She was an 11-year old talented student at the Okkampitiya Janapada Vidyalaya, a remote school where the children did not even have a toilet. One morning, the teacher found her missing in class. He asked the other children. She has died, they tell him. The teacher is disturbed. He takes a half-day’s leave and with another teacher leaves for her home.
It was a tiny little house where even her coffin could not be taken in. They were so poor that all the funeral arrangements had been organised by others in the village. He asked the father what happened. The girl had been in the habit of going to the nearby Dematagaha tank to pick lotus flowers to be sold to devotees who came to the village temple to earn a little money. That day she wanted to pick more flowers since the day after was a Poya day and more devotees would come to the temple. It had been raining and the water level was high. She didn’t realise it was so deep and she drowned. She had two lotus flowers in one hand.
This incident, dating back to 1981, prompted the renowned lyricist Ratnasri Wijesinghe, who was the teacher referred to, to write the popular song ‘Sudu Neluma Ko’ sung by Pandit Amaradeva.
Dr. Ananada Perera, an orthopaedic surgeon, selected this song at the Rupavahini music program ‘Sihinayaki Re’ where the guest personality has to pick ten songs which are sung by a selected artiste. Explaining why he selected this song, Dr. Perera said he was disturbed when he heard that a grade five student had committed suicide by hanging because he couldn’t get enough marks at the ‘Pahe Shishyatve’ – the highly competitive fifth grade scholarship test.
Severely criticising the scholarship test, Dr. Perera talked about how the parents take the children for tuition from grade one onwards. They either attend tuition classes or they have lessons on a one-on-one basis at home – in short, parents are behind them, forcing them to be with books even after they come home from school. They have absolutely no childhood. There is no creative thinking. They have no time to play.
He recalled how some parents bring their children who are about to sit the grade five test complaining that they cannot write because their fingers are not steady. They shiver and cannot hold the pen properly.
He strongly felt that the Grade Five Scholarship should be scrapped. The scholarship test should be held at grade eight, he stressed.
In addition to this song, Dr. Perera’s selection of songs covered a wide spectrum ranging from the Buddhist theme of rebirth, clear thinking, humane behaviour to child abuse and domestic violence. Among them were a couple of songs sung by Deepika Priyadarshani, the lead singer that evening. As a tribute to her for winning the Peace Award at an international competition in Manila in 2002, he picked ‘Saroja Mage Doniye’ written by Mahinda Chandrasekera, highlighting the need for harmonious living among all citizens irrespective of nationality, race and creed.
All in all, it was a lively presentation of songs coupled with meaningful discussion, with Mahesh Nisshanka directing the program.