2nd January 2000
Centenarian Rosalin on the good times when there were no elections
A hundred and one years is a great age. Born in 1898 in Balapitiya, Nileththi Rosalin de Silva, is a robust centenarian, standing firm and holding her own. She even threads her needle and sews by herself. Widowed several years ago, she lives with her son Newton, surrounded by her grandchildren and great-grandchildren. Of Rosalin's family of five girls and three boys, only she and one brother are still alive. Her father, Bandi Saranelis exported lead and her grandfather, she says, lent money on interest at 1 1/2 cents per month. She did not have any schooling as there were no schools where she lived in those days. Among her childhood memories, she recalls playing 'atabola' (marbles) with 'Baby Mahaththaya', as she referred to the late Colvin R. de Silva, who had been her neighbour at Balapitiya.
"A gold sovereign was ten rupees then," Rosalin said. "I remember my father, when he dressed up to go out, had five gold coins as buttons on his coat. He used to always carry a Palaykat handkerchief and a gold-clipped Parker pen in his top pocket." She recalled how they travelled in a horse-cart drawn by two white horses. Rosalin wore quarter sovereign gold buttons on her blouse and a gold 'koora' or hair ornament. She recalled an incident when she was standing at the Ambalan-goda bus-stand and a man told her that robbers were coming down the road and advised her to remove her gold jewellery. She trustingly handed them to the man for safekeeping. "Of course, he ran away with my buttons and earrings and I was left crying at the bus-stop."
When Rosalin was 23, her father arranged a marriage for her with a trader from Kosgoda. "He was 33 and when I got married and came here to live, the traders from whom my husband bought supplies for his shop garlanded us and lit crackers throughout the night." Rosalin used to help her husband in the shop. Those were very different days, she remembers. "When we bought goods for one rupee, half the cart would be full. A measure of rice was eight cents, gram was five cents and green gram ten cents, dhal and chillies sixteen cents and red onions five cents. The villagers used to bring a ten-strand coir rope and trade it for five spices, coriander, suduru, maduru, pepper and mustard. I used to add a piece of turmeric free of charge, unknown to my husband."
"During the war, there was a camp at Kosgoda," the old lady recalled. "There were foreign soldiers wearing huge boots, carrying guns. The Kaffirs were kept there. They had their mouths padlocked."
Rosalin had four daughters and three sons. "After I had four girls, my husband threatened to divorce me if I did not have a son," she said. "None of my children were born in a hospital. For my eldest son, I was measuring rice at the boutique when the water bag burst and by the time I went to my home adjoining the shop and lay down on a mat, the baby was born. I wish it were the same for the young people of today. I am frightened to hear how they are getting cut up all over to have their babies."
She recalled the New Year festivities the family had enjoyed in the old days and the women playing raban. Rosalin's father had been very strict. The girls were allowed to go on the swings only at night because men would see them. "Those were good times," she said. "There were no elections then and there was enough." (HF)
Ceylon was the official name of the country at the turn of the 20th Century. The name was derived from one of the many ancient names for the island-Ceilao.
The island had in its long history been called many names; Lanka, Seylan, Taprobane, Ilankai, etc., but the British preferred the name Ceylon.
On May 22, 1972, the Socialist-oriented government of the day introduced a new Republican Constitution breaking the country's last ties with the British monarchy. In the process, the official name of the country was changed to the Republic of Sri Lanka. The abbreviated name was changed from Ceylon to Sri Lanka.
In 1978, a right-of-centre government introduced yet another new Constitution and changed the country's name to the Democratic Socialist Republic of Sri Lanka. The abbreviated name remained Sri Lanka. Around 1990, with the country undergoing a tortuous period with two insurgencies in the north and south, the superstitious President R. Premadasa consulted soothsayers who advised him that the English spelling of the country's name did not pronounce well or correctly with the Sinhala language pronunciation.
President Premadasa was unable, however, to change the Constitution for this, but a Presidential directive was sent to unofficially change Government letterheads, nameboards, etc. Sri Lanka became Shri Lanka.
The bad times continued, nevertheless. President Premadasa was assassinated on May 1, 1993 and Shri Lanka has quietly reverted to Sri Lanka. The troubles continue unabated.
Amidst the hawkers and pushcarts, Wathsala Mendis visits old City Hall
Making one's way through the Pettah at any time of the day is a nightmare. Once the posh residential area of Colombo, it's now the city's bazaar, buzzing with activity. Turn this way or that and you'll run into street vendors, pushcarts or bargain hunters, not to mention the omnipresent, formidable three-wheelers. The noise and pollution are such you sometimes find yourself unable to even breathe in that jungle.
Standing in the middle of this thriving metropolis, almost overwhelmed by the bustling warehouses of wholesalers, is a symbol of Pettah's proud past. Holding the relics of municipal life of more than 100 years ago, Colombo's first Town Hall is seemingly unmoved by the chaos around it.
This used to be one of the most stately buildings in Pettah with a colonial facade. A stark contrast to the new smart and fashionable municipality complex in the plush Cinnamon Gardens, it still retains a little something of that original grandeur.
A humble two-storey building compared to its successor, this once majestic edifice was designed by British architect J.G. Smither and was declared open by the highest in the land, Sir William Gregory in 1873.
The wooden floors, ceilings and staircase, all made of pure teak, have defiantly stood the test of time. The doors and windows, which can be closed by either wooden or glass shutters using a pulley system, are all elaborately carved. The upper floor houses a court, a retiring room and the lofty Council Chamber where the City Fathers gathered, discussed, and debated over the vital and important issues and problems of the day.
On the face of it, it's hard to imagine that this was once a part of daily life. But not when you walk in to the Council Chamber. It appears exactly as it was in 1906, reminding us of an actual meeting in progress. The 16 council members sitting around the table look so real, for a moment you find yourself wondering whether you're living at the beginning of the century or at the end of it. They've been reproduced so remarkably well using lifelike, stuffed effigies, dressed in the formal attire of that bygone era.
On the ground floor are the municipal office, a waiting lobby, a grand porch, and an open-sided gallery where heaps of the city's past are being displayed.
This collection of artefacts includes simple everyday items like a gas street lamp, a gas cooker with burners, steam-operated gas exhauster, a tar boiler, a steamroller, a steam lorry, a mobile public library van and even a court witness box! Although humbled by the gleaming new office towers and almost drowned by the tide of Pettah's street trading today, this building served as the municipality for 55 years and then as a public market before being taken over by the authorities in 1978. It was then restored as a municipal museum and a cultural art and trade centre which was opened to the public in 1984.
Now the constant cawing of crows and the hubbub of the surrounding public market keep it company.
Though not attracting much attention either from passers-by or curious visitors, this once outstanding landmark remains a magnificent memorial to the old City Fathers of Colombo.
It has not been easy for little Sri Lanka to hit the world headlines in terms of sporting achievement, but a few feats of heart-stopping brilliance will remain etched in our memories.
We look back at some of those golden moments....and how the newspapers of the day recorded them.
Duncan White's silver medal at the 1948 Olympics
With such a tiny athletic team at the Olympic Games, Ceylon could hardly have expected such success as came her way in the packed Wembley stadium before a crowd of 80,000 this afternoon.
Duncan White ran a magnificent race in the final of the 400-metre hurdles to finish second and break an Olympic record.
- Ceylon Daily News, July 31, 1948.
M.J.M. Lafir wins the world billiard crown in 1973
Lafir gave Sri Lanka her first world title in sports when Clive Everton defeated Satish Mohan to make Lafir automatically the champion with one more match to go.
It is ironic that Everton who nearly killed Lafir's chances in their very first match was the player to stamp Lafir's crowning glory in his amateur career. Lafir did not believe the news that the title was his.
He was practising at the neighbouring CCI tables when the BA and CC President Mr Peter Senarathne, telephoned .
Ceylon Daily News, December 13, 1973
World Cup triumph
There has to be a first time for everything. Certainly the elevation of the Sri Lankans to the rank of cricket gods as they anointed themselves World Cup champions on a most memorable night before an appreciative global audience.
Just no team had won the World Cup final batting second. The grandmaster Arjuna Ranatunga's men were chasing by choice and made all their dreams come true as they defied the history of the World Cups, the emerging tradition of the floodlit limited overs game and perhaps the form book, while also breaking the voodoo on host nations.
The Sunday Times, March 24, 1996 (Excerpt from The Hindu)
Silver girl Susanthika
Last Friday, the 20-year-old Susanthika Jayasinghe stunned the world by winning the silver medal at the World Athletics Meet in Athens, thus becoming the first Sri Lankan since Duncan White in 1948 to win a silver at a world meet.
Though her start was not good, the blazing Susanthika, almost won the gold, finishing just a fraction behind winner Zhanna Pintussevich of Ukraine in a photo-finish.
Another great achievement was that she pushed world champion and famed sprinter Merlene Ottey of Jamaica into third place.
– Midweek Mirror, August 13, 1997
Great heights for Sanath
Sanath Jayasuriya opening the batting as usual, scored a mammoth 340 runs off 578 balls. Roshan Mahanama batting at an experimental No.3 position scored 226 runs off 561 balls.
With this superlative performance, they were instrumental in getting Sri Lanka as a Test-playing nation into the history books as the team's total was an incredible 950 runs, surpassing the record held by England (903) since 1938...
Sanath, you did fabulously well to reach 340. Forget Lara. You are great. (Jayasuriya's 340 against India in Colombo is the fourth highest individual score in Test cricket history.)
– Midweek Mirror, August 13, 1997
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