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So What is Christmas ?

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Remembered Yesterdays

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.

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Features

Govt.’s choice is dialogue over confrontation

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By Jehan Perera

Preparing for the forthcoming UN Human Rights Council cannot be easy for a government elected on a nationalist platform that was very critical of international intervention. When the government declared its intention to withdraw from Sri Lanka’s co-sponsorship of the October 2015 resolution No. 30/1 last February, it may have been hoping that this would be the end of the matter. However, this is not to be. The UN Human Rights High Commissioner’s report that will be taken up at the forthcoming UNHRC session in March contains a slate of proposals that are severely punitive in nature and will need to be mitigated. These include targeted economic sanctions, travel bans and even the involvement of the International Criminal Court.

Since UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon’s visit in May 2009 just a few days after the three-decade long war came to its bloody termination, Sri Lanka has been a regular part of the UNHRC’s formal discussion and sometimes even taking the centre stage. Three resolutions were passed on Sri Lanka under acrimonious circumstances, with Sri Lanka winning the very first one, but losing the next two. As the country became internationally known for its opposition to revisiting the past, sanctions and hostile propaganda against it began to mount. It was only after the then Sri Lankan government in 2015 agreed to co-sponsor a fresh resolution did the clouds begin to dispel.

Clearly in preparation for the forthcoming UNHRC session in Geneva in March, the government has finally delivered on a promise it made a year ago at the same venue. In February 2020 Foreign Minister Dinesh Gunawardena sought to prepare the ground for Sri Lanka’s withdrawal from co-sponsorship of UN Human Rights Council resolution No 30/1 of 2015. His speech in Geneva highlighted two important issues. The first, and most important to Sri Lanka’s future, was that the government did not wish to break its relationships with the UN system and its mechanisms. He said, “Sri Lanka will continue to remain engaged with, and seek as required, the assistance of the UN and its agencies including the regular human rights mandates/bodies and mechanisms in capacity building and technical assistance, in keeping with domestic priorities and policies.”

Second, the Foreign Minister concluding his speech at the UNHRC session in Geneva saying “No one has the well-being of the multi-ethnic, multi-lingual, multi-religious and multi-cultural people of Sri Lanka closer to their heart, than the Government of Sri Lanka. It is this motivation that guides our commitment and resolve to move towards comprehensive reconciliation and an era of stable peace and prosperity for our people.” On that occasion the government pledged to set up a commission of inquiry to inquire into the findings of previous commissions of inquiry. The government’s action of appointing a sitting Supreme Court judge as the chairperson of a three-member presidential commission of inquiry into the findings and recommendations of earlier commissions and official bodies can be seen as the start point of its response to the UNHRC.

 

 

NEGATIVE RESPONSE

 

The government’s setting up of a Commission of Inquiry has yet to find a positive response from the international and national human rights community and may not find it at all. The national legal commentator Kishali Pinto Jayawardene has written that “the tasks encompassed within its mandate have already been performed by the Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission (LLRC, 2011) under the term of this President’s brother, himself the country’s Executive President at the time, Mahinda Rajapaksa.” Amnesty International has stated that “Sri Lanka has a litany of such failed COIs that Amnesty International has extensively documented.” It goes on to quote from the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights that “Domestic processes have consistently failed to deliver accountability in the past and I am not convinced the appointment of yet another Commission of Inquiry will advance this agenda. As a result, victims remain denied justice and Sri Lankans from all communities have no guarantee that past patterns of human rights violations will not recur.”

It appears that the government intends its appointment of the COI to meet the demand for accountability in regard to past human rights violations. Its mandate includes to “Find out whether preceding Commissions of Inquiry and Committees which have been appointed to investigate into human rights violations, have revealed any human rights violations, serious violations of the international humanitarian law and other such serious offences.” In the past the government has not been prepared to accept that such violations took place in a way that is deserving of so much of international scrutiny. Time and again the point has been made in Sri Lanka that there are no clean wars fought anywhere in the world.

International organisations that stands for the principles of international human rights will necessarily be acting according to their mandates. These include seeking the intervention of international judicial mechanisms or seeking to promote hybrid international and national joint mechanisms within countries in which the legal structures have not been successful in ensuring justice. The latter was on the cards in regard to Resolution 30/1 from which the government withdrew its co-sponsorship. The previous government leaders who agreed to this resolution had to publicly deny any such intention in view of overwhelming political and public opposition to such a hybrid mechanism. The present government has made it clear that it will not accept international or hybrid mechanisms.

 

 

SEQUENTIAL IMPLEMENATION

 

In the preamble to the establishment of the COI the government has made some very constructive statements that open up the space for dialogue on issues of accountability, human rights and reconciliation. It states that “the policy of the Government of Sri Lanka is to continue to work with the United Nations and its Agencies to achieve accountability and human resource development for achieving sustainable peace and reconciliation, even though Sri Lanka withdrew from the co-sponsorship of the aforesaid resolutions” and further goes on to say that “the Government of Sri Lanka is committed to ensure that, other issues remain to be resolved through democratic and legal processes and to make institutional reforms where necessary to ensure justice and reconciliation.”

As the representative of a sovereign state, the government cannot be compelled to either accept international mechanisms or to prosecute those it does not wish to prosecute. At the same time its willingness to discuss the issues of accountability, justice and reconciliation as outlined in the preamble can be considered positively. The concept of transitional justice on which Resolution No 30/1 was built consists of the four pillars of truth, accountability, reparations and institutional reform. There is international debate on whether these four pillars should be implemented simultaneously or whether it is acceptable that they be implemented sequentially depending on the country context.

The government has already commenced the reparations process by establishing the Office for Reparations and to allocate a monthly sum of Rs 6000 to all those who have obtained Certificates of Absence (of their relatives) from the Office of Missing Persons. This process of compensation can be speeded up, widened and improved. It is also reported that the government is willing to consider the plight of suspected members of the LTTE who have been in detention without trial, and in some cases without even being indicted, for more than 10 years. The sooner action is taken the better. The government can also seek the assistance of the international community, and India in particular, to develop the war affected parts of the country on the lines of the Marshall Plan that the United States utilized to rebuild war destroyed parts of Europe. Member countries of the UNHRC need to be convinced that the government’s actions will take forward the national reconciliation process to vote to close the chapter on UNHRC resolution 30/1 in March 2021.

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Features

Album to celebrate 30 years

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Rajiv Sebastian had mega plans to celebrate 30 years, in showbiz, and the plans included concerts, both local and foreign. But, with the pandemic, the singer had to put everything on hold.

However, in order to remember this great occasion, the singer has done an album, made up of 12 songs, featuring several well known artistes, including Sunil of the Gypsies.

All the songs have been composed, very specially for this album.

Among the highlights will be a duet, featuring Rajiv and the Derena DreamStar winner, Andrea Fallen.

Andrea, I’m told, will also be featured, doing a solo spot, on the album.

Rajiv and his band The Clan handle the Friday night scene at The Cinnamon Grand Breeze Bar, from 07.30 pm, onwards.

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LET’S DO IT … in the new normal

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The local showbiz scene is certainly brightening up – of course, in the ‘new normal’ format (and we hope so!)

Going back to the old format would be disastrous, especially as the country is experiencing a surge in Covid-19 cases, and the Western Province is said to be high on the list of new cases.

But…life has to go on, and with the necessary precautions taken, we can certainly enjoy what the ‘new normal’ has to offer us…by way of entertainment.

Bassist Benjy, who leads the band Aquarius, is happy that is hard work is finally bringing the band the desired results – where work is concerned.

Although new to the entertainment scene, Aquarius had lots of good things coming their way, but the pandemic ruined it all – not only for Aquarius but also for everyone connected with showbiz.

However, there are positive signs, on the horizon, and Benjy indicated to us that he is enthusiastically looking forward to making it a happening scene – wherever they perform.

And, this Friday night (January 29th), Aquarius will be doing their thing at The Show By O, Mount Lavinia – a beach front venue.

Benjy says he is planning out something extra special for this particular night.

“This is our very first outing, as a band, at The Show By O, so we want to make it memorable for all those who turn up this Friday.”

The legendary bassist, who lights up the stage, whenever he booms into action, is looking forward to seeing music lovers, and all those who missed out on being entertained for quite a while, at the Mount Lavinia venue, this Friday.

“I assure you, it will be a night to be remembered.”

Benjy and Aquarius will also be doing their thing, every Saturday evening, at the Darley rd. Pub & Restaurant, Colombo 10.

In fact, they were featured at this particular venue, late last year, but the second wave of Covid-19 ended their gigs.

Also new to the scene – very new, I would say – is Ishini and her band, The Branch.

Of course, Ishini is a singer of repute, having performed with Mirage, but as Ishini and The Branch, they are brand new!

Nevertheless, they were featured at certain five-star venues, during the past few weeks…of their existence.

 

 

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