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Boi Kollo – An almost forgotten tragedy

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By Capt Elmo Jayawardena

Elmojay1@gmail.com

He first went to work at the very tender age of six, just a little kid, that much Yoga recalled. He had attended a village school for two days and quit. He said he could not understand anything the teacher taught. That was good enough a reason for Yoga to obliterate any form of education from his entire life and become illiterate. They lived on the Southerland Estate, a remnant of the British Colonial system. Estate labourers’ ‘line-shacks’ had limited room for the family. The little boy was an inconvenience that needed to be sorted out. Of course, he was an ill-affordable extra mouth to feed in the already overcrowded one-roomed hovel they called home. That was how Yoga left his Southerland Mansion to commence his lifetime career of servitude as a Boi Kolla (BK) to run and fetch at the beck and call of whoever gave him a meal and shelter.

How he got on in life is no different to what others of his kind has gone through in the Boi Kolla business. Mundane and monotonous were the days from sunrise to sunset with hardly any change in the script. Yet, Yoga has got through what fate dealt him and done his bit to run through the years as best as he could. It was simply a matter of survival through the wearisome days that dawned on him with an obscure future. This was unfortunately the cast iron inheritance of a so-called Boi Kolla.

If you have anyone in your family, maybe a son or a grandson, just think what it would have been to send him away to work as a Boi Kolla, at age six. But then, it was a norm of the era when talking of Ceylon post-independence. Often one would see a little kid sweeping a yard with an ekel broom taller than he, wearing a standard uniform – an oversized hand-me-down shirt or a ‘bullet holed’ sleeveless banian. The sheer unfairness of it all was pretty evident, but no one took any notice of it or, maybe they did not want to notice. After all, nobody knew anything about child-labour, and so, nobody cared much about a Boi Kolla.

Things have changed now – free education made the hallmark difference by breaking open the affluent locks that corralled the poor. It was free education that enabled all and sundry to get into reasonable schools, which taught them free even at tertiary level. Thank God for this system that opened the doors of education for the poverty-stricken pedestrian. The Boi Kolla gradually went out of the system, by gaining a long-denied foothold to stand on a somewhat level playing field by going to school.

That is how the ‘would have been’ BK of Ceylon came out of the woodwork and merged into society vying for lucrative employment. Today, this tragedy is almost over. The Boi Kollo brigade is slowly disappearing from our society – what remains are only remnants of that forgotten travesty.

I write these lines for us to walk back in years and recall those Boi Kollo who served us in our homes. I am sure most of you will have remembrances that will bring back faces and names to mind. The ones who came with nothing and left with nothing and who worked 24/7 for three square meals and a paltry payment that was called a salary. Such things did happen and most definitely they were not fair by any imaginable standard. Let us spare a thought for these BKs and be grateful they were there to make our lives easy. The treatment they received depended on whom they worked for and I would rather leave that part out, as in most cases, it was a rags-to-rags story with very few exceptions.

Let’s look at a prototype Boi Kolla to muscle the story. They usually came from far off villages and barely had any education. Whatever tasks they had to do were accomplished with ‘on-the-job training’ given by the household or a senior domestic. They were much depended on the bosses they served—drawing water from a well, sweeping the house, opening and closing gates when the master tooted the horn, bathing and feeding the dogs and looking after and playing with the children, the BKs sure were great all-rounders. It was the Boi Kollo who invented the kade yana business. Go buy bread; bring vegetables; we need meat, maybe a bottle of Orange Barley, a horde of other items including newspapers and cigarettes – anything missing in the kitchen down to a box of matches – it was the BK who sprinted to the shop to fulfil the need. The same ‘Kade Yana Business’ has now expanded and magnified to such an extent that sadly, it has even reached Diyawanna Oya!

So, what became of the Boi Kollo when they grew older? As long as they stayed in their semi-slave status, they got food to eat and a roof to shelter and a mat to rest their weary heads. The remunerations received were never enough to save except to send home a few rupees to help the ageing parents. The silver lining of their lives was the annual pilgrimage to their villages in April. This was to celebrate the Sinhala/Tamil New Year – perhaps, the only time-off permitted for the whole year. The BKs collected whatever monies they had accumulated and negotiated advances from future salaries and hightailed with excitement to their distant homes. There among the poor relatives, they enjoyed the Rockefeller status busting the little hard-earned money they had so gallantly saved. The journey back was with empty pockets, penniless to be exact, and dragging feet to slog and slave again till the next New Year came around for their annual visit home.

As for the big picture, the Boi Kolla business was a sad answer to poverty. Working in a house as a BK taught them nothing other than how to be at the beck and call of their masters. No education gained, hardly any skills learned, and youthful years wasted with nothing really achieved. There were a few lucky ones who became drivers and others who advanced to work in shops while most of them went back to their villages to work the paddy fields till the next election came to ‘star gaze’ in the hope of getting a better job. A few remained on the job under kind masters and grew old as a valued member of the family.

The one rainbow in this Boi Kolla’s dark cloud of life was finding love. Of course, there were the roaming Romeos among the BKs. Why not? Romance may have been the privilege of the rich, as Oscar Wilde described, but a little ‘hide and seek’ was good for the soul and was always a satisfying adventure for the willing BKs.

Nonage aalay, gei mada salay – api dennage aalay, kussiya mulle”.

(the lady’s love is in the living room and our love is in the kitchen corner)

 

So ran a popular Baila heralding the domestic amorousness between a BK and his ‘Kussi Amma’ girlfriend. Such Cupid interactions were not common but off and on they did make the headlines as if there was a law against it. Some even formalized the relationship by getting married, but to most it was a bit of ‘one day cricket’ or could be even a T20 that coloured the drabness of their day-to-day existence. All in all, they did have fun times even though few and far between. Yes, there were the Romeos and the Juliets playing ‘Hora Police’ whilst the bosses slept.

 

I was four years old when I started schooling and every morning a demon carried me to school. I mean that was his name – Demon, our ‘Boi Kolla.’ I can still picture his face – a vague memory of a curly head with a huge grin, but sadly, I have no other recollection. But I do remember the Demon who carried me to school. Similarly, the renowned international cricketer Duleep Mendis did his batting at home as a kid, tennis ball stuff. The Boi Kolla was the ‘shy-ball pacee’ who was only known as Andy Roberts. (Log in to Google for a fairy tale episode – “Andy Roberts by Elmo Jayawardena”). Old Andy is still around – I see him off and on, married with kids and doing reasonably well in life. I am sure Duleep would remember him and his bowling, the local Andy Roberts who played cricket with him.

I guess all of us who came from that generation can think of a Boi Kolla who lived in our homes and played some part in our lives. There was Hong Kong Banda whose Master took him to serve in Hong Kong. Sumanadasa who became Sam and veteran actor Jagath Chamila received the Best Actor award in New York for portraying him. Andrew Machang lived down our lane and Weera who still makes excellent seeni-sambal goes to church every Sunday to keep the Sabbath holy and Pandithaya, the ardent UNPer who thrashed his radio on the ground when his Party lost the election. There are many more such colourful BKs in our lives – yours and mine – it is worthwhile taking a walk down memory lane to find them. They are all gone now, and we can only hope that life has been kind to them.

Do we remember our BKs? Mostly ‘no’ but, off and on their names pop up with an anecdote from the past at family gatherings when seniors recall incredible BKs who served them. Names and deeds are recollected and old stories are repeated – some of great hilarity – events surrounding an old BK. The newer generations listen in disbelief having no clue what the older folks are talking about. This is 2021 and one seldom comes across a Boi Kolla in a middle-class home now as it was in the days gone by. That in itself is a great victory for our society, a giant step towards equality that would be the catalyst to make Lanka the Paradise it ought to be.

How I wish we had a Remembrance Day or at least a stamp in honour of all the domestics who served us and made our lives easy. Their sweat and tear contributions were never measured, seldom recognized nor are they recorded anywhere. It was sheer poverty that sent six-year-old children the likes of Yoga to work as Boi Kollo in unknown homes. Hobson’s choice I would say that led to a lifetime occupation pawning their tomorrows for their daily bread.

That is the truth, whether we remember or not.

That is the tragedy we all saw and pretended not to see.



Features

South likely to be hit most by West’s price cap on Russian crude oil

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People protesting in China

Months into Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, it is becoming increasingly clear that the latter’s traumas would not end any time soon. Nor is the invader registering any notable gains from its fatal decision to annex Ukraine by armed means and might. However, it’s abundantly clear that the destabilizing economic consequences for the world from the invasion are likely to increase exponentially.

The recent decision by the G7, EU and Australia to place a price cap of US $ 60 on a barrel of Russian crude oil is further proof of the West’s intention of weakening Russia relentlessly on the economic plane, but as matters stand, it is the global South that is likely to suffer most from this decision.

Observers of the global oil industry were quoted as saying that the world would need to brace for further oil price hikes as a result of the Western decision and that OPEC would likely reduce its oil output in the days to come with the aim of propping-up prices. Needless to say, these developments translate into graver economic hardships for the more vulnerable economies of the South, although destabilizing ripple effects from stepped-up oil prices would be felt worldwide as well.

At the time of the Russian invasion of Ukraine in February, hunger and famine were already taking hold of parts of Africa. Some African countries with the worst food crises are; Kenya, Nigeria, Ethiopia and Somalia. Their condition was further aggravated as a result of food and energy prices escalating, close on the heels of the invasion.

It was only a matter of time before these economic aftershocks made themselves felt in even the West. Right now, the West is very much into a ‘Winter of Discontent’, with rising food and energy prices proving to be doubly distressing. Inflation in the UK, for instance, is said to be notably high.

In the Asian theatre, countries such as Sri Lanka and Afghanistan are virtually begging for survival. If not for the largesse of the international community, it could be truly said that Sri Lanka ‘would not live to see another day’. If its multi-dimensional crisis is not resolved expeditiously, Sri Lanka is likely to be categorized by the world community as one of those countries with the highest levels of hunger in South Asia and Southeast Asia. Some other countries in this category from the regions concerned are: Timor-Leste, Afghanistan, Pakistan, India and North Korea.

Accordingly, the mentioned economically-distressed countries and more are unlikely to survive another series of energy and food price shocks and also remain intact, so to speak. However, with the prospects remaining bleak for a negotiated settlement of the Ukraine crisis, the possibility of the international community alleviating the economic hardships of the South in the foreseeable future is remote. The conclusion is inescapable that the South would need to brace for aggravating material hardships and economic disempowerment.

Wise counsel would need to be brought to bear on the Russian political leadership to enable it to see the no-win situation into which it has brought itself in the Ukrainian theatre. President Putin is unlikely to take the path of negotiations in Ukraine if the latter course would incur for him a loss of face and prestige. The negotiated settlement while ensuring Ukraine’s independence and geographical integrity should guard against the possibility of a drastic loss of prestige and credibility for the Russian President in the eyes of his public at home.

However, the world community is quite a distance away from such a win-win outcome, considering the polarities in thinking and the persisting hostile relations between the main sides to the Ukraine crisis. The solution calls for deft diplomacy of the highest order.

It is left to powers, such as China and India, to take up the challenge of bringing about a negotiated political settlement in Ukraine. China has not condemned the Russian invasion of Ukraine but is not endorsing it either. Since the Chinese political leadership has entered into what may be called a détente process of sorts with the US, it emerges as a suitable candidate to bring the antagonists in Ukraine to the negotiating table.

President Xi could use the measure of cordiality he established with President Biden before the recent G-20 summit in Indonesia to narrow the differences between the conflicting sides in Ukraine, considering that the West’s staunch support for Ukraine is a vital factor in perpetuating the conflict.

Likewise, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi could use his offices as the head of the G-20 to help to bring the crisis in Ukraine to an end. As is the case with China, India enjoys cordial ties with Russia and being a major democracy, India is likely to see the wisdom of ending the Ukraine conflict by peaceful means, in consideration of the need to serve the best interests of the Ukrainian and Russian publics without further delay.

A moral duty is cast on the world’s foremost democracies, such as India, to attach primacy to the wellbeing of people everywhere and in the current world economic crunch, it is the people who are affected negatively most. It stands to reason if the Ukraine invasion is ended through negotiations, there would be considerable relief for people worldwide.

The fact that there is considerable popular unrest against the political leadership of China and Russia at present should further prompt the respective Presidents of these countries to lose no time in doing their best to end the Ukraine crisis by peaceful means. It ought to be clear that their tenures at the helm of their countries would no longer be peaceful, since their policies, domestic and foreign, have only served to trigger internal dissent and unrest. They may deploy state coercion to get such unrest under control but the possibility is that the people’s animosity towards their regimes will explode time and again.

If Xi and Putin would permit wise counsel to prevail they would redress the grievances of their publics by peaceful means rather than court chronic and continuing dissent against their regimes by seeking to quell their popular uprisings through the use of coercion. Next, they should use the expertise they have acquired locally to heal a ‘running wound’ that is bringing distress to people the world over, such as the Ukraine crisis.

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Features

Christmas with the Calibre Team

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The festive season is certainly brightening up and, going by what I see on social media, there will be plenty of festive activities for everyone, and that’s a good sign, indeed, as we missed out on those Christmassy celebrations, the past two years, mainly due to the pandemic.

Choro Calibre and X-Calibre, two unique bands, with energetic musicians, who are focused and passionate to create choral and acoustic music, in their own style, have released their new Christmas cover song…the ever popular Jose Feliciano festive hit, ‘Feliz Navidad.’

This much loved Christmas pop song has been given an electronic colour, and twist, by the Calibre Team.

For the record, ‘Feliz Navidad’ was written, in 1970, by Puerto Rican singer-songwriter José Feliciano.

With its simple, heartfelt lyrics—the traditional Spanish Christmas and New Year greeting “Feliz Navidad, próspero año y felicidad” means Merry Christmas, a prosperous year and happiness”.

The song has been heard, on the radio, by an estimated 3.8 billion people, according to Billboard, where it remains as one of the top 10 best-performing songs on its Holiday 100 chart.

You can check out the new music video, by the Calibre Team, on YouTube, and download the song on Apple Music and Spotify.

Choro Calibre and X-Calibre became a reality, in 2009, when Shamal De Silva, driven by the passion for music, teamed up with a few of his friends and started a choir, and a band.

Shamal De Silva

Shamal began his music career at the age of just eight, probably the youngest church organist at the time, when he started playing at St. Paul’s Church, in Waragoda. Later, he took over the leadership of the College Choir, in 2008, at his Alma-Mater, St. Joseph’s College, Colombo, and went on to win “The Musician of the Year” award, in 2009, for his multi-disciplined musical contributions. He also excelled in his studies and graduated from the University of Colombo.

Explaining the meaning of ‘Calibre,’ Shamal says Excalibur is the legendary sword of King Arthur and it is believed to be the strongest sword – unbreakable, and powerful. And so, the band is named as X-Calibre, and the choral group as Choro Calibre.

Elaborating further, Shamal indicated that the choral group, Choro Calibre, is an international award-winning commercial choir (won three awards at the Asia Cantate Choir Games, held in Thailand), and they perform at weddings, events, and Christmas carols, while X-Calibre is an acoustic band, also doing weddings, events and private functions.

“With our new outlook, new sound, re-arranged music and melodious harmonies, we’ve got some exciting events and productions lined up. We perform different genres and musical eras, ranging from the sounds of golden oldies to the top club hits of today”, said Shamal.

You could check them out, during the festive season, at the following venues:

• 14th December: 7.00pm – Cafe Ivy

• 16th to 25th December: 4.00pm – Cinnamon Grand

• 17th December: 5.00pm – Gold FM 70s show at Taj North Lawn

• 20th December: 7.00pm – Christmas party at Cinnamon Lakeside

• 21st to 25th December: 7.00pm – Cinnamon Lakeside

• 22nd and 23rd December: 8.00pm – Taj Samudra

• 24th and 25th December: 8.00pm – Hilton Colombo

• 22nd to 24th December: 9.00pm – Galadari Hotel

• 25th December 2022: Galadari Hotel

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Features

Face Masks for Healthy, Glowing Skin

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*  Tomato-Lemon mask

1. Take one tomato and crush it into a puree.

2. Then add two tablespoons of lemon juice.

3. Mix it well and apply on the face and neck.

4. Leave the mask for 20 minutes and wash off with cold water.

The mask will help in removing any tan on the skin, leaving it brighter.

* Turmeric mask

One of the most popular ingredients, used in home-made masks, is turmeric. The medicinal properties of this spice helps in reducing blemishes and maintaining a flawless skin.

1. To prepare the mask, take three tablespoons of lemon juice, one tablespoon of turmeric powder, and mix it well.

2. Apply on the face, and on the neck, for 20 minutes, and then wash it off.

* Carrot-Honey mask

1. Boil 2-3 carrots and mash them completely.

2. Add 2-3 teaspoons of honey to it.

3. Apply this mix on your face and neck.

4. Wash it off after 15 minutes to reveal a radiant skin.

This mask is great for sensitive skin.

*  Papaya-Banana-Cucumber mask (for oily skin)

1. Blend 1/4th papaya, 1/4th cucumber and half a banana, together, to form a smooth paste.

2. Apply this on your face, and neck, and let it sit for 15-20 minutes.

3. Rinse with lukewarm water.

*  Aloe Vera-lemon Juice mask

Lemon juice effectively removes grease, while adding a fresh fragrance to your skin, and aloe vera keeps your skin moisturised.

1. Whip up a quick face mask by taking two tablespoons of aloe vera gel (or scrape fresh gel from an aloe vera plant), and add two teaspoons of fresh lemon juice into it.

2. Use the mix to cover your face (voiding eyes) and wash after 20 minutes.

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