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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.

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Olga Sirimanne (1923 – 2021)

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In memoriam

My darling beautiful angelic wife Olga (First batch of Air Ceylon stewardesses) and I commenced a partnership of love in Holy Matrimony on 17th June 1954. We loved each other deeply, enjoyed a blissful relationship for over 66 happy years with each other. We devoted our lives to give love and happiness not only to each other but also to all those who came to know us during our delightful almost 100 years. Beautiful incidents and memories are portrayed in several photo albums. Our friends and family loved listening to Olga’s exciting experiences and stories laced with humour and laughter as she was an excellent story teller.

Olga was blessed with three loveable children, Sunil, Laksen and a beautiful daughter Minoli; adorable grandchildren, Shelana and Sanjev, Rahel and Sariah, Kaitlyn and Taylor; great grandson, Sevan and darling niece, Ashie whose mother (Olga’s only sister) passed away some years ago. Ashie considered Olga, her ’Loku Ammie’ as her surrogate mother. Her son-in-law and daughters-in-law too loved her deeply with great respect and love. She held them fondly close to her heart with pride.

Her lifelong heart-throb was me. She always called me ‘darling’ but never addressed me as ‘Siri’ though all her friends did. Since I was ‘Thathie’ to our loving children, she too affectionately called me ‘Thathie’ even when she was on the verge of passing away. I too enduringly called her ‘Ammie’ as I loved her as much as our children.

Her gentle protective care and devotion helped me to maintain youthful looks and excellent health to celebrate my 100th birthday on 31st January 2020. She and our daughter had arranged a Holy Mass at home followed with a surprise birthday party attended by a few close friends and relations. She too received Holy Communion with blessings for the peaceful and happy years of coexistence with me. I too responded to her caring ways and helped her maintain her health and beautiful charming looks to the end.

Her 98th birthday was on 12 January 2021. She was greeted by me first thing in the morning, with loving kisses, hugs and prayers to God for giving us another year of peace and happiness. She received with warm wishes lots of beautiful bouquets and baskets of flowers, birthday cards and a countless number of telephone calls from children, grandchildren, relations, friends and loved ones here and scattered around the globe. It thrilled her to know that so many remembered and loved her.

Deep within our hearts, there was this chilling fear of the unbearable sorrow if one of us was left without the other. As age was creeping into our lives, every night we started reciting together a prayer to God before going to sleep, kissing each other and whispering, “I love you darling, God Bless you.”

The inevitable happened on 3rd February 2021 when my darling (Olga) passed away in my arms to the Kingdom of Heaven to be with Jesus. Thus, ended our happy and peaceful partnership, me afflicted with sorrow and yearning for her presence. I love you darling, my love. Rest in Peace.

Our children, Sunil, Laksen, Minoli and I wish to thank all those who attended the private funeral, sent floral tributes and messages of condolences and regret our inability to thank you individually . Please accept our heartfelt gratitude.

 

D.L.Sirimanne

leosirimanne@gmail.com

 

 

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Divided people in a distorted democracy

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The Geneva Calamity comes more from the thinking of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, than that of the former Chilean politician who is now the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights.

It is such thinking of disaster advancement that made our Foreign Minister tell the Geneva meeting in his virtual address that Sri Lanka acted in ‘self-defence” in the fight against the LTTE’s terrorism. Was it self-defence that led to the actions of the armed forces or the fundamental right to safeguard the unitary state, sovereignty and territorial integrity of the Republic of Sri Lanka – whether Democratic Socialist or not?

The debate will go on in Geneva about our actions for self-defence, that defeated the LTTE, and what has taken place after that assurance of self-defence, that relates to wider reaching issues of Human Rights, with emphasis on responsibility and accountability.  Now that Yahapalana is no more, it is the task of the Powers of Fortune, or Saubhagya, to make its own case on how Sri Lanka relates to the international community.  This is certainly no easy task as we see the unfolding of the politics and crooked governance in Sri Lanka.

As the echoes of Geneva goes on, we are much more involved in the Easter Sunday carnage and the Presidential Commission report on it. The people are certainly puzzled as to why the planners and directors of this hugely bloody act of Islamic terrorism have not been revealed. We have the unique situation where the person who appointed this Commission of Inquiry, none other than former President Maithripala Sirisena, is to be legally punished for this carnage. 

Are we to have special satisfaction on the possibility that future Heads of State, who appoint such commissions of inquiry, will be the first accused, even in the much-delayed reports of such commissions?  There is not much hope for such satisfaction. The Head of State is the emblem of supremacy, with all the powers of the 20th Amendment to the Constitution. 

The families of the victims of that terrorist attack at the Katuwapitiya -Negombo, Kochchikade – Colombo, and Batticaloa churches, will certainly remain in search for the exposure and punishment of those who planned and carried out these situations of carnage. What we are shown is the true purpose and meaning of a Presidential Commision of Inquiry – PCoI.

We have certainly gone back to the origins of such inquiries, and the powers of Saubhagya at Rajavasala, have shown their honour to J. R Jayewardene, who brought the Presidential Commission as the show of the five-sixth majority Jayewardene Power.  Mr. Sirisena may remember how the first PCoI of the Jayewardene era, ensured the removal of civic rights to Mrs. Sirimavo Bandaranaike, the defeated Prime Minister and Mr. Felix Dias Bandaranaike, former Minister of Justice.  

Punishment of one’s political opponents is the stuff and substance of Presidential Commissions of Inquiry, and Sri Lanka is now showing the whole world how much this is a part of a Distorted Democracy. A show of power that was enabled by 69 lakhs of voters in the presidential election, followed  by the parliamentary two-thirds gained through those who bowed their so-called critical heads on ‘Dual Citizens” coming to Parliament, and the huge Muslim MP cross-over – for the benefits they must have gained – as all such cross-over politicians always obtain.

The Archbishop of Colombo, Malcolm Cardinal Ranjith, who certainly prevented the Easter Sunday carnage leading to even more bloodshed, by a few timely words of caution and Christian thinking that tragic day, must be now wanting to know why he was so keen to get the report of this Commission.  Who were the planners, the funders, the trainers and leaders of this carnage? What will the people know in the weeks and months to follow, and how much can the feelings of the families that were the bloody victims of this massacre of the innocents, be brought to some relief?

This PCoI is the answer to the political prayers of those manipulating power today. It is the answer to the continually rising Cost of  Living, the protection to those who keep destroying our forests and jungles, the safeguard for all those who keep reducing the Alimankada pathways of our elephants, it is the whistle blow of  go ahead to the forces of urban destruction, and the show-piece managers of Presidential visits to the rural people. 

The rising voices of sections of the Maha Sangha against this PCoI, the call from Christian voices to expose and deal with the planners and movers of this carnage, and the louder voices for the protection of nature and the environment, will be the cause of joy to the powers of a Deadly Dominant Democracy. It is the message of power to those who take pride in killings of the past – be it the Tigers of the LTTE, or the cases of killed, injured and missing journalists, and the abduction of children.

 The powers that be will continue to sing loud about how we acted in self-defence against the LTTE terror. The echoes of Geneva will keep ringing in the ears of manipulative politics and power. But this and other PCoI reports that are seen as the substance of crooked power, will soon lead our people and country to an Age of Disaster – an age of new confrontations and calamities. How much worse can we become than the JRJ manipulation of anti-democratic power?

 How much can we allow our people to be divided, and thus supportive of a Distorted Democracy?

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HOW REBIRTH  TAKES PLACE

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The passing away of the consciousness of the past birth is the occasion for the arising of the new consciousness in the subsequent birth. However, nothing unchangeable or permanent is transmitted from the past to the present.

(From THE BUDDHA AND HIS TEACHINGS by Venerable Narada Mahathera)

“The pile of bones of (all the bodies of) one man
Who has alone one aeon lived
Would make a mountain’s height —
So said the mighty seer.”

— ITIVUT’TAKA

To the dying man at this critical stage, according to Abhidhamma philosophy, is presented a Kamma, Kamma Nimitta, or Gati Nimitta.

By Kamma is here meant some good or bad act done during his lifetime or immediately before his dying moment. It is a good or bad thought. If the dying person had committed one of the five heinous crimes (Garuka Kamma) such as parricide etc. or developed the Jhānas (Ecstasies), he would experience such a Kamma before his death. These are so powerful that they totally eclipse all other actions and appear very vividly before the mind’s eye. If he had done no such weighty action, he may take for his object of the dying thought-process a Kamma done immediately before death (Āsanna Kamma); which may be called a “Death Proximate Kamma.”

In the absence of a “Death-Proximate Kamma” a habitual good or bad act (Ācinna Kamma) is presented, such as the healing of the sick in the case of a good physician, or the teaching of the Dhamma in the case of a pious Bhikkhu, or stealing in the case of a thief. Failing all these, some casual trivial good or bad act (Katattā Kamma) becomes the object of the dying thought-process.

Kamma Nimitta

or “symbol,” means a mental reproduction of any sight, sound, smell, taste, touch or idea which was predominant at the time of some important activity, good or bad, such as a vision of knives or dying animals in the case of a butcher, of patients in the case of a physician, and of the object of worship in the case of a devotee, etc…

By Gati Nimitta, or “symbol of destiny” is meant some symbol of the place of future birth. This frequently presents itself to dying persons and stamps its gladness or gloom upon their features. When these indications of the future birth occur, if they are bad, they can at times be remedied. This is done by influencing the thoughts of the dying man. Such premonitory visions of destiny may be fire, forests, mountainous regions, a mother’s womb, celestial mansions, and the like.

Taking for the object a Kamma, or a Kamma symbol, or a symbol of destiny, a thought-process runs its course even if the death be an instantaneous one.

For the sake of convenience let us imagine that the dying person is to be reborn in the human kingdom and that the object is some good Kamma.

His Bhavanga consciousness is interrupted, vibrates for a thought-moment and passes away; after which the mind-door consciousness (manodvāravajjana) arises and passes away. Then comes the psychologically important stage –Javana process — which here runs only for five thought moments by reason of its weakness, instead of the normal seven. It lacks all reproductive power, its main function being the mere regulation of the new existence (abhinavakarana).

The object here being desirable, the consciousness he experiences is a moral one. The Tadālambana-consciousness which has for its function a registering or identifying for two moments of the object so perceived, may or may not follow. After this occurs the death-consciousness (cuticitta), the last thought moment to be experienced in this present life.

There is a misconception amongst some that the subsequent birth is conditioned by this last death-consciousness (cuticitta) which in itself has no special function to perform. What actually conditions rebirth is that which is experienced during the Javana process.

With the cessation of the decease-consciousness death actually occurs. Then no material qualities born of mind and food (cittaja and āhāraja) are produced. Only a series of material qualities born of heat (utuja) goes on till the corpse is reduced to dust.

Simultaneous with the arising of the rebirth consciousness there spring up the ‘body-decad,’ ‘sex-decad,’ and ‘base-decad’ (Kāya-bhāva-vatthu-dasaka).

According to Buddhism, therefore, sex is determined at the moment of conception and is conditioned by Kamma not by any fortuitous combination of sperm and ovum-cells.

The passing away of the consciousness of the past birth is the occasion for the arising of the new consciousness in the subsequent birth. However, nothing unchangeable or permanent is transmitted from the past to the present.

Just as the wheel rests on the ground only at one point, so, strictly speaking, we live only for one thought-moment. We are always in the present, and that present is ever slipping into the irrevocable past. Each momentary consciousness of this ever-changing life-process, on passing away, transmits its whole energy, all the indelibly recorded impressions on it, to its successor. Every fresh consciousness, therefore, consists of the potentialities of its predecessors together with something more. At death, the consciousness perishes, as in truth it perishes every moment, only to give birth to another in a rebirth. This renewed consciousness inherits all past experiences. As all impressions are indelibly recorded in the ever-changing palimpsest-like mind, and all potentialities are transmitted from life to life, irrespective of temporary disintegration, thus there may be reminiscence of past births or past incidents. Whereas if memory depended solely on brain cells, such reminiscence would be impossible.

“This new being which is the present manifestation of the stream of Kamma-energy is not the same as, and has no identity with, the previous one in its line — the aggregates that make up its composition being different from, having no identity with, those that make up the being of its predecessor. And yet it is not an entirely different being since it has the same stream of Kamma-energy, though modified perchance just by having shown itself in that manifestation, which is now making its presence known in the sense-perceptible world as the new being.

Death, according to Buddhism, is the cessation of the psycho-physical life of any one individual existence. It is the passing away of vitality (āyu), i.e., psychic and physical life (jīvitindriya), heat (usma) and consciousness (vijnana).

Death is not the complete annihilation of a being, for though a particular life-span ends, the force which hitherto actuated it is not destroyed.

Just as an electric light is the outward visible manifestation of invisible electric energy, so we are the outward manifestations of invisible Kammic energy. The bulb may break, and the light may be extinguished, but the current remains and the light may be reproduced in another bulb. In the same way, the Kammic force remains undisturbed by the disintegration of the physical body, and the passing away of the present consciousness leads to the arising of a fresh one in another birth. But nothing unchangeable or permanent “passes” from the present to the future.

In the foregoing case, the thought experienced before death being a moral one, the resultant rebirth-consciousness takes for its material an appropriate sperm and ovum cell of human parents. The rebirth-consciousness (patisandhi vijnana) then lapses into the Bhavanga state.

The continuity of the flux, at death, is unbroken in point of time, and there is no breach in the stream of consciousness.

Rebirth takes place immediately, irrespective of the place of birth, just as an electromagnetic wave, projected into space, is immediately reproduced in a receiving radio set. Rebirth of the mental flux is also instantaneous and leaves no room whatever for any intermediate state (antarabhava). Pure Buddhism does not support the belief that a spirit of the deceased person takes lodgement in some temporary state until it finds a suitable place for its “reincarnation.”

This question of instantaneous rebirth is well expressed in the Milinda Panha

The King Milinda questions:

“Venerable Nagasena, if somebody dies here and is reborn in the world of Brahma, and another dies here and is reborn in Kashmir, which of them would arrive first?

“They would arrive at the same time. O King.

“In which town were you born, O King?

“In a village called Kalasi, Venerable Sir.

“How far is Kalasi from here, O King?

“About two hundred miles, Venerable Sir.

“And how far is Kashmir from here, O King?

“About twelve miles, Venerable Sir.

“Now think of the village of Kalasi, O King.

“I have done so, Venerable Sir.

“And now think of Kashmir, O King.

“It is done, Venerable Sir.

“Which of these two, O King, did you think the more slowly and which the more quickly?

“Both equally quickly, Venerable Sir.

“Just so, O King, he who dies here and is reborn in the world of Brahma, is not reborn later than he who dies here and is reborn in Kashmir.”

“Give me one more simile, Venerable Sir.”

“What do you think, O King? Suppose two birds were flying in the air and they should settle at the same time, one upon a high and the other upon a low tree, which bird’s shade would first fall upon the earth, and which bird’s later?”

“Both shadows would appear at the same time, not one of them earlier and the other later.

The question might arise: Are the sperm and ovum cells always ready, waiting to take up the rebirth-thought?

According to Buddhism, living beings are infinite in number, and so are world systems. Nor is the impregnated ovum the only route to rebirth. Earth, an almost insignificant speck in the universe, is not the only habitable plane, and humans are not the only living beings. As such it is not impossible to believe that there will always be an appropriate place to receive the last thought vibrations. A point is always ready to receive the falling stone.

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