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The Significance Of Accents



by Vijaya Chandrasoma

I have traveled more than anyone else, and I have noticed that even the angels speak English with an accent – Mark Twain

English is now recognized as the global language, widely spoken in most parts of the world. It is certainly the universal language of international trade and commerce. However, distinctive accents in the use of English in different parts of the world make English sound as if different languages are being spoken.

Countries originally settled by Anglo-Saxons, like the United States of America, Canada, Australia, New Zealand and South Africa, have, with some variations, recognized English as their national language. English of the original immigrants, blended with those of the hundreds of millions who emigrated to the New World from Europe, and the more recent arrivals from the colonies of the old British Empire in Asia, Africa and the West Indies.

However, the nations colonized by the British, especially those countries in the Indian Subcontinent, boasted of a proud history of their own languages and cultures. Their willing embrace of the English was necessarily merged with the sounds of their native languages, Hindi, Urdu, Sinhala and Tamil. The language resulting from the blending of these proud languages with that of the invader unfortunately gave birth to an English accent which is an unpleasant onslaught on the senses.

The 20th century saw a flood of immigrants to Europe, Canada and the USA. Religious persecution, poverty and two World Wars were the main reasons for immigration to the USA; the “huddled masses yearning to breathe free”, economic refugees seeking a better future for themselves and their children. The end of World War II and the resultant labor shortages saw an influx of immigrants to Europe. Post-war Britain facing labor shortages enticed immigrants from their defunct empire to the nation we had been brainwashed to revere as the “Motherland”, to do the menial jobs that the natives felt were beneath their dignity.

Of course, accents played a part within the host countries themselves. In England, the accepted accent till the late 20th century for diplomats, the upper crust and the BBC was the Oxford/Cambridge variety, cultivated in the prestigious public (read private, expensive, snobbish) schools in the land. English is spoken with a multitude of accents depending on the locale in which you live. The Brummie (Birmingham) accent is different from the London cockney, the Liverpudlian from the West Country; and if you strike up a conversation with a Scotsman at a pub in Aberdeen, you will find it hard put to understand the drift of the conversation, especially had you slaked your thirst with that golden elixir, the hallmark of the nation.

The upper classes of colonial and post-colonial Sri Lanka, educated at Christian private mission schools, with the single exception of one government school in Colombo, often scoffed condescendingly at the English spoken in Sinhala and Tamil villages. As the hoary and offensive joke goes, when referring to an inhabitant from the Southern City of Galle, “You can take the boy out of Gaul, but you can’t take the Goal out of the boy!”

I emigrated to the USA in the late 80s, during the peak of the JVP and LTTE strife. I was amused, sometimes perturbed, to observe American attitudes to the accents of recent immigrants. The natives of the 50 states of this vast and powerful nation spoke English in their different accents; but American English had pretty much evolved into a uniform dialect.

As Theodore Roosevelt said at the turn of the 20th century, “We have room for but one language, the English language, for we intend to see that the crucible turns our people out as Americans, and not as dwellers in a polyglot boarding house”. He has been proved largely prescient, though the recent influx of immigrants from Latin America and Asian countries has made for vast tracts of communities who speak only their own language, with a smattering of English to get by. This will change when their offspring join a new generation of Americans.

Generally, Americans have a combination of both inferiority and superiority complexes about the accent used in their nation when compared to the languages spoken in the “Old Country”. Each set of new immigrants till the middle of the 20th century added something of their own language/culture to the dialect now accepted as American English. First generation immigrants, however, usually retain the accents of the language they spoke at home, although many try to emulate the accents of the host country to demonstrate their eagerness to assimilate. Americans have formed their own conceptions, often stereotyped and fallacious, of the characteristics these various accents suggest.

Americans are generally in awe of those speaking with a British accent. Never mind the accent is OxCam or cockney, Welsh or Scots, these accents are often falsely regarded as evidence of an upper class education, even a status symbol. A French accent is admired as the mellifluous language of love and romance; such an accent, when accompanied with a gallant kiss on the hand, will make any lady, not just American, swoon. The Australian accent, which to my ears is just a variation of the lowly Cockney, is also held in high regard in the United States, while the guttural German is thought to be indicative of cold, even brutal, efficiency. Other European accents are held in varying degrees of esteem, depending on their national stereotypes. One accent that is universally enjoyed is the Jamaican, which opens up fantasies of warm beaches, cocktails with little umbrellas, reggae and calypso music and wild parties with a surfeit of sex and pot, lots of pot.

Sadly, the accent held in the least esteem are the discordant sounds of the English language spoken by first generation immigrants from the Indian Subcontinent, contemptuously personified by Apu in the popular TV show, “The Simpsons”. It has also been disdainfully described as an accent, when used by a man pursuing a woman, that would be the least likely to help him getting laid. Unless, of course, the lady in pursuit hailed from the Subcontinent, in which event a mere accent would likely prove to be least of the problems.

Many of these immigrants from the Subcontinent are highly educated professionals, medical, engineering, and the like. Their education has often been “refined” by the hallowed schools of learning in England. They take inordinate pride in their distinctive and cultured accents, and many refuse to parrot the pidgin American of their host nation. As an example, my brother emigrated to California over 40 years ago. He received his education up to MD General Medicine (Sri Lanka) and MRCP (UK), in Colombo. After a brief period of training at the University of Southern California, he has been teaching pathology at the USC Medical School for over 40 years, as the Head of Surgical Pathology of the most prestigious university in Los Angeles. Like me, he talks with the same English accent we learned at Royal College, which neither of us has been able to shed; me, after six years in England as a student and over 20 years in the United States, and my brother, after 40 years’ teaching pathology to American medical students. I asked him once why he didn’t adapt his accent to better communicate with his students, why he still used words like ‘nought’ and ‘fortnight’ which are unfamiliar to Americans. His typically arrogant Sri Lankan response was: “I am not going to change the way I speak. Let the buggers look up any words they don’t understand!”

Americans, and it must be confessed, even many of these educated immigrants from the Subcontinent, look down upon the grating accents of recent immigrants from the Indian Subcontinent, usually economic refugees of the “lower orders” with little education and fewer skills. They do their utmost to parrot the American accent in a desperate desire to blend in, efforts which unfortunately result in a bad accent made even more jarring.

When I first arrived in America in 1990, I met with some Sri Lankans living in the twilight zone of the undocumented immigrant, making great efforts to pursue the elusive American Dream. One of them, fresh out of LAX, heard a dog barking, and exclaimed, in Sinhala, with an air of wonderment, “Aday, machang, even the dogs here bark with an American accent”.

American prejudice against the accents of immigrants from the Subcontinent is a really yet another not so subtle expression of racism. I have personally suffered this form of discrimination, when insensitive American co-workers tried to mimic my accent in an effort to diminish me. My advanced age at the time (49), and lack of American work experience compelled me to take lowly, often menial jobs in an effort to put food on the table, secure medical insurance and pay the rent. But I never let these taunts take me down, because I knew I was better than them. I am not being arrogant or conceited, it was a low bar I had to clear. However, this kind of cruel mimicry can have a devastating effect on children, especially those in their formative years.

In Los Angeles, we made friends with an Indian family living in our apartment complex, who were in a similar situation. They had an only daughter, a beautiful and talented little girl, who attended the junior high school in the neighborhood. My friend and I shared the chore of taking our kids (my younger son had, during those first few days, enrolled in the local Community College) to school and picking them up at the end of the day, depending on our work schedules. I noticed that my friend’s little daughter looked very glum, sometimes close to tears when I picked her up after school. After a couple of weeks, concerned as only a father can feel for another’s obsessive need to protect his daughter, I decided to cross traditional lines of privacy and asked my friend if there were any problems with his daughter’s schooling. I thought maybe she had problems with adjustment to a new culture and a different curriculum. My friend broke down and told me the awful truth. Their daughter kept sobbing herself to sleep every night, in deep distress; she was being mocked for her Indian accent by the school bullies. He and his wife were at their wits’ end, even thinking of abandoning their quest for the American Dream and going back to India.

We talked to the scared, sensitive little girl, told her that she was better than any kid in the school; that she was better read and educated in the English language than most; that she should study hard and go on to complete her studies at the best university in the country. She tearfully agreed to try.

And try she did! She has exceeded even our most extravagant expectations. She gritted her teeth, bravely overcame the relentless taunts, won the English prize at the end of her junior school career, finished high school as its Valedictorian and earned a Summa cum Laude bachelor’s degree from the University of California, Berkeley. She didn’t stop there. She was accepted to Yale Law School, and is now a lawyer, the General Counsel at one of the nation’s leading philanthropic Foundations.

We have kept in touch with our Indian friends, and I am so enormously proud of their daughter’s achievements just as if she were my very own. In spite of the sad fact that she now speaks English with a perfect American accent.

Which is not to say that I haven’t been extraordinarily blessed with my two sons. They also took advantage of the wonderful educational opportunities available during the Clinton years to kids who were willing to work hard, and equipped themselves with degrees from equally prestigious universities. My pride in their achievements knows no bounds. And they have the added virtue of speaking English with just a trace of the accent we all learned at our alma mater, Royal College, Colombo.

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Most Venerable Kotugoda Dhammavasa Uttareethara Maha Nayaka Thera turns 88



It was in the year 1803 that there was a renaissance within the Maha Sangha (the Great Community of Buddhist Monks) in Sri Lanka thereby adding a fresh chapter to the history of the Buddha Sasana in Sri Lanka. This was when the Most Venerable Welitara Sri Gnanawimala Thera, the Great Prelate received the Upasampada or the Higher Ordination in Burma, returned to Sri Lanka and established the Sri Lanka Amarapura Nikaya. (The name of this monk is embellished with traditional appellations such as Bodhisattva Gunopetha or being imbued with the qualities of a Bodhisattva or Buddha-Aspirant, and Preacher to King and Emperor.)

Thus the Amarapura Nikaya, which began with this Most Venerable Thera, later spread itself very rapidly down five generations of the Sangha spanning the entire Island. These generations of the Sangha organized themselves into 22 Nikayas. This was with the blessings of each of the Mahanayakas. They also preserved the identity of each such Nikaya.

In Sri Lanka, Amarapura Maha Sangha Sabha was formed in 1952 with the concurrence of 15 of these subsidiary Nikayas. Presidents of the Amarapura Maha Sangha Sabha have been;

1. the Most Venerable Prelate Beruwela Siri Nivasa Thera

2. the Most Venerable Mapalane Pannalankara Maha Nayaka,

3. the Most Venerable Uddammita Dhammarakhita Maha Nayaka,

4. the Most Venerable Balangoda Ananda Maithri Maha Nayaka

5. the Most Venerable Madihe Pannaseeha Maha Nayaka.

In the year 1962 all 22 Sub-Nikayas came together to form a more organized and properly constituted Sri Lanka Amarapura Maha Sangha Sabha. It was the Most Venerable Agga Maha Panditha Balangoda Ananda Maithri Thera who was installed as President and has been succeeded by;

1. the Most Venerable Dhammavansha Thera,

2. the Most Venerable Madihe Pannaseeha,

3. the Most Venerable Ahungalla Wimalanandi,

4. the Most Venerable Kandegedara Sumanavansha,

5. the Most Venerable Boyagama Wimalasiri,

6. the Most Venerable Kotugoda Dhammavasa and

7. the Most Venerable Dodampahala Chandrasiri.

The Most Venerable Chief Prelate Ganthune Assaji Thera is the current chair.

In terms of the Constitution approved in 1992, an Office of Supreme Prelate (Uttareethara Mahanayaka) was created, and the first to hold this office was the Most Venerable Madihe Pannaseeha Mahanayaka Thera who was succeeded by Most Venerable Davuldena Gnaneesara Thera. After his demise the Most Venerable Kotugoda Dhammavasa Thera, who turns eighty-eight today assumed and continues to be the Uttareethara Mahanayaka.

He was born on 26th January 1933 and ordained as a monk with the permission of his parents, on 17th August 1948. He received his Higher Ordination on 10th July 1954 at the Udakkukhepa Seemamalakaya set up on the River named the Kalu Ganga in Kalutara.

He had his training and primary instruction in the Buddha Dhamma from his Venerable Preceptors, later entered the Paramadhamma Chetiya Pirivena for his education. It was at the Maha Pirivena in Maligakanda where he received his Higher Education in three languages, under the shadow and tutelage of the Most Venerable Pandita Baddegama Piyaratana Thera.

With the demise of his preceptor, Dhammavasa Thera became the Prelate of the Dharmapala-arama Viharaya in Mount Lavinia. By this time he had already become very popular by broadcasting and delivering sermons in temples and in private homes, contributing to articles disseminating the Dhamma, and articles on topical subjects through the full-moon day publication entitled “Budusarana”, then to daily newspapers, and to the Vesak Annuals published by M D Gunasena & Co., Dinamina etc.

The Thera was also engaged in social welfare activities of the area by setting up Children’s and Young Persons’ Societies within the Vihara.

With the passage of time and the demise of remarkably eloquent monks such as the Most Venerable Narada Thera, Prelate of the Vajira-aramaya, Heenatiyana Dhammaloka, Kotikawatte Saddhatissa, Pitakotte Somananda, Kalukondayawe Pannasekera and other such classic preachers, Kotugoda Dhammavasa Thera stands out as a prime orator among those who came to the limelight after the days of the erudite monks of yesteryear.

Owing to the ceaseless invitations to deliver sermons extended to our Venerable Thera he travelled to various regions of the Island, yet fulfilling all his duties pertaining to his own Nikaya and to the work of the Sangha Sabha neglecting nothing whatever. With all this he continued to participate in the discharge of the infinite services expected of all erstwhile office bearers of the Sangha Sabha.

Our respected Thera was gradually chosen to hold various posts within the Amarapura Nikaya. Some such are his appointment in 1970 as an ordained member of the Working Committee and to the Post of Honorary Prelate (Maha Nayaka); in 1981 as the Chief Ecclesiastical Sangha Nayaka; and in 1990 as the Deputy Chief (Anunayaka) of the Amarapura Nikaya. At the same time it is because of his quality of being industrious that he was elected the Secretary (Lekhakadhikari).

The Venerable Anunayaka Thera who served the Maha Sangha Sabha of the Sri Lanka Amarapura Nikaya with great dedication, in order to ensure its unity and advancement, was in 1980 appointed its Co-Secretary (Sama Lekhakadhikari) and in 1992 as its Chief Secretary (Maha Lekhakadhikari) It is only appropriate to place on record that during this period of about fifteen years he performed a very special quality of service to the Sasana by updating the Amarapura Sangha Sabha; by setting up a Kathikavata (Ecclesiastical Edict) for the Amarapura Nikaya (whereby ‘rules governing the discipline and conduct of Buddhist monks including matters related to the settlement of disputes’ together with a Sanghadhikarana Panatha (i.e. an Ecclesiastical Act) were drafted and approved; and finally by drafting a strong, formal Constitution and obtaining approval for same.

It was on 17th December 2016 that the Venerable Kotugoda Dhammavasa Anunayaka Thera became the Mahanayaka of the Amarapura Nikaya, and that on a proposal made by none other than the Most Venerable Agga-maha-panditha Ambalangoda Sumangala Maha Nayaka Thera who, at the time, was himself the incumbent.

On 3rd October 2008 the Venerable Kotugoda Dhammavasa Maha Nayaka Thera was appointed to the post of Chairman, and it was on 26th May 2017 that he was elected Uttareethara Maha Nayaka or Supreme Maha Nayaka, which is the highest position within the Sri Lanka Amarapura Nikaya.

He has visited many countries in Asia and Europe disseminating the Dhamma and participating in Conferences thereby earning great international fame. Meanwhile he also serves as the incumbent monk of the Sri Lanka-aramaya in Myanmar and of the Charumathie Viharaya in Nepal.

In the matters of national and religious issues in the country he expresses his views in such a calm and collected manner that he has earned the respect of the Supreme Maha Nayaka Theras of other Nikayas and politicians both in power and in the Opposition and of intellectuals.

He has been honored with the title of “Agga Maha Panditha” by the Government of Myanmar. Although other honorary awards were conferred upon him by foreign countries and foreign institutions he does not use them, entirely because of his humble disposition.

At the end of and exposition of the Dhamma (a Dharma Desana) at Temple Trees His Excellency Mahinda Rajapaksa (who was then the incumbent President of the country) made an offering to him of about 14 perches of land in Wellawatte. Upon this land stands today, the “Office of the Sangha Sabha of the Amarapura Maha Nikaya”, a three-storied building replete with all conceivable facilities. It is a matter of great joy to us that in honour of the Most Venerable Kotugoda Dhammavasa Maha Nayaka Thera it was possible for us to make an offering of this building to the Buddha Sasana, on the 15th of August 2020.

We offer merit to His Excellency the President and the Honourable Prime Minister who are today attending to each and every need of our Supreme Maha Nayaka Thera in a spirit of extending infinite regard and respect to him, in appreciation of the national and religious service the Maha Thera has rendered.

Let us also gratefully place on record that the Honourable Sajit Premadasa, Leader of the Opposition, has provided an elevator as an offering to facilitate the caring for our Mahanayaka Thera.

I also wish to thank the Doctors, the Staff of the Nawaloka Hospital, Members of the Nikaya-abhivrudhi Dayaka Sabha (Organization for the Advancement of the Nikaya) and the Dayaka Sabha of the Mahanayaka’s Vihara and who are all providing medical care.

Arrangements were made by the Dayaka Sabha and the student monks to offer alms to the Sangha to mark the birthday of our Thera when he reached the age of 88, on 26th January 2021.

On 21st January 2021 at 7.00 p.m. a Bodhi Pooja was organized by the Amarapura Nikaya-abhivruddi Dayaka Sabha at the historic Kalutara Bodhi to invoke blessings upon our Supreme Maha Thera.

May the Supreme Maha Nayaka Agga Maha Panditha Kotugoda Dhammavasa Maha Nahimi live a life free from sickness and sorrow.


Deshamanya Ajita de Zoysa


Sri Lanka Nikaya-abhivruddi Dayaka Sabha

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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.

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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.

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