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An eventful off season – Part 28

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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

As the 1975/1976 tourist season ended, I had a lot of free time in a nearly empty hotel. I did not want to waste six months just relaxing and ordering room service for all meals. As the Assistant Manager and Executive Chef of the Coral Gardens Hotel, apart from a few planning tasks, I hardly had enough work to keep me occupied. I commenced looking around for opportunities for secondments to keep busy and learn more about hospitality business.

Fifth Non-Aligned Summit

One day while reading a local newspaper I learnt about Sri Lanka hosting the fifth Conference of Heads of State/Government of the Non-Aligned Countries, often referred to as Non-Aligned Summit, in August 1976. This movement originated in the mid-1950s as an effort by some countries to avoid the polarized world of the Cold War between the pro-Soviet communist countries belonging to the Warsaw Pact, and the pro-American capitalist countries belonging to the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO). The first summit was hosted by Yugoslavia in 1961 with only 24 countries attending, including Sri Lanka, India, Indonesia, Saudi Arabia and Cub. In the year 2021, the organization has grown to over 120 member states and in terms of the size and scope, second only to the United Nations as a global organization.

Over 50 heads of state/government attending the 1976 summit expected to stay at the only five-star hotels in the country – InterContinental and Oberoi. The venue for this prestigious three-day summit was the newly opened Bandaranaike Memorial International Conference Hall (BMICH), which was built and gifted by China to Sri Lanka. I heard that the government owned Ceylon Hotels Corporation (CHC) would be handling all catering and hospitality operations of the fifth non-Aligned Summit.

I immediately contacted the General Manager of CHC – Mr. Nimalasiri Silva, and offered my services, as I thought that this summit would provide an amazing opportunity for hospitality managers to gain valuable convention management experience at the highest level. “Chandana, thank you for your offer, but CHC already seconded for service to BMICH about ten of your fellow graduates of the Ceylon Hotel School (CHS).” I told him that I was able to work in any department at BMICH. He then said, “As CHC got the catering contract for the summit, our agreement is to only use CHC managers. The only exception is Milroy Fernando who was flown from Canada to lead the catering assignment on the directions of the Prime Minister.”

I was disappointed but was satisfied that at least I had tried. I was happy for my CHS colleagues who got this rare opportunity to serve heads of state/government.

Eventually, from 1990 to 1993, I got the opportunity to manage the entire catering operation of BMICH including large wedding dinners for 2,400 persons. BMICH has been crowned as the Gold Award Winner in the Leading Convention Center category of the prestigious 2020 South Asia Travel Awards (SATA) competition, bringing recognition to Sri Lanka as the premium convention destination in the South Asian Region. It all started in 1976.

Learning At Elephant House

Around the same period, my employer Whittall Boustead (Private) Ltd took over the management of one of the oldest companies in Sri Lanka – Ceylon Cold Stores. It was popularly known as Elephant House, which was the island’s largest producer of soft drinks, ice cream and a range of other food and beverage products. With permission from the Manager of the Coral Gardens Hotel – Muna, I contacted Mr. Gilbert Paranagama, the Director in charge of hotels. After a brief chat with him, he arranged for me to spend two months as a factory management observer at Elephant House.

I spent a week in each of the eight departments of Elephant House, including jams and preserves, ice cream and creamery, bottling plant, butchery, meat processing factory and finally the Fountain Cafe. I experienced different aspects of food and beverage processes, which were useful in my role as a hotel executive chef. Some of managers I worked with at Elephant House had their lunch very quickly and spent half of their lunch interval playing bridge, a card game I did not have time to master for the next four decades.

Working in the butchery, I was happy to use a large industrial electric meat saw, the type which I had not seen or used prior to that. One day, I was using this machine to cut a whole pig when my hand slipped and I had a minor injury. While I was taking the service elevator to get some first aid the lift operator started talking with me. This employee had only one finger in his right hand and I wondered what happened to him.

He said, “Sir, for a long time I operated that electric meat saw, until I had a terrible accident and lost four of my fingers! After that, five years ago the management gave me this easy job to operate the service elevator.” After listening to him, I was no longer motivated to use that machine. I quickly arranged an extended period at the Fountain Café, until I completed my two-month memorable observation period at the Elephant House.

The old advertisement for Fountain Café.

In mid-1970s Sri Lankans went out for a meal only on a rare occasion. Therefore, there were only very few restaurants even in Colombo. The Fountain Café operated by Elephant House was probably the most popular restaurant in Colombo, at that time. It was a useful experience for me to understand the Sri Lankan market for moderately priced food and beverage products.

An Opportunity in West Germany

From 1969 to 1976, two-year long fully-paid scholarships were awarded to the best three graduates of each batch of the Ceylon Hotel School (CHS). These postgraduate industrial and teacher training opportunities in West Germany were funded by the Carl Duisberg Society. Over the years, they were generous in awarding such scholarships to 26 outstanding graduates from CHS.

In 1976, the Carl Duisberg Society considered whether they should continue these scholarships in a different manner by awarding them to CHS graduates who have done well in the industry. A newspaper advertisement about this opportunity placed by the Ceylon Tourist Board (CTB) caught my eye. Although I was not a good student during my time at CHS, I applied for the scholarship, anyway.

A month later I was informed by CTB that I had been chosen for the scholarship. Soon after that I was summoned to the Whittall Boustead head office. Nervously I entered the office of Mr. Gilbert Paranagama who was talking with Padde Withana, Executive Chef of the Bentota Beach Hotel, who trained me as an Executive Chef. It appeared that Padde too had applied for the same scholarship and was chosen.

Mr. Paranagama telephoned the Chairman of CTB and told him that, “Whittall Boustead is proud that both our Executive Chefs were awarded scholarships to go to West Germany, but it is impossible for our company to release both for two years at the same time.” After listening to the response by the Chairman of CTB, he then said, “Yes, I know that Padde is the best Executive Chef in Sri Lanka, and Chandana has shown much promise. We will release Padde for two years, but Chandana will have to wait for a later opportunity after Padde returns from West Germany.” It was agreed upon, and that was the end of the telephone discussion.

“OK, Padde, you proceed to West Germany. Chandana, we will transfer you back to Bentota Beach Hotel as the Executive Chef for two years.” Mr. Paranagama announced. I was very pleased to get the opportunity to become the Executive Chef of the best resort hotel in Sri Lanka at the age of 22. Unfortunately, matters did not materialize as planned by CTB. For some unknown reason, Carl Duisberg Society terminated their scholarship program which helped the hotel industry of Sri Lanka tremendously to upgrade its professional skills.

Supervisor and Competitor Relations

Back at the Coral Gardens Hotel for the rest of the slow-moving off season I focused on public relations (PR) with the union delegates, hotel supervisors and managers of neighbouring hotels in Hikkaduwa. I organized a cycle trip for the Coral Gardens Hotel’s supervisors with the help from the union leader Butler Edmond, as the trip coordinator. He was pleased with the prominence given to him.

PR with the other hoteliers in the area was mainly sharing of best practices, and card games with dinner at different hotels every evening. That developed a useful fellowship among hoteliers in the area. That led to collaboration with competitor hotels to handle a common challenge we all faced – sea erosion. The erosion of country’s coastal zone had been identified as a long-standing problem, since 1920s.

Sea Erosion

In spite of advocacy by well-known divers, environmentalists and respected personalities such as Dr. Arthur C. Clark (British science fiction author who made Sri Lanka his home, for 52 years), damaging the coral reef continued. This was done for short term benefits of individuals and companies. Pollution of the sea, overfishing, destructive fishing practices using dynamite or cyanide, collecting live corals for the aquarium market, mining corals for building materials or to sell to tourists, were some of the many selfish reasons the people damage reefs.

Hoteliers were not able to prevent these issues without the genuine support of local politicians and clear governmental policies. Therefore, the hoteliers focused on measures such as arranging boulders to protect their lands from sea erosion. Such initiatives were costly as well as affected the natural beauty of hotel beach fronts. As the Assistant Manager of the hotel, I worked closely with the Manager, Muna and the Maintenance Engineer, Abey, in projects to fight sea erosion.

After decades of inaction, the 2004 Boxing Day Tsunami was an eye opener and a deadly warning to Sri Lanka. This Tsunami resulted in 35,000 estimated deaths in Sri Lanka, and displaced over half a million people in Sri Lanka. Many hotels were damaged and a few never opened again. If people had listened to the experts such as Dr. Arthur C. Clark the total death and disruption would have been significantly lower.

Meeting a Sweet Sixteen

One evening, I was getting ready to go to a nearby hotel for dinner and a card game with some friends. Just before leaving, I received a call from Muna, who requested me to come to his apartment to meet a family who was visiting him for dinner. “I am on my way to Coral Sands Hotel, but I will drop in for a short time before I leave,” I told him. While walking towards his apartment, I heard two girls giggling. I checked with a room boy who was visiting Mr. Munasinghe. He told me that it was a family from Colombo related to Mr. Dudley (one of the local businessmen who was friendly with Muna and me).

Muna was in a good mood. “Hey Chandana, meet Captain Wicks, who is our friend Dudley’s brother-in-law”, Muna said. Captain D. A. Wickremasinghe was a Sandhurst-trained military officer who had become the General Manager of a large security company in Colombo after an early retirement from the army. He introduced his wife and one of the giggling girls as his cousin.

The other giggling girl had long silky black hair down to her knees. While she was turning her head, Captain Wicks said “This is our daughter”. She looked at me with her beautiful big eyes and smiled. I simply froze as she was the most beautiful teenager I had ever seen. She had just turned sixteen and her parents were naturally very protective of her, their only child. We did not talk, but just glanced at each other. After a few minutes, I excused myself and left for my card game resisting the temptation to stay longer.



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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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