Hindu Ladies College and Peninsula idyll
Excerpted from Chosen Ground: The Clara Motwani saga
by Goolbai Gunasekera
Mrs. Visaladhy Sivagurunathan, a philanthropic Hindu lady, had gifted the property of Hindu Ladies’ College to the school in 1943. Mother was the school’s fifth Principal. Under her, the first Past Pupils’ Association was formed, with Mrs. Jeevaratnam Rasiah as its first President. Miss Thambu (Mother’s long suffering Tamil tutor) was its Secretary. Just recently, I was invited to speak to the Colombo branch of the HLC alumni.
I met a former HLC teacher there – Mrs Navaratna, formerly Leela Ponniah – along with many old friends. The reverence in which Mother was held was very heart- warming, and it was a moving experience to hear the stories they related of instances in which Mother had touched – and sometimes directed – their lives.
A glamour figure on the HLC campus was a Miss Shantha from India. She wore the most gorgeous saris and influenced my love of cotton saris in years to come. It is strange indeed that one’s perceptions can be so acutely honed when one is still so young. To this day I can recall most of Miss Shantha’s wardrobe.
Another fantastically good teacher was Vijayalakshmi Pathy. She was also one of the most attractive. She absorbed all Mother’s teaching methods; and her family in Britain, where she now lives, is a testimony to her fine guidance as a mother and grandmother, and not only as a teacher.
Picnics in Jaffna were given top priority. Mother liked to combine education with pleasure, so every picnic had some place of interest on the day’s agenda. We visited the Rosarian monks’ vineyards and place of retreat. We went to Keerimalai, which is a fresh water tank lying a few yards away from the sea. Bathing suits were not a part of our school wardrobes, but even in sarongs and bathing cloths we essayed a swimming stroke or two.
Visits to other schools were another distraction. Mother arranged netball matches with many Jaffna schools and colleges, and I particularly remember one with Vembadi Girls’ School, for I made a friend, Kiruba Moses, whom I remember to this day.
Mother was quickly drawn into the educational world of Jaffna. Miss Barker of Vembadi was a dose friend and Principals’ meetings were many. Being somewhat young at the time, many illustrious names have now escaped me. I do recall having tea with Lady Ramanathan, the British wife of the founder of Ramanathan College. Her daughter, Mrs. Nadesan, was the nominal Head of that school but it was the senior Lady Ramanathan who pretty much ran things. Transport was occasionally in cars – often in buggy carts.
Athough Mother did not keep diaries that recorded her personal experiences, she was a great one to keep detailed notes of the educational aspects of her life. That she would keep notes on my progress was to be expected, but they were not the sort of notes one expects of a mother: they were the notes of an educationist. In years to come I was not enchanted to read: ‘Goolbai would do better in Mathematics if she were not so over confident. This carries over into other subjects too, I find’.
Whatever Mother thought of my shortcomings as a student, she positively glowed at my accomplishments in Jaffna. Her notes took on a lyrical quality. She rhapsodized: ‘My experiments seemed to have worked at last, and Goolbai is really doing so well I can hardly credit it’. Never could it be said that dilly-dallying was one of Mother’s failings. Taking the tide at its flood she arranged for all the new academic interest I was showing to be further enhanced by a little advanced private tuition in Science.
My classmate Thilaka Karunanandan had a brother who had just finished his degree and was reputedly a brilliant scholar. Mother asked him if he would kindly tutor me in his spare time. He did.
When I was not studying on my own I was being tutored regularly. Along with my classmates, I played netball, studied, sang Tamil songs (which I quickly picked up) in the evenings, studied, had long icily refreshing well baths, studied, saw a movie once a month, studied and then studied some more.
My mind was soon becoming as razor-sharp as those of the brilliant Tamil girls with whom I was now competing although, truth to tell, I was never in their league. The students of HLC had the tenacity of Bruce’s spider. They were always on an upward track.
“But what did you do in Jaffna?” Colombo friends would ask Mother later.
“We were always doing something,” Mother would answer, and we were.
Socially, a lot went on behind those cadjan walls that screened the houses and gardens of Jaffna residences from the road. Right opposite our home and almost next to the school lived Dr. and Mrs. Canagasabai and their family. Dr. Canagasabai – a Malaya returned doctor, whose youngest daughter Dharma, had just left school –quickly struck up a friendship with us.
Dr. Canagasabai had a very large garden with a badminton court and every evening we would play strenuous matches with the Canagasabai nieces, nephews and friends. It was a sort of informal club. On moonlit nights picnics would be arranged to beaches and similar places, with no thought of danger in anyone’s mind. It was a time of peace. It was a time of friendship. These were the last few years before politics and politicians divided the island as surely as if they had taken a metaphorical knife and cut this lovely land and its people in half.
Sincerity, simplicity and affection were
what Mother found in Jaffna. She had expected immovable bastions of conservatism. She found instead pliable minds and flexible brains. Jaffna has always remained a special place to the Motwanis. Before the 1983 tragedy stopped travel to the North, I took my husband and daughter to revisit my old school. It was a nostalgic time.
The school was on vacation but I had the permission of the Principal to wander through it. Buildings had quadrupled in size but the familiar classrooms still stood. I recalled with a shudder the time I opened my desk and found that a little snake had got in through the inkwell. Could this have been the very desk perhaps? There was still an inkwell in it.
Mother had begun the study of Tamil a week after she got to Jaffna. Our brand-new house had a broad veranda running right around it. An enormous desk occupied the shady side of it, and it was here that Mother had her lessons. She could never rid herself of that very American trait which had every waking moment gainfully utilized. Despite a heavy work schedule, Mother seriously tried to learn the language.
“Did she ever pick it up?” I asked her teacher, Thailnayagi Thambu (now Karunanandan) recently.
“She was not in Jaffna long enough to really get into it,” was the tactful reply. Mother’s flair for languages did not translate well into the Oriental variety. She was considered the class wizard in Latin, French and Spanish but somehow her ear was not attuned to Sinhala and Tamil. Neither was it vital to learn either language when she first came to this island as the British still ruled and everything was in English. Father, on the other hand, picked up Sinhala in three months and was soon well able to berate our long suffering cook-amme in an understandable lingo.
I drifted into Mother’s old office. It was still the same office but very modernized. It was here Mother had drilled her teachers in the requirements of the Dalton Plan.
This plan was a system she had greatly admired when visiting the Dalton School in New York. It required that teachers made detailed plans of their subject, and students were given these plans in the form of six-weekly advance schedules. A gifted student could then even proceed on her own, while a weak one could get help before the subject was taken up in class. At the Dalton School in New York, which I attended for a short time, I never got beyond History and English — but I did complete those syllabuses to Mother’s satisfaction.
“Your Mother motivated us instantly,” said Miss Leela Navaratne (nee Ponniah). “We understood the Plan, and it was brilliant from the start.” Of course it worked well. The teachers of Jaffna were born with that same workaholic gene that Mother was finding in her pupils.
As I left the familiar grounds I took one long last look around. I somehow knew I would never see HLC again. Visits to Jaffna take a long time, and were not planned too easily even at that time. The memory of the picture my tall, lovely and gracious Mother made as she said her goodbye to the girls and Staff at Assembly that last day, is still fresh in my heart. And in my own heart the remembrance of Jaffna will always be green.
Our lovely days of quietness and harmony in Jaffna had drawn to a close and Mother returned to Colombo to head Musaeus College. One footnote that bears telling is that thanks to Mother’s recommendation, Dharma Canagasabai became an air hostess on the newly fledged Air Ceylon soon after Mother returned to Colombo.
It cannot be said that I am one of those persons who look at the past through a rose-tinted veil. I do not think that my school days were the happiest times of my life. During my childhood, and even during the teen years, life was restrictive. It was often pleasant, but that was more the luck of the draw. Parents did not lay themselves out to entertain their children or keep them happy. They saw to it that we were reasonably well disciplined and well fed. Our ongoing happiness was not their problem. They had no reason to assume we were anything but totally contented. Today’s collective genuflecting at the shrine of teenage whims and fancies was simply not on.
Mother and Father did not expect either Su or me to feel depressed, insecure, uncertain or unsure. What cause did we have, parents would ask each other in honest bewilderment, to be any of the above? They saw to it that we were told all they felt we needed to know. We went straight from girlhood to adulthood with no dithering along the way. One day we looked like nothing on earth in sober uniforms, tightly braided hair and bright shiny faces, and the very next day we were in a sari (of Mother’s choice or else the choice of Mr. Chandiram, proprietor of the ‘in’ sari shop of the time and the arbiter of teen fashions), looking very grown up and quite glamorous. There was no in-between time.
If I was happy anywhere during my school years, it was in Jaffna. Perhaps it -was the laid-back lifestyle of the Peninsula that caused me to have Mother’s company for much of the time. This is what made it so pleasurable. We were always exceptionally close. For years we were pretty much alone together, while Father was traipsing round the world on lecture tours, and Su was in the USA with our grandparents or else at St. Bridget’s Convent which she loved.
As a result, Mother and I bonded more closely than we would have done if we had had a normal family life. It was a closeness that Su always resented. Sometimes Father did so too. I was more attuned than they were to Mother’s moods — such as they were, for she was not a moody person. She had a happy outlook, an optimistic one. Her occasional worries became my worries, and as I grew older, I could always sense if she were ill.
I worried about her health. Mother had rather brittle bones, and a fall could mean a fracture. She had a low tolerance of pain, and I hated to see her suffer. Her joys, likewise, were shared with me. I understood her. We loved being together. Her gentleness, imposed on my more aggressive personality, has benefited me all my life.
Mother feared and disliked cats intensely. This aversion extended to anything furry, even a fur coat.
“Would you rather have a snake curled round you or have a cat on your lap?” we would ask her.
“A snake any day,” she’d reply, shuddering. “I would hyperventilate if a cat sat on my lap.”
This fear caused her much grief When she was a teenager my grandmother had taken her to hear the great pianist Paderewski play. (He was later the Prime Minister of Poland). The lady seated next to Mother had slung her fur coat over the arm of her chair, and poor Mother sat rigidly through what should have been one of the most wonderful experiences of her life.
If you have a heart, say no to tobacco!
BY Dr. Gotabhya Ranasinghe
(MBBS, MD, FCCP, FRCP, FAPSIC, FACC, FESC)
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.
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!
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.
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:
- 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.
- 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.
- 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).
- 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.
- 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.
- 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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