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The Popular Sinhala Cinema : Rukmani Devi; Mohideen Baig ; Gamini Fonseka



by Laleen Jayamanne

Rukmani Devi, the first star of the Sinhala cinema and incomparable singer with a unique voice, originally known as Daisy Rasamma Daniel, was a Tamil Christian. It was well known that she couldn’t read or write Sinhala and that her dialogue and lyrics were written in English. Al-Haj Mohideen Baig, who sang some of the most cherished, perennial popular Sinhala film songs (including Budhu Gee), wrote down the Sinhala lyrics in his mother tongue, Urdu. The multilingual Mohideen Baig came to Lanka in 1932 for his brother’s funeral and stayed on. With the guidance of Mohammed Gauss at Columbia records, he began singing on radio soon after. In India he had sung Ghazals in Urdu in his village Salem and also Hindi and Tamil songs.

Once film production began in Lanka, he had a long career as a backup singer, starting with Asokamala (1947). His powerful, textured voice was unique just like Rukmani Devi’s, which made their songs immensely popular. Also, he acted as a beggar in Sujatha (53), walking across landscapes, singing melancholy shoka gee, commenting on the action. His love songs with Rukmani Devi are some of the most heartfelt songs of longing (viraha), in films like Nalagana (1960), which I heard as a child, at the proletarian Gamini theatre Maradana, where their songs blared out vibrating the small theatre and our hearts. Listening to the songs now on YouTube, those memories flood my thoughts (as I write), as only music can, though the films themselves are a faint memory. Gamini was among several Tamil owned cinemas burned down in July 83 race riots.

Here, I wish focus on Rukmani Devi and Baig Master’s careers within the multi-ethnic composition of the Lankan film industry. Gamini Fonseka will make a guest appearance here as a trilingual Sinhala star who built a Tamil fan base. I examine the period from Rukmani Devi’s starring role in the very first Sinhala film Kadawuna Produwa (Broken Promise) in 1947, going beyond her accidental tragic death in 1978, to the murdering of the director K. Vanket in July 83, and concluding with the assassination of the pioneering film producer and entrepreneur, K. Gunaratnam in 1989, by a JVP gunman.

I do this so as to understand anew the cultural value of the early Lankan hybrid popular cinema and its cross-cultural heritage of songs, its multi-ethnic history, through reading and listening carefully to several of its most ardent cinephiles and researchers. They are a group of older, now retired journalists who are in fact the first generation of Sinhala cinephiles and writers of the Lankan cinema, such as A.D. Ranjith Kumara, Sunil Mihindukula former editors of Saraswiya, Ranjan de Silva, Ananda Padmasiri and Ariyasiri Withanage, who have conducted research into those critically maligned early films, their songs and the mass audience and have helped create a film culture through their writing and programming of film songs.

As cinephiles and collectors, their passion for that popular cinema of the past remains undiminished even in retirement. I came across them through a series of informative programmes on Independent Television Network (ITN), directed by Indrasiri Suraweera (available on YouTube). Their careful historical research into the musical traditions of the films, and generosity of spirit should inspire younger generations of critics and intellectuals to do more historical and theoretical work on the Lankan cinema more broadly and not forget its hybrid foundations. It is a cinema I enjoyed as a child, but studied critically while writing my doctorate on female representation in these films. Also, because most of these men were trained as journalists on radio and the print media, they are highly disciplined concise speakers (unlike us verbose academics), so it was a pleasure to listen to them exploring an undervalued period of Lankan mass cultural history. This history has an important relationship to Sinhala Buddhist Nationalism and its relation to the ethnic minorities of the country as well.

A Feminist Perspective on Rukmani Devi’s Career

Rukmani Devi died in a car crash in the early hours of one morning in October 1978. She had been travelling all night from Matara to Negombo, after having sung at a carnival variety show there. While there are numerous accounts of her death in all its detail and of the mass funeral and public mourning recorded on film, there is no discussion of why she was travelling such a long distance all night, from Matara to Negombo, after a ‘hard day’s work…’. As far as I know there is no critical analysis of what happened to her career at midlife and how that might have had some connection to the circumstances leading to that fatal accident. Her career trajectory from super-stardom as both an actress and singer from the 1940s, mingling with political and business leaders and some of the major Indian film stars, appearing on the cover of the Indian film magazine Film Fare, and a long recording and singing career, starting as a girl, from 1938, to end up singing in a variety show down South, is surely an index of the precariousness of her life. Her financial insecurity was also true of the lives of many other people who had worked in the film industry (including technicians, directors, main and supporting actors), in the first decades of Lankan cinema. This dark history should also be included as an essential part of what is often referred to (with pride), by some Sinhala critics as, Sinhala sinamawe wansa kathawa (the illustrious genealogy of the Sinhala cinema).

That Rukmani Devi lived an independent personal life as a professional woman in Lanka, starting quite young as an actress, on stage and film in the late 1940s, strikes me as an important aspect of her career, though the roles available to her on film reinforced feudal patriarchal values. The film Samiya Birindage Deviyaya (The Husband is the Wife’s God, 1963, WMS Tampo), stands as one of the most extreme examples of these oppressive values. It’s been referred to as a ‘women’s picture’, one which ‘they like to watch crying’, said one Sinhala male critic. Hollywood called their version ‘the weepies’, a profitable melodramatic genre targeting the new female spectator-consumer, who attended matinees.

The panellists, Ranjith Kumara has written a book on Rukmani Devi and Ranjan de Silva is a collector of her gramophone records and the song sheets of that era. He is also knowledgeable about Indian musical traditions such as the Raga based Hindustani music and popular Bajan and Ghazal songs for instance. He could hear their precise influences on the best of the early Sinhala film songs and how the originals were adapted and modified, rather than simply copied in the best examples. Appreciating the high quality of the Indian originals, he didn’t simply dismiss the early songs as ‘bad’ just because their origins were ‘Indian’.

His ideas on adaptation are sophisticated and can be used to revise dogmatic views on the early film songs. Most entries on the web simply list Rukmani Devi’s’ films with plot summaries without an analysis of her roles, some even extending her film list to dates well after her death, perhaps their dates of exhibition!

I can find no discussion on how her career ended in sharp decline, and what that means about the economically precarious state of some of the personnel, both men and women in the film industry of that time. There is plenty of adulation and appreciation of Rukmani Devi now as a singer, especially at anniversaries. People still listen to her songs and know her ‘legend’, and sing her songs, but with voices that are very high-pitched and ‘thin’, without her rich timbre nor the wide range of her voice and intensity of feeling. These innate qualities prompted one critic to suggest that she might have been able to sing Western opera as well. There is an unfortunate absence of an account of her as a pioneering female professional actress and singer, the challenges she faced (as a modern high profiled Tamil woman), all of which I think merit research, especially by feminist scholars and critics.

A useful thesis or two may be formulated and written on this and related topics at one of our universities. The existing research by Ranjith Kumara and Ranjan de Silva and younger critics and researchers should be drawn on and extended from a feminist perspective on ‘women and work’ and ‘female representation’ on film. There are a few books written by these older cinephiles, which must be collectors’ items by now. There is a small book by Sarath Ranaweera on Master Baig.

The fact that Rukmani Devi returned to the stage to perform in Dhamma Jargoda’s Vesmuhunu (an adaptation of A street car named desire by Tennessee Williams), either in 69 or 70, was mentioned by Ranjith Kumara, along with a significant anecdote. He said that just before she went on stage to perform as an aristocratic lady (originally Blanche du Bois in Williams’ play), she had insisted on showing her respect to Dhamma in the traditional Sinhala manner of bowing to him by going down on her hands and knees at his feet.

Ranjith Kumara mentions this because, as he rightly says, it was an unusual gesture for a Christian such as Rukmani Devi to perform. Certainly, in our catholic villages, stretching from Uswatakeiyawa to Negombo (Rukmani’s home town with Eddy Jayamanne), there was never such a practice and it still remains quite a foreign gesture to me, though I do appreciate the idea of ‘guru bhakti’ which encodes Rukmani Devi’s gesture. Ranjith Kumara elaborates on this, saying that it was Dhamma’s Shilpiya manasa (artistic intelligence) that Rukmani bowed to. One could take up this fascinating anecdote, told with such perspicacity, a little further.

Cultural Capital: Rukmani Devi and Irangani Serasinghe

I happened to have seen some of the rehearsals of Dhamma’s Vesmuhunu, as an inaugural student of the Art Centre Theatre Studio of 1970/71. If I remember right, Dhamma also did a version of it with Irangani Serasinghe simultaneously, alternating between these two brilliant Lankan actors. Some of us saw both rehearsals in Harrold Peiris’s large open garage at Alfred House, where our workshops were held, before the Lionel Wendt complex was refurbished to house the workshop. So, Rukmani’s unusual gesture of gratitude to Dhamma, I imagine, is because someone of his stature in Lankan theatre had finally given her the gift of playing a serious dramatic role in a modern play. The actress who started her career in the popular Tower Hall Nurti plays of the 40s and the Minerva theatre of B.A.W. Jayamanne, was finally given the opportunity to act in a modern western classic. Kumara also mentioned how much Rukmani Devi appreciated being able to act in Lester James Peries’ Ahasin Polowata (From the Sky to the Earth) where the Nimal Mendis song she sang won her a posthumous award.

There are several other famous global super stars who have yearned recognition and respect as ‘serious’ actors. The most famous of course being Marlin Monroe who produced The Prince and the Showgirl just so she could act with the famous British Shakespearean actor, Lawrence Olivier, while she was still married to Arthur Miller the famous American playwright. For unusually gifted super stars such as these, popularity alone is insufficient, knowing full well how ephemeral, limited and confining their popular ‘sexy’ image is for them, they longed for something more durable to work on, something with cultural and intellectual capital, one might now say.

Perhaps reading Rukmani’s autobiography (Mage Jeevitha Vitti), might provide more leads into the intricate intersections between her life and work, which in her case are especially inseparable, unlike that of any other Lankan film star I know of. Her use of the word ‘vitti’ (information), rather than ‘katha’ (story) suggests that she knew how to protect herself, her privacy. Rukmani Devi’s career started with her elopement and marriage, while still a minor, and she never stopped working in the dominant language which was not her mother tongue, having done only a few performances in Tamil. Whereas, many Lankan Sinhala female stars have left their careers at the height of their popularity to get married and have a family. Most memorably Jeevarani Kurukulasuriya (who formed such a popular romantic duo with Gamini Fonseka, our first male action hero), abandoned her career at marriage.

Dharmasena Pathiraja’s comments, at the official celebration held by the then president Maithripala Sirisena (along with the former president Chandrika Bandaranayaka), to mark the 50th anniversary of his professional work in the Lankan film industry, are relevant in thinking about Rukmani Devi’s predicament. He undercut the idea that he had worked ‘professionally’ in the ‘Lankan film industry’. He asked, rhetorically but politely:

“What Industry? How can there be an industry without capital, if there is no professional stability and proper infrastructure? When we look at the sad last days of Rukmani Devi, Domi Jayawardhana and Eddie Jayamanne, how can we speak of an industry? I wasn’t a filmmaker professionally, was anyone able to make a living professionally? I made a living by teaching as a lecturer from 1968-2008. (Maha lokuwata, arambaye sita karmanthayak gana katha keruwath, ape athdakeema anuwa wurthiya sthawarathwayk nathnam kohomada karmanthayak thienne!) The people who say there is an industry are the exhibitors and some producers.”

These starkly realist comments may be taken as an important starting point for future research into the economic, cultural and biographical histories of stars of the Lankan cinema, by young scholars. Clearly, Pathiraja knew from within what exactly had happened to these once very popular actors late in their lives. Perhaps it’s not too late yet to do some oral history before those with personal memory and deep knowledge of the vital early decades also pass away.

I remember visiting Master Hugo Fernando (who did comic routines with his little knot of hair tied at the back and large umbrella tucked under his arm), to talk about the ethos of the old days, which he did so graciously. Kumara and de Silva’s research is indispensable in this regard. Irangani Serasinghe would probably welcome a chance to talk about working with both Dhamma and Rukmani on the same play simultaneously, a most unusual experiment only he could have devised. I feel, in doing so, he was paying homage to two of Lanka’s uniquely popular actors from vastly different social worlds and actorly traditions, with very different cultural capital.

There is a strange symmetry in their career trajectories, but going in opposite directions. Irangani became a beloved house hold name only after the advent of the teledramas once Television was introduced in the late 70s. Prior to that, her acting began at the University Dram Soc where she famously played the heroine in the Greek classic Antigone. After her training at Royal Academy of Dramatic Art, she acted in the English language theatre and in the films of Lester beginning with Rekava (1956). Her repertoire included Shakespeare, Chekov, Lorca, Brecht and others. This also led her to play in Sinhala theatre as well.

During this time, she was recognised as one of our finest actors in both languages, but was not a household name as her work was consistently on the English stage. In contrast, Rukmani was a national figure of great adoration as an actress and singer on film and radio starting from the 40s. While Irangani worked in the domain of high-culture, Rukmani Devi created a Lankan popular mass culture (with Master Baig and others), through her films and songs. But with each change of taste, fashion and the fact of ageing, her film appeal diminished. But her resilience at self-reinvention is evident when she joined the group Los Cabelleros, singing Sinhala pop songs to Latin rhythms, with a show in Jaffna where she sang in Tamil.

I wonder if her Sinhala fans were curious enough to ask her to sing in Tamil as well. In her later years she longed to perform in work that was considered intellectually serious, engaged art. And this chance she did get but belatedly with Dhamma, while Irangani, through her later work in tele-dramas and films, has been able to continue her career well into her 90s and also become a cherished ‘national treasure’. Just as some critics dismissed the early Sinhala films dependent on Indian models, there are those who are critical of many teledramas for their low quality and diluting of popular taste and powers of discrimination. Unlike Irangani’s, Rukmani’s career trajectory marks a sad decline, as Pathiraja stated so forcefully. Therefore, all the massive outpouring of love and grief at her death is no compensation for the loss of worthwhile work. After all she died at only 55 with so much untapped creativity still left.

I am not alone in thinking that Lanka failed this rare artist of national and international stature, as it did Master Mohideen Baig (but more of him later). A visiting Indian star on hearing Rukmani Devi sing had said that, had she been born in India she would have been far more famous. Perhaps like the iconic singer Latha Mangeshkar, of whom Kumar Shahani once said: ‘If India has a heart, then that would be Latha Mangeshkar.’ Singing melancholy songs (Shoka Geetha), but with poetic lyrics written especially for her in Tamil and Sinhala, Rukmani Devi might have become, for all of us, (irrespective of our ethnic differences), Lanka’s sole soulful female voice. Baig Master was the only singer who sang with Mangeshkar, who also sang a song in Sinhala.

Rukmani Devi’s unerring ear meant that she could ‘pass’ as Sinhala, without a trace of her Tamil mother tongue inflecting her enunciation of the words. This ability was not a matter of aesthetics alone within the history of race relations in modern Sri Lanka, then Ceylon. In fact, the ability to pronounce ‘correctly’ the Sinhala word for bucket as ‘baldi’, became a sign of one’s ethnic identity during anti-Tamil riots in July 83. Saying ‘valdi’ instead of ‘baldi’ resulted even in death.

Mohideen Baig, a Muslim, who sang duets with Rukmani Devi, did so with a slight Urdu inflected accent and yet he was an essential part of Sinhala cinema and radio with mass appeal for much of the early period. Together, they evoked a haunting feeling of pathos tinged with a melancholy mood (viraha), in many of their songs, most especially in Jeevana me gamana sansare (samsare of this life’s journey).

Muttusamy and Rocksamy were the leading composers of music for the songs in Sinhala, though there were many other Tamil and Muslim musicians working in the industry as well. Even after better educated writers of lyrics entered the industry these highly skilled musicians continued to compose for them. For example, while Karunaratna Abeysekara wrote the lyrics for Kurul Badda the music was by Muttusamy. Rocksamy composed the music for Dharmasena Pathiraja’s great Tamil language film Ponmani, a truly innovative score in that the main song in the Karnataka idiom is repeated as a refrain, creating an emotional commentary on the main violent action. He also played the saxophone which was banned by the Sinhala nationalists at Radio Ceylon as being a brass Western instrument!

To be continued…

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If you have a heart, say no to tobacco!



BY Dr. Gotabhya Ranasinghe
Consultant in General & Interventional Cardiology, NHSL

Tobacco harms practically all of the body’s organs and is a key risk factor for heart disease!

Smoking can impact all aspects of the cardiovascular system, including the heart, blood, and blood vessels. I know from my experience over the years that about 25% of the patients who seek treatment from me for heart conditions smoke.

Is there a strong link between smoking and heart disease?

Of course, there is! Smoking definitely contributes to heart disease. The majority of smokers experience heart attacks.

Some claim that the only people at risk for heart attacks or strokes are those who are classified as heavy smokers. Although this is the case, did you know that smoking even one or two cigarettes a day might result in heart attacks?

Young smokers are on the rise, which unfortunately brings more cardiac patients between the ages of 20 and 25 to the cardiology unit.

Why is tobacco poison for your heart?

The harmful mix of more than 7,000 chemicals in cigarette smoke, including nicotine and carbon monoxide, can interfere with vital bodily functions when inhaled.

When you breathe, your lungs absorb oxygen and pass it on to your heart, which then pumps this oxygen-rich blood to the rest of your body through the blood arteries. However, when the blood that is circulated to the rest of the body picks up the toxins in cigarette smoke when you breathe it in, your heart and blood arteries are harmed by these substances, which could result in cardiovascular diseases.

What does cigarette smoke do to your heart?

Atherosclerosis (Building up of cholesterol deposits in the coronary artery)

Endothelium dysfunction leads to atherosclerosis. The inner layer of coronary arteries or the arterial wall of the heart both function improperly and contribute to artery constriction when you smoke cigarettes. As a

result, the endothelium-cell barrier that separates the arteries is breached, allowing cholesterol plaque to build up. It’s crucial to realize that smoking increases the risk of endothelial dysfunction in even those who have normal cholesterol levels.

Heart Attacks

The plaque accumulated in the arteries can burst as a result of continued smoking or other factors like emotional stress or strenuous exercises. Heart attacks occur when these plaque rupture and turn into clots.

Coronary artery spasm

Did you know you can experience a spasm immediately after a puff of smoke?

A brief tightening or constriction of the muscles in the wall of an artery that supplies blood to the heart is referred to as a coronary artery spasm. Part of the heart’s blood flow can be impeded or reduced by a spasm. A prolonged spasm can cause chest pain and possibly a heart attack.

People who usually experience coronary artery spasms don’t have typical heart disease risk factors like high cholesterol or high blood pressure. However, they are frequent smokers.


An erratic or irregular heartbeat is known as an arrhythmia. The scarring of the heart muscle caused by smoking can cause a fast or irregular heartbeat.Additionally, nicotine can cause arrhythmia by speeding up the heart rate.

One of the best things you can do for your heart is to stop smoking!

Did you know the positive impacts start to show as soon as you stop smoking?

After 20 minutes of quitting smoking, your heart rate begins to slow down.

In just 12 hours after quitting, the level of carbon monoxide in your blood returns to normal, allowing more oxygen to reach your heart and other vital organs.

12 to 24 hours after you stop smoking, blood pressure levels return to normal.

Your risk of developing coronary heart disease decreases by 50% after one year of no smoking.

So let us resolve to protect and improve heart health by saying no to tobacco!

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Religious cauldron being stirred; filthy rich in abjectly poor country



What a ho ha over a silly standup comedian’s stupid remarks about Prince Siddhartha. I have never watched this Natasha Edirisuriya’s supposedly comic acts on YouTube or whatever and did not bother to access derogatory remarks she supposedly introduced to a comedy act of hers that has brought down remand imprisonment on her up until June 6. Speaking with a person who has his ear to the ground and to the gossip grape wine, I was told her being remanded was not for what she said but for trying to escape consequences by flying overseas – to Dubai, we presume, the haven now of drug kingpins, money launderers, escapees from SL law, loose gabs, and all other dregs of society.

Of course, derogatory remarks on any religion or for that matter on any religious leader have to be taboo and contraveners reprimanded publicly and perhaps imposed fines. However, imprisonment according to Cassandra is too severe.

Just consider how the Buddha treated persons who insulted him or brought false accusations against him including the most obnoxious and totally improbable accusation of fatherhood. Did he even protest, leave along proclaim his innocence. Did he permit a member of the Sangha to refute the accusations? Not at all! He said aloud he did not accept the accusations and insults. Then he asked where the accusations would go to? Back to sender/speaker/accuser. That was all he said.

Thus, any person or persons, or even all following a religion which is maligned should ignore what was said. Let it go back and reside with the sayer/maligner. Of course, the law and its enforcers must spring to action and do the needful according to the law of the land.

One wonders why this sudden spurt of insults arrowed to Buddhism. Of course, the aim is to denigrate the religion of the majority in the land. Also perhaps with ulterior motives that you and Cass do not even imagine. In The Island of Wednesday May 31, MP Dilan Perera of Nidahas Janatha Sabawa (difficult to keep pace with birth of new political parties combining the same words like nidahas and janatha to coin new names) accused Jerome Fernando and Natasha E as “actors in a drama orchestrated by the government to distract people from the real issues faced by the masses.”

We, the public, cannot simply pooh pooh this out of hand. But is there a deeper, subtler aim embedded in the loose talk of Jerome and his followers? Do we not still shudder and shake with fear and sympathy when we remember Easter Sunday 2019 with its radical Muslim aim of causing chaos? It is said and believed that the Muslim radicals wanted not only to disrupt Christian prayer services on a holy day but deliver a blow to tourism by bombing hotels.

Then their expectation was a backlash from the Sinhalese which they hoped to crush by beheading approaching Sinhala avenging attackers with swords they had made and stacked. This is not Cass’ imagination running riot but what a Catholic Priest told us when we visited the Katuwapitiya Church a couple of weeks after the dastardly bombing.

It is believed and has been proclaimed there was a manipulating group led by one demented person who egged the disasters on with the double-edged evil aim of disrupting the land and then promising future security if … Hence, we cannot be so naïve as to believe that Jerome and Natasha were merely careless speakers. Who knows what ulterior moves were dictated to by power-mad black persons and made to brew in the national cauldron of discontent? Easiest was to bring to the boil religious conflict, since the races seem to be co-living harmoniously, mostly after the example of amity set before the land and internationally of Sri Lankans of all races, religions, social statuses and ages being able to unite during the Aragalaya.

We have already suffered more than our fair share of religious conflict. The LTTE exploded a vehicle laden with bombs opposite the Dalada Maligawa; shot at the Sacred Bo Tree, massacred a busload of mostly very young Buddhist monks in Aranthalawa. This was on June 2, 1987, particularly pertinent today. They killed Muslims at prayer in a mosque in Katankudy after ethnically cleansing Jaffna and adjoining areas of Muslim populations.

The Sinhalese, led by ultra-nationalists and drunken goons ravaged Tamils in 1983 and then off and on conflicted with Muslims. Hence the need to nip all and every religious conflict in the bud; no preachers/ Buddhist monks/overzealous lay persons, or comedians and media persons to be allowed to malign religions and in the name of religion cause conflict, least of all conflagration.

Comes to mind the worst case of religious intolerance, hate, revenge and unthinkable cruelty. Cass means here the prolonged fatwa declared against Salman Rushdie (1947-), British American novelist of Indian origin who had a ransom set aside for his life declared by the then leader of Iran, Ruhollah Khomeini, soon after Rushdie’s novel Satanic Verses was published in 1988. The British government diligently ensured his safety by hiding him in various places. After nearly two decades of tight security around him, he ventured to the US on an invited visit. He settled down in New York, believing he was now safe from the fatwa and mad men. It was not to be. In New York on stage to deliver a lecture in 2022, Rushdie was set upon by a lone assailant who stabbed him in the eye, blinding him in that eye and necessitating his wearing an eye band. What on earth was his crime? Writing a fictitious story to succeed many he had written and won prizes for like the Booker.

Religious fanaticism must never be permitted to raise its devilish head wherever, whenever.

Farmer’s fabulously rich son

Often quoted is the phrase coined by the Tourist Board, Cass believes, to describe Sri Lanka. Land like no other. It was completely complementary and justified when it was first used. We were an almost unique island where every prospect pleased, particularly its smiling, easy going people and the wonderful terrain of the land with varying altitudes, climates and fauna and flora.

Then with the decline of the country engineered and wrought by evil, self-gratifying politicians, their sidekicks and dishonest bureaucrats, disparities became stark. Sri Lanka is now in the very dumps: bankrupt, its social, economic and sustainability fabric in shreds and people suffering immensely. But since it is a land like no other with a different connotation, only certain of its population suffer and undergo deprivation and hardship. Others live grand even now and have money stashed high in–house and overseas in banks, businesses and dubious off shore dealings. Some lack the few rupees needed to travel in a bus but most political bods drive around in luxury cars; infants cry for milk and children for a scrap of bread or handful of rice. Plain tea is drunk by many to quell pangs of hunger while the corrupt VIPs quaff champaign and probably have exotic foods flown over from gourmet venues.

And most of those who drive luxury cars, eat and drink exotically and live the GOOD life, did not inherit wealth, nor earn it legitimately. Young men who had not a push bike to ride or Rs 25 to go on a school trip to Sigiriya are now fabulously wealthy. Cass does not want to list how they demonstrate immense wealth possession now.

One case in the news is Chaminda Sirisena, who seems to be very, very wealthy, wearing a ring that is valued at Rs 10 million, and then losing it to cause severe damnation to its stealer. Goodness! Cass cannot even imagine such a ring. Well, he lost it and 5,000 US $ and Rs 100,000. The suspect is his personal security guard. Having never heard of this brother of the ex Prez and he not being the paddy multimillionaire owning hotels, Cass googled. Here is short reply, “Chaminda Sirisena. Owner Success Lanka Innovative Company, Sri Lanka, 36 followers, 36 connections. (The last two bits of info completely incomprehensible and no desire at all to verify). He sure is comparable to Virgin Airways Branson and other top global entrepreneurs to become so wealthy being a son of a man who served in WWII and was given a small acreage to cultivate paddy in Polonnaruwa. When his brother Maitripala became Prez of Sri Lanka it was with pride the comparison was brought in to the American President who moved from log cabin to the White House.

Hence isn’t our beloved, now degraded Sri Lanka, a land like no other with Midases around?

We now have another maybe thief to worry about. No further news of the poor mother whose life was quashed for the sake of a gold ring, leaving three children motherless and probably destitute. When we were young, we were told very early on that if we lost anything it was more our fault; we were careless and placed temptation to less fortunate persons. The Tamil woman who died after being in remand was such a one who needed extra protection from temptation. To Cass her employer is more to blame for the probable theft and for the tragedy that followed.

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Snakes of Sri Lanka



By Ifham Nizam

Snake bites are a serious public health issue in Sri Lanka. It has been estimated that nearly 80,000 snake bites occur here every year.Due to fear and poor knowledge, hundreds of thousands of snakes, mostly non-venomous ones, are killed by humans each year.The state spends more than USD 10 million a year on treating snake bite patients.

According to health sector statistics between 30,000 and 40,000 snake bite patients receive treatment in hospitals annually, says Dr. Anjana Silva, who is Professor in Medical Parasitology, Head/ Department of Parasitology, Faculty of Medicine and Allied Sciences, Rajarata University.

To date, 93 land and 15 sea snake species have been recorded from Sri Lanka. While all 15 sea snakes are venomous, only 20% of the land snakes are venomous or potentially venomous.

The term, ‘venomous snakes’ does not mean they cause a threat to human lives every time they cause a bite. The snakes of highest medical importance are the venomous ones which are common or widespread and cause numerous snakebites, resulting in severe envenoming, disability or death,” says Dr. Silva who is also Adjunct Senior Research Fellow – Monash Venom Group,Department of Pharmacology, Faculty of Medicine, Nursing and Health Sciences, Monash University and Research Associate- South Asian Clinical Toxicology Research Collaboration, Faculty of Medicine, University of Peradeniya.

Only five snakes could be considered to be of the highest medical importance in Sri Lanka: Russell’s viper, Indian krait, Sri Lankan cobra, Merrem’s hump-nosed viper and Saw-scaled viper. All but Merrem’s hump-nosed vipers are covered by Indian Polyvalent antivenom, the only treatment available for snake bites in Sri Lanka.

There are another five snake species with secondary medical importance, which are venomous snakes and capable of causing morbidity, disability or death, but the bites are less frequent due to various reasons (Sri Lankan krait, Highland Hump-nosed viper, Lowland hump-nosed pit viper, Green-pit viper and Beaked sea snake)

The snakes of highest medical importance in Sri Lanka are as follows:

  1. Russell’s viper (Daboia russelii) (Sinhala: Thith Polanga/ Tamil: Kannadi viriyan)

Medically the most important snake in Sri Lanka. It is found throughout South Asia. It is responsible for about 30% of snake bites in Sri Lanka and also about 70% of deaths due to snake bites in Sri Lanka.

Some 2-5% bites by Russell’s viper are fatal. Widely distributed throughout the country up to the elevations of 1,500m from sea level. Highly abundant in paddy fields and farmlands but also found in dry zone forests and scrub lands. Bites occur more during the beginning and end of the farming seasons in dry zone. It can grow up to 1.3m in length. Most bites are reported during day time.

Over 85% of the bites are at the level of or below the ankle. It is a very aggressive snake when provoked. Spontaneous bleeding due to abnormalities in blood clotting and kidney failure have life-threatening effects.

Dr. Anjana Silva

  1. The Sri Lankan Russell’s vipers cause mild paralysis as well, which is not life threatening. Indian Polyvalent antivenom covers Russell’s viper envenoming. Deaths could be due to severe internal bleeding and acute renal failure.
  2. Indian Krait (Bungarus caeruleus) (Sinhala: Thel Karawala/ Maga Maruwa; Tamil: Yettadi virian/ Karuwelan Pambu)

It is distributed in India, Sri Lanka, Nepal, Bangladesh, Pakistan and Afghanistan. It is found across the lowland semi-arid, dry and intermediate zones of Sri Lanka. Almost absent in the wet zone. Usually, a non-offensive snake during the daytime; however, it could be aggressive at night.

Common kraits slither into human settlements at night looking for prey. People who sleep on the ground are prone to their bites.

Most common krait bites do occur at night. Bites are more common during the months of September to December when the north-east monsoon is active. Most hospital admissions of krait bites follow rainfall, even following a shower after several days or months without rain.

Since most bites do occur while the victim is asleep, the site of bite could be in any part of the body.

As bite sites have minimal or no effects, it would be difficult to find an exact bite site in some patients. Bite site usually is painless and without any swelling. Causes paralysis in body muscles which can rapidly lead to life threatening respiratory paralysis (breathing difficulty).

  1. Sri Lankan Cobra (Naja polyoccelata; Naja naja) Sinhala: Nagaya; Tami: Nalla pambu

Sri Lankan cobra is an endemic species in Sri Lanka. It is common in lowland (<1200m a.s.l), close to human settlements. Cobras are found on plantations and in home gardens, forests, grasslands and paddy fields. It is the only snake with a distinct hood in Sri Lanka.

Hood has a spectacle marking on the dorsal side and has two black spots and the neck usually has three black bands on the ventral side. When alarmed, cobras raise the hood and produce a loud hiss.

Cobra bites could occur below the knee. They are very painful and lead to severe swelling and tissue death around the affected place. Rapidly progressing paralysis could result from bites, sometimes leading to life-threatening respiratory paralysis (breathing difficulty). Deaths could also be due to cardiac arrest due to the venom effects.

  1. Merrem’s hump-nosed viper (Hypnale hypnale) Sinhala: Polon Thelissa/ Kunakatuwa; Tamil: Kopi viriyan.

Small pit-vipers grow up to 50cm in length. Head is flat and triangular with a pointed and raised snout. They are usually found coiled, they keep the heads at an angle of 45 degrees. Merrem’s Hump-nosed viper (Hypnale hypnale) is the medically most important Hump-nosed viper as it leads to 35-45% of all snake bites in Sri Lanka.

Merrem’s Hump-nosed vipers are very common in home gardens and on plantations and grasslands. Bites often happen during various activities in home gardens and also during farming activities in farmlands in both dry and wet zones. Hands and feet (below the ankle) are mostly bitten. Bites can often lead to local swelling and pain and at times, severe tissue death around the bite site may need surgical removal of dead tissue or even amputations. Rarely, patients could develop mild blood clotting abnormalities and acute kidney failure. Although rare, deaths are reported due to hypnale bites.

  1. Saw-scaled viper (Echis carinatus), Sinhala: Weli Polanga; Tamil: Surutai Viriyan

This species is widely distributed in South Asia. However, in Sri Lanka, it is restricted to dry coastal regions such as Mannar, Puttalam, Jaffna peninsula and Batticaloa. In Sri Lanka, this snake grows upto 40-50cm. It is a nocturnal snake which is fond of sand dunes close to the beach. It could be found under logs and stones during daytime. Bites are common during January and February.

It is a very aggressive snake. A distinct, white colour ‘bird foot shape’ mark or a ‘diamond shape’ mark could be seen over the head. When alarmed, it makes a hissing sound by rubbing the body scales. Although this snake causes frequent severe envenoming and deaths in other countries, its bites are relatively less severe in Sri Lanka. Bites could lead to mild to moderate swelling and pain on the affected place and blood clotting abnormalities and haemorrhage and rarely it could lead to kidney failure.



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