Five Questions is a short series where we interview interesting personalities and shine the spotlight on some of Sri Lanka’s more intriguing professions.
Every evening at sundown, the Sri Lankan flag is lowered at the Galle Face Hotel to the music of a bagpipe. The ceremony, set against the splendid view of the Indian Ocean, the setting sun, and the hotel’s chequerboard courtyard, is in recognition of its rich Colonial past and is mainly ‘to complement its British Colonial influence.’ The tradition is fairly new, but has been a regular sight at the hotel for the last five years—save during inclement weather, of course! The mix of cultures is interesting, too; on one hand, you’re at the oldest hotel in East Asia, an icon of Colonial times, and on the other, you get the present day, independent Sri Lanka, as symbolised by the flag and the ceremony surrounding it.
We spoke to the bagpiper, Kalinga Prasad Indika, to learn more about his work.
How did you learn to play the bagpipe?
I play pipes for the Sri Lankan Navy and am in the Navy Band. I was assigned the pipes when I first joined the band, and have been playing it ever since, for the last 17 years. That’s where I learned it from.
Can you get bagpipes in Sri Lanka? And how difficult are they to maintain?
They’re not available in Sri Lanka, so we usually import them from Scotland or England. These cost around Rs. 100,000 to Rs. 300,000, though you can get low quality, cheaper ones from Pakistan for about Rs. 35,000. In terms of maintenance, bagpipes come with either synthetic or leather bags. If it’s a leather bag, you need to oil it, which is what I do.
What do you do outside your role as a piper for the Galle Face Hotel?
I’m employed by the Sri Lankan Navy and am a piper there as well.
Who’s your favourite piper?
The Red Hot Chilli Pipers, a band from Australia.
How challenging is this when compared to other musical instruments?
You can’t really compare it like that, especially since they’re all different. There are difficult and easy things to learn in all of them. My specialty is the pipes, and that’s the only thing I can play.