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Lets consider lesser known candidates



by Malinda Seneviratne

Towards the end of the year 2018 in the heady days of the parliamentary crisis there was a slogan bandied about in social media and elsewhere by well-meaning liberals (read, yahapalanists) ostensibly sick of the prevailing political culture. They screamed 225+1 OUT

The sickly recovered less than a few months later to support the candidate of the United National Party (UNP), Sajith Premadasa. No apologies were offered. Today the 225+1 OUT slogan is out. Thats not a bad thing. There are probably a few (less than a handful perhaps) who deserve to be re-elected. However, most of our parliamentarians have been marked by corruption, incompetence, greed, self-interest, treachery and outright imbecility, typically endowed with more than one of these characteristics. Saying ta-ta to them would not necessarily coincide with saying hi to their polar opposites of course for the system is skewed against the election of the good and incorruptible. Nevertheless the knowledge that it is possible to goodbye such people itself is empowering.

Now there were over 70 persons in the last parliament who could be called Dynastic Politicians. Their political success is at least in part attributable to the fact of being sons, daughters, brothers, sisters, spouses and other close relatives of known-name politicians. We could do without that kind of feudalism, I believe.

As mentioned, there could be some decent folk seeking re-election. However, it might be worth giving the lesser known a chance, especially since they dont exactly have the inside track in the races theyve chosen to run.

So yes, there are the easily recognized names on the ballot. In every district. There are dozens of registered political parties and hundreds of independent groups in the fray. There are thousands of candidates vying for 225 seats. The law of averages say that theres more than a handful among the lesser known candidates who would probably perform better than most who have already been in parliament. Well, some would argue that they couldnt do worse a bit like the Anyone but Ranil argument within the UNP that made Sajith the ideal candidate in some peoples view.

This is then an invitation to consider others. The lesser known or even known to just a few. They may not be on the same page ideologically especially since they contest from different parties or independent groups, but perhaps those who pick the party would do well to consider names such as these when they mark preferences.

Wimal Ketapearachchi is a journalist by profession. He worked in various newspapers and television stations. He was appointed as a Working Director of ITN by the Yahapalana regime but resigned during the parliamentary crisis in 2018. Unlike others who resigned and gladly accepted the same positions after the old order was restored, Ketape chose to remain resigned. He authored three novels, Doovili Sela (Fabrics made of dust), Navaye Kathava (The story of the number nine) and Nelavena Gee Meda Ovilla (The swing amid lullabies). Hamuvenna thavama heki comrade (We can still meet, comrade) was his debut poetry collection. Ketape is much loved by the Sinhala literary community, especially those of his generation and including those who would not agree with him ideologically or oppose his political choices. He has always considered himself a leftist and a champion of the poor, dispossessed, insulted and humiliated. A decent man. Hes contesting on the Samagi Jana Balavegaya ticket from the Colombo District.

Priyantha Pathirana hails from Kamburupitiya but has spent many years in the Trincomalee District. His passion is agriculture and he has worked tirelessly to rehabilitate village tanks and develop agricultural cooperatives for women. He was in the Eastern Provincial Council but was denied nomination for the General Election by the UPFA in 2010 and 2015. He was literally assaulted within an inch of his life by rival politicians in the party. He is absolutely generous with his time and energy when it comes to friends and political associates but more important in the case of anyone in any kind of distress, regardless of political affiliation. He has always considered himself a nationalist and a champion of sustainable development. He contests on the Pohottuwa ticket from Trincomalee.

One day in the early 1990s, members of the Independent Students Union, Colombo University stormed into the library. They were in a foul mood. They found a student in the library, sitting with his girlfriend. They assaulted him mercilessly. Had not some of his friends broken a window and come to his aid, Anupa Pasqual would have died that day. Being at the receiving end of brutality is not reason enough to get a free ride to parliament. Sure. Paska was a lone, strident and effective voice against those who were at the time apologists of the then regime. He was and still is an unrepentant environmentalist and nationalist. He is on the Pohottuwa ticket in the Kalutara District.

There are no doubt such individuals in the UNP and the Samagi Jana Balavegaya (SJB), but I do not know any. I would urge those who vote for the elephant or the telephone to give a thought to such people when they have to mark their preferential votes.

Lets not forget the independent groups. They have very little chance in the current electoral system. While some of them are essentially nominated by established political parties as insurance (in the event nomination lists get rejected) and/or to boost presence at polling and counting stations, some do stand for something, regional or national.

Ruchira Gunathilaka is contesting from Kalutara on the Independent Group 1 ticket (under the ‘kite’ symbol). This is a group led by philanthropist Mahinda Udawatte who has for 20 years gifted books to literally hundreds of thousands of school children. In December 2019 alone Rs 25 million worth of books were given to school children. No branding. Ruchira is an agriculture graduate who has always championed sustainable livelihoods. He once single-handedly grew 73 varieties of traditional rice to symbolize the theseththee (73) gnaana (wisdoms) of the Buddha. If memory serves me well, he harvested 70 of these varieties and invited 73 families/groups to prepare kiri-aahara for a special pooja at the ancient chaityaya in Mahiyangana. Indefatigable. A nationalist in word and deed.

I am sure there are dozens of Ketapes, Priyanthas, Ruchiras and Paksas contesting this election. I doubt that we will get rid of the 225, but if we want to have a better chance of not regretting our votes, then it wont hurt to consider such people.


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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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