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Powerplay of Parliamentary Politics



The new parliament has begun to function with the formal policy statement by President Gotabaya Rajapaksa. There were no armed forces parading or horse-ride escorts for the President, which took some of the colour of the traditional ceremony. Maybe such  decorum was considered too costly in this hugely strained economic situation. 

 One MP from Kotte  came to parliament by boat on the Diyawanna Lake, with promises of the new government taking action to have a complete waterway transport system to overcome traffic jams and road blocks in the Colombo region. Sailing should soon be a daily delight to our people, if that becomes real.

Amidst all the celebratory MPs in the House, there was one large missing image. It was the elephant, pushed out of the House for the first time since 1947, when Mr. D. S. Senanayake led the first government. It was the stunning shame suffered by the UNP led by Ranil Wickremesinghe; and also contributed to by the SJB team led by Sajith Premadasa, whose louder call was to capture Sri Kotha and not a majority in parliament. There is a bigger worry whether this absence of the elephant in parliament, is a pointer to the larger national issue of the crisis faced by the elephants in our jungles. Can any government that is elected to serve the people, do much to save the elephants? The current thinking on democracy is people centred and not jumbo focused! Will we be soon coming to a political reality of letting the elephants be part of our 2,500 plus history? Are we to begin exporting them to strengthen the economy and have more jungle land for people? Can a revived UNP and the SJB-led Opposition launch a proper Elephant Save politics, with sufficient influence on Pohottuva Power?

Although it didn’t happen in parliament, one new MP has  made a huge contribution to new and necessary thinking on the cost of MPs to the people.  The Colombo District SLPP member Madura Withanage, former Kotte  Mayor too, has announced his rejection of the Duty Free vehicle permit he is entitled to, under the costly system of buttress  for MPs. Are there any more MPs, who made huge promises of serving the people once elected, ready to make such a move and save many millions of foreign exchange for the country? Let’s ignore the old ranks among MPs, many of who are really old, 70 plus,plus, who must have planned the profit from Duty Free vehicle sale as part of an MP’s yield. How many of the new members elected in this political whirlwind are ready to make such a sacrifice for the people? Will those working on the new Pohottuva Constitution think of taking Duty Free vehicles out of an MP’s  platter of profit? 

Will the Opposition MPs  of the SJB think of taking a no Duty Free vehicle permit  as a part of service to the  people, which they promised with the telephone against the elephant? Or, will the public have to expect President Gotabaya Rajapaksa to make this part of his wider plans for reviving the economy, now in the doldurms?    

What will the new parliament do about Power? We know that everyone there, elected by the people, and nominated by one’s party, will not want to curb their power by any means. We are talking of the Power that keeps the lights on, factories working, hospitals functioning, water being distributed….the Power that kept us in darkness for many hours, and has warned us of many more such disasters in the  coming months. Will the new parliament take quick action, with necessary committees – even a Select Committee – to probe the continuing crisis in Power Production and Distribution in the country? 

The Power Play has been going on for far too long, with engineers and manipulators dominating the control of this necessary service to the people. Norochcholai or Ketawalamulla are the  profitable playgrounds of these forces, more concerned about the profits from power purchase than the well-planned, economically effective and environmentally suitable supply of power to the people. 

Will this new parliament think more about the sources of power in this country from water, wind and other sources, than keep on thinking of coal power generation that is now being abandoned by many progressive countries. Will this country be helped to move away from the thinkers who believe more in importing power than a well-planned local production. Will a parliament with a two-thirds plus majority in political and government power continue to give in to the crooked manipulators of power, who will keep the country and people the victims of Purchase Power Exploiters? Power is the stuff of Parliament. It must be used to control and put down the Power Exploiters, and not used to further strengthen these forces ranged against the people. This is what the power politics of today must be used for – service to the people, not profit to the hooked manipulators of power supply.   

This is certainly an interesting parliament with a younger input having to face the dominance of the aged. The Cabinet has  three members over 70 years, and closer to 80, too. There is a State Minister who is 81 plus, and one new MP who is 80 plus. The over 60 range in the House certainly has sway in the numerical divide. Is Sri Lanka to be known the world over as the Land of Aged Power? The Rajapaksa Rajavasala –  the Castle of the Rulers – has an aged speciality, but with new pathways to the young, but only from the Rajavansa Lineage. 

There are so many things the new parliament will have to deal with. Among these are the enormous facilities and benefits that MPs have in income, the number of vehicles that each minister can have, the family members that can be hired for service to oneself…the narrative goes on. Can the new parliament, with such a huge majority government, and also a substantial opposition, move to curb the powers, profits and other benefits and advantages to its members, and think more of real benefits to the people.

Let’s awat the Draft of the new Constitution – minus 19A, with a 20A and priority given to the concept of one country, and one law for all people. Is it Unity in Diversity or the Powerplay of Politics?   

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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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