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‘Colombo’ and its alleged ‘advanced consciousness’

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by Malinda Seneviratne

Consolation prizes there will always be. All it takes is a poker face, ability to cherry-pick and a veneer of analytical sophistication. Well, sometimes even less than that. The United National Party (UNP) has the ‘plus’ of starting from scratch. The Jathika Vimukthi Peramuna (JVP), which led the Jathika Jana Balavegaya (JJB) has the ‘plus’ of the coalition obtaining 27,405 more votes than Anura Kumara Dissanayake polled at the 2019 Presidential Election (an ‘up’ from 3.16% to 3.84%).

The Samagi Jana Balavegaya (SJB) having come second obviously has a greater field to pick positives from. It’s a brand new party, barely six months old, some have pointed out, carefully leaving aside the fact that the SJB is essentially a re-branded UNP; the UNP voter simply migrating to the SJB. SJB spokespersons frequently portrayed the August 5 election as ‘a battle for Sirikotha.’ That subplot does give bragging rights, the UNP having secured just a single slot (courtesy the national list) and SJB leader Sajith Premadasa’s rival Ranil Wickremesinghe failing to make it to Parliament for the first time in 43 years.

Among the strangest clutch-at-straw consolations is one expressed by staunch Sajith Premadasa backer Dayan Jayatillake. Check out how the intelligentsia voted, he urges in an analysis titled ‘The election result and the intelligentsia’ (in the website www.colombotelegraph.com).

Now ascribing qualities is not hard when you play the pick-n-choose game. Use some heavy theoretical words and you might even sound half-way intelligent. There are many ways to read the results and confusion of the intelligentsia (the section that’s painted as being the more positive of the two classes) is but one. Dayan, having backed  Sajith Premadasa (Presidential Election 2019) and the SJB, throws shade at the SLPP and the 6.9 million who voted for the pohottuwa. No surprises there. Then he maps out ‘resistance’ against the winners/villains as per his theorizing. No surprises there either. All in a day’s work for a party loyalist.

That’s all very interesting and even a tad amusing, but what takes the cake is his reading of the ‘Colombo Result.’  Check this out.

‘Perhaps the most striking datum is that in Colombo city (not the district), the metropolis with the most advanced consciousness and pluralist composition, neither the UNP nor the JVP survived, but the SJB swept through, defeating the mighty Pohottuwa.’

The SJB did win handsomely in the said areas. Consider the numbers: Colombo North 41,059 (64.9%), Colombo Central 64,692 (73.39%). Borella 20,450 (48.31%), Colombo East 20,538 (46.58%) and Colombo West 16,521 (64.82%). One could add Dehiwala too, the only other electorate in the Colombo District that the SJB won: 18,611 (44.92%) over the 18,244 (44.03%) that the SLPP polled.

There is plurality in composition in these areas, correct. How does one conclude ‘advanced consciousness’ though? The previous avatars of the ‘mighty pohottuwa’ (United People’s Freedom Alliance and People’s Alliance and before that it’s major party, the Sri Lanka Freedom Party) were roundly defeated in these electorates in all elections, local government, provincial councils, parliamentary elections and presidential elections.  The results-maps of the relevant elections tell the story. Colombo city electorates are green. Almost permanently.

Dayan Jayatilleka’s political loyalties weren’t always with the winners of the respective elections. Was his ‘consciousness’ in decline at such moments when he stood against the majority decision of the respective voters? Is it that there was a conspicuous rise in the consciousness among voters in these electorates after the SJB was formed, the voters having been of low-consciousness when they voted for the Ranil Wickremesinghe led UNP? Dayan has been highly critical (mild term) of Ranil Wickremesinghe for years, his ire traceable I believe to the time Wickremesinghe was made leader of the UNP.

Dayan at different times backed President Chandrika Kumaratunga and President Mahinda Rajapaksa. I can’t remember him ever applauding Ranil Wickremesinghe. The UNP, obviously, went against parties/coalitions led by Kumaratunga and Rajapaksa during such periods and whatever their fortunes were island-wide, they lost to Ranil’s UNP by margins similar or even greater than notched by the SJB in the Colombo city electorates. Was Dayan’s consciousness less than that of the ‘advanced consciousness’ of the voter in these electorates on such occasions? Was the relevant voter less conscious then than he/she is now?  Has the UNP always been endowed with a consciousness more advanced than other political parties? How does one measure consciousness, anyway? Is agreement with Dayan Jayatilleka the deciding factor?  Is Dayan doing this consciously or unconsciously?

Yes, the UNP was unceremoniously defeated in the said electorates, but as mentioned at the beginning, it is simplistic to think that the voters of Colombo East, Colombo West, Borella, Colombo North and Colombo Central saw Sajith and the SJB as entities without even a blush of green. The UNP split. That’s a fact. There was the formal UNP and there was the SJB. Just like the UNP and DUNF (led by Lalith Athulathmudali and Gamini Dissanayake). Just like the SLFP-S (Sirimavo’s faction) and SLFP-M (Maithripala Senanayake’s faction) in the eighties. Just like the SLFP (led by Maithripala Sirisena) and the SLPP (led by Mahinda Rajapaksa) not too long ago. The voters didn’t migrate to the enemy camp; they merely picked one faction over the other.

A few years ago, Rosy Senanayake came out with an interesting observation. She said ‘Colombo is the heart of the United National Party.’  When that’s all you’ve got, you have to say nice things about it. ‘Heart’ sounds nicer than toenails, for example. ‘Advanced Consciousness’ gives some respectability. I won’t grudge that considering the pickings for Dayan’s (current) friends on August 5 were particularly poor. On the other hand, he is essentially saying that the consciousness levels of the voters in all electorates outside Colombo are not advanced. Low? Abysmal? Non-existent?

Here’s a poser. Will Sajith Premadasa or any other spokesperson for the SJB affirm Dayan’s thesis? Will Sajith (or anyone else) say ‘The voters of Colombo North, Colombo Central, Colombo East, Colombo West and Borella are endowed with a consciousness more advanced than voters in any other electorate’?

malindasenevi@gmail.com. www.malindawords.blogspot.com.

 



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Features

Strong on vocals

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The group Mirage is very much alive, and kicking, as one would say!

Their lineup did undergo a few changes and now they have decided to present themselves as an all male group – operating without a female vocalist.

At the helm is Donald Pieries (drums and vocals), Trevin Joseph (percussion and vocals), Dilipa Deshan (bass and vocals), Toosha Rajarathna (keyboards and vocals), and Sudam Nanayakkara (lead guitar and vocals).

The plus factor, where the new lineup is concerned, is that all five members sing.

However, leader Donald did mention that if it’s a function, where a female vocalist is required, they would then feature a guest performer.

Mirage is a very experience outfit and they now do the Friday night scene at the Irish Pub, in Colombo, as well as private gigs.

 

 

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Dichotomy of an urban-suburban New Year

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Ushered in by the ‘coo-ee’ of the Koel and the swaying of Erabadu bunches, the Sinhala and Tamil New Year will dawn in the wee hours of April 14. With houses to clean, preparation of sweetmeats and last-minute shopping, times are hectic…. and the streets congested.

It is believed that New Year traditions predated the advent of Buddhism in the 3rd century BC. But Buddhism resulted in a re-interpretation of the existing New Year activities in a Buddhist light. Hinduism has co-existed with Buddhism over millennia and no serious contradiction in New Year rituals are observed among Buddhists and Hindus.

The local New Year is a complex mix of Indigenous, Astrological, Hindu, and Buddhist traditions. Hindu literature provides the New Year with its mythological backdrop. The Prince of Peace called Indradeva is said to descend upon the earth to ensure peace and happiness, in a white carriage wearing on his head a white floral crown seven cubits high. He first plunges, into a sea of milk, breaking earth’s gravity.

The timing of the Sinhala New Year coincides with the New Year celebrations of many traditional calendars of South and Southeast Asia. Astrologically, the New Year begins when the sun moves from the House of Pisces (Meena Rashiya) to the House of Aries (Mesha Rashiya) in the celestial sphere.

The New Year marks the end of the harvest season and spring. Consequently, for farming communities, the traditional New Year doubles as a harvest as well. It also coincides with one of two instances when the sun is directly above Sri Lanka. The month of Bak, which coincides with April, according to the Gregorian calendar, represents prosperity. Astrologers decide the modern day rituals based on auspicious times, which coincides with the transit of the Sun between ‘House of Pisces’ and ‘House of Aries’.

Consequently, the ending of the old year, and the beginning of the new year occur several hours apart, during the time of transit. This period is considered Nonegathe, which roughly translates to ‘neutral period’ or a period in which there are no auspicious times. During the Nonegathe, traditionally, people are encouraged to engage themselves in meritorious and religious activities, refraining from material pursuits. This year the Nonegathe begin at 8.09 pm on Tuesday, April 13, and continues till 8.57 am on 14. New Year dawns at the halfway point of the transit, ushered in bythe sound of fire crackers, to the woe of many a dog and cat of the neighbourhood. Cracker related accidents are a common occurrence during new year celebrations. Environmental and safety concerns aside, lighting crackers remain an integral part of the celebrations throughout Sri Lanka.

This year the Sinhala and Tamil New Year dawns on Wednesday, April 14, at 2.33 am. But ‘spring cleaning’ starts days before the dawn of the new year. Before the new year the floor of houses are washed clean, polished, walls are lime-washed or painted, drapes are washed, dried and rehang. The well of the house is drained either manually or using an electric water pump and would not be used until such time the water is drawn for first transaction. Sweetmeats are prepared, often at homes, although commercialization of the new year has encouraged most urbanites to buy such food items. Shopping is a big part of the new year. Crowds throng to clothing retailers by the thousands. Relatives, specially the kids, are bought clothes as presents.

Bathing for the old year takes place before the dawn of the new year. This year this particular auspicious time falls on April 12, to bathe in the essence of wood apple leaves. Abiding by the relevant auspicious times the hearth and an oil lamp are lit and pot of milk is set to boil upon the hearth. Milk rice, the first meal of the year, is prepared separate. Entering into the first business transaction and partaking of the first meal are also observed according to the given auspicious times. This year, the auspicious time for preparing of meals, milk rice and sweets using mung beans, falls on Wednesday, April 14 at 6.17 am, and is to be carried out dressed in light green, while facing east. Commencement of work, transactions and consumption of the first meal falls on Wednesday, April 14 at 7.41 am, to be observed while wearing light green and facing east.

The first transaction was traditionally done with the well. The woman of the house would draw water from the well and in exchange drop a few pieces of charcoal, flowers, coins, salt and dried chillies into the well, in certain regions a handful of paddy or rice is also thrown in for good measure. But this ritual is also dying out as few urban homes have wells within their premises. This is not a mere ritual and was traditionally carried out with the purification properties of charcoal in mind. The first water is preferably collected into an airtight container, and kept till the dawn of the next new year. It is believed that if the water in the container does not go down it would be a prosperous year. The rituals vary slightly based on the region. However, the essence of the celebrations remains the same.

Anointing of oil is another major ritual of the New Year celebrations. It falls on Saturday, April 17 at 7.16 am, and is done wearing blue, facing south, with nuga leaves placed on the head and Karada leaves at the feet. Oil is to be applied mixed with extracts of Nuga leaves. The auspicious time for setting out for professional occupations falls on Monday, April 19 at 6.39 am, while dressed in white, by consuming a meal of milk rice mixed with ghee, while facing South.

Traditionally, women played Raban during this time, but such practices are slowly being weaned out by urbanization and commercialisation of the New Year. Neighbours are visited with platters of sweetmeats, bananas, Kevum (oil cake) and Kokis (a crispy sweetmeat) usually delivered by children. The dichotomy of the urban and village life is obvious here too, where in the suburbs and the village outdoor celebrations are preferred and the city opts for more private parties.

 

 

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New Year games: Integral part of New Year Celebrations

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Food, games and rituals make a better part of New Year celebrations. One major perk of Avurudu is the festivals that are organised in each neighbourhood in its celebration. Observing all the rituals, like boiling milk, partaking of the first meal, anointing of oil, setting off to work, are, no doubt exciting, but much looked-forward-to is the local Avurudu Uthsawaya.

Avurudu Krida or New Year games are categorised as indoor and outdoor games. All indoor games are played on the floor and outdoor games played during the Avurudu Uthsava or New Year festival, with the whole neighbourhood taking part. Some of the indoor games are Pancha Dameema, Olinda Keliya and Cadju Dameema. Outdoor games include Kotta pora, Onchili pedeema, Raban geseema, Kana mutti bindeema, Placing the eye on the elephant, Coconut grating competition, Bun-eating competition, Lime-on-spoon race, Kamba adeema (Tug-o-War) and Lissana gaha nageema (climbing the greased pole). And what’s an Avurudhu Uthsava sans an Avurudu Kumari pageant, minus the usual drama that high profile beauty pageants of the day entail, of course.

A salient point of New Year games is that there are no age categories. Although there are games reserved for children such as blowing of balloons, races and soft drinks drinking contests, most other games are not age based.

Kotta pora aka pillow fights are not the kind the average teenagers fight out with their siblings, on plush beds. This is a serious game, wherein players have to balance themselves on a horizontal log in a seated position. With one hand tied behind their back and wielding the pillow with the other, players have to knock the opponent off balance. Whoever knocks the opponent off the log first, wins. The game is usually played over a muddy pit, so the loser goes home with a mud bath.

Climbing the greased pole is fun to watch, but cannot be fun to take part in. A flag is tied to the end of a timber pole-fixed to the ground and greased along the whole length. The objective of the players is to climb the pole, referred to as the ‘tree’, and bring down the flag. Retrieving the flag is never achieved on the first climb. It takes multiple climbers removing some of the grease at a time, so someone could finally retrieve the flag.

Who knew that scraping coconut could be made into an interesting game? During the Avurudu coconut scraping competition, women sit on coconut scraper stools and try to scrape a coconut as fast as possible. The one who finishes first wins. These maybe Avurudu games, but they are taken quite seriously. The grated coconut is inspected for clumps and those with ungrated clumps are disqualified.

Coconut palm weaving is another interesting contest that is exclusive to women. However men are by no means discouraged from entering such contests and, in fact, few men do. Participants are given equally measured coconut fronds and the one who finishes first wins.

Kana Mutti Bindima involves breaking one of many water filled clay pots hung overhead, using a long wooden beam. Placing the eye on the elephant is another game played while blindfolded. An elephant is drawn on a black or white board and the blindfolded person has to spot the eye of the elephant. Another competition involves feeding the partner yoghurt or curd while blindfolded.

The Banis-eating contest involves eating tea buns tied to a string. Contestants run to the buns with their hands tied behind their backs and have to eat buns hanging from a string, on their knees. The one who finishes his or her bun first, wins. Kamba adeema or Tug-o-War pits two teams against each other in a test of strength. Teams pull on opposite ends of a rope, with the goal being to bring the rope a certain distance in one direction against the force of the opposing team’s pull.

Participants of the lime-on-spoon race have to run a certain distance while balancing a lime on a spoon, with the handle in their mouths. The first person to cross the finish line without dropping the lime wins. The sack race and the three-legged race are equally fun to watch and to take part in. In the sack race, participants get into jute sacks and hop for the finish line. The first one over, wins. In the three-legged race one leg of each pair of participants are tied together and the duo must reach the finish line by synchronising their running, else they would trip over their own feet.

Pancha Dameema is an indoor game played in two groups, using five small shells, a coconut shell and a game board. Olinda is another indoor board game, normally played by two players. The board has nine holes, four beads each. The player who collects the most number of seeds win.

This is the verse sung while playing the game:

“Olinda thibenne koi koi dese,

Olinda thibenne bangali dese…

Genath hadanne koi koi dese,

Genath hadanne Sinhala dese…”

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