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Christmas beneath the corona cloud

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By Capt Elmo Jayawardena

elmojay1@gmail.com

It looks like when Silver Bells ring this year and Silent Night takes the air, Santa himself will be struggling to do his rounds with possible curfews and lockdowns. Corona has tortured the entire world in horrific measures, and is now getting ready for the final kill. The pandemic is going to ruin our festive season, as never before. It is nobody’s fault but that is how fate had decided to throw the dice. Of course, in many countries the battle against Corona raged yo-yoing between winning and losing. Most preventive actions and Covid 19 treatments were more like Russian Roulette. While the medical world was fighting against time to find a cure, the unknown menace was spreading and killing people. That has been the story of the year 2020 for most, a time of trauma and sorrow that completely engulfed the entire planet. Yet, there is hope in the horizon as vaccine solutions are making their stealthy appearances. We are now in the interim period till Pfizer or its competitors find a ‘sure-shot’ cure to put the world back to normal.

Let’s take a look at the celebration itself. Subdued Christmases are nothing new in Sri Lanka, or in the entire world, for that matter. Many of us have experienced the full blast of poverty-stricken Christmases or war-ravaged Christmases. Of course, they came in different waves, but they drowned us in wallowing pity for the sheer lack of money or the freedom to celebrate. Children were the most affected in this yuletide crossroad. Even when things were normal, the haves had flamboyance and festivity while the have-nots wrote meaningless letters to Santa Claus, asking for the moon. It is the have-nots who heard other people’s carols and crackers and watched neighborhood skyrockets screeching up to blast and flower-shower the midnight sky. This is a familiar cruelty in any kind of celebration where the have-nots are concerned.

The 2020 festivities somehow appear quite different. The change of season will be the same with the cold winds blowing to announce the coming of Christmas. I was at a shopping mall recently and noticed how empty everything was. The uniformed staff hung around the show cases waiting for customers who didn’t seem to be coming. The usual piped music had vanished; no Jingle Bells or reindeer Rudolphs to make sure Santa Claus was coming to town. Even the all too familiar red and white Christmassy caps that the salesgirls wore were missing. The haves still have, but the mood has been burnt to cinders. It sure looked crystal clear that Corona had levelled the playingfield for all to sulk and sigh in frustration. Whether you are rich or poor, there are no fancy celebrations this Christmas as was customary in the years gone by. It is a whole new ball game, totally ‘coronafied’ from the crust to the core. The only way we can counter that is by having a sharing and caring Christmas with some serious efforts to uplift those who for some reason Santa always seem to miss.

Let’s be realistic. Whatever the form of celebration we are thinking of, better make sure it is confined within the walls of our homes. That is the best way to be safe, and that is what the health authorities will advise to keep Corona at bay. Those rules may not apply to all and sundry across the country. Isn’t it a fact that ‘kissing goes by favour? I’d rather not go in that direction. Instead, let me simmer with my impotent anger where rights and wrongs of applying rules are concerned. After all, what is good for the goose is not good for the gander when the proletariat is at the receiving end.

Pre-Christmas frolicking has already been cancelled. The post-Christmas partying is uncertain. The thousands that flew in crossing continents to be with their loved ones for the December holidays are not coming. The two-week quarantine on arrival alone is a major deterrent. The flights are drastically reduced, and the airports almost empty. The once majestic jet aeroplanes that came sardine packed with holidaymakers are not in the sky. They are like mummified dinosaurs gathering dust in aviation graveyards. None will come from abroad, that is certain. No option but to go virtual to wish each other on Zoom or Facetime. People will resist the gloom by putting up their Christmas trees and playing beautiful carols. Small mercies no doubt, but better than no mercies. Kids can still be made to believe that the ‘Ho Ho Man’ will climb down the chimney or creep through a window and leave his gifts beneath the tree. I presume that is one of the few traditions that can survive the 2020 Christmas if the parent Santas can not only find their way to the shops but also have the means to buy the goods.

Let’s look at the shopping scene. Making lists and buying gifts for those in the favoured lot is a major mind-boggling exercise. As for the poor, they don’t have that problem. Never mind others they may not have money to buy anything for their own family. It is only the haves who exchange gifts during this season; one must at least be a ‘semi-have’ to join this shopping and gifting parade. The romance of Christmas has always been a privilege of the rich.

You never see have-nots sitting at Cinnamon Grand Coffee Shop and munching chicken pies or at a Pizza Hut selecting meals from menu cards. Theirs is the Christmas of the poor, just scrambling whatever they could to light up a kid’s face who is bewildered why Santa Claus never came to his home with train sets and what not. 2020 is sure going to be different. Corona has taken care of that. Haves or have-nots, the syllabus will be the same; stuck at home with no visiting or visitors, and no way out till the vaccine comes to Sri Lanka to give us a new lease in life.

Taking a peep at that wondrous week from Christmas to the New Year, prospects do look bleak even to the die-hard optimist. With physical distancing and very few gatherings, the choices will be limited or non-existent. Yes, you can hire Tasty Caterers or Perera & Sons and have a party. But who will come? Then there are traditional family get-togethers that are a custom of the Christmas season. The annual Peiris Clan Party or Fernando or Dias party that had been in existence from the days of the great grandparents. These are always meticulously organised and the host rotated with regimental precision. They are all gone with the wind in 2020. Cannot even plan as no one knows where the next cluster will surface and how quickly a lockdown or a curfew will be imposed. With all the Corona related issues facing us, it might be better to stay home and have a solitary meal listening to carols in the background and watching the ever-blinking lights of the Christmas tree.

As I write this on the 13th of December, the prognosis does not seem comfortable leading up to the New Year. The daily Corona infected counts are quite high, and they seem to be remaining high. The Health Authority’s advice is for us to stay home as much as possible to avoid life threatening contact with a Corona patient. Christmas or no Christmas, it is wise to be safe in self isolation. Maybe, that’s what we all should do.

As for the celebration, it may be a blessing to take a ‘time out’ this year and ponder what Christmas is all about? It is the birthday of Jesus Christ. We count the days for it to dawn to have a fantastic time with family and friends, to exchange gifts and wine and dine.

Then what about the Birthday Boy? Shouldn’t he too be included and gifted for his own birthday?

That is the answer for this year’s Corona misery. The ‘have-nots’ are all around us. We the blessed ‘haves’ have a golden opportunity to take our celebration to those in need, the multitude of ‘have-nots’ around us. Once the thought enters our mind the acts of kindness will spread beyond our wildest imagination. No church to attend and no way to host the grand Christmas lunch, so let’s just change the play and reach the poor. New Year’s Eve will come, and the bands will be silent, dance floors are sure to be empty. But the poor will be there, around every corner. Let us offer them a gift or fulfil a pressing need and watch the glint in their eyes and the smiles that light up their faces. That would be a wonderful celebration of Christmas. Let’s pick a street kid or two and take them to ARPICO and let them push a trolley and pick things they dream about – some chocolates, biscuits, maybe a sultana cake or a water pistol and a tennis ball. Anything is manna from heaven to such a kid.

Corona will not be able to stop the joy we will feel in sharing. That will be our 2020 Christmas.

Our collective efforts will surely make so many happy. But without a doubt, it is we who will be most rewarded. Let’s look for the Birthday Boy – He will be loitering aimlessly on the streets or lingering in a ramshackle slum. After all, it is His birthday we are celebrating.

Let’s go find Him among the poor. This will be a meaningful way to celebrate the Corona Christmas.



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Features

Credibility in governance through elections and not security forces

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Ranil Wickremesinghe

By Jehan Perera

President Ranil Wickremesinghe’s warning that he is prepared to declare a state of national emergency and use the military to suppress any public protests for change of government would reflect the pressures he is under. The manner in which he has used the security forces to deal with the protest movement has been unexpected. His words and deeds are contradictory to what he has previously stood for as a five-time former prime minister. This is especially true in the case of the ethnic and religious minorities who have consistently voted for him and his party at elections. They have felt safer and more secure under his governments which always sought to reduce the heavy hand of state oppression in which national security is given pride of place. He has always promised them much though he has been unable to deliver on much of what he promised.

Notwithstanding the unfortunate rhetoric and actions of the present time the belief still persists that President Wickremesinghe is the best of the available options. Recent pronouncements of the president have reignited hope that he will address the problems of the religious and ethnic minorities. He has stated that he does not want to leave this problem to the next generation. He has said that he wants to resolve this intractable national problem by the country’s 75th independence anniversary on February 4 next year. The hope that the president will make a fresh effort to resolve their problems has led the main Tamil party, the TNA, to desist from voting against the budget which passed with a relatively small majority. Their spokesperson, M A Sumanthiran said in Parliament that due to the president reaching out to them, stretching out his hand, they did not vote against the budget although they disagreed with it.

It is not only in words that the president has reached out to the ethnic and religious minorities. Reports from the north and east indicate that the Maveer (Heroes) Day commemorations this year took place without incident. During the past two years scores of people were arrested and a massive presence of security forces blocked the people from participating in public events. On this occasion the security forces did not get involved in any attempt to stop the commemorations. University students distributed sweets and even cut a birthday cake to celebrate slain LTTE leader Velupillai Prabhakaran’s birthday. The analogy that the president drew to himself being seen as a Hitler who exterminated ethnic and religious minorities is misplaced. The release of those held under the Prevention of Terrorism Act for engaging in similar acts in the past would further contribute to the reconciliation process.

WORSENING CRISIS

In this context, the president’s use of militaristic rhetoric can only be understood in relation to the growing economic crisis that shows no sign of abating. The anticipated IMF bailout package is at risk of getting indefinitely delayed. It was initially anticipated to come in September then in November but now January is being targeted. Japan’s top brokerage and investment bank, Nomura Holdings Inc, has warned that seven countries – Egypt, Romania, Sri Lanka, Turkey, Czech Republic, Pakistan and Hungary – are now at a high risk of currency crises. Sri Lanka is in third place on the table of risk. The next devaluation of the rupee could see another spike in inflation that will make the cost of living even more unbearable to the masses of people.

The president is on record as having said that the economic crisis will get worse before it improves. Both anecdotal and statistical evidence indicates that it is indeed worsening. University teachers at the University of Sabaragamuwa reported that attendance in their classes was down by at least a quarter. Students who come from other parts of the country are unable to afford the cost of meals and so they stay at home. A study by the Institute of Policy Studies has shown that about four percent of primary, 20 percent of secondary and 26 percent of collegiate students had dropped out of school in the estate sector, which is the worst affected. The future costs to the country of a less well educated population is incalculable and inhumane.

As it is the situation is a dire one for large swathes of the population. Research from the University of Peradeniya has revealed that close to half of Sri Lanka’s population, 42 percent (up from 14 percent in 2019) are living under the poverty line. Professor of Economics Wasantha Athukorala has said there is a dramatic increase in the poverty level of over three-hold across the past three years. In 2019, nearly 3 million people lived below the poverty line, but that number has increased to 9.6 million in October 2022. In these adverse circumstances stability in a polity can be ensured either through legitimacy or through force. It would be tragic if the latter is the choice that is made.

ELECTORAL SOLUTION

President Wickremesinghe has been stressing the importance of political stability to achieve economic development. His recent statement that the security forces will be used to negate any unauthorised protest is a sign that the government expects the conditions of economic hardship to escalate. The general public who are experiencing extreme economic hardship are appalled at the manner in which those who committed acts of corruption and violence in the past are being overlooked because they belong to the ruling party and its cliques. The IMF has made anti-corruption a prerequisite to qualify for a bailout, calling for “Reducing corruption vulnerabilities through improving fiscal transparency and public financial management, introducing a stronger anti-corruption legal framework, and conducting an in-depth governance diagnostic, supported by IMF technical assistance.”

It is morally unacceptable even if politically pragmatic that the president is failing to take action against the wrongdoers because he needs their votes in parliament. As a start, the president needs to appoint a credible and independent national procurement committee to ensure that major economic contracts are undertaken without corruption. Second, the president needs to bite the bullet on elections. The country’s burning issues would be better accepted by the country and world at large if they are being dealt with by a statesman than by a dictator. Government that is based on the people’s consent constitutes the sum and substance of democracy. This consent is manifested through free and fair elections that are regularly held. Local government elections have been postponed for a year and are reaching their legal maximum in terms of postponement. These elections need to be held before March next year.

Elections will enable the people to express their views in a democratic manner to elect their representatives for the present. This would provide the government with guidance in terms of the decisions it is being called to take to revive the economy and place the burden in a manner that will be acceptable to the people. The provincial council elections have been postponed since 2018. Democratically elected provincial councils share in the burdens of governance. The devolution of power that took place under the 13th Amendment was meant to promote ethnic harmony in the country. The president who has taken the position that he is for a solution to the ethnic conflict should seriously consider conducting the provincial council elections together with the local government elections se their financial costs. By doing so he will also gain legitimacy as a democratic statesman and not a dictator.

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Features

WEDNESDAY – Movie Review

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The Addams Family is back with a new tale to tell! Originally created by Charles Addams as a comic strip published in The New Yorker, it offered readers a sarcastic take on the ‘typical nuclear family’ by substituting it with a more macabre bunch of strange and eerie individuals. Since then the titular family has been adapted on to the big screen many times, from live action movies to animated versions, the Addams Family has gained many fans throughout the years. Created by Alfred Gough and Miles Millar, with Tim Burton working on four episodes of the eight-part series, Wednesday is a welcoming tale for young fans, but unfortunately fails to think outside the box and remains anchored to the floor with a messy storyline.

Dead-eyed Wednesday Addams (Jenna Ortega) is a stubborn, independent and intelligent teenager in this new series. Her penchant for attracting trouble wherever she goes alarms her parents, Morticia (Catherine Zeta-Jones) and Gomez (Luis Guzmán). With an already strained relationship with her parents (specifically her mother), Wednesday is enrolled at Nevermore, an academy for outcasts like herself. Having attended the academy themselves, Morticia and Gomez are hopeful that their daughter will ‘fit right in’. Caught between trying to build her own identity and other teenage complexities, Wednesday soon finds herself in the middle of a twisted mystery.

This is the first time audiences are introduced to a teenage Wednesday, which allowed the creators to build a new world on their own terms, but while keeping true to the original nature of the character. The creators do a fair amount of world building by introducing other outcasts like the Fangs (vampires), Stoners (Gorgons), Scales (sirens) and Furs (werewolves), among others. Nevermore Academy itself is beautiful and comes with the classic package of creepy crypts, hidden rooms and secret societies. The series also offers a decent amount of gore, although they could have added more given Wednesday’s proclivity for gore-related activities. The series deals with classic young-adult tropes which includes teenage crushes, bullies, relationships and even prom, among other things. The series navigates through Wednesday’s journey of self-discovery, which is a new avenue for both the character and the fans. From understanding and displaying her emotions to discovering her identity and understanding her peers, the series takes a deep dive into heavy material.

Ortega’s performance as the titular character plays a major role in keeping audiences glued to the screen. This is also the first time viewers are shown a teenage Wednesday Addams, which works to Ortega’s benefit as she depicts more dimensions to the ghoulish, morose character many are associated with based on previous renditions. Her facial expressions and ability to deliver on seriously emotional moments strengthens her role as the lead. The rest of the Addams Family, even with limited screen time, lack the eccentricities their characters should have. Hopeless romantics Morticia and Gomez seem incompatible in this version and Uncle Fester is far less crazy than he ought to be. The only member worth mentioning is the Thing—a severed hand— who brought more character and spirit to the series acting alongside Ortega. With barely any room to develop a majority of the characters are prosaic and tedious, even though they remain vital to the plot.

Apart from Ortega, Gwendoline Christie and Emma Myers deserve honorable mentions for their roles as Nevermore’s head teacher, Larissa Weems and the peppy Enid Sinclair respectively. Enid quickly became a fan favorite as the character was the polar opposite to Wednesday. Her character is vital to Wednesday’s character development and their journey to find common ground as mismatched individuals is amusing.

Christina Ricci who played Wednesday in the 90s returns as ‘normie’ teacher, Miss Thornhill and unfortunately barely stands out and this in large part due to the messy storyline. The series is bogged down with numerous subplots and overlapping tropes and the characters with potential for growth are completely overlooked. With love triangles, bullies and killer monsters on the loose, the series self-destructs and the climax sinks into disappointment.

At the end of the day, Wednesday plays to the beat of the new generation and touches on new themes, which is welcoming seeing as the character should grow up at some point. While not everyone may relate to Wednesday’s teenage perils, it is interesting to witness her growth and her journey as an ‘outcast’ or ‘weirdo’. And while Wednesday doesn’t exactly offer a distinctly unique story, it gives audiences a small taste of what Jenna Ortega’s Wednesday is capable of. Creating a story around a well-established franchise is a difficult task, and in this case the creators fail to add value to their visions. If the series continues, the creators will have the opportunity to think further outside the box and push the limits to Wednesday’s character and give audiences a bone-chilling experience. Wednesday is currently streaming on Netflix.

 

 

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Features

Stage set for… AWESOME FRIDAY

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The past few weeks have been a very busy period for the new-look Mirage outfit…preparing themselves for their big night – Friday, December 2nd – when they would perform, on stage, for the very first time, as Donald Pieries (leader/vocals/drums), Benjy (bass), Niro Wattaladeniya (guitar), Viraj Cooray (guitar/vocals), Asangi Wickramasinghe (keyboard/vocals), along with their two frontline female vocalist, Sharon (Lulu) and Christine.

They have thoroughly immersed themselves in their practice sessions as they are very keen to surprise their fans, music lovers, and well-wishers, on opening night…at the Peacock, Berjaya Hotel, in Mount Lavinia.

Action starts at 8.00 pm and, thereafter, it will be five hours of great music, along with EFFEX DJs Widhara and Damien, interspersed with fun and excitement…for the whole family!

Yes, opening night is for the whole family, so you don’t need to keep some of your family members at home – kids, especially.

Working on their repertoire for Friday, bassist Benjy says “what we will dish out will be extra special, with lots of action on stage.”

It would be interesting to see Sharon (Lulu) doing her thing with Mirage, after her early days with the Gypsies, and, I’m told, a dynamic performance from Sharon is what is in store for all those who make it to the Peacock this Friday

Edward (Eddy) Joseph (centre) with Donald and Benjy

While the band was at one of their practice sessions, last week, they had a surprise visitor – Edward (Eddy) Joseph, a former member of the group Steelers, who is now based in Germany.

Eddy is here on a short visit and is scheduled to return to Germany, tomorrow (30).

He spent an hour with Mirage, at their practice session, and says he is disappointed that he would not be around for the group’s opening night.

However, there is a possibility of several well-known personalities, in the showbiz scene, turning up, on Friday night, to experience the sounds of the new-look Mirage, including Sohan Weerasinghe and Joey Lewis (from London).

Rajiv Sebastian, too, says he is keen to be a part of the fun-filled evening.

You could contact Benjy, on 0777356356, if you need to double check…their plans for AWESOME FRIDAY!

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