Reminiscences of Dangedera village in Galle
Continued from Saturday
There was a colourful Muslim personality in the village known to all and sundry as ‘Cassim Master’. He was very fluent in Sinhala and could read and write the language perfectly.
When the post of the Charity Commissioner in the Galle Municipal Council fell vacant, he applied for it. But on the morning of the interview, Cassim Master was told by someone in the know, that the post was earmarked for a strong supporter of the Mayor.
An angry Cassim Master decided that he would go for the interview anyway. The interview board comprised the Mayor, the Deputy Mayor and the Municipal Commissioner.
In order to test his Sinhala, the Deputy Mayor asked Cassim Master, the Sinhala term for the Galle Municipal Council.
“Galu Naraka Sabhawa?” said Cassim Maser without batting an eye. (Galle Bad Council).
There was an embarrassed silence, with red faces on the interview board.
And what is the Sinhala term for the Mayor of Galle?” asked His Worship the Mayor?
“Galu Narakadhi pathithuma!” replied Cassim Master blandly. (Galle’s Head of Hell!)
S. S. Kulatilake
The retired District Judge S. S. Kulatilake was the first MP and the first Cabinet Minister from this village. He was an appointed MP and the Minister of Cultural Affairs in the Sirimavo Bandaranaike Government in 1970.
In 1977, D.G. (Dangedera Gamage) Albert Silva from this village was elected as the MP for Galle and later nominated as the MP for Kamburupitiya, far removed from Galle.
A. H. E. Fernando and G. Keerthisinghe from this village were Deputy Mayors of Galle.
Sick of the servility of their veteran leaders, the angry young men of Dangedera found in the young lawyer from the village, – Raja Kulatilaka, a charismatic leader who eventually became the Mayor of Galle.
C. Sittampalam, a member of the Cabinet of D. S. Senanayake, chose a Sinhala bride from this village.
The Mahinda College playground is located inside this village on the north-west. It dates back to 1912. For the ordinary villager it was “Pedi Kumbura.”
Some of those who began playing cricket on this field rose to dizzy heights. On the first day of March 1953, W. B. Bennett, keeping wickets for Mahinda College against the Galle Cricket Club, dismissed all the 10 batsmen of the Galle C.C. in one innings. He caught four and stumped six of his victims. It is now a Guinness World Record!
The Amendra brothers of Mahinda College, nine in all, set up a unique record by at least one of them having represented the school cricket team between the years 1951 and 1973. In the year 1957 five of them made up the school first eleven. For six years, the captaincy was held by five of them. Another two of them were vice-captains. No doubt, it is a rare feat. The Guinness Book only pondered.
Captaining the Mahinda College Cricket Team in 1953, Somasiri Ambawatta created history by scoring a century (103 not out) and taking all 10 Richmond College wickets for 34 runs in the first innings, at the big match. It is a record for school cricket big matches.
The Mahinda College playground also produced D. D. Jayasinghe, the first southerner to play for all Ceylon. It was against New Zealand in October 1937.
Veteran Wambeck the Richmondian sportsman and one time all Ceylon Javelin champion lived in “Field View” abutting this playground.
Every Wesak day, Jayan Aiyya organised a Bakthi Geetha Group of younger teenage girls who went from house to house. They were financially rewarded.
Kirineris Aiyya was well-known in the village. Behind his back the village pranksters called him “Pacha Kira” (inveterate liar). Sometimes, he boasted of the days of his youth as a local thug. He chanted lay pirith and was also engaged in chanting manthras (incantations) to cure minor ailments with the oil and the thread so charmed.
Once he outwitted the whole village when he structured on the village school grounds, a “Vangagiriya” (a labyrinth) mentioned in the Vessantara Jathika. The villagers lost their way and it was full of fun.
Simon Aiyya was short in stature and knock-kneed. He was always dressed in a pair of shorts. His hobby was collecting used shearing blades.
Upaska Mahattaya was the leader of the lay pirith group.
She was the epitome of the local Sinhala Mrs. Malaprop. Also being wily in nature she was nicknamed “Gundu Jane”.
Abu Carrim Nana ran a grocery in the village registering brisk business. He carried his money inside his fez.
Leslie de Mel was the propagandist of the Russian Communism in the village. He distributed Russian magazines free.
The “Gasyata Barber” visited the village homes. He performed his ritual under a shady tree. As a sideline he posed as an astrologer.
He was “Jacobite”, who was middle-aged and one who spared no monkeys in the village.
The veda ralahamy served the villagers and was not much concerned with material gains.
Merenchina Aaarchi had her vegetable stall in the dilapidated ambalama building at the Dangedera Junction. Every Wesak she organised with her funds a Dansela (distributing alms) in the village.
Dunthel Mudalali in tweed cloth and white coat was a welcome visitor to the village.
The loud voice “Maalu! Maalu!!” of the fisherman carrying the pingo, still rings in my ears. The vegetable basket woman (some of them were the breadwinners of their families), the women with jam bottles full of curd, the breadman with the huge basket on his head, containing bread and varieties of cake and sweetmeats, the hopper and string hopper vendors who used to hawk their wares from door to door, were there.
During the season, the Maldivian traders roamed the village. They sold Maldive fish and the delicacies like Aros, Bondahaluwa and Diyahakuru (a rice puller, all of which had a ready sale.)
The villagers in turn sold their betel leaves, arecanuts, bamboos and some other items to them.
The villagers called the Maldivians “Kallu” or “Yaalu Minihela”, while their boat was called “Hodiyo”. Sometimes, the pranksters of the village would provoke these traders by asking them “Yalu Minihela! Thamange hodiyata kaluballan dakkanne?” (Friends! Are you taking black dogs to your boat?). This reference to black dogs infuriated them and they ran after the fleeing pranksters. There was a Maldivian princess in a bungalow at a land called Diidiswatta.
World War II
At the time of World War Two, a siren was installed at the Miran Maduwa Junction in the village, to warn people of any impending disasters. There were a number of A. R. P. Wardens (Air Raid Precaution Wardens) who had their designation boards in black letters on a yellow background, to maintain law and order in times of distress and disaster. The pranksters in the village interpreted A.R.P. as Aaappa Roti Pittu or Aaachchige Redde Parippu.
Close to the Siren was an impressive projected cannon installed. (It was only a camouflaged arecanut tree stump).
There was a young coconut plucker. All of a sudden, he went missing from the village. After about six months he surfaced wearing an impressive military uniform and roamed the village.
At this time there were 10 cents, and five cents notes. The five cents note had a perforated edge which could separate three cents and two cents. The one cent coin had the legend “King George the VI Emperor of India”, with his picture.
The village school was closed and bags of rice were stocked there. Rice was in short supply at the time. And to supplement it two varieties of cereals known as Ryesina and Bagiri were made available. Our expert female cooks in the village had a major breakthrough when they produced delicious milk Bagiri which become immensely popular.
The “Dangedera Bakery” was centrally located in the village. It belonged to the Weerapperuma family. During the war, it catered to the needs to the people who in the mornings, lined up in the Indian file, to buy the bakery products. Mrs. Weerapperuma ably managed it and served the people.
Cruising down the Moragoda river, which abutted the village, in an improvised boat was a most enjoyable pastime. In the process, we were able to eat luscious Kirale fruits from the overhanging branches. Bovitiya, Dan Jambu, Guara and Mango were some other fruits we relished. Sometimes a good-hearted villager living on the bank of the river, would give us “kurumba” (young coconuts) to drink.
Kite flying, archery contests with improvised bows and arrows, catapulting, activating kurum batti machines, marble games, rubber seed and eramudu seed games (the larger ermudu seed was called (bootta), shooting with improvised pistols with seed bullets, spinning tops and chuck gudu, etc., were some of the other enjoyable activities we were engaged in.
Sometimes in the evenings we played softball cricket. Menikpura was a deadly bowler while Hamza was the best bat.
Once in a way, I would drop at my neighbour’s house to listen to gramophone music.
With the advent of the Sinhala New Year, the whole village was in a festive mood. The family members all gathered to celebrate it.
The new year table was laid with milk-rice and sweetmeats like kavum, kokis, asmi, athirasa, mung kavun and the inevitable plantains.
After they partake of the first meal of the new year at the auspicious time dressed in new clothes, followed by the money transactions, the children swing on the rope swings strung up on strong tree branches, reciting rhythmically a variety of swing-songs called (varan). One such was:
Some children indulged in the game called (nonada pollada) – tossing coins head or tail.
A young man in the adjoining village had a maintenance case. To avoid it he went abroad. After many years he came back to his village and got married to a girl from Dangedera. The couple was going for their honeymoon and were coming down the steps to a waiting car, when all of a sudden, a woman with a child and some armed thugs, intercepted them, demanding maintenance for the child, and all hell broke loose!
We were children then, when two of us decided to visit our grandmother. When she saw us, she was aghast, as a rabid dog had run berserk in the area. It was a narrow shave.
One day, the village was all agog with the news that the Nayaka Thera of the village temple Jayawardenarama, – Dangedera Panyasara Thera, was due to deliver a sermon over the radio. The village had only a few families having radio sets. But they made arrangements to accommodate the villagers by laying mats in their gardens.
These are some of the fond memories of the village where I was born.
Have Humanities and Social Sciences muddied water enough?
By Maduranga Kalugampitiya
The domain of the humanities and social sciences is under attack more than ever before. The relevance, as well as usefulness of the degrees earned in those fields, is being questioned left, right, and centre. The question of whether it is meaningful at all to be spending, if not wasting, the limited financial resources available in the coffers to produce graduates in those fields is raised constantly, at multiple levels. Attempts are being made to introduce a little bit of soft skills into the curricula in order to add ‘value’ to the degree programmes in the field. The assumption here is that either such degree programmes do not impart any skills or the skills that they impart are of no value. We often see this widely-shared profoundly negative attitude towards the humanities and the social sciences (more towards the former than towards the latter) being projected on the practitioners (students, teachers, and researchers) in those areas. At a top-level meeting, which was held one to two years ago, with the participation of policy-makers in higher education and academics and educationists representing the humanities and social sciences departments, at state universities, a key figure in the higher education establishment claimed that the students who come to the humanities and social sciences faculties were ‘late-developers’. What better (or should I say worse?) indication of the official attitude towards those of us in the humanities and the social sciences!
While acknowledging that many of the key factors that have resulted in downgrading the humanities and social sciences disciplines are global by nature and are very much part of the neoliberal world order, which dominates the day, I wish to ask if we, the practitioners in the said fields, have done our part to counter the attack.
What the humanities and the social sciences engage with is essentially and self-consciously social. What these disciplines have to say has a direct bearing on the social dimension of human existence. It is near impossible to discuss phenomena in economics, political science, or sociology without having to reflect upon and use examples from what happens in our lives and around us. One cannot even begin to talk about teaching English as a second language without taking a look at her/his own experience learning English and the struggles that many people go through at different levels doing the same. One cannot talk about successful ways of teaching foreign languages without recognizing the need to incorporate an engagement with the cultural life of those languages at some level. No reading of an artwork—be it a novel, a movie, a painting, a sculpture, a poem, whatever—is possible without the reader at least subconsciously reflecting upon the broader context in which those artworks are set and also relating her own context or experience to what is being read. A legal scholar cannot read a legislation without paying attention to the social implications of the legislation and the dynamics of the community at whom that legislation is directed. The point is our own existence as social beings is right in the middle of what we engage with in such disciplines. To steal (and do so self-consciously) a term from the hard/natural sciences, society is essentially the ‘laboratory’ in which those in the humanities and social sciences conduct their work. There may be some areas of study within the humanities and social sciences which do not require an explicit engagement with our social existence, but I would say that such areas, if any, are limited in number.
Needless to say that every social intervention is political in nature. It involves unsettling what appears to be normal about our social existence in some way. One cannot make interventions that have a lasting impact without muddying the water which we have been made to believe is clear. How much of muddying do we as practitioners in the field of humanities and social sciences do is a question that needs to be asked.
Unfortunately, we do not see much work in the humanities and social sciences which unsettles the dominant order. What we often see is work that reinforces and reaffirms the dominant structures, systems, and lines of thought. Lack of rigorous academic training and exposure to critical theory is clearly one of the factors which prevents some scholars in the field from being able to make interventions that are capable of muddying the water, but the fact that we sometimes do not see much muddying even on the part of the more adept scholars shows that lack of rigorous training is not the sole reason.
Muddying the water is no simple matter. To use a problematic, yet in my view useful, analogy, a scholar in the said field trying to make an intervention that results in unsettling the order is like a hydrogen atom in H2O, ‘water’ in layperson’s language, trying to make an intervention which results in a re-evaluation of the oxygen atom. Such an intervention invariably entails a re-evaluation of the hydrogen atom as well, for the reason that the two atoms are part of an organic whole. One cannot be purely objective in its reading of the other. Such an intervention is bound to be as unsettling for the hydrogen atom as it is for the oxygen atom. Similarly, in a majority of contexts, a scholar in the area of the humanities and social sciences cannot make an intervention, the kind that pushes the boundaries of knowledge, without unsettling the dominant structures and value systems, which they themselves are part of, live by, and also benefit from. For instance, the norms, values, and practices which define the idea of marriage in contexts like ours are things that a male scholar would have to deal with as a member of our society, and any intervention on his part which raises questions about gender-based inequalities embodied in such norms, values, and practices would be to question his own privilege. Needless to say that such an intervention could result in an existential crisis for the scholar, at least temporarily. Such interventions also entail the possibility of backlash from society. One needs thorough training to withstand that pressure.
In place of interventions that unsettle the existing order, what we often see is work, which re-presents commonsensical knowledge garbed in jargon. To give an example from an area that I am a bit familiar with, much of the work that takes place in the field of English as a Second Language (ESL) identifies lack of motivation on the part of the students and also teachers and also lack of proper training for teachers as the primary reasons for the plight of English education in the country. This reading is not very different from a layperson’s understanding of the problem, and what we often see as research findings in the field of ESL is the same understanding, albeit dressed up in technical-sounding language. Such readings do not unsettle the existing order. They put the blame on the powerless. Very limited is the work that sees the present plight of English education as a systemic or structural problem. Reading that plight as a systemic problem requires us to re-evaluate the fundamental structures which govern our society, and such re-evaluation is unsettling is many ways. I argue that that is what is expected of scholarship in the ESL field, but unfortunately that is not what we see as coming out of the field.
If what gets produced as knowledge in the humanities and social sciences is jargonized commonsense, then the claim that such fields have nothing important to say is valid. If what a scholar in those fields has to say is not different to a layperson’s understanding of a given reality, the question whether there is any point in producing such scholars becomes valid.
In my view, the humanities and social sciences are in need of fundamental restructuring. This restructuring is not the kind which calls for the incorporation of a bit of soft skills here and a bit of soft skills there so that those who come out of those fields easily fit into predefined slots in society but the kind that results in the enhancement of the critical thinking capacity of the scholars. It is the kind of restructuring that would produce scholars who are capable of engaging in a political reading of the realities that define our existence in society and raise difficult questions about such existence, in other words, scholars who are capable of muddying the water.
(Maduranga Kalugampitiya is attached to Department of English, University of Peradeniya)
Kuppi is a politics and pedagogy happening on the margins of the lecture hall thatparodies, subverts, and simultaneously reaffirms social hierarchies.
Selective targeting not law’s purpose
By Jehan Perera
The re-emergence of Donald Trump in the United States is a reminder that change is not permanent. Former President Trump is currently utilising the grievances of the white population in the United States with regard to the economic difficulties that many of them face to make the case that they need to be united to maintain their position in society. He is coming forward as their champion. The saying “Eternal vigilance is the price of liberty” is often attributed to the founders of the United States, Thomas Jefferson, Thomas Paine, Abraham Lincoln, among many others, though Lord Denning in The Road to Justice (1988) stated that the phrase originated in a statement of Irish orator John Philpot Curran in 1790. The phrase is often used to emphasise the importance of being vigilant in protecting one’s rights and freedoms.
Ethnic and religious identity are two powerful concepts by which people may be mobilised the world over. This is a phenomenon that seemed to have subsided in Western Europe due to centuries of secular practices in which the state was made secular and neutral between ethnicities and religions. For a short while last year during the Aragalaya, it seemed that Sri Lanka was transcending its ethnic and religious cleavages in the face of the unexpected economic calamity that plunged large sections of the population back into poverty. There was unprecedented unity especially at the street level to demonstrate publicly that the government that had brought the country to this sorry pass had to go. The mighty force of people’s power succeeded in driving the leaders of that government out of power. Hopefully, there will be a government in the future that will bring the unity and mutual respect within the people, especially the younger generations, to the fore and the sooner the better as the price is growing higher by the day.
But like the irrepressible Donald Trump the old order is fighting to stage its comeback. The rhetoric of ethnicity and religion being in danger is surfacing once more. President Ranil Wickremesinghe who proclaimed late last year that the 13th Amendment to the constitution would be implemented in full, as it was meant to be, and enable the devolution of power to be enjoyed by the people of the provinces, including those dominated by Tamils and Muslims, has gone silent on this promise. The old order to which he is providing a new economic vision is clearly recalcitrant on ethno-religious matters. As a result, the government’s bold plan to set up a Truth and Reconciliation Commission as promised to the international community in 2015 to address the unresolved human rights issues of the war, is reportedly on the rocks. The main Tamil political parties have made statements that they will not legitimise or accept such a mechanism in the absence of a genuine devolution of power. Politics must not override policies.
The sense of threat to ethnicity and religion looms too large once again for forward movement in conflict resolution between the different communities that constitute the Sri Lankan nation which is diverse and plural. Two unlikely persons now find themselves at the centre of an emotion-heavy ethno-religious storm. One is a comedian, the other is a religious preacher. Both of them have offended the religious sensibilities of many in the ethno-religious Sinhala Buddhist majority community. Both of their statements were originally made to small audiences of their own persuasion, but were then projected through social media to reach much larger audiences. The question is whether they made these statements to rouse religious hatred and violence. There have been numerous statements from all sides of the divide, whether ethnic, religious or political, denouncing them for their utterances.
Both comedian Nathasha Edirisooriya and pastor Jerome Fernando have apologised for offending and hurting the religious sentiments of the Buddhist population. They made an attempt to remedy the situation when they realised the hurt, the anger and the opposition they had generated. This is not the first time that such hurtful and offensive comments have been made by members of one ethno-religious community against members of another ethnic-religious community. Taking advantage of this fact the government is arguing the case for the control of social media and also the mainstream media. It is preparing to bring forward legislation for a Broadcasting Regulatory Commission that would also pave the way to imprison journalists for their reporting, impose fines, and also revoke the licences issued to electronic media institutions if they impact negatively on national security, national economy, and public order or create any conflict among races and religions.
In a free society, opportunities are provided for people to be able to air their thoughts and dissents openly, be it at Hyde Park or through their representatives in Parliament. The threat to freedom of speech and to the media that can arise from this new law can be seen in the way that the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) which is the world’s standard bearer on civil and political rights has been used and is being abused in Sri Lanka. It was incorporated into Sri Lankan law in a manner that has permitted successive governments to misuse it. It is very likely that the Broadcast Regulatory Commission bill will yield a similar result if passed into law. The arrest and detention of comedian Natasha Edirisooriya under the ICCPR Act has become yet another unfortunate example of the misuse of a law meant to protect human rights by the government. Pastor Jerome Fernando is out of prison as he is currently abroad having left the country a short while before a travel ban was delivered to him.
The state media reported that a “Police officer said that since there is information that she was a person who was in the Aragalaya protest, they are looking into the matter with special attention.” This gives rise to the inference that the reason for her arrest was politically motivated. Comedian Edirisooriya was accused of having violated the provisions in the ICCPR in Section 3(1) that forbids hate speech. Section 3(1) of the ICCPR Act prohibits advocacy of hatred that constitutes incitement to discrimination, violence or hostility. The international human rights watchdog, Amnesty International, has pointed out that in the case of Edirisooriya that for speech to be illegal on the grounds of being hate speech it requires “a clear showing of intent to incite others to discriminate, be hostile towards or commit violence against the group in question.” Amnesty International also notes that “When the expression fails to meet the test, even if it is shocking, offensive or disturbing, it should be protected by the state.”
Ironically, in the past there have been many instances of ethnic and religious minorities being targeted in a hateful manner that even led to riots against them, but successive governments have been inactive in protecting them or arresting their persecutors. Such targeting has taken place, often for political purposes in the context of elections, in blatant bids to mobilise sections of the population through appeals to narrow nationalism and fear of the other. The country’s political and governmental leaders need to desist from utilising the ICCPR Act against those who make social and political critiques that are outside the domain of hate speech. The arrest of Bruno Divakara, the owner of SL-Vlogs, under the ICCPR Act is an indication of this larger and more concerning phenomenon which is being brought to the fore by the Broadcasting Regulatory Commission bill.
The crackdown on the space for free expression and critical comment is unacceptable in a democratic polity, especially one as troubled as Sri Lanka, in which the economy has collapsed and caused much suffering to the people and the call to hold elections has been growing. The intervention of the Human Rights Commission which has called on the Inspector General of Police to submit a report on the arrest and its rationale is a hopeful sign that the independence of institutions intended to provide a check and balance will finally prevail. The Sri Lankan state will hopefully evolve to be a neutral arbiter in the disputes between competing ethnic, religious and partisan political visions of what the state should be and what constitutes acceptable behaviour within it. Taking on undemocratic powers in a variety of ways and within a short space of time is unlikely to deliver economic resurgence and a stable and democratic governance the country longs for. Without freedom, justice and fair play within, there can be no hope of economic development that President Wickremesinghe would be wanting to see.
Girl power… to light up our scene
We have never had any outstanding all-girl bands, in the local scene, except, perhaps…yes The Planets, and that was decades ago!
The Planets did make a name for themselves, and they did create quite a lot of excitement, when they went into action.
Of course, abroad, we had several top all-girl bands – outfits like the Spice Girls, Bangles, Destiny’s Child, and The Supremes.
It’s happening even now, in the K-pop scene.
Let’s hope we would have something to shout about…with the band Manthra – an all-girl outfit that came together last year (2022).
Manthra is made up of Hiruni Fernando (leader/bass guitar), Gayathma Liyanage (lead guitar), Amaya Jayarathne (drums), Imeshini Piyumika (keyboards), and Arundathi Hewawitharana (vocals).
Amaya Arundathi and Imeshini are studying at the University of Visual and Performing Arts, while Gayathma is studying Architecture at NIMB, and Hiruni is the Western Music teacher at St. Lawrence’s Convent, and the pianist at Galadari Hotel, having studied piano and classical guitar at West London University.
They have already displayed their talents at various venues, events, weddings, and on TV, as well (Vanithabimana Sirasa TV and Charna TV Art Beat).
Additionally, the band showcased their talent at the talent show held at the Esoft Metro Campus.
The plus factor, where this all-girl outfit is concerned, is that their repertoire is made up rock, pop, and Sinhala songs.
Explaining as to how they came up with the name Manthra, founder member Hiruni said that Manthra means a word, or sound, repeated to aid concentration in meditation, and that the name was suggested by one of the band members.
She also went on to say that putting together a female band is not an easy task, in the scene here.
“We faced many difficulties in finding members. Some joined and then left, after a short while. Unlike a male band, where there are many male musicians in Sri Lanka, there are only a few female musicians. And then, there are some parents who don’t like their daughters getting involved in music.”
With talented musicians in their line-up, the future certainly looks bright for Manthra who are now keen to project themselves, in an awesome way, in the scene here, and abroad, as well.
“We are keen to do stage shows and we are also planning to create our own songs,” said Hiruni.
Yes, we need an all-girl group to add variety to our scene that is now turning out to be a kind of ‘repeating groove,’ where we see, and hear, almost the same thing…over and over again!
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