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How anti-intellectualism and chauvinism blend well



‘Is almost half the US electorate dim-witted, ignorant or psychotic?’ A very pertinent and timely poser indeed, considering the worrying situation that has arisen in the US after the recent presidential poll result which clearly points to an end to four years of eccentric and volatile rule by President Donald Trump.

As some commentators have pointed out, the development that liberal and democratic opinion in the US cannot easily come to terms with is the fact that, going by the vote count, despite four years of ‘buffoonery’, some 74 million Americans are continuing to repose their trust in Trump.

A feature article titled ‘Trumping the voters’ by Kurt Jacobsen and Sayeed Hasan Khan, contributed to ‘The Dawn’ and ANN and reproduced in this newspaper yesterday, raises scores of issues on the recent US presidential election and its aftermath that need to be addressed by the thinking sections of any public but for us in the ‘former Third World’, the continuing appeal of political and military strongmen among credulous sections of opinion is nothing new.

Personality cults die hard among some sections of the global South but the phenomenon is not receiving adequate attention among those who are seen to matter among us, such as, the academia and progressive think tanks. May be, the issue is seen as too sensitive to research, since it could reveal the prevalence of unflattering mind sets among the ‘intelligentsia’.

However, the ‘intelligentsias’ of the South need not be excessively embarrassed over this question because they are not alone in this uncomfortable situation and have never been alone. They have some elements among the present day US ‘intelligentsia’ for company, for example. Besides, to go by the more conspicuous examples in modern history, German dictator Adolf Hitler was adored by sections of the intellectual elite of the time in Germany. Many in Hitler’s inner circle were considered first rate ‘intellectuals’; for instance, propaganda chief Joseph Goebbels. They collaborated with him willingly and happily in his inhuman efforts to liquidate the Jews. Some of these collaborators were renowned artistes and ‘humanists’.

A prime worry for the world from these disclosures is the coexistence in the same individual consciousness of ‘high culture’ and the drive for murderous violence. Considering these revelations from history, the fascination among sections of the US public for President Donald Trump could perhaps be excused somewhat because Trump is no mass murderer.

A matter of the first importance that arises from these disclosures is the value that could be placed by the world on formal educational qualifications. Considering that not all those conspicuous ‘intellectuals’ and ‘educated’ persons in history have been wise and enlightened, we are left to wonder whether even the seeming foremost educational qualifications necessarily denote maturity of mind and heart. Therefore, wherein resides a sound learning? This question is crying out for an answer.

However, in the context of democratic politics, political strongmen and ‘leaders’ come to power on the basis of the popular vote. Fortunately, for the US, it would hopefully see the back of Trump in a few weeks. But this is not the case in many Southern democracies that blissfully and complacently hand over to some of their political leaders landslide polls victories, sometimes over and over again, despite serious allegations levelled at them by their civilian publics in particular. Some of these leaders adopt devious means to come to power and remain in these plum positions but the fact is that their publics tolerate their presence for inordinately lengthy periods of time.

Once again, some of these strongmen are backed by the cream of their ‘intelligentsias’. Here’s where the rub is. How account for this fatal tendency to willingly opt for servitude on the part of collectivities? Needless to say, this has been a recurring tendency in Sri Lankan politics, particularly since 1977.

However, some of the clues to unravelling our conundrum already reside in Hitlerian Germany and in the presidential tenure of Donald Trump. One secret of Hitler’s success was to effectively din into the consciousness of the majority of the then Germans that they were cruelly victimized by the West. Hitler made out that the Germans were treated unjustly on the basis of the Treaty of Versailles that ended World War 1. The conditions that were imposed on Germany by the Treaty were cogently shown as harsh and punishing.

By this means, the Nazi administration created a sense of collective grievance among the German public. This enabled the regime to win the support of the more credulous sections of Germans. The latter felt grievously slighted by the Allies and the corrective to their collective agony was seen as residing in Hitler’s ideology of nationalistic chauvinism. The effectiveness of the ideological onslaught by the Nazis was such that some Germans suspended rational considerations when making their political choices.

Trump too tried out nationalism of the most chauvinistic kind to win the more credible sections of the US public onto his side. Some migrants to the US were made out to be inimical to US white interests, as is well known. Moslem hard line opinion was singled out as particularly harmful. On the international plane, it was China that was the adversary to watch most. The US-China trade war, for instance, was the key instrument through which white nationalism in the US was stirred. Trump too created a sense of collective grievance among sections of the US public. The latter constituted his main power base and it included ‘educated’ sections.

The main ploy of the chauvinistic leader, then, is to create a sense of collective grievance among his following. Sometimes this propaganda thrust could be so effective as to cow the listener into suspending and even doing away with his sense of rationality and discretion. Accordingly, sound, enlightened intellectuality becomes a prime enemy of the authoritarian ruler.

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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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