Off we go in the hot air balloon!

                                                  The Sri Lanka Balloon Festival 2008 set to take off in March                                         

The 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 balloons.

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 participants.

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 balloonist.

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 Lady

Ever 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 guards.”
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 Lady.
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 marketing.

“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

By Lakna Paranamanna
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 England.

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