by J. Godwin Perera
This year it was a quiet, subdued, Christmas. The restrictions imposed to control the Covid 19 pandemic made sure of that. We were confined, constrained and constricted. Such controls were absolutely necessary and no one but the pitifully ignorant or stubbornly indifferent would have protested. Even the Church endorsed such steps and rigidly enforced the Covid -19 Safety Protocols. But there was a time not so long ago when Christmas was more than just a date on the calendar. It was a season. It was one long season of celebrations, revelries, festivities. The season was ushered in during the very first week of December as the airwaves replayed the Golden Oldies of Christmas. ‘White Christmas’, ‘Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer,’ ‘ I saw Mummy kissing Santa Clause,’ ‘Jingle Bells.,’ ‘Little Drummer Boy’ etc…etc…. Then came the shops announcing a ‘Pre- Christmas Sale’ By mid – December the sign boards were changed to ‘Christmas Sale.’ Same merchandise. Bigger discounts. Worked out on higher basic prices. The shop keepers sure knew what works. Cotton wool would be liberally pasted all around the show case windows to signify snow. There would also be rigifoam cut- outs of Christmas trees, bells, and sleighs drawn by reindeer. A nondescript person from the neighborhood would be conscripted, given a Santa Clause cloak and cap and instructed to stand outside ringing a bell. Not to be outdone the Super- Market checkout girls would be given Santa Clause caps to wear. Some even had a shapely girl wearing a mini-skirted version of the Santa Clause cloak and a cap jauntily placed on her head to assist customers. It was a Christmassy version of Customer Care. Even the pavement hawkers raucously joined in the excitement of the season selling artificial Christmas trees and decorations at prices which the established shops could not match. TV added millions of rupees worth of creative commercials to the seasonal revelries, many depicted tubby Santa Clauses distributing the advertised brands to happy children. There then followed a frenzied shopping spree for Christmas cards (to be sent only to those from whom cards were received last year!) and gifts (to be given only to those from whom gifts were received last year!) Then came the Hotel advertisements. ‘Gala Christmas Lunch.’ ‘Gala Christmas Dinner Buffet.’ The more innovative offered ‘Christmas Brunch.’ This was something between Breakfast and Lunch. Yet more innovative was ‘Christmas High Tea.’ This was something between lunch and tea. In between these festivities there was held the Police Christmas Carols which was one of the highlights of the season. If truth be told, the singing and accompanying Police Band was better than the best of Church choirs. A memorable performance. It certainly evoked the spirit of Christmas. Next on the agenda were the newsletters from Clubs, which exclaimed, ‘Carols Night’ (strictly for members and guests only),with a Grand Dinner Buffet and a live band to keep the tempo going. The response was terrific. On ‘Carols Night’ the singing was loud and lusty. This increased in direct proportion to the quantity of 100 percent proof stimulants imbibed. It was the time to be jolly. And jolly they were. No matter what. The Christmas season also had in its enchanting, enticing embrace around many homes. Cypress trees in N’Eliya
were cut, chopped , packed and sent down by train to Colombo. Here they were further cut and sold on the pavements near Viharamaha Devi Park and near the Henry Pedris Park. Sales were brisk. In homes these Cypress branches were stuffed into large flower pots filled with sand and decorated. The Cypress branch was transformed into a Christmas tree. Right on top was a tinsel star, flowing down were multi colored fairy lights. And among the branches daintily tied with ribbons were Bon-bons.
Baubles of varied colors and tinsel frills were fixed on doorways. And yes, there were artificial holly and ivy and mistletoe hung up at the entrance to the home. Little children were tenderly advised to keep a stocking (given by Ammi) by the bedside on Christmas Eve – 24th night, so that Father Christmas aka Santa Clause, will come secretly and put toys into the stocking. There was a midnight Church service at which quite often the sermon would be interrupted by the sound of crackers announcing the dawn of Christmas. Here at the service, yawns would be discreetly stifled and there would be a pretense of rapt attention while the Bible readings and sermon were delivered. The Christmas morning service would be packed with lounge-suited gents and expensive, saree clad ladies. No – it was not the ladies that were expensive. It was the sarees. The main thing was ‘wear your very best.’ The main thing was ‘to be seen’. The Church itself had a large, Christmas tree draped with twinkling fairy lights. After service a spree of Merry Christmas’s sprouted, sprayed and spread, together with plenty of hugging and kissing and wishing. And of course the ‘Oohs!’ and ‘Myee Child!’ of admiration, as ladies’ eyes swept up and down each other’s sarees. That over it was back home for the festive Christmas breakfast – Breudher, Christmas cake with almond icing, and Kiribath. A late lunch together with vintage wine (to help digestion) consisting of yellow rice, chicken curry, pork curry – the lot. Dinner would be more lavish. Friends and relatives (of course of the same social class) would be invited. Served liberally was Scotch, preferably single malt, or catering to those whose Sri Lankan preference demanded it, there would be Pure Coconut Arrack. Roast turkey was part of delectable menu. After dinner it was time for the children and young adults to enjoy. There would be fireworks. Real fireworks – sky rockets, catherine wheels, squibs which when lit, zig-zagged on the ground, amidst the shrieks and squeals of young ladies, sparklers, Roman candles and the bursting of Chinese crackers. But hold on, here is something to think about. Amidst all the wining, dining and wishing. Amidst the festivities and feasting. Where was the main star (no pun intended) of Christmas ? In fact the very word Christmas is derived from Him because its His birth that is being celebrated. Then where or what is the relevance of Christmas trees and Santa Clauses and reindeer? Has not the Christmas of Christ been hijacked by the Christmas of commercialism? Maybe this is a very good time to reflect, reconsider, rectify, our entire attitude towards Christmas. Isn’t it time that we heeded the words of the Man from Galilee instead of just paying lip-service to His words? In the reality of the spreading squalor of poverty doesn’t selfish ostentatious life styles go quite contrary to His words. Isn’t it our duty to remember the victims of the Easter Sunday massacre. Some are incapacitated. Some have been orphaned. Some are still receiving medical care. There are others. Lonely. Destitute. Critically Ill – who may never see another Christmas. If we are unable to trace them and offer financial assistance or material goods most needed, there are groups and institutions doing just that. Well then, let us help them to help these others. One practical suggestion is to divert the money spent on unnecessary décor and decorations and ostentatious dining and wining, towards the worthy causes just stated. Isn’t that what Christmas is all about ? Caring and Giving ? This does not mean that Christmas must not be celebrated. It is certainly a time for joy. Those who have been blessed with the good things in life should be thankful for such blessings. Do have that special lunch and dinner with friends and relatives. But remember, we who are the followers of the Man from Galilee who was God Emmanuel, Christmas and every day thereafter must be dedicated to – Sowing love where there is hatred. Sowing hope where there is despair. Sowing light where there is darkness. Sowing joy where there is sadness.
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!
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