The Sundaytimes Sri Lanka » Plus Official website of the Sunday Times Newspaper in Sri Lanka Sat, 23 Jun 2012 22:01:47 +0000 en hourly 1 Unravelling an ancient secret Sat, 23 Jun 2012 14:01:32 +0000 Pubudu The tea-break was over and the team had just reassembled at about 11 in the morning in the pit at the smaller cave of Pahiyangala, Bulathsinhala, for a research excavation.�What they did not realize was that they were about to stumble onto an ancient secret.

The excavation site

As they gently, very gently and meticulously, with tiny brushes swept away the earth (no big trowels or mammoties for them), while physically blowing away the dust, excitement mounted.

The excitement tinged with tension was tangible for, slowly the earth unearthed the bones of toes. Were they just random bones, like the skulls and bones found at Pahiyangala, a paradise for archaeologists on the trail of Mesolithic Man?

“No, it was not just a few bones, but a full skeleton,” recalls young W.M.C. Oshan Wedage, his voice bubbling with enthusiasm even two weeks later, but fairly and squarely giving credit to his “super crew” as well as his “extraordinary” seniors.As they tenderly unearthed the skeleton, “podi venasak thibba”, says this 30-year-old Prehistoric Excavation Research Officer of the Department of Archaeology under whom is Pahiyangala.

Located in the Kalutara District, Pahiyangala is also known as Fa Hsiengala after the Chinese monk who is said to have rested here on his way to Adam’s Peak. “We first spotted the toes, then the foot and another foot and the skeleton up to the ribs, in the east corner of the excavation pit at the smaller cave,” says Oshan.

They handled the spot carefully, for they believe that the key to the true origins of the Sri Lankan people may lie buried in the sands of time here. They did not want, to destroy “any other evidence”, such as traces of organic remains or tools the area may yield. Haste would prevent 21st century humans, that’s us, getting a glimpse of Mesolithic lives and times and clues to the identity of the human lying buried.

Oshan then gave a round of frantic calls to Archaeological Department Director-General (DG), Dr. Senarath Dissanayake; Director-Excavations, Dr. Nimal Perera and Prehistoric Specialist, Dr. Siran Deraniyagala, a former DG of Archaeology now retired but very much “after” Sri Lanka’s Ancient Man.

Oshan and crew were advised by all of them “not to hasten” as it may very well be a find of global significance.
His diligent team comprising Palitha Weerasinghe, Kamal Nanda, Karunasena, Eregama, A.V.A. de Mel, Susantha Nihal, H. Jude Perera, P.G. Gunadasa, K.P. Ruwan Pramod and K.P. Sumanadasa uncovered a part of the skeleton slightly, says Oshan.
Next came the ribs, head and teeth, the Sunday Times learns.

Oshan: Overwhelmed by discovery

The Prehistoric Period or Stone Age is categorized into Palaeolithic (in Greek palaeos meant “old” and lithos “stone” and this refers to the use of rough stone tools) and Mesolithic.In Sri Lanka, the Palaeolithic period is believed by Dr. Siran Deraniyagala to be from over 700,000 to 40,000 years before present (BP), the Mesolithic from 40,000 to 4,000 years BP and the Iron Age from 3,700 to historical times. The presence of the Neolithic and Bronze Age in Sri Lanka has not been established yet, says Dr. Deraniyagala who has conducted the most number of pioneering studies on the Prehistoric Period, from 1968 onwards.

It was way back in 1968 that Dr. Deraniyagala found evidence of the presence of Prehistoric remains at Pahiyangala. Having also found that both the larger and smaller caves of Pahiyangala were replete with pointers that they would have harboured settlements of the Balangoda Man, the popular name for Mesolithic humans, the area was declared an Archaeological Reservation.
Excavations began in earnest in 1986 by the then Director (Excavations) and subsequently DG, Dr. W.H. Wijayapala in the larger cave (Site A), but there was no conclusive evidence, it is learnt.

Most probably, Oshan says, the layers of rich soil found there along with crucial clues may have been used in agriculture during the more recent Kandyan period. For in this period too Pahiyangala was a hub for monks and people as evidenced by the Kandyan-style staircase.
Disappointed about the fruitless search, Dr. Wijayapala changed the focus of the digs. Excavations at the smaller cave (Site B), uncovered evidence of Balangoda Man (prehistoric Homo sapiens sapiens) who had lived in the period 38,000 to 5,000 years BP, says Oshan. No full skeletons only bones of more than nine humans were found.

The Pahiyangala site was re-visited in 2005-06, under instructions from current DG Dr. Senarath Dissanayake, with updated excavation techniques, as Dr. Nimal Perera having completed his Ph.D in Australia had returned well-armed, to ward off any unsubstantiated charges of inadequate sampling, it is understood.

Small-scale intensive excavations were then initiated at Pahiyangala’s larger cave (Site A) in 2007-08 and smaller cave (Site B) in 2009, with experts from around the world visiting it, he adds.

The habitation sediments have been scientifically dated to 40,000 years BP. According to Prof. Michael Petraglia of Oxford University, the site has well-preserved deposits and a bone tool density not seen anywhere else in the world. Now right before their eyes was a full skeleton which may be South Asia’s oldest source of bio-anthropological information, it is understood.
Encouraged by National Heritage Minister Jagath Balasuriya and ministry Secretary Kanthi Wijetunge, the work continues.�It is important that the skeleton is not curled up, like all the others found so far at different sites in Sri Lanka,” says Oshan, explaining that it makes it an exception to the rule.

Another special aspect is that it is not a secondary burial site but a primary one, he says, quoting the belief of Dr. Nimal Perera.
Describing the spot where it was found, Oshan explains that two large rocks seemed to have secured the body. The rocks have certainly not fallen from above, he points out, speculating whether they were meant to keep the body intact after burial, preventing animals from scavenging there.
Atop the rocks, the team has found a layer of ash, indicating that it may have been the settlement’s hearth, the ash of which also made the bones of the skeleton take on a red hue.

The human of Pahiyangala has left a trail leading back to a time, shrouded in layers of soil. “We will have to check whether any tools or implements have been buried with it,” says Oshan, explaining that they will also have to check whether flowers were laid by its side in a burial rite and if so the pollen put under the microscope. How did the human die so young, will be another puzzle they will try to solve.
Sri Lanka will have to hold its breath, for only time and tests will reveal the secrets of the Pahiyangala human.

What next?

The Pahiyangala human is below 30 years of age and has the anatomy of Modern Man, said a top archaeology official, explaining that while the charcoal (carbon) samples are to be sent to a laboratory in America, for radio-carbon dating within the next two weeks, major discussions are underway between the Department of Archaeology and both Oxford University and the Australian National University to launch in-depth studies by a team of local and foreign experts.

The carbon samples will be sent to Beta Analytic in Miami, said Director (Excavations), Dr. Nimal Perera, explaining that the skeleton, meanwhile, needs to undergo bio-anthropological studies.These decisions were taken after a site-visit last Tuesday by a high level team comprising DG Dr. Senarath Dissanayake, Dr. Perera and Dr. Siran Deraniyagala, the Sunday Times learns.

Earlier believed to be 12,000 years old, Dr. Deraniyagala thinks that the skeleton may be more than 36,000 years old.
The removal of the skeleton from the site has to be done with utmost care, Dr. Perera stressed, adding that follow-up studies would be under the Collaborative Research Programme.

The skeleton is on weathered rock and removal would not be easy, as it should be taken along with the deposit around it, he said.
The studies that will be undertaken will include the measurements of the skeleton as well as comparisons with not only the Veddahs of Sri Lanka but also aborigines of South Asia and Australia. The experts will also attempt to ascertain the environment in which the individual lived, the subsistence pattern and delve into palae-pathology to find out how the human died.

DNA tests will also be carried out may be with the teeth, he said pointing out that the skeleton is a good find because most of the bones uncovered earlier have been fragmentary and highly weathered.

Whether man or woman has not been determined yet and the human has also not been named yet, adds Dr. Perera.

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Janakaraliya tours Puttalam Sat, 23 Jun 2012 13:37:31 +0000 Pubudu After a successful staging in Galle, Janakaraliya has arrived in Puttalam and will hold a drama festival in the Mobile Theatre at St Mary’s grounds near the Puttalam – Anuradhapura main road from June 27 to July 6. In addition to the plays performed at the mobile theatre special performances will be held for schools and the general public coming under Chilaw and Vanatha Villuwa Pradesheeya Sabhas.

This time, more prominence is given to outside dramatists and artistes to perform or present their creations at the Janakaraliya drama festival. The festival includes children’s drama, short dramas and long dramas.

Parakrama Niriella’s ‘Andaramal’, Ajanthan Shanthakumar’s ‘Parasthawa’ (a translation by Professor Tissa Kariyawasam), Henry Jayasena’s ‘Hunuwataye Katawa’, Vijitha Bandara’s ‘Vadakaya Wahala Uda’, Nalin Lusena’s ‘Arajikaya Mara’, Mu. Du. Ranjith Silva’s ‘Narivadan’, ‘Thamaravila’ and ‘Mala Kolan’, K. Safeer’s ‘Cage’, Nadeeka Tharangani’s ‘Pompeeniya’, Aloka Sampath’s ‘Thaniyek Vishishtai’, Lasantha Francis’s ‘Kochchiya Enakan’, Nuwan Dharshana’s ‘Dinosaur Premaya’, Somalatha Subasinghe’s ‘Thoppi Velenda’ and ‘Punchi Apata Den Therei’ (Children’s plays) are the plays to be performed at the Janakaraliya Drama Festival, Puttalam.

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The design powerhouse Sat, 23 Jun 2012 13:21:23 +0000 Pubudu Alexander McQueen, Chanel, Versace and Gucci; some of the world’s top labels might not have their namesakes at the helm anymore, but they continue to rule the fashion industry. Fashion powerhouses have long been synonymous with cutting edge trend-setting and more importantly, a host of talented designers.

This is Andre Estefan’s vision. The celebrity Sri Lankan designer is looking to revolutionise the industry with the launch of his Design Caf� at Braybrooke Street this week. An idea conceptualized almost a decade ago but kept from being a reality due to the situation in the country at the time, he’s finally got the chance to realize his dream to take Sri Lankan designers to another level.

Fully focussed: Viran, Tymerone and Andre. Pic by Susantha Liyanawatte

Walk into the studio cum runway cum workspace and you’re thrust into the world of fashion. The large space’s most dominant feature is a runway right in the middle- up and coming fashion designers will showcase their work there every six to eight weeks to an invitees-only audience made up largely of serious buyers. The weeks leading up to the grand finale of a show will be spent in this room itself, working on the former runway that is now converted into a long table on which the designers sketch, hem and create.

“The runway is the entire focus of this place,” Andre gestures at his young prot�g�es bent over their work. “It’s a fully functional workspace. Everything is done centred around the platform, and it’s a great reminder for the designers that they’re creating for an audience and not just for themselves.”

What the Design Caf� hopes to do is create an umbrella of designers . They will be nurtured and provided the logistical means to get their work out to the public, which Andre says has not really been done in the country before. He is quick to point out that the Design Caf� is not just limited to fashion, but rather to every artistic form of creative expression. From art to interior design to graphics, they hope to epitomize every form of design through the outlet.

It is a concept that Andre is confident will change our perception of design, mainly that of being fashion-centric. “Sri Lanka’s garment industry has been running strong for about 60-70 years now. In terms of quality, we’re very much at the helm,” he says, a touch of pride in his voice. “The problem is that no one’s had the foresight to nurture the creative aspect of the fashion industry-we’ve been very much focused on selling. I think that when we lost the global quota it was a game changer. The time has come to expose Sri Lanka’s mind and creativity as opposed to brawn.”
The fashion powerhouse concept is backed by a firm belief that designers should be focused on creativity and business must be handled for them, not by them. The Design Caf� will always be on the lookout for young designers with potential who can be guided and nurtured.

“I understand the financial difficulties of going out on your own. This is exactly why this place is here. Believe me, it’s not a charity. It’s merely a place where you’re given an outlet to create and showcase your work,” Andre says. His enthusiasm is infectious. Design is a craft for him, and his evident desire to help aspiring young designers to find their niche markets is more than obvious in the passion with which he speaks of his project.

Designers need look no further than the caf� itself for creative inspiration. The workspace is dotted with posters, handy art material, even the washrooms are haute couture! Tongue-in-cheek washroom code names are Vivienne Westwood for the ladies and Alexander McQueen for the guys.

The launch show on Saturday saw two young designers and Andre himself in the spotlight: Tymerone Carvalho’s Menjoy, Andre’s line Runway BCH and Missi Island, by Viran Jay Peter, all lit up the ramp.

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Lester’s films the hallmark of a humanist Sat, 23 Jun 2012 13:40:28 +0000 Pubudu “One of the few remaining cultural icons in our country who dominated Sinhala cinema for over 50 years and a giant of world cinema” is how Minister and art lover Dr. Sarath Amunugama delivering the Lester James Peries Oration 2012 last Tuesday, identified the doyen of Sri Lankan cinema.

“It is a privilege being able to pay a well deserved tribute to a close and affectionate friend for over half a century,” he remarked.
A mixed gathering at the Sri Sambuddatwa Jayanthi Mandiraya Auditorium listened to the Minister’s well structured speech that had several relevant quotes and interesting anecdotes.

A shared moment: Dr. Amunugama and Dr. Lester James Peries at the event last Tuesday.

He reminisced how he travelled to Balapitiya on Lester’s invitation to see a sequence of ‘Gamperaliya’ being shot at the Maha Kappina Walauwwa along with the author of the book, Martin Wickremasinghe and the screenplay writer Reggi Siriwardena in t he former’s car. Those were the days when film crews were on location for long periods and there was time for fellowship.

The scene they witnessed was the wedding of Piyal (Henry Jayasena) and Nanda (Punya Heendeniya) and everyone crowded in the verandah to get a glimpse of how it was being filmed. He recalled how Lester deployed his new players from stage – Tony Ranasinghe, G.W. Surendra and Wickrema Bogoda to give a sense of a festive occasion. There were also several foreigners to suggest that Piyal was now building his fortress in Colombo.

What impressed Minister Amunungama was Lester’s detachment, his whispers to the cameraman and the very gentle suggestions to the players which have become the hallmark of his direction.

Having seen all Lester’s films including the documentaries, he wanted to find the common thread binding his work – his personal vision, distinctive style and rhythm and his own cinematic language and idiom. “What stands out is his humanism,” Mr. Amunugama said and went on to discuss this aspect in depth.

Defining humanism as “any system, mode of thought and action with human interest, values and dignity predominates”, he said humanism that developed in western society after the Renaissance, had a strong influence on Lester. While he progressively delved into Sinhalese society, Lester was also a cosmopolitan intellectual, just as Satyajit Ray was. “Almost all the distinguished creative artistes and literary figures have all been largely influenced by their readings of the great works of western literature. Martin Wickremasinghe, Sarachchandra, Gunadasa Amarasekera and Siri Gunasinghe have all been influenced by classical western writers,” he pointed out.

“Martin Wickremasinghe was a voracious reader. He read the Russian classics by Tolstoy, Dostoevsky and Chekhov that spread his interest in humanism which grew out of his close observation first of events in south Sri Lanka and later, in the metropolis of Colombo which was being transformed by the beginnings of native capitalism. Lester, on the other hand was a product of the English-speaking Colombo upper middle class. His father was a well-to-do doctor. I was always intrigued by the appearance of a grave-looking doctor in Lester’s films like ‘Gamperaliya’, ‘Nidhanaya’ and ‘Madol Duwa’ usually giving a very rational and unhurried diagnosis which only confirmed what the audiences already knew as a difficult situation,” Mr. Amunugama said.

Lester was fascinated by English literature and culture of the post-war period which was part of the English avant garde.
Referring to Lester’s first feature film, ‘Rekawa’, Mr. Amunugama said that it marked the introduction of a new film language different from the prevailing South Indian idiom depicting the local, particularly Buddhist culture and society. The film also marked the first manifestation of Sinhala film in the regional and international critical arena.

He then went on to examine Lester’s cinema based on Martin Wickremasinghe’s trilogy – ‘Gamperaliya’, ‘Yuganthaya’ and ‘Kali Yugaya’ which showed the director’s humanist approach. These three need to be viewed as works of cinema not mere translations of Wickremasinghe’s works to celluloid. “Unfortunately the criticisms of the three films failed to understand that literature and cinema are two categorically different art forms. It was the same with Lester’s ‘Baddegama’,” he pointed out.

Touching on the subtle difference between the books and cinema, he pointed out how while the novel can delve into anthropological and psychological commentary (a frequent technique used by Martin Wickremasinghe) the film must perforce concentrate on events, action and characters. In the trilogy Lester has dropped the subsidiary characters and highlighted the key events.

Pointing out that it is Nanda who is brought to the fore in ‘Gamperaliya’ and ‘Kali Yugaya’ ( to him, the latter is “much better than ‘Yuganthaya’ “), he stressed that “by any standard, Punya Heendeniya is outstanding” in the two films. “She brings an emotional charge to a role that keeps the viewer transfixed.” As a director, Lester must be given full credit for focusing on this central character. The nuances of feeling of Nanda surrounded by people with simple emotions like Anula, Piyal and Simon Kabalana not only makes her to us a sympathetic character taking meanwhile us to a world of moral choices and sensitivity of feelings which help to get a better understanding view of human conditions, Minister Amunugama said.

The oration dealt with much more of the humanism in Lester’s films and it is sincerely hoped that the LJSP Foundation will release the full text sooner than later.

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Letters to the Editor Sat, 23 Jun 2012 13:48:28 +0000 Pubudu Is this what the Hippocratic oath is all about?

A recent ordeal when I took my 16-month-old daughter for medical care, after a horrifying accident, gave me a reality check to the decline in the quality of the health care services in Sri Lanka.

Holidaying in Nuwara Eliya, I fell on the doorstep of the bungalow, while carrying my daughter on June 11, resulting in her head hitting the cold stone floor with severe impact. After briefly attempting to calm her down, my husband and I found a tennis ball sized lump on her head.
Holding some ice cubes to the affected area, imagining the worst, my husband and I rushed her to the Nuwara Eliya General Hospital. When we reached there around 11.30 a.m., seeing our distraught plight, the heart-wrenching cries of the baby and my own tears and the vomit-splattered clothes, not only did the security guard allow us to drive into the hospital’s car park but many hospital staff ran with us, guiding us to the admitting Medical Officer.

As we rushed in, a nurse cleared the patient’s chair adjacent to the doctor’s chair and as I sat, the doctor sternly asked me whether the baby passed out or vomited on our way to the hospital. When my husband said no and explained that the baby vomited on the trip only after crying violently and coughing, he then asked me rudely, “Then why are you crying? Go to a corner and stop”. He stood up, without so much as a look at the baby and marched off to another patient.

Being the daughter of two senior doctors with 31 years of service — my mother is a deputy director of a leading General Hospital and my father a senior Consultant Anaesthetist in charge of the ICU of the same hospital — I was astonished at how cold and rude the doctor was.
Attendants and nurses were in sympathy with us and a kindly nurse asked me to calm down and try to rock my baby to calm her as well. My husband and I were shocked by the no-care attitude of the Medical Officer who did not deem it fit to examine the baby, but walked away, dismissing this case as not being urgent.

When he came back after awhile and heard my husband angered by his negligence and inattentiveness suggesting that we leave to a private hospital, the Medical Officer sternly asked him, “What did you say?” My husband then asked him, “Is this the way you treat your patients? We come rushing here in dire need of medical attention for our infant and you just dilly-dally playing with the health of our precious child”, the doctor responded very heatedly.

Then I stood up and asked him, “Do you know I am the daughter of so and so and is this how you treat patients who come in an emergency to you?” When he realized I was connected, he was embarrassed, although he said falteringly, “I don’t care who’s who you are”.
Our primary concern being the well-being of our baby, we walked out. The doctor then sent attendants after us, telling us to come back, but we rushed to our car and went in search of a private hospital. I am concerned that I needed to mention my family links in the healthcare sector to get my injured baby noticed.

After showing our baby to a doctor at a private hospital, where the doctor immediately took us in regardless of the patient he was seeing, we were on our way back to the bungalow to pack up our belongings and leave for Kandy to be near a hospital better-equipped to deal with such a crisis, when we were stopped by the Traffic Police. Thinking we had been stopped because my husband had forgotten to wear his seat belt, he explained our plight, only to be told by the policeman who looked troubled, “I can’t let you go. This vehicle number has been submitted in a complaint to the police and even if I were to let you pass, you will be detained further on”.
Realizing this was a retaliation by the doctor, we drove along with the policeman, to the police station and explained our situation including the negligence at the hands of the doctor, evoking sympathy among the policemen, with several policewomen gently touching the baby’s head.
In the face of the injustice perpetrated by the doctor, firstly of not attending to our baby and then harassing us by complaining to the police, we took the matter up with the HQI. He immediately asked the officer at the hospital police post to come to the police station, when the doctor concerned refused to come. The hospital police post officer informed the HQI that the doctor had wanted us to be warned never to do such a thing again.

When my husband asked him whether he witnessed the incident, he said he hadn’t but the Medical Officer had told him.
The Nuwara Eliya Police were understanding and treated us with kindness and empathy, urging us to leave. They assured us that they would do the needful and warn the doctor.

This incident made me think about the plight of the poor people who have to go through the state health sector and what injustice they may have to bear in silence. This doctor played with the health of a baby.

At the same time, there are a large number of doctors who will forego their basic needs to save lives and luckily they outnumber the bad ones.
However, one negligent doctor can influence the perception about doctors. We will seek an inquiry and intend to write to the Health Ministry.

Ashwini Surage,�Via e-mail

Who says birdsongs are not for city dwellers?

Every morning I am woken up in the early hours by the raucous cries of the Koha. Romantics welcome and enjoy bird calls, but to me, at four in the morning, when it is still very dark, this continuous cacophony is truly a nuisance. These flyers that depend on foster parents to bring up their children make the biggest noise. Their screaming and screeching goes on unabated till the new day dawns.

Then, in total antithesis to the Koha, comes the black-and-white Magpie, or Polkichcha, Lanka’s best known crooner. His repertoire of tunes to his lady love is like balm to the ear after the Koha calls.

With the arrival of the Magpie, the gates open and a host of other birds fly in to announce their presence: the gregarious, aptly named Babbler; the Tailors, the smallest bird with the biggest noise; Hummingbirds; Barbets, Kingfishers; Woodpeckers; Bulbuls, and Drongos.
Still later, one hears the unmistakable whistle of the Golden Oriole and, new arrivals, a pair of Ash Doves, with their nonstop cooing.
Still later comes a regular pair of Mynahs, picking their way over the lawn. You also hear the tuneless throaty cough of the Coucal as it goes about searching for snails.

At breakfast time, there is the usual flock of Parakeets that arrive and start evaluating a hole in a tree. None wants to occupy the hole for a nest, but the bargaining goes on for hours. This has been so for several months.

Seen but not heard are the occasional flyers, such as the Egrets, Herons and Green Bee-eaters.
Occasionally small flocks of Munias descend on the lawn. At least once a year, I witness the arrival of the Paradise Fly-Catcher, both white and red (Redi Hora and Gini Flora).

And through all this, from dawn to dusk, one hears the caw-caw of the ubiquitous Crow.
As the sun goes down and the moon rises in all its romantic glory, you hear the creatures of the night. Among these is the plaintive cry of a Lapwing, and a regular sitter on power lines, the Owl, hooting his presence.

I live half a mile east of the Dehiwala junction, still city and very urban. It is amazing that one can encounter such a dazzling array of bird life in these parts.

Mahendra Samarasinghe,�Dehiwala

Developers have wrecked Dehiwala�

Condominiums for the middle-class started becoming popular in this country mainly after the ’83 riots, when Tamils in the North wanted to get out of Jaffna.

By then the groundwork had already been done by far-sighted leaders like Ranasinghe Premadasa. Institutions such the National Housing Development Authority (NHDA), the Urban Development Authority (UDA), the Land Reclamation Authority, and so on, were set up to support the increasing demand for housing.

Initially, the demand was in areas such as Wellawatte, Kotahena, and Bambalapitiya. When land in those areas became pricey, developers started looking at Dehiwala, around the early ’90s. Since then, many housing complexes have come up. Roads that had just 40 to 50 separate houses saw that number go up several times with each new condo and its many housing units.

The boom meant that the infrastructure built for a limited number of housing units came under heavy strain, leading to regular breakdowns in water supply, drops in electricity voltage, parking, drainage and sewerage problems, etc.

The UDA imposed prudent conditions for condominium developers to abide by. But many UDA officials and local authorities ignored these rules, obviously after having received bribes. There were blatant violations of the building code. Permission to go up to a maximum six floors was routinely stretched to eight, 10 and 13 floors. Areas identified for parking were converted to other uses, causing problems for neighbourhood parking. Street and building lines were totally ignored. But surprisingly certificates of conformity (COCs) were granted!
In Dehiwala, roads have been damaged by vehicles transporting steel, rubble and concrete. Trenches have been dug to lay water. Sewerage connections remain unfilled. The developers refuse to patch up the damage they cause, saying the necessary money has been deposited with the Municipal Council.

I hope this letter catches the eye of Mr. Gotabaya Rajapaksa, Minister in-charge of the UDA, and the Mayor of the Dehiwala Municipal Council. The sooner the UDA and DMMC start getting their act together, the better for the rate payers of Dehiwala. We have been suffering for a long time as a result of undue favours extended to property developers.

Long-suffering Resident,�Dehiwala

Say no to Material Monks�

On the matter of Bhikkhus in business or politics, I would refer Parliamentarians, Buddhists and Bhikkhus to the very first sentence of the Third Sutta (“Dhammadaya Sutta’) in the Majjhima Nikaya, wherein the Buddha addresses the Bhikkhus thus.

“Bhikkhus, be my heirs in the Dhamma, not heirs in material things.”

P. de Fonseka,�Battaramulla

Neglected toilet block in Moneragala town�

The public toilet block adjoining the first bus halt on Pottuvil Road in Moneragala town has been neglected for a long time. This toilet facility is unusable. The rear boundary wall of the building has been pulled down, opening the way for encroachment.

The bus halt is very congested during peak hours. Private bus services to the hospital operate from this bus halt. Invalids and others keep a lookout for a place to relieve themselves. The local authority should renovate this toilet block as soon as possible for the benefit of the public, and to prevent encroachment.

D.M.R. Wijesekara,�Obbegoda, Moneragala

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A unique artist discovered Sat, 23 Jun 2012 13:35:26 +0000 Pubudu In Sri Lanka, as in many other countries, it is very difficult to discover good artists with potential when they are young. The main reason for this is that the contemporary world of art has become a jungle of planned publicity sprees within a commercialized environment. Even in societies where commercialization is not so strong, the influence of politicians bars the emergence of independent artists. In countries like Sri Lanka the ignorance of many art critics and the public in general makes it difficult for a genuine and talented artist to gain recognition in society. Most often a handful of ‘run of the mill’ artists control the scene with the help of a bunch of equally abled ‘critics.’

Leo Pasqualge

This writer is of the opinion that the few talented and intelligent artists of international standard rarely find recognition in their own home (Sri Lanka) at least during their lifetime. Some fields of art, especially literature and theatre, that use the main language of the country suffer due to the limited readership and audience and to the difficulty this entails, with regard to access to the international world of art. However, there are some genres of art such as painting and music that have the ability to overcome this hurdle due to the universality of the means of expression they employ.

This writer was surprised when he observed the plight of a Sri Lankan painter who is uniquely talented and equipped with the theoretical aspects of the genre of art he is engaged with. In a way it is a tragedy, for him as well as for Sri Lankan society.

The artist is the painter Leo Pasqualge. This writer had the opportunity to see some of his paintings about three months ago when he was preparing for the Colombo Art Biennale 2012, which was held from February 15-19. The writer also had the opportunity to see more of his works during the Biennale and to listen to a lecture he delivered on “Critique versus Criticism” at the J.D.A. Perera Art Gallery in Colombo 07. Although he did not expect a wave of appreciation of his work from the art critics of this country, neither has anyone written more than a paragraph about him.

This is an attempt to bring to the notice of the Sri Lankan public, evaluation of his works of art, appreciation of his talents and also to request the art critics of this country to observe this artist in some depth! Further, the writer wishes to inform the higher educational institutions to give an opportunity to their students to make use of his substantial knowledge of art history, aesthetic theory and talents as a painter as well. The writer is well aware, as a former head of a Department of Fine Arts of a Sri Lankan university, the dearth of qualified persons who can teach art history both ancient and modern equally well.

After discovering him as an artist with the potential to become one of the ‘great’ artists of our time, the writer made an attempt to study his background including his earlier works and the academic training he has undergone. The writer does not want to go into those details at this point to avoid harmful prejudgments in assessing him as an artist. However, anyone who would like to study him in a serious manner has to uncover the social, cultural and academic environment that shaped his artistic activity.

This writer observes several qualities of his artistic creations that make him an unusual artist. Multiplicity of themes and technical styles is one of the salient features of his art. Some themes seem to be expressive of his personal life experiences while some signify the socio-political realities of the time. Technically he uses methods that are possible only in the computer and digital age, and in a large group of his work the geometrical approach is used meaningfully.

For him, not only colour and shade but also shape seem to be of great use, and simplicity seems to be the key.
The ‘Censorship’ collection that he exhibited at the Colombo Art Biennale 2012 included the thought-provoking juxtaposition of The Participant and The Observers. Whereas The Participant consisted of a single shape, The Observers contains a multiple of the same shape on canvases of varying depth assembled to form a whole. Alongside these two works one comes across Self-censorship – a neutral grey painting with vertical white lines where the title is emblazoned across the picture plane in Braille. In White: Lines, Vans & Lies and Black: Lines, Lists & Magic he confronts the social and political realities of our time in an artistic manner. The defiant You Cannot Sit on Me Anymore is a chair that has been dismantled and then reconstructed in two dimensions.

Read between the Lines (2010)

Read between the Lines (2010)

According to the moderate knowledge of this writer, Pasqualge has not attempted to follow the examples of individual, famous artists or art trends. He seems to be in the process of developing a multifaceted style that cannot be named using concepts such as ‘cubism’ or ‘minimalism’. Certainly, he has assimilated the essence of the geometric abstractions of the Bauhaus, the De Stijl and Constructivist movements and the simple geometric shapes and interlocking planes of Cubism. His work shares the ‘minimalist’ tendency to eliminate all nonessential forms, features or concepts and is reductive and quiet in the same manner as Japanese traditional design.

This writer did not have an opportunity to see Pasqualge’s early paintings as they were done when he was abroad. However, his recent paintings definitely show he is a socially, culturally and politically aware artist who can grasp the problems in these fields deeply and express them effectively using the multiple and unique signs available to a painter. However, he has done this in an artistic manner. Therefore, art is the winner without losing its relevance to modern society. His work neither plays to the public nor loses its identity or independence.
The writer was the Head of the Department of Fine Arts, University of Peradeniya

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‘People more interested in the Queen than me’ Sat, 23 Jun 2012 13:42:41 +0000 Pubudu For Michael Meyler being declared a Member of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire (MBE) has come as something of a surprise. Having lived in Sri Lanka for more than 25 years, Michael is being recognized for his ‘services to the English language’. It’s a Jubilee year (which many people have assured him is a vintage year for receiving the Royal blessing) and Michael will soon be vacationing in the UK with his family – but he doesn’t have plans to collect his award from Buckingham Palace: “For me that the MBE is awarded by the Queen is not necessarily the big part of the story�I think it makes more sense to receive the award locally from the High Commission because to me the relevance of the award is here in Sri Lanka and not in London.”

Michael Meyler

Michael used to teach English as well but currently teaches spoken Sinhala and Tamil at institutions like the British Council and the British High Commission in Colombo. His Tamil is very rudimentary, he clarifies, explaining that he teaches it in partnership with a colleague who speaks the language fluently; they work in tandem, each playing off the strengths of the other. Outside the classroom, he has been invited to participate in the Galle Literary Festival and has served as a moderator more than once. He published the trilingual children’s book ‘Keerthihan’s Kite’ and created a DVD and illustrated flashcards of the Sinhala and Tamil alphabets to accompany it. His interest in editing led him to work with local writers like Lal Medawattegedara and Manuka Wijesinghe. Notably, as a member of the panel of judges that awarded Shehan Karunatilaka the 2008 Gratiaen Prize, he went on to help edit the local edition of ‘Chinaman’.

Over the course of his stay on the island, Michael has read a great deal of fiction by Sri Lankans, but he doesn’t see himself as an authority on the subject: “I don’t consider myself to be a literary expert,” he says, “I haven’t studied literature and have certainly never attempted to write it.” His interest, instead, is in the form English has taken in Sri Lanka. It’s been five years since Michael published ‘A Dictionary of Sri Lankan English’. The book has gone through three runs and has sold 2,000 copies – a respectable number for the Sri Lankan market.

“I think that it’s well known that there are many, many varieties of English around the world, and they’re equally rich in their own ways,” says Michael. “I don’t think Sri Lankan English is inherently richer than any other varieties of English, be they Indian or South African or Irish English. Still it has its own unique flavour…it’s something that’s distinctly Sri Lankan.”

Exploring how language can be a reflection of culture is Michael’s interest and he takes care to emphasise that he’s never dictated how a language should be used. “I’ve tried to explain how the language is used instead,” he says. His dictionary contained 2,500 examples of words and expressions, characteristic of the English spoken in Sri Lanka and he continues to add to it online on his website Michael still feels tied to the book in a very real way: “One of the problems when you publish your own book is that you can’t put it behind you�You’re constantly responsible for things like marketing it.” So far, the burden has been light and the responses of readers encouraging, for most part.
His latest project is more ambitious – Michael is working on a trilingual dictionary. “In theory, it’s a simple project,” he says. So far he’s working with roughly 1,000 entries, each of which includes the word in its Sinhala, Tamil and English form. “The idea was that it was going to be a small dictionary for beginners to give them the very basic vocabulary they needed to speak colloquial Sinhala or Tamil,” Michael explains, adding, “It grew to be much larger than I expected.” The project got more complicated in part because he couldn’t resist adding the “extra bits” such as grammar and usage notes. He’s coming closer to completing it though, and hopes it will still prove useful to his target audience.

Meanwhile, he’s pleased to have been placed on Queen Elizabeth II’s Birthday Honours List for 2012 – even if he thinks the ‘British Empire’ is an anachronistic title that ought to have been phased out long ago. “I don’t want to sound ungrateful, this is a very prestigious award and I am honoured,” he says. However, he’s amused to find that once the congratulations are done, he’s still left fielding the question of whether he’s going to meet Elizabeth II herself. “I’ve noticed people seem to be a bit more interested in the Queen than they are in me,” Michael says, laughing.

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Music and visuals, a perfect plus Sat, 23 Jun 2012 13:32:47 +0000 Pubudu Is it bad taste to sway on the piano stool when playing and slowing down the tempo ad libitum, especially if one is playing to an audience? It seemed that Malinee Jayasinghe-Peris, that icon of Sri Lankan music did not care to follow that rule, when she played Robert Schuman’s “Tr�merei” as the curtain call at the Hauskonzert on May 26, 12.

The Hauskonzert, was the second of its kind organized by the Chamber Music Society (CMS) of Colombo and the Goethe Institute. It was an invitation to interact with chamber music in a more intimate surrounding. The title of the evening “Chamber Music Plus” meant that there was to be a contribution by the artist Muhanned Cader. This left many questions open, how two artists from two generations were going to react to a common topic “water”.

I always envied the audience that heard Malinee play Beethoven’s fourth piano concerto at the first concert of the Colombo Symphony Orchestra in 1953. Professor Peris who has given concerts in most of the capital cities in Europe, Israel, Australia and the United States, where she currently lives, is a rare but much loved pianist in Sri Lanka.

The principals of the CMS opened the evening with the Symphonia “Arrival of the Queen of Sheba” by H�ndel, justly announcing the arrival of Professor Peris on stage. The concert master of the CMS Lakshman Joseph de Saram, who is known to throw lesser known pearls of music to his audiences in Colombo had chosen the single movement of Gustav Mahler’s unfinished piano quartet.

“Water” was the theme of the main programme featuring the pianist and visual artist. As Muhanned was not present in the room, the audience was left to relate the music to the photographed images from his series of paintings from 2011 entitled “Drawing Ocean”.
A long odyssey of music from Chopin to Liszt followed.

Malinee spoke of her childhood memories of reading Longfellow’s “Song of Hiawatha”, gold fish in a restaurant in Shanghai, the moon reflected on the Kandy lake, the legends of the water sprite “Ondine” hinting at times of what the audience was to discover in the layers of music that were to flood the room. She related anecdotes, narrated legends and read poems, playing Chopin’s Barcarolle in F sharp major, Debussy’s “Goldfish” and “Reflections on the water” Ravel’s Ondine (“The Water Sprite”) and Liszt’s “St. Francis of Paola walking on the waves”. Water that made the boat sway, that creates ripples and waves when goldfish swim, water under which the mermaid like creature allures and arouses desire, and water that can be used to walk on, if one had the spiritual power.

The audience was informed that impressions of the devastations created by the tsunami experienced on the southern coast were the starting point for Muhanned’s series of paintings. They kept appearing on the screen behind, while the piano played. One could see that the images were not just beautiful “Nightscapes” by the water. This series was more daring: The artist who had left the standard rectangular shape for his canvas, in this series had cut his canvas into bizarre and spooky shapes. It was obvious that the CMS had not intended to make Malinee “illustrate” Muhanned’s visual impressions. Nor had Muhanned tried to provide images like Wassily Kandinsky to Modest Mussorgsky music “Pictures from an Exhibition”.

It was up to the audience to make or not make the connection between image and music. If one felt disturbed by the images, one could concentrate on the music that flowed out of the piano changing tone and colour. What was remarkable was that at times moods created image and music did reflect each other. Sometimes colourful reflections on water from Debussy were juxtaposed against a monster like-figure or a dishevelled head on the screen. As much as Muhanned’s images were multilayered, melodic phrases emerged out of the multitude of notes that cascaded from the piano.

Even if a melodic line was broken, Malinee was able to recapture it with the same intensity and develop it further in the next sequence. What most fascinated me was Malinee’s analytical playing, which made me at times almost see the notes she was playing.

At the back of the Goethe Hall one was not able to hear every word Malinee spoke, but the ideas were conveyed. Through the words and snatches of phrases one was able to “hear out” what she meant, just as one could pick out the melodic lines by Ravel and Liszt, when she played. The silence between the notes at times, waiting for the next note or chord was the greatest joy of listening to Malinee that evening.

I remember Carmel Raffel saying at a rehearsal that only some music we have learnt to play, however simple, will take us through life. We would find that in different situations we would interpret the same piece in an entirely different style. Listening to the curtain call “Tr�umerei”, I felt that Malinee did not play for the audience, but for herself. I would even go further: I am sure that Malinee would have played this excerpt very differently if she would play it in the context of the entire set of pieces “Scenes from Childhood” . Similarly, most of the works interpreted that evening were very personal interpretations, maybe connected to memories and feelings of the past. Only a few pianists would be capable of conveying them to an audience.

Malinee opened the evening with a homage to Sita Joseph de Saram, the well known artist and much loved music teacher. What could be a better way of paying tribute than combining visual art and music to that great teacher? Her pupils will remember how she inspired many of us to play beyond just passing exams, but experiment with instruments, trying out unusual ensemble playing ending in real Hauskonzerts at her home in Lauries’ Road. The experiment of combining Malinee’s very personal playing and Muhanned’s very personal style in expressing emotions was a challenge. To me the “plus” at the concert was a success. Lakshman chose the difficult path, rather than just projecting some images of Claude Monet or the Pre-Raphaelites downloaded from the internet on the screen.

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Appreciations Sat, 23 Jun 2012 13:56:15 +0000 Pubudu The good doctor of Maharagama who believed in simple treatment

Dr. B. D. J. De Silva�

Dr. B. D. J. de Silva, of Maharagama, passed away on June 9, 2007. The inaugural Dr. B. D. J de Silva Oration was delivered by Dr. D. P. L. C. Namaratne, during a session of the College of General Practitioners of Sri Lanka.

Dr. B. D. J. de Silva was an uncrowned king of Maharagama. He rendered yeoman and dedicated service to the entire area for more than 50 years. He had treated four to five generations of the same family. He had a very simple lifestyle. He was a principled doctor par excellence in diagnostic skills. He was an all-rounder. He was an excellent doctor, teacher, artist, photographer, electrician and carpenter. He was involved in all aspects of social life and played many roles during his career.

He was a product of the “school by the sea, S. Thomas’ College, Mt. Lavinia. After completing the London Matriculation in 1941, and a pre-medical course, he joined the Medical College. He passed out with a second class in the finals of the MBBS, with distinctions in forensic medicine. He had an opportunity to join the faculty, but instead he joined the government service. He liked family medicine. In 1952, he resigned from government service to start his own practice.

At the time, Maharagama was a remote village, with no electricity and no proper roads. Patients came to him from the surrounding areas and from distant places. They could consult him day or night. He was the only general practitioner in the whole of Maharagama. There is not a family in Maharagama that was not treated by him. We will find his former patients in any place in Sri Lanka, and in many parts in the world.
His charges were minimal, and he did not take money from poor patients. He never charged the clergy of any religion. He was a doctor who gave very little medicine. He never prescribed expensive drugs. He followed the “rational prescribing” advocated by Dr. D. J. T. Liyanage, of the General Hospital, Colombo.

Patients had full faith in him. They insisted that if Dr. B. D. J. de Silva attended to them, they would be healed. Some said that if the good doctor prescribed a bottle of water, they would recover. That was the wonderful doctor-patient relationship that prevailed.
Most of the time, he would recommend coriander water and refrain from giving medicine. Even if he prescribed medicines, it would be minimal. He also had his own concoctions of mixtures and creams.

He engaged in all types of social activities. He was a member of a variety of clubs, societies and organisations. He was a founder member of the College of General Practitioners of Sri Lanka, and was elected to the council at the inception. Later, he became President of the College of General Practitioners of Sri Lanka. In his presidential speech, he spoke about rational prescribing. Thanking his teacher Dr. D. J. T. Liyanage, he said 80 per cent or more illnesses are self-limiting diseases (SLD) and the treatment was ADT (Any Damned Thing).

He was a founder member of the Sri Vajiragnana Temple Dharmayathanaya, Maharagama. He helped to build the temple. He was the senior vice president of the Sasana Sevaka Society, a post he held till his demise. He was a doctor to the Dharmayathanaya and looked after the wellbeing of the monks. In 2003, he was given recognition for services rendered to the Sri Vajiragnana Temple. He was a close associate of the late Venerable Madihe Pannaseeha Thero and the Ampitiye Rahula Thera.

In 2003, Dr. B. D. J. de Silva became the first doctor to receive an award in recognition of his services from the College of General Practitioners of Sri Lanka. Between 1961 and 1975, he was vice president and later president of the Independent Medical Practitioners Association of Sri Lanka. He was a council member of the Sri Lanka Medical Association and a member of the Health Council. He was a Senate Member of the Board of Management of Sri Jayawardenapura University. And he was a member of the Board of Management of the North Colombo Medical College. He was a lecturer for the college undergraduate and postgraduate programmes.
He presented many research papers at the scientific sessions of the college. In 1989, he won the Dr. A.M. Fernando award for the best research paper submitted at the annual sessions of the College.

He was also a president of the Lions Club of Maharagama, and did yeoman service to the community.
We must not forget his wife Doreen, who was by his side and gave him the strength to achieve all he did. As they say, “Behind every great man is his wife.”

May he attain Nibbana.

A close associate

You were a star to us all

Annouchka Weeratunga Fernando

Annou, I just can’t believe that I am writing this appreciation. It took me so long to sit down to it as it was the hardest thing for me to do.
I still cannot come to terms with you not being here anymore. I miss you so much and I have no words to describe how sad I feel every time I think of you.

I recall the good times we have had at JK. My most memorable years were when you joined us at Keells Hotels and the fun and laughter we shared. I think of all your pranks, especially on a busy Monday morning, how you would send us to the boss’s room with the hotel charts only to see you in a fits of laughter. I miss you so much.

Words cannot express your unconditional love and concern for others. The friendship we shared was beyond anything I cherished in this world.
I carry a lot of sweet memories with me Annou. �The trips we have done together as a team always were memorable and eventful for me and everyone else. It was so much fun being around you as you were such a bubbly person and there was always so much positive energy emanating from within you.You were ever ready to play a prank on somebody and each time, we would laugh harder than the last.

What I remember most is your dedication towards your job. You had a passion for it and worked with so much joy and commitment. �You gave your whole self and were a true example of a dedicated employee, one who always inspired others. You were so optimistic and brimming with confidence to face any challenge. You were a star to us all.

Although I knew Terry many years before I knew you, it seemed as if I knew you more than him. You were such a faithful and close friend to me that I could tell you anything and be assured that you would always listen and comfort me.

I knew your life on earth was troubled although you never showed it and only you knew the pain. I admire the way you handled yourself with your sickness as you were never short of that radiant smile and happy thoughts. �You never asked “why me??” nor questioned the pain you went through but faced every obstacle with a lot of courage and humility. You were so proud of the beautiful family you had �who stood by you through thick and thin. Terry,�Aiyya Boy and Amy were so proud to have had you in their life as the most amazing wife and mother, one could ever dream of having. I still remember how Terry would call you every morning and afternoon like a prayer checking whether you had taken your medicine. The way he cared for you and how you both looked after each other was amazing. The love you had for Terry, Aiyya Boy and Amy was overwhelming, as you always showered your unconditional love and affection upon them as they meant everything to you.
God called you home long before your time as he believed that a beautiful Angel such as you deserved Heaven and nowhere else was good enough.

My life will be a difficult journey to face without you Annou, but with a heavy heart, I walk on.. I console myself knowing that I had the opportunity to be touched by an Angel and have spent the best years of my life with such a genuine and lovable friend who never let me fall.
Thank you Annou for being one of the greatest people I have ever met and for giving me the privilege of being a close friend of yours. I know that you are watching over me and everyone else you love.


His life is perpetuated in us through what he taught us

Rev Fr. Emmanuel Fernando

When he passed away peacefully on the morning of the Easter Vigil at the age of 87, Rev Fr Emmanuel Fernando was the oldest living priest of the Diocese of Chilaw. Ordained as a priest in 1924, he had toiled in the vineyard of the Lord for 51 long years before his retirement from active service in the Church in 2004.

He was no ordinary priest. For those of us who first met him as the Rector of the St Paul’s Seminary at Marawila, and continued to associate with him for well over a span of four decades, he was the guiding light of our lives. In one way or another, and as far as we could, we tried to fashion our lives on the values and principles he tried to inculcate in us during our training period at the seminary.

For us he was a saintly figure who was unremitting in his effort to fulfil the duties called on by his vocation to serve the Lord. His contribution to the service of the Church had been many and varied. Starting his priestly life as the assistant parish priest of Katuneriya, he continued to serve the Diocese of Chilaw in various capacities, the most important of which, to us, was the period he spent as the Rector of St Paul’s Seminary, Marawila. We had the good fortune of being his students during this period.

Many of us are indebted to Fr Emmanuel for the education he gave us at the seminary which laid the foundation of our lives and careers as laymen later in life. Espe-cially, his persistent efforts in teaching us English, which he did through sheer dint of hard work, stood us in good stead in later life. He was a great lover of music, too. Thanks to him, we are able to enjoy classical music. Most of all, he has left a tribe of ex-seminarians who can sing or enjoy church music in Latin. He was our Latin teacher.

Fr. Emmanuel touched the hearts of all of us who were under his tutelage at St Paul’s Minor Seminary in some way or another. Although Fr Emmanuel has left this world and joined the communion of saints in heaven, his life and memory are perpetuated in us through what he taught, and the values he instilled in us.

‘Requiescat in pace’ – May his soul rest in peace.

Stanley Fernando

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Colombo’s best kept secrets Sat, 23 Jun 2012 13:28:09 +0000 Pubudu Feast Jaffna Food Festival (GOH):

Last year’s one-off, by popular demand returned this year “From Jaffna with Love.”
And the chefs, they come from Jaffna. Really. GOH’s Executive Chef Withana discloses, “I sourced them through VIP contacts in Jaffna.” But who, Chef smiles mischievously, “Top secret.” Confirming that the culinary quartet Chef Razan headed aren’t Colombo cooks (as at certain long-sustained annual Jaffna food fests), they delightfully speak no English. Chef Withana directs them in impeccable Tamil.

It would be presumptuous of me, never having visited Jaffna, to certify the authenticity of GOH’s exertions. However, the food not just tastes but looks different. Vadais simmering before you haven’t their equal in Colombo (save at Suryas): ulundu vadais, crisp outside, soft-hearted inside and crunchy masala vadai clustered with flavoursome aniseed, whole coriander and chilli, come with perhaps the two best “red” and “green” chutneys to be had in Colombo. The vadais themselves as possibly oil-devoid suggest clever technique. But calories don’t bother guests mounding plates with vadais whilst others juggle several as they peer into the buffet. Thank God the chefs themselves are lean! Evidencing that the cuisine will mercifully curtail oil and sugar.

Chef Withana tosses up thosai, uniquely of unadulterated urud lentils with the “masala” (onion, cumin, curry leaves) infused directly into the batter. Kottu clatters on, but the appam counter is aswirl with those clamouring for “paal appam.”

The high-up Harbour Room’s view might be Colombo’s most spectacular. Alas, the even more spectacular cuisine leaves little opportunity to feast the eye- Curries vehemently establish distinction. Unlike apocryphal “Jaffna” curries at other Jaffna food fests, these aren’t awash in coconut milk. As Chef Withana explains curries are thickened, and so wondrously, only with tomato, onions and curry powder prepared in Jaffna, a group of elegant ladies enclose me, enquiring excitedly, “Are you from the Press?” They urge, “PLEASE give them a good review as this is genuine Jaffna food.”

Casa Colombo’s chic new Za Za bar

The crispiest hoppers at Hilton’s Curry Leaf

One Jaffna-Tamil lady is in raptures that the “thosai, as opposed to those fine South Indian dosas, are spongy and homely like my mother made them.” She flits between asking me, “Where in Colombo do you find this crab curry and dry sprats and who in Colombo has heard of kool- it’s a Jaffna seafood bouillabaisse, you know,” and asking Chef why chicken or was it the mutton or cuttle fish hadn’t more tamarind. I, no authority on Jaffna cuisine (although one delects more South Indian influences than South Lankan), adjudge irreproachable the sambar, dhal, bhindi, brinjal and that unforgettable potato curry.

After which I’m left little room for Jaffna mango and incredible cashew-clawed pol-kitul cakes, kesari, payasam, semolina�. But the re-assuring sight of those skinny chefs encourages countless excursions to the desserts. Oh well, the desserts are virtually sugar-free�

If GOH is no glamour icon, its clandestine culinary competence secretly lures high society. If silk-shawled, gilded guests evince gathered is the cream of Colombo’s Jaffna Tamil community then emerging after dinner you find the hotel garlanded in the poshest cars in town.
Missed Festival 2012? This year’s resounding success ensures, GOH assures, their piquant passion for “From Jaffna with Love” will be a life-long affair. Forget the love, just give me those lentil-based lovelies.

Chef Selliah (Curry Leaf):

The best stories are those unsought. When an evening’s plans unravel, I find myself at Curry Leaf. Last year I thought the food had descended in touristy doom, and it couldn’t but as barrages of tourists inundated what must be Colombo’s most tourist-infested restaurant.
Now, kadala, cooked just right, furiously chillied, as it ought to be, intimates Curry Leaf has turned a new leaf. I next remark salads of ethnic veggies exhibit a refreshing exoticism, string-hoppers are delicate, curries, sambols, melums look fiery-breathed, and are controlled on oil and salt.

Garden relaxation at Havelock Bungalow

After a stupendous meal I query of young new manager Milanga, “Who’s the chef on duty today?” Milanga informs it’s Chef Selliah, winking merrily, “When the food’s spicy you feel like eating, right?” Indeed, agree 25 youngsters celebrating a friend’s 18th birthday. Thought Lankan-cuisine restaurants not hip enough for youthful bashes? Well, Curry Leaf seems the flavour in fashion, nowadays swarming with locals. Always a good sign.

Returning a week later I inform Chef Selliah I’d like to write about him. He’s in bewilderment: he has been at Colombo Hilton for 22 years and nobody has ever featured him. I contend he’s amongst Colombo’s top two exponents of Lankan cuisine. His expression betrays, “The girl’s surely demented.”

So, back to Curry Leaf. Chef Selliah soon tapestries my table with a multitude. Besides splendid salads already on the buffet like firm ladies fingers, sweet-sour brinjals, snake gourd, beetroot, spiced fruit, he presents “al dente” yam with but a smattering of coconut, lightly-fried lotus, bitter gourd etc.

Then come tangy tomato curry, lavish cashew-brinjal and spinach dhal. Whilst on the buffet are stunner drumsticks-fenugreek (unprecedented in my 5-Star experiences), kos, ambarella, pumpkin, thibbana batu, bottle-gourd pickle… Curry Leaf is renowned for its seafood market. But Sous-Chef Selliah has sous-reptitiously infiltrated intriguing indigenous veggies into the buffet.

Casa Colombo’s chic new Za Za bar

Another secret: if legendary hopper-specialist Ravi recently retired, his replacement makes hoppers crisper than a Russian winter (if there’s a crisper hopper in all Lanka, tell me). And new boy Isuru rolls rotis matchlessly as Chef Selliah, scuttling around energetically, reveals he simply recreates his mother’s and wife’s recipes. All so delicious one doesn’t simply sample, one perforce engorges.
That night I perhaps consumed more than I have all year. But shhh�.

Drink Bar-Tea-nder (Casa Colombo):

The glass-encased gardened bar just launched. Did you know, secre-tea-vely, it’s a tea bar by day. A snazzy new high tea inaugurates imminently, its composition a secret. But current appe-tea-ser: nine teas, smartly jarred, twirl into teatering citrus-rummed tea cocktails. If Casa customises breakfast at midnight then, ask nicely, and Chef Kareem chills his extraordinary home-roasted masala chai that mixologist Alex whiskey-whips. High tea redefined!

Dish Lamprais (Latitude):

Colombo’s only 24/7 5-Star lamprais, soon Colombo’s only 5-Star vegetarian lamprais. “People are becoming health-conscious,” F&B Manager Mr Jesmin explains. Incidentally, Latitude’s lamprais featured on international news Channel NDTV. News to me�

Space Garden (Havelock Pl Bungalow):

Heady verdure swoons into an enchanted secret garden amidst colonial charm. “People call our prices ridiculously high,” confesses owner Shamala. That’s no secret. Nor that slumps of pasta and risotto sit in a cheese/cream sludge. Notwithstanding, homemade ice creams WOW. Coffee-arrack is knock-out. The big secret: must-do new avocado ice cream, fresh, full, fine, less sweet than their ratatouille.

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