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Looking forward to better times



By Rajitha Ratwatte

Here in Aotearoa, we are looking forward to better times. The summer is almost here, and sports wise we are looking at a smooth transition from a packed rugby season to some international cricket. The All Blacks our rugby union team (for the benefit of the uninitiated) made short work of the Argentinian Pumas, after actually losing to them (sacrilege!) and seem to have secured all the silverware available. The Bledisloe cup after whipping the Aussies (a common occurrence these days) and they seem to have done enough to secure the Tri Nations trophy. There is still one match to go, when Argentina will do their best to beat Australia and seem to have a good chance of doing so.

We have one more domestic game on the cards. The Maori All Blacks, a team that wears the black jersey but can only have players with Maori blood in them (rather racist in these politically correct times what!) will play a Moana Pacifika team. The Moana Pacifika team will consist of players mainly from the pacific Islands on Tonga and Samoa, I believe. It is hoped that such a team will have a regular slot in the super rugby tournament from 2022 onwards. A brief look at the future perhaps? Or maybe just a final attempt by Sky TV who have chosen not to show cricket in Aotearoa, to deflect some sports fans from the cricket?

The Cricket season has started. The West Indies are here and first T20 was played in Auckland and started with a bang! Firstly, the notoriously fickle Auckland weather managed to produce a cloudless blue sky right up to the start of the match and contrived a series of rain showers that interrupted play thrice during the match. Another significance was that all players on and off the field and the umpires, “took a knee” in honour of the Black Lives Matter movement. This was done after the umpires called play and before the first ball was bowled. Some players also held a clenched fist in the air, the black power salute, others didn’t! Rather dramatic and a rather unnecessary involvement for the noble game of cricket…. I wonder? During the match too, the Windies had 50 runs for no loss in 2 overs and then lost 5 wickets for one run! Nothing to do with the weather and more to do with the searing scorching pace of one Lockie Ferguson, ironic isn’t it? The Windies being undone by pace.

The second T20 was a bit of a thrashing for the Windies. We saw a 40-ball century from a debutant for NZ. Phillips who would not have even got a game if the full X1 was available. In theory this could mean that NZ has a huge depth of cricketing talent, but I beg to differ. As a level 3 qualified umpire who does the club games and the premier women’s game, the talent in Aotearoa is nowhere near what is available in the Pearl. But these guys and gals’ deliver when it counts. It is always sad to see the Windies humiliated. My memories are of a Clive Lloyd led bunch of world beaters, with Greenidge, Haynes, Richards and those awesome pace bowlers, Roberts, Marshall, Garner Et Al. Of course, the 3 W’s, Sobers, Hall, Griffith, Valentine and Ramadin who preceded them.

We have much more cricket in store. The Pakistanis are already here, all 51 of them! Talk about large teams, how you can send 51 players and officials to play a game that has only 11 players on the field at any one time? Take note cricket board officials of the Pearl, you haven’t thought that one up yet have you? The minister, deputy and their entire families can come next time! Not only is such a large contingent here, under quarantine and six of them already with covid, they are also flouting the quarantine regulations of the country. The Pakistanis are apparently under their last warning, I wonder what will be done to them if they continue this (typically?) irresponsible behaviour? Will they be deported en mass?!! The former tearaway fast bowler Shoaib Akhtar has warned New Zealand in return, to watch what they say to quarantine rule breakers. The Rawalpindi Express may have lost his pace but none of his irresponsible behaviour or reckless, foolish talk. This is the man who told an ICC disciplinary hearing into his misconduct during a match with the possible penalty being suspension, “they come to watch me play, not you guys officiate”!

We also have the Bangladeshis coming and of course a few games against the Aussies to end the cricket season. A long and interesting summer of cricket ahead. You dear readers, will have an accredited representative present in the press box of all the grounds, I will be looking for personal stories and local insights as the statistics-based cricket match reports published by the accepted agencies, are much better than my amateurish efforts! I for one will find it blissful to watch the first session of a test match with the Kiwi or Pakistani pace bowlers making the ball sing (and I mean sing not swing) on a fresh green wicket, in pure relaxed concentration, rather than having to make notes for the benefit of my readers.

I hear you have a premier league of sorts going on in the pearl. Hope you get to enjoy the cricket without any inherent scandals. I wonder if you can go to the grounds or if it will all be on TV? The big advantage that Aotearoans’ have at present is that they can actually go to the grounds.

The Covid vaccine that is apparently on its way soon should alleviate matters. Maybe the tourist season can be reactivated by August next year (in time for the Kandy Perehera), not too far away in the greater scheme of things. Shops and businesses may be able to achieve “normalcy” sooner. The economy can start humming again and maybe the Middle east will start recruiting their cheap labour?

People are gearing up for Christmas in Aotearoa. The “Black Friday” sales are in progress and by all accounts, record numbers have been achieved. All the money saved by Kiwis by being unable to travel abroad is now been spent locally. The economy is buzzing over here, although the long-term effects have yet to be seen, and the real estate market is going crazy. All the returning Kiwis’ are creating havoc in an already overheated housing market by buying houses on line, without even seeing them. The profile and demographic of these returning Kiwis’ is young professional couples with young children who have sold a house abroad. So, plenty of cash and big demand in the high decile school zones, where the houses are already in high demand. A big increase in supply of houses is needed and needed soon. One fears that a moribund government sector with largely ineffectual and inefficient management and decision-making skills, will not be up to the mark. There are SOME similarities between the Pearl and Aotearoa, a moribund public service being one!

A reasonable assumption is that “things can only get better” and of course that “nothing lasts forever”. So, chin up everyone and keep smiling, may the season of good cheer bring you many blessing and more than a little good cheer!

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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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