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Diego Maradona: They are crying for him in Argentina!



by Rajan Philips

The 1986 World Cup in Mexico was the first and the only World Cup tournament that I have watched live – every match from the early rounds to the final. Argentina won the tournament, beating Germany 3-2 in the finals. Diego Maradona was the Argentinian captain. He was 26. It was not just Maradona led his team to victory, he carried the whole team throughout the tournament. He owned the tournament. Argentina was a strong team, but not a cup favourite when the tournament started. France and Brazil were. But they met in the quarterfinals, and France edged past Brazil in a penalty shootout. And then the Germans upset the favoured French in the semis and unexpectedly found a spot in the finals.

Argentina’s route to the final was more dramatic and convincing, beating England in the quarterfinals, and then besting Belgium in the semis, both high quality matches. It is the quarterfinal encounter between Argentina and England and Maradona’s two goals in it that became the stuff of legend and made him a permanent national icon in his country. It was the first encounter between the two countries in any forum after the Falklands war four years earlier. There was much riding on it for both teams, if not the two countries. The world was watching.

England was not a bad team. In fact, it was a good team, perhaps the best English team to be assembled after the World Cup winning famous home team of 1966, and the unfortunately losing team four years later, also in Mexico. Captained by the impressive Bryan Robson, the 1986 team had in its ranks among others, the tournament’s best goal keeper in Peter Shilton; the winner of the Golden boot for scoring the highest number of tournament goals, Gary Lineker; and a formidable left-winger in John Barnes, the only Black Player in a European team at that time. Unfortunately, skipper Robson was injured during the second round and was ruled out for the quarterfinal against Argentina.

Argentina won the World Cup at home in 1978, two years after the country had come under military dictatorship. Maradona should have played then but was left out of the team because he was considered too young at 18. He made his debut in 1982, in Spain, but the tournament was a disaster for Maradona and his team. It was also the year of the Falkland war and Argentina had just been ‘defeated’ by Britain then under Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, more imperious than the Monarch. A deflated Argentinian team was eliminated in the second round, and Maradona was the target of pre-meditated foul play by every team that he faced. In his final match against Brazil, Maradona returned the foul favour and was thrown out of the field. One year later in 1983, the military dictatorship was overthrown, and democracy was restored. And national football no longer had to be the political football of military juntas.

The match started tight and balanced and the first half ended goalless. Then Maradona took over and cast his magical spell in a span of four minutes. At the 51st minute, Maradona cut in from the left, made a pass to and kept moving looking for the return pass, but the return came from the defending miscue of the English midfielder, Steve Hodge. The ball looped into the penalty box between Maradona and the English goalie. The much shorter Maradona leapt for a header with his left hand raised. The ball went off the left hand and the officials missed it. There was no replay those days and the goal stood. England felt cheated but the Argentinians didn’t care. It became the ‘hand of God goal’, after Maradona famously described it as the goal scored “a little with the head of Maradona and a little with the hand of God.” Any misgiving about it was erased with what Maradona did four minutes later.

Maradona got a pass inside his own half and then started a 60-yard, 10-second sprint smothering four English players along the way, some of them twice. Inside the penalty box, he fooled the experienced Shilton with a feint and as Shilton stumbled and fell on his backside, Maradona tapped in the “goal of the century.” The Scottish commentator who was on my TV channel ecstatically exclaimed: “Maradona ran through the entire English side to score the goal of the century.” England came back thirty minutes later with a respectable Lineker goal off a delightful long cross from the left by Barnes. It was too little, too late. Maradona was gracious in victory. He complimented the English defenders for playing fair. He called them the noblest of footballers. Any other team, he said, would have cut him down halfway through.

Short at 5’5’’ but mightily sturdy, Maradona was unique as a complete a football player who could do anything in any position on the field. At the tensest moment in a World Cup match he would grab the ball from a teammate to make the throw himself from the sideline. He wanted to direct the play all the time, and had a 360 degree field view. He scored another memorable goal in the semi final against Belgium and made the perfect pass for the winning goal against Germany in the final. Off the field, he became the organic embodiment of the frustrations and aspirations of a mass of followers within Argentina and across Latin America. After a short stint in Barcelona, he took his football to Napoli in Italy and became the raucous idol of that raucous City – taking them to championship victories twice in a row.

In 2000, FIFA declared Maradona and Pele as the sport’s two greatest players. Brazil’s Pele, who won three World Cups in 1958, 1962 and 1970, is the poster boy of decorum. Maradona was the erratic genius in every way. But he did not hurt anybody except himself ever since he became addicted to cocaine, that ruined his football and caused his early death at the age of sixty. Born to poverty and raised with the resourcefulness of a street urchin, Maradona reached fame and glory in a continent that finds its opium in football. He was loved by his fans and has left a nation in mourning, officially for three days and otherwise forever.

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Strong on vocals



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



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



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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