Off we go in
the hot air balloon!
The Sri Lanka Balloon Festival 2008 set to take off in March
Sri Lanka Balloon Festival 2008, recognised as a national event
by the Tourism Ministry will take off next month, under the
theme ‘To promote adventure tourism through hot air ballooning
and civil aviation.’
The fortnight from Friday March 21 to Friday April 4, 2008, the
skies over some parts of Sri Lanka will see an unusual sight,
when over 72 participants mainly from the UK, Ireland, Japan,
and Saudi Arabia are expected take to the skies in 22 hot air
The tour is scheduled to start off in Colombo with Night Glow
Musical Show with the balloons tethered, lit up and glowing like
large light bulbs against the evening darkness, providing a
spectacular sight to the viewers. Music, food and beverages are
available for spectators in a carnival-like atmosphere allowing
many families to enjoy a quality evening of entertainment.
The ballooning will kick off on March 26 to 30 in Hambantota and
thereafter in Sigiriya on March 31 to April 1. A journey to the
highlands on the Viceroy Express – the steam engine powered
vintage luxury train and for the more adventurous parachute
jumping from the balloon are other attractions on offer for the
The Sri Lanka Balloon Festival is currently the only aviation
event in Sri Lanka and organised by the Ceylon Airship and
Balloon Club (CABC) headed by its Chairman Captain Anil
Jayasinghe, who is Sri Lanka’s pioneer and only hot air
This event will also help the country host the World Balloon
Championships, which is the ultimate goal of CABC. The only
country that presently hosts the World Ballooning Championship
in Asia is Japan. Income expected from hosting such an event
will be around US$ 20 million which will be a significant
increase to the present earnings from tourism which are about
US$360 million annually.
The inaugural Sri Lanka Balloon Festival was held in 2003 and
since then has been continued almost biennially. The event has
steadily gained in popularity, with many attendees being repeat
guests. It has made a name for itself as a quality event and is
noticed amongst balloonists worldwide, having been featured in
the British Balloon and Airship Club magazine Aerostat and the
Japanese magazine Sky Sports.
Miss Kitty, the Cat
since I came to know her, she was called, ‘Kitty the Cat Lady.’
But nobody called her by that name. Her real name, however, was
a much nicer one: Rose.
She used to live down our lane when I was growing up. Then she
was young and beautiful, and had many suitors asking her to
marry them. But she had refused them all.
“My first and only love are my cats,” she told them. “I have a
house full of them, and looking after them takes up all my time.
I have no place for a husband in my life – or house.”
Indeed, Miss Kitty had her hands full. Almost all the stray cats
down the lane were promptly dispatched to her house by the
neighbours, and lovingly welcomed by her.
“This house is a welcome home for cats any time of the day,” was
a notice prominently hung on her doorway.
Visitors to her house would invariably find her busy. She was
either preparing food and feeding her cats, or else playing with
them. At any time there would be at least 15 to 20 of them, of
all sizes, colours and pedigree. They were all over the house:
Some reclining on her sofa, others dozing on her bed after a
heavy meal. Still others would be sitting erect on her chairs
and keeping a watchful eye on the door, in case an intruder
barged in. They knew intuitively, who was welcome and who was
not. If an unwelcome visitor were to enter the house, they would
hiss in unison, pounce on him/her with glee, and scratch the
hapless guest with their razor sharp claws until he/she ran out
of the house yelling blue murder.
No one ever dared to enter Miss Kitty’s house for fear of her
cats. As she often told us, her cats were her best “security
When Miss Kitty went out (her trips to the market to buy food
for herself and her brood of cats were her only outings), she
never had to lock her doors, as her cats kept guard at the door.
Apart from feeding them and brushing their coats till they
shone, she also taught her cats, tricks.
She taught them to sit on their hind paws and beg for tidbits,
to swing their tails to and fro and meaow to any melody she
strummed on her old piano, and even do some action songs with
her help of course. She even read stories and sang nursery songs
to her ‘children’ as she called them.
They were so clever that in a moment of foolishness we children
once suggested she put her performing cats in a circus to
entertain people. The idea was not only vetoed vehemently by
her, we received a tongue lashing and lecture we never forgot.
“Don’t you know there is a law against violating Animal Rights,
by trying to make money out of them, or make a spectacle of
them?” she told us sternly.
We never dared broach the subject again.
Miss Kitty always wore loose dresses with several oversised
pockets running down from the top to the bottom of her skirt.
Her pockets served many purposes. They were especially sewn to
accommodate any stray cat she might take a fancy to while on her
way to the market. They also carried food for any stray cat she
met on the way, such as bread crumbs, pieces of cooked meat and
even a bottle of milk.
Invariably, her visits to the market would end up with a new
addition to her household of cats.
A former school teacher, Miss Kitty told us she had retired
prematurely to devote more time to her growing family of stray
cats. To supplement the small income she received from her
pension, she began giving tuition classes in English. Most of
the children down her lane enrolled as her pupils since she was
a good teacher. Whenever they arrived at her house for their
tuition classes, they wore ‘cat proof’ clothes, such as thick
socks on their feet and long trousers to withstand any attacks
on them by the cats. They had also been warned that their
lessons would be frequently interrupted by the loud mewing of
cats that would jump onto the table, for attention.
When I got married and moved house, I lost touch with the Cat
Just recently, however, I happened to pass by a dilapidated
house along one of the bylanes of Maradana, close to my work
place. Hearing the familiar sound of my youth – of several cats
wailing in unison emanating from the house, I stopped in front
of the dilapidated house. Every instinct told me the owner was
Miss Kitty. Spotting the all too familiar notice hung on the
doorway to the house, “This house is open to all stray cats any
time of the day,” I entered the house without any hesitation.
Seated on an old rocking chair, reading her favourite fairy
tale, Puss in Boots to an attentive brood of cats, was my former
neighbour. Her hair now fully grey and her face lined with
wrinkles, it was evident that the passing years had not
diminished her love for cats.
Welcoming me with a broad smile, she told me how she had to move
house when she was unable to pay the rent. She had moved from
house to house, until she finally settled down in her present
house, for which she pays a nominal rent. That was just six
months ago. It had been a wise decision, she told me, since one
of her biggest concerns - feeding her cat family, had been
resolved by the priests in the nearby temple and church, as well
as her compassionate neighbours, who fed the cats with their
leftover meals. Now in her 80’s, she says she even get most of
her meals from a nearby church and never has to go out
“What I really want is someone to talk to. So come and chat to
me whenever you can,” she made me promise her.” And bring me a
book of nursery stories and songs which I can read or sing to my
‘children.’ I promised her I would.
I do my best to fulfil that promise when I pass her house on my
way to work…
Pioneering new trends in local architecture
An architectural exhibition of Ulrick Plesner was held from
February 23 to Feb.27 at the Goethe Institute, Colombo.
Ulrick Plesner was born in Italy in 1930. His father was a
Danish artist and a historian, and his mother was Scottish. His
stepfather Kaare Klint was a well known architect in Scandinavia
and was also known as, “The father of modern furniture and
lighting”. Ulrick has worked in countries such as Denmark and
As an architect, Ulrick has contributed immensely towards the
growth of the Sri Lankan architecture by his deep understanding
of the cultural landscape of the country. After his arrival in
Sri Lanka in 1958, the architectural approach to designing
buildings took a notable change. Among his most outstanding
works is the monument he designed for the 2500 Buddha Jayanthi
celebrations , which was initiated by Jawaharlal Nehru.
Among his most spectacular designs is the one roomed house at
Anderson Road. Ulrick is also well known for his metal creations
using gold, silver, bronze and brass. This craft continues to
inspire architects and designers of the present times who
continue the tradition begun by Ulrick.
Pix by Ravindra Dharmathilake