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Sumitra shines with the Rising Sun

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‘Poetess of Sinhala cinema’ Sumitra Peries was recently conferred Order of the Rising Sun by the Japanese Government. The first Sri Lankan film artiste to have been decorated with this coveted 145-old Order, sits with the Sunday Island to recap her treasured memories of the ‘Land of the Rising Sun’ …

by Randima Attygalle

When the new bride Sumitra Peries impulsively changed her return ticket home from Mexico, having clinched the Golden Head of Palenque for Gamperaliya directed by her soul mate Dr. Lester James Peries (and edited by her) at an international film festival and set foot in the Land of the Rising Sun in 1966, she was “completely bowled over” not only by kimonos, platform slippers and deftly crafted tea ceremonies, but by a ‘cultured nation’ at large.

For young Sumitra who sailed to the University of Lausanne chartering unknown waters as a young girl, exploration of the unknown comes as the most natural. Carrying only the motifs of the dreaded Mount Fuji Volcano and the air attack on Colombo during the Second World War by the Japanese Navy with her, the avant-garde young cinema-maker booked into the Imperial Hotel in Tokyo reputed to have withstood many earthquakes! “Next day when I went to the Sri Lankan Embassy there, our people were horrified to hear of my outrageously expensive choice of accommodation, claiming I had to be just out of my mind. My only concern was that it would be a buffer against a possible earthquake,” recollects the poetess of the Sinhala cinema decked with The Order of the Rising Sun 2020 more than half a century later since she had her first taste of Japan.

Established on April 10, 1875 by Emperor Meiji, the Order was the first decoration awarded by the Japanese government. The badge features rays of sunlight symbolizing energy as powerful as the rising sun in harmony with the Land of the Rising Sun Japan is known to be. The order is conferred on those who have left a footprint in international relations, promotion of Japanese culture, advancements in their fields and development in welfare or preservation of the environment. “Interestingly it was only 20 years later in the same era that the Lumiere brothers first presented moving pictures to an audience with the help of a projector in Paris, sowing the earliest seeds of film-making. For over a century women were not eligible to receive this Order,” reflects Sumitra, the first Sri Lankan film artiste to have been decorated with this 145-year old coveted Order. Former Speaker, Karu Jayasuriya was honoured in 2017.

Followed by her hits Gehenu Lamai, Ganga Addara and Yahalu Yeheli, Sumitra took the silver screen by storm, with Sagara Jalaya madi henduwa oba handa an adaptation of Simon Nawagaththegama’s short story Ohu mala da pasu. The golden couple of Sinhala cinema once again captured the imagination of a nation transcending national boundaries. With Dr. Lester James Peries credited for the script, Lal Piyasena for his editing, Donald Karunaratne for his cinematography and Pandith Amaradeva for his musical score, Japan embraced it and celebrated it. Despite the protagonist Heen Kella’s pathos (played by Swarna Mallawarachchi) threading the plot and the film-maker’s milieu taking a shift to a rustic setting in Sagara Jalaya madi henduwa oba handa, the visual sophistication which is Sumitra’s strong suit is unmistakable in it. “Perhaps it was the kind of lifestyle which was beyond the imagination of the contemporary Japanese living that arrested them to it,” reflects Sumitra. The film which clinched her the Sarasaviya Best Director Award and Swarna, the Best Actress Award was telecast by the NHK in 1990, capturing the hearts of many a Japanese.

The invitation extended to Dr. Lester James Peries to sit on a jury of a film festival of documentaries in Yamagata in the mid-90s further solidified the Japan-Sri Lanka bridge. The communal bonding the couple shared with the rural Yamagata folk still warms Sumitra’s heart. “It was the first time the villagers had seen a ‘coloured’ person, so much so I remember them stroking my hands to see if I had actually applied some paint!” chuckles Sumitra. The ‘Japanese connection’ as she avers, was further fuelled by close friends such as Joy Fernando who came to work as an assistant to Lester and Sumitra. “Joy had studied in Japan and many of his acquaintances which later became mutual friends strengthened our bonding with Japan,” says Sumitra who came to be effortlessly assimilating into its culture over her many visits to Japan. She fondly recollects sleeping on tatami mats, yet laments that she could never master the Japanese language.

The iconic Japanese film director Akira Kurosawa whom Sumitra dubs as “a wonderful craftsman who projected the soul of Japan to the world,” offered her immense inspiration. His landmark creation Rashomon which shone at the 1951 Venice Film Festival, winning the Golden Lion, enabled the Japanese film industry a window to the Western film markets. “An energetic and a visually rich” architect of cinema as Sumitra alludes to him, Kurosawa first crossed her path in the 1980s, around the time when her box office hit Ganga addara and Lester’s Beddegama toured in Japan.

While Kurosawa inspired Sumitra, it was Yasujiro Ozu whom she found “close to her rhythm of narrative.” Her experience as a juror at several film festivals in Japan including the ‘South Asian Young Film Makers’ had widened her horizons of the Japanese way of life. The film director and screenwriter, Nagisa Oshima of Realm of the Senses fame whom Sumitra befriended at one of such festivals, adds to her list of globally renowned Japanese film acquaintances. “I remember him to be quite bashful man sporting a t-shirt with the slogan ‘Oshima Gang’ which I complemented. To my surprise, I found an ‘Oshima Gang’ t-shirt delivered to me a few days after my return!” smiles Sumitra.

The Fukoka City Public Library which is a repository of a sizable collection of films including several local films and the Japan Foundation are lauded by Sumitra as bridges connecting Japan to the rest of the world. Sumitra who counts several visits to the Fukoka City Public Library lauds it to be “a far sighted institution, opening doors for the entire South East Asia” including students of cinema, film makers, researchers and critics. Sumitra’s evergreen hit Ganga addara had been preserved by the Japanese Foundation. Loku Duwa and Sakman Maluwa are among her other work acclaimed by Japan.

Sumitra’s association with the ‘Bunka Awards’ presented to mid-career artistes by the Japan Sri Lanka Friendship Cultural Fund is a long one. Today only she remains out of the four original committee members. Prof. A.J. Gunawardene, Prof. Ediriweera Saraschandra, Dr. P.R Anthonis were among the rest.

A woman who had always championed ‘human conditions’ transcending gender stereotyping, Sumitra was one of the earliest Sri Lankan women to have shattered the glass ceiling. Behind the camera, she proved to be as good as any of her male counterparts. “I was never given the conventional margin for being a woman, for which I’m thankful,” says the iconic artiste who had never felt inadequate in a male domain. A strong advocate of the mantra, “create for your people first”, Sumitra’s notion of ‘global appeal’ is an extension of this acceptance locally. “If your creation is accepted by your own people and if it has some ripple effect somewhere else enabling the rest of the world to log on to it or have some contact, then you can be content that it had impacted the world outside.”

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New Look Chagall

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Gerald Solomons is a veteran hairdresser and stylist, he not only loves doing hair, but loves relationship he builds with his clients. He honed his skills and passion to make clients look and feel glamorous. He prides himself on listening to his clients’ needs to create personalised and gorgeous hair colour and styles while always keeping the integrity of their hair his top priority.

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Breast cancer awareness; a simple needle test goes a long way in saving lives

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Breast cancer is the most common cancer in women across the globe. National cancer incidence data (Sri Lanka) has shown, a significant increase in the number of breast cancer patients. The peak incidence of breast cancer is between 50 – 58 years of age (can vary from country to country).

Risk factors:

1. Age – Peak incidence of breast cancer is between 50 – 58 years of age. The incidence of breast cancer decreases after 60 years. Breast cancer is uncommon in women less than 30 years of age.

2. Family history – Women who have a first-degree relative with breast carcinoma have a two to three times higher risk of getting t

he disease than that of the general population.

3. Genetic mutations – Germline mutations of BRCA1 and BRCA2 genes are associated with an increased risk of having breast cancer.

4. Menstrual and reproductive history – Increased risk is correlated with early menarche (beginning of menstrual cycles), nulliparity, late age at first birth and late menopause.

5. Exogenous oestrogen – Exogenous oestrogen is considered as a risk factor of breast cancer.

6. Ionizing radiation – An increased risk of breast cancer has been documented with exposure to ionizing radiation.

7. Alcohol consumption

8. Cigarette smoking

9. Obesity

10. Lack of physical exercise

However, in most cases a definitive cause for breast cancer cannot be identified. It is important to know that you can get breast cancer without having any of the above mentioned risk factors. Why it happened and how it happened may not be clear at all times. Do not blame yourself, it is not due to your fault. It can happen to anyone… rich or poor, big or small, black or white. Do not let breast cancer destroy your life. If you come early the disease can be controlled. Be knowledgeable about the symptoms of breast cancer. If you feel something is not right, without taking it lightly resort to medical advice.

Symptoms:

There is a wide range of symptoms that can vary from person to person

Breast lump (usually painless), hardness or thickening

Skin changes that include swelling, redness, pitting (skin of an orange), scaling or any other noticeable change

An increase in the size or change in the shape of the breast

Changes in the appearance of the nipple (s), peeling of skin over the nipple

Discharge from the nipple (other than milk)

Pain in any part of the breast

Lumps/ swelling in the arm pit

However, it is important to understand that early breast cancer may not show any of the above symptoms. You may not feel a lump at all. Only way to detect early cancer is by a screening method and currently the widely acknowledged approach has been screening mammography. By this screening method unsuspected lumps in asymptomatic women can be identified. Breast cancer screening using mammograms is a well- established program in the developed world. Women over 45-50 years of age are recommended for screening. The cut off age for screening can vary from country to country. If there is a strong family history of breast cancer (or any other significant risk factor) screening will be offered at an earlier age. Mammogram exposes the breasts to a small amount of radiation. Benefits of breast screening by mammogram are far too many. We do not have a national breast cancer screening programme yet, but it will come in to place in the near future.

There is a simple needle test (fine needle aspiration cytology technique) that can be done as a first line investigation for breast lumps. It is a minimally invasive procedure with hardly any complications. It is cost effective and the results can be obtained quickly. Needle test can give a clue as to the nature of the lump. Sometimes the needle test results can be inconclusive. In those instances, further investigations will be done to confirm the diagnosis.

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A plunge of three decades and more

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Sri Lanka Sub Aqua Club credited for producing some of country’s top divers, several of them internationally recognized today, turns 35

by Randima Attygalle

Piling the diving gear into their cars and filling the empty seats with fellow divers, the founder members of the Sri Lanka Sub Aqua Club (SLSAC) in its formative years would head south to Hikkaduwa or Galle. They would fill their cylinders with a compressor, cast their own lead weights from lead pipes bought in Panchikawatte and purchase second-hand equipment whenever they appeared in the market. As the Founder Chairman of the Club, veteran diver, Dr. Malik Fernando recollects more than three decades later, “those who were fortunate enough to travel abroad brought back accessories and sold them at cost and we even serviced our own regulators.”

The Sri Lanka Sub-Aqua Club was formed in 1985 by a group of diving enthusiasts led by the marine biologist, Dr. M.W.R.N de Silva (Dr. Ranjith de Silva). What was envisaged by the Club says Dr. Fernando was to train Sri Lankans in SCUBA diving for both recreation and more importantly, for scientific research. He was supported by Arjan Rajasuriya, presently the Coordinator, Coastal and Marine Programme, International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Sri Lanka Country Office. The idea of the Club germinated in the mind of the founder, Dr. Ranjith de Silva following his establishment of the Coral Unit at the National Aquatic Resources and Research Agency (NARA). The core group consisted of a few British Sub Aqua (BSAC) qualified divers such as Dr. Fernando, himself and those who have been involved in various diving-related pursuits.

The SLSAC, modelled on the BSAC, had produced several internationally reputed divers along its 35-year journey. The SLSAC-certified divers are today recognized by many local recreational dive stations. “Although we sought to form a branch of the BSAC once we got established, the cost was prohibitive, thus we initiated our independent certification scheme,” notes its founder chairman. The Club’s training courses, Dr. Fernando recollects, were very popular and many divers were trained by senior members. “However, it was eventually recognised that the BSAC curriculum was too comprehensive, too time consuming and too detailed for beginners. With the popularisation of the compact PADI course that a number of us followed, the club curriculum was modified and simplified changing from a BSAC model to a PADI model, with much less theory and drills reduced to basic essentials. The instruction was still by club members, some of whom had BSAC qualification and experience in instructing in their original clubs. We were only able to give a club certification, but after we had established our credentials by producing well trained divers, that certification came to be recognised by some of the recreational dive stations.”

The SLSAC was also one of the chief catalysts in driving the now well-established Maritime Archaelogy Unit (MAU) in Galle, and the contribution made by the Club members towards its expansion is notable. Recovery of several porcelain and glass artefacts by them from the shipwrecks lying in Galle spurred this initiative, says Dr. Fernando. Further, th

e club has also contributed to maritime archaeology and preservation of artefacts by contributing to the establishment of a shipwreck database and actively lobbying against shipwreck salvaging, especially of ancient shipwrecks.

A medical doctor, Fernando attributes his ‘physician gene’ to his illustrious father, Dr. Cyril Fernando and his penchant for nature to his artistic mother. An adventurous family, they would seize every opportunity to travel out of Colombo fuelling the budding physician-cum diver son’s exploring spirits. Taking to water at the age of seven, young Malik’s imagination was fired by the National Geographic Magazine. With a pair of flippers and a second-hand mask he would head towards Mount Lavinia and recollect his earliest experience of Hikkaduwa as “going deep down into an aquarium.” Further inspired by the celebrated diver Rodney Jonklaas, a family acquaintance as well, the freshly graduated doctor would spend more time diving than passing his higher exams in the UK!

“Today the greater accent is on tuition and passing exams with little emphasis on sports and even if children do engage in sports, it is largely for competition. Sadly the value of sports as a leisure activity and a health gain is largely undermined today,” observes Dr. Fernando who urges school authorities to take more interest in water-sports. “Learning to swim and dive is only means to an end. Not only can a person discover new places but he/she can also become a partner is conservation,” says the expert diver who has walked the talk. Encouraging the budding swimmers and divers to become partners of the marine eco-system true to the mandate of the Club, Dr. Fernando urges them to rally around it in a bid to produce ‘responsible’ divers with scientific insights.

“Diving enables connectivity with the entire eco-system from which we are sadly very detached right now. It provides one of the best windows to the polluted environment, for which man is responsible,” reflects Wishwamithra Kadurugamuwa, present President of the Club. The monthly ‘sharing of knowledge’ exercise initiated by the Club facilitates this process, he adds. The experience and stories of the experienced divers shared on this platform inspire the younger members, he says. “For us, diving is much more than sight-seeing, it is about moulding divers who would perceive things scientifically,” says Kadurugamuwa who is a corporate lawyer .

The ‘Citizen Science Project’ which was launched by the Club early this year in collaboration with the IUCN (International Union for Conservation of Nature) is a progressive move which provides the divers a portal to document their dives. The exercise is envisaged to be a vehicle of future research and a facilitator in conservation. “The end purpose of this endeavour is to have a record after each dive as to where the reefs are dying, the extent of the damage, how can they be salvaged etc. To record all this, divers need to perceive through a scientific lens for which training is provided by experts,” said Kadurugamuwa.

The opportunities within the marine eco-system which lay before an island nation such as ours are enormous, yet hardly tapped, he noted. He cites water sports and newer tourism products such as shipwreck tourism in this regard. “Sadly there is not much attention paid to the marine environment in the magnitude it ought to happen,” adding that entangled fishing nets, empty plastic bottles and yoghurt cups floating besides the coral reefs do not support the idyllic picture any underwater explorer would want to see. The Club’s intervention to clean fishing nets entangled on coral reefs and lobbying for legislation against unethical fishing practices are moves towards realizing a sustainable marine environment.

Dynamite fishing and spear-fishing are very destructive forms of fishing and whilst there is active legislation prohibiting dynamite fishing, it is practiced widely and the club has played a very active role in reporting infractions to authorities leading to curtail of such activity. In addition the club was instrumental in bringing about legislation to prohibit spear-fishing in Sri Lanka – again a very destructive practice as spear fishermen in SCUBA gear have caused localized extinction of key species.

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