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Policeman cracks joke at Soulbury’s expense over game billiards

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(Excerpted from Senior DIG (Rtd.) Edward Gunawardena’s memoirs)

Colombo Division was hectic, but it was good fun. All Three of us new ASPs, Brute Mahendran, Cosmo David and I were resident at the Officer’s Mess, Brownrigg Road. Today it is the Senior Officer’s Mess, Keppetipola Mawatha This is because during the JVP insurrection of 1971 the Inspectorate of the Police were equated to officer ranks of the armed services; and the Inspectors’ Mess became the Officers’ Mess. The Sergeants and Constables were also designated as Junior Officers and a Mess was established for them on Chaitya Road, Fort.

The Mess was housed in a substantial two storey building. It was in fact one complete unit of a C’ type twin bungalow. The ground floor consisted of two verandahs in the front and the rear, the ante room with a billiard table, a large dining room with a table for about twenty, the kitchen and pantry, outhouses for servants, a large garage and a stable for one horse.

The walls of the ante-room were studded with hunting trophies – heads of wild buffaloes, trunks of elephants, antlers of deer etc. Photographs of past Inspectors – General and group farewells to retiring Senior officers adorned the walls of the dining room. In a large antique glass almirah were silver trophies and other valuable silverware.

The heart of this entire set up was indeed the bar that was housed in a small room adjoining the dining room. A remarkable feature was that this bar was always well stocked with the best liquors and well patronized by the members. Other than on special occasions outsiders were seldom seen there. The main reason why it was well patronized was because all senior officers were encouraged to drink at the mess and not in other public places. There were no cash sales with transactions being strictly on credit.

The Mess Rules had to be strictly observed by all members. If the necessity arose the senior most officer present had the power to enforce discipline. Jamis, the Butler, also enjoyed certain powers even to the extent of cautioning errant officers and reporting them under the Mess Rules. A committee of officers was responsible for the day to day running of the mess, with the Hony. Secretary bearing most of the burden. In later years, at different times I held the offices of Hony. Secretary and President of the Mess.

Unlike today the Mess servants were paid on the profits made by the bar; and there were only three of them including the Butler. Nimalasena assisted Jamis whilst there was just one cook. Today an ASP has taken the place of the Butler while there are several sergeants and constables as bar tenders and kitchen staff. To cater to the needs of the times an eatery also functions within the Mess premises called Bobby’s restaurant. This modest food outlet has proved to be a boon to many officers.

Of a total of six rooms for residents one room was always kept vacant for officers from the outstations who visited the city for official purposes. Apart from the three of us, there was only one other resident member in 1958. He was a bachelor ASP who had come up from the rank of Sub-Inspector. An old Trinitian, T.B. Dhanapala was a fingerprint expert. His younger brothers were Ian who was with me at Marrs Hall in Peradeniya and Jayantha, an illustrious foreign service officer who brought honour to the country.

A visitor who came regularly to see TBD. was a Trinity friend of his, Col. John Halangoda. They were both excellent conversationalists. Whenever possible, it was with pleasure that I joined them in a chat. Sometimes we would talk for hours on Kandyan history, customs, the aristocracy, families and even the manner of cooking and special foods, sipping just one bottle of Beck’s beer!

Dhanapala was a man of erudition and culture. He epitomized the quality of men who joined the police as Sub-Inspectors at that time. Simple in his habits he was scrupulously honest. Once he confided in me how a multi-millionaire businessman who had even been officially honoured by the government had approached him when he was the Registrar of Finger Prints (RFP) to get his past criminal record destroyed. He had taken special precautions for the safety of these documents. It is ironical indeed that this man with a criminal record for stealing a brass garden tap as a collector for an old metal dealer reached the top of the business world. Dhanapala merely faded away. But he will be remembered as a man of honour.

Apart from being the focal point for official functions and social get-togethers, the Mess was the common meeting place for officers. With the Police grounds and the tennis courts situated in close proximity, this was the place where one could bathe, have a change of clothes etc. It was particularly well patronized during week-ends. It was common to see several officers and their guests play bridge and billiards or snooker.

Officers who regularly played bridge were C.C. Dissanayake, Bede Johnpulle, Jebanesan and Lionel Jirasinghe. R.E. Kitto who had been All-India and National sprint champion spent hours at the billiard table. The officers I remember who played with him were R.A. Stork and Royden Vanderwall.

Lord Soulbury the first Governor General had been an occasional visitor to the Mess as the guest of the Inspector-General. As related by Jamis the butler, the Governor-General had also been a keen billiards player. He had been quite proficient too; and like most others he had enjoyed a drink whilst playing. His preferred drink had been Gordon’s gin and tonic with a dash of bitters.

Soulbury’s usual opponent in billiards had been the young and brash Robert Ebenezer (RE) Kitto. The latter was such a free conversationalist, unafraid to use English slang, even the Queen’s representative had begun to enjoy his lively company. A story that went the rounds about Soulbury and Kitto is worth being repeated over and over again.

Playing a game, the former standing on his left leg had stretched his right leg on the green baize and prepared himself to play an intricate shot. Kitto who had downed several arracks had loudly remarked, ” Excuse me, Your Excellency, only three balls on the table”! Soulbury according to Jamis had laughed heartily and shaken hands with Kitto.

Those who did not play bridge or billiards also enjoyed themselves engaged in light conversation, relating jokes and often laughing loudly. The voice of Allen Flamer Caldera was loud and distinct. Frederick de Saram was a real live wire. He was for some reason or another also called. Kukul Saram. It was his daughter, Sirimanie, who married Lalith Athulathmudali.

In fact Kukul usually came with his wife and two daughters. Mrs. de Saram, I remember, was coaxed to play the piano for the husband to lead the singing. He had a baritone voice and his favourite songs were, “I’ve got a loverly bunch of coconuts”, and “Arapiya Lucia dora”. Allen Flamer Caldera’s daughter Jilska who was one of the finest women athletes of the time, also played the piano once in a while for her father and his friends to unwind. Jilska as I remember was a pleasant and beautiful girl.

 

Celebrating Christmas

 

There were two special days at the Mess during the Christmas Season. One was the day on which the carols were held on the Police grounds and the other was the Children’s Christmas party.

 

The Christmas Carols organized by DIG C.C. Dissanayake was an admirable event. The Police Band provided the music and representatives of all ranks including the women police dressed in uniform formed the choir. A remarkable feature was that the personnel of the band as well as the choristers were all not Christians. They belonged to all faiths and sang loudly and lustily.

Even at casual get-togethers Brute Mahendran, a Hindu, sang Christian ditties such as “Swing low sweet chariot” and “Steal Away” with a lot of feeling. The spirit of Christmas entered the lives of all at that time. Even after colonial values had rightfully faded away, it is a matter for satisfaction indeed to see that carols have today become a national cultural feature in the form of ‘Wesak Bakthi Gee’. There was a time when people spoke of Wesak Carols!

The singing of carols did not end on the Police Grounds. It was customary for the senior officers to walk across the grounds to the Mess. Wives and children also joined. And the carols continued with everybody around the piano. Of course, it did not take long for the carols to be replaced by the usual party songs. Fred de Saram, Allen Flamer Caldera, Leslie Abeysekera, Cossy Orr and Stanley Senanayake eventually led the singing to the immortal melodies of Sunil Santha & P.L.A. Somapala. Before breaking up for the evening everybody including the wives and children joined in the Baila singing and dancing.

 

The Childress’ Party.

 

The childrens’ Christmas party was the most important event in the annual year-end celebrations. It was a social event looked forward to by the families of all members. For the children of all ages up to 12-years, the event from 5 p.m. to 8 p.m. was three hours of screaming fun. The massive Christmas tree was an exceptionally large branch of pine brought from Nuwara Eliya. Decorated to especially suit the taste of children, attractive toys dangled from all parts of the tree. Different groups of officers and their wives organized games for the children. Numerous varieties of short eats, sweets and ice-cream all supplied by Elephant House were freely available.

The highlight of the childrens’ party was the arrival of Santa Claus sharp at 5 p.m. In fact it was his arrival that signaled the commencement of the proceedings. A remarkable feature of this party was that members and families irrespective of religion joined in the fun. Apart from Buddhists, Musafers, Bongsos and Mahendrans have also played the role of Santa Claus. Shelly Salvador was an officer who reveled playing this role over and over again.

It was the manner of arrival of Santa Claus that provided the kiddies party with the desired kick-start. Minutes before five the sound of jingle bells was heard in the distance. Children and adults awaited his arrival anxiously. Amidst the sound of crackers and the release of hundreds of balloons Santa emerged in his traditional dress.

 

The sensation was in Santa’s mode of transport. In my early years in the Police I have seen Santa arrive in decorated Jeeps, in a buggy cart, on horseback, on a bicycle , on a motorcycle with a side-car etc. I too was Santa once in the early sixties. My senior at St. Joseph’s Hubert Bagot who was the head of the Police Mounted Division had improvised for me a horse drawn chariot out of a bullock cart!

 

The annual officers sit-down dinner

 

This annual dinner which is also called the “First Aid Dinner” is the most important official social meeting for the gazetted officers in the calendar of events of the Senior Officers Mess. This dinner follows the commemoration parade of the St. John’s Ambulance Brigade which in Sri Lanka is made up almost entirely of the police. During my resident days at the Mess, the commandant of the St. John’s Ambulance brigade was Col. Dr. Rockwood. With the Queen as the patron, this was undoubtedly a prestigious honorary post.

 

In the fifties and sixties it was compulsory for all officers to attend this dinner. Mess dress had to be worn. This dress consisted of black vicuna trousers with overlaid black silk braids, white dress shirt and black bow, white waist-coat and a mini dress jacket. Black shoes, small black epaulets and miniature silver insignia and buttons completed the outfit.

 

All officers had to be present by 7.30 in the evening. Never have I seen late comers. The special guests, the Governor-General and the Prime Minister arrived by 7.40 p.m. piloted by police vehicles. The IGP and the DIGs who also arrived by 7.30 p.m. received the special guests. By the time they arrived all the officers had studied the table plan that was exhibited on the billiard table. At 8 O’Clock sharp the police band under the baton of Inspector Gerry Paul played “Roast Beef of Old England.” This was the dinner call.

 

The special guests who also included Col. Dr. Rockwood were all escorted to their respective seats by the IGP and the DIGs. All other officers occupied their seats in an orderly fashion. The dining table was long and extended beyond the rear doorway. A raised platform accommodated the rear end of the table. The table — cloth was of immaculate white and the cutlery, crockery, glasses and serviettes meticulously arranged.

 

Although the catering manager of Elephant House was present it was Jamis the butler with all his experience who with authority supervised the table arrangements. It was also under the supervision of Jamis that the Elephant House waiters filled the wine and water glasses. As for the IGP and the special guests, Jamis was in personal attendance.

 

The menu at this special dinner was perhaps the best that Elephant House could offer; and Elephant House was at that time the sole importer of meats, fruits and vegetables. The meats arrived as whole carcasses to be stored in the large cold rooms. I remember being introduced by my father, who was Assistant Manager at Fountain Cafe, to one Mr. Young an Englishman who was the butcher. His job was to carve the carcasses of cattle and sheep to parts. Elephant House also imported the choicest of hams, bacon, butter and cheese.

 

The menu in 1958, for example, served by Jamis and his liveried assistants, started with a shrimp cocktail followed by steaming Consomme Royale, the soup. The main courses that followed consisted of braised turkey and ham in cadjunut and early pea sauce; and baked seer in mayonnaise with lobster thermidor A desert of Knickerbocker Glory and cheese was followed by strong black coffee. Jamis was constantly on the move topping up the glasses with cognac, cherry brandy and creme de menthe.

 

The gavel that had been placed on the table in front of the IGP was indeed a rare piece of furniture. It was an exquisitely turned out wooden hammer. Sharp at 9.30 the IGP tapped the table thrice with this gavel and got up with a glass of cognac in his hand. The others too got up simultaneously with glasses in their hands for the evening’s first toast, ‘to the health and happiness of the Queen’.

 

This was followed with a toast to Ceylon. After these toasts, in an informal tone, the IGP announced, ‘Gentlemen you may smoke’. Many pulled out their own packs or cigarette cases while even the usual non-smokers too helped themselves from the silver cigarette boxes that were being taken round Once the IGP and the guests got up and moved to the ante room other officers too gradually followed.

 

The proceedings thereafter were informal with the Governor-General and Prime Minister chatting freely even with junior officers. The Probationary ASPS invariably had a special place. It was a part of their induction into the Senior Officer culture of the Ceylon Police with colonial values.

 

I wonder today whether this special mess function continues to exist. During the late seventies and eighties when I was in service I cannot recall attending a ‘First Aid Dinner’ Perhaps with the extraordinary police commitments during the years of the terrorist war this traditional event had to be done away with. Even if it has ceased to exist it is certainly not a matter for regret. Being an extravagant British Colonial legacy, wholly incompatible with the times, the demise of the ‘Police First Aid Dinner’ had to come sooner or later.



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Playing politics with science!

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It is obvious that the only way out of this disastrous pandemic is through science––the use of vaccines that have been introduced in double quick time due to scientific ingenuity. It is the duty of politicians to refrain from playing politics with science.

 

By Dr Upul Wijayawardhana

If you thought it was only our politicians who played politics with science, you thought wrong. Admittedly, ours are pretty bad as evident from the Dhammika peniya episode. We had our Health Minister freely advertising the concoction by ingesting it in her office and wasting the valuable time of academics by instructing them to test it for efficacy. Getting a pretty bad attack of Covid-19 demonstrated the idiocy of her action but she continues unashamedly to be our Minister of Health!

A Professor of Pharmacology turned politician did likewise. Forgetting what he taught his students, he supported the untested therapies, the explanation given by one of his colleagues being that he behaved as a politician, not a scientist! By implication, even scientists can forget science when they become politicians! Funnily, he was rewarded by being appointed the Acting Minister of Health the day the Health Minister was discharged from hospital, which was rather bizarre considering that during the Minister’s prolonged period of hospital-stay there was no acting appointment! Perhaps, fearing that he might take the bread out of her mouth, the Minister returned to office within a few days of discharge.

Although the first wave of the Covid-19 epidemic was very effectively controlled, the loss of efficiency as regards the second wave was due no doubt to allowing non-scientific ideas to creep in. The refusal of permission for the burial of Covid-19 victims in spite of a group of top scientists recommending it, made us look foolish and turned international opinion against the country.

The clamour for vaccination is a welcome sign, more so because the UK is continually producing evidence for the extreme efficacy of vaccination.

The UK was the first country in the world to start vaccination and has already vaccinated more than 21 million of its 66 million population. It started with the Pfizer vaccine, closely followed by the Oxford AstraZeneca vaccine. EU, which was a late starter, was critical of the Oxford AZ vaccine. The French President Emmanuel Macron is obviously guilty of playing politics with science as he was one of the vaccine’s most vociferous critics, calling it “quasi-ineffective” for the elderly. As a result of political comments of this nature, more than half of EU countries limited the Oxford AZ vaccine to those under 65 years, in spite of the European Medicines Agency approving it for all age groups.

Another political appointee, Ursula von der Leyen, European Commission President, had a public spat with AstraZeneca over gaining more of its vaccine doses and introduced a border between Ireland and Northern Ireland; she was forced to reverse her decision, quickly. She then suggested the UK had compromised on “safety and efficacy” by approving the jab so early, despite the EMA reaching the same conclusions as the UK’s internationally-respected MHRA, which approved the Oxford AZ vaccine for all ages. Millions of doses of Oxford AZ vaccine, which they obtained in spite of criticism, remain unused in France and Germany. Why did they not have the generosity to give these to struggling countries like Sri Lanka?

Data released by Public Health England (PHE) shows that both the Pfizer and Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccines are highly effective in reducing COVID-19 infections among those 70 years and over. Since January, protection against symptomatic Covid-19, four weeks after the first dose, ranged between 57 and 61% for Pfizer and between 60 and 73% for the Oxford AZ vaccine.

In the over 80s, data suggest that a single dose of either vaccine is more than 80% effective in preventing hospitalisation, around 3 to 4 weeks after the jab. There is also evidence for 83% reduction in deaths from Covid-19 with the Pfizer vaccine and data for Oxford AZ vaccine is awaited.

European aversion to Oxford AZ vaccine is, no doubt, due to Brexit than to science. Very soon, all EU countries would be forced by science to allow all age groups to have the Oxford AZ vaccine which, by the way, is the cheapest vaccine that is easier to transport and store. Politicians who criticised Oxford AZ vaccine have had to eat humble pie but they will no doubt come out with some claim to justify their idiocy!

A Belgian minister, Budget State Secretary Eva De Bleeker, has angered vaccine manufacturers by revealing sensitive and confidential commercial information – the price that the EU has agreed to pay for the leading Covid-19 vaccines. Though her twitter message was deleted quickly, screenshots taken show that the EU agreed prices for the three vaccines used at present are as follows: Oxford/AstraZeneca: €$ 1.78, Pfizer/BioNTech : €$ 12 and Moderna: $18.

Moderna, a Bio-tech company, which has not been profitable so-far, is heading for wind-fall profits and the drug-giant Pfizer will get richer. No one seems to have followed the noble gesture of AstraZeneca, which agreed with the Oxford group to provide the vaccine on no-profit basis.

It is obvious that the only way out of this disastrous pandemic is through science––the use of vaccines that have been introduced in double quick time due to scientific ingenuity. It is the duty of politicians to refrain from playing politics with science.

As Dolly Parton sang with a rewrite of her famous song ‘Jolene’ whilst having her jab:

“Vaccine, vaccine, vaccine, vaccine, I’m begging of you, please don’t hesitate. Vaccine, vaccine, vaccine, vaccine, because once you’re dead, then that’s a bit too late.”

 

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Who wants to live forever?

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The haunting lyrics of The Queen song and the almost plaintive tone in Freddie Mercury’s oh so unique voice, when he sang this song (particularly in his live performance at Wembley), echo through my mind these days. There are two main reasons why longevity is foremost these days.

The first, of course, being the pandemic that is among us. It may be the first time that the civilian population of the entire world is facing the possibility of sudden death, not from incoming fire or even suicide bombers but from an insidious, unseen, minute germ!

The second reason why the length of our lives and prolonging it for as long as we possibly can have been entering my thoughts, is when I see the scramble to get the anti-virus vaccine that I observe in the Pearl. Now, most of us are Buddhists and somewhere in those teachings is a belief that we come into this world with a certain amount of AYUSHA or length of life, and that when that is over the end happens and there is no choice. At least, that is the basic interpretation of undoubtedly very complex teaching.

If that is the case, why this scramble for the vaccine? Why are we using privileged positions (connections to rulers and politicians), connections to doctors, and even the Mayors of certain cities to short-circuit the waiting lists? Older people are complaining that they are being denied the vaccine, why? Those people have probably achieved all their objectives in life, completed successful lives, seen grandchildren or even great-grandchildren, why do they want to deny some young man or woman starting out on life with all those milestones to reach, the vaccine, particularly if they are devoted to the teachings of the Buddha.

Is it selfishness, greed, and avarice, things we should avoid according to these self-same teachings, or is it simply one-up-man-ship and the need to be able to boast that they got the vaccine when the “ordinary” man is still standing in queues and probably infecting each other due to the total chaos and non-observance of Covid protocols in these places of administering the vaccine? Think about it dear readers, especially those of you who have completed productive and useful lives, brought up “successful” children, and as is the way in our society provided them with houses, lands, dowries, and other ways of sustenance. Do we really need to join this scramble for the vaccine? Or, use our position of privilege to probably deny some younger person, with a life to live, the chance of getting it. Is it even our ego (something else we should control and make less significant in our lives and decisions) that allows us to justify our long existence in this world? They need my superior intellect, does this world and this society, therefore I must live as long as possible! Or, is it simply the basic animal instinct to live as long as possible, something that we as humans with our superior brains should be able to think around?

Here in Aotearoa, we have re-entered a level 3 lockdown in our most heavily populated city and a level 2 lockdown for the rest of our country. This has been due to certain non-observance of Covid protocols by people of a clearly identified community, living in a certain part of the city of sails, as Auckland is also known. This is the second time that the community, living in that part of the city has brought about an escalation of the pandemic and stricter lockdowns. It has brought more economic misery and spelled the end of the road to more businesses and enterprises. Now, in the Pearl, we may have resorted to attacking those communities and even rioting. All that seems to have happened here are of course the usual vitriolic racist attacks on the internet and a government decision to vaccinate those areas of the city first, in an attempt to control the pandemic. Wow! in the pearl either all these people would have been rounded up and locked up in a camp in the Vanni or locked down under strict curfew with the threat of being shot if violated. The jury with regard to if the Pearl alternative or the Aotearoa alternative of these should have been used is still out …

Maybe some readers are interested in the outcome of the threat that is looming over us from the upcoming United Nations action in Geneva? I have been trying to get some feedback from “intellectuals” currently living in the Pearl, but they seem distracted, and a feeling of helplessness seems to prevail. The incumbent Foreign Minister seems to think that a humble Indian Ocean Island with what strictly speaking, can be considered a failed or at least failing economy, can dictate terms to the UN, behaving like the proverbial bull in a china shop. Maybe our “new best friend” China, probably aided and abetted by Russia has lent strength to his arm.

Even a “victory’ for Lanka at the UNHCR to this resolution should not be cheered too vociferously, as the countries ranged against us will have long term plans. Every step of this government will be monitored closely. The loss of our garment exporting privileges to the first world could result along with other economic sanctions that would make the cost of living in the Pearl even higher.

One rather interesting possibility seems to be travel bans on certain individuals and freezing of their assets held abroad. Now that could be stimulating, especially if the numbers involved are made public! However, if that was the case, I believe the attempt to rectify the situation would have been given to a more competent person than “the bull in the china shop”!

I cannot resist putting this out dear readers and I apologise profusely in advance. What if someone like Ranil W, was in charge of foreign affairs? Do you think we would have had a more professional approach and had a better chance in dealing with the complicated nuances of handling UN diplomacy, in the long term? At least we may have not insulted and possibly humiliated the visiting PM of one of our allies, Imran Khan of Pakistan! On the other hand, Mr. Khan, you may rest assured that even if you had addressed our parliament, no member would have understood anything you said or even been able to decipher your immaculate Oxbridge accent. It is only those of us who have shut ourselves out mentally from the shenanigans or gone into voluntary exile who watch with dismay, who would have savoured your words and briefly wondered …what if … ?

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Thanks for quick vaccination; harmful dabblers in the occult should be severely dealt with

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There has been much in the daily press on vaccination against Covid-19 in this fair isle of ours, or rather in Colombo and its suburbs

Let’s put aside complaints and say praise be!

Most of what was media-written was on the ensuing chaos of not knowing where to go for the jab; how to get a token; which age group will be given it (apart of course from VIPs and politicians who were close behind frontline health workers). Mercifully, the authorities righted the initial wrong of deciding on prioritizing the 30-65 age group and neglecting the over 65s, who were placed second in the priority list in more enlightened countries following WHO strictures. And so lots have got the jab and we anticipate a drastic drop in infection and Covid death rates. Cass contributed her fair share of criticism in this column but not stridently nor unreasonably. She had not seen the privileged list that passed off as Municipal workers on Tuesday 24 February at the Public Library, Colombo 7, arriving in Mercedes Benzes and SUVs. If she had, her ire would have emerged in pure vitriol! One friend said she enquired from several sophisticates in the queue how they got there, but received mumbled replies. So, a Rose by any other name, even Do-Gooder, smells as bad when it goes unjust! Things got much better and the service worked smoothly once the MOHs came into their own.

What Cass notes in summarizing the issue today is thanks and gratitude to the government and the Health Services particularly, for vaccinating so very many so quickly. People who wrote about this issue, Cass included, were all praise for the actual data takers and vaccine givers. In certain centres, the old and disabled were queued in a different line and vaccinated within an hour.

The gratitude Cass renders is because only part of the total amount of vaccine was gifted by India and the WHO. Our government booked early and paid for the rest, and of the Oxford kind. This vaccine is admittedly relatively cheaper, but it had to be paid for, which cost the government bore. We have to appreciate the massive organization entailed and excuse inevitable hiccups. This fact struck Cass as a feeling of much needed security and elimination of fear was felt, and all for free. Also when a friend in Melbourne wrote they were as yet awaiting vaccination.

 

Black Magic and witchcraft in Sri Lanka

If you thought as Cass did that we would never ever resemble a dark Congo tribe resorting to occult cures or a re-enactment of shades of supernatural superstitious beliefs in witchcraft as in Salem, Massachusetts, USA, in 1692 (where some young girls caught prancing naked cooked up lies about good women in the village being witches), you and Cass were both mistaken. We’ve had these in different styles right here in supposedly majority Buddhist Free Sri Lanka with other religions holding people together, in the 21st century with some of our own doing brilliantly well in advanced scientific disciplines all over the developed world. Cass, as you now know, was born and bred in the hills of Kandy with its most sacred Dalada Maligawa and picturesquely situated quaint temples in peaceful green valleys with the sound of evening pooja bells, joined by Kovil tinkles and Sunday sonorous Church gantara and the cry of the Muzeen. We never had a bali or thovil ceremony. If an inauspicious time descended on the village or a household, it was pirith chanted by Bhikkhus. So to Cass what has been happening very recently is even stranger than to those who have village cousins who dabble in mantra and kodivina with kattadiyas in action.

I refer here to the stupidly preposterous belief in Dhammika’s peniya as both a prophylactic and cure for pernicious Covid-19. Where is that charlatan veda – oops sorry- Kaliamma devala kapurala now? Safe with his ill-gotten gains, we suppose.

The latest voodoo story, but with such a tragic ending, is that of the 9-year-old Delgoda girl who suffered an emotional (rather than mental) aberration and was subject to exorcism by caning her mercilessly. The exorcist could not be a woman; she must certainly be a sadistic aberration herself. Can you believe that she applied oil on the girl and used the cane on her till the kid went unconscious? Was the cane an ordinary one? At first I could not believe the story read in the papers – how cane a person to death, but it was a child receiving the torture and who knows what sort of ‘weapon’ was used. The mother definitely must be punished more severely. Maternal love, even in the animal kingdom, will never allow harming an offspring, so how on earth did the mother watch all that caning. One shot would have torn Cass to the defence of her child, or for that matter any child, with talons extended and blood now not turned to milk as the Sinhala saying goes, but to vitriolic fury. The woman exorcist with supernatural powers and the mother are in police custody. Why doesn’t she do a Houdini and astound handsome Police high-up Ajit Rohana?

People claiming superhuman clairvoyance and divine power crop up everywhere. Cass accompanied a friend to consult a girl in the suburbs of Kandy to find out where her hub had ‘donated’ a fairly large sum of money. This girl had given clear directions to find a lost Persian cat to a third friend; hence the visit. She was a pretty, soft girl of around 18. Once Cass and the other entered the room, the girl changed, was in a near trance and speaking in an entirely different voice, pronounced the reason for seeking her help and said “Look for a man always dressed in long sleeves and thinning hair parted in the middle.” The friend was baffled and defeated by this long shot, but finally she met a man of this description – the father of a girl in her husband’s office. She did not ask for the money!

Such ‘powers’ are temporary; maybe like poltergeist manifestations in a teenager’s home. But going for cures to them is unthinkable. Buddhist bhikkhus and maybe bhikkhuunis, so also certain Christian priests (the bulk of lecherous Father Mathew intrudes here) do have powers of exorcism. A medical doctor is the best bet, in any case, including even mental upsets.

 

Short Takes

Imran Khan’s all too brief visit was a successful veni, vidi, vici in spite of being snubbed ungraciously over the address to Parliamentarians (what a weak, threadbare excuse was offered – C-19 precaution!) and missing out two of our cricket greats: Michael Tissera and Anura Tennakoon from the list of cricket folk to say Hi to the great Cricketer at lunch at Shangri La. What was the success apart from charming everyone and showing off what a Statesman can look like and carry himself off? Why – the Muslims of Sri Lanka conquered. Burial was theirs or so it seemed. But hold it, is it gazetted or is this ‘yes’ like the Prime Minister’s definite ‘can bury’ pronounced in Parliament and then brushed aside and explained by the Gaman as “he was merely expressing his thoughts.”

Main headline in The Island of Wednesday 3 March:” PCol report on Easter Sunday carnage: AG won’t be given ‘sensitive’ volumes.” Why on earth? Is it X-rated and the AG underage?

Picture on page I of same issue of Dr Rajitha Senaratne arriving at the Colombo High Court to appear in a case involving two persons who accused then Defence Secretary Gotabaya Rajapaksa of various crimes. We have long forgotten even a single word of what they said. They will not get off free is Cass’ bet unlike Aluthgamage, who emerged very recently from a court house free as a bird, accused of corruption, Cass recalls.

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