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Learning the ropes at the Police Training School



(Continued from last week excerpts from the memoirs or Retired Senior DIG Edward Gunawardena)

When training commenced there was never a dull moment. The routine consisted of early morning parade with rifle exercises or PT, lectures on law and police work from breakfast to lunch, motor cycle riding in the afternoons and games at which all ranks joined from 4 p.m. onwards (this was termed “games with the men”). Twice a week a night patrol was also compulsory – one before midnight and one after. I still remember a trainee Sub-Inspector who often accompanied me was Dhanasiri Weerasinghe, more famous as a cricketer.

The rigid programme that had to be followed by the trainees was certainly made pleasant by the trainers who were police veterans. These Inspectors were not lacking in humour. Ekanayake The Chief Lecturer, James Senaratne, Terry Amarasekera, Rosairo, Petersz, Jaleel and Alex Abeysekera were all hellbent on impressing on the young officers that there was no other sector in the government Service superior to the police. Stanley Senanayake and Fred Brohier had separate informal sessions with the three of us. These discussions were to impress on us the standards expected of gazetted officers in discipline, general behaviour and demeanour and professional ethics.

Sergeant Major Nallawansa had a knack to make us laugh at appropriate moments even on the parade ground. When we saw the Police Band on the parade ground, he turned to Mahendran and in his deep baritone voice said, “Sir, that band will play at your funeral!”


The Communal Riots of 1958

Barely had the three of us completed ninety days of training, an event of historical significance was to take place in which the police had to play the decisive role. Since S.W.R.D. Bandaranaike came into power in 1956 with “Sinhala only in twenty four hours” as the main plank of his election platform, friction between the Sinhala and Tamil people had been simmering.

As early as the post election months of 1956 clashes had erupted in the Amparai District which had been quelled early by the Police. But with radical politicians from both sides of the divide fomenting unrest the bubble burst in May 1958. With the murder of an influential Sinhalese in Batticaloa District and rumours spreading of all types of gruesome harassment such as the cutting off the breasts of Sinhalese women, virulent hatred spread like wildfire. Initial hesitancy on the part of Bandaranaike to deal firmly with the Sinhalese aggressors aggravated the situation; and violence soon spread to all parts of the island.

Kalutara District was one of the worst affected. Incited by radical local, criminally inclined politicians, all the Tamils of the district in both the urban and rural areas in mortal fear, began to seek shelter at police stations. Murder, arson and looting was reported mainly from Panadura, Kalutara and Beruwala. The Police Training School was not an operational institution. The task of maintaining law and order was the responsibility of the Kalutara police division that was under Superintendent Sol Goonetillake. The talk among the officers at the Training School was that the Kalutara Police had failed.

In the meantime large numbers of destitute Tamil men, women and children began to seek protection in the school. The Director, on his own initiative was quick to make arrangements to accommodate the hundreds that were streaming in. They had to be provided with food, shelter and security. The three new ASPS took to these tasks like ducks to water. The three of us began to experience in full measure the humanitarian nature of police responsibilities. Violence had reached a peak when the state of emergency declared by the government began to take effect.

Sir Oliver Goonetilleke, the Governor-General, took charge of the situation and the police was given full emergency powers. Sydney de Zoysa, DIG, the man considered ideal for such a situation was in charge of the entire western coastal belt from Colombo southwards to Galle and beyond. One of his earliest tasks was to give Sol Goonetilleke, SP Kalutara, a respite and entrust Stanley Senanayake, Director of Police Training, with the task of restoring law and order in the Kalutara District.

The Police Training School had two distinct tasks. The first was to provide the necessary direction and leadership to the police of the district to prevent mob violence, arson and looting. The second was to provide sustenance and protection to over 2,000 refugees who had been accommodated in the vast premises. In both these tasks I had to play a leadership role. I revelled in leading armed mobile patrol units and making arrests. I also gladly took on tasks that provided succour to the refugees. One was to aggressively assist the Director in the requisitioning of food stocks from dealers in Kalutara to feed the refugees. In this task A.M.S. Perera, the Govt. Agent of Kalutara and Francis Pietersz, the AGA who was a civil service cadet, were extremely co-operative. It was an irony of fate that Indrani Gomesz, the fiancee of Francis Pietersz, and her parents who were respected teachers of Holy Cross College had to be accommodated in the Training School as refugees. They were comfortably lodged at the Magul Maduwa, the assembly hall.

Something significant that I was able to observe early in my police life was the spontaneous manner in which women could rise to the occasion for the fulfillment of tasks that required understanding, sympathy and care. Overcome by fear of death or physical hurt this mass of refugees were a pathetic sight. They were not political propagandists or terrorists. They were innocent beings that belonged to humankind. I saw how they sincerely worshiped Mrs. Maya Senanayake, who by her looks and behaviour stood out as the leader of the men and women that catered to their needs.

This inner expression of gratitude was seen as many women and children turned hysterical when they had to be taken to a camp at the Colombo race course to be sent to Jaffna. To them Maya Senanayake had provided a safe and comfortable home, Jaffna was only a dream against all the care and safety they were enjoying. They were apprehensive of what was happening outside the Police Training School.

The order to take the majority of these refugees (or Internally Displaced Persons — IDPs) to the Colombo Race Course had to be meticulously planned. Twenty buses of the Ceylon Transport Board arranged by the G.A. Kalutara reported to the Aluvihare Grounds of the PTS (Police Training School). Once all the evacuees had boarded the buses, boxes containing food parcels (bread and seeni sambol) and bottles of water were handed over to the bus crews. Security was of prime importance. Once the motorcade was formed the rear was brought up by a ‘riot truck’ with armed policemen. Inspector James Senaratne was in charge of this riot truck. Several Jeeps with armed policemen led the way. I was in the first Jeep armed with a Sterling sub machine gun. The fear was that the convoy would be attacked by organized Sinhala criminal activists particularly when passing Wadduwa, Waskaduwa and Panadura areas. However the journey to the race course was smooth and uneventful.

Of my stay at the PTS what I remember most is the humanitarian operation referred to above. The image that existed in my mind of the police as a crime busting entity full of risks and adventure changed dramatically when I witnessed the role that the police played in the alleviation of human suffering. The leadership role played by Stanley Senanayake and his wife, Maya, most certainly impacted on me to a great extent. They, by their exemplary conduct convinced me that the police as a profession can do much to make ordinary people comfortable and happy. As I progressed along in the police I realized that the opportunities for such consolation were indeed plentiful in day to day police work.

By the time I left the PTS for field training in the Criminal Investigation Department and the Colombo Police Div. I had learnt criminal law adequate for police work and covered a lot of ground on the theoretical aspects of this work. However, I would like to emphatically maintain that the first hand experience I had of the communal riots equipped me with the confidence so vital in decision making under critical conditions. It certainly exceeded what could have been acquired in years of training. This is what experience is all about. Surprisingly we still come across people in high places who try to equate experience to length of service on the job!

The stint at the PTS, apart from basic policing and police administration taught me many more things including the importance of physical fitness, riding of heavy motorcycles, to aggressively play soccer and rugger and above all the riding of horses. It was with the greatest of ease that I took to horse riding. I was the first out of the three of us to pass the riding test. I remember this test was conducted by Sydney de Zoyza and Cecil Wambeek. The test consisted of trotting, cantering and galloping. The acid test was when the horse had to jump over a bar. With the police stables getting ex racers from the Turf Club I had the opportunity of riding even Christmas Stocking and Devilment two thoroughbreds that had won the Governor’s Cup, the blue riband of the local turf.

An impression strongly etched in my mind of the Police Training School of the fifties was its cleanliness and the orderly manner in which all the activities were conducted. It did not take time for me to realize that the Director and the entire staff were strictly following a tradition that had taken root at PTS when it commenced in the forties under the pioneering leadership of Sydney de Zoyza. The roads, the buildings, the open areas, the parade grounds and the artificial lakes were spotlessly clean. They stood testimony to the discipline of the institution, the hallmark of the PTS. Without being told or reminded I began to discard my cigarette butts and empty packets to the bins. I learnt not even to throw away a used match stick; and I began to pick up little bits of paper if they did appear on my path. The Japanese 5 S concept was not even heard of then!

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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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