13th October 2002, Volume 9, Issue 13

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A twin brother and a disabled brother wait for sisters of Mattumagala tragedy to come back

Those they left behind

By Ranee Mohamed

Tears wet the broken floor  as 11-year-old Silindu Prabath crawls all over. He has never walked in his life, except with the help of his sister. She had always shown him around - and tried to make him a 'man of the world.' "Don't worry and don't be frightened  Silindu," she had often consoled him, "I will always be there for you," she had assured him. But took life's final journey at a pedestrian crossing opposite their school, Karunaratna Buddhist College on Friday, October 4, without a goodbye.

 Their ramshackle home at No. 178/32 down a long winding bylane in Gunasekera Mawatha, Mattumagala, Welisara is flooded in a sea of tears.

"My son is waiting for his sister to come home and we cannot bear it. We had two children last week and this week we have only one," cries poor Anulawathie, who tries to make ends meet with her husband Ignatius Sahabandu's Rs.3000 income a month. With this money the family had to educate two children and Silindu had to be taken to school everyday in a three wheeler. Their elder daughter, 13 year old  Amalka Mihirani was their greatest hope - they consoled themselves thinking that she would look after her  disabled younger brother after their parents died. But just before blossoming, she withered at a time when her mother was excitedly waiting for her to attend puberty.

It had been Anulawathie's sister Somawathie who had always come to the family's rescue. But today she could not talk, her voice was hoarse from crying, another of Mihirani's aunts was suffering from shock. Seated in one place, she was staring into nowhere, pausing from time to time to let out a long sigh.

"My daughter liked to eat good food. She loved to go out. But we could not give her even the ala thel daala and the pappadams she liked to eat," cried Anulawathie. "She never used to have breakfast, but on the day she died, she told me that she was hungry and asked me for a little rice and her last meal was one of beans, rice and pol sambola. I am so glad she had a meal that day," says Anulawathie. "She begged me for Rs.20 on that day and I just couldn't afford to give it to her. How I wish I could have given her everything her young heart desired - nice clothes, good food and fun trips here and there," cries her mother in regret.

Instead of having fun, this young teenager was cooped up in this little house, doing the chores and helping her crawling brother to get up. "It was she who did the bulk of the work for her brother, helped him in his schoolwork, took him to the bathroom and helped him. She even rested his bulk on her shoulder and helped him to go and see boys of his own age at play," recalls Anulawathie. "How I wish I had the means to help this child get better, because he is not going to have anyone, now that his sister is gone." she laments.

Not in class

Anulawathie was told by a father of another student that a girl had been knocked down by a bus. When she had run to the school she found that her daughter was not in the class. "Then I took a three wheeler to the hospital. There I overheard nurses talking that nobody from the second child's family has come to hospital. I ran to them and asked them where my child was. There were many people receiving treatment in the hospital because of  some outbursts that ensued. But my child was nowhere. Then they showed me a trolley covered with a white cloth. When they moved the cloth aside I saw my baby lying there, her white uniform stained with her own blood, her blood drenched face fallen down. I fainted and when I regained consciousness there was a funeral in my home," recalls Anulawathie.

Mihirani had been pulled out from under the bus and most of her bones had been jutting out. 

On the same side of the main Negombo-Welisara road, turning off from a store named Bosco is  the lane in which Ariyawathie Gunasekera and her four daughters lived. But from last week she lives with only three daughters. Her youngest daughter,  the one she bore and nestled last was snatched away from her arms on the same day as Mihirani, on the same pedestrian crossing.

"She was my youngest daughter and it seems like yesterday that I brought the twins home," recalls Ariyawat- hie.  Harshini Gayanthika is the  other victim who was hit by this bus and she leaves behind  her twin brother Gayan Harsha. The 18 year old boy cannot talk. "He spent the night reading his twin sister's books and sitting by her empty bed. He was kissing her coffin all the way to the cemetery," said Ariyawathie.

Special bond

Gayan did not utter a word. Twins they say share a special bonding and to have one of them ripped away like this is undoubtedly shattering. One can easily say how devastating this separation has been by taking one look at Gayan. He stood there like a zombie, not uttering a word, his eyes filled with tears.

"My daughter Harshini was always laughing. From the time she came home she used to keep her little nephew on her back and go all over the house pretending to be an elephant. My husband died in 1998  after being paralysed and I had a hard time looking after my daughters. I used to take Harshini to the Ragama station every Saturday and Sunday at 5.30 a.m. for her to go for classes at Gampaha. I did not send her alone anywhere. She went to school with her friends," cried Ariyawathie.

Ariyawathie is unable to talk. "I used to plait her hair every morning and all the time she used to talk about something or the other. She never stopped talking and I still keep hearing her voice," she cries.

Harshini had wanted to study hard and get well employed so that she could look after her mother.

If 18 years is not an age to die  then 13 years is not an age to die at all.

Uncertainty of life

These two teenage students died when a CTB  bus  driven by Rampahage Namal  knocked them down while they were trying to cross the road at the pedestrian crossing opposite their school in Mattumagala, Welisara  on Friday, October 4 . By going into eternal sleep,they have awakened us all to the uncertainty of life itself.

The tragedy stirred the entire neighbourhood of Welisara, but as the town settles down to life itself; in the homes of these two teenagers, the sorrow is etched and the real meaning of their death has begun to set in with each passing day - as their white uniforms hang empty, their plates wait to be picked up and their books wait to be turned to a new page. We read this story and flick this page over not knowing how deaths as sudden as these rip living beings apart.


The geniuses of destruction

By Asgar Hussein

A few months ago, Abdul Kalam assumed duties as the new president of India. Although a Muslim, the campaign to appoint him to this largely ceremonial post was spearheaded by the nationalist BJP government. Kalam enjoys immense public support. In fact, he is India's most celebrated scientist - for this is the man who developed the nation's ambitious missile programme.

His popularity, in a sense, is understandable. India has already joined the so-called 'nuclear club,' and upgrading its missile capability will act as a deterrent to enemies such as China and Pakistan.

But the irony here is that Kalam hails from a nation with a long tradition of non-violence and passive resistance. Two of India's greatest sons - Gautama Buddha and Mahatma Gandhi - preached against violence. Yet, the Buddha's view that hatred can only be overcome by love, and Gandhi's successful campaigns of passive resistance against the British, appear to have been disregarded.

But then again, this is not surprising. There are times when eternal truths are ignored. The fact that Buddhism is firmly entrenched in Sri Lanka has not prevented bloodletting on a massive scale. Consider this - ours is the only country in the world depicting a violent creature on the national flag.

Many believe that aggression is an innate human behaviour. War has always plagued mankind, and it has largely defined national borders. This is precisely why even scientific knowledge and inventiveness have been callously applied for destructive aims.

Frightening arsenal

The sad fact is that some of the world's most brilliant minds have been engaged in building a frightening arsenal of atomic, biological and chemical weapons. Wouldn't humanity have progressed vastly had their energies been directed towards more constructive purposes in other domains?

Even developing a doomsday device is not impossible - a 50,000 megaton cobalt-salted device could wipe out all mankind, except those living deep underground for more than five years.

Perhaps, some soul-searching is necessary. As the Swiss psychoanalyst Carl Jung said, "We need more understanding of human nature, because the only real danger that exists is man himself...... His psyche should be studied because we are the origin of all coming evil."

These words are profound and disturbingly true. Just consider the fact that there are already enough nuclear weapons to end life on Earth many times over!

Since early times, military technicians have been devising new weapons to kill and maim. The compressed air blowpipe, for example, manufactured over 2200 years ago by the Greek Alexandrian engineer Ctesibius, evokes the gun.

Even before, the Chinese are known to have engaged in gas warfare - they produced rudimentary bombs and grenades using a combustible base like wax or resin, dry lacquer, a strong lung irritant, arsenic and lead oxides. These were set afire and hurled towards their adversaries, who suffered from the toxic vapours emitted by the scattered fragments.

It was also the ingenious Chinese, who well over 2000 years ago dug tunnels beneath enemy positions and diffused dangerous fumes into them.

It has also been postulated that they discovered both black gunpowder and the principle of rockets over 700 years ago, for historical accounts describe flying bombs which made a terrible noise. In 1241 AD, the Mongols (most probably taught by the Chinese) successfully used rockets at the battle of Legnica in Silesia. Some decades later the Arabs launched rockets to attack Valencia in Spain.

The Chinese also used crudely-devised landmines in the 13th century, followed by seamines which appeared in the 14th century.

Weapons have since advanced greatly in terms of sophistication and explosive output - today's nuclear devices are terrifying to say the least. In 1961, the former USSR detonated a thermonuclear device with the power equivalent of 57 megatons of TNT. The resultant shock wave circled the world thrice. It was about 3800 times more powerful than the first atom bomb dropped on Hiroshima, Japan, by the USA in 1945, killing and injuring over 130,000 people.

The nuclear age dawned after Albert Einstein, certainly the greatest scientist of the 20th century, propounded his theory of relativity. Probably fearing that Nazi Germany might make a nuclear weapon first, he also wrote to US president Roosevelt promoting the construction of the atom bomb.

In the postwar years, however, he actively advocated nuclear disarmament. He was saddened by the terrible effects of the atom bomb on Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

It is indeed lamentable that some of the most brilliant physicists had wasted their time working on nuclear weapons. They include such men as Enrico Fermi, Andrei Sakharov, John Von Neumann, Hans Bethe and Edward Teller. Had they concentrated on other areas in physics, the world would have been a better and safer place.

Nuclear exchange

The prospect of a nuclear catastrophe will continue to haunt us. Rogue states could acquire nuclear weapons, and a serious conflict between two warring nations could trigger a nuclear exchange.

In 1963, during the Cuban missile crisis, the US and USSR came dangerously close to such a confrontation. The development of nuclear weapons by India and Pakistan, each highly suspicious of the other, is also a cause for concern. This has ramifications for the whole of South Asia including Sri Lanka, as an all-out war between them could threaten regions well beyond their borders.

And what would happen if the unthinkable occurs? It could lead to what is called a 'nuclear winter.' The prevailing weather conditions would be adversely altered by dust from nuclear explosions and smoke from ensuing fires. Sunlight will be greatly reduced and temperatures will drop significantly in the months after an encounter. This will have extremely serious ecological effects and will lay waste crops.

Yes, a nuclear war cannot be won, and is self-destructive. Have we advanced so far only to eliminate ourselves, or return to the caves and start all over again?

Frightening advances have also been made in the fields of biological and chemical warfare.

It was around 500 years ago that the Italian Leonardo da Vinci, who at one time worked as a military engineer, actually contemplated attacking the enemy with missiles carrying a liquid extracted from the saliva of a mad dog or pig. This genius of the Renaissance even proposed placing toad and tarantula venoms into bombs, although this was never carried out.

However, today the threat from biological weapons is real. Researchers are developing new strains of disease-carrying, highly-virulent microorganisms for use in warfare. These organisms could be incorporated into bombs or missile warheads, or else added to the enemy's food and water supplies.

Lethal weapons

Great strides have also been made in chemical warfare. As far back as the 4th century BC the Chinese attacked their enemies with weapons that released toxic vapours, but the recently developed poisons can even circumvent gas masks and penetrate the skin. The lethal VX nerve gas, for example, is very dangerous - as little as one milligram is sufficient to kill a man.

Throughout the course of human history, the efforts of scientists and military technicians have been diverted to destructive pursuits. The result has been an awesome loss of life and resources. Even great men like da Vinci and Einstein have been tainted.

Humanity has accomplished much in the recent past. We cracked the genetic code, split the atom, explored the psyche and unravelled the secrets of the cosmos. Yet we have failed to grasp a simple truth - that there is a huge difference between intelligence and wisdom, for the wise do not have an urge to kill.


Looking after our children

By Shezna Shums

It was the first of October that was Children's Day.  To mark the importance and value of children's rights and freedom, the National Child Protection Authority (NCPA) put up a new unit to carry out investigations and follow-ups on cases of child abuse.

Earlier the NCPA had only two police officers working with them to take action against these offenders.  However with the number of cases gradually going up every year, these two officers were not enough, says Chairman, NCPA Professor Harendra de Silva.

With the new unit at the NCPA there will be 12 police officers specially trained to detect and prosecute offenders of child abuse.  There will be an equal number of male as well as female officers on duty, says DIG of the unit, Sirisena Herath.

Professor Silva says child abuse is rampant around the country and the cases they get to investigate are only the tip of the iceberg.

When the two officers handle a case of child abuse, they get held up with their respective cases and court proceedings. When other cases come up de Silva finds that these officers' hands are tied with their current work, and cannot carry out investigations on the new cases.   These officers are specially trained to monitor, detect and apprehend the offenders of child abuse.

Speaking of child abuse cases, Professor Silva says that most of the time it is the blood relatives, parents and people known to the minors, who are the offenders. 

It may be a boy or girl under the age of 18 that comes under the category for child abuse.  Such cases are reported from all parts of the island, from all types of communities and religions.  However de Silva says that child abuse is more prominent in the poorer homes.

Boys also affected

Girls as well as boys are affected although people are very much aware and concerned about the welfare of girls. However many boys are also affected by such abuse.  According to de Silva the community is however not as sensitive as they should be about child abuse towards boys. 

There is a common background to many of these cases. When one parent leaves the country to go abroad to work, the child is then left to be looked after by either the other parent or a relative. In such instances the child may undergo physical, verbal, sexual or mental abuse.

It is noted that in very densely populated areas there is a very high rate of abuse cases reported, such as the shanty areas and coastal areas around the island.

Villages and even outstation towns have significant numbers of child abuse cases; this is due to the fact that many males take to alcohol, and when they are drunk they commit such offenses.

Children living on the streets of Colombo and other outstation towns are also prone to such abuse.  Orphanages and institutes are also places where children are at times beaten, abused sexually, mentally or verbally.

Children taken in as servants are also very much in the list of child abuse cases.

Another major issue is the situation of child soldiers - taking young children to war is unjustifiable and also comes under the category of child abuse.

Professor Harendra de Silva says that a few years ago child abuse cases were not usually reported.

However with more awareness the police are now better equipped to monitor, detect and investigate into such abuse cases.

In more than 15 districts scattered around the island there are regular complaints of child abuse. The NCPA is concerned about this and hopes that they or other trained professionals will be able to curb this unjustifiable crime.

Even in schools around the country child abuse is present. What many adults say is that when they were young they were beaten or punished in school and they turned out fine.  However this is the wrong attitude says Professor de Silva.

Beating children and verbal, mental or physical abuse cannot be justified as legitimate.

According to DIG Sirisena Herath the police monitors child abuse cases by reports from neighbours, relatives and sometimes the victims call in to the unit and also petition from courts. 

Last year there were 1200 child abuse cases handed over to the Attorney General's Department.

This figure though, is as professor de Silva says only the tip of the iceberg.

However with this new unit the number of child abuse offenders taken to courts is likely to go up and hopefully reduce the number of children who are victims of such crimes.


Give or take five minutes

By Shehara Samarasinghe

George W. Bush works for his living. So did Adolf Hitler. Marilyn Monroe and Mozart were full of grace but Queen Elizabeth is full of woe. Chandrika is loving and giving. This brief personality analysis is based on the well known `Monday's child is...' rhyme and around the world many cultures hold beliefs about the connection between an individual's day of birth and their personality and temperament. The Ashanti of Ghana go so far as to actually name their children according to the day of the week on which they are born. The issue becomes more complicated as astrologically minded people also consider the exact time of birth significant...imagine being called `08:32 Tuesday'!

That said, I have always felt that the 'logic' in 'astrology' is somewhat misplaced. However, even intelligent, well educated people give much credence to birth charts and the like; astrology sites which offer personalised analysis of birthdays are some of the most popular and one can find this information for every more or less famous person. Whilst my attitude towards this pseudo-science has never been tolerant, from an anthropological point of view, astrology and birth charts are strongly linked to the human reverence for time and the seemingly intrinsic need to elevate single moments. Even in cultures where time is not seen in the linear, progressive form that is common in the West, isolated incidences are held to be important and the urge to equate one's own birth with such incidences is great.

Early Christian writers stressed the importance of individual historical events that would not be repeated. History, they said, did not move in cycles. On the contrary, creation took place at a particular point in time; Christ had died on the Cross but once and had been resurrected from the dead on only one occasion. Finally, at some point in the future, God's plan would be completed, and He would, once and for all, bring the world to an end.

Islam and Judaism have similar credos and even the cyclical patterns of Buddhism follow this model as rituals are perfectly ordered and the division of sacred and secular time is strongly defined.

The high status of time in human society is singularly perplexing. History was 'created' by strongly religious individuals recording important events. The precision and reliability of clocks stems from medieval monks concerned with praying on time. We may not know what time is or if it indeed exists, but it seems to live in us all.

Culturally determined

Perhaps the reason that time has not been adequately explored - for instance, the correlation of the menstrual and lunar cycle has been brutally ignored by scientists - is that in our primarily man-made environment, it is mainly a culturally determined experience. When human beings were still in tune with natural rhythms and were governed by the sun and the seasons, time was an internationally accessible concept. Nowadays our behaviour is governed by schedules, age norms and by the 'open' hours of our local mall.

"It is impossible to assume that man is born with any innate 'temporal sense'" observes Irving Hallowell, author of Temporal Orientation in Western Civilisation. His 1974 study showed that infants flex their limbs and move their heads in rhythms matching the human speech around them. By the time a child is three months old it has already been temporally enculturated, having internalised the external rhythms  to its culture. These rhythms underlie a people's language, music, religious rituals (the Buddhist mantra, for instance, is not only one's personal prayer but one's personal rhythm) and also serve as a basis of solidarity: humans are universally attracted to rhythm and to those who share their cadences of talk, movement, music, and sport.

Different concepts

And that's where the problems start. Last week I mentioned how my somewhat relaxed approach to time infuriates certain friends of mine whose internal clocks are rather more rigid. Cultural attitudes to time are varied and depend on a number of values. Show up an hour late in Brazil and no one bats an eyelash. Keep someone in New York City waiting for just 10 minutes and you have a lot of explaining to do. Robert V. Levine, social psychologist at California State University, began research into the diverse concepts of time in 1988. As a visiting professor in Brazil, he discovered that college students there had a very different attitude towards time compared to American students. When he arrived 20 minutes late to his first class he entered an empty classroom. However, this did not mean that the class had already been there and left, as it would have in the United States, but rather that the students had not even arrived. After the class they hung around for about half an hour instead of leaving immediately. Levine went on to conduct a so-called 'pace of life' study in 31 countries.

In A Geography Of Time, published in 1997, he describes how he ranked the countries using three measures: walking speed on urban sidewalks, how quickly postal clerks could fulfill a request for a common stamp and the accuracy of public clocks. Based on these variables, he concluded that the five fastest paced countries are Switzerland, Ireland, Germany, Japan and Italy and the five slowest are Syria, El Salvador, Brazil, Indonesia and Mexico.

Thinking of the saying "In Mexico time walks, in America it runs or flies" it is easy to dismiss the findings as pandering to stereotypes. Indeed, the data was often quite clear cut: the Japanese scored highest in all three tests while the Indonesians had the slowest walking speed and least accurate clocks. However, a number of sociological factors come into play. For example, in Brazil being late is perceived as a privilege of the rich and powerful.

Universal time

Likewise, Italian streets may be bustling and their clocks accurate, but anybody who has ever attempted to buy a train ticket in Italy will know that the Italian pace of life is adagio. Train station employees see nothing wrong in gossiping or lazily drinking a coffee and delight in closing all but one window when faced with a line of customers similar in proportion to the Great Wall of China - of course, they know that only the tourists will complain, the locals will be too busy gossiping themselves or flirting outrageously with their neighbours.

Despite these differences, there is such a thing as a universal concept of time: it flies when you are having fun. A watched pot never boils. Time sometimes stands still. Our internal clocks work independent of culture and are more or less synchronised.

If you think this article is interesting, for instance, then the time spent reading it will pass quickly. If, however, you cannot suppress your yawns, then it will drag on for ages. This is a quirk of a stopwatch in the brain that marks time spans of seconds to hours. The internal timer helps you figure out how fast you have to run to catch a ball, when to clap your hands during your favourite song and how long you can lounge in bed after the alarm goes off. It functions in connection with the higher cognitive powers of the cerebral cortex, the brain centre that governs perception, memory and conscious thought. When you approach a yellow traffic light, for example, you time how long it has been yellow and compare that with a memory of how long yellow lights usually last. Then you decide whether to apply the brakes or to continue driving.

Time stamp

The neurotransmitter dopamine creates these interval memories and is said to make a unique time stamp for every interval imaginable. Stephen M. Rao of the Medical College of Wisconsin, USA is hot on the trail of dopamine and how it is controlled. He conducted examinations on patients with Parkinson's disease and found that the condition lowers dopamine levels meaning that the interval clock is slowed down. Drugs like marijuana have a similar effect. Adrenaline and stress hormones, on the other hand, increase the availability of dopamine, making the interval clock speed up, which is why a second becomes 'eternity' in an unpleasant situation. States of deep concentration or extreme emotion may flood the system or bypass it altogether, which is why time seems to stand still or not exist at all. And now you have reached the end of this article - that was quick wasn't it? How time flies when you're having fun!


The Opera Ghost relives...

"The Opera Ghost re-ally existed. He was not, as was long believed, a creature of the imagination of the artistes, the superstition of the managers, or a product of the absurd and impressionable minds of the young ladies of the ballet, their mothers, the box-keepers, the cloak room attendants or the concierge. Yes, he existed in flesh and blood, although he assumed the complete appearance of a real phantom; that is to say, of a spectral shade." Stated Gaston Leroux, the man who first gave the Phantom life.

It is 1911 and the contents of the Paris Opera House are being auctioned off. Raoul, the Viscount de Chagny is now 70-years-old and in a wheelchair. As the auctioneer displays the Opera House chandelier, he explains that it is connected with the legend of The Phantom of the Opera. With a flash of light, the audience is flung back in time, when the Paris Opera was at its height.

We are thrust in the middle of a rehearsal for the opera Hannibal.  Monsieur Lefevre, the retiring manager of the opera, is showing the new managers, Monsieurs Firmin and Andre, the great stage when a backdrop falls to the floor, nearly killing the prima donna, Carlotta. Christine Daae who has been taking lessons from a mysterious teacher, then takes Carlotta's place.

At her triumph in the opera, is Raoul, a nobleman and patron of the Opera House. Raoul recognises Christine, his childhood sweetheart. He comes backstage after the performance to escort her to dinner, but Christine refuses because her teacher, "The Angel of Music," is very strict. When Raoul leaves Christine's room, the Phantom appears and lures her to his underground lair.

The Phantom then sends a series of notes to the managers of the Opera House, as well as to Raoul, the ballet mistress Madame Giry, and Carlotta, instructing that Christine have the lead in the new opera Il Muto.

However, the refusal of the managers to comply with the Phantom's demands angers him. And when the Phantom witnesses Christine and Raoul pledge their love to one another he is further enraged, especially at Christine's betrayal and he causes the final disaster of the night - the mighty chandelier comes crashing to the stage floor.

The second act opens at a grand Masquerade Ball at the Paris Opera House. No one has heard from the Phantom in six months. His absence causes relief to everyone after the series of mishaps, which seemed to place a curse on the Opera House. Christine and Raoul are secretly engaged.

However, the Phantom suddenly appears and delivers to the managers a score from his opera, Don Juan Triumphant and insists they perform it.

At first, the managers refuse the strange, disturbing opera. Then with the help of Raoul, they devise a plan to trap the Phantom, using Christine as bait.

Confused between her growing affection for both the Phantom and Raoul and not wanting to betray either, Christine visits the grave of her father hoping for an answer. But there on the grave stands the Phantom, beckoning her to join him when Raoul appears and takes her away after confronting the Phantom. At last, the opening night of Dan Juan Triumphant arrives. The Phantom takes his place on stage after murdering the lead singer and escapes once more with Christine to his labyrinth below the Opera House.

In a last confrontation, the Phantom gives Christine a choice: stay with him forever, or he will kill Raoul. Her decision brings to an end the story of The Phantom Of The Opera.

Prepare yourself for a spectacle more bizarre and astounding than your wildest imagination!

Jerome L. De Silva and the Workshop Players (headed by Romesh Devanesan this year) bring to you Andrew Lloyd Webber's word-renowned opera, based on the book by French novelist Gaston Leroux (1868), The Phantom Of The Opera.

A production so complex and yet so simple it will make you laugh, cry, seethe with rage and cringe in fear, leaving with you the perpetual memory of a man's haunting face and an insatiable thirst for this black angel's music.

After 18 years Jerome will play the lead in a production of his, when he portrays the haunting Phantom. Serela Athulathmudali will play Christine; Raoul will be played by Dushyanth Weeraman, Sean Amarasekera and Manoj Singanayagam; Carlotta will be played by Kumudini David and Natalie Gunaratne; Madame Giry will be played by Shanuki de Alwis and Mario Pereira, and Monsieur Firmin will be played by Sean Amarasekera, Shiyan Jayaweera and Pagan Kumarasinghe.

The production team includes Jerome L. De Silva, Surein de S. Wijeyeratne. Thushan Dias, Soundarie David, Ranga Dassanayake, Yoshita Abeyesekera, Buddhadasa Galappaththi,  Nimal Bulathsinghala, and Lou Ching Wong.

Since their inception in 1992 the Workshop Players has staged many sensational musicals such as Lost In The Stars, Cats, West Side Story, Les Miserables and Lion King. Celebrating its 10th year anniversary, this production of the Workshop Player will go on the boards at the Lionel Wendt Theatre from October 17-28 (box plans are now open).


National Youth Orchestra takes off next week

Over 100 young musicians from ages 10 to 25 years will perform at a special concert on October 19 to celebrate the 10th anniversary of the National Youth Orchestra (NYO) at the Vishaka Vidyalaya Hall.

The National Youth Orchestra is undoubtedly the premier launching pad for many children who learn to play orchestral instruments. Since its inception 10 years ago, the National Youth Orchestra has trained over 500 young musicians.

The main object of the NYO is to take Western music to all parts of the island and encourage rural school children to participate in orchestral performance instead of restricting it to privileged schools in the city.  This is the aim of the founder of the National Youth Orchestra Maya Abeywickrema, consultant to the Ministry of Human Resources, Education and Cultural Affairs.

These young musicians of the NYO have regular training programmes on Saturday under the baton of well known conductors like Ajith Abeysekera, Dayananda Fernando and Manilal Weerakone.

The programme for the concert offers a wide variety of music ranging from popular music to Broadway and classicals including Mozart's Jupitor Symphony and Titus Overture and Tchaikovsky's 1812 Overture. The National Youth Wind Ensemble will also be performing at the concert. For further information contact Dilan on 873583.
(NW)


Prime Minister's vision pays dividends

I am extremely happy that the performing arts are being given pride of place in the national agenda. We all know what countries like Singapore, Malaysia and Thailand are doing with the international performing arts and I believe that Sri Lanka must follow suit if we are to take our rightful place in the world.

I also believe that we have something those countries don't have and that is a native born orchestral conductor with proven international credits.

Our prime minister has stated that he wishes to transform Sri Lanka into an international entertainment hub for the region and is most supportive of The Philharmarmonic Society of Sri Lanka, of which I am a trustee.

The mere fact that the prime minister and his wife hosted a 'tea party' recently in honour of the longest serving administrator of a major British arts organisation bodes well for this country and it is already paying dividends. The Philharmonic Orchestra has agreed to conductor Rohan Joseph's request to convert the vast non-performance areas of the Royal Festival Hall on the days of his concerts into exhibition space wherein Sri Lanka and selected businesses can display their services and products with a view to attracting greater up market tourists and investment to Sri Lanka.

One has only to ask SriLankan Airlines or the few Sri Lankan companies trying to compete in the lucrative UK market as to how expensive advertising rates are in Great Britain, but here is an unique and economically viable opportunity and it is being provided thanks to the performing arts.

Even when Sri Lanka participates in international trade fairs it is just one of many countries and any possible impact is lessened in the face of stiff competition. But, because of just one Sri Lankan musician, the entire Royal Festival Hall becomes Sri Lanka's on Monday, December 9, 2002 and again on April 26, 2003.

This is a priceless showcase for Sri Lanka and its selected businesses. Just imagine the editorial coverage this will attract for our country in the British media.

- Anton de Alwis

 


Give your ear to Little Sapuni

By Ranee Mohamed

Five year old Sapuni hears no evil. That is because she cannot hear.  She does not overhear her parents lamenting over their little daughter's inability to hear - she cannot hear her mother Nelum Perera pleading with every well-to-do friend to help her buy a hearing aid for this little girl.

"The hearing aid costs about Rs.75,000 and we are poor people," said the girl's mother. "I have a five month old baby and it is impossible for me to even to go work and think of collecting this money after years," she confided. Chamani's husband has a small stall in a market.

Little Sapuni  who underwent a test has been defined as having a profound hearing loss bilaterally. "Iot is recommended that Sapuni consults an ENT surgeon for possible medical intervention and clarification' notes the test results. She has been advised to resort to appropriate amplication subsequent to medical clearance.

Sapuni's greatest desire is to be able to hear. She touches her earlobe and outstretches a palm - asking her mother to buy her a hearing aid to fit her ear lobe. What she cannot hear is the muffled sobs of her mother at their own poverty -  the helplessness of not being able to buy their child a dire medical necessity. Granting this family their most urgent wish, is a kind of charity that will make a little girl hear the sounds around her for the rest of her life

Chamani Hemanthika  lives in hope - she hopes that this article will stir some individual, some organisation, that will help her little girl to hear. Sapuni and her parents, together with their five month old baby live at 212/14 Nelum Pedesa, Kalapaluwva, Rajagiriya.


Slum clearance to Premadasa 
meant improving  the peoples  quality of life....

Mr. Premadasa understood that the economic policies of the post 1977 government benefited only a fraction of society - the business people, the commission agents and the Colombo elite. He was born and bred among the poor and the downtrodden; he also worked for and with them. So he understood the problem of poverty very well. He was seriously concerned about the growing disparities. He felt that the growth that took place during this period by-passed the poor people. He believed that the problem was one of wealth distribution. He wanted to improve the quality of life of the people. With his Housing Programme he was trying to ensure that the poor people had access to the basic necessities of life, such as the ownership of a house.

Mr. Premadasa had his own very different approach to developmental issues; his notion of slum clearance is an example of this. Usually slum clearance means the forcible eviction of the people living in slums to areas outside the city and developing these city locations for commercial purposes. You can see this happening now. This is both a political mistake and a human tragedy. Most of those people would have been living in that area for a long time. They work close by; their children go to nearby schools. If you uproot them from that environment and put them elsewhere they feel alienated. Their work, education and social life get disrupted. What Mr. Premadasa meant by slum clearance was improving the quality of life of slum dwellers by providing them with better housing and other basic facilities. That eventually became the official government policy. Only a very few people were removed outside their original habitats and that too was not done forcibly. We obtained their consent. (That was not from Colombo Central; it was done under the Canal Development Scheme. We took these families to Badowita, in Ratmalana. They are doing well now).

* * * *

After the victory of the UNP in 1977, I went to Pottuvil and from there to Yala from there, through the jungle. Mr. Premadasa as usual knew my movements, and there was a message waiting for me when I got back. When I met him he gave me a list of the institutions under his Ministry and wanted me to make suggestions concerning who should be appointed to head these institutions; he also told me that JR Jayawardene said to give me any one of these. Mr. Premadasa had then said that I wanted to go abroad. I never expressed such a wish. What happened was that during the campaign Aloysius mudalali told me: "you are working so hard. What are you expecting to get after we win". I told him that I did not expect anything and that after election victory I wanted to get out. What I meant by that was that I wanted to get out of Colombo. In fact I had already made the necessary preparations for this shift. I had sold my house in Chandralekha Mawatha and brought a property in Badalgama, in Katana. I was going to go there with my family and set up an agricultural farm. I knew that if I stayed in Colombo I would not be able to stay aloof from politics, that I would get involved again some how or other, whether I wanted it or not. And I wanted out. That was what I told mudalali. That man misunderstood what I said and went and told Mr. Premadasa that I wanted to go abroad. Naturally Mr. Premadasa did not want me to go abroad. But if that was what I wanted he was good enough to let me go. So he told me: "I told Mr. Jayawardene that you wanted to go abroad and that I wanted a diplomatic appointment for you; he agreed but wanted me to tell you that it may take some time".

During this time Mr. Premadasa was constantly discussing the appalling conditions in the Colombo slum gardens with me. The situation had taken a turn to the worse with the nationalizations, since these people were left with the responsibility of maintaining the garden and they were too poor to do so. During this time Mr. Premadasa came to my house practically twice a day to talk about this situation. He also told me about the Common Amenities Board,

---how it was underutilized and its potential. One day he gave me a file. In it there was a letter from the UNICEF to the Common Amenities Board offering assistance. It was not even replied. After I went through the file he took me to the office of the CAB. I could see that the place was completely disorganized. Eventually he told me: "Sirisena can't you take over this place even for a short while and do something with it?" By this time I was also becoming interested in the issue and I thought I would be able to do something with the institution. I agreed to take the job for six months, on condition that I am not paid a salary or given a car. He consented. I stayed there for one year.

There is a difference between tenement gardens and shanties. Tenement gardens are what we call gardens (watte). They are legally built houses and the dwellers are mostly tenants. Slums are unauthorized structures. Under the UF government many of these gardens were 'nationalised', though the residents were not granted ownership. Instead the state became the owner. These occupants were given ownership of their houses as part of Mr. Premadasa's urban housing programme. During the early days under the Municipal Ordnance the landlord was held responsible for the maintenance of these gardens. The houses had to be colour-washed annually. In every garden one house was given to a scavenging family. Early morning they would go around collecting the refuse. The Municipal used to be very strict in the observance of these laws; if they were violated, action would be filed. Gradually things deteriorated because the landlords started bribing the municipal employees. The situation got even worse when the government took over the houses - because there was no one responsible for their maintenance. When we came in the situation was very bad. Mr. Premadasa was looking for a way to deal with this problem and he came up with the idea of using the Common Amenities Board (CAB). The CAB was set up by the UF government but it was not used properly during this period.

In that one year I inspected 364 tenement gardens. Our aim was to provide these residents with the basic minimum facilities. And based on the interest already expressed by the UNICEF in this matter, I decided to request its assistance. Prof. Willie Mendis was an advisor to the UNICEF at that time. I talked to him and other UNICEF people. Tarzie Vittachchi was also there. I remember talking to him as well. They were very cooperative. So the UNICEF also got involved. We set up a Community Development Centre in each garden. It was of, by and for the people of the garden. We were careful to keep politics out of it. In one year we managed to clean up 358 tenement gardens. The fact that I knew something about the subject was also helpful. Our first priority was the provision of basic requirements such as decent sanitation facilities, running water and paved roads.

I was also helping Mr. Premadasa with his political work in Colombo Central during this period. After the victory Sucharitha was filled with thousands of people every day. When I came back from Pottuwil I found the place in a state of complete chaos. I took over the task of re-organising the place and arrangements were made to meet people every day at the Sucharitha Hall. A long table was placed on the stage and Mr. Premadasa accompanied by several of us used to sit at it, attending to the people who came in their thousands with problems to be solved and requests to be granted.


LIFE WITH EVE

Depth of a salesman

By Sonali Samarasinghe

I walked in to a hair and beauty product shop the other day and gazed leisurely at all the displays, after my usual fashion.  Soon a saleswoman sprung up by my side and smiled a  saccharine smile. I reciprocated, drawing from my extensive false-grin repertoire, and we both twinkled at each other for three seconds. Then the blighted female spoke.

'Anything particular I can help you with?' She inquired.

As it happened, there was something specific I was looking for. However, since I had got all the details from my fabulously gay and expensive hair stylist, I was not really in need of her assistance. But to say so would have been rude and insensitive so I humoured her.

Not a moment passed before I realised how much I was not in need of her misguided assistance. She brought me a range of different products in various brands and names and suggested I use them all at the same time. When I politely suggested that this method of hair care seemed a little capricious, and inquired whether it was really healthy for one head of hair to use so many different products all at once, she laughed and slapped a shapely knee. 'Oh no dear, you could use anything. I use six different kinds of products on my hair all the time.' It was only then I noticed her hair. If there was ever a woman with a head of hair that looked like a mouse with yellow fever; If there was ever a woman with a mop that resembled a limp porcupine; if there was ever a woman with a keratinously challenged, atmospherically damaged, colour uncoordinated, mess of mousy strands impersonating as hair; then that woman was this woman.

I didn't mean to but I stared at her northern most region for a second, then politely looked aside. She went away after that. When I left the shop a few hours later having done my transactions at the counter, she was talking to another customer at the far end near the hair products. Her words wafted towards me as I glided out the door. 'Oh don't worry dear, you can use any of these products at the same time and mix and match.no need to keep to one brand. I do it all the.', I didn't stay to hear more.

It's not that I loathe all sales persons, some of them are very helpful. My gripe is with the ones that pretend to know more than they do. Imagine the damage that woman must be causing in Canberran homes with her ill advice to female customers. I'faith, she should be on more divorce papers as a co-respondent than Casanova.

I suppose salesmen and women should know to strike a happy balance between annoying a customer and helping one. In Colombo we merely brush off a salesperson with the words 'just looking'. So much so that if you shopped in some malls in Colombo now, an astute salesperson with a good sense of humour and a wry smile would merely ask 'just looking madam?' And I, never fail to giggle at the irony.

It's more fun shopping in Colombo, or even Hikkaduwa where one can pick up a hideously misshapen but colourful pair of pants or some vividly shaded pillowcases. Then again, those little huts on the beach displaying coconut shell products and seashell chains are a shopper's delight. The sales people are friendly and knowledgeable having actually made the products they seek to hawk. Happily too, they give you a discount if you are not a foreigner. A warm sense of belonging pervades my soul whenever I get a large discount on account of being a local. How wonderful to hear the words 'Machang meya suddek neveyy ne', when one is negotiating the price of a polished coconut shell.

In Majestic City the atmosphere is as unique. My Teutonic friend Marc, told me once about the extraordinary experience of one of his equally Teutonic friends. The girl, had sat down on one of the granite slabs on the ground floor to catch her breath after a particularly heavy shopping expedition. Before long a string of tanned males were sitting to the left of her. Others thronged to the right. Some with long stringy hair stood discreetly around. All of them had one thing in common. They had their rounded eyes fixed on her. Marc tells me if ever there was a moment when his friend felt more like an amoeba under the microscope in the medical laboratory at the University of Colombo, than anything else, then this moment was that moment.

And have you noticed that if someone wants to get your attention they shout 'sister, sister.' The only other time I have been called sister was in my church. The bottom of the stairs to Majestic City Mall is swarming with all kinds of exciting new adventures. You can watch beggars fighting for their turf, people selling utterly useless tickets to imaginary concerts, female three wheel drivers sparring with their male counterparts in language riper than a sailor's. All the while a pale Colonel Sanders, creator of the finger lickin' good experience looks on. And only in Sri Lanka would someone try to jump a queue on the flimsy basis that he or she was a big shot.

Take the incident at KFC's I observed once. A long and winding queue confronted the girl at the counter. She continued to serve brightly, unaware of the chaos the chicken parts were creating further down the line. Suddenly a man in shirt and tie hopped up the stairs in a hurry and attempted to proceed to the front of the queue with no regard for decorum. A boy at the back who'd been standing in the queue for quite awhile shouted, 'hey, there is a queue here you know.' The queue jumper snickered derisively. "Do you know who I am?" He screamed, puffing out his chest importantly.

The boy remained unperturbed. "I don't care if you are Colonel Sanders uncle, there is a queue and I'd thank you to join it."

Thus while the range of products on display may be lacking in variety and quality, and the displays may not be as spectacular, the Paradisian shopping experience is incomparable in its adventurous texture its earthy atmosphere and its unexpected and cheeky character. One never really knows what one might encounter at the next corner. Shopping around the world comes at a price, but shopping in Sri Lanka?

 

 

 

 

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