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Clara Heath meets Kewal Motwani in Kentucky



Sister Sue, mother (Clara Motwani) and Mrs. Adeline Moonesinge, a daughter of Visakha founder, Mrs. Jeramias Dias

Excerpted from Goolbai Gunasekera’s Chosen Ground first published in 2006

(Continued from last week)

In Louisville, Kentucky, my mother, Clara Heath, was growing up meanwhile in what might be considered an unusually protected atmosphere for the average American child of her time. Her ambitious Southern reared mother was a kind of early 20th century Steel Magnolia, and intended that her daughters should have the finest education obtainable in the State of Kentucky.

Catholic schools in Louisville were believed to provide a better-than current education for girls, and though my poor grandfather was strongly against sending his two girls away (for one thing the family was not of the Catholic faith, and for another, he would miss them) what my grandmother said went!

Accordingly the two girls (eleven months apart, and treated virtually as twins) went to Presentation Academy in Louisville as boarders in a nun-run Catholic school.I wear Mother’s class ring to this very day. Boarding schools are not as common in the USA as they are in Britain and my grandmother’s decision to board her two daughters was unusual. Going to an American boarding school was the best thing that could have happened to Clara: without intending any such thing, my grandmother, Eva, was preparing her for a life in a more laid back country.

Mother loved the calm, unhurried life of the Convent, where her curricula included Latin, French and a smattering of Spanish. The gentle nuns were very much to her liking. Known only to God and the Fates, Mother was being well trained for her eventual career as Principal of a conservative Buddhist school in Ceylon. From the nuns at Presentation, Mother acquired a genuine love of study, a stern moral code, a strict sense of discipline and a lifelong abhorrence of a lady ever showing her knees.

When she became Principal of Visakha Vidyalaya in Colombo, one of the first things on her agenda was to make sure that hemlines were worn half way down the calf. Visakhians learnt, to their surprise, that no lady ever crossed her legs except at the ankle. Since the Queen of England was doing likewise on every Pathe Newsreel, they assumed that Mother knew what she was talking about.

Shortly after taking over the Principalship of Visakha, Mother was electrified by the newspaper picture of a girl from Bishop’s College (the secondary school to which I eventually went myself) taking a running jump over a high pole. Mother had a spasm at this ‘unladylike’ photograph which was, according to less biased accounts, an extremely modest one.

Nonetheless, Mother’s convent training had her banning athletics at Visakha and it was only after she left the school that Visakhians began winning honours in this line. Tennis, netball and table tennis were games that were acceptable to her Victorian code. Needless to say, while the girls of the fashionable missionary Schools wore `divided skirts’, Mother’s little Visakhians donned Greek robes and did Eurhythmics.

They were also encouraged to study Home Science — a subject introduced for the very first time into the curriculum of Ceylon’s schools. All this gave Visakhians a certain cachet. At last Buddhist girls’ education under Mother, and other school principals who had been trained in the West (such as Mrs. Hilda Kularatne in Panadura and Mrs. Doreen Wickremasinghe in Matara), began to give the older missionary schools a run for their money. Conservative Buddhist parents were well pleased with their young Principal from America — so highly qualified, so eminently tradition-minded, so totally sympathetic to the national aspirations of the Buddhist majority.

But more about Visakha later. As a schoolgirl herself, Mother’s life was delightfully serene and quite uneventful. She was a fine musician and took a Degree in music as well as Languages and Education. Her sister, my aunt Arline, was far more feisty, practical and pushy than the dreamy Clara. This polarization of personalities meant they got on very well together, although it also meant that Arline did all the housework while Mother drifted off to practise the piano for two to three hours every evening.

“Really,” Arline would explode, “Clara does NOTHING around the house, does she!”

Grandma Eva did not believe in household democracy. Each daughter did whatever she was good at doing, and Arline was a superlative cook and housekeeper. So gentle, so very appreciative was Clara each morning when she was handed perfectly laundered stockings and immaculately ironed clothes that Arline had so efficiently organized for her, that any words of protest from her sister died still-born.

Apparently Mother would get up feeling bright and perky, having completed all her homework the previous evening, to say nothing of those three hours of piano practice and say to her sister,

“Are my stockings on the bed or in my drawer, Arline?”

With a resigned air Arline would produce them neatly folded and ready to wear.

“My dear,” Auntie Arline said to me on one of my trips to the USA to see my American grandparents, “there are two kinds of people in the world. There are those for whom someone is ALWAYS on hand to smooth things out, and there are those like you and me who have to do the humdrum work themselves. I leave you to work out to which group your dear Mother belongs.”

“Didn’t you ever have an American boyfriend at any time?” we would ask Mother in Auntie Arline’s presence. Mother would look vague and Arline would snort:

“Of course she had lots of admirers, but your Mother simply never got the message.”

Apparently one smitten young man would drop by ostensibly to practice the violin while Mother played the piano accompaniment. Grandma would have milk and cookies ready for the couple to enjoy

at the end of their labours. Mother gave the poor young swain no chance. The minute the last note had been played she shut the piano, shook hands with her fellow musician in the accepted convent-taught manner and said ‘Goodnight!’

“And another romance,” Auntie would continue, while Mother looked apprehensive, “was that young Professor who kept offering her a lift home from University. Your mother – ” and Auntie accented the word – “took many a detour so that their paths did not cross.”

The Motwanis in Bandarawela

My sister and I screamed.

“I do wish you wouldn’t repeat these highly exaggerated tales, Arline,” Mother would tell Arline in exasperation.

“Well, what happened when the dear Professor phoned, please tell?”

“I really can’t remember,” said Mother.

But of course, Mother remembered very well her first meeting with her future husband … and their eventual marriage illustrates that truth can often be more romantic than fiction. The tale as told by Mother was factual and lacked Father’s teasing sidelines.Sir Jamshed Mehra had met my American grandmother at a Theosophical conference in the USA. Learning that Mrs Heath had two teenage daughters at home, he suggested that one of them might like to write to his young ward who was just finishing his B.A and was probably going on to England for postgraduate study.

My Aunt Arline was not in the slightest bit interested in Theosophy, so the task of writing to a young Indian ten years her senior fell to Mother. The correspondence flourished although, given Mother’s convent training, those letters must have been models of decorous writing. Su and I have never been given so much as a glance at them, although Father kept them stored away in the go-downs he owned in Karachi. Until the Partition of India, those go-downs gave Father a comfortable income situated, as they were, near the docks.

When Father decided to register at Yale (having hated Oxford) the correspondence speeded up and my grandmother realized that this lonely young Indian, so far from home, would be spending a summer vacation all on his own. Returning to India was out of the question since those were not days of convenient air travel. Accordingly, she invited him to spend the summer in their home. She probably regretted doing so for Father fell instantly in love with the 17-year-old girl to whom he had been writing.

Their romance was complicated by the fact that Mother lived in Kentucky and an Asian, however fair his skin might be, was practically a Black to her relatives who lived south of the Mason-Dixon line. To say that her aunts, uncles and cousins were unhappy would be an understatement. They were aghast.

This unlikely union, strangely enough, did not encounter opposition from my grandparents. They had met many Indians and did not share in the feelings of horror that so many of their friends experienced when they were told that Clara was marrying a non-Caucasian and one from a barbaric Asian nation at that.

My grandmother spent many irate hours explaining to her near and dear that the culture and civilization of India was superior by far to any in the West. When Father heard the family views he laughed as he usually did whenever he encountered ignorance of the East.

When Mother went to say goodbye to the nuns of her old school she took Father with her. They were quite charmed by him but Reverend Mother’s last words to Clara were a heartfelt: “I shall pray for you my dear.”

When Mother was packing to leave her home in Kentucky for India she stood helplessly by while Father sorted out the clothes she would need for the tropics, ruthlessly discarding winter apparel. Mother looked expectantly at her sister, who resignedly set about packing what she hoped would be the last bag she ever packed for Clara. In point of fact, she was to do it whenever Mother visited the USA on later occasions.

“I can’t think WHAT you are going to do aboard that ship,” Arline told Mother worriedly.

Mother’s response was predictable. “Oh, I’ll get the steward or someone to help,” she said vaguely.

Arline tch tched, and continued worrying. But she stopped this useless exercise after Mother’s happy letters home told her that Father was a whiz at getting a mountain of clothes into a tiny, tiny space. Later on two Sinhalese maids, Nimal and Cathleen, swam into Mother’s life. They took full charge of all household affairs — even to eventually regulating the day-to-day problem of looking after the physical needs of Clara’s two daughters. Cathleen remained with us all her life to become, not a maid but a friend.

She worked with us for 62 years — 30 of them in the USA, where (after bringing us up) she went to look after our Grandmother Eva. Auntie Arline was in the American Foreign Service. She never married, and so when Grandmother died Cathleen simply stayed on with Auntie Arline as a highly efficient maid. Cathleen also got to globe-trot with my aunt who was an inveterate travel bug. Whenever Auntie got a posting abroad Cathleen kept house for her in exotic places like Amman, Jaipur and South America.

Auntie Arline died in 2004, just after Khulsum (my daughter) and I had visited her in Arizona where she had retired. Cathleen died a few months later, following her return to Sri Lanka.

(To be continued)

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If you have a heart, say no to tobacco!



BY Dr. Gotabhya Ranasinghe
Consultant in General & Interventional Cardiology, NHSL

Tobacco harms practically all of the body’s organs and is a key risk factor for heart disease!

Smoking can impact all aspects of the cardiovascular system, including the heart, blood, and blood vessels. I know from my experience over the years that about 25% of the patients who seek treatment from me for heart conditions smoke.

Is there a strong link between smoking and heart disease?

Of course, there is! Smoking definitely contributes to heart disease. The majority of smokers experience heart attacks.

Some claim that the only people at risk for heart attacks or strokes are those who are classified as heavy smokers. Although this is the case, did you know that smoking even one or two cigarettes a day might result in heart attacks?

Young smokers are on the rise, which unfortunately brings more cardiac patients between the ages of 20 and 25 to the cardiology unit.

Why is tobacco poison for your heart?

The harmful mix of more than 7,000 chemicals in cigarette smoke, including nicotine and carbon monoxide, can interfere with vital bodily functions when inhaled.

When you breathe, your lungs absorb oxygen and pass it on to your heart, which then pumps this oxygen-rich blood to the rest of your body through the blood arteries. However, when the blood that is circulated to the rest of the body picks up the toxins in cigarette smoke when you breathe it in, your heart and blood arteries are harmed by these substances, which could result in cardiovascular diseases.

What does cigarette smoke do to your heart?

Atherosclerosis (Building up of cholesterol deposits in the coronary artery)

Endothelium dysfunction leads to atherosclerosis. The inner layer of coronary arteries or the arterial wall of the heart both function improperly and contribute to artery constriction when you smoke cigarettes. As a

result, the endothelium-cell barrier that separates the arteries is breached, allowing cholesterol plaque to build up. It’s crucial to realize that smoking increases the risk of endothelial dysfunction in even those who have normal cholesterol levels.

Heart Attacks

The plaque accumulated in the arteries can burst as a result of continued smoking or other factors like emotional stress or strenuous exercises. Heart attacks occur when these plaque rupture and turn into clots.

Coronary artery spasm

Did you know you can experience a spasm immediately after a puff of smoke?

A brief tightening or constriction of the muscles in the wall of an artery that supplies blood to the heart is referred to as a coronary artery spasm. Part of the heart’s blood flow can be impeded or reduced by a spasm. A prolonged spasm can cause chest pain and possibly a heart attack.

People who usually experience coronary artery spasms don’t have typical heart disease risk factors like high cholesterol or high blood pressure. However, they are frequent smokers.


An erratic or irregular heartbeat is known as an arrhythmia. The scarring of the heart muscle caused by smoking can cause a fast or irregular heartbeat.Additionally, nicotine can cause arrhythmia by speeding up the heart rate.

One of the best things you can do for your heart is to stop smoking!

Did you know the positive impacts start to show as soon as you stop smoking?

After 20 minutes of quitting smoking, your heart rate begins to slow down.

In just 12 hours after quitting, the level of carbon monoxide in your blood returns to normal, allowing more oxygen to reach your heart and other vital organs.

12 to 24 hours after you stop smoking, blood pressure levels return to normal.

Your risk of developing coronary heart disease decreases by 50% after one year of no smoking.

So let us resolve to protect and improve heart health by saying no to tobacco!

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Religious cauldron being stirred; filthy rich in abjectly poor country



What a ho ha over a silly standup comedian’s stupid remarks about Prince Siddhartha. I have never watched this Natasha Edirisuriya’s supposedly comic acts on YouTube or whatever and did not bother to access derogatory remarks she supposedly introduced to a comedy act of hers that has brought down remand imprisonment on her up until June 6. Speaking with a person who has his ear to the ground and to the gossip grape wine, I was told her being remanded was not for what she said but for trying to escape consequences by flying overseas – to Dubai, we presume, the haven now of drug kingpins, money launderers, escapees from SL law, loose gabs, and all other dregs of society.

Of course, derogatory remarks on any religion or for that matter on any religious leader have to be taboo and contraveners reprimanded publicly and perhaps imposed fines. However, imprisonment according to Cassandra is too severe.

Just consider how the Buddha treated persons who insulted him or brought false accusations against him including the most obnoxious and totally improbable accusation of fatherhood. Did he even protest, leave along proclaim his innocence. Did he permit a member of the Sangha to refute the accusations? Not at all! He said aloud he did not accept the accusations and insults. Then he asked where the accusations would go to? Back to sender/speaker/accuser. That was all he said.

Thus, any person or persons, or even all following a religion which is maligned should ignore what was said. Let it go back and reside with the sayer/maligner. Of course, the law and its enforcers must spring to action and do the needful according to the law of the land.

One wonders why this sudden spurt of insults arrowed to Buddhism. Of course, the aim is to denigrate the religion of the majority in the land. Also perhaps with ulterior motives that you and Cass do not even imagine. In The Island of Wednesday May 31, MP Dilan Perera of Nidahas Janatha Sabawa (difficult to keep pace with birth of new political parties combining the same words like nidahas and janatha to coin new names) accused Jerome Fernando and Natasha E as “actors in a drama orchestrated by the government to distract people from the real issues faced by the masses.”

We, the public, cannot simply pooh pooh this out of hand. But is there a deeper, subtler aim embedded in the loose talk of Jerome and his followers? Do we not still shudder and shake with fear and sympathy when we remember Easter Sunday 2019 with its radical Muslim aim of causing chaos? It is said and believed that the Muslim radicals wanted not only to disrupt Christian prayer services on a holy day but deliver a blow to tourism by bombing hotels.

Then their expectation was a backlash from the Sinhalese which they hoped to crush by beheading approaching Sinhala avenging attackers with swords they had made and stacked. This is not Cass’ imagination running riot but what a Catholic Priest told us when we visited the Katuwapitiya Church a couple of weeks after the dastardly bombing.

It is believed and has been proclaimed there was a manipulating group led by one demented person who egged the disasters on with the double-edged evil aim of disrupting the land and then promising future security if … Hence, we cannot be so naïve as to believe that Jerome and Natasha were merely careless speakers. Who knows what ulterior moves were dictated to by power-mad black persons and made to brew in the national cauldron of discontent? Easiest was to bring to the boil religious conflict, since the races seem to be co-living harmoniously, mostly after the example of amity set before the land and internationally of Sri Lankans of all races, religions, social statuses and ages being able to unite during the Aragalaya.

We have already suffered more than our fair share of religious conflict. The LTTE exploded a vehicle laden with bombs opposite the Dalada Maligawa; shot at the Sacred Bo Tree, massacred a busload of mostly very young Buddhist monks in Aranthalawa. This was on June 2, 1987, particularly pertinent today. They killed Muslims at prayer in a mosque in Katankudy after ethnically cleansing Jaffna and adjoining areas of Muslim populations.

The Sinhalese, led by ultra-nationalists and drunken goons ravaged Tamils in 1983 and then off and on conflicted with Muslims. Hence the need to nip all and every religious conflict in the bud; no preachers/ Buddhist monks/overzealous lay persons, or comedians and media persons to be allowed to malign religions and in the name of religion cause conflict, least of all conflagration.

Comes to mind the worst case of religious intolerance, hate, revenge and unthinkable cruelty. Cass means here the prolonged fatwa declared against Salman Rushdie (1947-), British American novelist of Indian origin who had a ransom set aside for his life declared by the then leader of Iran, Ruhollah Khomeini, soon after Rushdie’s novel Satanic Verses was published in 1988. The British government diligently ensured his safety by hiding him in various places. After nearly two decades of tight security around him, he ventured to the US on an invited visit. He settled down in New York, believing he was now safe from the fatwa and mad men. It was not to be. In New York on stage to deliver a lecture in 2022, Rushdie was set upon by a lone assailant who stabbed him in the eye, blinding him in that eye and necessitating his wearing an eye band. What on earth was his crime? Writing a fictitious story to succeed many he had written and won prizes for like the Booker.

Religious fanaticism must never be permitted to raise its devilish head wherever, whenever.

Farmer’s fabulously rich son

Often quoted is the phrase coined by the Tourist Board, Cass believes, to describe Sri Lanka. Land like no other. It was completely complementary and justified when it was first used. We were an almost unique island where every prospect pleased, particularly its smiling, easy going people and the wonderful terrain of the land with varying altitudes, climates and fauna and flora.

Then with the decline of the country engineered and wrought by evil, self-gratifying politicians, their sidekicks and dishonest bureaucrats, disparities became stark. Sri Lanka is now in the very dumps: bankrupt, its social, economic and sustainability fabric in shreds and people suffering immensely. But since it is a land like no other with a different connotation, only certain of its population suffer and undergo deprivation and hardship. Others live grand even now and have money stashed high in–house and overseas in banks, businesses and dubious off shore dealings. Some lack the few rupees needed to travel in a bus but most political bods drive around in luxury cars; infants cry for milk and children for a scrap of bread or handful of rice. Plain tea is drunk by many to quell pangs of hunger while the corrupt VIPs quaff champaign and probably have exotic foods flown over from gourmet venues.

And most of those who drive luxury cars, eat and drink exotically and live the GOOD life, did not inherit wealth, nor earn it legitimately. Young men who had not a push bike to ride or Rs 25 to go on a school trip to Sigiriya are now fabulously wealthy. Cass does not want to list how they demonstrate immense wealth possession now.

One case in the news is Chaminda Sirisena, who seems to be very, very wealthy, wearing a ring that is valued at Rs 10 million, and then losing it to cause severe damnation to its stealer. Goodness! Cass cannot even imagine such a ring. Well, he lost it and 5,000 US $ and Rs 100,000. The suspect is his personal security guard. Having never heard of this brother of the ex Prez and he not being the paddy multimillionaire owning hotels, Cass googled. Here is short reply, “Chaminda Sirisena. Owner Success Lanka Innovative Company, Sri Lanka, 36 followers, 36 connections. (The last two bits of info completely incomprehensible and no desire at all to verify). He sure is comparable to Virgin Airways Branson and other top global entrepreneurs to become so wealthy being a son of a man who served in WWII and was given a small acreage to cultivate paddy in Polonnaruwa. When his brother Maitripala became Prez of Sri Lanka it was with pride the comparison was brought in to the American President who moved from log cabin to the White House.

Hence isn’t our beloved, now degraded Sri Lanka, a land like no other with Midases around?

We now have another maybe thief to worry about. No further news of the poor mother whose life was quashed for the sake of a gold ring, leaving three children motherless and probably destitute. When we were young, we were told very early on that if we lost anything it was more our fault; we were careless and placed temptation to less fortunate persons. The Tamil woman who died after being in remand was such a one who needed extra protection from temptation. To Cass her employer is more to blame for the probable theft and for the tragedy that followed.

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Snakes of Sri Lanka



By Ifham Nizam

Snake bites are a serious public health issue in Sri Lanka. It has been estimated that nearly 80,000 snake bites occur here every year.Due to fear and poor knowledge, hundreds of thousands of snakes, mostly non-venomous ones, are killed by humans each year.The state spends more than USD 10 million a year on treating snake bite patients.

According to health sector statistics between 30,000 and 40,000 snake bite patients receive treatment in hospitals annually, says Dr. Anjana Silva, who is Professor in Medical Parasitology, Head/ Department of Parasitology, Faculty of Medicine and Allied Sciences, Rajarata University.

To date, 93 land and 15 sea snake species have been recorded from Sri Lanka. While all 15 sea snakes are venomous, only 20% of the land snakes are venomous or potentially venomous.

The term, ‘venomous snakes’ does not mean they cause a threat to human lives every time they cause a bite. The snakes of highest medical importance are the venomous ones which are common or widespread and cause numerous snakebites, resulting in severe envenoming, disability or death,” says Dr. Silva who is also Adjunct Senior Research Fellow – Monash Venom Group,Department of Pharmacology, Faculty of Medicine, Nursing and Health Sciences, Monash University and Research Associate- South Asian Clinical Toxicology Research Collaboration, Faculty of Medicine, University of Peradeniya.

Only five snakes could be considered to be of the highest medical importance in Sri Lanka: Russell’s viper, Indian krait, Sri Lankan cobra, Merrem’s hump-nosed viper and Saw-scaled viper. All but Merrem’s hump-nosed vipers are covered by Indian Polyvalent antivenom, the only treatment available for snake bites in Sri Lanka.

There are another five snake species with secondary medical importance, which are venomous snakes and capable of causing morbidity, disability or death, but the bites are less frequent due to various reasons (Sri Lankan krait, Highland Hump-nosed viper, Lowland hump-nosed pit viper, Green-pit viper and Beaked sea snake)

The snakes of highest medical importance in Sri Lanka are as follows:

  1. Russell’s viper (Daboia russelii) (Sinhala: Thith Polanga/ Tamil: Kannadi viriyan)

Medically the most important snake in Sri Lanka. It is found throughout South Asia. It is responsible for about 30% of snake bites in Sri Lanka and also about 70% of deaths due to snake bites in Sri Lanka.

Some 2-5% bites by Russell’s viper are fatal. Widely distributed throughout the country up to the elevations of 1,500m from sea level. Highly abundant in paddy fields and farmlands but also found in dry zone forests and scrub lands. Bites occur more during the beginning and end of the farming seasons in dry zone. It can grow up to 1.3m in length. Most bites are reported during day time.

Over 85% of the bites are at the level of or below the ankle. It is a very aggressive snake when provoked. Spontaneous bleeding due to abnormalities in blood clotting and kidney failure have life-threatening effects.

Dr. Anjana Silva

  1. The Sri Lankan Russell’s vipers cause mild paralysis as well, which is not life threatening. Indian Polyvalent antivenom covers Russell’s viper envenoming. Deaths could be due to severe internal bleeding and acute renal failure.
  2. Indian Krait (Bungarus caeruleus) (Sinhala: Thel Karawala/ Maga Maruwa; Tamil: Yettadi virian/ Karuwelan Pambu)

It is distributed in India, Sri Lanka, Nepal, Bangladesh, Pakistan and Afghanistan. It is found across the lowland semi-arid, dry and intermediate zones of Sri Lanka. Almost absent in the wet zone. Usually, a non-offensive snake during the daytime; however, it could be aggressive at night.

Common kraits slither into human settlements at night looking for prey. People who sleep on the ground are prone to their bites.

Most common krait bites do occur at night. Bites are more common during the months of September to December when the north-east monsoon is active. Most hospital admissions of krait bites follow rainfall, even following a shower after several days or months without rain.

Since most bites do occur while the victim is asleep, the site of bite could be in any part of the body.

As bite sites have minimal or no effects, it would be difficult to find an exact bite site in some patients. Bite site usually is painless and without any swelling. Causes paralysis in body muscles which can rapidly lead to life threatening respiratory paralysis (breathing difficulty).

  1. Sri Lankan Cobra (Naja polyoccelata; Naja naja) Sinhala: Nagaya; Tami: Nalla pambu

Sri Lankan cobra is an endemic species in Sri Lanka. It is common in lowland (<1200m a.s.l), close to human settlements. Cobras are found on plantations and in home gardens, forests, grasslands and paddy fields. It is the only snake with a distinct hood in Sri Lanka.

Hood has a spectacle marking on the dorsal side and has two black spots and the neck usually has three black bands on the ventral side. When alarmed, cobras raise the hood and produce a loud hiss.

Cobra bites could occur below the knee. They are very painful and lead to severe swelling and tissue death around the affected place. Rapidly progressing paralysis could result from bites, sometimes leading to life-threatening respiratory paralysis (breathing difficulty). Deaths could also be due to cardiac arrest due to the venom effects.

  1. Merrem’s hump-nosed viper (Hypnale hypnale) Sinhala: Polon Thelissa/ Kunakatuwa; Tamil: Kopi viriyan.

Small pit-vipers grow up to 50cm in length. Head is flat and triangular with a pointed and raised snout. They are usually found coiled, they keep the heads at an angle of 45 degrees. Merrem’s Hump-nosed viper (Hypnale hypnale) is the medically most important Hump-nosed viper as it leads to 35-45% of all snake bites in Sri Lanka.

Merrem’s Hump-nosed vipers are very common in home gardens and on plantations and grasslands. Bites often happen during various activities in home gardens and also during farming activities in farmlands in both dry and wet zones. Hands and feet (below the ankle) are mostly bitten. Bites can often lead to local swelling and pain and at times, severe tissue death around the bite site may need surgical removal of dead tissue or even amputations. Rarely, patients could develop mild blood clotting abnormalities and acute kidney failure. Although rare, deaths are reported due to hypnale bites.

  1. Saw-scaled viper (Echis carinatus), Sinhala: Weli Polanga; Tamil: Surutai Viriyan

This species is widely distributed in South Asia. However, in Sri Lanka, it is restricted to dry coastal regions such as Mannar, Puttalam, Jaffna peninsula and Batticaloa. In Sri Lanka, this snake grows upto 40-50cm. It is a nocturnal snake which is fond of sand dunes close to the beach. It could be found under logs and stones during daytime. Bites are common during January and February.

It is a very aggressive snake. A distinct, white colour ‘bird foot shape’ mark or a ‘diamond shape’ mark could be seen over the head. When alarmed, it makes a hissing sound by rubbing the body scales. Although this snake causes frequent severe envenoming and deaths in other countries, its bites are relatively less severe in Sri Lanka. Bites could lead to mild to moderate swelling and pain on the affected place and blood clotting abnormalities and haemorrhage and rarely it could lead to kidney failure.



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