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Semi-final Men

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Call any family friends and invite them to dinner. If the husband answers the phone he will politely say, “Thank you, I’ll get back to you.” That is the Lord of the Manor, the almighty playing the semi-final role and postponing the acceptance of a simple dinner invitation. If it is the wife who took the line, “Sure we will be there,” no postponement, no checking with the supposedly head of the house, the answer is instant and intuitive; there is not even a moment’s hesitation. Isn’t it a very clear indication then who the concert conductor is and who is simply there to play a minor role such as blowing a flute?

Familiar? Better be, unless you too are one of those who think you run the show. Yes, we husbands do make all the major decisions in the family. I always do; consider me an expert on this category. It is I who conclude in dinner conversations that Ernesto Che Guevara made a greater contribution to mankind than John F Kennedy with his Pulitzer and his father’s billions. I also conclude that Dr Jonas Savimbi did a better walk in Angola than what Mao did going across China in his Long March. Of course, I touch the local scene too, especially the cricket story. See what happened to Pakistan? Australian coach – and lost the semi-final. They should have given old Imran some duty leave, and brought him to coach? See New Zealand? Kiwi coach and won the semi-final. These are facts I predicted long before they started the Emirates Cricket Carnival. It is I who decided that instead of a foreign head coach we need a ‘Ape Kolla’ to get the show on the road. These major decisions keep me busy. That is why I have no time for trivia.

But small matters, just leave it to the wife, well I do not even bother. Like whether we should sell the family house and go live in a condominium, or whether we need a 52-inch new TV set that has a screen concave to the audience and which bank should hold our miserly-hoarded measly savings?

Now, do you get it? That is why I call my fellow brethren of the husband brigade ‘Semi-Final’ men. For all our colours of power and merriment, our songs have been mostly sad or diluted. Never had the ability to make the final decision, and quite unconsciously or consciously we have accepted this role to be the ‘also- rans’ in the home team. Even if we acquire the almost rare opportunity to make a decision, we all know who has the veto powers: “Are you mad? Don’t talk nonsense; have you lost your marbles?” With such over-riding authority I guess it is prudent to sing seconds and harmonise and say ‘discretion is the better part of valour’ and remain a consistent semi-final man in all family matters.

Now, if you have children, the problem worsens. One time, they sat on your knee and were like little angels. Then the legs grew longer, and the wings got shorter and the ‘holy picture’ sweetheart cherub disappears and became a know-all; mind you that generally happens when they are around 15 plus and then that lasts till they are about 23 when they meekly convert back to know-nothings and seek the elder interventions and wisdom. But sadly, when that happens, oftentimes the bridges are burnt, and the gorge has become wider.

So, as the kids grow, the once semi-final man becomes a quarter-final man and if the sibling numbers increase you are often times disqualified from the ‘decision making process’ altogether. God help you if the children live abroad. That’s when any confusion is referred to the ‘Third Umpire’. If that is a son, you may have a semblance of a chance or a Pontius Pilate act of washing the hands. But if it is a daughter, just forget it, that jury will never go against its grain. And if her husband is a semi-final man nodding like a cockatoo, you will be barbecued by the entire family. Better not go to the third umpire, the wise thing should be to give up in the first round. Sometimes you could even be giving a fight to the domestics for a place in the podium (if they are senior types). The home story is supposed to be a culture of democracy, but unfortunately for the husband it is more a vulture of injustice.

Man, how the mighty have fallen, all these powerful people outside their homes, CEOs, GMs, Chairmen, the head honchos of any and many organisations and certainly Airline Captains do get reduced to ‘pol kudu’ level once they come home through the front door. The baritone voices in boardrooms are neatly packed into the Saatchi brief cases unless you are hell-bent on starting a battle royal on home grounds, which you are sure to lose by an innings.

‘The world was sad, the garden was wild and man the hermit sighed! Till the woman smiled!’ What a load of hypocritical rubbish! Whoever who wrote that must have been either from the fairer sex or a confirmed super fool.

Who reduced the mighty City of Troy to ashes? Who lost Mark Anthony (of lend me your ears fame) the world? Who prompted Samson to become the world’s first known suicide killer? All these historical heroes would have been so much happier if the garden had remained wild and the world continued to be sad and the woman never smiled! All you men! Please agree with me, let’s band together as I am sure to be cannon fodder to the ladies who may read this.

Let’s go one step further, back to the originals, Adam and Eve and their fig leaves and apples and snakes. If you go biblical, the book of Genesis never said that Man is the boss. He was only told to toil and with the sweat of his brow to be the provider. It is men through the ages who had misread the content and self-appointed themselves as the Boss of the Family.

In China, there are the Mosuo people living by the shores of Lake Lugu in a lush valley in Yunnan, south-west China, in the far eastern foothills of the Himalayas. They got it ‘all sorted’ out. It is a matriarchal society, women rule, lock, stock and bed, none of this big-show outside and ‘mouse mode’ inside the house. The Mosuo men know who the boss is and the place runs like a well-oiled wheel. The Chinese did have ancient wisdom. Maybe, we should borrow that from them. Ask them to grant us some scholarships to the Yunnan Province so that we can fly there and officially learn from Mosuo tutors how to be semi-final men. Maybe, we could even make the Port City a Matriarchal Society? After all, China has given us so much, airports, harbours, highways and what not. What is the problem with a few battle-scarred husbands going to Mao land to learn what ‘woman power’ really means? Let’s borrow the knowledge from the Chinese, I got no problem with who our new ‘god-parents’ are. We’ve seen it all from 1505, and still march soft to the colonial rhythms. So, what is a noodle or two given as gifts?

Let’s get back on track, some more on semi-final men.

Many a truth is said in jest – I sure am a semi-final man and I have accepted the role and lived ‘happily ever’ so far and will continue to do so. Don’t get me wrong, I am merrily married for the last 46 years, and the recipe is simple. Just learn to ‘nod’ and say ‘yes’. Don’t get into battles that you are sure to lose; we are not the 300 Spartans of Thermopylae or the 960 Jews of Masada who fought to the death knowing they had no chance to win.

We are just husbands, big bosses to the world and miniature models at home. Let’s admit that and be happy. If your wife wants you to wear blue, don’t argue, just wear blue and if she then changes her mind and says wear indigo, do that too. We are talking of world peace here, what’s the big deal in the colour of a stupid shirt?

Ok, ladies of the wives’ brigade, you win, we surrender, and all you young and bright and powerful husbands and husbands-to-be, take a lesson from well themparadufied people like me. We’ve seen it all, tried all the bravado and the flouting of rank and riding roughshod on the marriage field and have got bogged down in the mire and clean-bowled every time we opened our mouths. Just simmer down and follow the Yunnan Chinese; be a semi-final man and maybe downgraded to quarter-finalist or lower, but peace will reign. That is the paramount need today. We all have conflicts in wherever we work, be it the boss or the lowly-paid minion, why continue battling at home too? Let the lady reign, try it and see, they sure get totally confused when you come with the white flag.

‘Blessed are the Semi-final Men, for they shall inherit peace at home.’



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Rising farce of Family Power

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Former President Maithripala Sirisena has struck hard on warnings of being deprived of Civil Rights by President Gotabhaya Rajapaksa.

In his recent statement, President Gotabaya was clear on observing the policies laid down in his Saubhagya Dekma manifesto. He recalled how the Yahapalana government had given no importance to the war heroes, intelligence services, and national security, which led to the Easter Carnage.

He was very clear that having a two-thirds majority in Parliament, this government is ready to respond to the false propaganda of the Opposition, and provide a meal free of poison to the people.

He said the Presidential Commission appointed by Yahapalana has stated very clearly who was responsible for the Easter Carnage. This included the then President, Prime Minister and the entire Cabinet of that time.

“We leave all legal action on this to be taken by the judiciary. We have trust in the judiciary and will allow justice to take place, All the PCoI reports have been submitted to Parliament. We will not poke our fingers into the judicial system. While maintaining the freedom of the judiciary, it is not possible to ask that some persons be brought to justice, and others punished,

 “If they want this action to be taken very soon, we can bring a Bill to Parliament (as done before) and remove all the rights of those responsible, so that they will not do such faults again.  If they want this, we are ready for it, as we have a two-thirds majority power. When asking for various things, they should do it with care. We are ready for this too. The people should not be fooled.

“If I am not good, and we are not good, is the alternative to this the Opposition? We have seen how they ruled for five years. That is why I was elected, although it was told that I would not get the votes of the minorities. But we won. Will they be able to reduce the Cabinet to 25?”

Mr. Sirisena’s response in parliament was to this claim of two-thirds strength.  In the midst of a major clash with government ministers, he made it clear that the government’s two-thirds power was due to the presence of the SLFP in the ruling coalition.

It certainly was a shake up to the show of two-thirds strength and power by President Gotabaya.

While President Gotabaya was clear on his following the findings of the PCoI, and stressed the call for action against Mr. Sirisena, there was total silence on the other recommendations of the Commission. The supporters who cheered him, raised no question about what the PCoI had recommended on Galagoda Aththe Gnanasara Thero and the Bodu Bala Sena led by him.

Was it in keeping with the PCoI that Gnanasara Thero has been appointed to head a Task Force on One Country, One Law?  Is this One Law part of the new Gotabaya thinking on Green Agriculture?

What has emerged with the Sirisena response to the Gotabhaya challenge is the emerging reality of the Podujana Peramuna – SLPP politics. The New Kelani Bridge, which was opened, when Gotabaya made his strong speech, had to be kept closed the very next day, showing the rising confusion in Podujana Governance,

The warning given by experts about the situation relating to the LP gas cylinders, is driving a huge new scare among the public. If there are a few more gas cylinder explosions, there could be mass gas protests, even angrier that the farmer protests on the fertilizer disaster.

The Podujana government is certainly in a crisis of governance.  There are turn-arounds on many of its policies from Neo-Nitrogen fertiliser –  from cost to its benefit for Sri Lankan cultivation, and the payment to contaminated Chinese fertiliser. The turn back on the use of chemical fertilisers will also bring a huge new price to the cultivators, leading to another round of protests?

The Gotabaya Keliya is fast doing turns and twists on policies of the government. The Rajapaksas are being surrounded by faults and failures. It will certainly not be easy him to

use two-thirds power, when the reality is the rising farce of family power.

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A tribute to vajira

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By Uditha Devapriya

The female dancer’s form figures prominently in Sinhalese art and sculpture. Among the ruins of the Lankatilake Viharaya in Polonnaruwa is a series of carvings of dwarves, beasts, and performers. They surround a decapitated image of a standing Buddha, secular figures dotting a sacred space. Similar figures of dancing women adorn the entrance at the Varaka Valandu Viharaya in Ridigama, adjoining the Ridi Vihare. Offering a contrast with carvings of men sporting swords and spears, they entrance the eye immediately.

A motif of medieval Sinhalese art, these were influenced by hordes of dancers that adorned the walls of South Indian temples. They attest to the role that Sinhala society gave women, a role that diminished with time, so much so that by the 20th century, Sinhalese women had been banned from wearing the ves thattuwa. Held back for long, many of these women now began to rebel. They would soon pave the way for the transformation of an art.

In January 2020 the government of India chose to award the Padma Shri to two Sri Lankan women. This was done in recognition not just of their contribution to their fields, but also their efforts at strengthening ties between the two countries. A few weeks ago, in the midst of a raging pandemic, these awards were finally conferred on their recipients.

One of them, Professor Indra Dissanayake, had passed away in 2019. Her daughter received the honour in her name in India. The other, Vajira Chitrasena, remains very much alive, and as active. She received her award at a ceremony at the Indian High Commission in Colombo. Modest as it may have been, the conferment seals her place in the country, situating her in its cultural landscape as one of our finest exponents of dance.

Vajira Chitrasena was far from the first woman to take up traditional dance in Sri Lanka. But she was the first to turn it into a full time, lifelong profession, absorbing the wellsprings of its past, transcending gender and class barriers, and taking it to the young. Dancing did not really come to her; it was the other way around. Immersing herself in the art, she entered it at a time when the medium had been, and was being, transformed the world over: by 1921, the year her husband was born, Isadora Duncan and Ruth St Denis had pioneered and laid the foundation for the modernisation of the medium. Their project would be continued by Martha Graham, for whom Vajira would perform decades later.

In Sri Lanka traditional dance had long turned away from its ritualistic past, moving into the stage and later the school and the university. Standing in the midst of these developments, Vajira Chitrasena found herself questioning and reshaping tradition. It was a role for which history had ordained her, a role she threw herself into only too willingly.

In dance as in other art forms, the balance between tradition and modernity is hard, if not impossible, to maintain. Associated initially with an agrarian society, traditional dance in Sri Lanka evolved into an object of secular performance. Under colonial rule, the patronage of officials, indeed even of governors themselves, helped free it from the stranglehold of the past, giving it a new lease of life that would later enable what Susan Reed in her account of dance in Sri Lanka calls the bureaucratisation of the arts. This is a phenomenon that Sarath Amunugama explores in his work on the kohomba kankariya as well.

Yet this did not entail a complete break from the past: then as now, in Sri Lanka as in India, dancing calls for the revival of conventions: the namaskaraya, the adherence to Buddhist tenets, and the contemplation of mystical beauty. It was in such a twilight world that Vajira Chitrasena and her colleagues found themselves in. Faced with the task of salvaging a dying art, they breathed new life to it by learning it, preserving it, and reforming it.

Though neither Vajira nor her husband belonged to the colonial elite, it was the colonial elite who began approaching traditional art forms with a zest and vigour that determined their trajectory after independence. Bringing together patrons, teachers, students, and scholars of dance, the elite forged friendships with tutors and performers, often becoming their students and sometimes becoming teachers themselves.

Newton Gunasinghe has observed how British officials found it expedient to patronise feudal elites, after a series of rebellions that threatened to bring down the colonial order. Yet even before this, such officials had patronised cultural practices that had once been the preserve of those elites. It was through this tenuous relationship between colonialism and cultural revival that Westernised low country elites moved away from conventional careers, like law and medicine, into the arduous task of reviving the past.

At first running into opposition from their paterfamilias, the scions of the elite eventually found their calling. “[I]n spite of their disappointment at my smashing their hopes of a brilliant legal and political career,” Charles Jacob Peiris, later to be known as Devar Surya Sena, wrote in his recollection of his parents’ reaction to a concert he had organised at the Royal College Hall in 1929, “they were proud of me that night.”

If the sons had to incur the wrath of their fathers, the daughters had to pay the bigger price. Yet, as with the sons, the daughters too possessed an agency that emboldened them to not just dance, but participate in rituals that had been restricted to males.

Both Miriam Pieris and Chandralekha Perera displeased traditional society when they donned the ves thattuwa, the sacred headdress that had for centuries been reserved for men. But for every critic, there were those who welcomed such developments, considering them essential to the flowering of the arts; none less than Martin Wickramasinghe, to give one example, viewed Chandralekha’s act positively, and commended her.

These developments sparked off a pivotal cultural renaissance across the country. Although up country women remain debarred from those developments, there is no doubt that the shattering of taboos in the low country helped keep the art of the dance alive, for tutors, students, and scholars. As Mirak Raheem has written in a piece to Groundviews, we are yet to appreciate the role female dancers of the early 20th century played in all this.

Vajira Chitrasena’s contribution went beyond that of the daughters of the colonial elite who dared to dance. While it would be wrong to consider their interest as a passing fad, a quirk, these women did not turn dance into a lifelong profession. Vajira did not just commit herself to the medium in a way they had not, she made it her goal to teach and reinterpret it, in line with methods and practices she developed for the Chitrasena Kala Ayathanaya.

As Mirak Raheem has pointed out in his tribute to her, she drew from her limited exposure to dance forms like classical ballet to design a curriculum that broke down the medium to “a series of exercises… that could be used to train dancers.” In doing so, she conceived some highly original works, including a set of children’s ballets, or lama mudra natya, a genre she pioneered in 1952 with Kumudini. Along the way she crisscrossed several roles, from dancer to choreographer to tutor, becoming more than just a performer.

As the head of the Chitrasena Dance Company, Vajira enjoys a reputation that history has not accorded to most other women of her standing. Perhaps her greatest contribution in this regard has been her ability to adapt masculine forms of dance to feminine sequences. She has been able to do this without radically altering their essence; that has arguably been felt the most in the realm of Kandyan dance, which caters to masculine (“tandava“) rather than feminine (“lasya“) moods. The lasya has been described by Marianne Nürnberger as a feminine form of up country dance. It was in productions like Nala Damayanthi that Vajira mastered this form; it epitomised a radical transformation of the art.

Sudesh Mantillake in an essay on the subject (“Masculinity in Kandyan Dance”) suggests that by treating them as impure, traditional artistes kept women away from udarata natum. That is why Algama Kiriganitha, who taught Chandralekha, taught her very little, since she was a woman. This is not to say that the gurunannses kept their knowledge back from those who came to learn from them, only that they taught them under strictures and conditions which revealed their reluctance to impart their knowledge to females.

That Vajira Chitrasena made her mark in these fields despite all obstructions is a tribute to her mettle and perseverance. Yet would we, as Mirak Raheem suggests in his very excellent essay, be doing her a disservice by just valorising her? Shouldn’t the object of a tribute be, not merely to praise her for transcending gender barriers, but more importantly to examine how she transcended them, and how difficult she found it to transcend them? We eulogise our women for breaking through the glass ceiling, without questioning how high that ceiling was in the first place. A more sober evaluation of Vajira Chitrasena would ask that question. But such an evaluation is yet to come out. One can only hope that it will, soon.

The writer can be reached at udakdev1@gmail.com

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It’s all about France in Kandy !

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Sarah Toucas, Director Alliance Francaise de Kandy

This month’s edition of Rendez-Vous with Yasmin and Kumar, on Tuesday 30 November at 7.00 pm on the YouTube channel of the Embassy of France in Sri Lanka and the Maldives, makes a journey to the hill capital Kandy to the Alliance Française de Kandy.

A venue of historical significance in central Sri Lanka which celebrates its 55th anniversary next year, the AF Kandy was once even located on the upper storey of the ancient Queen’s bath or the Ulpangé, just outside the Dalada Maligawa.

All about France and the French in Kandy, on the show will be the newly appointed director of the AF Kandy, Sara Toucas, who will talk about plans to further popularise the French language in Kandy.

Joining the show is also Dr. Kush Herat, former Director AF Kandy and visiting Senior Lecturer in French at University of Peradeniya, who talks about motivating undergraduates and inducting them to the French language and culture.

Frenchman Dr Jacques Soulié, a former Director of the AF Kandy who has contributed immensely to the propagation of the French language and culture in Kandy then takes viewers on a tour of his brainchild and a major cultural venue – The Suriyakantha Centre for Art and Culture – which has been visited by hundreds of Sri Lankans and foreign visitors.

To close the show is Ravana Wijeyeratne, the Honorary Consul for France in Kandy whose links with France go back to his childhood when his father Tissa Wijeyeratne was Ambassador for Sri Lanka in France in the early 1970s.

Rendez-Vous with Yasmin and Kumar

comes to you on Tuesday 30th November at 7.00 pm on the YouTube channel of the Embassy of France in Sri Lanka and the Maldives

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