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Rata Yana grandmothers

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Capt Elmo Jayawardena
Elmojay1@gmail.com

Remember the bygone years! Daughters got married and became pregnant a few rounds more than the current rate. The average production line extended to about four. Some even went further; ‘A’ team types came close to two-digit figures.

Today, the story is different. “One is enough, and he will get all we have,” is quite a common comment and a few over-step the planned reproduction limitations purely by accident and reach the second round. Either way, the count is kept low, relative to the statistics of the previous generations.

Thank God!

Let’s make a few comparisons, I do recall the yesteryear, same show as common as grass blades. The drum major of a mother-in-law invaded and took over the whole show, lock stock and cradle, as it were. Of course, she did not come alone but with Asilin or Cicilin, who was her lifetime faithful in the domestic department––Mary and the little lamb type who accompanied her everywhere. That was it! The husband and the mother-to-be had no chance, the whole traditional rigmarole was performed from tying a one cent coin to the ‘buriya’ to feeling the head lest it not shape and the new born ends up looking like a miniature ET. And the cradle, it did its own rounds, booked at the conception to be borrowed at confinement. This here is a jealously protected family heirloom that had served the entire family tree and may have lasted so long that the mother herself had laid on it and swung crying for milk. Talk of sentimentality! Man, you only had to use your nails and chip a bit to see pink and blue layers covering each other on the cradle wall, a sure sign of the different types that started life here.

Of course, the grandmother duties lasted till the new ‘mama’ learnt the tricks of bathing and feeding and the rest that went along with the show. Then it was time to go. The bonus was there, Asilin or Cicilin was left behind in reserve mode; just in case the new mother found the going a bit too demanding. Don’t forget this wasn’t the diaper age, a dozen nappies hung like white bats on a long line to dry, hand-washed and hand-ironed.

The fairy tale so begun continued. The other daughter residing in Galle, then the favourite niece in Kandy, they all needed the major-domo. Each one getting ready, “on your marks, get set” to contribute to the population explosion. Nothing like having the Mother Hubbard around, at times a little painful, but as a totality, a great asset, one had to weigh the pros and cons and compromise. Heads she wins, tails she wins, too. That’s how it all happened; we’ve seen the script which hardly changed except for the granny actress. They all were the same, they only differed by name.

Now, the Ballard has changed. The elder daughter lives in New York and the younger one is in Wellington. Tickets will come but no Asilin and Cicilin, it is the Major Domo who has to trudge alone changing planes. She sits long hours in cheese class totally ignored by the Trolley Dollies––they do not know here is a ‘baby bringing expert’––and she makes it to the destination before the baby pops out. Of course, this is all done in happy mode and very convenient, too, for the daughters and sons-in-law to have these ‘know-alls’ coming across continents to take over baby matters. If you are lucky, the Seeya gets spared, but you could be unlucky, too. The grandfather duties are so different from the Major Domo’s. Travel half the world to sit and wait like yesterday’s newspaper and maybe push the cart and carry the bags at the supermarket and come home and taste Shiraz and watch HBO. The neighbours are there but they only nod, and their kids maybe thinking you are from “Wizard of Oz” with your chocolate-coloured face. It certainly is a solitary game for the Seeya, far removed from the chaotic serenade that he lives in Sri Lanka. And lo and behold, if you object to accompanying the major domo. You have no choice, like the centipede who was asked to put his best foot forward. And if you refuse, the entire family tree would fall on you from the trunk to the little leaves, in condemnation; best make the trip; you can at least come back home, and tell the drinking buddies in counterfeited glee how great the first world is.

The seasons, too, play a big part in this rigmarole. If the birth is in the summer, great! But it could be otherwise, and the poor Major Domo now must wrap herself in anything and everything to fight the chilly winter gray. Must be more like puss-in-boots inside the house, wearing the fluffy pink or indigo moccasins that were left behind by the other granny who arrived on holiday two years ago.

The pre-journey preparation is something else. The bag can carry only so much weight, but the entire grocery store has to go. Juggery, Lamprais, Achcharu, Milk Toffee, and a bit of this and that which includes Siddhalepa and Dilmah tea and if space permits some sausages too (as if you couldn’t buy such things in the first world.)

Of course, now you’ve got to find some friend who has a friend who knows a friend working at the airport to tilt the scale a bit for the overweight. Can be done, of course, this is Sri Lanka.

Last week, I spoke to a fellow Caucasian pilot who had just opened his innings as a grandfather. “Yes, the baby was born, all normal, and Helen will go next month to London to see our grandson.” Great, Helen will go and perhaps stay in a hotel and do an evening visit or two and return. Life goes on and my pilot friend is nailed to where he is, baby arrivals have no effect on him; he is just the grandfather who will post them a card with a stork carrying a baby, which says, “Congratulations.”

Well, we can laugh at our Sri Lankan ways, but let’s be happy that we have them. I have already done four trips, Texas, Singapore, and Melbourne twice. I have done the ‘Rata Yana Grandmother tele drama’ and become an expert at that. Of course, I drank the Shiraz and watched HBO and carried shopping bags at the supermarket. But I must categorically state I have enjoyed that and will gladly go again if I am called. Isn’t that all too familiar? For that is what we are. The first world can have all its glitter and gloss that is great. But we in our turpentine polish raise our heads, too, and run behind our children, Major-Domo leading, grandfather following, all to be present to bring back that “old home feeling” in a far away land. That’s us, it is the Sri Lankan way, and no grandmother grudges that and no grandfather can afford to grumble. She is the “must” for the occasion and he is the also ran, simply there not to win but to take part. Coubertin should have thought of Grandfathers when he coined his great Olympic slogan. Yes, the trend is globe-trotting Vinnambu-ammas and they have come to stay, to fly to wherever they are needed to run the entire show when the grandchildren are coming to this world.

Mark my words, if your daughter gets married and goes abroad to settle down in Toronto or Timbuktu, that is a sure sign you must plan the beginning of the merry-go-round ride. Mother certain, father maybe, just get ready. It is only a matter of time before the call comes to pack the bags and go.

Of course, there will be Shiraz and HBO.



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Features

UK support for govt.’s pragmatic reconciliation process

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Lord Ahmad with GL

By Jehan Perera

The government would be relieved by the non-critical assessment by visiting UK Minister for South Asia, United Nations and the Commonwealth, Lord Tariq Ahmad of his visit to Sri Lanka. He has commended the progress Sri Lanka had made in human rights and in other areas as well, such as environmental protection. He has pledged UK support to the country. According to the President’s Media Division “Lord Tariq Ahmad further stated that Sri Lanka will be able to resolve all issues pertaining to human rights by moving forward with a pragmatic approach.” The Minister, who had visited the north and east of the country and met with war-affected persons tweeted that he “emphasised the need for GoSL to make progress on human rights, reconciliation, and justice and accountability.”

Prior to the Minister’s visit, President Gotabaya Rajapaksa had announced in Parliament that his government had not violated nor would support “any form of human rights violations.” This was clearly an aspirational statement as the evidence on the ground belies the words. Significantly he also added that “We reject racism. The present government wants to safeguard the dignity and rights of every citizen in this country in a uniform manner. Therefore I urge those politicians who continue to incite people against each other for narrow political gains to stop doing so.” This would be welcome given the past history especially at election time.

The timing of Lord Ahmad’s visit and the statements made regarding human rights suggest that the forthcoming session of the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva, commencing on February 28, loomed large in the background. The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights will be presenting a written report on that occasion. A plethora of issues will up for review, including progress on accountability for crimes, missing persons, bringing the Prevention of Terrorism Act in line with international standards, protecting civil society space and treating all people and religions without discrimination.

The UK government has consistently taken a strong position on human rights issues especially in relation to the ethnic conflict and the war which led to large scale human rights violations. The UK has a large Tamil Diaspora who are active in lobbying politicians in that country. As a result some of the UK parliamentarians have taken very critical positions on Sri Lanka. Lord Ahmad’s approach, however, appears to be more on the lines of supporting the government to do the needful with regard to human rights, rather than to condemn it. This would be gratifying to the architects of the government’s international relations and reconciliation process, led by Foreign Minister Prof G L Peiris.

REACHING OUT

In the coming week the government will be launching a series of events in the North of the country with a plethora of institutions that broadly correspond to the plethora of issues that the UNHRC resolution has identified. War victims and those adversely affected by the post war conditions in the North and livelihood issues that arise from the under-developed conditions in those areas will be provided with an opportunity to access government services through on-the-spot services through mobile clinics. The programme coordinated by the Ministry of Justice called “Adhikaranabhimani” is meant to provide “ameliorated access to justice for people of the Northern Province.”

Beginning with Kilinochchi and Jaffna there will be two-day mobile clinics in which the participating government institutions will be the Legal Aid Commission, Office for National Unity and Reconciliation, Office for Reparations, Office on Missing Persons, Department of Debt Conciliation Board and the Vocational Training Authority to mention some of them. Whether it is by revising 60 laws simultaneously and setting up participatory committees of lawyers and state officials or in now launching the “Adhikaranabhimani” Justice Minister Ali Sabry has shown skill at large scale mobilisation that needs to be sustained. It is to be hoped that rather than treating them as passive recipients, the governmental service providers will make efforts to fulfill their need for justice, which means that the needs of victims and their expectations are heard and acknowledged.

It will also be important for the government to ensure that these activities continue in the longer term. They need to take place not only before the Geneva sessions in March but also continue after them. The conducting of two-day mobile clinics, although it will send a message of responsiveness, will only be able to reach a few of the needy population. The need is for infusing an ethic of responsiveness into the entirety of the government’s administrative machinery in dealing with those problems that reaches all levels, encompassing villages, divisions, districts and provinces, not to mention the heart of government at the central level.

The government’s activities now planned at the local level will draw on civil society and NGO participation which is already happening. Government officials are permitting their subordinate officials to participate in inter-ethnic and inter religious initiatives. It is in their interest to do so as they would not wish to have inter-community conflicts escalate in their areas which, in the past, have led to destruction of property and life. They also have an interest in strengthening their own capacities to understand the underlying issues and developing the capacity to handle tensions that may arise through non-coercive methods.

BUILDING PEACE

Many of the institutions that the government has on display and which are going to the North to provide mobile services were established during the period of the previous government. However, they were not operationalized in the manner envisaged due to political opposition. Given the potency of nationalism in the country, especially where it concerns the ethnic conflict, it will be necessary for the government to seek to develop a wide consensus on the reconciliation process. The new constitution that is being developed may deal with these issues and heed the aspirations of the minorities, but till that time the provincial council system needs to be reactivated through elections.

Sooner rather than later, the government needs to deal with the core issue of inter-ethnic power sharing. The war arose because Sinhalese politicians and administrators took decisions that led to disadvantaging of minorities on the ground. There will be no getting away from the need to reestablish the elected provincial council system in which the elected representatives of the people in each province are provided with the necessary powers to take decisions regarding the province. In particular, the provincial administrations of the Northern and Eastern provinces, where the ethnic and religious minorities form provincial majorities, need to be reflective of those populations.

At the present time, the elected provincial councils are not operational and so the provincial administration is headed by central appointees who are less likely to be representative of the sentiments and priorities of the people of those provinces. In the east for instance, when Sinhalese encroach on state land the authorities show a blind eye, but when Tamils or Muslims do it they are arrested or evicted from the land. This has caused a lot of bitterness in the east, which appears to have evaded the attention of the visiting UK minister as he made no mention of such causes for concern in his public utterances. His emphasis on pragmatism may stem from the observation that words need to be converted to deeds.

A video put out by the UK Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office confirms a positive approach with regard to engaging with the Sri Lankan government. In it Lord Ahmad says “the last three days illustrated to me that we can come together and we can build a constructive relationship beyond what are today with Sri Lanka. We can discuss the issues of difference and challenge in a candid but constructive fashion.” Lord Ahmad’s aspiration for UK-Sri Lankan relations needs to be replicated nationally in government-opposition relations, including the minority parties, which is the missing dimension at the present time.

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Yohani…teaming up with Rajiv and The Clan

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I know many of you, on reading this headline, would say ‘What?’

Relax. Yohani, of ‘Manike Mage Hithe’ fame, is very much a part of the group Lunu.

But…in February, she will be doing things, differently, and that is where Rajiv and the Clan come into the scene.

Rajiv and his band will be embarking on a foreign assignment that will take them to Dubai and Oman, and Yohani, as well as Falan, will be a part of the setup – as guest artistes.

The Dubai scene is not new to Yohani – she has performed twice before, in that part of the world, with her band Lunu – but this would be her first trip, to Oman, as a performer.

However, it will be the very first time that Yohani will be doing her thing with Rajiv and The Clan – live on stage.

In the not too distant past, Rajiv worked on a track for Yohani that also became a big hit. Remember ‘Haal Massa?’

“She has never been a part of our scene, performing as a guest artiste, so we are all looking forward to doing, it in a special way, during our three-gig, two-country tour,” says Rajiv.

Their first stop will be Dubai, on February 5th, for a private party, open-air gig, followed by another two open-air, private party gigs, in Oman – on February 10th and 11th.

Another attraction, I’m told, will be Satheeshan, the original rapper of ‘Manike Mage Hithe.’

He will also be a part of this tour (his first overseas outing) and that certainly would create a lot of excitement, and add that extra sparkle, especially when he comes into the scene for ‘Manike Mage Hithe.’

Yohani and her band, Lunu, last performed in Dubai, a couple of months back, and Satheeshan, they say, was the missing link when she did her mega internet hit song – live, on stage.

There was a crowd to catch her in action but it wasn’t a mind-blowing experience – according to reports coming our way.

A live performance, on stage, is a totally different setup to what one sees on social media, YouTube, etc.

I guess music lovers, here, would also welcome a truly live performance by Yohani de Silva.

In the meanwhile, I’m also told that Rajiv Sebastian plans to release some songs of the late Desmond de Silva which he and Desmond have worked on, over the years.

According to Rajiv, at this point in time, there is material for four albums!

He also mentioned that he and his band have quite a few interesting overseas assignments, lined up, over the next few months, but they have got to keep their fingers crossed…hoping that the Omicron virus wouldn’t spike further.

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Multi-talented, indeed…

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Thamesha Herath (back row – centre) and her disciples (students)

We all know Trishelle as the female vocalist of Sohan & The X-Periments, so, obviously it came to me as a surprise when it was mentioned that she is a highly qualified Bharatanatyam dancer, as well.

What’s more, she has been learning the skills of Bharatanatyam, since her kid days!

And, to prove that she is no novice, where this highly technical dance form is concerned, Trishelle, and the disciples (students) of State Dance Award winning Bhartanatyam Guru, Nritya Visharad Bhashini, Thamesha Herath, will be seen in action, on January 29th, at 4.00 pm, at the Ave Maria Auditorium, Negombo.

Said to be the biggest event in Bharatanatyam, this Arangethram Kalaeli concert will bring into the spotlight Avindu, Sithija, Mishaami, Nakshani, Venushi, Veenadi, Amanda, Sakuni, Kawisha, Tishaani, Thrishala (Trishelle), Sarithya, Hewani, Senuri, Deanne and Wasana.

In addition to her singing, and dancing skills, Trishelle has two other qualifications – Bachelor in Biomedical Science, and Master in Counselling Psychology.

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