Cassandra Cry:
A Satisfied-in-Diversity Glance at the Past Week


Yasodai Selvakumaran of Sydney, Australia, but Sri Lankan born, is one of ten teachers from all over the world to be selected for one of them to receive the Global Best Teacher Award for 2019

Yes, here in this wonderful island home of ours diversity in its variety but united in Sri Lankan-ness was evident this past week and will continue till Sunday 21. The races and religions came together and celebrated theirs and each other’s national and religious festivities and observances. We started with the Sinhala and Tamil Aluth Avuruddha, essentially a harvest festival but with astrology intruding, made to be a harbinger of good or bad in the months to follow, depending on how they are dictated to times were observed and customs carried out. Buddhists and Hindus were the chief celebrants, but shared their traditional sweets and perchance a festive avurudhu meal of kiributh with non-celebrants. The week was Holy Week to Christians with the final days of Lent, Maundy Thursday, Good Friday and Easter Sunday. Good Friday coincided with Bak full moon poya; the Christians remembering the excruciating crucifixion of Jesus Christ, while Buddhists are told the Buddha made his second visit to this island to settle a quarrel between an uncle and nephew. Even non Christians will celebrate with their Christian compatriots the resurrection of Christ the Saviour, and have a good lunch with Easter eggs to follow. There was respect for each other in the different religious observances and sharing of racial celebrations.

A Global Teacher to crow over

Yasodai Selvakumaran of Sydney, Australia, but Sri Lankan born, is one of ten teachers from all over the world to be selected for one of them to receive the Global Best Teacher Award for 2019. She is nationally recognized in Australia as an outstanding teacher and leader. The family migrated during civil tensions over here. She grew up in rural and regional Australia, before moving to Sydney to complete university study.

She now teaches at Rooty Hill High School, Sydney, "a comprehensive public school in Western Sydney with the challenges of a culturally and linguistically diverse group of students in a socio-economically deprived area. The school has a significant enrolment of 65 Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students, and the wider community often battles with stereotypes that poorer students cannot achieve high. A large number of students have experienced trauma, which they may continue to encounter throughout their high school careers."

In a career of just eight years, Yasodai has directly influenced the careers of over 200 teachers, winning the 2014 Australian Council of Educational Leadership Mary Armstrong Award for Outstanding Young Educational Leader, and the Australian Teaching Fellowship for 2018. Rooty Hill High School has been named one of Australia’s 40 most innovative schools in 2016 and 2017, and in 2017, Yasodai was recognized as one of 30 rising stars under the age of 35 in Australian education, by The Educator Australia magazine. The prize money is huge and watching a video clip Cass heard her say that if she wins she would use the money to lead more collaboration between academia and practitioners in education. 

We also read of Dr. Thejani Rupika Delgoda who has been posted a Professor in the Faculty of Science of the University of the West Indies in Jamaica. Thus celebrating these two young women is obligatory for all Sri Lankans – again diversity being celebrated and the fact that Sri Lankans definitely shine, more especially academically, when they are out in the wide world.

The stupor of post Avurudhu

All that treacle dripping athiraha and kavun and drowse producing kiributh does bring on a state of torpid satiation. It lasts through this season. In Cassandra’s disgruntled, affronted case, she is still blinking after her eyes were assailed with all that bronze colour in its various shades, as worn by the powerful and their families when they celebrated the Avuruddha in public view, as it were. TV channels all presented detailed exposure to the celebration at the President’s official residence. There he was in the midst of Sinhalese and Tamil VIPs, with his family all dressed in bright orangy brown clothes. Wifey and daughters got the blaze of the fire going and the pot of milk boiled over. Then the camera moved to the table set for all: relatives, invitees, sycophants. Goodness, gracious the spread! But there was discernible (at least to Cass’s critiquing eye) a feeling of homeliness, non-sophistication with lots of kids freely moving around.

Cameras moved to Carlton Walauwa at Tangalla. Here was the deposed-in-2015 royal family, again resplendent in shiny, glary bronze clothes with much more hauteur evident. The Carlton Avurudhu mese outdid the Prez’s. It was groaning under the weight of low country goodies in plenty and great variety, a few unheard of by Cass; and Kandyan stuff and traditional pots of curd in their coconut frond carriers.

The eyes, as noted before, were stunned with fire, bronze - the auspicious colour- in rich silks and the entrails disturbed (Cass hastens to add with distaste not desire) at the sight of those opulently laid out groaning tables. And the head disturbed at the expenses. That is the more permanent disturbance. The respective families would not have spent a cent; all provided along with TV cameras and press photographers. So who really pays for all that extravagant sumptuousness? Cass and every citizen of this free Sri Lanka, even the poor who are indirectly taxed.

In contrast, the lighting of the hearth by the Prime Minister and his wife were good to see in the front page of The Island of Wednesday 17. The fire was smoking but the milk boiling over. Cass smirked but humanely and tolerantly. Prof Maithree looked elegant and comfortable even though down on her haunches. The silver haired PM looked a mite surprised. Hearths and pots may be strange to him; he who travels widely and reads voraciously. You need not be an admirer of his or respecter of his intellectual wife who is charming in her simplicity and far exceeds those who put on sophistication, to appreciate this picture of the first act in the New Year. Nobody around them, especially no sickening sycophant, and no insistence on showing the family home fire. The couple was relaxing in Nuwara Eliya and so a fireplace built in the official residence of the Prime Minister sufficed. No big deal to show off to the public, nationalism and traditionality.

Never to be permitted to occur

On the front page of The Island of Wednesday 17 April was this sub-headline: "Head of Methodist Church criticizes ‘police inaction’". The Methodist Church in Koombichchankulam, Anuradhapura, was attacked by a mob carrying sticks and stones on Palm Sunday, which was Sinhala and Tamil Avurudhu day. The Rev Asiri P Perera, President of the Methodist Church of Sri Lanka, was present for this important service at the church mentioned. He had greeted the crowd gathered outside but they had threatened him. When the service began the crowd pelted the church and locked the congregation in the church. The police arrived when telephoned but did nothing to stop the violence nor disburse the crowd. They had led the priest and worshippers to safety but the crowd was not chastised. Hence the Church President’s complaint against the police and not against the rioting crowd in his announcement.

Deplorable to say the least: a church attacked on the Sinhala and Tamil New Year, probably during the nonagathe which is also a punya kalaya, of going to your own place of worship and giving attention to your religion. Also totally unacceptable it being in Anuradhapura for reasons Cass need not detail. Attacks on places of worship must never be allowed. If it is a personal feud that is being fought, do it on neutral grounds since the evil nature of man will invariably rise and needs expression; but never against a religious site nor against a religion.

With that appeal to sanity and unity in diversity we applauded earlier, Cass says bye for now.

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