Saturday, September 20, 2014

Who cares about Marina?

Marina* is our 'Cleaning lady,' an attractive, dark, late thirtyish Muslim woman, with a sweet and humble smile,  who glides around the place keeping things clean and silently goes away dressed in black. She is the only person in office who doesn't have her clique, dosnt eat with us at the lunch table, the usual office rules don't apply perhaps since she is considered  a 'menial', or uneducated...but she's used to that. She never fails to make a delicious wattalappan on Ramzan day, for the whole staff.

She is in her late thirties I imagine, and has a son​, who is the most important person in her life​
. The main people in her life are her son and her sister, who is the only sibling. This sister has a son, and this tiny family have only each other.  14 years ago, her husband and her sister's husband were caught in a train accident, while going in her husbands three-wheeler, to distribute wattalapan on Ramzan day, I assume. Since then they have been widows, and in typical traditional style, they have lived to bring up their sons, without thinking about themselves. They live on two sides of a road, but at dinner time Marinas sister and son come to her dwelling and have dinner and watch TV, and they do their homework together. That wont happen anymore.

Some mahattayas from the government are asking  Marina and her sister to leave their homes and say they are giving them "high rise apartments" instead. This sounds nice on the surface of it. Except that…Marina has to give up her home, for which she has deeds, and go to some strange place, and live on the third floor of a cramped apartment, and pay rent for it- for twenty years. A rent which will be about a fifth of her income. And her sister has to go and live in some other apartment in some other block, with strange neighbors and won't be able to walk over again to meet the only family she has.

And these apartments have rules. You cant hang clothes to dry, you cant keep rubbish outside the door, you cant make noises, you cant put the TV loudly, you cant put your kids outside, they have to be inside. Its not clear what happens if you break those rules. Its not clear what happens if you cant pay the rent
​, they were told they woud have to pay interest.

There are 35 houses to one floor, in the building Marina's sister has been sent to. You have to pay a deposit of 50,000/=  and you have to pay rent for 20 years, and only then will you get the deeds to these flats. Marina along with a number of other residents in her area have objected and filed a case against this.

"Why do we have to pay rent, this house is mine. I worked hard for this, for years in the Middle East. I don't want to go to a flat. I want my son to have a place to stay, what if something happens to me?  20 years is a long time. We have never asked anything from this government, not even a bag of rice, why are they making trouble for us?" asks Marina. Her sister has had to go, because she didn't have clear deeds to her house. She has borrowed the downpayment from loan sharks and has to pay a large interest for that too, on a monthly basis.

​According to Marina, a Chinese national visited the group of her neighbours in behalf of the donors ​and told them that they dont have to pay any money, the new flats have been a gift of a foreign government. However after the man went away, the government mahattayas again returned to talk about the payments. Marina's sister is not only terrified about the large loan she has to take and interest and rent she will have to pay, she worries about losing the only family she has.

"My sister dosnt even live at home, she works till late and she just comes home to sleep only. Now who will look after her son, when she is out?" Marina asks. Marina's sister has spent the last few days with her belongings  packed into cardboard boxes and plastic bags, crying almost continuously. Her teenage son will be torn from his familiar surroundings and left unsupervised in a high rise slum with every potential for trouble in future, while his widowed mother slaves at two jobs daily to pay rent and interest, for almost a third of a life time,  in the name of the beautification of Colombo.

read more about forced evictions here 
​* Not her real name ​

Update February 20th 2015
I spoke to Marina this afternoon.
Unfortunately the change in Government was too late to save her sisters house. They have to live in a high rise building where 4 elevators service almost 400 apartments (the smell in the elevator is terrible she says, what with all the garbage too having to be brought down through it) There is no turning back as her house has been demolished and she did not get any compensation or rights to the land.

Thursday, July 24, 2014

A complex Asian funeral rite...and death in Sri Lanka


C Gadiewasam.


Death is a great leveller, they do say. Meaning that whether you are rich or poor, ugly or beautiful, good or nasty everyone gets to die at some point in their lives. Oddly enough that's just when people start being honestly religious, including the dying person invariably and their friends, relations and neighbors. Your author just recently got to know the extent of some religosity by analysing the amount of sheer drinking and serious gambling that goes on at latterday Sinhala "Buddhist" funerals in a more  recent development of tradition, but that is just too unsavory to go into here even on this undead page. Instead we will just talk about bodies and spirits and dead things, as per custom with your friendly book-of-the-undead.

In some countries in Asia would you believe it, water buffaloes really get the bad end of the deal,  and depending on how rich the dying person was a lot of buffaloes get sacrificed, so as to help that person go to the after life ie"Puya"– that's what they claim, but Im not sure how that would help me, Id just be uncomfortable with the sheer size of these creatures and prefer if they were allowed to live in peace and muck about, since they seem to enjoy it and harm no one. Plus I hear they are actually quite expensive. This water buffalo slaughter is a practice carried out by about  650,000 members of the "Toraja nation" living in the mountains of south Sulawesi, an island located in Indonesia. The Toraja really know how to make festivities last, and a good sized funeral which begins with a large scale buffalo slaughter, out on the fields, can actually last for MONTHs if not years. I hope Sri Lankans don't get any ideas,  because I know some of my neighbors did try to come close last year, with practically more than a week of noisy overnight chatting, drinking and playing carrom and booruwa, plus they blocked the road to our houses which seems like another of those traditions about death that is calmly accepted. In fact, in most places if you are dead, it appears you really can get away with murder and other general breaches of peace which should need police permission in other cases…

Coming back to the Taroja, they start the dead ceremony in a large field where they have actually arranged camping out, and there the buffaloes are going to be killed, camping makes sense I guess since this ritual is going to take time and its great that they select some far away field to do this in;  unlike my neighbours who have their rituals in the house nextdoor and don't let us sleep for the better part of a week.  The Taroja ritual also involves killing lots of  pigs, not necessarily because they would as in the case of the buffaloe, help the deceased reach a place called puya, but more because they are tasty I suspect. Puya is the ideal place to be for a dead Tarojan, if you don't reach this place and you get lost along the way , tough luck; although I personally wonder how some dumb buffaloes who have their necks sliced can possibly help you get there. Read more about the Taroja at or at Wikipedia which says: Torajans believe that the deceased will need the buffalo to make the journey and that they will be quicker to arrive at Puya if they have many buffalo. Slaughtering many waterbuffalo and hundreds of pigs using a machete is the climax of the elaborate death feast, with dancing and music and young boys who catch spurting blood in long bamboo tubes. Some of the slaughtered animals are given by guests as "gifts", which are carefully noted because they will be considered debts of the deceased's family.However, a cockfight, known as bulangan londong, is an integral part of the ceremony.

Well, Im an animal rights supporter and I don't like these ideas one bit.

Oh yes, a final gruesome bit of information I found "the dead are removed from their tombs to replace their clothing each year" just freaky. I wonder how family members get selected to carry out this scary and smelly task. So the next time you feel annoyed at being asked to take out the trash, please think about this ritual.


Sri Lankan death rituals involve, thankfully, no obvious slaughter (and no fraternizing with dead bodies after they are hygenically disposed of). High ranking Buddhist monks are invited and given meals, and clothing, and are supposed to chant a lot of prayers so that the deceased can feel comforted and everyone else can meditate on how impermanent life is. The dead body, or person, is not left alone but someone has to sit with the corpse throughout the night every day, until it is buried or more likely cremated. All the photographs of people on the walls are turned away from us and made to face the wall so that the dead persons spirit cant posses anyone. The body or dead person is also called kili which means unclean. Well, I agree since it is decomposing. Kili attracts more undead spirits[1] who hang around making a funeral house a really undead-infested place to stay. Im not sure how that last corpse-minding person feels like in this case, but at the same time hardly ever are any real manifestations of ghosts or undead noticed at funeral houses. This could be because there are crowds of people anyway and holman don't manifest in crowds.

Finally another rather odd bit of ceremony is when, just at the end of the vigil, and before they take the dead body away to be dealt with, the entire house is closed up with the corpse inside. This is supposedly so that all the various spirits and undead things can actually swarm around the corpse and hang on to it when it is taken out, without remaining inside the house. Nasty and selfish if you ask me! That being done the deceased is carried out head first (or backwards) so that s/he cannot remember the way back into the house. This is extremely silly if you ask me because even if one was carried out upside down with ones head in a paperbag they would still likely remember their way home, if that was the last thing they did remember. (Comeon, have you thought about it ?)

Anyway these delightful practices are rituals that have gone on for hundreds of years and don't look like they will fade for a hundred more so lets have a moment of silence for the dead in Sri Lanka.

[1] This is apart from the distilled spirits which are imbibed practically by the barrel in time with the illegal gambling that goes on behind doors but Im not supposed to talk about this as it's a bad example to young people. I m not supposed to talk about it but some people keep doing it, which is called "hypocrisy." If you feel that my talking about it has made you interested in this subject please visit the website of exemplary organisations like ADIC (  which are trying to fight this useless, destructive and anti Buddhist habit. 

Friday, April 04, 2014

ALIENS VS PARASITES: Fiery Serpents from Hell

If you think that vampires, ghouls and slithery things are creepy and scary this story is going to give you the shivers for some time to come, mostly because it’s not a legend but factually correct! Today’s narrative is about a creature called the guinea worm, which though that name sounds quite tame, is in fact one of the most horrible ways to suffer and sometimes die, in the tropics. See, from ghouls and vampires you can run, but this creature, much like those hideous internal parasites in Aliens Vs Predators, actually lives inside your body and moves around like a flesh eating train inside your system! And there is no way of getting it out, not even extensive surgery, because if you damage the worm and it dies it becomes septic and poisons you! The pain of the worm travelling around has been described as similar to being on fire, which is why the ancient Israelites called it a Fiery Serpent from Hell, although it is known by scientists as Dracunculus medinensis. The name dracunculiasis is from Latin and actually means  "afflicted with little dragons” and this disease has been known since ancient times and is mentioned in a very old Egyptian papyrus called the Ebers Papyrus as long ago  as around 1550 BC.

Out of all the animals in the world, guinea worms only infect humans. The worms are small, about one to two mm wide but quite long, maybe 60 – 100 centimetres long, and outside humans the eggs can only survive up to three weeks without a human host! They have to be eaten by water fleas (microscopic anthropods)  before they get into a human body and then they can survive inside the water flea for about four months.

Unfortunately in poor areas of Africa, local people have a tendency of unsuspectingly drinking water from streams and rivers without boiling or filtering it; the water fleas are so tiny and microscopic that people swallow them too. Once they reach the stomach, our stomach acids dissolve the water-fleas but not the guniea worm larvae because those are so tough, they can survive fine inside human beings, even in our acidic tummies.  These worm larvae are fine and grow in size for about three months, and even mate inside the human body, after which the female grows even bigger and starts to eat and tunnel her way through the persons flesh, towards his/her legs. What happens next is quite gruesome. The worm eats a hole in your leg, which is basically a rotting wound which becomes a very painful ulcer, so that she can stick her back out and lay eggs  whenever the ulcer is placed in water. Meanwhile the pain is so unbearable, like being on fire, that people by instinct want to put their legs in water, and then, with the drop in temperature the worm  quickly releases a cloud of her young contaminating the drinking water. The wound which does not heal due to the secretions from the worm, allows bacteria into the body and can result in death if left  untreated due to a condition called septicemia, which happens if decaying matter is kept within the human body.

Now guinea worms just tend to head for the legs, but not always. There is no gurantee that one might not migrate to your eye, or your face or even your private parts. Either way the common agreement is that the pain is incredible. Not just because something is eating its way through your flesh, but it secretes acidic fluids that cause ulceration and necrosis of human tissue. Just imagine a claustrophobic hell when something is eating you like this from inside and you cant get rid of it ! Surely this is a punishment straight out of hell!

Now the only way to even begin to treat this is to actually grab the female while she is extended out of the ulcer under water (ugh!!). You then have to very slowly pull at it,  being very careful not to break the worm which would result in all hell breaking lose, literally as it would poison you inside! So while gently easing the worm out, you rolled onto a small stick, which could be the basis for the coiled ‘serpent.'symbol. Remember that the whole process hurts terribly and there is no way to escape from it!

You have to have patience, and you can only pull the out the worm at the rate of  a few excruciating centimeters per day. This may take weeks or even months. During this whole time, the person is not able to work or take care of their children and can hardly walk or talk but must spend their time in hellish pain.

There is only one good point to this whole story and that is to note that the World Health Organisation has been valiantly fighting Guinea Worm Disease for years by creating awareness in affected regions on the importance of boiling or filtering water, and therefore this may be the first parasitic disease that is eradicated in the world: numbers of suffers have declined from millions in 1986 to only about 148 people last year, and it is expected that 2015 will see a complete eradication of this parasite from hell.

So now you know ! And, even if we don’t live in areas where such a freak does, isn’t that something we should be thankful for?

Wednesday, April 02, 2014


And so by strange and wonderful coincidence the two sweetest guys in my life were born on the same day….although, eighteen years apart. In families I have heard that this happens quite often but  no one can really explain , how out of three hundred and sixty five to chose from, my tiny son decided to take his first deep breath of air, on my brother’s birthday …amazingly these two resemble each other too and would have looked almost like twins at the same age, tall, fair skinned , gangly and knobby jointed, with spiky hair, and sticking out ears…


The first thing I remember long ago about my kid brother was soft flannel , a sweet milky baby powdery smell and a cherubic face in a woolly cap; and then as now, an overwhelming sense of pride and protectiveness in possession of such a kid brother ….. (not that they will allow themselves to be protected by us). My son too is the kid brother of his elder sister and in this wherever they go in life they will have a loving and concerned mother substitute , even if we do occasionally boss them to distraction…


I called my brother  Malli or Malls, and that somehow shortened into Mouse and that stayed, although the man is now unpredictably, a slightly overweight six footer. You will find his character in many of my stories, if and when some day you read them. In the American TV series MONK,( which I have had nothing to do in producing,) we find a lot of Monk’s gentle phobias and eccentricities in Mouse, but he wont admit to any of them. His can best be described as a very naughty and tech savvy  Ghandi who in interested in power phones…

Apart from being a cleanliness freak, he is very soft spoken, a pacifist and a vegetarian and very very talented with computers and machines. He also finds himself owned and controlled by the pitiable stray cats  he rescues and brings home, with apologetic sentences of introduction like “This one was eating cardboard ,” or “ someone had kept this thing under my wheel” and I am now sure that some of our neighbors simply keep their sad looking four legged rejects out on the road when he is due to take his daily trip out to the supermarket for fresh veggies…

Mouse is my first shoulder to cry on and now has got so good at counseling me that I have told him I will buy him a couch and he can make it into a business.

Mouse’s amazing sense of humor and happy go lucky attitude on life has taken me, time and time again out of the desperate problems I thought had when I was trapped in an unhappy marriage – he has admittedly, although he probably does not know this, saved me time and time again from the brink of self made pits of despair, and put in the time and energy to drag me back to the cheery character I usually portray.

He has also tolerated with long suffering patience, being my literary punching bag, when I’m angry at life and circumstances, but he withstands this with amazing grace, which I hardly ever think I will be able to thank him for.

Mouse has an answer for anything and often since it is not the one you expected , you take a step back and start thinking beyond the box. He dosnt believe in silly Sri Lankanisms like bogusly  calling people machang or constantly showing off your material possessions, or boasting about what you can do , even when you cant. He dosnt go out to work because “its dangerous and polluted and there are crafty people out there waiting to relieve me of my cash,” but he works in the basement and loves staying at home

and Mouse cooks .


Mouse may in some cases be the reason my family is alive and fairly coherent. When he was due to be born we were living in Uganda and this was a couple of months before its dictator Idi Amin decided that he hated Asians[1] and to throw them out, with all its accompanying savagery. Ugandan hospitals did not have the best reputations those days so our family doctor had recommended my mother travel to Kenya for the confinement which was ok with my father’s employer as he had offices all over Africa. We escaped the chaos and bloodshed with a space of a few weeks and settled in comparatively calmer Kenya, although that country too has never been without the potential for disconcertingly sudden explosions of violence.


My darling son Hishy , the little man in my life was born on this shared birthday 11 years ago, and of this wonderful day I remember walking about the house extremely pregnant and heavy and feeling rather entranced by the pains which were not due for two weeks,- I had been  wondering how to set about making my brother and his friends a Birthday Lunch…around ten o clock when I was wondering if I should actually start dismembering a chicken, I decided to go to the nursing home and have my “gas” pains analysed , and then I decided to stay and walk about and read magazines, but  then almost to my own surprise I had a baby. And a sweet smelling bright eyed round faced little angel he was and always will be, although of course, just like his uncle was at that age, he is a mass of long bones and joints and spikey hair at the moment ….


Unlike my quiet , book loving daughter, my Hishy is an out-doorsy man, and  he has a wonderful sense of making adventure whether it is among trees,(when we dig for the bones of dead fossils in the back yard)  on my bike, (when we have to go through puddles to see how high the mud will fly ) or at home in the kitchen, cutting beans ( searching for the furry green caterpillars that sometimes surprise us and make me scream and jump about to his amusement) or in finding new ways to make us fruit drinks (with very strange ingredients )…he is a budding scientist and  I know he will not be one of those people who follow the herd.

Hishy needs answers and wont accept anything simply because it’s the done thing. If he wants a doll , and once long ago he did, he certainly wanted answers as to why it was only the small women who were encouraged to play with dolls. And if bats fly about at night , he wants to know why.

…Hishy cooks too.


Hishy and Mouse, the times they are a changing, and you are one year older, and I am glad to see you change with the times and yet remain the sweet guys you have always been. You  are both wonderful guys who I know I will have to sacrifice to pretty women some day, and all I can say to you is that if you treat them with respect they will make your life the most beautiful it has ever been. Remember the power in compromise, and remember that caring for someone transcends gender. The way to a woman’s heart is by helping her around the kitchen, by finding adventure in your  home, and .…. believe it or not, that’s a trick only the foreign guys seem to have figured out so far, and Sri Lankan blokes seem to view it very unmanly to be even seen anywhere near the pots or holding a broom…[2]

But luckily I know you both have got over that silly notion, for after all, if man can walk on the moon, why would he be afraid of the kitchen?


Then, since I have run out of space in my page, let me cut out the old-matronly cackle and proceed to wish you both: wonderful times ahead, love, peace and good health and most of all may you always have each other to count on, as a very special uncle and nephew and good friends always. HAPPY BIRTHDAYS to you!  


[1] This was all because of a pretty Indian Lady who prudently would not accept his marriage proposal. We understand why she couldn’t considering he was a man who liked to keep the heads, livers and other smaller pieces  of people he disagreed with in his fridge. But alas due to her successful escape the rest of the Asians in Uganda had to pay. You can read more about this in my mothers “Nairobi Diaries” which I shall be typing soon.

[2] DHANES are the worst examples, aren’t they,  where you see the guys sitting about belching and the women have to clean up…and this was supposed to be a charitable act but its actually slave labor for the women!