priesthood from low country monks, compelling the latter to seek favours from colonial officials.
The descendants of Kushikkala Tissa had made Potgula their sanctuary, and despite the moral decline of the Ganinnanses, the sangha parapura flourished. We next hear of a Chief Incumbent whose contribution to the revival of Buddhism has been as scantily noticed as the historical significance of the Potgul Viharaya itself: Vehalle Sri Dhamadinna. Together with Sitinamaluwe Dhammajoti, the last non-Govigama monk to be initiated into the Siyam Nikaya, Dhamadinna began a campaign to breathe new life to the order and the doctrine in the Maritime Provinces. The two of them had been ordained by Kadurupokune Navaratne Buddharakkitha, who resided in Tissamaharama and became one of two monks initiating a generation of reformists to the priesthood; the other, Suriyagoda Kitsirigoda, Rajaguru and Dhammanusasaka of Narendrasinghe, would ordain Velivita Saranankara.
In 1753 when the upasampadawa was finally established under Kirti Sri Rajasinghe and Buddharakkitha’s students underwent the ceremony to symbolise the beginning of the new chapter, Dhammadinna, who took part in it with 22 Ganinnanses from Sabaragamuwa and 20 Ganinnanses from Matara, would have been 74; if so he was 97 when he passed away in 1776. Together with Malimbada Dhammadara and Kumburupitiye Gunaratne, he formed a trio of low country monks who, after Saranankara’s demise, were placed in charge of the Shrine at the Sri Pada. This proved to be a source of contention once they came to hold two offices – Chief Monk of the low country and the Shrine – following the separation of those offices after Kamburupitiye Gunaratne’s passing away in 1779.
Far, far away, 12 kilometres from Raddella, the Sumana Saman Devalaya continues to occupy a preeminent place in the Sabaragamuwa Province. 13 kilometres away in Kuruwita, the Delgamuwa Viharaya, a quiet, empty, yet still hallowed reflection of its past, links the entire region to the patronage of Buddhism. It was to Delgamuwa that Mayadunne moved the Tooth Relic in the early 16th century. Faced with the threat of destruction at the hands of Portuguese marauders and proselytisers in Kotte, it remained hidden beneath a kurahan gala in Delgamuwa for 43 years. Around it an entire culture and way of life came into being: Sabaragamuwa natum, instituted for the perahera of the Relic, and angampora, instituted for the protection of the Relic from thieves, spies, and proselytisers.
Tourists and devotees flock by the hundreds to the Saman Devalaya, yet few, if any, seem to visit Delgamuwa. The road to it is narrow, empty, and quiet: house after house line up along the way, reminding you more of a suburb than a religious site.
Potgula endures the same fate, though more pilgrims make their way there. There, at the viharaya after climbing the 40 or so steps, you come across a well full of holy water – and plastic cups to drink it with, used and reused by devotees and visitors – as well as a stupa, a watering hole, a swarm of wasps said to be descendants of the sentries who had guarded the temple, and a long, winding, though enclosed tunnel which some believe goes up to the Ehelepola Walawwa in Ratnapura town. Regarding the latter, no one really knows where it ends: a local told me someone tried to test the Ehelepola Walawwa thesis and lost his way, never to be found again. Vatta Gamini Abhaya apparently hid himself here, though locals dispute it: according to them, given his contribution to Buddhism, temples everywhere went on claiming that he and his family sought shelter in them.
Living next to these edifices, genuflecting to them, but also dispelling them of the myths surrounding them, are the people of Ratnapura. At least one local I met took me by surprise with his candour. Unlike the people of the South who tend to accept unconditionally the folklore their societies are rooted in, their counterparts here who I met didn’t seem to buy the Orientalist aura visitors conjure up about their surroundings.
Modernity in the Western, cosmetic sense has obviously arrived, and you see it in patches everywhere. The old cohabits with the new. Thus family bonds are reinforced and adhered to, while the lucrative occupations – not just gem mining but also textiles, groceries, and the law – are breaking them apart. Religiosity exists with rationalism: one generation follows the myths of popular Buddhism, while the other spurns them. And of course, there’s the dialect. Osmund Jayaratne, canvassing for the LSSP here, was once offered a maluwa. Expecting fish, he was astonished at being handed a completely vegetarian lunch: “Maluwa,” he was told, “can include anything with rice in it.” Things have in one sense changed from then – a period of half a century – yet in another, they have not: I too could barely conceal my astonishment when, expecting fish, I was handed a maluwa full of anything but fish.
The writer can be reached at email@example.com
IDIOMS: Befriend Languages and Communities
‘Idioms are the distilled wisdom of a community’
By K. A. I. Kalyanaratne
Consultant – Publications
Postgraduate Institute of Management
University of Sri Jayewardenepura
Vice President, Hela Havula
While being locked down with the rising high tide of the recent COVID-19 gush in the country, I kept on reading as there was nothing much to do to spend the spare time. This was of course in addition to my legitimate work of the office. In my ponderings while reading I came across a phrase which said “a bad apple would spoil all the apples that surround it”. It struck me that a bad apple would be like someone who would act irresponsibly, without caring a tuppence for the incessant publicity given by the authorities as to how we should behave and act hygienically. In fact, these practices have taken near-mandatory status, as they are that important in our struggle to bring new-normalcy to the society. It is a must that one should get acclimatized to ward off the threat of the current pandemic. Is it that necessity knows no law?
I was imagining what would happen if there’s one rotten apple inside a basket of apples. This picture will help you to convince that a bad apple is someone who creates problems or trouble, or exerts a bad influence on the other people in a group. Herein I was pondering as to how COVID-19 has been capable of bringing back to normalcy certain words and phrases in our attempt to create new normalcy!
Becoming Curiouser and Curiouser to Know More About Idioms
It is but natural that when you come across a peculiar word or phrase, obviously, you become curious to find out more about it. So I accessed the sources at hand, and that search gave me the clue, that ‘a bad apple’ is an idiom. This is how I began to dip my pen to write this short essay. As I became curiouser and curiouser to know more about idioms I searched in every possible nook and cranny to first find how the word ‘idiom’ crept into the English vocabulary. The English language is full of idioms. My university teacher Dr. George Thambaiyapillai, climatologist, writing his research findings on rainfall in Ceylon commenced his monograph with the sentence ‘In Ceylon it never rains but it pours”. I was then wondering whether what he meant by this phrase was the ferocity of the downpour we experience, especially our monsoonal and inter-monsoon tropical thunderstorm weather. However, I little knew then that it’s an idiom he has used to connote a deeper meaning. Now I know that in modern English this is an idiom which means that a series of events, and especially misfortunes never come singly. The Proverb Hunter website elucidates this idiom with an apt episode,
‘What a day it’s been’, sighed Mrs Wood. ‘First, I burnt out the kettle, then the electricity fused, then Mrs Mopp didn’t arrive, then the butcher didn’t deliver the meat in time for lunch, then the doctor called and said Tommy’s got measles. It was one thing after another. They say it never rains but it pours.’
Origins of Idioms – Covered with a Haze Dust
No one has so far been certain as to how ‘Idioms’ entered the English language. It is guesstimated that the origin of idioms goes back to the 14th century. Those who have researched say that the idiom ‘nook and cranny’ had come into usage after the two words first appeared from mid-1300s and 1450s respectively. While ‘nook’ had been used to connote ‘a distant corner’. ‘cranny’ had meant ‘a crack or gap’. It thus becomes pretty obvious that the particular idiom came into being after 1450s.
As we know English is a ‘mixed up bowl’ or a ‘mixed bowl’, and the word ‘idiom’ had got mixed up in this bowl from the French word ‘idiome’, which had been again borrowed from late Latin ‘idioma’, which had again been a word loaned from Greek ‘idiome’, which meant ‘peculiarity, peculiar phraseology’. Fowler, the famous lexicographer writes that “A manifestation of the peculiar” is “the closest possible translation of the Greek word” idiome. He further says that idioms are sometimes treated as ungrammatical. It is normally said that ‘borrowed things will never shine’. But whatever said and done, after the word got into the English-bowl, idioms are ‘shining like nothing’.
Idioms Bemuse All Measures of Grammatical Classification
It is found to be a common trait in any structured language that those who are familiar with that language know at a glance to which part of a speech a word belongs. It is also a common trait in many languages that some words can belong to two or more parts of speech. However, there is a category of words which cannot be readily understood or brought under any part of speech. Their meanings can only be construed through the common usage of years or centuries, for that matter. Such a category of words (or phrases) that bemuses all linguists and grammarians are the so called idioms. Idioms, thus have not only bemused them, but have also brought haziness that challenges all the rules that classify and define the parts of speech.
Idioms as Seen by Sinhala Grammarians
Idioms are common to all communities as they are offshoots or spinoffs (upstarts?) of their total communication process. In the Sinhala language idioms are referred to as ‘prastha pirulu’. (in the spoken dialect ‘pirula’ has been changed to ‘piruvata’. In a verse composed by Veedagama Thero ‘pirula’ appears in a poem starting with ‘Pirulen aragath abarana mangulata’ which means ‘jewellery borrowed/loaned for the ceremony’. Hence, the word ‘Pirula’ means borrowed or loaned. The Pujavaliya of the Dambadeniya period had used ‘pirula’ in the transformed form ‘piruvata’. ‘Prastha pirulu’, therefore, connote words/phrases that are borrowed/loaned for the occasion. ‘Sinhala grammarian, linguist, writer and poet, the late Raphael Tennekoon, explaining Sinhala idioms in his ‘Honda Sinhala’ says that idioms of the language could be categorized under upama and bevahara:
‘upama’ (Similes) are those words used by learned people of the past, to elucidate or to explain some phenomenon and to make it clear and easy to understand. ‘uru thudehi datha thebuwa se’ is an example cited for a simile by Tennekoon. A pig could dig into the soil with its long snout that is strengthened by a prenasal bone and by a disc of cartilage at the tip. The simile says that ‘placing a tooth in the pig’s snout’ would make its digging much easier.
‘bevahara’ (Vyavahara/Usages) are traditional or popular sayings that have been passed down through ages. These are also rendered into English as ‘proverbs’. For a proverb or a traditional usage Tennekoon refers to the famous saying ‘inguru deela miris gaththa vagei’. which means ‘an injudicious exchange; that is about ditching one invader for another. According to Tennekoon a usage or proverb (bevahara) differs from a simile (upama) as the former derives its origin from a previous event or incident. The idiom referred to above is a well-known saying in the Sinhala language, the origin of which is King Rajasinghe II, in 1656, seeking help of the Dutch to get rid of the Portuguese from the coastal areas. It’s an important revelation as a majority of the students and teachers wouldn’t know this difference, and they put everything in one basket.
Logicality and Rationality of Idioms
A deep study of both these categories of idioms would reveal that although the origins of a majority of them are shrouded in mystery, they are, nevertheless, extremely logical and rational. They stand to reason, giving the indication that whosoever had originated these sayings they could, for certain, be men of standing in society. Take for instance the old Arab proverb ‘The enemy of my enemy is my friend’. There’s a similar saying in Sinhala which says ‘Hathurage hathura mithurayi’. Look at this Tamil idiom ‘Aadu nanayuthendru Onai Aluthathu’ which says ‘Wolf crying that sheep are getting wet’. A marvelous gesture from a good-mannered and sympathetic wolf, out of all the other animals! Sheep are said to be eternal prey of wolves. See how rational it is to advise someone to ‘Put on your thinking cap’. If you tell someone to put their thinking cap on, you ask him/her to find an idea or solve a problem by thinking about it. It is certain that Edward de Bono’s concepts of Six Thinking Hats, had its origin in this idiom. Instead of one thinking cap de Bono has twisted it to say Six Thinking Hats. De Bono introduced the concept of using six different coloured hats, so participants can use it for thinking logically as well as creatively to generate and assess innovative and different ideas.
Idioms Build Bridges Across Communities
A comparative study of idioms also unearth several hidden facts, which indicate that amidst the differences that exist among communities there’s a common chord that binds humanity across all the man-made barriers. It is, therefore, heartening to expose such similarities as they, more often, reveal that humans are a single species, although socio-cultural and political factors have kept them apart. The following tabulation clearly shows that irrespective of the differences in the communities they either use almost the same or different expressions to convey similar sentiments/ideas.
Sinhala, Tamil, English
Kimbul kandulu helanava (shedding crocodile tears) Mudalai kanneer (shedding crocodile tears) shed crocodile tears (To display hypocritical sadness) Linde inna mediya vage (like a frog in the well)
(in Sanskrit) Kinatruth thvalai (frog in the well) A frog in the well (an individual who cannot or refuses to see the big picture) Betalu hama poravagath wrukaya veni (an insincere pretender) Aadu nanayuthendru onai aluthathu (wolf crying that sheep are getting wet) A wolf in sheep’s clothing
(those playing a role contrary to their real character Poth gulla (book mite/weevil) Puthagam puzhu (Book worm) Book worm (a person reading/ studying more than usual) Have nose in a book (people who always seem to be reading) Gal hithak (stony heart/mind) Kurangu pidy (Monkey grip / stubbornness) Stubborn as a mule (intractable/ refractory) Hulangata desana karannakmen (like preaching to the wind/ a futile act) Eeyotudal (chasing flies away* no occupation) A futile act Pouring water off a duck’s back (a futile act as water doesn’t retain on a duck’s back)
Humour in Idioms
Irrespective of what the language is, a close study of idioms would reveal they have been coined by master-craftsmen, who are both witty and humourous. In this background it becomes pretty obvious that quite a number of idioms are bent on sarcasm as well. As most idioms are products of communities who had enough time to enjoy life idioms reflect that most of their sayings were either witty, humourous, sarcastic or punchy.
If you look closely at the literal meanings of most idioms, you will realize that they are often downright hilarious. Here is a compilation of some such humerous idioms found in Sinhala and English.
Labba degawwayi labu wela gawwayi
– while the pumpkin-creeper is only a gavva away, the pumpkin is two gavvas away. A ‘gavva’ is said to be a league in Sinhala which is taken as a distance of three and a quarter miles.
This idiom is similar to ‘a bridge too far’ in English – a goal or plan which is too far.
Do a Devon Loch –
is an idiom which says a person giving up half way when everybody expects him to succeed. Devon Loch was a racehorse that collapsed just short of the winning line of the 1956 Grand National race in the United Kingdom.
‘Theetam tinunne pattiku ariyamo oochinde mannam’ is a Malayali idiom which says ‘the dog that eats shit cannot smell a fart’. How similar is the Sinhala idiom which says ‘urulevata uge ganda therenne ne’. It means a civet-cat cannot smell its own smell (odour).
Idioms – A Veritable Palimpsest of a Community
While planning to conclude this short essay with a punchy note, it stuck me that I had come across a very rarely used phrase, ‘a veritable palimpsest’; a phrase which could be used only in very special circumstances related to subjects like geology, topography, architecture or inscriptions where evidence is found of superimpositions on effaced earlier features. They, in fact, still bear the evidence of original surfaces. Based on this premise I strongly think that idioms are ‘veritable palimpsests’, that still show so many facets of a community out of which these had emerged. They either reflect beliefs, virtues, and even habits, behaviours and human relationships built on moral, principles and respect of a community. Moral is related to the standards of what is right or just in behaviour. Or as rightly exposed by Raphael Tennekoon, erudite scholar, many idiom are off-shoots of historical incidents/events. So a ‘veritable palimpsest’ itself is an idiom that could be used on very special occasions as spelt out above.
‘Puhul hora Karin denai’, –
The pumpkin-thief is seen by his shoulder’
‘Raigamayata Gampolaya ekvuna veniyi’,
– Similar to meeting of Raigamaya with Gampolaya.
‘Kana kiri pata keeva se’
– like the blind person told the colour of milk’
‘Straight from the horse’s mouth’
which means getting information from the most reliable source, is said to come from the 1900s, when buyers could determine a horse’s age by examining its teeth.
Why We Need to Study Idioms in a Language
Every developed language is rich in idioms. Although it is possible to converse correctly in non-idiomatic language, anyone with only a superficial knowledge of that particular language will find himself/herself at a serious disadvantage in his/her reading, and even more so, when he/she takes part in discussions and other means of communication.
Although cultural variables would make differences in the settings or use of words, all idioms help stress particular points. Therefore, cultivating familiarity with and using them often, even a foreigner would sound more like a native, and can also boost his comprehension skills. By now you would have been sufficiently convinced that idioms are a fun subject that will, for certain, help making one’s communication descriptive, colourful, creative, lively, interesting, exciting and at times concise/precise as well. Idioms have, thus, enriched every language. The more one uses idioms in his/her communication, the more he/she becomes closer to a native speaker.
Idioms are Distilled Wisdom of a Community
An idiom is an everyday figure of speech or metaphorical expression whose meaning cannot be taken literary. They often go against the logical “rules of language and grammar” despite being commonly used by the language’s native speakers.
Sir Winston Churchill, former Prime Minister of the United Kingdom (1940-1945) who had not stepped into a university in pursuit of higher education, once said that eighty percent of his education had been through the study of idioms. In fact, he referred to idioms as “Distilled Wisdom” of a community.
The writer can be reached on firstname.lastname@example.org
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