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Height of idiocy!

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By Dr Upul Wijayawardhana

 

It is no surprise that ordinary people behave irresponsibly when some members of the noble profession behave idiotically! I do not blame anyone who has come to this inevitable conclusion after the faux-pas in Gampola Hospital. The idiotic behaviour of some doctors have not only brought our profession into disrepute but also inconvenienced the public; perhaps, endangered people’s lives by causing the closure of some services and, thereby, causing patients to travel far for treatment during a raging epidemic.

Whilst the many members of the medical profession fighting to save lives and controlling the epidemic are too busy to communicate with media personnel, others who are partly ‘released’ for trade union activities have ample time and are in the news all the time. At a time when the public expects them to cooperate with the government to tackle a grave public health emergency, they are busy picking holes in everything, never coming up with solutions. Further, spokespersons from different unions give differing opinions. It would be an interesting conjecture how the premier trade union of doctors would have behaved if its President had been appointed the secretary to the ministry of health!

This sort of idiotic behaviour is not the preserve of Sri Lanka. Boris Johnson, the British Prime Minister lost public sympathy when he defended his chief of staff who had violated quarantine regulations at the very beginning of the epidemic. Although he did not sack his top aide immediately, he had to do so six months later.

Now comes even greater a tale of idiocy from the UK. Sky News is the only commercial TV channel, other than the public-funded BBC, to have 24-hour coverage of news in the UK and their presenters have been very tough with politicians during news conferences, especially regarding the breaches of quarantine regulations by the PM’s aide. One of Sky News’ star journalists, who presents the breakfast show, decided to celebrate her sixtieth birthday with nine of her senior colleagues breaking not one but many Covid-19 regulations. Their holier-than-thou attitude has turned out to be blatant hypocrisy!

By the way, the only thing UK does better than Sri Lanka during the epidemic is having regular press briefings with appointed representatives whereas in Sri Lanka our politicians who talk at cross-purposes, confusing the public. This was highlighted in the news item “Laboratory scientists ask govt. not to promote untested COVID-19 cures” (The Island, 10 December). President of the College of Medical Laboratory Science, Ravi Kumudesh has said “Twenty-two ‘cures’ for COVID-19 have been introduced by practitioners of alternative medicine in Sri Lanka and they were promoted by both the media and the Ministry of Health. These practitioners of alternative medicine pop up periodically and they have been given unnecessary publicity. The Health Ministry has encouraged these people and this has confused the public.” Well said!

Claims of Covid-19 cures seem to have created mayhem. Just looking at the jostling crowds struggling to receive free doses of the ‘magic potion’ makes one wonder whether what is on the way is a crop than a cure! However, that there is support for purported cures, even from the so-called intelligentsia came as a bit of shock to me but in a way.

One of my close friends, who is a former ambassador, has set up two WhatsApp groups for professionals with an interest in diplomacy and foreign relations. Whilst being very thankful that he included me in both groups, maybe because of our friendship, I have not been an active participant knowing my limitations in these fields. However, by reading the posts I have been able to educate myself by the discussions among some very prominent persons in these fields. Unfortunately, reading the comments of some others has been interesting in a totally different way; at best these have been entertaining but at worst, they have been very depressing; that some educated people show total lack of commonsense.

I am amazed by the attempts of some of these ‘intellectuals’ to propagate anti-vaccine propaganda going to the extent of stating that COVID-19 was engineered and released for the sake of vaccine business. There is no doubt that Big Pharma is out for big profits but that should not take us away from the fact that they are a necessary evil. Maybe, we should find avenues to subdue them. Most of us are waiting for the Oxford vaccine to be approved for use not only because it is a vaccine made out of modified virus than a tiny part of it but also because it is a non-profit venture with Astra Zeneca.

One of the members of the Whatapp group has forwarded a video produced by an extreme religious organisation that opposes abortion questioning the methods of viral modification for this vaccine! I am amazed at the idiocy of these individuals who fail to understand that small pox was eradicated in 1980 thanks to vaccination. Since the WHO started an initiative in 1988 to rid the world of polio, again by vaccination, the number of cases has fallen by 99%. Of the three strains of polio, type 2 was declared eradicated in 1999 and type 3 in 2012. Wild polio type 1 is still in circulation in only two countries: Afghanistan and Pakistan. Until circulation is stopped in them, we cannot consider polio to be completely eradicated but it is within grasp. It is a pity that these pundits fail to realise the continuing damage done to many young lives by parents refusing the MMR jab based on the flawed and dishonest research by a British doctor. Measles has flared up in the West with resultant brain damage in some children.

Talking of smallpox, I am reminded of an interesting episode that occurred in late 1978 or early 1979. At the invitation of the Indian Medical Association, I attended its anniversary session held in Cochin as the representative of the Sri Lanka Medical Association. I was fortunate enough to sit on the podium just behind Prime Minister Morarji Desai, who was the chief Guest for the valedictory session. In one of the most undiplomatic speeches, I have listened to, Morarji attacked modern medicine and claimed that he had his own system of medicine which was greeted with peals of laughter from the audience,

which knew he was referring to his habit of drinking own urine! Not to be outdone, the secretary of the congress who was a Bacteriologist, decided to reciprocate by pointing out that modern medicine had just eradicated smallpox. Irritated, Morarji turned to the President and said “Is this a vote of thanks?” When the President tried to intervene Morarji said, “Let him go on”. Good old Morarji! He was in his centenary year when he died; perhaps, his system of medicine helped him!

Comments by some ‘intellectuals’ in the WhatsApp groups on the much-hyped Ayurvedic cure for Covid-19 are laughable and doubts are raised about their intellectual capacity. The one that takes the cake stated:

“Yes, if it came packed in a bottle with a western name the Western doctors who are a part of the support structure of the pharmaceutical conspiracy would have approved it as a medicine.

A medicine that has no after effects and is a pure cure is not worthy of being approved as a medicine in the country which has a tradition of over fifteen thousand years old medicinal system! Disgusting”

As I mentioned, I simply am a passive reader of these groups but had I been an active contributor, my response would have been:

“We are not western doctors; we are Sri Lankan doctors who practise science-based medicine. We are not a part of any pharmaceutical conspiracy but prescribe drugs that have been extensively tested and approved by regulatory authorities.

Without testing how can you claim that it is a pure cure and that it has no after effects?

Have you read my articles in The Island; “Peddling ‘snake oil’” (17 October), “Gone to pot” (17 November) and “Can ‘alternative medicine’ do harm?” (7 December) you would have understood how drugs are tested and approve, and also that decoctions too can do harm.

Where is the proof that we have an ‘over fifteen thousand years old medicinal system’? What we boast of as our system is a borrowed system. Remember, Ayurveda is from India!”

It is interesting that India, the home of Ayurveda, has not developed an Ayurvedic cure but one of ours has done so, inspired by a Hindu goddess! Maybe, Hindu gods and goddesses are more interested in Sri Lanka’s welfare!

Any cure is most welcome for this dreaded epidemic and if by any rare chance this concoction is proved effective, on top of saving lives it would be able to salvage our economy too. However, giving support and publicity before safety and efficacy is proved is the height of idiocy!



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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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