Riding to the rally | Sunday Observer

Riding to the rally

This Wednesday (05) was like any other day in Colombo, the sun shone mercilessly. People went on with their everyday work. Nothing seemed unusual or amiss but for a group of people, six to be exact, a couple wearing maroon head bands depicting the words ‘Api Maharagama’ (We are Maharagama) next to an illustration of a flower bud,who stood at the top of a small by lane opposite Udahamulla Bus Depot at Old Kesbewa Road, Nugegoda.A dry breeze welled up and engulfed the crowed as if on cue, and when another couple of people joined them,laughing and talking very loudly they made their way down the lane. And I followed.

It was around 12.17pm when we arrived at Western Provincial Councillor Upali Kodikara’s home. About 400 people were already gathered in the front porch of the house. Some standing idle and others devouring a hearty meal. The group I followed were welcomed to the feast offered in a buffet but they kindly declined.

I received a different kind of welcome. ‘Menna paththaren’ (here’s from the paper) shouted one man before striding into the house. Note book in hand and a camera hanging from my shoulder my identity was revealed.

That is when Kodikara came extending his hand, with a big and delightful smile plastered on his face. He could be the only person who was that excited to see me in all my life. Saying that it was a big day he then went to serve those who stood in a line by the buffet.

Twenty minutes later everyone prepared to hit the road but just before that former Mayor of Maharagama and current organiser for the Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna for Maharagama, Kanthi Kodikara, also wearing the maroon headband and a sash stating ‘Api Maharagama’ came to address the crowd. The get-up made her look like a pageant queen who just won the crown.

“Several years ago we lost the Mahinda Rajapaksa led government. That was the start of this country heading towards a disastrous era,” loud and clear she said, and her statement was met by a round of excited cheers. “This government is trying to sell the country’s properties. It is time for us to rise and chase them away.” Another round of cheers, this time louder. “We organised this rally to send the government home. We should continue this fight,” she declared.

With that the crowd left Kodikara’s home, down the small lane and boarded buses that was parked on the main road. They were going to make history. From several parts of the country, people just like the crowd who gathered in Udahamulla were making their way to Colombo to participate in the Joint Opposition’s Janabalaya Colombata (people’s power to Colombo) rally.

Kanthi did not join the group. “I am just after a surgery,” she told me adding that her husband will command the group. She said that protest marches just like these were important to put pressure on the government and make a historic change.

About 30 buses made their way from Udahamulla to Maharagama, before turning back again and heading to Colombo through the High Level road. I boarded a not very crowded bus number 14. Not everyone in the bus were happy to head to Maharagama.

“We have to go to Colombo not Maharagama. Maharagama knows who we are,” one man said.

The slightest external disruption agitated the crowd. An ambulance passed by and the buses had to steer off the road to make way for it. ‘Onna kadakappalkaranna yanne!’ one woman said, and the others made affirmative noises.

As we passed Maharagama, some from inside the bus screamed names and waved at people who were on the road. Excited they waved back.

“Miss, do you know why I am joining this rally,” the man seated next to me asked. His name was Samarasena Rubasinghe, a 62-year-old businessman from Mirihana. He was there to stop this government from tarnishing Buddhism and to get employment for his two children, both graduates but still unemployed. “We are suffering. We need to topple this government,” he said.

After a while, as we reached Nugegoda a woman noticed that the crowd was silent.

“What is this! Are we going to a funeral? People make some noise,” she said. A man promptly screamed ‘Kageda me balawege’ and others yelled ‘Kodikarage balawege’, and all were cheery once again. Then a group of men huddled in the middle of the bus and opened a local arrack bottle. In plastic cups all men got a drink each. Women got Fanta. I was offered Sprite, which I declined nicely. “I have a bad sore throat,” I said.

This was followed by a bag of devilled chick-peas. Everyone, men and women, ate it.

Then a young man whom they called ‘Kalu Malli’, staggeringly drunk, asked me something that I could not understand. He made it worse by trying to make me understand. Most of the participants of the rally were hoping they could topple the government that night. “We want this government to go home,” said a much excited H. B. Thilakaratne, 61, a businessman also from Mirihana. He said they needed a new ruler because this government ‘attack’ the common man with taxes and high cost of living. We had to stop briefly at Nugegoda as traffic formed. Kalu Malli, probably assuming we reached the destination got off the bus. Seconds later the bus sped up and a couple of men called the driver to stop. “Malli bassa. Malli bassa,’ they screamed. But the driver didn’t hear. Kalu Malli made half history that day, and will not have any memory of his involvement in it the next morning. During our journey towards Viharamahadevi Park a couple, a man and woman, kept waving at the passers-by. At the park they joined with other crowds from areas such as Galle and Weeraketiya, then awaited instructions as to how they could proceed from there.

About four old arrack bottles later the alcohol fueled bus number 14 headed to Lake House Roundabout from there to a government. And I went back to Lake House.