The Sunday TimesPlus

10th November 1996




Dizzy and daring descent

By Shelani de Silva

Armed with only a nylon roap and socks as gloves Kumara Bandula. a farmer from Nuwara Eliya, dared to scale the wall of World's End.

Last month, on October 26, an intrepid young farmer from Nuwara Eliya made a hair-raising descent down World's End, using only a nylon rope to climb down the 3,700 foot precipice. There was hardly any fuss or fanfare as Anthony Kumara Bandula made his record breaking climb, and sadly Bandula's name will not be listed in the Guinness Book of Records as the first Sri Lankan to make this descent, because our country has no registered mountain climbing association affiliated to the world body that could have verified his unique achievement.

How, one wonders, did this unassuming young man who makes his living farming, doing odd jobs and occasionally digging wells come up with the idea of making the risky descent down World's End. For Bandula, it was a natural progression of a pastime he has grown increasingly absorbed in. Having climbed several mountains around Nuwara Eliya since the age of twelve, he saw neither the danger nor the risk of injury that was involved.

"I am crazy about mountain climbing," he confesses. "I have never seen a risk in it. I have climbed Piduruthalagala, Hakgala etc. without using a rope, just by clinging onto the rocks and branches, so this wasn't much different."

Interestingly Bandula had no practice session, before making his great descent nor had he even set foot on World's End. But that was no deterrent. What did set him back was the lack of support and discouraging response he faced when he tried to find sponsors who would help him meet the expenses involved. Today he is in debt, to the tune of Rs. 6,000, for the climbing ropes he had to purchase.

"I had to do everything alone. Whenever I approached anyone for sponsorship, there was no interest. Some even laughed in my face and called me a madman. Others said they would help me after the climb. Nobody seemed to understand that I needed the money not for my personal use, but for the expenses I would incur in making the descent," Bandula said bitterly.

Finally with the help of a sports club in his village, a hotelier and a few others, Bandula managed to raise money for the special climbing rope he needed, which cost Rs 16,000. He still has to pay off a sum of Rs 6,000 for this. While professional climbers wear special climbing gear, Bandula settled for a construction workers kit complete with helmet, a borrowed pair of boots and socks as gloves.

"I would have had to spend another five thousand rupees if I went in for a climbing kit, so I managed with what I had," he said simply. "The suit was very light and the boots gave a fairly good grip."

Bandula planned his descent for the Poya day in October, but till virtually the last minute there were doubts if he could proceed. "I will never forget that night. We had to collect the rope two days prior to the date but even on the night before it had not arrived. I went to bed at midnight and woke up around 4 am and rushed to my friend's home to check if the rope had been delivered. To my relief it was there and it was only then that I was confident that I could go ahead."

His final source of inspiration was his mother's blessings, given to him before he left home. "That's all I wanted. We lead a hand-to-mouth existence and life is hard, but I felt that she had given me a lot of strength," Bandula said.

Bandula had a rice meal before setting out and also did his customary exercises. The whole village of Meepilimana accompanied him to World's End, lending him not only moral support but physical help as well, in transporting the 170 kg nylon rope to the site. The villagers had each carried a portion of the rope on their shoulders. His wife and two young daughters were by his side. Reaching World's End around 11 am, Bandula, despite the crowd of onlookers, spent a few minutes in meditation before commencing his descent around 11.40 am, after securing the rope around a tree. For his luck, the weather had been perfect, and the magnificent view from World's End, so often obscured by mist and rain was clearly visible.

"Surprisingly there was no mist. The only problem was the heat, which was almost unbearable. Since I was using a nylon rope, it got heated up very soon," he said.

Climbing down the first 200 feet, he says, was difficult since he could find no footholds on the cliff. "It was only after about 400 feet that there were rocks and tree trunks where I could support myself." But here danger arose when his rope became entangled with a rock. "It was not moving. Finally I used my left hand to support myself and with my right hand, tried to disentangle the rope. This was not easy because of the heat and suddenly I lost my balance and slipped about 80 feet," Bandula said, reliving those nerve wracking moments in his mind.

The fall had injured his hands, but having no first aid with him he had merely wiped the blood on his kit. "It was painful, but I knew I had to go on, as planned and try to forget the pain," he said.

If the pain was hard to bear, he had more obstacles ahead, when the rope got twisted again and begun turning. "I was spinning in the air and I felt dizzy. I counted the number of times I spun in the air and I remember it was 21. Gradually it stopped rotating but by this time I felt terribly thirsty. Since I had no water on me, I managed to suck a few drops of water from a rock, where it had collected near a clump of ferns."

The rest of the descent was uneventful. At around 1.20 pm, Bandula had reached the end, arriving at the village of Nawamperi, where the largely Tamil folk had given him a grand welcome. His first request, naturally was for water, and this was followed by garlands and even entertainment being laid on for him in the form of Kavadi dancers. A large contingent of Police officers too were present, by this time.

Bandula is thankful to the Nuwara Eliya Police and Provincial Council for their support. But says SSP Jayasiri Udawatte, they had had their doubts about the dangers involved. "We explained the risks when he came to us five days before he made the descent. But it was obvious he was determined to go ahead, whatever the odds. He gave us a letter saying he was doing this of his own free will and we felt we had to extend any help we could."

The Balangoda Police had also provided assistance but SSP Udawatte regrets that Bandula's brave feat was not captured on film, nor properly recorded by the relevant authorities.

As for Bandula, he may not have made it to the Guinness Book of Records this time, but some small consolation may be that he is a hero in his district. The World's End descent may be behind him, but as always, he is looking for new worlds to conquer. Next April, during the holiday season when the crowds throng to the hills, this young man is planning to tackle World's End again. This time he says he will do it the other way around, and if the descent was anything to go by, the ascent should be noteworthy too.

Sacrificing a priceless bloom

By Rajika Jayatilake

Many of Sri Lanka's urban parents are in for a rude shock.

They are blissfully unaware that their children are sometimes abused in their own homes. And that children either accept mutley the treatment meted out to them or are too frightened to talk to their parents about them.

Imagine the average urban household where both parents go out to work and where there are no grandparents or other trusted elders around. There is only the domestic at home for the children and many working couples are forced to trust these unknown women and leave their children in their care.

Yet, what happens when the parents are out of sight can sometimes be horrifyingly tragic. The domestic can become all-powerful and the child a puppet in her hands. The stage is well set for child abuse.

Consultant Paediatrician Dr. T.A. Fernando says any situation where proper care is not given, amounts to abuse.

One area where abuse is rampant is food when domestics handle children's food. What happens in some homes is that the food meant for children may be consumed by the domestics and what the child really eats may be a fraction of the parents carefully planned.

Directress of the Dickman's Montessori and Daycare Centre Anusha Dickman has come across instances of negligence and disregard for hygiene in preparing children's meals. Once a little girl, one of Miss Dickman's pupils had shown her a dead cockroach inside her drink bottle. On the child's mother, a doctor came home every other day. Her father worked away from home. The domestic had evidently not bothered to clean the bottle.

In another instance Miss Dickman says she had spotted another child about to eat a mildewed sausage that had remained in the child's serviette over the weekend. Neither domestic nor mother had bothered to check the child's school bag and its contents.

Whereas with food, seeing is believing, parents generally see what they are meant to see and if they suspect the servant helps herself along the way, they prudently choose to ignore it rather than risk losing the indispensable domestic.

Another grey area of detection is verbal abuse unless the child is old enough and brave enough to talk. A pupil once confided in Ms. Dickman that he did not wish to go home with his crochety old servant because she frequently threatened to burn him. Domestics are sometimes said to threaten and frighten children into obedience - the fear manifesting itself in various ways such as timidity and unnatural reserve. A family physician said even parents are often guilty of verbal abuse when they excessively scold and shout at children specially for not studying. "One must be reasonable even in scolding", he said.

Physical abuse is, of course, easy enough to detect in the form of bruises, scratch marks, swelling and other unusual signs. Dr. Fernando says parents should be alert to a child's behaviour and be able to detect instances where the child is frightened of the domestic. In babies, a diaper rash could indicate the domestic has been negligent in changing diapers. If a baby suffers from thrush-mouth, it may be due to the use of unclean feeding bottles.

Yet, by far the most damaging to a child's psyche is the sexual dimension of abuse, chillingly on the increase in contemporary society although many parents seem to be oblivious to it. Anusha Dickman says she had four little boys in her school who had been sexually abused by drivers and servant boys. They would come to school and get round other children to touch their genitals.

In another instance, a mother was vaguely troubled by the fact her son had done practically nothing at school for two weeks. When she inquired from the class teacher, she became highly agitated to be informed her son had been absent from school for the past two weeks. The sordid truth began to roll out then - the child had been lured by the driver of his school van and a certain photographer to pose for pornographic photographs with the driver at the Vihara Maha Devi Park.

A psychiatrist who wished to remain anonymous said the majority of child abuse cases involve little boys, the reason probably being that many parents harbour the misconception it is girls who need protection as boys can look after themselves. So little boys are left alone with servant boys or men or sent alone in the car with the driver There was a seven year old boy whose driver stopped the car at a secluded spot every morning on the way to school so he could spend some time fondling the child. Then he threatened the child with death if he told his parents. The boy nevertheless summoned all his courage one day and blurted out the miserable story to his mother.

Ms Dickman feels this kind of behaviour is severely aggravated by freely available and affordable erotic literature in vernacular. Thus frustrations are built up, helped in no small measure by sexually arousing movies on TV. "The desire to experiment is a kind of follow on," says Ms Dickman.

Many parents are unaware of such going on and leave the children in the care of domestics for the entire working day. Many mothers feel guilty to leave their children but are forced to do so for economic reasons. There are also women who just want to get away from home and do a job. So they relinquish their responsibility to a domestic so they could achieve "fulfilment" in their lives. The other side of the coin is the women who opt to give up their jobs to be at home to look after their children. "I liked working but I think my duty to my family comes first," said one mother. Another former working woman said, "I save the money I would otherwise spend on a servant's wages and food. I save a lot in terms of clothes and accessories I would need if I work outside home".

Dr. Fernando's advice to parents hiring domestics is to first build a good understanding with the hired help. The domestic needs to be satisfied with her or his remuneration or the frustrations will be vented on the children in various forms. Before hiring a domestic parents also need to inquire into the person's background, personal cleanliness, previous places of employment so as to get at the real truth of why the person left the earlier job.

Most of all, as Ms Dickman says, parents need to build a good rapport with their children so the children would reveal to them their darkest secrets and deepest fears. For that, communication channels need to be well oiled. Mothers especially need to make friends of their children and make them understand no one except their parents have the right to touch their body and specifically that no one must touch or fondle their genitals. Such closeness reaps rich benefits as in the case of the nine year old girl who told her mother the driver wanted to touch her thigh for the favour of bringing her home.

Such is the plight of many urban children in contemporary Sri Lanka where parents are locked in individual battles for survival in a society which no longer respects traditional values, morality or even decent human behaivour. Sri Lanka seems to be paying a heavy price fo development in sacrificing the priceless bloom of its innocent young.

Continue to Plus page 2 -When JR made the Indians Cry.... * JR: the man I knew * Where the Kelani flows

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