(Excerpted from the memoirs of Rtd. Senior DIG Police Edward Gunawardena)
Until the mid fifties there were no organized sports facilities for the youth of the village. However much pleasure was gained by young people particularly males by participating in community activities such as harvesting and threshing, thatching of roofs, New Year celebrations etc.
A remarkable feature of pleasant community living was the harmony in which Christians and Buddhists enjoyed the spirit of Christmas. For about three or four nights continuously Carol Singers from St. Mathew’s Church visited homes, irrespective of religious differences. There were other ad-hoc musical groups some even in fancy dress that visited homes and provided a few minutes of entertainment.
The heavily decorated carol cart that was annually organized by the Headman Lennet Ralahamy drew large crowds on the roads. This carol cart with singers who were well trained, even went up to Moratuwa and sang carols in competition with the Moratuwa carol singers. The support that Lennet Ralahamy received to organize this from even the Buddhists was indeed noteworthy.
Ang adeema and Polgeseema were keenly contested between adult groups known as the Udupila and Yatipila. These traditional contests took place annually and the venue was the Seeniduwa. Significantly the people who participated in these games belonged to the Udupila or Yatipila by birth, a tradition with obscure beginnings.
Villagers turned up in large numbers at Seeniduwa to cheer vociferously for either of the two “pilas” or sides particularly when Ang Adeema took place. What I remember most in this contest was the co-ordinated pulling of a rope, tug-of-war ‘style by the Udupila. This rope was tied to the top of a large columnar post made out of a trunk of a tamarind tree; and with every tug this post which was called the ‘Henakanda’ rocked forward giving a booming sound.
The rivalry between the Udupila and Yatipila was apparent only during this annual contest. There were no arguments or quarrels. It was such healthy rivalry that it resulted more in the promotion of friendship and cordiality than division or animosity. Indeed, it is the curse of party politics that has led to whatever friction that exists or erupts from time to time today.
Football comes to Battaramulla.
In the late forties my brothers and I were keen participants in sports at St. Joseph’s. My eldest brother Owen was a keen sprinter who was a member of the Josephian team that won the Junior Tarbet Cup competition at the Public Schools Athletics Meet when it was introduced for the first time. My brother Irwin was a keen pole vaulter. The coconut land presently occupied by the Maha Vidyalaya which was under my father’s control had sufficient open space for us to run freely. A jumping pit filled with sand and a crude vaulting box was constructed. A 75 yards track was also measured out.
Whilst practicing several track & field items we also started kicking a foot ball about amidst the coconut trees. It was a ball that my father purchased from Diana’s on Chatham St. It was of thick leather with an inflatable tube inside. The lacing of the leather cover was also made of hide. We little realized that this kicking about of a ball was to lead Battaramulla to football fame within three to four years.
Starved of recreation, particularly without a playground in the village, one by one children as well as adults began to join us in the evenings to play football. Even a young priest from Sudassanarama Temple that is on the adjoining land joined in kicking the ball about Leading citizens of the village, Edmund Caldera, Lennet Perera, the village headman, and Edward Rupasinghe also began to take a keen interest. Although Caldera did not play, the other two became keen players. For the first time the youngsters saw the Headman and Rupasinghe dressed in shorts playing with the youth enthusiastically.
By the mid-fifties the Nugegoda District Football league had been formed. The president of the league was that devoted football enthusiast, I.D.M. Van Twest, Superintendent of Police. The Nugegoda league was affiliated to the Ceylon Football Association (CFA) and Van Twest was also a Vice President of the CFA.
There were about six or seven clubs from Maharagama, Kotte, Kalapaluwawa and Rajagiriya affiliated to the Nugegoda league. The most formidable teams were Cotta Park, Red Star and the Nugegoda Police. Red Star had that respected parliamentarian of Kotte the late Stanley Tilakaratna as the patron.
At this time the enthusiasm of the footballers at Battaramulla was very high and they were all eager to play competitive football. However, what was lacking was a formal organization. My brother Irwin was playing for the Colombo University under Peter Ranasinghe. I was playing for Peradeniya. My eldest brother Owen who was a law student enjoyed the game and my younger brother Aelian had the makings of an excellent centre-forward.
P. P. de Silva who was a young engineer at Walkers, Tillekeratne of the Inland Revenue Dept, his brother-in-law Nihal of the Prisons, Leslie Weerakkody who was an engineering student in the University, Jayasena, Munidasa and Premadasa who was the lift operator in the New Secretariat Building formed the backbone of a playing side. Lean and wiry Jayasiri and Muin, a young Malay boy, were daring forwards.
It was in this backdrop that all the football enthusiasts of Battaramulla met one Sunday morning in 1955 under the shade of a large jak tree in the land that we played on. I was on vacation. So was my brother Irwin. The purpose was to form a Football Club and formulate a constitution. With no controversial issues and the camaraderie that existed, the meeting was concluded within hours.
A proposal that the club be named ‘Winger’s Sports Club’ made by me was unanimously adopted and a constitution drafted then and there accepted by all present. Edmund Caldera, Lennet Ralahamy, Edward Rupasinghe, Oliver Almeida and Tony Blake were the architects of the constitution. With my basic knowledge of constitutional law gathered at the lectures of Prof. A.J. Wilson I was able to provide the finishing touches. Edmund Caldera, a senior officer of Ford Rhodes and a respected elder of the village, was unanimously elected The President of the Club.
With a unanimously adopted constitution embodying the basic principles necessary and with a set of office bearers who were all honourable and reputed gentlemen, before a month lapsed Wingers Sports Club was admitted to the Nugegoda Football league.
Within a short space of less than two years Wingers had become a popular outfit drawing large crowds whenever they played. In 1957 captained by my brother Aelian, Wingers went on to beat the much fancied Red Star and Cotta Park and qualify to meet the Nugegoda District Police in the league final.
If I remember right this match was played on a Sunday at the Mirihana Police Grounds. The outer fringes of the grounds were decorated with colourful bunting; and with music relayed from a public address system a carnival atmosphere prevailed. By 4 p.m. large crowds had gathered all round the grounds needing uniformed police to keep the crowd from entering the playing area. The arrival of the chief guest, Osmund de Silva, the Inspector General of Police accompanied by I D M Van Twest, Superintendent of Police, was greeted with crackers.
When the two teams lined up, Wingers in red and yellow jerseys looked smarter than the police team dressed in blue. Police with two or three national players were the favourites. When Mantas, the referee, blew the whistle for the commencement of the game there was a roar from the crowd.
In the tenth minute a sharp drive from midfield by Tillakaratne took the police goalie by surprise. Wingers led from this point onwards until the break. Police played far more aggressively in the second half and equalized through a penalty goal. With a one all draw imminent and about a minute to go P.P. de Silva started dribbling the ball solo from midfield and tapped the ball past the police goal keeper. Wingers had become the Nugegoda District Champions; and the toast of the village of Battaramulla.
The Wingers Football Club had by this time become the foremost social organization in the village. Well organized and with a highly disciplined and honourable membership ‘Wingers’ was able to provide leadership to village community activities such as the weeding and cleaning of the cemetery, organizing musical shows with the Talangama Police, and the removal of salvinia that had invaded the paddy fields. The strengthening of cordiality, goodwill and camaraderie among the youth of the village was indeed the lasting contribution of Wingers. Even today the few core members of Wingers who are living meet often to reminisce the glory days of the Club.
The tragic ending of Wingers as an active organization came about with the waning of enthusiasm of the football enthusiasts resulting from the loss of its playing field and meeting place. With the takeover of this land by the Education Department and the development of the Maha Vidyalaya it became the preserve of the school and declared out of bounds for village activities. All the efforts of Winger’s to use the grounds were of no avail. The greater tragedy is that this playing field is used only once or twice a year for a sports meet or Avurudu Celebration and even the children of the school are not seen using this land regularly for cricket, football or athletics. This ‘dog in the manger’ policy of the education authorities sounded the death knell of an admirable village organization.
Personally I have good reason to remember and cherish this wonderful organization. December 24, Christmas eve 1957, is a date deeply etched in my memory. At about 7 a.m. when I drowsily looked for the Ceylon Daily News which was delivered to our home every morning, I found it shredded to bits by a garden fowl that had settled on it. It was common to see our free run hens lay eggs at all places including chairs and even the beds.
It was indeed typical of an all male home of a motherless foursome of teenage brothers living with their father and grandfather. I had missed the good news that this paper had for me.
However, a few moments later there was a virtual invasion of our home by a large group of members of the Wingers Club led by Walter Rupasinghe, the younger brother of Edward Rupasinghe. The others in the group included Oliver and Ratna Almeida, Marshall, Jayasena, Jayasiri, W.A.C. Perera, P.P. de Silva and Victor Henry. They were all smiles and shouting ‘Congratulations’ all the way.
When my brothers and I expressed surprise, Walter asked me, ‘Did you read the good news in the Daily News? I then showed them the newspaper that was in shreds. But they had brought a copy along. In the front page one of the headlines read, ‘Three New Probationary ASP’s.’ The text read as follows:
“The Public Service Commission has announced the selection of the following three candidates to be appointed as Assistant Superintendents of Police in order of merit: Mr. S.D.E.S Gunawardena, Mr. P. Mahendran and Mr. E.S.R. David.
We all had a sumptuous breakfast of hoppers, String hoppers, sambol and plantains. All this had been brought by the crowd to celebrate the occasion. And then it was back to routine — football until the sun became too hot. Such was the wonderful camaraderie among the membership of Wingers.
I entered the Police Training School Kalutara on the 15` February 1958. Sometime before this date, the Wingers organized a formal reception for me at the residence of Mr. Edmund Caldera who was the President of the Club. Respected citizens of the village too had been invited. It was indeed an evening of music and fun. Several speeches were also made. Many of those present expressed surprise that a young man of 23 had become an Assistant Superintendent of Police.
The highest ranking officer that most of them had seen or heard of was Sub-Inspector V. T. Dickman who was the Officer-in-charge of Welikada Police Station. Battaramulla then came under the Welikada Police. The memento that was presented to me that night was a Gold Capped Parker 51 set. I still have the pen in good condition.
The guest artiste to keep the musical show alive on this occasion was Police Sergeant Wally Bastians. But this reputed baila singer did not know what the occasion was. I was to meet him later when in 1959 1 was attached to Colombo West as the understudy to R.A. Stork who was the ASP of the area. Wally Bastian then was a live wire in the Colombo Traffic Circus that conducted hilarious Street Shows to promote good road manners. It is a great pity indeed that a popular artiste of the caliber of this great exponent of baila could not live to see the cassette and DVD age.
Govt.’s choice is dialogue over confrontation
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.
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.
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.
Album to celebrate 30 years
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.
LET’S DO IT … in the new normal
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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