Sunday, August 31, 2014

Quiz with Chamara Sumanapala. Part 14: International Mother Language Day

We all have a mother language. It is the language we learn from a very small age, from our parents. On many occasions, mother languages are inherited from the culture and the community we belong to. If the parents belong to one community, the children will inherit the mother language of that community. However, if the parents are of two communities, the children may learn to use the mother languages of both parents. Such children could be considered as bilingual.

In 1999, United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) declared an International Mother Language Day to highlight the importance of addressing issues related to linguistic diversity, multilingualism and respect for all languages. From the year 2000, February 21 has been celebrated as the International Mother Language Day.

1. February 21 was chosen as the International Mother Language Day to commemorate a police shooting in Dhaka, the capital of Bangladesh. At that time, present day Bangladesh was part of Pakistan and was known as Eastern Pakistan. Pakistani politics was controlled by the West Pakistanis and the Bengali language was not recognized as an official language. Bengali students in Dhaka protested and many died when police shot at them. In which year did this event took place?

2. Although the United Nations Charter does not mention any official language, the Charter was first issued in five languages; Chinese, English, French, Russian and Spanish. Therefore, these languages were recognized as the official languages of the UN. Since then, only one more language has been added to the list. Recognized as an official language by the UN in 1973, this language is spoken by the majority of the inhabitants in 25 countries. What is this language?

3. The Constitution of India recognized 18 languages. Therefore, all these can be considered as official languages. But many of these languages are considered official only in a particular region; e.g. Assamese in Assam. Which African country has declared 11 languages to be official languages, thereby becoming the country with the largest number of official languages?

4. The largest number of languages spoken in one country is 820. Its population is just over 7 million. Many regions in the country are mountainous and dense rainforests cover a substantial part of the area. There are many islands as well. Native tribes live in the middle of these jungles and in some islands and they have their own languages. Although abundant in natural resources, the country is poor. During the Second World War, this country saw intense battles. What is this country?

5. This small Pacific Island nation is the country with the largest language density. (Smallest population per one language). It has 82 islands out of which 65 are inhabited. The population is 225000. There are three official languages; English, French and Bislama, a language derived from English. However, there are at least 112 native languages. This means that on average, there are only about 2000 people per one language. This country is a member of the Commonwealth of Nations. What is this country?

Answers for Quiz 13: Colonel Henry Steel Olcott

1. Orange
2. General Ambrose Burnside
3. JM Peebles
4. Wijayananda Viharaya, Waliwatta, Galle
5. 1885

Friday, August 29, 2014

What is ‘left’ of the left movement

Recently, several ‘left wing’ members of parliament held a meeting to explore the possibility of forming a common front against Bodu Bala Sena and its General Secretary, the firebrand monk Galagodaatte Gnanasara Thera. While this may have been seen as an attempt to control the activities of the movement, it also emphasizes the level of bankruptcy the left movement had fallen to.

(L-R) DEW Gunasekera (Communist Party), Vasideva Nanayakkara (Left Democratic Front) and Prof. Tissa Vitharana (LSSP) Pic from
Sri Lanka, then Ceylon, had one of the strongest Trotskyist movements in the world. The Lanka Sama Samaja Party (LSSP) was stronger than the Communist Party (CP) of Ceylon. Those days, the LSSP and the CP of Ceylon fought with many adversaries, among them the Empire of Britain. The workers’ movements in the city of Colombo and in the estates were extremely powerful and militant and at times clashed with the imperial might without any hesitation. In instances like the Bracegirdle Incident, the leftwing movement of Ceylon put His Majesty’s Government in serious trouble and embarrassment.

After independence, the LSSP was the strongest opposition party in the country. Dr. NM Perera was the Leader of the Opposition until 1952, when the Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP) came to electoral politics. Even then the LSSP leader was again the Leader of Opposition from 1956, when the United National Party (UNP) was reduced to eight seats.

If Trotsky had lived to see the end of 1940s, he would have been proud of the achievements of the LSSP in Ceylon. Trotskyism never got into the mainstream of the Communist Movement around the world. It was shunned by both Moscow and Beijing and remained an outcast. But Trotskyism in Ceylon was a different story.

Meanwhile, despite the ideological subjugation to the Kremlin, even the CP of Ceylon made a strong impact on local politics. Despite the serious ideological differences between the left movements, they created a political discourse which was unmatched. For example, the CP of Ceylon (later CP of Sri Lanka) political newspaper “Aththa” (The truth), is remembered for its impact of the local political discourse, despite slavishly adapting the name of the Soviet Communist Party paper, Pravda.

From this state, the left movement has fallen to such a level that they have to explore the possibility of forming a common front against an upstart Buddhist monk. The left which once openly defied the monarch who ruled the largest empire in the world has today been reduced to a bunch of people who “explore their possibilities.”

The main reason for their downfall was losing their identity. The formation of the SLFP was a crucial blow to the left movement of LSSP and the CP of Ceylon. The SLFP could claim that it was an inherently Sri Lankan socialist party, as against the LSSP and CP of Ceylon, who followed a foreign ideology. The left movement found it hard to erase the anti-religious label that had been put on them.

Perhaps knowing that they could never achieve power alone, the LSSP and the CP of Ceylon came to a united front with the main opposition to the UNP, which was the SLFP. This United Front won the 1970 General Election. But in supporting the SLFP, the left movement lost its identity and also strengthened the bourgeoisie of the country in a different way.

Later in their history, they would join forces again with the SLFP in 1993. This new party that was formed, the People’s Alliance, defeated the 17 year long UNP regime 20 years ago in August 1994. By that time, the left was an “old left”, or “traditional left.”

The “compromise” by the left parties with the SLFP gave the chance to new political forces to hijack the “revolutionary politics” of the country. Their alliance with the SLFP made possible for new revolutionary groups to fill the vacuum created, most notably the JVP. The consequences were terrible. Meanwhile their stance on language issue cost them the Tamil people’s support. This removed a moderating force from the politics in the north, only to be exploited by groups like the LTTE. Young people abandoned the traditional, compromised left and joined the radical groups by their thousands.

In the long run, the compromise of the left helped create immense destruction and also destroyed those movements as well. It has come to a point where some of the old guard is exploring their political survival. But, judging by the present state, the LSSP and the CP of Sri Lanka might not survive another generation to tell the story of their glorious past.

* First published in The Nation newspaper on August 17, 2014.

Thursday, August 28, 2014

Quiz with Chamara Sumanapala. Part 13: Colonel Henry Steel Olcott

Colonel Henry Steel Olcott was an American military officer, a journalist and a successful lawyer. He served in the military during the American Civil War, briefly taking part in the military campaign. Later, in 1875, he was one of the founding members of the Theosophical Society and became its first President. In 1878, he arrived in India. Two years later, he arrived in Ceylon and embraced Buddhism. He became a key campaigner of the Buddhist revival movement in Sri Lanka. As a part of the movement, the Theosophical Society started several Buddhists schools in major towns of the country to compete with the existing Christian schools. Colonel Olcott later left for India where he spent most of his time. He died on February 17, 1907, aged 75. Although the schools founded by the Theosophical Society have since been taken over by the government, these schools still commemorate February 17 as “Olcott Day.”
Colonel Olcott with Ven. Hikkaduwe Sri Sumangala Thera

01. Henry Steel Olcott was born on August 02, 1832, in a township in the US state of New Jersey. Located close to the city of Newark, the state capital, this town has a history going back to 1666. Although it is a comparatively small town, with a population of just over 30 000, it has been associated with many famous people. Samuel Prescott Bush, grandfather of former US President George Bush and great grandfather of the former US President George W. Bush was born here. What is the name of this township?

02. In the early part of the American Civil War, Olcott took part in military campaigns in North Carolina. His commanding officer was a US Army General known for the distinct style of facial hair. It was from his name that the term ‘sideburns’ was derived. Who was this US General?

03. In the 1860s and 1870s, there were five main debates among the Buddhists and Christians in Ceylon over religious issues. The culmination was the “Panadurawadaya” or the “Debate of Panadura.” In this the Chrstian side was soundly defeated by Ven. Migettuwatte Gunananda Thera. A summary of the debate was published in the USA as “Buddhism and Christianity face to face.” It is said that Colonel Olcott decided to visit Ceylon upon reading this. Who wrote this book?

04. Colonel Olcott and Madame Helena Blavatsky arrived in Ceylon in May 1880. They embraced Buddhism in a temple in Waliwatta, Galle. Today, a statue of Colonel Olcott is seen in the temple. What is the name of this temple?

05. Colonel Olcott spent a few years in Ceylon. During his stay, he contributed to the designing of the Buddhist Flag, which is considered to be the Flag of Buddhism by the majority of the Buddhists in the world. He was more involved in the successful campaign to make Vesak Day a public holiday. Vesak became a public holiday in Ceylon and the Buddhist Flag was also unveiled that Vesak Day. In which year did these events happen?

Answers to Quiz 12: The Fall of Singapore

1. Sir Winston Churchill
2. Lieutenant-General Arthur Percival
3. Johor-Singapore Causeway
4. Changi Chapel
5. Admiral of the Fleet Louis Mountbatten (also known as Lord Mountbatten)

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

To the Center of the Earth

I take all my memories
Pains and longings
Shred them to pieces
Throw them in to
A hole in the ground
To reach the center of the earth
Never to return
I wish my mind
Would not take
The journey
To the Center of the Earth

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Quiz with Chamara Sumanapala. Part 12: The Fall of Singapore

After the Pearl Harbor Attack on December 7, 1941, the Japanese forces swept through East Asia and South East Asia with surprising speed. They already had a foothold in Indochina after the fall of France in 1940. Immediately after Pearl Harbor, Japanese troops landed in Malaya, then a British colony. With alarming speed the Japanese swept through the peninsular and January 31, 1942, the conquest of Malaya was complete. The remaining British troops withdrew to Singapore.

The first Japanese air strike on Singapore had occurred in late December 1941. They launched their amphibious invasion on February 8, 1942. At the time Singapore had 85,000 British troops. But, it did not help. By February 15, the British were forced to surrender. The “Gibraltar of the East” was lost.

Remake of the British surrender, Fort Siloso, Singapore (Pic. Chamara Sumanapala)
1. The British Prime Minister at the time of the surrender of Singapore said that the fall of Singapore was the “largest capitulation” in British military history. Who was this famous Prime Minister?

2. During the Battles of Malaya and Singapore, the British forces were commanded by a veteran of World War I. After he surrendered Singapore, he spent more than three years as a Prisoner of War (POW) till almost the end of the war. Along with General Jonathan Wainwright of USA who was also a former POW, he stood behind General MacArthur at the official surrender of the Japanese on Sep 2, 1945. On the same day he and Gen. Wainwright went to the Philippines to oversee the surrender of the Japanese forces there. In a strange twist of turn, the Japanese forces in Philippines were commanded by General Tomoyuki Yamashita, to whom he had surrendered at Singapore three and a half years ago. This British Officer died in 1966, aged 78. Who is he?

3. In 1942, Singapore Island was connected to Malaya by a causeway which was opened in 1923. It was blown up by the British, which postponed the invasion of Singapore by about a week in early February. The Japanese had it repaired. Until 1998, it was the only land link between Singapore and Malaysia. It links the city of Johor Bahru in Malaysia to the town of Woodlands in Singapore across the Straits of Johor. What is the present name of this causeway?

4. Many POWs in Singapore were sent elsewhere for hard labor in railway tracks, factories and other constructions. However, some of the POWs remained in Singapore. In 1944, Australian POWs constructed a chapel, which was later shifted to Duntroon, Canberra in Australia. In 1988, a replica was built in the site of the old chapel in Singapore. This was relocated to a new site 1km away and a museum was also opened on February 15, 2001. What is the name of this chapel?

5. On September 12, 1945, the Japanese troops in Singapore formerly surrendered to the Allies. The surrender instrument was signed in the Municipal Building, known as City Hall today. The Supreme Allied Commander of the South East Asia Command signed it on behalf of the allies. Later, he was the last Viceroy of India. Who was he?

Answers for Quiz 11

1. Crete
2. Baltic Sea
3. Carl Gustav Mannerheim
4. Tanya Savicheva
5. Road of life

Monday, August 25, 2014

Remembering Richard Attenborough

My first visit to a movie was a mixed experience. It was unbelievably exciting, but I was pretty badly sick those days. Halfway through the movie, I had to leave due to an unending cough, exacerbated undoubtedly by the air conditioned environment. Furthermore, I was admitted to the hospital the very next day. Nevertheless, I returned to watch and enjoy the full movie after I had recovered some days later.

As I remember, it was the day when that particular movie opened in Sri Lankan theaters. Despite the illness I was excited by it all, the sounds that seemed to come out of within yourself and the huge screen. It was a nice welcome to the movie world. It was a marvelous welcome to the world of the dinosaurs. The movie was, obviously, Jurassic Park.

It was perhaps the best introduction a young kid could get of the Western movies, of Steven Spielberg and of Richard Attenborough. For some reason, I remembered the old white clad gentleman, the owner of Jurassic Park, and how he guided Dr. Alan Grant and the visitors around the theme park. The owner was named John Hammond, played by Richard Attenborough.
Attenborough as John Hammond in Jurassic Park (Pic from

Later on, I enjoyed some of Attenborough’s other movies. I am not fond of movies in general. Nevertheless, as a lover of World War II movies, I watched both ‘The Great Escape’ and ‘A Bridge Too Far’ several times each. For me, Attenborough was being his best in his role as the mastermind of the Great Escape. Perhaps it is because I have not watched much of the movies he was starring in. But for me, it was one of the best roles in a movie I saw. Perhaps he was successful in his roles as an Air Force Squadron Leader because of his service in the Royal Air Force during the war.

The movie ‘A Bridge Too Far’ directed by Attenborough was released 14 years after ‘The Great Escape’, in 1977. Following the story of Operation Market Garden and its failure to capture Arnhem Bridge, it has perhaps one of the best paratroopers landing scene in a movie at least up to that time. It meticulously follows all aspects of the battle and the lives of the people involved in it. It struck me as a depiction of human catastrophe in war, on military and especially the civilian people.

Attenborough was perhaps best remembered for directing Gandhi, which won eight Academy Awards, including the Best Director and Best Picture. The movie begins at a point when Gandhi was 24, when he was pushed out of a South African train for being in a ‘whites only’ compartment, and ends with his funeral.

The defining moment for me in this movie was when Gandhi ended his fast unto death after post-partition violence had suddenly ended. The movie shows vividly how the city which had seen so violent had gone in to a deathly silence, hoping that Bapu would end his fast. This is perhaps the best manifestation of the power of non-violence in the movie.

Attenborough would return to an anti-apartheid theme of much greater scale in his drama ‘Cry Freedom’ on the life of Black Consciousness Movement founder Steve Biko, who died in police custody. The movie has a dramatic scene of Biko’s funeral where thousands sing “Nkosi Sikelel’ iArfica” (God Bless Africa) and its epilogue displays a long list of anti-apartheid activists (including Biko), who died under suspicious circumstances while imprisoned by the government. A few months before the film's release, the Apartheid government stopped releasing the false and foolish "official explanations" for deaths in custody.
Although not the 'real' one, this is a good reminder

Even though two decades had passed after I was welcomed to Jurassic Park by Attenborough (Hammond), I remembered him again whenever I would read or see something on the movie. I remembered him when I entered through the gigantic (to my scale) gate of the Jurassic Park at Universal Studios, Singapore and listened to the Jurassic Park theme song of John Williams while I was there.

I remembered my first day to a movie today, when I heard Richard of Attenborough’s death, just days before his 91st birthday. My Jurassic Park would be not the same anymore.

Sunday, August 24, 2014


Pic by Hiranya Malwatta

From dawn to mid day
Shadows shorten
The darkness disappears
Little by little

From mid day to dusk
Shadows elongate
The darkness returns
Little by little

Even when the Sun is out
Darkness is ever there
The Sun makes us forget
Until night looms again

Saturday, August 23, 2014

I don't know Poetry

Pic: The painting "Throes of Creation" by Leonid Pasternak (Father of Boris Pasternak)

I don’t know poetry
The flowery words
Idioms, phrases
Figures of speech
Rhymes and chimes
Not for me
I know that I
Have a heart
I just let it speak
With little words I have
I don’t call it poetry
It is others that do

Friday, August 22, 2014

Quiz with Chamara Sumanapala. Part 11: Siege of Leningrad

The largest land invasion in history took place early morning on June 22, 1941, when Nazi Germany invaded Soviet Union. The invasion was codenamed “Operation Barbarossa” and initially involved nearly 4 million personnel, over 4,000 war tanks and over 4,000 air planes. Three large armies moved in three directions. Army Group Center moved towards the Soviet capital Moscow and Army Group South invaded the Ukraine. Meanwhile, Army Group North moved towards Leningrad (known as St Petersburg today). Meanwhile, Finland, which was an ally of Germany at the time, invaded the Soviet Union and moved south towards Leningrad. By September that year, the combined forces of Germany, Finland and their allies had surrounded the city. They wanted to starve and bombard the city and force it to surrender. However, the Soviet forces and citizens held on for 872 days until the siege was lifted on January 27, 1944.
Antiaircraft guns guarding the sky of Leningrad, in front of St. Isaac's Cathedral (RIA Novosti archive, image #5634 / David Trahtenberg / CC-BY-SA 3.0)

01. The siege of Leningrad is estimated to have claimed more than 2 million Soviet lives, many through starvation. This makes the siege of Leningrad the most costly siege in the history of warfare. However, it was not the longest siege. This was the siege of Candia, then a city under the control of the Republic of Venice. Ottoman Turk forces besieged it in 1648 and the city held on for 21 years before surrendering in 1669. Today, this city is called Heraklion. In which Greek island is this city located?

02.  Leningrad’s importance to Soviet Union lay in several factors. It was the former capital of Russia and the center of the October Revolution which brought the Soviet government to power. It was renamed after the “father of Soviet Union” V I Lenin, after his death. It was an industrial center and was the headquarters of an important Soviet naval fleet. This naval fleet was named after the sea by which the city is located. What is the name of this sea?

03. The Finnish troops were led by their Army Commander, who was 74 years old in 1941. He had held various positions in Swedish politics from independence in 1917. He became the President of Finland in 1944 and arranged peace with the Soviet Union. He died in 1951. He is still considered the “Greatest Finn Ever.” Who was he?

04. While hiding from the Germans, the young Jewish girl Anne Frank wrote a diary later published as “The Diary of a Young Girl” which became very famous. However, many people have written diaries describing hardships endured during war. A young Soviet girl wrote a diary of her experiences in Leningrad before she was rescued in August 1942. However, she died of tuberculosis in 1944, at the age of 14. Her diary is said to have been produced as evidence during the Nuremberg Trials. Who was she?

05. Although the city of Leningrad was surrounded, the Soviet Army managed to keep the land between the city and Lake Ladoga to the east of it under their control. During the winter, when the water turned to ice on the lake, supply routes were operated. This was a very dangerous rote but was the only option open for the Soviet defenders. This route was given a name during the war. What was this name?

Answers to Quiz 10

1. Chamonix
2. St. Moritz
3. Eddie Eagan
4. “I can see clearly now the rain is gone”
5. South Korea

Thursday, August 21, 2014

Looks can Deceive

There are times when I find strange coincidences happening to me or around me. Today something like that happened when I was on my way to work. I was in deep thought on something and it happened to me.

I was thinking about a simple saying. "Looks can deceive." It is common knowledge. One might ask me what I mean, apart from what we usually know. Generally, we say looks can deceive to refer to a pretty girl or a handsome guy who turns out to be evil at heart. This is the generalization of the term “looks can deceive.” But, generalizations may not be sufficient at times.

Apart from good looking people being evil at heart, some not so good looking people can be pure at heart. Sometimes, the looks, both good and bad, can be an image of the heart also. Usually people are neither good nor bad. It is a mixture and the mixture can be either towards good or towards bad. On the other hand, beauty is subjective. You may not agree that the girl next door is a beauty, but I might envy you for being the next door neighbor.

Looks can deceive people to varying degrees. Sometimes, people are deceived willingly too.

On the other hand, your friend who appears to be excited, jubilant or generally happy, may be suffering within for some reason. I have encountered people who are sad within but appear really happy. No one can guess that they are sad or perhaps lonely.

Sometimes they are not actually play acting. They might be genuinely happy when they are in any company they enjoy. Perhaps they are happy because I have the ability to keep them happy for some reason. For whatever reason, they appear to be in a happy mood despite being in hell. It is only when they are alone that they let all their feelings go.

Something deceived me for sure, but I do not know what did. (Pic by Rukshan Abeywansha)

Yes, looks can deceive in many ways than we expect or think possible.

Now to what happened in the morning. I got off from the bus and walked towards the pedestrian crossing on my way to work. Ahead of me walked a woman, wearing a t-shirt and a pair of jeans. She was pretty well shaped, from behind at least. The way she walked, or perhaps the way she dressed, made me think her as an older woman. Furthermore, I saw a bandage in her right hand. For some reason, I deduced that younger people cannot have bandaged hands.

The green pedestrian light was blinking and she ran to cross the road. I also started running a fair distance behind. Her running action confirmed my assumption about her age for some reason. I crossed the road and walked over to the next crossing. She was already there, waiting for the light to turn green. I saw her face for the first time and she surprised me. It was a young face, much younger than I expected. She looked much younger than me!

Perhaps it was the face, and not the walk or the dress that deceived me. Perhaps the face did not deceive. Something deceived me for sure, but I do not know what did.

Looks can deceive in many ways.

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

The Corridor of Life

Pic by Sakuna Gamage
The corridor
Columns and arches
Light and darkness
Doors open
Doors closed
One can choose
The limelight
Or the darkness
The bold will walk through
The open doors
Or open closed ones
To the unknown

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Comprehending Splendor

The old woman
Has her breakfast
Sitting on the pavement
By a garbage bin

Across the street
A posh set of tourists
Enjoy the sights
Of a rising city

What people see and not
In this world of wonder?
How can one be human
In the midst of splendor?

Saturday, August 16, 2014

The Cold

I woke up
Dogs howling
Utterly dark
Utterly cold

Felt everywhere
With my hand
Found the blanket
Covered my self

But it could not
Fight the cold
Or hide the lonely tears

Friday, August 15, 2014

Redemption Song

Redemption Song is one of the greatest works of the reggae icon Bob Marley. It was voted as one of the 20 best political songs ever by New Statesman in UK. Rolling Stone ranked it in No 66 in their 500 Greatest Songs of All Time. It is the last track of the last album of Bob Marley, Uprising. As such, it seems as if Redemption Song was the last bow of Bob Marley, before he died of cancer at the age of 36 in 1981.

Uprising is perhaps the most religious of Bob Marley’s albums with many of the songs touching religious topics, only to culminating in this acoustic folk classic solo performance. His wife Rita Marley reportedly has said that, Bob was "already secretly in a lot of pain and dealt with his own mortality, a feature that is clearly apparent in the album, particularly in this song." Perhaps the religious messages also come from this realization.

Bob Marley takes the inspiration of the song partly from a 1937 lecture of the Pan-African leader Marcus Garvey. “Emancipate yourself from mental slavery, none but ourselves can free our minds” quote almost straight from Garvey’s speech. “Mind is your only ruler, sovereign” Garvey has said. This is also a recurring message in Bob Marley’s works.

This statue by sculptor Laura Facey Cooper is named "Redemption Song" and is seen in the Emancipation Park in Kingston, Jamaica. The rising from water connects to the African philosophy of water's ability to cleanse and renew. The man and woman looks up, as if looking towards God. (Statues in Emancipation Park, Kingston Author Gwyneth Davidson, Wikimedia Commons)
Redemption Song is a call for rebellion, not necessarily against the enemies outside, but the enemies within. His rebellion, the mental rebellion, is being strengthened by religion, and the belief in the Almighty. He says, even though he had been thrown into slavery physically, “My hand was made strong, by the hand of the Almighty” and triumphantly looks forward towards the future. Despite relying on God for strength, Marley says that one’s mind is supreme. “None but ourselves can free our minds.”

Even though a slave is said to be the owner of his master, no one can own the mind of even a slave. How much you are a slave physically, you can be extremely free mentally. Also no one can stop a slave from singing freedom songs, the only thing he has. Freedom is a concept, a longing and a hope a slave would have. But it is something even a slave can own, if the mind is free.

Marley says that “all I ever have” are redemption songs. By saying “ever” he might be saying that whether you are slave or a free man, you are ultimately a slave of the system. The system is being driven by a few who suppress and oppress the masses. The masses can have only the freedom of the mind, whether slave or not. In that sense, Redemption Song seems to be a call for rebellion of non violent solidarity against the oppressive system.

"Redemption Song"

Old pirates, yes, they rob I;
Sold I to the merchant ships,
Minutes after they took I
From the bottomless pit.
But my hand was made strong
By the 'and of the Almighty.
We forward in this generation
Won't you help to sing
Another song of freedom?
'Cause all I ever have:
Redemption songs;
Redemption songs.

Emancipate yourselves from mental slavery;
None but ourselves can free our minds.
Have no fear for atomic energy,
'Cause none of them can stop the time.
How long shall they kill our prophets,
While we stand aside and look?
Some say it's just a part of it:
We've got to fulfill the book.

Won't you help to sing
These songs of freedom?
'Cause all I ever have:
Redemption songs;
Redemption songs;
Redemption songs.

[Guitar break]

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Quiz with Chamara Sumanapala. Part 10: Winter Olympics

The 22nd Winter Olympics commenced on February 7, 2014, at Sochi, Russia. Before 1924, the Olympic Games included some Winter Sports. From 1924 onwards, separate events were held for Summer Games and Winter Games. Until 1992, these events were usually held in the same year. It was decided to hold the events at different years after 1992. Therefore, the next Winter Olympics were held in 1994 and ever since, it has been held every four years.

Three Russian stamps with the mascots of Sochi 2014
01. The first Winter Olympics were held as the Winter Sports Week and it was only in 1925 that it was decided to retroactively name it as the First Winter Olympics. Sixteen nations took part in this inaugural Winter Olympics which was held in France. The Games were held in a small resort town in the Rhone-Alpes Region near the French-Swiss border. What is the town which hosted the first Winter Olympics?

02. The 1928 and 1948 Winter Olympics were held in a small resort town in Switzerland. 1948 was the last year Switzerland held the event up to date. The 1948 Olympics were important as it was the first Games (both Summer and Winter) held after 1936. The Swiss town which hosted these two Winter Olympic events is a very small town of just over 5000 inhabitants. What is the name of this town?

03. In the 1932 Winter Olympics at Lake Placid, USA, the American Four-man Bobsleigh team included an athlete who had won a Gold Medal for boxing in the light-weight division at the 1920 Olympics. When the Bobsleigh team won their event, this athlete became the first person to have won gold medals at both Summer and Winter Olympics in different events. Born in 1897, he later became a lawyer and served in the US Army during World War II. He died in 1967. Who is this athlete?

04. In the 1988 Calgary Winter Olympic Games in Canada, the Jamaican the Jamaican national bobsleigh team first gained fame and created much interest as it was a surprise to see a team from a tropical country taking part in Winter sports. They returned to several subsequent Winter Olympics as well. In 1993, Cool Runnings, a sports film loosely based on the story of this Jamaican bobsleigh team of 1988 was released in the USA. It was directed by Jon Turteltaub. The film received positive reviews, and the film's soundtrack also became popular. A reggae single sung by Jimmy Cliff for the movie became very popular and reached the top 40 in many charts including UK, USA and Canada. What is this famous song?

05. The 2014 Winter Olympics will be the first Winter Olympics to be held by Russia. The next Winter Olympics, to be held by an Asian country, will be the first ever Winter Olympics to be held in this country. It will also become the second only Asian country to host the Winter Olympics. What is the host nation of the 2018 Winter Olympics?

Answers for Quiz 09
01. Ukraine
02. NKVD
03. V-2 rocket
04. Laika
05. “The Orient” or “The East”

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Stargazing on the Rampart Wall

* Sequel to Sunset on the Rampart Wall

Galle, in Southern Sri Lanka, has a beautiful fort. Its Dutch fortifications and architecture captivates one’s mind. For an imaginative mind, it is a time machine which takes one straight into the 17th and 18th centuries. Time travelling is not just science fiction. It is possible in the Galle Fort, at least for now.

Our journey to Galle took us back in time, although we could see modern imperfections at times. Nevertheless, there was nothing imperfect about the ramparts. The rampart walls and main bastions stood high and proud. True, some of the lesser bastions show the age. But otherwise, it’s a timeless memorial of the past.

The ramparts facing the Western horizon are an excellent place to be at sunset. We experienced the changes in the atmosphere as darkness fell, sitting on the grass on the top of the ramparts. Soon, the dark night started its reign. Life moved on the ramparts as well as down below on the streets.

We decided to lie down, facing the sky. The view surprised us. The cloudless, starry night opened up a new perspective on our world view. It opened up the universe to us.

The realization that we rarely take some time to observe the beauty of the starry night hit upon us. We saw the unmistakable three stars which make the belt of Orion, the hunter. One can draw a straight line connecting the three stars. Extending the line further down, one meets Sirius, the crown jewel among the stars in the night.
Johannes Hevelius imagined Orion as a warrior with a club and a shield. From Prodromus Astronomia, volume III: Firmamentum Sobiescianum, sive Uranographia (1690)

Our ancestors had the time and discipline to decipher the mysteries of the night sky. For them, the night sky was a canvass, or a jigsaw puzzle. They created many figures by connecting the dots on the sky. They had legends about them. For these people, stars served a purpose. They forecasted the weather; acted as a compass. The people sailed the seas and explored the unknown lands with the help of the stars.

In the modern electronic world, we have created our stars, the satellites. We do not need Sirius or Canopus or Polaris or the Southern Cross. We do not need Orion. We have our satellites who feed our GPS and navigation systems.

The only service provided by the celestial bodies is to enslave the human mind through something called horoscopes. For many people, only these 12 constellations exist.

Man is the only creature with boundless capacity to imagine. However, the supreme irony of his imagination is that he has become a slave of his own creations. He created constellations out of some dots in the night sky. However, they have also enslaved him. Essentially, man is a slave of his own creations and limitations he has imagined.

We do not usually look up. We look up to someone else even less. Looking down at fellow human beings is much easier. Similarly, we never look up at what the universe reveals at night.

The temporary respite from the restlessness of our usual routine allowed us to enjoy the beauty of the boundless expanse of the universe. It was a practice, an art, and a science we have forgotten.

Looking back at the sky, we could see Orion, the hunter, brandishing his sword (or whatever weapon he held) at us. It was as if he was getting ready to punish us for fighting over petty worldly matters while there were much more important things to do.

Monday, August 11, 2014

Russia to Tax Sugary Drinks to 'Make the Nation Healthier'

The Communist Party lawmakers in Russia are to introduce a bill to tax sugary drinks according to the calorie content, “to make the nation healthier” Russian media reported a few days ago. This comes in the backdrop of a “battle of sanctions” imposed by the Western countries and Russia on each other.

Interestingly, this legislation is said to be similar to a motion initiated by some members of the US Congress some days ago. US lawmakers have been discussing such a move for several years. Several states and other localities, including New York City, have initiated controls of sugary drink consumption with varying degrees of success. They have been alarmed by the high sugar content in soda drinks.

Recent years have seen some backlash on soft drinks which some studies have blamed for obesity, especially in children, due to its high calorie content. In January this year, Mexico imposed a tax on sugary drinks. One third of the people in that country are obese and nearly 15 percent suffer from diabetes.

While studies have shown a relationship between sugary soft drinks and obesity, it is still too early to conclusively prove that there is a relation between these taxes and the health of the people. However, it is expected that consumption will go down due to increased prices, thereby lowering the sugar intake.

Speaking to The Nation, Consultant Cardiologist and Member of the Expert Committee on Non-Communicable Diseases at Sri Lanka Medical Association Dr. Jayanthimala Jayawardena stated that high sugar content in these drinks is a bigger problem in Western countries than in countries like Sri Lanka since the consumption of soft drinks is very high even among common people in those countries. In Sri Lanka, only the high income class shows a high amount of consumption of soft drinks. A tax will not affect them much, Dr. Jayawardena pointed out.

Most Sri Lankans consume water and beverages such as tea, Dr. Jayawardena also said. However, they consume a lot of sugar with tea. While manual workers need a considerable amount of calories, this practice is not healthy for others. Therefore, she said that a proper health awareness program on the consumption of sugar and sugary drinks should be initiated.

Originally published in: 'The Nation' Aug 10, 2014. (article)

Friday, August 8, 2014

Minister Champika Calls for 'Right to Information' in Energy Sector

Minister of Technology, Research and Atomic Energy Patali Champika Ranawaka recently said that there is a need for a transparent fuel and electricity price mechanism in the country. He said that there were certain 'corrupt' technicians and 'white collar criminals' who were not letting such a system to be established.

He made these observations at the launch of his new book "Balaya saha Balaya" and its English translation “Power and Power” at Sri Lanka Foundation Institute last Tuesday, (Aug. 5).

Speaking further, he stated that it was easy to just say that the Ceylon Petroleum Corporation (CEYPETCO) was running at a loss. But it does not explain the complete story. People should be made aware as to why a liter of diesel is imported at Rs. 103 but sold at Rs. 125. Similarly, a petrol liter is imported at Rs. 97 or Rs 100 and sold at Rs. 162 or Rs 170. The public has a right to know what happens to the petroleum tax levied from them and should be made aware why CEYPETCO was running at a huge loss despite these exorbitant prices, Ranawaka further said.

He also mentioned that even though the estimated loss conveyed to the Public Utilities Commission before the year began said that the Ceylon Electricity Board (CEB) will accrue a loss of Rs 7000 million in the first six months of this year, the loss has run to Rs 21,000 million.

Industries and the public should have a right to know why such losses are occurring despite the fact that the revenue of Fuel Adjustment Charges were at Rs. 25,000 million. The public has a right to know how this money was spent.

The Minister also mentioned that there was a global mafia of energy which has been the key to political power. His book "Power and Power" deals with the relationship of these two powers. He said that as far as the energy mafia is concerned, "oil is thicker than blood."

Meanwhile, the first edition of Ranawaka's book "Balaya saha Balaya" and its English translation "Power and Power" sold out within a day of its release. A reprint is due to appear soon. This, in a way, shows that people are longing for their right to information about the critical sector of energy.

Thursday, August 7, 2014

Buddhism in 17 Countries under One Roof at International Buddhist Museum, Kandy

Kandy is a city of several hundred thousand people, nestled between the mountains in the hill country. This was the last bastion of the Kings of Lanka, which was for centuries, protected by the local people who defeated several European invasions. Kandy also became the last guardian of Lord Buddha’s Tooth Relic, today kept in the majestic Dalada Maligawa, the Temple of the Tooth, in Kandy. Protected from one side by the Kiri Muhuda, or the Kandy Lake and on the other side by the Udawatta Kele Sanctuary, a forest covered hillside, the Dalada Maligawa is an awe inspiring place to be.

Adjoining Dalada Maligawa is a new museum, housed in the old courts building of Kandy. This is the International Buddhist Museum. According to the web site of Sri Dalada Maligawa, this museum has been established to showcase the expansion of Buddhism in rest of Asia. Sadly, today it reminds of something else; the decline of the influence of Buddhism in the continent over the centuries after the initial flowering and expansion.

It is said that this museum is the only one of its kind anywhere in the world. It houses relics and replicas of relics, monuments and other memorabilia from 17 different countries. It covers a vast range of traditions from Theravada, across Mahayana to Tibetan Buddhism. The 17 countries cover southern, south eastern and eastern Asia.
A graceful entrance to the world of Buddhism

Upon entering the museum grounds, the visitor is met by a large replica of Saranath Buddha Statue from India, one of the most elegant images of the Buddha anywhere in the world. Then the visitor has to purchase a ticket and enter the museum building.

The exhibits of the museum are arranged in a way that it covers country after country, starting from Sri Lanka. The Sri Lanka exhibits are nothing special for the local travelers like me. But for a foreign visitor it is a very informative experience.

As one goes through chamber after chamber, passing exhibits from country after country, one sees a wide facet of Buddhist traditions in places around Asia. The exhibits are arranged in such a way that one can start from the beginning and walk on passing all the countries along the way. It is like receiving a visa to all 17 countries to see their Buddhist monuments.
These are the 17 countries that you will see inside the building.

If there was a single exhibit that amazed me, it was the replica of Borobudur in the Indonesia Section. Located in Central Java, Borobudur is the largest Buddhist temple in the world and harks back to the glorious past of the Buddhist kingdoms of Indonesia. However, the replica shows the sheer size, workmanship and structural symmetry of this Mahayana Temple. One can just imagine walking up the steps to the top platforms of the gigantic monument, from the turbulence of Sansara to the zenith of Nirvana.

The International Buddhist Museum is a lesson to different traditions of Buddhism in one place. Although we in Sri Lanka conveniently state that there are two teachings of Buddhism, Theravada and Mahayana, the number of obvious and subtle differences from country to country and tradition to tradition is quite amazing. The complete picture of the different traditions can be perceived only at a place like this where a comparative study could be done easily.

I missed two countries that could perhaps been covered in the museum, apart from the 17 that were already there, namely Mongolia and Russia. A majority of Mongolians who are not atheists believe in some form of Buddhism, mainly Lamaism and the Gelug-pa Teaching (Yellow Hat Sect). Meanwhile Tibetan Buddhism is widely practiced in parts of Russia including Buryatia and Tuva in Asian side and Kalmykia in the European side. In Buryatia and Tuva, Shamanism is also a widely believed religion in Buryatia and Tuva, which has also had its share of influence with the Buddhists in the area.

Nevertheless, exploring Buddhism in 17 countries is an unprecedented learning experience to be gained at the International Buddhist Museum in Kandy. For those who are interested in history and Buddhism, it is simply a treat.

Pics by the author.
Note: Photography is not allowed within the museum premises.

Wednesday, August 6, 2014

Jaffna Fort, a Wounded Survivor of Sri Lanka's 30 Year War

Sri Lanka is home to a number of forts constructed by the Dutch, who controlled parts of the country (earlier called Ceylon) from mid 1600s to 1796. Galle Fort, which is a UNESCO World Heritage site, is the best preserved Dutch fort in Sri Lanka. However, there are a number of other forts built by the Dutch around the country. Most are located on the coast and there are some inland forts as well.

Jaffna Fort is the second largest Dutch Fort in Sri Lanka. Originally, it was built by the Portuguese after 1619. Later, the fort was reconstructed by the Dutch, who took control of it in 1658.

Jaffna was a separate kingdom from the 13th century when Polonnaruwa kingdom declined and later collapsed. The Jaffna Kingdom controlled the Jaffna peninsula some other areas and its influence varied. During the Kotte period it was captured by the Kotte Kingdom but once again gained independence some years after king Parakramabahu VI died in 1467. In 1619, Portuguese took Jaffna, killing its last king. Then the Portuguese built a fort. In 1629, the armies of the Kingdom of Kandy laid siege to the fort, but could not capture it.

After they captured the fort from the Portuguese, the Dutch expanded the fort with stronger ramparts and bastions. In 1795, the British captured the fort and it remained under British rule until 1948.

As Jaffna used to be a battle ground in the recently concluded war in Sri Lanka, the fort also suffered from it. Almost all buildings inside the fort were destroyed during years of fighting. In the 1980s, the Sri Lankan armed forces held on to the Jaffna Fort even when the city was lost to them. Therefore the LTTE subjected the fort to heavy fire, which destroyed much of the historical buildings. Ultimately the army abandoned the fort.

Historical buildings within the Jaffna Fort included the Queen’s House, which used to be the residence of Sri Lankan Presidents when they visit Jaffna. The building was one of the very few which escaped total destruction during the war. At the end of the war, much of its walls were standing, but the roof had been destroyed.

Another landmark in the Jaffna Fort was the Dutch Church, or the Kruys Kerk. This church had been built in 1706 and had it survived, would have become the oldest surviving Dutch Church in Sri Lanka. The architect and builder was Martinus Leusekam, who was described as Baas Landmeter (Chief Surveyor) and it was a large church, making it an unmistakable landmark of Jaffna. It was built using imported Dutch bricks and was well preserved even after more than 350 years of its construction. But after the LTTE took the fort, they destroyed the church completely. Only the ruins of the walls remained after the war.

Other buildings such as the old prison, the hospital and the ancillary buildings have undergone much destruction. The belfry on the inner rampart is similar to those found in other Dutch forts. Although it survived the war, its walls are missing.

In 1995, the Sri Lankan armed forces retook Jaffna and the Jaffna Fort also came under them. The Dutch government granted financial support to renovate the fort after the war ended in 2009. It looks different now than what these pictures from 2010 show.

Pics by Amila Prasanna Sumanapala

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

Quiz with Chamara Sumanapala. Part 09: Sergei Korolev

Sergei Korolev was the Chief Designer of the Soviet Space Program when it was at the height of the USA-USSR space race. Born on January 12, 1907, he went through ups and downs in his life until being appointed as the Chief Engineer of the Space Program in the 1950s. Until his unexpected death on January 14, 1966, the Soviet Union led the space race against the United States.

01. Korolev was born in the city of Zhytomyr in the Russian Empire. This city today has a population of just over 270,000 but was much smaller a century ago. To which country does Zhytomir belong today?

02. The 1930s were hard times in Soviet Russia. Stalin, the Soviet leader, was arresting and even executing tens of thousands of people he thought to be his enemies and the enemies of the state. Many were arrested on trumped up (fabricated) charges. In 1938, the Soviet Interior Ministry (People’s Commissariat for the Internal Affairs) arrested Korolev and some other scientists, on charges of deliberately working slowly to undermine the state. He was eventually released in 1944. By which four initials was the Interior Ministry known at the time?

03. After the end of the Second World War in Europe, Korolev was sent to Germany to study the rockets used by that country during the war. What the Soviet (and American) scientists learned from the German rocket scientists was helpful in initiating the space programs of both countries. Germany was the first country to develop a long range ballistic missile, which was studied by Korolev. What was this first ever long range ballistic missle, which is also said to be the first manmade object which was sent to space?

04. The Soviet scientists led by Korolev sent the first artificial satellite, first animal and first man to space. Also, as it was discussed in Quiz 07, Soviet Union sent the first probe to the Moon. The fist artificial satellite was Sputnik 1 (Satellite 1) which went to orbit on October 4, 1957. The first animal in who orbited Earth, a female dog, was sent in Sputnik 2 on November 3, 1957. It was actually sent to mark the 40th anniversary of the October Revolution of 1917. What was the name of the first animal in space?

05. After the Sputnik Program, Soviet scientists initiated the Vostok Program to send humans to space. Accordingly, six Vostok missions were undertaken, which saw the first man in space (Yuri Gagarin-Vostok 1) in April 1961 and the first woman in space (Valentina Tereshkova-Vostok 6) in 1963. What is the English meaning of the Russian word Vostok?

Answers to Quiz 08

01. Panglong Agreement
02. U Nu
03. National League for Democracy
04. Thein Sein
05. Bagan (Capital of the ancient Empire of Pagan)

Saturday, August 2, 2014

The Lady with the ‘Hearing Aid’ Necklace

She walks around
With a necklace which hears
Heartbeats and pulses
Of many an impatient soul

She walks delicately
Yet purposefully
Talking and listening
Checking and caring

Life and death she sees
So young in her life
Drains her, pains her
Kills her a thousand times

Friday, August 1, 2014


Reconstruction of a battle (Pic by Maxim Doronin)

Men march forward
Under orders
Take position, aim and fire
Smoke cloud the field
Decades after war ended

“Reconstruction” they say
Re-enacting the war it is
War that killed millions

Reconstruction followed up
After that war
Of lives, property

Time healed wounds
New generations born
Strangers to that war

It needs re-enactment
Lest they forget
War in whatever form
Should never be real