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Anagarika Dharmapala’s contribution to restoration of Buddha Sasana in India

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By Rohana R. Wasala

It seems I was born to restore the Sasana in India. When I started Buddhist work in India, a lot of lay Buddhists as well as Bhikkhus in Ceylon started working against me. They did not accept my advice……… I left Ceylon and went to India to do the work for the Sasana because there was no one to do that work….. In February 1906, my father passed away. Mrs Mary Foster came to my rescue. Mrs Foster is the modern Vishaka. She is helping the Sasana through me……..The well-to-do Sinhalese have no patriotic love for the land. They run after the British. Our leaders are disunited in faith and nationality. I am leaving a country with a slave mentality due to the Missionary education which is unpatriotic, which is not eager to find modern technologies. Uncultured manners are regarded highly in the society………….. To improve the life of the foolish Sinhalese is a difficult task. Economically they cannot be uplifted. They are lazy. They do not have a vision for progress. They do not have an urge to safeguard the Buddha Sasana….. Even now, Buddhists who did not contribute a cent towards my work in India, questioned me about the details of the accounts. They know only to criticize me and question me about accounts.

Anagarika Dharmapala (‘My Life Story’, ed. Lakshman Jayawardane, Sarasavi Publishers, Nugegoda, Sri Lanka, 2013)

(My opinion is that it is important to interpret the Anagarika, his language and ideas, as reflected in the above extract, in relation to the historical context in which he lived and worked. We today realise how accurate he was in his observations about the moral and economic degeneration of a great nation that suffered under foreign rule for centuries and its lost genius that needed to be restored through its own efforts under a good leadership. Aren’t we still struggling to live down that national humiliation amidst predatory interferences from the descendents of those former colonisers? Contrary to the negative view that most modern Sri Lankans seem to have been brainwashed to entertain about him due to decades of anti-national propaganda, shouldn’t we appreciate how far ahead of his time Anagarika Dharmapala actually was? He is criticised for having been ‘hostile’ towards the ‘minorities’. But were the ‘minorities’ then comparable to the minorities that the majority Sinhala Buddhists coexist peacefully with today? Which minority then thought about the historical homeland of the Sinhalese with the same degree of self-denying love and devotion as they did?)

The 157th Anagarika Dharmapala birth anniversary falls today. To mark this occasion, I thought it appropriate to write about the contribution he made to the revival of Buddhism in the land of its birth.

Anagarika Dharmapala contrived to closely interact with Mahatma Gandhi and other leaders of the Indian independence movement such as Jawaharlal Nehru, Rajendra Prasad, Muslim leader Shaukat Ali, Madan Mohan Malaviya and poet, philosopher and writer Rabindranath Tagore in the early decades of the last (20th) century, and achieved what he could for his own cause in India. Dharmapala was active as a Buddhist missionary who was determined to revive Buddhism in the country where it originated, initiating his campaign by trying to reclaim Buddha Gaya to world Buddhists, among whom he considered the Sinhalese to be foremost as the Custodians of Theravada Buddhism, generally regarded as the pristine form of the Dharma preached by Gautama Buddha. He wanted to take the word of the Buddha to the Western world as well as to strengthen ties with the Buddhist countries of the East. Apart from being in the same boat in terms of their respective life missions, chronologically too they were close to each other: Dharmapala was the senior having been born on September 17, 1864. Gandhi was junior to him by five years, for he was born on October 2, 1869. Close contemporaneity and shared cultural affinity made interaction between the two easier and more natural. This was significant because, by then, Mahatma Gandhi was already a man on a pedestal for many in India.

Having said that, it is essential to make an important distinction between Dharmapala and Gandhi as visionary men committed to great missions. Gandhi was more a political pragmatist than a spiritual visionary. Dharmapala kept to his chosen Buddhist missionary role and adopted an unwaveringly apolitical approach to his mission. But this was ignored by the British colonial government, which, during the 1915 Riot, for fear that Dharmapala’s potential presence in Sri Lanka in the years following would be problematic, quite arbitrarily subjected him to a five year long term of house arrest (1915-1920) in Calcutta, where he was then engaged in his normal missionary activities. It was virtually, a punishing term of internment for a constantly active, mobile individual like Dharmapala. Gandhi, on the other hand, in his failure to work with Muslim leaders without compromising legitimate Hindu interests, earned the murderous wrath of a group of Hindu nationalists.

Passage of time and emerging new research studies about them enable us to put them into perspective, and make fresh assessments of their personalities, individual perceptions and achievements. To name just two examples among many books concerning Gandhi, we have “The Gift of Anger: And Other Lessons from My Grandfather Mahatma Gandhi” by Arun Gandhi (2018) that provides evidence of a less admirable aspect of his personality which, if not suppressed by himself, would have been a stain on his nonviolent image (but Gandhi himself viewed anger as an empowering emotion that should not be abused), and “Gandhi in South Africa: A Racist or Liberator?” by Dr Siby K. Joseph (2019) which reveals that he was not initially free from a streak of racist prejudice against black Africans though, as a lawyer, he stood up for their independence and human rights. Regarding Anagarika Dharmapala, there is Dr Sarath Amunugama’s “Lion’s Roar” (2016), which, taking the facts of his life and times into consideration, seems to follow a more cautious, if unconvincing, middle course between passionate admirers of the iconic figure and his traditionally biased detractors, though the book repeats the unfounded eurocentric ‘protestant Buddhism’ thesis to describe the indigenous Buddhist revival movement which Dharmapala saw the beginning of, and which he enriched with his own epochal contribution.

Such deconstructive literature about Dharmapala and Gandhi has by now exposed their feet of clay as well as their focal strengths, and made them credibly and acceptably more human in the public perception. Both were great men and played truly heroic roles in the national and international causes that they championed; Gandhi was the leading anti-colonial Indian nationalist of his time, and the model political ethicist; the non-violent resistance movement that he led ultimately won India its independence from Britain, but failed to prevent the partition of India on August 15, 1947 into two independent states that resulted in two million deaths and 14 million displaced, and in his own assassination a few months later, on January 30, 1948. Dharmapala had to be satisfied with only partial success in his endeavour to acquire Buddha Gaya for Buddhists. But their monumental legacies have left indelible marks on the history of their nations and on that of the world at large, though these are hardly recognized, particularly in respect of Anagarika Dharmapala.

In the 1940s, Gandhi opposed the partition and worked with some Muslim leaders such as the famous Ali brothers, the Maulanas Shaukat and Mohamed Ali, and his friend Badhshah Khan, who shared his vision of an independent India based on religious multiculturalism. The Ali brothers were the leaders of the anti-British Khilafat Movement of Indian Muslims who demanded justice for the Sunni Islamic Turkey (Ottoman Empire). Gandhi’s actively supportive association with that organization made him temporarily popular among the Muslims. But with the dissolution of the Ottoman Empire after WWI and the establishment of the Republic of Turkey under Mustafa Kemal Ataturk in 1923, the Khilafat Movement also ended in 1924. Gandhi and Badhshah Khan had wanted Hindus and Muslims each to open their places of worship to the other for prayer. The Hindus offered their temples to Muslims for prayer, but the Muslims were not ready to reciprocate the conciliatory gesture. The Hindus’ tolerant and accommodating attitude, and the Muslims’ less liberal response are not surprising to anyone who has a basic comparative knowledge of Hinduism and Islam in this respect. It was obvious that Gandhi did not know enough about the second to avoid such embarrassment among his own people, although he had claimed he had a good knowledge of Islam’s holy book.

Dharmapala met and made friends with Shaukat Ali and tried to enlist Muslim support on his struggle to legally take possession of the Buddha Gaya holy place for Buddhists. When Ali visited Colombo in 1921, he spoke in support of Gandhi’s work in India for promoting Hindu-Muslim unity. Dharmapala wrote articles in Sinhala expressing solidarity with Indian Muslims engaged in the Khilafat agitation, but he was shrewd enough not to expect the impossible from Muslims unlike Gandhi. His love of peaceful Hindu-Muslim co-existence was utilitarian: he wanted the assistance of both Hindu and Muslim leaders on his struggle at the Buddha’s birthplace. Though Dharmapala was able to gain only partial control of the place for Buddhists, he had better luck at Sarnath. He had founded his Mahabodhi Society with the idea of reclaiming Buddhist sites in India. He bought a plot of land at Sarnath and built the impressive Mulagandhakuti Vihara, which he was able to complete in 1930. It became the main centre of Buddhist worship in India, which it remains even today, as Amunugama says. It drew the admiration not only of Buddhists, but of the colonial government and that of Indian national leaders Nehru, Tagore, and Malaviya. Dharmapala’s remarkable success in causing India’s lost Buddhist cultural heritage to be brought to the forefront of Indian national consciousness was not confined to this.

Buddhism, he learnt from Sir Edwin Arnold’s “Light of Asia”, he expressed his displeasure, implying that an Indian leader of Gandhi’s stature was remiss in acquiring the best part of India’s spiritual knowledge. Dharmapala himself said that it was through the medium of English that he himself learnt the Dhamma, for at that time no decent education was available in the vernacular. People with ability to do so sent their children to English medium schools as Dharmapala’s did. But Dharmapala did learn Sinhala and Pali as well from erudite Buddhist monks.

According to the 2011 census, there were 8.4 million Buddhists in India, mostly concentrated in Maharashtra. But they belong to different sects, not only to the Theravada tradition that Dharmapala represented. The Mahayana sect is the most prevalent form of Buddhism in India today, as it is in the rest of the world. But the inspiration that Dharmapala left in India as a Buddhist revivalist is not small. He was largely responsible for getting the small village of Buddha Gaya in Bihar, where the Buddha attained Buddhahood, with its historic Mahabodhi Temple complex recognized as the most important Buddhist pilgrimage site in the Buddhist world.



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Opinion

Show some sympathy to non-citizen spouses

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(Some errors had crept into this letter, which was first published on 14 October under a different headline. This is the correct version. We regret the errors – The Island)

I have long wanted to lodge a protest against an injustice a dear friend of mine (P.) — and probably many others, too — has been labouring under for over 45 years now.

That is the requirement for non-citizen spouses to regularly — eternally — apply for residence visa renewal.

This must also make one wary of doing anything to endanger the citizenship one is left with and relies upon. When P, a British citizen, first came here, dual citizenship was still not an option, and sole citizenship of an unfamiliar place and people, scarcely tempting.

My English mother came here for the first time in 1955 (with three children). At the time, dual nationality was not allowed here. Naturally, she retained her British citizenship but had to regularly renew the right to residence. And my father’s assent was necessary every time. When, after 23 years of marriage, my parents divorced, my mother had to obtain special permission to remain — her youngest child was not even ten. And my father’s approval was still required. This became more and more difficult, and finally my mother decided to leave Sri Lanka. How life would have turned out for her had she not retained her British citizenship I do not know. Dual nationality was still not permitted. But in England, she had no problem finding a good job and a place to live.

When I returned here in 1975, I had been a British citizen from birth. I needed to work but the first job I was offered required me to be a Sri Lankan citizen. Still no dual nationality. It was a difficult decision to give up what had after all been a valuable asset in so many ways, and to lose certain privileges I took for granted for over 30 years. But this wasn’t a totally strange country for me, and I wanted to commit myself to it in every way. So, I took the risk and to this day I have only Sri Lankan citizenship. But, sadly, there have been many times in the years that followed when I wished I could have escaped the trouble and turmoil.

I don’t know if my friend P. ever contemplated taking SL citizenship only, or even dual citizenship when it became available. And until recently, dual citizenship closed various doors here to their owners — as I believe it should in high positions of politics and government.

P. has thrown herself into life here in every way. She is a much loved and valuable person. Unfortunately, she is not allowed to work, which is also a loss to the country. But naturally she misses her family and goes back regularly to be with them, often together with her solely SL husband.

Were she to take dual nationality now, she could not leave in a time of turmoil/crisis here or to her family in London.

And so, for over 45 years she has had to go through the wretched business of visa renewal — originally every year, but now every two years for people who have been here for a longer period. And this looms large again now, in a few days, amid all the current problems.

Not only that, but forever hangs over her the instant withdrawal of residence rights should her husband predecease her.

I think this last is most inhuman. Just when she most needs the support of people who are close to her here, she is expected to pack up and set up an entirely new home. Not even given time to confront the new situation and decide what to do.

I think that at least two things need to be changed in this matter. The two-yearly renewal should be reduced to at least five-yearly. And the despatch upon the SL spouse’s demise should be changed to a reasonable time, for the bereaved to attend to everything or even consider, at that point, applying for dual nationality. And this should be no less than a year.

I hope this comes to the notice of someone capable of addressing the problem, though it will be too late to make any difference to my now quite “senior” friend, as she stands in yet another queue at the end of this month.

MANEL FONSEKA

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Opinion

The Fertiliser Fiasco: Discretion is the Better Part of Valour

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By Dr Parakrama Waidyanatha

In his novel published in 1891, tiled “The Light that Failed”, Rudyard Kipling wrote the phrase, ‘biting the bullet’ to express the thought that fortitude can be gained by ‘biting a bullet’! As things are, should the President and government continue ‘biting the bullet’ or compromise in sincerity as discretion is the better part of valour.

The farmers have a genuine grievance in that there is no fertiliser, organic or inorganic! And organic fertiliser is not something that can be produced overnight. They are adamantly up in arms, and it would appear most likely that paddy and other arable crop cultivations will incur huge production losses. Farmers in the Mahaweli and other irrigated lands have taken up the unyielding stand that unless fertilisers are available, they will not cultivate this Maha season. Crop losses without fertiliser and other inputs can be as high as 40-50%, if not more, leading to a highly calamitous national situation. The same applies to plantation and other crops. Expert calculations reveal that tea yields too could decline by 50%!

More importantly, there are no readily available organic materials, vegetable, animal or other to meet the nutrient demand of the three million hectares of crops! Most plant–based organic matter has only about 1% nitrogen, if not less. Assuming, however, that together with animal dung and other organic matter sources the figure is increased to 1.5% and on average a hectare of cropland requires 100kg N per year, the total annual organic fertiliser demand should be at least 200 million tons if not more to provide the nitrogen requirement.

The average N demand for tea is at least 200kg/ha/yr, and some vegetables and other crops too, require more N than 100kg/ha/yr. The issue then is, how such a huge demand of organic fertiliser is to be met locally.

The recent fiasco with the attempt to import a seaweed- based organic fertiliser from a Chinese enterprise, Seawin Biotechnologies, is well known. Samples tested locally were reported to be contaminated with a harmful bacterium, Erwinia and the importation was stopped. Incidentally, the local Chinese Embassy had the audacity to contest the report of our quarantine authority, that the culture of the microbe could not have been done in the three-or four-day period as reported, but a senior professor of microbiology of the Peradeniya University and other specialists in the field have debunked the Embassy claim!

The supplier claims that fertiliser is heated to a temperature of 600 degrees centigrade to kill microbes. If so, how was the live pathogen detected. At this temperature not only microbes but also nitrogenous compounds should break down! Then how is the nitrogen replenished?

According to the company’s brochure on ‘seaweed granular compound fertiliser’ there are seven fertiliser formulations available for sale comprising nitrogen (N ) phosphorus (P2O5) and potassium (K2O), and nitrogen is replenished as ammonia, urea or nitrate! (Please see Table)

So, evidently, it is a granular fertiliser mixture of chemical and organic materials. The supplier does not claim that the product is organic, and it cannot as other than the ‘organic matter’ and the’ seaweed extract’ the rest are inorganic chemicals! So, clearly, having heated to the high temperature and losing the nitrogenous compounds, inorganic nitrogenous chemicals have to be added to achieve the required nutrient composition. So, the product is no longer fully ‘organic’. Then, who is deceiving whom?

Moreover, these seaweeds are believed to be essentially harvested from the Yellow Sea off the coast of Quindío City, an area highly polluted with metropolitan waste and excessively contaminated with heavy metals such as arsenic, cadmium, lead and mercury. The status of these heavy metals are, however, not cited in the fertiliser composition table in the brochure. Further, although the supplier has apparently promised a 10% nitrogen content in the formulation, it is impossible to get such a high value from seaweeds! On the whole, then there are grey areas in the fertilizer deal.

The President and the government are apparently now gradually yielding to the countrywide fertiliser demand pressures of the farmers as evident from a recent news item that chemical fertiliser for corn will be imported. Then what about tea and other crops?

As per the ‘grapevine’ there is evidence that some nano (chemical) fertilisers are also to be imported and the Tea Research Institute has been asked to work out how much ammonium sulphate as the nitrogen fertiliser source is needed for the country’s tea apparently because some stocks of the latter being available. Ammonium sulphate has only 21% nitrogen whereas that of urea is 48%. Because of production interferences due to COVID the urea prices have shot up by 35 -43%, from April to September 2021, and the same should be true for other straight fertilisers.

Ammonium sulphate price globally is now reported to be about USD200/ metric ton whereas that of urea is about 450 USD. So, in terms of N contents in the fertilisers, the cost should be comparable except for the haulage. However, over application of ammonium sulphate can be detrimental in that the added sulphur in the soil is reported to inhibit phosphorus uptake by crops affecting growth and yield! Urea is the better option as the nitrogenous fertiliser when large quantities of it are needed.

In conclusion, it is the ignorance and obstinacy of the authorities that has pushed the country into this calamity. Minister after minister are obsessed with the “wasa visa” myth as evident from their utterances both in Parliament and outside! It is the general belief, without evidence that, agrochemicals are the cause of many non-communicable diseases.

No politician speaks about ambient air pollution, the leading environmental health risk factor locally and globally. Records reveal that nearly 3.5 million premature, non-communicable deaths, for example, in 2017, were from stroke, ischemic heart disease, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, lung cancer, lower respiratory infections, and diabetes.

The President should, as a matter of priority, obtain a report from the health authorities on this matter of agrochemicals and health. This false belief was aggravated as a result of the initial suspicion that the chronic kidney disease (CKD) of the Rajarata was caused by agrochemicals but none of the research supported this contention. Research evidence gathered over several years, especially during the period 2010 and 2018 by no less than five groups of researchers established that the most likely aetiolating agent is hard water and fluoride in the some dug wells especially on high ground, as those who drank such water were essentially the ones that contaminated the disease.

Those who consumed water from the streams, reservoirs or dug wells in the plains did not contact the disease! Some of the research conducted by the current coordinator of CKD activities in the Health Ministry too supported this contention!

However, it is sad that the health authorities have failed to brief the President, the Health Minister and the government in general on this vital matter! Had this happened the President would, not have rushed into this decision of ‘going organic’ virtually overnight!

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Opinion

Jealousy: Is it in our genes?

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By Dr. Upul Wijayawardhana

In making my contribution to the debate on the supernatural, stirred by the faith in astrology and palmistry expressed by three esteemed colleagues of mine, I took the opportunity to highlight the achievements of a Sri Lankan born Cosmologist of international repute. I posed the question, “Do Astrology and Palmistry predict future whilst Astronomy, Astrophysics and Cosmology explore past?” in the title (The Island, October 7), which was tongue in cheek as stated, and was not an article meant to explore the origin of the universe, as I totally lack the expertise in that field. However, I am thankful to Ivor Tittawella for educating me and the readers with his comment’ “The more important and timely question to ask is how the starting material of the Big Bang, the “cosmic egg” if you will, came into being in the first place, coming out of absolutely ‘nothing’” (Understanding of Cosmology and deep physics: The Island, October 12).

I wish Tittawella had expanded on the topic of the ‘cosmic egg’ instead of casting snide remarks: “The anecdotes given are interesting, of course; but is it worth touching at such length on matters which the public are generally aware of anyway? Folk do know the distinction between palmistry and cosmology; they do know, too, and are hugely proud of, a good few Sri Lankans doing excellent research both at home and abroad”. I agree that few folks would confuse palmistry with cosmology but for many Sri Lankans, astrology is a ‘science’ commanding as much respect as astronomy! I presume when he refers to ‘matters the public are generally aware of’, which I am accused of touching at length, he, I believe, refers to my somewhat lengthy reference to Professor Hiranya Pieris. I came to know about her achievements by sheer chance and many who read my article were pleasantly surprised too.

The response I received from someone who works for the judicial service in Canada was interesting: “This is the first time I read about this lady, Hiranya. She sounds like a mini-Stephen Hawking! Sadly, Sri Lankans do not acknowledge their own, most of the time! Is this jealousy?” This got me thinking and made me wonder why we are jealous, instead of celebrating the success of our fellow countryman? I am sure many in the Sri Lanka music industry must be jealous of the tremendous achievement of Yohani Diloka de Silva whose rendition of ‘Menike Mage Hithe’ has gone viral! Is jealousy a trait embedded in our genes?

As a predominantly Buddhist country what we should be practicing are the Four Sublime Attitudes, ‘Sathara Brahma Viharana’: Loving kindness (Metta), Compassion (Karuna), Empathetic joy (Muditha) and Equanimity (Upekkha). Of relevance to this discussion is Muditha, empathetic joy, sometimes referred to as sympathetic joy or vicarious joy, as well. It is the ability to rejoice at others’ success, the cardinal feature of Mudita being that it is pure joy unadulterated by self-interest.

Fortunately, we can have pure joy about many who have excelled in many fields, both at home and abroad. Whilst those at home are well known some who are outside are not so well known. In fact, Ivor Tittawella himself is a distinguished scientist with many papers to his credit published in reputed international journals. As far as I could gather, he is a Microbiologist who worked in Umea University in Sweden.

After reading my article, a friend of mine mentioned Professor Ray Jayawardhana, who is the Harold Tanner Dean of the Cornell University College of Arts and Sciences and a Professor of Astronomy at Cornell University. In addition to researching on the formation and early evolution of stars, brown dwarfs and planets, he is an award-winning writer, his best-known book being ‘Neutrino Hunters: The Thrilling Chase for a Ghostly Particle to Unlock the Secrets of the Universe’. He has won many awards including Rutherford Memorial Medal in 2014 and American Physical Society Nicholson Medal for Outreach in 2018. He also has the honour of an asteroid being named after him: ‘4668 Rayjay’.

I wonder whether the interest of many in Astronomy and related subjects is due to trailblasing by Prof Chandra Wickramasinghe who was a student, and subsequently a collaborator, of the famous British Astronomer, Sir Fred Hoyle. They are well known as the proponents of panspermia, the hypothesis that some dust in interstellar space is largely organic. Their joint work over 40 years resulted in multiple publications. Chandra Wickramasinghe has authored over 30 books on Astrophysics and related topics. However, his reputation was slightly dented by the rejection of some of their theories by the scientific community, including the theory that some outbreaks of illnesses on Earth are of extra-terrestrial origin, including the 1918 flu pandemic and certain outbreaks of polio and mad cow disease. They hypothesised that the 1918 flu pandemic was due to cometary dust which brought the virus to Earth at multiple locations, simultaneously, which has been rejected by experts on the epidemic.

Chandra Wickramasinghe comes from a brilliant family. His father, a mathematics graduate from Cambridge, was the Chief Government Valuer. Chandra is the eldest of four brothers and Suneetha, next to him took to medicine; the third, Dayal is Professor of Mathematics at the Australian National University in Canberra and the youngest, Kumar holds the Chair in Electrical Engineering and Computer Science in University of California, Irvine.

Suneetha Wickramasinghe entered medical school in Colombo with me and we sat next to each other during lectures, for five years. He used to drive from his house in Bambalapitiya and I was able to get a lift to and from the Buddhist Medical Hostel ‘Jeewaka’ in Turret Road, Kollupitiya, very often. We both got distinctions in Medicine at the final MBBS examination held in April 1964 and he left for the UK, the day after results were out. He did so because he craved research and ended up becoming one of the world’s leading authorities on congenital dyserythropoietic anaemia, a rare inherited anaemia. He became Professor of Haematology in St Mary’s Medical School in London, in his mid-thirties. Unfortunately, he died prematurely of Myeloma, a disease in his own field, in 2009. ‘World authority on diseases affecting red blood cells’ was the headline for the obituary published by The Guardian newspaper of London on 09 September, 2009.

When I attended the Sri Lanka Medical Association Anniversary session in 2003, to deliver a ‘guest lecture’, I met another batchmate of mine who told me that he would be President, SLMA in 2005. He sought my help and asked who the ideal chief guest would be for the Anniversary Session in 2005. Considering that Suneetha was a prolific contributor to scientific journals and has edited eight books on Haematology, in addition to being a speaker much in demand around the world, without any hesitation I recommended Suneetha to be the chief guest. My friend readily agreed and wished me to contact Suneetha and make all arrangements. Suneetha attended the sessions but I was not even invited. When I telephoned to inquire from Suneetha, on his return, it transpired that he was not the chief guest, the honour being accorded, as usual, to a foreigner! With a degree of embarrassment, he told me that he was made a guest of honour. We were to meet over lunch but Myeloma prevented it. Suneetha died without full recognition in the land of his birth. That is Sri Lanka!

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