After more than six months of being locked down and self-locked-in, a friend and I decided to venture forth, with our respective domestics, to much beloved Anuradhapura. We spent the night at the Sanctuary – the old Tissa Wewa Resthouse – with name change and refurbishment some years ago. Mercifully, the bullock drawn passenger cart we call a hackery on display, and ancient mosquito net draped high beds are retained. My friend and I both adore these old places which have so much character and a particular ambience, missing in the flashy new hotels. The hotel staff were, as always, very attentive giving us good service.
Regulations observed and also not
Anuradhapura this last weekend was full of pilgrims, such that queues formed at the entrance to the Ruwanveliseya and Sacred Bo Tree premises. Police were on hand but social distancing was ignored completely. This was the case all over, though all people wore face masks. I was seated on a step in the Sacred Bo Tree area when, with plenty of space available, a person sits right in front of me, not even two feet away.
One cannot say whether pilgrims were quiet or not, quiet with piety and reverence, or chattering and calling out to each other as usual, because the temple loud speakers were on full blast at the Sacred Bo Tree from before 6.00 pm to after 7.00 with gathas being chanted, extra loud. At the Maha Seya, as is the custom, donations were acknowledged with all details of donor through a loud speaker. Five pooja processions arrived with loud “sadhus” and tom tom beating. No complaint about the latter but very severe complaint about the loud speakers at full blast.
The point of this article is to make two complaints. The first is about the prolonged loud chanting of verses from the temple below the Sacred Bo Tree, and the other: total disregard of the less-abled.
Loud temple chanting
In this column and through letters to the editor I have complained many times about the noise in this most sacred of places. In the Kandy Dalada Maligawa, the drum beating and ‘horena’ and conch blowing are at set times and very necessary as being part of the ritual of the sacred place and fascinate both foreigners and locals by the style of tom tom beating. Other than this, there is quiet and people too are completely silent. Not so in Anuradhapura at the site with another ‘relic’ of the Buddha himself – an aged grown sapling from the Bo Tree under which Siddhartha Gautama attained enlightenment in Gaya. What is expected of people who come here? Pay reverence to the aged tree and the more robustly growing third generation of the sacred tree in Gaya, and sit quietly in meditation or at least in reflection on the life of the Buddha.
But what do the Sangha guardians of the place do and allow? Very loud and prolonged chanting early morning, mid day, and long into the late evening. They also allow those white clad charlatans to bless people who pay them to chant gathas. The most Sacred Tree is to be fervently revered and not sought help from. True, there are devathavas present, but the greater significance is to get us ordinary people meditating as the Buddha did before and after he realized a solution to the suffering of samsaric births.
This first complaint can hardly be remedied as the Atamasthana Mayanayake and the monks resident in the sacred sites make the laws. I do not suppose even the Ministry of Buddha Sasana can advice more silence, leave alone order it. But my second complaint can be remedied by the central authority, meaning the Ministry seeing to religious affairs.
Created difficulty to reach the two
most sacred sites
I found this last weekend that I had to walk much longer to reach both the Sacred Bo Tree site and the Ruwanveliseya. Result of the 2019 Easter bombing, I suppose. We used to park the vehicle fairly close to one site and walk along that paved path to the other and have the car collect us at that end or even walk back. Once with my sister we found a wheel chair available. I most definitely feel that private cars especially, need not have to park so far away from the entrances to the sites. They can drive much closer to the entrances, drop passengers and drive back to the vehicle park. Who are those who come with most fervour and anticipation to these places? The aged. And they are kept out unless they possess wheel chairs and at least three pairs of strong arms apiece to lift the chairs over steps.
This is really deplorable. To worsen matters, there are no ramps to accommodate wheel chairs to either the apron of the Maha Seya or the Maluwa at ground level at least of the Sacred Tree premises. While I sat on steps distant from the two places, I saw about five old people in wheel chairs being carried in their chairs itself or lifted off the chair and carried to be set in the chair, having to repeat this business several times. I use the word shameful to describe this utter disregard of the old and helpless who are in most need of the solace of visiting our most sacred sites. 70 odd percent Buddhists in the country, with a Ministry for Buddhist Affairs and hundreds of monks in Anuradhapura, but no one has seen the need to help the less abled visit the Sacred Sites.
Universal laws in place
On my return I complained to an architect in the US and said this may be my last visit to worship at the two most sacred sites. He gave me information that actually should be passed onto the authorities. Our Prime Minister is the Minister of Buddhasasana, Cultural and Religious Affairs; with Secretary Prof Kapila Gunawardena. One of our group suggested we tell it to the President as people are complaining about everything to him. No! He cannot be bothered with shortcomings. The Buddha Sasana Ministry should look into the matter of doing the needful to accommodate the less able to pay their reverence to the two most sacred sites in Anuradhapura.
Prevalent rules in ‘more civilized’ countries
The architect I spoke with said that one regulation observed and carried out in the US is Universal design – “design of buildings, products or environments to make them accessible to all people, regardless of age, disability or other factors.”
The term ‘Universal design’ was coined by Architect Ronald Mace with the aim stated above. “It was however the work of Selwyn Goldsmith, author of Designing for the Disabled (1963), who really pioneered the concept of free access for people with disabilities. His most significant achievement was the creation of the dropped curb – now a standard feature of the built environment. Universal design emerged from slightly earlier barrier-free concepts, the broader accessibility movement, and adaptive and assistive technology and also seeks to blend aesthetics into these core considerations.” As life expectancy rises with modern medicine etc and those with significant injuries, illnesses, and birth defects, move around, this concept of universal design is incorporated in new buildings and also reconstructed ones, as the architect told me.
The Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 or ADA is another step forward in the very right direction which is a civil rights law that prohibits discrimination based on disability. I mention the ADA though it is not absolutely relevant to my subject in this article.
I accessed the website of the Ministry of Buddhasana, Cultural and Religious Affairs (name given in two ways interchanging ‘cultural’ and’ religious’!!) and quote:
To be the leading facilitator in bringing about a society with qualitative and moral values. Our Mission: Providing assistance to create a qualitative society with better way of living …
Religious observances and making them available to all definitely falls into both vision and mission! What has to be done urgently is build ramps to the sacred sites and let cars drop passengers closer to the sites. It’s as simple as that! I intend posting a clip of this article to the Ministry. Do hope it will beat our oft repeated and believed in “Kaata kiyantada” pessimism.
Credibility in governance through elections and not security forces
By Jehan Perera
President Ranil Wickremesinghe’s warning that he is prepared to declare a state of national emergency and use the military to suppress any public protests for change of government would reflect the pressures he is under. The manner in which he has used the security forces to deal with the protest movement has been unexpected. His words and deeds are contradictory to what he has previously stood for as a five-time former prime minister. This is especially true in the case of the ethnic and religious minorities who have consistently voted for him and his party at elections. They have felt safer and more secure under his governments which always sought to reduce the heavy hand of state oppression in which national security is given pride of place. He has always promised them much though he has been unable to deliver on much of what he promised.
Notwithstanding the unfortunate rhetoric and actions of the present time the belief still persists that President Wickremesinghe is the best of the available options. Recent pronouncements of the president have reignited hope that he will address the problems of the religious and ethnic minorities. He has stated that he does not want to leave this problem to the next generation. He has said that he wants to resolve this intractable national problem by the country’s 75th independence anniversary on February 4 next year. The hope that the president will make a fresh effort to resolve their problems has led the main Tamil party, the TNA, to desist from voting against the budget which passed with a relatively small majority. Their spokesperson, M A Sumanthiran said in Parliament that due to the president reaching out to them, stretching out his hand, they did not vote against the budget although they disagreed with it.
It is not only in words that the president has reached out to the ethnic and religious minorities. Reports from the north and east indicate that the Maveer (Heroes) Day commemorations this year took place without incident. During the past two years scores of people were arrested and a massive presence of security forces blocked the people from participating in public events. On this occasion the security forces did not get involved in any attempt to stop the commemorations. University students distributed sweets and even cut a birthday cake to celebrate slain LTTE leader Velupillai Prabhakaran’s birthday. The analogy that the president drew to himself being seen as a Hitler who exterminated ethnic and religious minorities is misplaced. The release of those held under the Prevention of Terrorism Act for engaging in similar acts in the past would further contribute to the reconciliation process.
In this context, the president’s use of militaristic rhetoric can only be understood in relation to the growing economic crisis that shows no sign of abating. The anticipated IMF bailout package is at risk of getting indefinitely delayed. It was initially anticipated to come in September then in November but now January is being targeted. Japan’s top brokerage and investment bank, Nomura Holdings Inc, has warned that seven countries – Egypt, Romania, Sri Lanka, Turkey, Czech Republic, Pakistan and Hungary – are now at a high risk of currency crises. Sri Lanka is in third place on the table of risk. The next devaluation of the rupee could see another spike in inflation that will make the cost of living even more unbearable to the masses of people.
The president is on record as having said that the economic crisis will get worse before it improves. Both anecdotal and statistical evidence indicates that it is indeed worsening. University teachers at the University of Sabaragamuwa reported that attendance in their classes was down by at least a quarter. Students who come from other parts of the country are unable to afford the cost of meals and so they stay at home. A study by the Institute of Policy Studies has shown that about four percent of primary, 20 percent of secondary and 26 percent of collegiate students had dropped out of school in the estate sector, which is the worst affected. The future costs to the country of a less well educated population is incalculable and inhumane.
As it is the situation is a dire one for large swathes of the population. Research from the University of Peradeniya has revealed that close to half of Sri Lanka’s population, 42 percent (up from 14 percent in 2019) are living under the poverty line. Professor of Economics Wasantha Athukorala has said there is a dramatic increase in the poverty level of over three-hold across the past three years. In 2019, nearly 3 million people lived below the poverty line, but that number has increased to 9.6 million in October 2022. In these adverse circumstances stability in a polity can be ensured either through legitimacy or through force. It would be tragic if the latter is the choice that is made.
President Wickremesinghe has been stressing the importance of political stability to achieve economic development. His recent statement that the security forces will be used to negate any unauthorised protest is a sign that the government expects the conditions of economic hardship to escalate. The general public who are experiencing extreme economic hardship are appalled at the manner in which those who committed acts of corruption and violence in the past are being overlooked because they belong to the ruling party and its cliques. The IMF has made anti-corruption a prerequisite to qualify for a bailout, calling for “Reducing corruption vulnerabilities through improving fiscal transparency and public financial management, introducing a stronger anti-corruption legal framework, and conducting an in-depth governance diagnostic, supported by IMF technical assistance.”
It is morally unacceptable even if politically pragmatic that the president is failing to take action against the wrongdoers because he needs their votes in parliament. As a start, the president needs to appoint a credible and independent national procurement committee to ensure that major economic contracts are undertaken without corruption. Second, the president needs to bite the bullet on elections. The country’s burning issues would be better accepted by the country and world at large if they are being dealt with by a statesman than by a dictator. Government that is based on the people’s consent constitutes the sum and substance of democracy. This consent is manifested through free and fair elections that are regularly held. Local government elections have been postponed for a year and are reaching their legal maximum in terms of postponement. These elections need to be held before March next year.
Elections will enable the people to express their views in a democratic manner to elect their representatives for the present. This would provide the government with guidance in terms of the decisions it is being called to take to revive the economy and place the burden in a manner that will be acceptable to the people. The provincial council elections have been postponed since 2018. Democratically elected provincial councils share in the burdens of governance. The devolution of power that took place under the 13th Amendment was meant to promote ethnic harmony in the country. The president who has taken the position that he is for a solution to the ethnic conflict should seriously consider conducting the provincial council elections together with the local government elections se their financial costs. By doing so he will also gain legitimacy as a democratic statesman and not a dictator.
WEDNESDAY – Movie Review
The Addams Family is back with a new tale to tell! Originally created by Charles Addams as a comic strip published in The New Yorker, it offered readers a sarcastic take on the ‘typical nuclear family’ by substituting it with a more macabre bunch of strange and eerie individuals. Since then the titular family has been adapted on to the big screen many times, from live action movies to animated versions, the Addams Family has gained many fans throughout the years. Created by Alfred Gough and Miles Millar, with Tim Burton working on four episodes of the eight-part series, Wednesday is a welcoming tale for young fans, but unfortunately fails to think outside the box and remains anchored to the floor with a messy storyline.
Dead-eyed Wednesday Addams (Jenna Ortega) is a stubborn, independent and intelligent teenager in this new series. Her penchant for attracting trouble wherever she goes alarms her parents, Morticia (Catherine Zeta-Jones) and Gomez (Luis Guzmán). With an already strained relationship with her parents (specifically her mother), Wednesday is enrolled at Nevermore, an academy for outcasts like herself. Having attended the academy themselves, Morticia and Gomez are hopeful that their daughter will ‘fit right in’. Caught between trying to build her own identity and other teenage complexities, Wednesday soon finds herself in the middle of a twisted mystery.
This is the first time audiences are introduced to a teenage Wednesday, which allowed the creators to build a new world on their own terms, but while keeping true to the original nature of the character. The creators do a fair amount of world building by introducing other outcasts like the Fangs (vampires), Stoners (Gorgons), Scales (sirens) and Furs (werewolves), among others. Nevermore Academy itself is beautiful and comes with the classic package of creepy crypts, hidden rooms and secret societies. The series also offers a decent amount of gore, although they could have added more given Wednesday’s proclivity for gore-related activities. The series deals with classic young-adult tropes which includes teenage crushes, bullies, relationships and even prom, among other things. The series navigates through Wednesday’s journey of self-discovery, which is a new avenue for both the character and the fans. From understanding and displaying her emotions to discovering her identity and understanding her peers, the series takes a deep dive into heavy material.
Ortega’s performance as the titular character plays a major role in keeping audiences glued to the screen. This is also the first time viewers are shown a teenage Wednesday Addams, which works to Ortega’s benefit as she depicts more dimensions to the ghoulish, morose character many are associated with based on previous renditions. Her facial expressions and ability to deliver on seriously emotional moments strengthens her role as the lead. The rest of the Addams Family, even with limited screen time, lack the eccentricities their characters should have. Hopeless romantics Morticia and Gomez seem incompatible in this version and Uncle Fester is far less crazy than he ought to be. The only member worth mentioning is the Thing—a severed hand— who brought more character and spirit to the series acting alongside Ortega. With barely any room to develop a majority of the characters are prosaic and tedious, even though they remain vital to the plot.
Apart from Ortega, Gwendoline Christie and Emma Myers deserve honorable mentions for their roles as Nevermore’s head teacher, Larissa Weems and the peppy Enid Sinclair respectively. Enid quickly became a fan favorite as the character was the polar opposite to Wednesday. Her character is vital to Wednesday’s character development and their journey to find common ground as mismatched individuals is amusing.
Christina Ricci who played Wednesday in the 90s returns as ‘normie’ teacher, Miss Thornhill and unfortunately barely stands out and this in large part due to the messy storyline. The series is bogged down with numerous subplots and overlapping tropes and the characters with potential for growth are completely overlooked. With love triangles, bullies and killer monsters on the loose, the series self-destructs and the climax sinks into disappointment.
At the end of the day, Wednesday plays to the beat of the new generation and touches on new themes, which is welcoming seeing as the character should grow up at some point. While not everyone may relate to Wednesday’s teenage perils, it is interesting to witness her growth and her journey as an ‘outcast’ or ‘weirdo’. And while Wednesday doesn’t exactly offer a distinctly unique story, it gives audiences a small taste of what Jenna Ortega’s Wednesday is capable of. Creating a story around a well-established franchise is a difficult task, and in this case the creators fail to add value to their visions. If the series continues, the creators will have the opportunity to think further outside the box and push the limits to Wednesday’s character and give audiences a bone-chilling experience. Wednesday is currently streaming on Netflix.
Stage set for… AWESOME FRIDAY
The past few weeks have been a very busy period for the new-look Mirage outfit…preparing themselves for their big night – Friday, December 2nd – when they would perform, on stage, for the very first time, as Donald Pieries (leader/vocals/drums), Benjy (bass), Niro Wattaladeniya (guitar), Viraj Cooray (guitar/vocals), Asangi Wickramasinghe (keyboard/vocals), along with their two frontline female vocalist, Sharon (Lulu) and Christine.
They have thoroughly immersed themselves in their practice sessions as they are very keen to surprise their fans, music lovers, and well-wishers, on opening night…at the Peacock, Berjaya Hotel, in Mount Lavinia.
Action starts at 8.00 pm and, thereafter, it will be five hours of great music, along with EFFEX DJs Widhara and Damien, interspersed with fun and excitement…for the whole family!
Yes, opening night is for the whole family, so you don’t need to keep some of your family members at home – kids, especially.
Working on their repertoire for Friday, bassist Benjy says “what we will dish out will be extra special, with lots of action on stage.”
It would be interesting to see Sharon (Lulu) doing her thing with Mirage, after her early days with the Gypsies, and, I’m told, a dynamic performance from Sharon is what is in store for all those who make it to the Peacock this Friday
While the band was at one of their practice sessions, last week, they had a surprise visitor – Edward (Eddy) Joseph, a former member of the group Steelers, who is now based in Germany.
Eddy is here on a short visit and is scheduled to return to Germany, tomorrow (30).
He spent an hour with Mirage, at their practice session, and says he is disappointed that he would not be around for the group’s opening night.
However, there is a possibility of several well-known personalities, in the showbiz scene, turning up, on Friday night, to experience the sounds of the new-look Mirage, including Sohan Weerasinghe and Joey Lewis (from London).
Rajiv Sebastian, too, says he is keen to be a part of the fun-filled evening.
You could contact Benjy, on 0777356356, if you need to double check…their plans for AWESOME FRIDAY!
Embassy officer arrested at BIA remanded
Easter Sunday terror attack suspect hacked to death
Rail service between Mahawa and Jaffna to be suspended for five months
‘Dates have the highest sugar content to fight Coronavirus’
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