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41st Anniversary of 9th Intake Cadets of Sri Lanka Navy

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L-R Rohana,Dushyantha, Admiral Colobage, Commander Chelliah,Damitha, Rohan, Maahesh and yours truly

By Admiral Ravindra C Wijegunaratne

(Retired from Sri Lanka Navy) Former Chief of Defence Staff

Forty-one years ago, in 1980, 13 youths selected from thousands of applicants boarded the night mail train bound to Trincomalee to commence their training as Cadets at the Naval and Maritime Academy, Trincomalee, except one of whose travelling was delayed by one week. This batch was the 9th Intake of Cadets to be trained at this prestigious Naval Academy.

The batch consisted of Marine Engineering Cadet Mahesh Goonesekere, outstanding sportsman from S. Thomas’ College, Mount Lavinia (who had won College colours in five sports), Executive Cadet Shirantha Udawatta from Sri Sumangala College, Panadura. Shirantha was the oldest in our batch. Executive Cadet Damitha Vitharana, outstanding Ananda College athlete, who cleared 6 feet 2 inches in the long jump, although his height was only 5 feet 10 inches and also a great 110-metre hurdler. He was the youngest in the batch. Executive Cadet Rohan Amarasinghe from De Mazenod College Kandana, a Sri Lanka schools football player, Engineering Cadet Shiran Rathnayake from Isipatana College, handsome, resembling a Hindi film star, Executive Cadet Rohana Prerera, outstanding footballer from Kingswood College, Kandy, Executive Cadet Gamini Fernando, an outstanding Volleyball player from St Anne’s College Kurunagala, Engineering Cadet Thilak Senaratne from Sri Sumangala College, Panadura , Executive Cadet Chanaka Rupasinghe from Richmond College Galle, Logistics Cadet Roshan Fernando, Royalist and outstanding Public schools Athlete. Roshan’s elder brother, Shermal Fernando was in our senior batch, 8th intake. Logistics Cadet Dushantha Amaranayake, Nalandian cricketer and yours truly. Cadet Christie Jayawardena from St. Antony’s College, Wattala, lost his father (who was an airline pilot) on the day we travelled to Trincomalee, and he joined us later.

I had no intention of joining the Navy. I wanted to join the Army. But Roshan insisted at College that Navy was better than the Army and I should come along with him. However, my schoolmate Sajith’s father was the Chief of Staff of the Navy at that time (late Admiral Asoka De Silva – an outstanding Navy Rugby player in the 50s). What I learnt from my friend Sajith was that Navy officer training was very hard !

We were received at the Trincomalee railway station by a smart Dutch burgher Petty Officer, and introduced himself as “Petty Officer T.I. Eanus and your Divisional Petty Officer”, clad in white uniform with white peak cap and shoes, tall, strong perfect body like a Greek God. His Commanding voice and crisp English surprised us and I started wondering if “Petty Officers” is like this, how would be the high ranking Officers we were to meet in the Navy later!

The vehicle was waiting for us to take us from the Trincomalee Railway station to the Naval and Maritime Acadamy (NMA) was a six-wheeler open truck. Our trip ended up at “Gun Room”, but there were no guns. Petty officer Eanus started teaching us the “Naval terms”. Gun Room is junior officers Mess. Dinner in Navy known as supper. Lunch is known as dinner! Left side is known as the port side. Right side known as the Starboard side. Toilets ae known as heads! “From tomorrow you are not going to the toilet; you go to heads to shit! Understood!” Petty officer Eanus said.

“Yes, Sir!” we shouted in chorus.

Another word of caution. “You do not say, ‘Yes Sir!’ in the Navy! That is the Army! We say “Aye aye, Sir!” We shouted, “Aye, aye, Sir!” Another mistake! “You do not call a Petty Officer ‘Sir’ You call only an officer Sir! So, when I give an order, you say, ‘Aye, aye, Petty Officer!” It was confusing.

This is Navy! Petty Officer (Wireless Instructor) Tony I Eanus later in the service earned his Commission in Navy Volunteer Force and rose to rank of Lieutenant Commander before his retirement.

I should say Navy’s food was delicious and plenty. Charlis, a kind man who lived outside Naval Base in Andankulam, was our civilian helper who brought us food from the Kitchen known as the galley in the Navy. Washing, cleaning and laying food we had to do ourselves. “Mess men” were detailed from the batch. Everyone was keen to be the mess man as all untouched leftover food belongs to that person.

That evening our Assistant Divisional Officer came to Gun Room, when we just started to have our supper using fork and spoon. He was a dashing Sub Lieutenant who had just returned from the UK after completing his International Sub Lieutenant Course at Britannia Royal Naval College, Dartmouth and HMNB Portsmouth with flying colours. His dedicated teaching starts with “how to eat with fork and spoon – in Royal Navy way”. Bad enough, only a few of my batchmates had proper meal that night.

Sub Lieutenant Dushantha Chelliah was a outstanding cricketer and a hockey player and a Navy coloursman in both the sports. He was a great teacher and used to follow us in his newly purchased motorcycle when we were doing long runs. Thanks to his guidance, we became good runners soon. Dushantha Chelliah served the Navy for 22 years and migrated to the US on green card with his family.

Our tough time was with MCPO (G. I.) Rathnatunga and his assistant (later gained Commission and promoted to Lieutenant Commander) Leading Seaman M B C A Mendis. Mr Rathnatunga ensured we were smart in drill. Being a Lance Sergeant in school Cadeting, I was selected to be the Parade Commander most of the days. After a few days I realieed that the Parade Commander is never inspected for uniform and polishing brass parts and boots. I conveniently neglected by polishing when others were working hard in polishingduring the night and then volunteered to perform duties of Parade Commander the next morning at the Parade grounds and thereby escape dress inspections, until I was caught red-handed to Mr Rathnatunga (Master Chief Petty Officer (MCPO), the senior most rank for sailors also called as Mister). After one hour of extra drill, Mr Rathnatunga’s adviced me not to repeat such behaviour and not to follow the easy way to reach the to top!

He must have seen some of this in my eyes (blue eyes ??) and his advice helped me in my service career to reach the pinnacle of the Armed Forces of Sri Lanka.

Roshan did not like the Navy and within two months he left the service and joined Sri Lanka Police.

He did extremely well in the Police and the STF and became a Duputy Inspector Gen-ral of Police prior retirement recently.

We met our Divisional Officer at our class room in the Nautical school. He was an old Anandian, and the Navy Football Captain, Lieutenant (G) Sarath Weerasekara (today a Cabinet Minister). We loved him. His easy-going approach and excellent orations both in Sinhala and English with glimpses of our history inspired us to work hard and love our country. His knowledge of Buddhism and history was outstanding.

Lt (N) Daya Dharmapriya was our Navigation Instructor. Our foundation to be safe and good navigators in Sri Lankan and foreign waters was laid at No. 2 class room in the Nautical school by Lt Dharmapriya. He rose to the rank of Rear Admiral and was the first Director General of Sri Lanka Coast Guards.

Our Physical Training team was led by MCPO (PTI) P P R De Silva, outstanding Swimming and High board diving instructor, who ensured we all became good swimmers. Mahesh and Gamini were good swimmers, Mahesh being a coloursman in swimming at S. Thomas’ College, Mountt Lavinia. Later Mr Silva became an excellent Coach at the Sugatadasa Stadium and Otters Swimming club, where he trained my son as well. He passed away few years back. May his soul rest in peace.

Three months training in the Academy followed with sea training at the old Chinese Shanghai class gunboat SLNS Ranakamee, where we met another outstanding young officer, Sub Lieutenant JSK Colombage, who had just returned from BRNC Dartmouth. He was super fit at that time. After sports practice in the evenings atthe Naval base grounds, we were challenged by S/Lt Colombage to run unto the two-Fathom jetty, where our ship was berthed (approx 5km run). When Rohan and Gamini taking that challenge, Mahesh and myself stopped halfway, started walking and then enjoy a ‘plain tea’ at the civilian canteen wayside. How much Rohan and Gamini tried, they could not beat S/Lt Colobage. He became 18th Commander of the Navy and is SriLanka’s Foreign Secretary today.

Mahesh was stood out in studies. He became the Best Cadet of our batch and won all the prizes other than two at our passing out parade. He received the converted “Sword of Honour” for best Cadet of the Intake 9. Damitha won the Best Sportsman award for his achievements in athletics and Gamini became best marksman. It was ironic that Gamini died in action in Kuchcuweli, Trincomalee the district in 1985, the first Sri Lanka Navy officer to die in action during the Eelam War. Today, the award for the Best Marksman of the Cadets is presented by our batch in memory of Gamini.

Forty one years is a long time. As Commander Dushantha Chelliah is on vacation from the USA for three weeks with his charming lady, we decided to have a quick batch get together before his departure to the US. Sadly the untimely passing away of Ven. Ananda thero, the beloved elder brother of Minister Sarath Weerasekara, the Minister declined attend the event, but he requested us to go ahead as planned. It was a great evening with bonhomie and carmaraderie with the batch mates joined by some of our families. Admiral Colobage was there even though he was a very busy person as the Foreign Secretary.

When we look back 41 years out of 12, eleven were fortunate enough to have survived in our 26-year long conflict, which ended in 2009. All got married and have children, and therefore, the claim that those who are exposed to Decca 110 radar waves whilst on punishment at Crow’s nest of old gun boat became infertile was false! (However, we took no risks; I remember wearing more than three pieces of underwear before climbing to Crow’s nest! Such is the love men have for some parts of their anatomy!)

Out of the twelve, four Damitha, Chanaka, Christie and Shiran) opted to retire early and to migrate. All four are doing very well. Those who remained in the Navy till retirement age of 55 years, five became (two star) Rear Admirals (Mahesh, Rohan, Rohana, Thilak, and Dushantha). Three headed their respective branches in the Navy, (Mahesh and Thilak – Marine Engineering branch, Dushantha – Logistics branch). Rohan has an unbroken record of, first to marry and first to have a child and first grandchild of our batch. Yours truly, the second in order of merit as Cadet, from Executive Branch, a week older to Damitha ends up as a four-star Admiral, Commander of the Navy and CDS.

If our batch has done well in the Navy, the credit should go to our instructors at the NMA when we were Cadets, who laid a very strong foundation for our career.

I always remember the wise words of MCPO(G.I.) Rathnatunga at NMA Parade Square in 1980 – Cadet Wijegunaratne! There are no shortcuts to top!



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Features

Is it impossible to have hope?

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So, a woman has lost again to a man. I refer here to Matale District SJB MP Rohini Kaviratne having to concede her bid for Deputy Speaker of Parliament to some bod of the Pohottu Party, who, sad to say makes only a negative impression on Cass. Conversely, Kaviratne looks competent, capable, trustworthy, able to communicate and command, and most importantly speaks and conducts herself well balanced. So different from most of the MPs, particularly of the government side, who lack education, and in appearance and behaviour – decency. Please, take my word for the fact that I am not a party person. What I want in our representatives is education and decorum. And they should at least once in a while use their own heads and make decisions that are good for the country and not follow the leader through sheep like, sycophantic obedience. Of course, even more than this is self interest that prompts the way they act and decisions are taken, especially at voting times.

Rohini Kaviratne made a bold statement when, as Wednesday’s The Island noted, she told Parliament “the government was neither run by the President nor the Prime Minister but by a ‘crow.’” Utterly damning statement but totally believable. Deviousness as well as self-preservation is what motives action among most at the cost of even the entire country. And, of course, we know who the crow is – kaputu kak kak. Cass lacks words to express the contempt she feels for the black human kaputa, now apparently leading the family of kaputas. Why oh why does he not depart to his luxury nest in the US of A? No, he and his kith are the manifestation of Kuveni’s curse on the island. Strong condemnation, but justified.

You know Cass had a bold kaputa – the avian kind – coming to her balcony in front of her bedroom and cawing away this morning. Normally, she takes no notice, having developed sympathetic companionship towards these black birds as fellow creatures, after reading Elmo Jayawardena’s Kakiyan. She felt sorry for the crow who cawed to her because his name has been taken to epithet a politico who landed the entire country in such a mess. And he is bold enough to attend Parliament. Bravado in the face of detestation by the majority of Sri Lankans! Cass did not watch afternoon TV news but was told father and son, and probably elder brother and his son attended Parliamentary sessions today – Wednesday May 18. May their tribe decrease is the common prayer; may curses rain on them. Cass recognises the gravity of what she says, but reiterates it all.

I am sure Nihal Seneviratne, who recently and in 2019, shared with us readers his experiences in Parliament, moaned the fact that our legislature always lacked enough women representation. Now, he must be extra disappointed that political allegiance to a party deprived Sri Lanka of the chance of bringing to the forefront a capable woman. Women usually do better than men, judging by instances worldwide that show they are more honest and committed to country and society. The two examples of Heads of Government in our country were far from totally dedicated and commitment to country. But the first head did show allegiance to Ceylon/Sri Lanka in fair measure.

As my neighbour moaned recently: “They won’t allow an old person like me, after serving the country selflessly for long, to die in peace.” Heard of another woman in her late 80s needing medical treatment, mentally affected as she was with utter consternation at the state of the country. One wonders how long we can be resilient, beset on every side by dire problems. But our new Prime Minister was honest enough to voice his fears that we will have to go through much more hardship before life for all Sri Lankans improves.

Thus, my choice of pessimistic prediction as my title. Will we be able to hope for better times? Time will be taken but is it possible to have even a slight glimmer of hope for improvement?

There is much debate about the appointment of Ranil W as PM. We admire him for his knowledge and presence. But the greatest fear is he will defend wrong doers in the R family. Let him be wise, fair and put country before saving others’ skins. He has to be praised for taking on the responsibility of leading the country to solvency. He said he will see that every Sri Lankan has three meals a day. May all the devas help him! The SJB, though it refuses to serve under a R Prez, has offered itself to assist in rebuilding the nation. Eran, Harsha, and so many others must be given the chance to help turn poor wonderful Sri Lanka around. And the dedicated protestors, more so those in Gotagogama, still continue asking for changes in government. Bless them is all Cass can say at this moment.

Goodbye for another week. hoping things will turn less gloomy, if brightness is impossible as of now.

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Lives of journalists increasingly on the firing line

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Since the year 2000 some 45 journalists have been killed in the conflict-ridden regions of Palestine and senior Al Jazeera journalist Shireen Abu Akleh was the latest such victim. She was killed recently in a hail of bullets during an Israeli military raid in the contested West Bank. She was killed in cold blood even as she donned her jacket with the word ‘PRESS’ emblazoned on it.

While claims and counter-claims are being made on the Akleh killing among some of the main parties to the Middle East conflict, the Israeli police did not do their state any good by brutally assaulting scores of funeral mourners who were carrying the body of Akleh from the hospital where she was being treated to the location where her last rites were to be conducted in East Jerusalem.

The impartial observer could agree with the assessment that ‘disproportionate force’ was used on the mourning civilians. If the Israeli government’s position is that strong-arm tactics are not usually favoured by it in the resolution conflictual situations, the attack on the mourners tended to strongly belie such claims. TV footage of the incident made it plain that brazen, unprovoked force was used on the mourners. Such use of force is decried by the impartial commentator.

As for the killing of Akleh, the position taken by the UN Security Council could be accepted that “an immediate, thorough, transparent and impartial investigation” must be conducted on it. Hopefully, an international body acceptable to the Palestinian side and other relevant stakeholders would be entrusted this responsibility and the wrong-doers swiftly brought to justice.

Among other things, the relevant institution, may be the International Criminal Court, should aim at taking urgent steps to end the culture of impunity that has grown around the unleashing of state terror over the years. Journalists around the world are chief among those who have been killed in cold blood by state terrorists and other criminal elements who fear the truth.

The more a journalist is committed to revealing the truth on matters of crucial importance to publics, the more is she or he feared by those sections that have a vested interest in concealing such vital disclosures. This accounts for the killing of Shireen Abu Akleh, for instance.

Such killings are of course not unfamiliar to us in Sri Lanka. Over the decades quite a few local journalists have been killed or been caused to disappear by criminal elements usually acting in league with governments. The whole truth behind these killings is yet to be brought to light while the killers have been allowed to go scot-free and roam at large. These killings are further proof that Sri Lanka is at best a façade democracy.

It is doubtful whether the true value of a committed journalist has been fully realized by states and publics the world over. It cannot be stressed enough that the journalist on the spot, and she alone, writes ‘the first draft of history’. Commentaries that follow from other quarters on a crisis situation, for example, are usually elaborations that build on the foundational factual information revealed by the journalist. Minus the principal facts reported by the journalist no formal history-writing is ever possible.

Over the decades the journalists’ death toll has been increasingly staggering. Over the last 30 years, 2150 journalists and media workers have been killed in the world’s conflict and war zones. International media reports indicate that this figure includes the killing of 23 journalists in Ukraine, since the Russian invasion began, and the slaying of 11 journalists, reporting on the doings of drug cartels in Mexico.

Unfortunately, there has been no notable international public outcry against these killings of journalists. It is little realized that the world is the poorer for the killing of these truth-seekers who are putting their lives on the firing line for the greater good of peoples everywhere. It is inadequately realized that the public-spirited journalist too helps in saving lives; inasmuch as a duty-conscious physician does.

For example, when a journalist blows the lid off corrupt deals in public institutions, she contributes immeasurably towards the general good by helping to rid the public sector of irregularities, since the latter sector, when effectively operational, has a huge bearing on the wellbeing of the people. Accordingly, a public would be disempowering itself by turning a blind eye on the killing of journalists. Essentially, journalists everywhere need to be increasingly empowered and the world community is conscience-bound to consider ways of achieving this. Bringing offending states to justice is a pressing need that could no longer be neglected.

The Akleh killing cannot be focused on in isolation from the wasting Middle East conflict. The latter has grown in brutality and inhumanity over the years and the cold-blooded slaying of the journalist needs to be seen as a disquieting by-product of this larger conflict. The need to turn Spears into Ploughshares in the Middle East is long overdue and unless and until ways are worked out by the principal antagonists to the conflict and the international community to better manage the conflict, the bloodletting in the region is unlikely to abate any time soon.

The perspective to be placed on the conflict is to view the principal parties to the problem, the Palestinians and the Israelis, as both having been wronged in the course of history. The Palestinians are a dispossessed and displaced community and so are the Israelis. The need is considerable to fine-hone the two-state solution. There is need for a new round of serious negotiations and the UN is duty-bound to initiate this process.

Meanwhile, Israel is doing well to normalize relations with some states of the Arab world and this is the way to go. Ostracization of Israel by Arab states and their backers has clearly failed to produce any positive results on the ground and the players concerned will be helping to ease the conflict by placing their relations on a pragmatic footing.

The US is duty-bound to enter into a closer rapport with Israel on the need for the latter to act with greater restraint in its treatment of the Palestinian community. A tough law and order approach by Israel, for instance, to issues in the Palestinian territories is clearly proving counter-productive. The central problem in the Middle East is political in nature and it calls for a negotiated political solution. This, Israel and the US would need to bear in mind.

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Doing it differently, as a dancer

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Dancing is an art, they say, and this could be developed further, only by an artist with a real artistic mind-set. He must be of an innovative mind – find new ways of doing things, and doing it differently

According to Stephanie Kothalawala – an extremely talented dancer herself – Haski Iddagoda, who has won the hearts of dance enthusiasts, could be introduced as a dancer right on top of this field.

Stephanie

had a chat with Haski, last week, and sent us the following interview:

* How did you start your dancing career?

Believe me, it was a girl, working with me, at office, who persuaded me to take to dancing, in a big way, and got me involved in events, connected with dancing. At the beginning, I never had an idea of what dancing, on stage, is all about. I was a bit shy, but I decided to take up the challenge, and I made my debut at an event, held at Bishop’s College.

* Did you attend dancing classes in order to fine-tune your movements?

Yes, of course, and the start was in 2010 – at dancing classes held at the Colombo Aesthetic Resort.

* What made you chose dancing as a career?

It all came to mind when I checked out the dancing programmes, on TV. After my first dancing programme, on a TV reality show, dancing became my passion. It gave me happiness, and freedom. Also, I got to know so many important people, around the country, via dancing.

* How is your dancing schedule progressing these days?

Due to the current situation, in the country, everything has been curtailed. However, we do a few programmes, and when the scene is back to normal, I’m sure there will be lots of dance happenings.

* What are your achievements, in the dancing scene, so far?

I have won a Sarasavi Award. I believe my top achievement is the repertoire of movements I have as a dancer. To be a top class dancer is not easy…it’s hard work. Let’s say my best achievement is that I’ve have made a name, for myself, as a dancer.

* What is your opinion about reality programmes?

Well, reality programmes give you the opportunity to showcase your talents – as a dancer, singer, etc. It’s an opportunity for you to hit the big time, but you’ve got to be talented, to be recognised. I danced with actress Chatu Rajapaksa at the Hiru Mega Star Season 3, on TV.

* Do you have your own dancing team?

Not yet, but I have performed with many dance troupes.

* What is your favourite dancing style?

I like the style of my first trainer, Sanjeewa Sampath, who was seen in Derana City of Dance. His style is called lyrical hip-hop. You need body flexibility for that type of dance.

* Why do you like this type of dancing?

I like to present a nice dancing act, something different, after studying it.

* How would you describe dancing?

To me, dancing is a valuable exercise for the body, and for giving happiness to your mind. I’m not referring to the kind of dance one does at a wedding, or party, but if you properly learn the art of dancing, it will certainly bring you lots of fun and excitement, and happiness, as well. I love dancing.

* Have you taught your dancing skills to others?

Yes, I have given my expertise to others and they have benefited a great deal. However, some of them seem to have forgotten my contribution towards their success.

* As a dancer, what has been your biggest weakness?

Let’s say, trusting people too much. In the end, I’m faced with obstacles and I cannot fulfill the end product.

* Are you a professional dancer?

Yes, I work as a professional dancer, but due to the current situation in the country, I want to now concentrate on my own fashion design and costume business.

* If you had not taken to dancing, what would have been your career now?

I followed a hotel management course, so, probably, I would have been involved in the hotel trade.

* What are your future plans where dancing is concerned?

To be Sri Lanka’s No.1 dancer, and to share my experience with the young generation.

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