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A CHEF IN LOVE – Part 37

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CONFESSIONS OF A GLOBAL GYPSY

By Dr. Chandana (Chandi) Jayawardena DPhil

President – Chandi J. Associates Inc. Consulting, Canada

Founder & Administrator – Global Hospitality Forum

chandij@sympatico.ca

A Romantic Ushering of 1978

Hotel Ceysands enjoyed a 100% room occupancy on December 31, 1977, and as the Executive Chef and the Food & Beverage Manager of the hotel, it was a very busy day for me. I enjoyed every minute I spent leading my teams to deliver an ambitious 133-item buffet and champagne service for the New Year’s Eve dinner dance. My partner for the dance, the hotel General Manager’s teenage daughter, reminded me a few times, not to be late ushering in the new year, 1978 with her. She seemed anxious to tell me something special by midnight. She was worried that I was still in my chef uniform carving meats for late comer guests at 11:00 pm.

Shani was relieved to see me changed into a suit just before midnight. That was our very first dance. Every time we partnered to dance over the next 16 years at New Year’s Eve dances at different hotels in different countries, we laughed at how nervous we were on that memorable New Year’s Eve dance ushering 1978. Also, it was because her parents watched us like hawks. At midnight we managed to escape from their view to a less visible corner of the dance floor. We then declared our deep love for each other.

Meetings and Partings

The entire management team of the hotel met for all three meals everyday towards the end of each meal service to guests. A table for ten was arranged for us. Seven managers and two or three manager’s wives joined the executive table with Shani. We hardly had any formal management team meetings but used the meal table to talk about urgent matters. It was like one big family. From early 1978, Shani always kept the seat next to her strictly reserved for me.

I worked the whole day from morning till night almost every day during the tourist season. After lunch service, I relaxed a little by going for speedboat rides, playing some tennis, walking on the beach or playing cards with Shani and her mother. That tourist season was memorable in many ways. Towards the end of the season, I was saddened to hear that Shani and her mother would be away for nearly six months from April, 1978. They departed on a European trip visiting family and friends, mainly in England, West Germany and Austria.

During the tourist off season, the hotel occupancy came down drastically. Walkers Tours arranged a familiarising tour in Europe for the General Manager – Captain D. A Wickramasinghe (Wicks) and the Hotel Manager – Alan Silva. They planned to be away for two months. Terrence Hopman (Hoppy) who was the Executive Chef before me, returned after six months of sick leave. Hoppy and I were promoted to Assistant Managers. I continued to manage kitchens, restaurants, bars and stores. Hoppy was in charge of the other operational areas – front office, house-keeping, laundry etc. Soon after that, Hoppy and I were appointed to be Acting General Managers in charge of the hotel for two months.

Two Acting GMs

Those two months were filled with a lot of fun, some new learning experiences and a couple of mistakes as well. Hoppy and I shared one office and we did our inspection tours together. We were a perfect team. At times, I over did some pranks that angered Hoppy. However, I was quickly forgiven and we became friends again. Those days during the tourist off season with very low occupancy were boring and we had to entertain ourselves somehow.

Captain Wicks was a good delegater. He entrusted Hoppy and I to manage several special projects while he was away. We were given many assignments. Most of our time was spent preparing a detailed salary scale for all jobs, drawing up complete lists of all supplies for the whole year, developing purchasing specifications for all small operating equipment plus coordinating maintenance projects. Having done all that work, I learnt some new skills. Gradually I became confident and convinced that I was now fully prepared to become a hotel manager.

One day, Samaranayake (Sam) took Hoppy and I on a tour of the boats and maintenance areas. He briefed us as to how he intended doing major repairs to the hotel pontoon which had a carrying capacity of 60 passengers. Having spent his entire career in the Navy and recently retired with the rank of Master Chief, Sam was very knowledgeable about such projects. Seven years later when I became the General Manager of the 260-room, 40-acre Habarana Hotel Complex (The Village, The Lodge and Keells Farm), Sam worked on my team as the Maintenance Manager of one of the hotels. Sam was a very loyal team member.

At the end of our tour, we sat on the docked pontoon to enjoy a beautiful sunset. Hoppy reminded me that the hotel had 0% occupancy that evening. “Let’s have a drink on the pontoon”, Sam suggested. I said, “OK. Good idea. I will ask the kitchen to make some devilled beef and spicy chicken wings for our bites.” I have a full bottle of rum and a half bottle of brandy in my apartment. I will ask a room boy to bring those to the pontoon.” Hoppy made a contribution to a boring evening that turned into a “fun-filled” booze party.

So far it was good. Then came the wrong decision when Sam said. “Let’s see who can drink most of the rum and brandy and still stand straight.” The moment Hoppy and I accepted that challenge, Sam threw the tops of the two bottles into a nearby garbage can. Around 10:00 pm we had finished all of the rum and brandy. When we tried to stand up straight both Hoppy and I couldn’t do it. The cool breeze of the Bentota river and the uneven floor of the docked pontoon were not helpful. That evening I learnt two lessons. Never get drunk at your workplace and never accept a challenge to drink from a sailor!

Our next project was a sober and religious act. As the Acting General Managers, Hoppy and I encouraged the employees to build a small but unique Vesak pandal on the river. We built seven floating structures in the shape of lotus flowers with Prince Siddhartha walking on them. During the low season, it was important to keep the employees motivated with exciting projects. This initiative was also well supported by the local residents who were predominantly Buddhists.

An Opportunity at Queens Hotel

In spite of my playful nature, since I was 20 years old, I was very responsible during the number of acting periods as Manager/General Manager at three hotels (Havelock Tourinn, Coral Gardens Hotel and Hotel Ceysands). That experience gave me the confidence needed to aim to be become a Hotel Manager. I was hoping to get a promotion within John Keells group, but there was no opening on the horizon yet.

One day, I saw a large newspaper advertisement for the post of Manager of Queens Hotel, Kandy with a good salary scale between Rs. 1,750 and Rs. 2,250. They also advertised the post of Executive Chef. Queens Hotel in 1978 was managed by the government owned Ceylon Hotels Corporation (CHC). Although leaving John Keells within one year of service to join CHS was not wise, I applied for the post of Manager of Queens Hotel any way. I had two goals for that action. I wanted to get some experience doing a hotel manager interview and to also send a signal to my employer that I was ready for a promotion.

The Queens Hotel situated in the heart of Kandy and parts of the building had a rich history of nearly 200 years. When the Kingdom of Kandy finally fell into the hands of the British invaders in 1815, this famous building was converted into a mansion for the British Governor of Ceylon. In 1840 it had become Stainton Hotel/Hostel and eventually in 1869 had become Queens Hotel. It had a similar history to Mount Lavinia Hotel and a large team of unionized employees similar to Coral Gardens Hotel. I thought that my experience in those two legendary hotels made me a good candidate for the position.

A Strange Interview

Around late October in 1978, I was called for an interview by the owners of Queens Hotel. The interview was held in Colombo at the CHC head office. When I arrived for the interview, I was surprised to see 14 other candidates for the Hotel Manager post had all been called at the same time. Although I did not have very much experience with interviews, common sense told me that it was a mistake, as there was no confidentiality for the candidates. As I knew all of the short-listed candidates, I commenced talking with them.

I was the most junior and youngest person among those 15 candidates. Some of them were many years my senior from the Ceylon Hotel School including a former lecturer of mine, who always resented my pranks and guts. Most of them were hotel managers of properties less prominent than the Queens Hotel. They looked surprised that I was called for an interview and competing with them. I felt that I had no chance in outperforming them but nevertheless, I wanted to go through the interview just for the experience. My plan was to finish the interview and rush back to Hotel Ceysands by mid-afternoon to prepare for the evening barbecue. After waiting two, long hours in the waiting room, I observed that only a handful were called into the boardroom where the interviews were held.

At that point, I went to the secretary who was seated outside the boardroom and in charge of calling the next candidate. When I checked where my name was on the list, I realized that I was number 15. I would be called last! “Miss, I did not budget six hours to wait here for an interview. I must get back to Bentota to work this afternoon. Please remove my application. Good bye!” I told her firmly. She was concerned. “I am very sorry to hear that, please don’t leave. I will call you next.” Immediately she changed the order.

Five minutes later I was called into a smoke-filled boardroom where seven older gentlemen were seated around the board table. I knew of a few of them. They were board members of two organizations – Kandy Hotels Co. Ltd., and CHC. As I was there mainly for the experience and had no chance of competing with all the other mature candidates, I was strangely relaxed and not nervous at all.

After a series of the usual questions about my experience and current duties, the Chairman of the selection board asked me an important question. “What is the salary you have in mind, if you were selected as the Manager of Queens Hotel?” he asked. Without batting an eyelid, I said, “Rs 2,250.” There was total silence among the seven distinguished gentlemen.

After a lengthy pause, the Chairman of the interview panel asked, “Do you realize that what you are seeking is the highest point on the scale?” When I said ‘Yes”, I was asked to justify why I should be paid at the highest level on the salary scale. I had to think quickly to give an intelligent answer with a justifiable rationale.

“I see that you are also looking to recruit an Executive Chef. The average guest stay at Queens is two days and most of the guests are on a full-board or half-board meal plan, I showed that I have done my research. Therefore, Queens Hotel requires only four good rotating menus. If you hire me, you won’t need to recruit an Executive Chef. As the Manager of the hotel, I would be happy to supervise the kitchens. With that the company will save Rs. 1,200”. When I made that remark, there weren’t any more questions from the panel. After a quick round of firm handshakes, I left.

Creative Negotiations

On my way to Bentota I was convinced that I would never hear from that board, as I felt that I had been too arrogant at the interview. A few hours after I had returned to Hotel Ceysands, I received a telegram which read: “Congratulations! You are selected as the Manager of Queens Hotel. Please confirm a date to commence at your earliest.” A couple of days later, I received the contract letter confirming my salary of Rs. 2,000. That was an excellent salary in 1978. I was only 24 years old and ready to negotiate with John Keells Group.

That evening I broke the news to Captain Wicks. He was shocked and said, “That’s a very good job, but we cannot let you go.” I smiled and replied, “Captain, I will stay if you can match the position and the salary.” Next day early in the morning he left for John Keells head office and came back in the evening with an offer. John Keells had decided to promote me to the Manager of Hotel Swanee with a salary of Rs. 2,000 within the next three months. There was one condition – until a successor was recruited, I would overlook the Hotel Ceysands kitchens until the end of the tourist season on 31st March, 1979, while managing Hotel Swanee. Of course, I agreed. I liked the challenge of doing two jobs concurrently, something I eventually did for most parts of my long career in hospitality.

A Proposal for the Future

When Shani returned from her European tour, I was surprised that she had learnt to speak German and did her first job when in London. She was pleased that I had decided to be the Manager of nearby Hotel Swanee instead of Queens Hotel in Kandy. In spite of a busy six months, we spent without seeing each other, we felt that our souls have gotten closer than ever before. We decided to take our love affair to the next level.

With some courage I approached my boss, Captain Wicks and asked for his daughter’s hand in marriage. He was speechless for a few minutes, and then said, “Chandana, Shani just turned 18, and is too young to get married. She is our only child. I need to consult my wife.” After some further negotiations we agreed that Shani and I will get engaged in 1979 and marry in early 1980 when Shani is 19 years old.



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Features

Glimmers of hope?

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The newly appointed Cabinet Ministers leaves Cass un-uplifted. She need not elaborate. She wishes fervently that Dr Harsha de Silva will leave party loyalty aside and consider the country. Usually, it’s asking politicians to cast aside self-interest, which very rarely is done in the political culture that came to be after the 1970s. Thus, it is very unusual, completely out of the ordinary to appeal to Dr Harsha to forego party loyalty and do the very needful for the country by accepting the still vacant post of Minister of Finance. We are very sorry Eran W too has kept himself away.

Some of Cassandra’s readers may ask whether she is out of her right mind to see glimmers of hope for the country. She assures them she is as sane as can be; she does cling onto these straws like the dying man does. How else exist? How else get through these dire times?

What are the straws she clings to? News items in The Island of Tuesday 24 May.

‘Sirisena leaves Paget Road mansion in accordance with SC interim injunction.’ And who was instrumental in righting this wrong? The CPA and its Executive Director Dr Pakiasothy Saravanamuttu. It is hoped that revisions to the system will come in such as giving luxury housing and other extravagant perks to ex-presidents and their widows. Sri Lanka has always lived far beyond its means in the golden handshakes to its ex- prezs and also perks given its MPs. At least luxury vehicles should not be given them. Pensions after five years in Parliament should be scrapped forthwith.

‘Letter of demand sent to IGP seeking legal action against DIG Nilantha Jayawardena.’ Here the mover is The Centre for Society and Religion and it is with regard to the Easter Sunday massacre which could have been prevented if DIG Jayawardena as Head of State Intelligence had taken necessary action once intelligence messages warned of attack on churches.

‘CIABOC to indict Johnston, Keheliya and Rohitha’. It is fervently hoped that this will not be another charge that blows away with the wind. They do not have their strongest supporter – Mahinda R to save them. We so fervently hope the two in power now will let things happened justly, according to the law of the land.

‘Foreign Secy Admiral Colombage replaced’. And by whom? A career diplomat who has every right and qualification for the post; namely Aruni Wijewardane. If this indicates a fading of the prominence given to retired armed forces personnel in public life and administration, it is an excellent sign. Admiral Colombage had tendered his resignation, noted Wednesday’s newspaper.

‘Crisis caused by decades of misuse public resources, corruption, kleptocracy – TISL’.

Everyone knew this, even the despicable thieves and kleptocrats. The glaring question is why no concerted effort was made to stop the thieving from a country drawn to bankruptcy by politicians and admin officers. There are many answers to that question. It was groups, mostly of the middle class who came out first in candle lit vigils and then at the Gotagogama Village. The aragalaya has to go down in history as the savior of our nation from a curse worse than war. The civil war was won against many odds. But trying to defeat deceit power-hunger and thieving was near impossible. These protestors stuck their necks out and managed to rid from power most of the Rajapaksa family. That was achievement enough.

Heartfelt hope of the many

The newly appointed Cabinet Ministers leaves Cass un-uplifted. She need not elaborate. She wishes fervently that Dr Harsha de Silva will leave party loyalty aside and consider the country. Usually, it’s asking politicians to cast aside self interest, which very rarely is done in the political culture that came to be after the 1970s. Thus, it is very unusual, completely out of the ordinary to appeal to Dr Harsha to forego party loyalty and do the very needful for the country by accepting the still vacant post of Minister of Finance. We are very sorry Eran W too has kept himself away. As Shamindra Ferdinando writes in the newspaper mentioned, “Well informed sources said that Premier Wickremesinghe was still making efforts to win over some more Opposition members. Sources speculated that vital finance portfolio remained vacant as the government still believed (hoped Cass says) Dr Harsha de Silva could somehow be convinced to accept that portfolio.”

Still utterly hopeless

Gas is still unavailable for people like Cass who cannot stand in queues, first to get a token and then a cylinder. Will life never return to no queues for bare essentials? A woman friend was in a petrol queue for a solid twelve hours – from 4 am to 4 pm. This is just one of million people all over the country in queues. Even a common pressure pill was not available in 20 mg per.

Cassandra considers a hope. We saw hundreds of Sri Lankans all across the globe peacefully protesting for departure of thieves from the government. The ex-PM, Mahinda Rajapaksa’s answer to this was to unleash absolute terror on all of the island. It seems to be that with Johnson a younger MP stood commandingly.

Returning from that horror thought to the protesters overseas, Cass wondered if each of them contributed one hundred dollars to their mother country, it would go a long way to soften the blows we are battered with. Of course, the absolute imperative is that of the money, not a cent goes into personal pockets. The donors must be assured it goes to safety. Is that still not possible: assuring that donations are used for the purpose they are sent for: to alleviate the situation of Sri Lankans? I suppose the memory of tsunami funds going into the Helping Hambantota Fund is still fresh in memory. So much for our beloved country.

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Ban on agrochemicals and fertilisers: Post-scenario analysis

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By Prof. Rohan Rajapakse

(Emeritus Professor of Agriculture Biology UNIVERSITY OF RUHUNA and Former Executive Director Sri Lanka Council of Agriculture Research Policy)

There are two aspects of the ban on agrochemicals. The first is the ban on chemical fertilisers, and the second is the ban on the use of pesticides. Several eminent scientists, Dr Parakrama Waidyanatha (formerly the Soil Scientist of RRI), Prof OA Ileperuma (Former Professor of Chemistry University of Peradeniya), Prof C. S. Weeraratne (former Professor of Agronomy University of Ruhuna), Prof D. M. de Costa University of Peradeniya, Prof. Buddhi Marambe (Professor in Weed Science University of Peradeniya) have effectively dealt with the repercussion of the ban on chemical fertilisers which appeared in The Island newspaper on recently.

The major points summarised by these authors are listed below.

FERTILISER ISSUE

1. These scientists, including the author, are of the view that the President’s decision to totally shift to organic agriculture from conventional could lead to widespread hunger and starvation in future, which has become a reality. Organic farming is a small phenomenon in global agriculture, comprising a mere 1.5% of total farmlands, of which 66% are pasture.

2. Conventional farming (CF) is blamed for environmental pollution; however, in organic farming, heavy metal pollution and the release of carbon dioxide and methane, two greenhouse gases from farmyard manure, are serious pollution issues with organic farming that have been identified.

3. On the other hand, the greatest benefit of organic fertilisers as against chemical fertilisers is the improvement of soil’s physical, chemical and biological properties by the former, which is important for sustained crop productivity. The best option is to use appropriate combinations of organic and chemical fertilisers, which can also provide exacting nutrient demands of crops and still is the best option!

4. Sri Lanka has achieved self-sufficiency in rice due to the efforts of the Research Officers of the Department of Agriculture, and all these efforts will be in vain if we abruptly ban the import of fertiliser. These varieties are bred primarily on their fertiliser response. While compost has some positive effects such as improving soil texture and providing some micronutrients, it cannot be used as a substitute for fertiliser needed by high yielding varieties of rice. Applying organic fertilisers alone will not help replenish the nutrients absorbed by a crop. Organic fertilisers have relatively small amounts of the nutrients that plants need. For example, compost has only 2% nitrogen (N), whereas urea has 46% N. Banning the import of inorganic fertilisers will be disastrous, as not applying adequate amounts of nutrients will cause yields to drop, making it essential to increase food imports. Sri Lankan farmers at present are at the mercy of five organizations, namely the Central Department of Agriculture, the Provincial Ministry of Agriculture, the Private sector Pesticide Companies, the Non-Government organizations and the leading farmers who are advising them. Instead, improved agricultural extension services to promote alternative non-chemical methods of pest control and especially the use of Integrated Pest Management.

Locally, pest control depends mostly on the use of synthetic pesticides; ready to use products that can be easily procured from local vendors are applied when and where required Abuse and misapplication of pesticides is a common phenomenon in Sri Lanka. Even though many farmers are aware of the detrimental aspects of pesticides they often use them due to economic gains

We will look at the post scenario of
what has happened

1. The importation of Chemical fertilisers and Pesticides was banned at the beginning of Maha season 1 on the advice of several organic manure (OM) promoters by the Ministry of agriculture.

2. The Ministry of Agriculture encouraged the farmers to use organic manure, and an island-wide programme of producing Organic manure were initiated. IT took some time for the government to realize that Sri Lanka does not have the capacity to produce such a massive amount of OM, running into 10 tons per hectare for 500000 hectares ear marked in ma ha season.

3. Hence the government approved the importation of OM from abroad, and a Company in China was given an initial contract to produce OM produced from Seaweed. However, the scientists from University of Peradeniya detected harmful microorganisms in this initial consignment, and the ship was forced to leave Sri Lankan waters at a cost of US dollar 6.7 million without unloading its poisonous cargo. No substitute fertiliser consignment was available.

4. A committee in the Ministry hastily recommended to import NANO RAJA an artificial compound from India to increase the yield by spraying on to leaves. Sri Lanka lost Rs 863 million as farmers threw all these Nano Raja bottles and can as it attracts dogs and wild boar.

Since there is no other option the Ministry promised to pay Rs 50000 per hectare for all the farmers who lost their livelihood. It is not known how much the country lost due to this illogical decision of banning fertilisers and pesticides.

Recommendations

1. Judicious use of pesticides is recommended.

2. The promotion and the use of integrated pest management techniques whenever possible

3. To minimize the usage of pesticides:

Pesticide traders would be permitted to sell pesticides only through specially trained Technical Assistants.

Issuing pesticides to the farmers for which they have to produce some kind of a written recommendation by a local authority.

Introduction of new mechanism to dispose or recycle empty pesticide and weedicide bottles in collaboration with the Environment Ministry.

Laboratory-testing of imported pesticides by the Registrar of Pesticides at the entry-point to ensure that banned chemicals were not brought into the country.

Implementation of trained core of people who can apply pesticides.

Education campaigns to train farmers, retailers, distributors, and public with the adverse effects of pesticides.

Maximum Residue Level (MRL) to reduce the consumer’s risk of exposure to unsafe levels.

Integrated pest Management and organic agriculture to be promoted.

1. To ensure the proper usage of agrochemicals by farmers

All those who advised the Minister of Agriculture and the President to shift to OM still wield authority in national food production effort. The genuine scientists who predicted the outcome are still harassed sacked from positions they held in MA and were labelled as private sector goons. The danger lies if the farmers decide not to cultivate in this Maha season due to non-availability of fertilisers and pesticides the result will be an imminent famine.

The country also should have a professional body like the Planning Commission of

India, with high calibre professionals in the Universities and the Departments and

There should be institutions and experts to advise the government on national policy matters.

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Thomians triumph in Sydney 

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Nothing is happening for us, at this end, other than queues, queues, and more queues! There’s very little to shout about were the sports and entertainment scenes are concerned. However, Down Under, the going seems good.

Sri Lankans, especially in Melbourne, Australia, have quite a lot of happenings to check out, and they all seem to be having a jolly good time!

Trevine Rodrigo,

who puts pen to paper to keep Sri Lankans informed of the events in Melbourne, was in Sydney, to taken in the scene at the Sri Lanka Schools Sevens Touch Rugby competition. And, this is Trevine’s report:

The weather Gods and S.Thomas aligned, in Sydney, to provide the unexpected at the Sri Lanka Schools Sevens Touch Rugby competition, graced by an appreciative crowd.

Inclement weather was forecast for the day, and a well drilled Dharmaraja College was expected to go back-to-back at this now emerging competition in Sydney’s Sri Lanka expatriate sporting calendar.

But the unforeseen was delivered, with sunny conditions throughout, and the Thomians provided the upset of the competition when they stunned the favourites, Dharmaraja, in the final, to grab the Peninsula Motor Group Trophy.

Still in its infancy, the Sevens Touch Competition, drawn on the lines of Rugby League rules, found new flair and more enthusiasm among its growing number of fans, through the injection of players from around Australia, opposed to the initial tournament which was restricted to mainly Sydneysiders.

A carnival like atmosphere prevailed throughout the day’s competition.

Ten teams pitted themselves in a round robin system, in two groups, and the top four sides then progressed to the semi-finals, on a knock out basis, to find the winner.

A food stall gave fans the opportunity to keep themselves fed and hydrated while the teams provided the thrills of a highly competitive and skilled tournament.

The rugby dished out was fiercely contested, with teams such as Trinity, Royal and St. Peter’s very much in the fray but failing to qualify after narrow losses on a day of unpredictability.

Issipathana and Wesley were the other semi-finalists with the Pathanians grabbing third place in the play-off before the final.

The final was a tense encounter between last year’s finalists Dharmaraja College and S.Thomas. Form suggested that the Rajans were on track for successive wins in as many attempts.  But the Thomians had other ideas.

The fluent Rajans, with deft handling skills and evasive running, looked the goods, but found the Thomian defence impregnable.  Things were tied until the final minutes when the Thomians sealed the result with an intercept try and hung on to claim the unthinkable.

It was perhaps the price for complacency on the Rajans part that cost them the game and a lesson that it is never over until the final whistle.

Peninsula Motor Group, headed by successful businessman Dilip Kumar, was the main sponsor of the event, providing playing gear to all the teams, and prize money to the winners and runners-up.

The plan for the future is to make this event more attractive and better structured, according to the organisers, headed by Deeptha Perera, whose vision was behind the success of this episode.

In a bid to increase interest, an over 40’s tournament, preceded the main event, and it was as interesting as the younger version.

Ceylon Touch Rugby, a mixed team from Melbourne, won the over 40 competition, beating Royal College in the final.

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