HERE’S EVEVRYTHING YOU NEED TO KNOW ABOUT . . . .
by Selvam Canagaratna
“We are never so easily deceived as when we imagine we are deceiving others.”
– La Rochefoucauld, Maxims (1665)
The following was put together by the staff of The Week:
Holed up in his mansion, Russia’s authoritarian leader is facing serious challenges both at home and abroad. Here’s everything readers need to know:
Why is Putin in trouble?
Well, Russian President Vladimir Putin seemed to have achieved his wildest dream in the 2016 US election, when the Russia-friendly Donald Trump narrowly won the presidency while benefiting from a concerted Kremlin campaign to hack and release Democratic emails and sow disinformation. Similar Russian interference helped bolster nationalist parties in Europe, including those that supported Britain’s exit from the EU.
While the former KGB agent succeeded in weakening Western democracies and dividing NATO, Russia itself has not materially benefited from his interference in other countries’ politics. US sanctions damaged the Russian economy and badly hurt the oligarchs on whom Putin depends. Over the past six months, plunging oil prices and coronavirus shutdowns have deepened the damage, leaving the Russian economy crippled. At home, a botched attempt on dissident Alexei Navalny’s life has galvanized the opposition, while abroad, unrest in former Soviet countries — which Moscow considers its sphere of influence — is mounting.
Moscow is worried about the war between Armenia and Azerbaijan over the ethnic-Armenian enclave of Nagorno-Karabakh. Russia has sizable minorities of both Armenians and Azerbaijanis, as well as a mutual defense pact with Armenia, while Turkey is openly supporting Azerbaijan. Putin has called for a cease-fire but has refused to get involved. In Kyrgyzstan, anti-government protesters last week toppled the pro-Russian president, Sooronbai Jeenbekov, just two weeks after Putin, in a rare in-person meeting, promised to “do everything to support you as Head of State.” Most threatening is the uprising in Belarus, a country that Russia is bound to in a nominal federal union. Putin’s support for longtime President Alexander Lukashenko, accused of rigging his re-election, has alienated many Belarusians. Huge weekly protests against Lukashenko show no sign of letting up, and Putin’s nightmare is that the protests could embolden his own opponents.
Who are Putin’s opponents?
In June, Russia changed its constitution to allow Putin, who has governed since 1999, the ability to run for two more terms — effectively making him a czar and abandoning all pretense of democracy. That amendment, Tatiana Stanovaya told Foreign Policy, signals a new era in Putin’s rule that is “much more conservative, less tolerant, more repressive.” The following month, Sergei Furgal, the popular governor of the far-eastern region of Khabarovsk, was arrested on politically motivated charges, and the region erupted in weeks of protest. Days later, Navalny released an investigative report on his blog detailing the corruption and vast wealth of Putin’s envoy to the far-east regions, Deputy Prime Minister Yuri Trutnev, further inflaming anti-Kremlin sentiment there. That may have been the impetus for Putin to attempt to kill Navalny. On Aug. 20, the activist was poisoned with an even deadlier strain of the banned nerve agent Novichok that almost killed double agent Sergei Skripal in London in 2018.
Why go after Navalny?
Russia has long been “a country where members of the opposition die violently,” says Sam Greene, the Director of the Russia Institute at King’s College London. Navalny has been a particularly irritating and dangerous opponent. His popular blog and YouTube videos, slickly produced and wryly comical, have exposed in startling detail how top Kremlin officials, including Prime Minister Dmitri Medvedev, amassed vast wealth through corrupt dealings. Lately he has begun organizing strategies for “smart voting,” helping the opposition solidify around whichever candidate has the best chance against the Kremlin. His poisoning brought more EU sanctions, further hurting the economy.
How badly off is Russia’s economy?
Western sanctions have erased more than 6 percent of Russian GDP since the 2014 annexation of Crimea from Ukraine. This year alone, the ruble has lost 20 percent of its value. Russia is largely dependent on oil and gas sales, and the plunge in global oil prices — exacerbated by a price war between Russia and Saudi Arabia — has cost it tens of billions in revenue. The pandemic is delivering another major blow. Putin lifted the country’s shutdown in May, and the virus has spread rapidly, giving Russia the fourth-highest total of infections in the world. Poverty and hunger are widespread. “There is mounting internal discontent, to say the least, over the economy,” economist Igor Nikolayev told Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty. “I have the feeling that this is going to make authorities increasingly nervous, and the risk of a domestic crackdown is becoming greater.”
What about the US election?
US intelligence warns that Putin is again interfering on the side of Trump, using “a range of measures” to spread disinformation about Joe Biden and his son Hunter and to undermine confidence in the validity of the vote. Yet given the Democrat’s lead in the polls, Moscow is also preparing for a Biden win. State TV openly mocks Trump as Putin’s poodle, while Putin himself has begun extending overtures to Biden, praising him for supporting an extension of the New START arms treaty. That is “a very serious element,” said Putin, “of our potential collaboration in the future.”
The pandemic in Russia
Infections are soaring in Russia, which now has more than 1.4 million cases and is adding some 15,000 a day. Officially, the death toll is 24,000 people, likely a severe undercount. Yet limits on gatherings are few, and schools have reopened. Masks and gloves are required on the Moscow subway, but shops and restaurants are open almost as usual, with workplaces instructed to require just 30 percent of employees to work remotely. Having failed to contain the virus, Russia is pinning its hopes on vaccines. It has already approved two different vaccines for large-scale trials and is using them before the trials have ended. Putin, meanwhile, is taking no chances. He has sequestered himself at his palatial mansion outside of Moscow and sees only visitors who have quarantined for at least two weeks. Even then, the Kremlin has said, everyone who is granted an audience with Putin must first pass through a “disinfection tunnel” that sprays visitors with a fine mist of chemicals.
Strong on vocals
The group Mirage is very much alive, and kicking, as one would say!
Their lineup did undergo a few changes and now they have decided to present themselves as an all male group – operating without a female vocalist.
At the helm is Donald Pieries (drums and vocals), Trevin Joseph (percussion and vocals), Dilipa Deshan (bass and vocals), Toosha Rajarathna (keyboards and vocals), and Sudam Nanayakkara (lead guitar and vocals).
The plus factor, where the new lineup is concerned, is that all five members sing.
However, leader Donald did mention that if it’s a function, where a female vocalist is required, they would then feature a guest performer.
Mirage is a very experience outfit and they now do the Friday night scene at the Irish Pub, in Colombo, as well as private gigs.
Dichotomy of an urban-suburban New Year
Ushered in by the ‘coo-ee’ of the Koel and the swaying of Erabadu bunches, the Sinhala and Tamil New Year will dawn in the wee hours of April 14. With houses to clean, preparation of sweetmeats and last-minute shopping, times are hectic…. and the streets congested.
It is believed that New Year traditions predated the advent of Buddhism in the 3rd century BC. But Buddhism resulted in a re-interpretation of the existing New Year activities in a Buddhist light. Hinduism has co-existed with Buddhism over millennia and no serious contradiction in New Year rituals are observed among Buddhists and Hindus.
The local New Year is a complex mix of Indigenous, Astrological, Hindu, and Buddhist traditions. Hindu literature provides the New Year with its mythological backdrop. The Prince of Peace called Indradeva is said to descend upon the earth to ensure peace and happiness, in a white carriage wearing on his head a white floral crown seven cubits high. He first plunges, into a sea of milk, breaking earth’s gravity.
The timing of the Sinhala New Year coincides with the New Year celebrations of many traditional calendars of South and Southeast Asia. Astrologically, the New Year begins when the sun moves from the House of Pisces (Meena Rashiya) to the House of Aries (Mesha Rashiya) in the celestial sphere.
The New Year marks the end of the harvest season and spring. Consequently, for farming communities, the traditional New Year doubles as a harvest as well. It also coincides with one of two instances when the sun is directly above Sri Lanka. The month of Bak, which coincides with April, according to the Gregorian calendar, represents prosperity. Astrologers decide the modern day rituals based on auspicious times, which coincides with the transit of the Sun between ‘House of Pisces’ and ‘House of Aries’.
Consequently, the ending of the old year, and the beginning of the new year occur several hours apart, during the time of transit. This period is considered Nonegathe, which roughly translates to ‘neutral period’ or a period in which there are no auspicious times. During the Nonegathe, traditionally, people are encouraged to engage themselves in meritorious and religious activities, refraining from material pursuits. This year the Nonegathe begin at 8.09 pm on Tuesday, April 13, and continues till 8.57 am on 14. New Year dawns at the halfway point of the transit, ushered in bythe sound of fire crackers, to the woe of many a dog and cat of the neighbourhood. Cracker related accidents are a common occurrence during new year celebrations. Environmental and safety concerns aside, lighting crackers remain an integral part of the celebrations throughout Sri Lanka.
This year the Sinhala and Tamil New Year dawns on Wednesday, April 14, at 2.33 am. But ‘spring cleaning’ starts days before the dawn of the new year. Before the new year the floor of houses are washed clean, polished, walls are lime-washed or painted, drapes are washed, dried and rehang. The well of the house is drained either manually or using an electric water pump and would not be used until such time the water is drawn for first transaction. Sweetmeats are prepared, often at homes, although commercialization of the new year has encouraged most urbanites to buy such food items. Shopping is a big part of the new year. Crowds throng to clothing retailers by the thousands. Relatives, specially the kids, are bought clothes as presents.
Bathing for the old year takes place before the dawn of the new year. This year this particular auspicious time falls on April 12, to bathe in the essence of wood apple leaves. Abiding by the relevant auspicious times the hearth and an oil lamp are lit and pot of milk is set to boil upon the hearth. Milk rice, the first meal of the year, is prepared separate. Entering into the first business transaction and partaking of the first meal are also observed according to the given auspicious times. This year, the auspicious time for preparing of meals, milk rice and sweets using mung beans, falls on Wednesday, April 14 at 6.17 am, and is to be carried out dressed in light green, while facing east. Commencement of work, transactions and consumption of the first meal falls on Wednesday, April 14 at 7.41 am, to be observed while wearing light green and facing east.
The first transaction was traditionally done with the well. The woman of the house would draw water from the well and in exchange drop a few pieces of charcoal, flowers, coins, salt and dried chillies into the well, in certain regions a handful of paddy or rice is also thrown in for good measure. But this ritual is also dying out as few urban homes have wells within their premises. This is not a mere ritual and was traditionally carried out with the purification properties of charcoal in mind. The first water is preferably collected into an airtight container, and kept till the dawn of the next new year. It is believed that if the water in the container does not go down it would be a prosperous year. The rituals vary slightly based on the region. However, the essence of the celebrations remains the same.
Anointing of oil is another major ritual of the New Year celebrations. It falls on Saturday, April 17 at 7.16 am, and is done wearing blue, facing south, with nuga leaves placed on the head and Karada leaves at the feet. Oil is to be applied mixed with extracts of Nuga leaves. The auspicious time for setting out for professional occupations falls on Monday, April 19 at 6.39 am, while dressed in white, by consuming a meal of milk rice mixed with ghee, while facing South.
Traditionally, women played Raban during this time, but such practices are slowly being weaned out by urbanization and commercialisation of the New Year. Neighbours are visited with platters of sweetmeats, bananas, Kevum (oil cake) and Kokis (a crispy sweetmeat) usually delivered by children. The dichotomy of the urban and village life is obvious here too, where in the suburbs and the village outdoor celebrations are preferred and the city opts for more private parties.
New Year games: Integral part of New Year Celebrations
Food, games and rituals make a better part of New Year celebrations. One major perk of Avurudu is the festivals that are organised in each neighbourhood in its celebration. Observing all the rituals, like boiling milk, partaking of the first meal, anointing of oil, setting off to work, are, no doubt exciting, but much looked-forward-to is the local Avurudu Uthsawaya.
Avurudu Krida or New Year games are categorised as indoor and outdoor games. All indoor games are played on the floor and outdoor games played during the Avurudu Uthsava or New Year festival, with the whole neighbourhood taking part. Some of the indoor games are Pancha Dameema, Olinda Keliya and Cadju Dameema. Outdoor games include Kotta pora, Onchili pedeema, Raban geseema, Kana mutti bindeema, Placing the eye on the elephant, Coconut grating competition, Bun-eating competition, Lime-on-spoon race, Kamba adeema (Tug-o-War) and Lissana gaha nageema (climbing the greased pole). And what’s an Avurudhu Uthsava sans an Avurudu Kumari pageant, minus the usual drama that high profile beauty pageants of the day entail, of course.
A salient point of New Year games is that there are no age categories. Although there are games reserved for children such as blowing of balloons, races and soft drinks drinking contests, most other games are not age based.
Kotta pora aka pillow fights are not the kind the average teenagers fight out with their siblings, on plush beds. This is a serious game, wherein players have to balance themselves on a horizontal log in a seated position. With one hand tied behind their back and wielding the pillow with the other, players have to knock the opponent off balance. Whoever knocks the opponent off the log first, wins. The game is usually played over a muddy pit, so the loser goes home with a mud bath.
Climbing the greased pole is fun to watch, but cannot be fun to take part in. A flag is tied to the end of a timber pole-fixed to the ground and greased along the whole length. The objective of the players is to climb the pole, referred to as the ‘tree’, and bring down the flag. Retrieving the flag is never achieved on the first climb. It takes multiple climbers removing some of the grease at a time, so someone could finally retrieve the flag.
Who knew that scraping coconut could be made into an interesting game? During the Avurudu coconut scraping competition, women sit on coconut scraper stools and try to scrape a coconut as fast as possible. The one who finishes first wins. These maybe Avurudu games, but they are taken quite seriously. The grated coconut is inspected for clumps and those with ungrated clumps are disqualified.
Coconut palm weaving is another interesting contest that is exclusive to women. However men are by no means discouraged from entering such contests and, in fact, few men do. Participants are given equally measured coconut fronds and the one who finishes first wins.
Kana Mutti Bindima involves breaking one of many water filled clay pots hung overhead, using a long wooden beam. Placing the eye on the elephant is another game played while blindfolded. An elephant is drawn on a black or white board and the blindfolded person has to spot the eye of the elephant. Another competition involves feeding the partner yoghurt or curd while blindfolded.
The Banis-eating contest involves eating tea buns tied to a string. Contestants run to the buns with their hands tied behind their backs and have to eat buns hanging from a string, on their knees. The one who finishes his or her bun first, wins. Kamba adeema or Tug-o-War pits two teams against each other in a test of strength. Teams pull on opposite ends of a rope, with the goal being to bring the rope a certain distance in one direction against the force of the opposing team’s pull.
Participants of the lime-on-spoon race have to run a certain distance while balancing a lime on a spoon, with the handle in their mouths. The first person to cross the finish line without dropping the lime wins. The sack race and the three-legged race are equally fun to watch and to take part in. In the sack race, participants get into jute sacks and hop for the finish line. The first one over, wins. In the three-legged race one leg of each pair of participants are tied together and the duo must reach the finish line by synchronising their running, else they would trip over their own feet.
Pancha Dameema is an indoor game played in two groups, using five small shells, a coconut shell and a game board. Olinda is another indoor board game, normally played by two players. The board has nine holes, four beads each. The player who collects the most number of seeds win.
This is the verse sung while playing the game:
“Olinda thibenne koi koi dese,
Olinda thibenne bangali dese…
Genath hadanne koi koi dese,
Genath hadanne Sinhala dese…”
Six nabbed with over 100 kg of ‘Ice’
Happy New Year!
A Cabinet reshuffle needed
7-billion-rupee diamond heist; Madush splls the beans before being shot
Unfit, unprofessional, fat Sri Lankans
The Burghers of Ceylon/Sri Lanka- Reminiscences and Anecdotes
Opinion5 days ago
Monumental blunders paralysing Sri Lanka
Features3 days ago
How confidence has been eroded
Sports3 days ago
When failures boast of success
Sports6 days ago
COPE exposes large scale corruption at SLC
Features4 days ago
A senior cop remembers April 1971
Politics4 days ago
The British will not learn English, let’s not kid ourselves
news5 days ago
SLC funds amounting to Rs 29 mn in US bank: SLC caught lying before COPE
Editorial6 days ago
Dogs, donkeys, fools and lunatics