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Two worthy women – unsung, unknown but to be admired

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In my recent articles I have written about well known people and their achievements; books authored by Indira Arulpragasam Samarasekera and Vasantha Senanayake and about Ven Ayya Vayama Bhikkhuni who devoted her adult life to one of renunciation and leading others in Sri Lanka and Australia to know better the Buddha Dhamma. Additionally to me, December is a month for celebrating women because of Ven Sanghamitta Theri’s (282-203 BC) arrival in Lanka, and instituting the Order of Bhikkhunis or Meheni Sassna in the island.

A third reason for my choice of subject of this my last article for 2021 is that at the end of a year we look back on the twelve months gone by and a major feeling is (should be) gratitude for benefits enjoyed. My heart overflows with gratitude to the first of my subjects and though less, yet strong to the second I write about.

I introduce to my readers two women I greatly admire and love – both domestic helpers. They have sterling qualities that seem to be in decline now: honesty, loyalty, commitment and concern for others.

Pothegodage Podi Hamy lived with me and my atomic family for 52 years, bringing up my children, cooking so well my foodie husband approved of her, and generally running the home as I was slip shod in this. I was never a cook since from my young days I was in school hostels and then lived with siblings. Having been employed from age 22 to well past my 60s, my married life was greatly smoothed by PH as we referred to her.

When I took to teaching I lived with my eldest brother and family. The Ayah in the family was spinster Sopia. I would attend to her correspondence, register-posting letters enclosing money orders to her several nephews. She expressed her appreciation by announcing to my sister-in-law that when I was married, she would bring her niece to help me. This she did when I had my first child and moved to Colombo from Kandy; however under duplicitous means. Her niece Podi Hamy was employed in a Wellawatte home. Sopi went over there, said with feigned sobs a close relative was dead and PH had to accompany her for the funeral. In the bus, PH’s suspicions were aroused. “We are not heading to Mapitigama. Where are you taking me?” And so she came to me and lived with us for five decades and more.

She was a devoted care giver to my children; escorting them back home from school, feeding them their lunch with an unhealthy but familiar-to-her much rice with less vegetable curry. Then it would be to a tuition class for Sinhala and to the SSC for swimming classes or back to college or SLTA for tennis coaching. My elder son was devoted to her and she claimed him more than the second who was my sari pota clinger. She mentally fixed a marriage for the elder when he was of age and when he refused her choice and preferred his own, she had to be prescribed a sedative!

Sopi was a visitor who escorted PH and a couple of others, PH’s friends Alice and Kusuma included, on annual pilgrimages to Sri Pada and all-night Vesak sight-seeing. When Sopi was too aged to do this, PH came into her own and moved around freely. She was sent on pilgrimage to India thrice and accompanied me to some other countries. I take her to our Ancient Cities whenever possible.

Sopi did try to get her niece married, to prevent her suffering spinsterhood and earning for others as she, Sopi, had. I dreaded this prospect as I was so dependent on PH to mange my home and kids. But I did not stymie her and allowed free goings and comings. PH refused all proposals, much to my delighted relief.

Then inevitably, age caught on and she said she could work no longer and would like to retire to a Home for Elders. I thought she should continue living with me, now widowed with sons abroad, though my flat is not large. A grandnephew of PH’s came to the rescue by offering a home to her, close to her village of birth. This young man and wife are doing very well, live in a large house and offered a spacious bedroom with attached toilet, balcony and verandah to PH. My sons, now abroad, send monetary gifts and a monthly pension which she hardly needs as she has a good amount saved in the NSB. Her grandnephew and grandniece are admirable as their offer was completely altruistic and they see to all her needs. Once when PH was hospitalized, her grandniece stayed by her bedside in spite of having to look after her in-law parents and two kids.

A driver who helps bring her to my home by car every couple of months, ensures we meet often. Recently with my second son on holiday, inviting a niece and nephew, we celebrated PH’s birthday with a niece in Kandy joining the singing of the birthday song via WhatsApp.

Rupa, a daily helper, who used to arrive around 7.00 in the morning, always loud and bursting with her latest adventure story, kept our small household alive once or twice weekly until Covid came along and her visits curtailed by health conscious me. She travels from Gampaha. Earlier, she worked in many Colombo homes.

She was a whirlwind which arrived with loud tales of ghosts and ghoulies, accidents and misfortunes and the growing up misadventures of three grandchildren right next to her home.

Then, after a still noisy breakfast she would hurricane herself – dusting, sweeping, polishing et al. She would climb a small ladder to dust fans and window grills, and stretch far out in the balcony to pluck a jambu fruit until forbidden by me. At 3.00 o’clock she would be ready to call it a day, smartly dressed in sari – Kandyan style, and later in blouse and lungi, mistaken by co-train travelers as a school teacher.

Her weekly stories were full of the untoward. Her husband and she would quarrel but there was deep devotion between them. Once she tumbled off a bus and had to stay home. He warmed water and bathed her; she tended to his needs very lovingly when he was old and indisposed. Their’s had been a love marriage, he spying her, draped in a wet bathing cloth, at her family well and pursued her against her parents objections that she was too young and he much older. She has a daughter, happily and prosperously married, and a tradesman son.

Her husband’s sister died on the steps of their home and subsequently haunted the place, as she reported. She tolerated the rattles and observed blur at night until it doubled. Consulting the ubiquitous astrologer cum diviner of the spirit world, they were informed the sister-in-law was now accompanied by her husband, dead earlier. The diviner warned that unless they were caught, trapped and disposed of, the hovering spirits would create trouble, already bringing illness and misfortune. Lurid details of the trapping into a bottle and actually seeing two spirits in it, sent me off my breakfast the following morning when Rupa arrived bursting to narrate her story, concluding her tale with the bottle being flung into the deep blue sea.

Rupa is cantankerous, so often her tales are of arguments and unforgiving anger with a relative, fortunately soon forgotten.

She is not employed now. Maybe she enjoys her retirement or longs for Covid to be over, so she can resume her weekly visits. She comes once in a while and it’s a pleasure to give her a decent meal and a bit of money.

Gratitude is the healthiest of all human emotions. The more you express gratitude for what you have, the more likely you will have even more to express gratitude for

. Zig Ziglar

I am glad I have gratitude and express appreciation since gratitude according to the Buddha is almost on par with metta, karuna, muditha and uppekka.

You will read me on Boxing Day. We Sri Lankans have much to box against, results of manmade disasters. We’ll rise above these. So enjoy the rest of 2021 as best as you can and let’s earnestly hope Covid will vane and concern for people by the government will wax strong, soon correcting mistakes and remedying mishaps which are serious.



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Features

UK support for govt.’s pragmatic reconciliation process

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Lord Ahmad with GL

By Jehan Perera

The government would be relieved by the non-critical assessment by visiting UK Minister for South Asia, United Nations and the Commonwealth, Lord Tariq Ahmad of his visit to Sri Lanka. He has commended the progress Sri Lanka had made in human rights and in other areas as well, such as environmental protection. He has pledged UK support to the country. According to the President’s Media Division “Lord Tariq Ahmad further stated that Sri Lanka will be able to resolve all issues pertaining to human rights by moving forward with a pragmatic approach.” The Minister, who had visited the north and east of the country and met with war-affected persons tweeted that he “emphasised the need for GoSL to make progress on human rights, reconciliation, and justice and accountability.”

Prior to the Minister’s visit, President Gotabaya Rajapaksa had announced in Parliament that his government had not violated nor would support “any form of human rights violations.” This was clearly an aspirational statement as the evidence on the ground belies the words. Significantly he also added that “We reject racism. The present government wants to safeguard the dignity and rights of every citizen in this country in a uniform manner. Therefore I urge those politicians who continue to incite people against each other for narrow political gains to stop doing so.” This would be welcome given the past history especially at election time.

The timing of Lord Ahmad’s visit and the statements made regarding human rights suggest that the forthcoming session of the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva, commencing on February 28, loomed large in the background. The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights will be presenting a written report on that occasion. A plethora of issues will up for review, including progress on accountability for crimes, missing persons, bringing the Prevention of Terrorism Act in line with international standards, protecting civil society space and treating all people and religions without discrimination.

The UK government has consistently taken a strong position on human rights issues especially in relation to the ethnic conflict and the war which led to large scale human rights violations. The UK has a large Tamil Diaspora who are active in lobbying politicians in that country. As a result some of the UK parliamentarians have taken very critical positions on Sri Lanka. Lord Ahmad’s approach, however, appears to be more on the lines of supporting the government to do the needful with regard to human rights, rather than to condemn it. This would be gratifying to the architects of the government’s international relations and reconciliation process, led by Foreign Minister Prof G L Peiris.

REACHING OUT

In the coming week the government will be launching a series of events in the North of the country with a plethora of institutions that broadly correspond to the plethora of issues that the UNHRC resolution has identified. War victims and those adversely affected by the post war conditions in the North and livelihood issues that arise from the under-developed conditions in those areas will be provided with an opportunity to access government services through on-the-spot services through mobile clinics. The programme coordinated by the Ministry of Justice called “Adhikaranabhimani” is meant to provide “ameliorated access to justice for people of the Northern Province.”

Beginning with Kilinochchi and Jaffna there will be two-day mobile clinics in which the participating government institutions will be the Legal Aid Commission, Office for National Unity and Reconciliation, Office for Reparations, Office on Missing Persons, Department of Debt Conciliation Board and the Vocational Training Authority to mention some of them. Whether it is by revising 60 laws simultaneously and setting up participatory committees of lawyers and state officials or in now launching the “Adhikaranabhimani” Justice Minister Ali Sabry has shown skill at large scale mobilisation that needs to be sustained. It is to be hoped that rather than treating them as passive recipients, the governmental service providers will make efforts to fulfill their need for justice, which means that the needs of victims and their expectations are heard and acknowledged.

It will also be important for the government to ensure that these activities continue in the longer term. They need to take place not only before the Geneva sessions in March but also continue after them. The conducting of two-day mobile clinics, although it will send a message of responsiveness, will only be able to reach a few of the needy population. The need is for infusing an ethic of responsiveness into the entirety of the government’s administrative machinery in dealing with those problems that reaches all levels, encompassing villages, divisions, districts and provinces, not to mention the heart of government at the central level.

The government’s activities now planned at the local level will draw on civil society and NGO participation which is already happening. Government officials are permitting their subordinate officials to participate in inter-ethnic and inter religious initiatives. It is in their interest to do so as they would not wish to have inter-community conflicts escalate in their areas which, in the past, have led to destruction of property and life. They also have an interest in strengthening their own capacities to understand the underlying issues and developing the capacity to handle tensions that may arise through non-coercive methods.

BUILDING PEACE

Many of the institutions that the government has on display and which are going to the North to provide mobile services were established during the period of the previous government. However, they were not operationalized in the manner envisaged due to political opposition. Given the potency of nationalism in the country, especially where it concerns the ethnic conflict, it will be necessary for the government to seek to develop a wide consensus on the reconciliation process. The new constitution that is being developed may deal with these issues and heed the aspirations of the minorities, but till that time the provincial council system needs to be reactivated through elections.

Sooner rather than later, the government needs to deal with the core issue of inter-ethnic power sharing. The war arose because Sinhalese politicians and administrators took decisions that led to disadvantaging of minorities on the ground. There will be no getting away from the need to reestablish the elected provincial council system in which the elected representatives of the people in each province are provided with the necessary powers to take decisions regarding the province. In particular, the provincial administrations of the Northern and Eastern provinces, where the ethnic and religious minorities form provincial majorities, need to be reflective of those populations.

At the present time, the elected provincial councils are not operational and so the provincial administration is headed by central appointees who are less likely to be representative of the sentiments and priorities of the people of those provinces. In the east for instance, when Sinhalese encroach on state land the authorities show a blind eye, but when Tamils or Muslims do it they are arrested or evicted from the land. This has caused a lot of bitterness in the east, which appears to have evaded the attention of the visiting UK minister as he made no mention of such causes for concern in his public utterances. His emphasis on pragmatism may stem from the observation that words need to be converted to deeds.

A video put out by the UK Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office confirms a positive approach with regard to engaging with the Sri Lankan government. In it Lord Ahmad says “the last three days illustrated to me that we can come together and we can build a constructive relationship beyond what are today with Sri Lanka. We can discuss the issues of difference and challenge in a candid but constructive fashion.” Lord Ahmad’s aspiration for UK-Sri Lankan relations needs to be replicated nationally in government-opposition relations, including the minority parties, which is the missing dimension at the present time.

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Yohani…teaming up with Rajiv and The Clan

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I know many of you, on reading this headline, would say ‘What?’

Relax. Yohani, of ‘Manike Mage Hithe’ fame, is very much a part of the group Lunu.

But…in February, she will be doing things, differently, and that is where Rajiv and the Clan come into the scene.

Rajiv and his band will be embarking on a foreign assignment that will take them to Dubai and Oman, and Yohani, as well as Falan, will be a part of the setup – as guest artistes.

The Dubai scene is not new to Yohani – she has performed twice before, in that part of the world, with her band Lunu – but this would be her first trip, to Oman, as a performer.

However, it will be the very first time that Yohani will be doing her thing with Rajiv and The Clan – live on stage.

In the not too distant past, Rajiv worked on a track for Yohani that also became a big hit. Remember ‘Haal Massa?’

“She has never been a part of our scene, performing as a guest artiste, so we are all looking forward to doing, it in a special way, during our three-gig, two-country tour,” says Rajiv.

Their first stop will be Dubai, on February 5th, for a private party, open-air gig, followed by another two open-air, private party gigs, in Oman – on February 10th and 11th.

Another attraction, I’m told, will be Satheeshan, the original rapper of ‘Manike Mage Hithe.’

He will also be a part of this tour (his first overseas outing) and that certainly would create a lot of excitement, and add that extra sparkle, especially when he comes into the scene for ‘Manike Mage Hithe.’

Yohani and her band, Lunu, last performed in Dubai, a couple of months back, and Satheeshan, they say, was the missing link when she did her mega internet hit song – live, on stage.

There was a crowd to catch her in action but it wasn’t a mind-blowing experience – according to reports coming our way.

A live performance, on stage, is a totally different setup to what one sees on social media, YouTube, etc.

I guess music lovers, here, would also welcome a truly live performance by Yohani de Silva.

In the meanwhile, I’m also told that Rajiv Sebastian plans to release some songs of the late Desmond de Silva which he and Desmond have worked on, over the years.

According to Rajiv, at this point in time, there is material for four albums!

He also mentioned that he and his band have quite a few interesting overseas assignments, lined up, over the next few months, but they have got to keep their fingers crossed…hoping that the Omicron virus wouldn’t spike further.

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Features

Multi-talented, indeed…

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Thamesha Herath (back row – centre) and her disciples (students)

We all know Trishelle as the female vocalist of Sohan & The X-Periments, so, obviously it came to me as a surprise when it was mentioned that she is a highly qualified Bharatanatyam dancer, as well.

What’s more, she has been learning the skills of Bharatanatyam, since her kid days!

And, to prove that she is no novice, where this highly technical dance form is concerned, Trishelle, and the disciples (students) of State Dance Award winning Bhartanatyam Guru, Nritya Visharad Bhashini, Thamesha Herath, will be seen in action, on January 29th, at 4.00 pm, at the Ave Maria Auditorium, Negombo.

Said to be the biggest event in Bharatanatyam, this Arangethram Kalaeli concert will bring into the spotlight Avindu, Sithija, Mishaami, Nakshani, Venushi, Veenadi, Amanda, Sakuni, Kawisha, Tishaani, Thrishala (Trishelle), Sarithya, Hewani, Senuri, Deanne and Wasana.

In addition to her singing, and dancing skills, Trishelle has two other qualifications – Bachelor in Biomedical Science, and Master in Counselling Psychology.

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