January 5, 2021 (LBO) –
100 years is a time period of significance. In the last century people have seen world war, slavery, colonialism, apartheid, nuclear bombs invented and used, the emergence of technology, mobile phones, the internet, and most recently a global pandemic that shuttered the world and will soon have claimed the lives of over 2 million people in the last year alone.
The world has changed so much in the last century, and few people have been lucky enough to bear witness to this transformation with a sound mind. One of these fortunate individuals was my grandmother, Viola Welikala. Her elegant soul made it to the age of 100, made it through the tumultuous year 2020, and peacefully departed this world on January 1, 2021. Through the century that was her life, her mind was as sharp as a nail, and she took in all that life had to offer. It was this way right up to the last few days of her life.
Her’s was a life that was not noticeable by the public at large, but it was notable indeed to almost everyone who had the privilege of knowing her. It was a life of much tumult and much joy, but most of all, it was a journey through the mosaic that is just life itself. My grandmother lived life to its fullest. She gave it all she had, enjoying the heights and soldiering on through the lows.
She saw death. Her husband Dr. A. H. N. Welikala dead at the age of 41, leaving her with 4 children under age ten to raise on her own. Living lucidly to the age of 100, she saw the death of all her siblings, contemporaries, and even a son in law Raju Rasiah.
She saw illness. Aside from seeing the illness and deterioration of many people she loved, she was herself always battling with her heath, and what a battle it was. Too many heart attacks to count, several heart surgeries, and diabetes where she maintained a level of discipline to regularly inject herself with insulin, regulating her blood sugar right to the very end. Sudden illness would often hit her and she kept fighting it back. This medical fight was there throughout her life right to the end, aided by a daughter who is a doctor, and by the first class professional nursing assistance of her eldest daughter Nirmala, who she resided with during the latter years of her life. Without all of her daughters, she would have never lived so well for so long.
There was never a shortage of drama. From the sudden death of her husband, to her own heart attacks, one of which I recall she mistook for the effects of eating a bad pol sambol, to the ups and downs of running a farm shop for her son on duplication road where she came into contact with all of Colombo. From a burglary where she was hit on the head with an iron by a rogue, to being in the box at court and being lambasted by a young advocate named Romesh De Silva. Conflict and commotion seemed to follow her, and as an old lady I remember her driving fast and occasionally airborne in an ancient Toyota Corolla which like her seemed to never die.
She was the centre of gravity for family and friends. She had 4 children, 6 grand children, 3 great grand children, in laws, nieces, nephews, and other relatives. She had many close friends and became close to their families as well. She had interactions with all across the age spectrum. She was engaged with whomever would open themselves to her, no matter the strata. Many resided under her roof under all sorts of circumstances.
She came to America and raised me in my earliest years. I recall stories of her scowling when my parents would come home from work and noisily awake their baby from sleep. When it came to me at that time, she was in command. I can relate as I do the same thing when someone disturbs the sleep of my babies. She wanted to matter to her family by doing things and lending a much needed helping hand. She had to be useful and was frustrated if she couldn’t be.
She was a matriarch stewarding the lives of two grandchildren in Colombo, Asthika and Sheyanthi. She watched over them like the proverbial hawk as she saw them through Ladies and Royal College, while their father Nissanka was a planter living on the estates. Many of their school mates know her well as they were in and out of her home. She loved the two schools, and all students who went there she looked upon fondly.
She helped many people. Her door was always open. Many leaned on her during their time of need. She took joy in being able to help, and would give the most to those who needed it most. There was a boy without a family named Anura who she informally adopted, providing for him and his children as she did her own. She used all her resources to do this, and did not have concerns over having anything for herself. She didn’t care, as she valued her life by what she could do for other people.
She saw the world. Born in Sri Lanka, she was a subject of her contemporary Queen Elizabeth II, and her father before her. She lived through Sri Lanka’s journey to independence to see its first Prime Minister D. S. Senanayake take over from the British. She was always a UNP voter, it didn’t matter who was on the ballot. However, she would have been very pleased when Ranil Wickremesinghe became Prime Minister as he was someone she had observed as a young boy, and was a close school friend of her son-in-law Mousie. Down the road from Ranil’s family, she also grew up on 5th Lane.
In her 90’s, after living with her daughter Nimi for many years, she took the oath and became a citizen of the United States of America. She was a careful observer of the Trump, Obama, and Bush Presidencies as she was keenly interested in politics. She would watch Fox News as avidly as she would have read Sri Lanka’s Daily News. She was a voracious reader who consumed volumes of written material up until her last days. I have chronicled this earlier in an article referenced below celebrating her 100th birth day.
There is much to learn from her life. What I have observed is that for many, life is a long journey full of intoxicating highs, gut wrenching lows, and much in between. Everyone can not rise to heights of power, success, wealth, or fame. However, even a simple life can matter so much to so many people. Life is meant to be lived, the good taken with the bad. All things should be taken in stride, just like my grandmother took them, pushing forward and doing good things in her own way.
Viola Welikala died at home. It was Christmas 2020, and she was happy to be able to gather with all of her children in Las Vegas, despite the Covid restrictions that kept them apart for so long. She was alive and well, and almost poetically, after the joy of Christmas she slipped into the end. She passed away a few days later on January 1, 2021. It was a great death and a great life, to be celebrated and not mourned. She would have wanted it that way.
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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