By Dr. Asoka Bandarage
According to the Center for Systems Science at Johns Hopkins University, as of November 29th, there have been 62,150,421 COVID-19 cases, including 1,450,338 deaths. According to the latest ILO reports, as job losses escalate due to lockdowns, nearly half of the global workforce is at risk of losing livelihoods, access to food and the ability to survive. The World Economic Forum states that ‘With some 2.6 billion people around the world in some kind of lockdown, we are conducting arguably the largest psychological experiment ever.’ As governments and corporations tighten political authoritarianism and technological surveillance, curtailing privacy and democratic protest, much of humanity is succumbing to anxiety, depression and a sense of powerlessness. Countries with some of the harshest lockdowns, such as India, have seen significant increases in suicides.
Pandemic Narrative and Dissent
Dominant global political and economic institutions and the media present their pandemic narrative as based on scientific authority. However, there is increasing dissension on the origin and prevention of the virus within the biomedical profession. Many physicians and scientists are questioning if COVID-19 is a natural occurrence or the product of a leak from a lab experimenting with coronaviruses and bioweapons. There is concern over the accuracy of PCR tests and false positives, as well as the classification of deaths simply as COVID-19 deaths when an overwhelming number of deaths are related to pre-existing illnesses or comorbidities, such as diabetes and heart disease. Even according to November 25, 2020 CDC statistics, COVID-19 was the sole cause of death mentioned in only 6% of the deaths. The disproportionately higher rates of Covid deaths among American Indians and Alaska Natives, for example, are due to higher rates of obesity, diabetes, asthma, and heart disease than among more privileged U.S. communities.
The Covid pandemic has not been the ‘Great Equalizer’ as suggested by the likes of New York Governor Andrew Cuomo and members of the World Economic Forum. Rather, it has exacerbated existing inequalities along gender, race and economic class divides across the world. Just as unemployed and uninsured Americans are pleading for support, the combined wealth of U.S. billionaires ‘surpassed $1 trillion in gains since March 2020 and the beginning of the pandemic,’ according to a study by the Institute for Policy Studies. The top five U.S. billionaires – Jeff Bezos, Bill Gates, Mark Zuckerberg, Warren Buffett and Larry Ellison – saw their wealth grow by a total of $101.7 billion, or 26%, during this period.
Among the pandemic profiteers are CEOs of companies like Zoom and Skype providing video conferencing, and Amazon providing online shopping to citizens under lockdown. Yet the success of these companies has not translated into better wages and safety conditions for their employees. However, the political and ideological power of the billionaire class and their influence over domestic and global policymaking are increasing. Relevant in this regard is billionaire Bill Gates’ central role in the development and marketing of vaccines and interest in use of vaccines as a method of population control.
The pharmaceutical industry, i.e. Big Pharma, (including vaccine manufacturers) are known for inflating prices, avoiding taxes and manipulating the political process to maximize profit. Unfortunately, this corrupt industry is a key player in the race to end the COVID-19 pandemic. The incoming Biden administration in the US has received extensive funding from the pharmaceutical industry, yet they have not agreed to cut the cost of a possible coronavirus vaccine developed with federal research dollars. Rather, the Biden administration, also heavily funded by the big tech, finance and defense sectors, is poised to facilitate ‘The Great Reset;’ the initiative to remake the post-pandemic world order by the World Economic Forum.
The ‘Great Reset’
The World Economic Forum (WEF), which identifies itself as ‘the international organization for public-private partnership,’ (i.e., like the Council on Foreign Relations, a geopolitical corporate power agency) sees the social and economic devastation caused by the COVID-19 pandemic as a ‘unique window of opportunity to shape the recovery.’ Speaking at a conference organized by the WEF in June 2020, former US Secretary of State, John Kerry expressed concern:
“Forces and pressures that were pushing us into crisis over the social contract are now exacerbated….The world is coming apart, dangerously, in terms of global institutions and leadership.”
The ‘Great Reset’ envisioned by the WEF seeks to address these challenges by radical global restructuring. It seeks to reinvent ‘the priorities of societies, the nature of business models and the management of a global commons…to build a new social contract…,’ with sustainable development and resilience as its ultimate objectives.
At its next annual gathering of the rich and powerful in Davos, Switzerland in January 2021, the WEF is expected to adopt the Great Reset and also incorporate youth leaders from around the world into the initiative through a virtual summit.
The stated goals of sustainability and resilience are laudable, but many are questioning the true objectives of both the WEF and the Great Reset. The pandemic simulation called Event 201, for example, was conducted in October 2019, about three months before the COVID-19 outbreak by the World Economic Forum in conjunction with the Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. The simulation predicted up to 65 million deaths due to a coronavirus. Many are wondering why these powerful organizations, having apparently already run the exact scenario as a test, failed to prevent or at least prepare the world for the imminent viral outbreak.
The global political economy has been moving in the direction of increasing technological and market integration through social media, artificial intelligence and biotechnology. In the wake of COVID-19, the trends towards digitalization and commoditization of economic and social relations have increased. The ‘Great Reset’ seeks to accelerate and solidify these trends as well as expand corporate control of natural resources and state surveillance of individuals. In the post-pandemic ‘Great Reset,’ there would not be much life left outside the technological-corporate nexus dominated by monolithic agribusiness, pharmaceutical, communication, defense and other inter-connected corporations, and the governments and media serving them.
The proponents of the ‘Great Reset’ envisage a Brave New World where, ‘You will own nothing. And you will be happy. Whatever you want, you will rent, and it will be delivered by drones…´ But it is more likely that this elite-led revolution will make the vast majority of humanity a powerless, appendage of technology with little consciousness and meaning in their lives.
The mainstream media establishment tends to cast all critiques of the dominant Covid narrative and solutions as ‘conspiracy theories.’ Yet, more and more people are questioning the narrative on the origin and management of the pandemic and, instead, see the need to shift to a truly democratic, just and ecological civilization.
Many of the anti-lockdown protests around the world have had a limited focus on social restrictions and personal freedom, desires usually in tune with the individualism of globalized consumer culture. While these have gained some attention in the mainstream media by their acceptability, the more focused and progressive demands for social and economic rights by civil society groups have received scant attention.
These include demands by numerous groups, such as Oxfam International, to make COVID-19 medicines and vaccines free and fair for all. There is also a demand for a global public inquiry, to be led by independent scientists, to gather evidence on the origin and evolution of COVID-19. In addition, there is a call for an International Biowarfare Crimes Tribunal, to bring perpetrators of the pandemic to justice, whether they be from the US or China.
The overall objective of these demands is in greater transparency, ethics and accountability in the use of technology, especially biotechnology and vaccines against COVID-19 and other viruses. The demand for enforcement of the Biological Weapons Convention calls on the ‘nations of the world, China, Russia, the US, to come together to enforce better verification systems for preventing the production of biological weapons in the future, before the world is put through multiple pandemics to come’. These are concerns to be included in an alternative ethical, wise and compassionate ‘Great Reset.’
The Covid pandemic is a turning point, an opportunity to change. The reset we need now is not the creation of a ‘post-human, post-nature’ world defined by unregulated corporate-led growth of artificial intelligence and biotechnology. We need to balance digitalization and commoditization with an ecological reset, a way of living that respects the environment, promotes agroecology, bioregionalism and local communities.
We need to raise our consciousness and understanding of humanity as a species in nature, our connectedness to each other and the rest of planetary life.
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.
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.
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…”
Six nabbed with over 100 kg of ‘Ice’
Happy New Year!
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