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Another attack on a forest reservation; Defence gets lion’s share of budget

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Why for goodness sake is it that we as a nation blunder from one crisis to another and these crises have been increasing in intensity, ferocity and magnitude, and to a cynical mind like Cassandra’s, all so unnecessary. Worse, we Ordinaries are treated like scum to be totally disregarded.

Corn instead of trees

Cass refers to the headline in Saturday October 9th The Island: “Tycoons backed by pettifoggers eyeing Wattegama–Kebilitta forest for corn cultivation” claimed by Sujeewa Chamikara of the Movement for Land and Agricultural Reform (MONLAR).

Thank goodness for these Movements and Organisations! If not for them, our land would surely be on the destructive road to desertification, judging by the human vultures waiting to cut trees. Hundreds of years old majestic trees to be decimated and corn grown instead. The lungs of Sri Lanka amputated bit by bit for money making. There may be a foreign organisation at the fore but behind are politicians, waiting to make a fast buck assisted by the mentioned pettifoggers. Cass googled for its exact meaning. Pettifogger is an archaic noun to name inferior legal practitioners who deal with petty cases or employ dubious practices. Just as we have too many politicians we have far too many of these false brief carriers, always ready to bend laws.

Other crises

The lack of inorganic fertiliser and the uprising of farmers pleading for this and insecticides and pesticides, while exhibiting undersised, worm infested vegetables and fruit is spread island-wide. Cass’s heart cries for them. They know best and they demand inorganic fertiliser. All agricultural and microbiological experts profess the harm done by inorganic fertiliser and pesticides is minimal and cannot be weighed against their essentiality until such time (minimum 20 years) as our agricultural land can be ‘acclimatised’ to organic stuff. The President, out of the blues, declared Sri Lanka was gong completely organic in its agriculture – first country to do so and all that. You well know the rest.

To compound the severity and direness of the situation of the farmers and ultimately our stomachs, organic rot has been imported from China. Mercifully our microbiologists discovered this shitty compost had dangerous microorganisms. But the Chinese Embassy in Colombo says no, it’s false. The microscopes, tests and all the expertise in the country is proved wrong by one Chinese word – backed of course by dangled money carrots. Cass hopes fervently that subjugating the country’s future food situation and long-term injury to agricultural lands will stop now and the government will stand up to the Chinese ambassador and refuse Chinese organic fertilizer. If not already sent, the Chinese infected compost must promptly be shipped back to its original place. Our government has to stand up to even the most powerful nation to safeguard our land and our interests. However, we have our doubts about the government standing up to the Chinese ambassador and his statement: such the trust we have in our government’s decisions.

We laugh bitterly at this macabre situation: capitulation to money; kowtowing to China and not hearkening unto the desperate cries of the farmers, backed by scientific research. Is it pride and not wanting to retract one’s word, in other words stubbornness that prevents the order being given to import inorganic fertilisers and pesticides? We had no money for this, it was said. Then how come money was available to import dubious, nay positively dangerous organic fertilisers to the country, severely warned against by our experts. One good laugh was seeing fat dummies of the Minister of Agriculture being beaten and then set on fire. When the cloth covering his head tore, straw was revealed. Apt! Aluthgamage, obeying higher orders, has set the country on fire by threatening rice and vegetable growers and its cash crop – tea.

More for the armed forces than for the health of the entire population

Front page headline in the Sunday Island of October 10 announced thus: “Appropriation Bill for 2022: defence gets highest allocation; health reduced”. This Bill was presented to Parliament by Finance Minister Basil Rajapaksa on Thursday 7 October. “Budgetary allocations for defence, education and finance sectors were increased while those for health sector and the President was decreased when compared to the 2021 financial year.”

The expression topsy-turvy came to mind; also lop-sided. An ordinary person like Cassandra asks why increase the allocation for the armed forces when we have so very many in the three styles of uniform. You would also have noticed the pomp and luxury of an army camp in TV news footage, which the Prez went to, to celebrate an anniversary. However much we increase our armed forces, Cass believes, we will never be a match to those of neighbouring countries, barring perhaps the Maldives. So the extra doling out to the army is not urgently necessary. If considered so, it is a generous gift to the armed forces. Buying greater loyalty?

We have sunk so low that we have had to borrow dollars from Bangladesh, a country we Sri Lankans turned up our noses at as a nation ruled by one or the other of two warring widows; a nation often battered by natural disaster and suffering the man-made disaster of over- population. But Bangladesh has been proven wise, managing what little assets they have with skill. One example: many of our students failing to get into the medical faculties of universities in Sri Lanka went to Chittagong and paying forex entered a medical school over there. Students found it very hard to get used to the accent of most lecturers and many girls just gave up the hard living over there and returned home. If SAITM had been allowed to educate our prospective doctors who were extremely competent but failed to get the points needed to get into the government medical schools, their parents would have spent money here in SL. More students from overseas would have joined the local private medical college even for the simplest of reasons of many – that our Sinhalese and Tamil dons teaching in English are comprehensible. This is a surefire Cassandra Cry based on facts. But the GMOA principally was in the forefront of the strident call for banning private medical education. Dr. Padeniya was Prez of the GMOA then, wasn’t he? He is also now (dis)credited as the chief proposer for going organic in our agriculture. No problem to him or others who voted for this calamitous move. They continue fine while our farmers are in dire straits: no in-house prepared, reliable organic fertilisers in sufficient quantity. Greater poverty, damaged crops and less harvests stare farmers and us in the face.

So, THE allocation for health has been decreased. Why ever? The pandemic is still prevalent worldwide and countries are spending more on health and medical facilities. Not us who are on reverse gear too often! Many of the decisions made from on High (not God, certainly but persons often deified by sycophants) have been detrimental to the nation.

On that pessimistic note Cass says bye for now. Watch the effigies burn! Enjoy!!



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Features

Dangerous rail travel by tourists: Why not create an opportunity?

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Coiling Dragon Cliff skywalk, Zhangjiajie, China

Before the Covid Pandemic hit Sri Lanka, there was some debate and concern voiced about tourists standing at the door ways of trains and even hanging out, while the train is moving. Some pictures of a young couple hanging out of an upcountry train, while clutching on to the side rails, went viral, on social media, with debates of the ‘pros’ and ‘cons’ reaching fever pitch. While certainly this is a dangerous practice, not to be condoned, If we ‘think out of the box’ could there be a way to make this seemingly popular, though dangerous pastime among some tourists, into an opportunity to be exploited. This paper aims to explore these options pragmatically.

By Srilal Miththapala

Social media, and even some of the more conventional media, were all a-buzz before the CoVid crisis, when some pictures of a young tourist couple appeared, hanging out of a Sri Lankan upcountry train in gay abandon, savouring the exciting moment. There were hot debates about this form of ‘promotion of Sri Lanka’, with many people talking about the dangers of such a practice, and that it would bring negative publicity for Sri Lanka if something dangerous were to happen. This part of the train ride, along the upcountry route, is arguably one of the most scenic train routes in the world.

And quite rightly so, I guess. I myself was one who joined the chorus who vehemently spoke against this.

However thinking out of the box, I got thinking – Can we create an opportunity here ?

The ‘new’, experience and thrill seeking tourist of today

There is no doubt that there is a new segment of discerning, younger, experience and adventure seeking tourists, emerging and travelling all over the world. They are very internet and social media savvy, seeking more adventurous and exciting experiences, and are usually very environmentally conscious. They are most often seen exploring ‘off-the-beaten-track’ holidays, planned out individually according to their needs and wants.

Through the ages, mankind has been pushing the limits of exploration: We have conquered land, sea and space. We have discovered many hitherto unknown wonders of our planet with our unabated thirst for knowledge.

Tourists are no different. To get away from their daily stressful life, they seek something different, even venturing into hostile or dangerous places to experience the excitement of discovery and the feeling of adventure. No longer is a clean hotel room with a range of facilities, good food and some sunshine good enough to a tourist.

According to booking.com, the yearning for experiences, over material possessions, continues to drive travellers’ desire for more incredible and memorable trips: 45% of travellers have a bucket list in mind. Most likely to appear on a bucket list are thrill seekers wanting to visit a world famous theme park, travellers looking to go on an epic rail journey or visiting a remote or challenging location. ()

Drive-reduction theory in psychology postulates that one is never in a state of complete fulfilment, and thus, there are always drives that need to be satisfied. Humans and other animals voluntarily increase tension by exploring their unknown environments, self-inducing stress and moving out of their comfort zones. This gives them a sense of achievement and self-satisfaction. ()

Therefore, unknown thrills, adventures and the ‘adrenaline rush’ does attract travellers.

What have other countries done ?

As mentioned many countries are developing unique , memorable and thrilling experiences into their product offering.

A few are described below

Walk along Sydney Harbour Bridge

Walk along Sydney Harbour Bridge

Small groups are taken on a walk along the massive, arched steel structured Sydney Harbour Bridge . The dramatic 360 deg. view from the bridge, 135 meters above ground, of the harbour, and the nearby Sydney Opera house, while being completely exposed to the elements, is, indeed, a rare and thrilling experience.

Coiling Dragon Cliff skywalk, Zhangjiajie, China

In the northwest of China’s Hunan province, visitors can take a leisurely stroll along the walkway attached to Tianmen Mountain — 4,700 feet above the ground.

The glass-bottomed walkway is more than 300 feet long and only about five feet wide, providing an experience that is said to be exhilarating and frightening .

The CN tower Edge walk, Canada

The tallest attraction in Toronto lets people stand right at the edge of the CN tower and lean over. It is the world’s highest full circle, hands-free walk on a 1.5 m wide ledge encircling the top of the Tower’s main pod, 356m , 116 storeys above the ground. EdgeWalk is a Canadian Signature Experience and an Ontario Signature Experience.

A variety of unique trekking opportunities, in Rwanda and Uganda, allow you trek into the jungle to gaze into the eyes of the Gorillas in their natural habitat. It’s a completely unique African safari experience. This moment leaves a lasting and unforgettable impression, coming so close to this majestic wild animal.

These are just a few. So there are already a range of unique, visitor attractions that thrill tourists the world over.

The CN tower Edge walk, Canada

Safety – the one overriding condition

All these thrill seeking, and seemingly dangerous tourist attractions have one common denominator that is never ever compromised – Safety.

Safety is of paramount importance in all these activities and are subject to stringent checks and review, periodically. All personnel who guide and instruct these thrill seeking tourists are well trained and disciplined.

Any equipment that is used for safety, such as harnesses and safety belts, are designed to the highest standards and are periodically tested. Nothing is left to chance and if there is the slightest semblance of danger, due to any unforeseen environmental conditions, the attraction is closed down temporarily. ( e.g when there are strong winds the Sydney Harbour bridge walk is suspended).

Such safety measures are an imperative necessity, because any unforeseen accident can lead to serious and grave consequences of litigation and even closing down of the attraction.

Suggested railings

So what about our train ride ?

The attraction of the Sri Lankan upcountry train ride (most often between Nanu Oya and Ella – the most scenic section) is the fact that a tourist can stand ‘on the footboard’ of the open train carriageway door, and feel the cool breeze against their faces while absorbing the beautiful hill country and tea plantations. This is something most western tourists cannot do back home, where all train carriageway doors are automatically shut when the train starts moving.

In fact I am told that some Tour Agents in Australia are specifically asked by tourists to arrange this ‘experience’ for them, when booking their tour.

So why not be creative and make a proper attraction out of this ?

Cannot we modify one carriage to have an open ‘balcony’ along the side where a person can stand ‘outside’ and ‘feel the open environment’? It could be fitted with proper safety rails and each person can be anchored to the carriage with a harness (like what is used in other attractions where the interaction is open to the elements). A special charge can be levied for this experience.

One factor that favours the safety aspect is that during traversing this stretch, due to the steep gradient, the train travels at a ‘snail’s pace’, unlike in foreign countries where speeds could reach 80-100 kms per hour.

This attraction could be used as an income generator for the Railway Department as tourists wanting to experience this ‘thrill’ can be charged a fee, for a specific time period that they could use the facility.

Conclusion

Although this may seem simplistic, in reality there may be several logistical issues that need to be addressed.

But, if there is a will, and the different departments involved can all see the opportunity, and get on to the same ‘wavelength’, cutting through the inordinate bureaucracy that usually prevails, then surely it would not be at all difficult.

But the overall point in this entire treatise, is that we have to ‘think out of the box’ and grasp at all possible opportunities that are available, especially as we gradually open up for tourists after the pandemic. We are quite used to ranting and raving about all the shortfalls that prevail.. But there’s so much that still can be done if there are a few motivated and dedicated people who can get together.

Tourism after all is really ‘show businesses’ and without creativity, panache, actors and showmanship, what is show business?

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Remebering Prophet Muhammad’s legacy – ECOLOGICAL WELFARE

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By Dr M Haris Deen

COVID-19 came and as yet remains, at the same time the world is plagued with another serious issue, that of global warming and other ecological disturbances. While remembering the birth of Prophet Muhammad (Peace and Blessings of Allah be upon him) let us recall the contributions he made towards the applying Islamic principles of Islamic welfare towards protection of the environment.

The Prophet of Islam (May peace be upon him) advocated during his lifetime the stringent application of Islamic principles in respect of ecological welfare. Prophet Muhammad (Peace be upon him) taught his followers to live on less, neither to be extravagant nor to be miserly and to protect animal and plant life and to worship the Creator by being merciful to His creations. He forbade the killing of any animal unless out of necessity to feed the people. Al Albani reports that the Prophet (on whom be peace) said “If the Hou r (meaning the day of Resurrection) is about to be established and one of you was holding a palm shoot, let him take advantage of even one second before the Hour is established to plant it”. Imam Bukhari reported the Prophet (Peace be on him) as having said that “if a Muslim plants a tree or sows seeds, and then a bird, or a person or an animal eats from it, it is regarded as a charitable gift (sadaqah) for him”. It is also reported in Ibn Majah that once the Prophet (peace be upon him) happened to pass by his companion Sa’ad (May God be pleased with him) and found him performing ablution (wudu) next to a river and questioned him “Sa;ad what is this squandering? And when Sa’ad asked in return “can there be an idea if squandering (israf) in ablution?’ the Prophet replied “yes, even if you are by the side of a flowing river”.

In another Hadith narrated by Ibn Majah, the Prophet (on whom be peace) said “Beware of the three acts that cause you to be cursed: (1) relieving yourself in shaded places (that people utilise), in a walkway or in a watering place”.

The Qur’an in chapter 56 verses 68 to 70 states “consider the water which you drink. Was it you that brought it down from the rain cloud or We? If We had pleased, We could make it bitter”.

Prophet’s companion Abu Dhar Al Ghaffari (May Allah be pleased with him) reported the Prophet (on whom be peace) said “Removing harmful things from the road is an act of charity” and in another Hadith authenticated by Albani, the Prophet (on whom be peace) said “the believer is not he who eats his fill while his neighbour is hungry”. The Prophet further cautioned as reported by Tirmadhi and Ibn Majah that “Nothing is worst than a person who fills his stomach. It should be enough for the son of Adam to have a few bites to satisfy his hunger. If he wishes more, it should be : one third for his food, one third for his liquids and one third for his breath”.

Imam Bukhari reported an amazing story narrated by the Prophet (on whom be peace) that “A man felt very thirsty while he was on the way, there he came across a well. He went down the well, quenched his thirst and came out. Meanwhile, he saw a dog panting and licking mud because of excessive thirst. He said to himself. “This dog is suffering from thirst as I did, “So, he went down the well again, filled his shoe with water, held it in his mouth and watered the dog. Allah appreciated him for that deed and forgave him”. The companions inquired, “O Allah’s Messenger, is there a reward for us in serving the animals?” He replied: “There is a reward for saving any living being”.

Animals have a huge role in the ecological welfare system. The tenets of the Shariah Law towards animal rights make it obligatory for any individual to take care of crippled animals, to rescue strays and to guard birds’ nests of eggs’.

Sal Allahu Ala Muhammad Sal Allahu Alaihi wa Sallam. May Allah Shower His Choicest Blessings on the Soul of Prophet Muhammad.

Email: deenmohamed835@gmail.com

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Gypsies…to continue

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The original Gypsies, with Sunil (centre)

Of course, I know for sure fans of the Gypsies, and music lovers, in general, not only in Sri Lanka but around the world, as well, would be thrilled to know that this awesome outfit hasn’t called it a day.

After the demise of the legendary Sunil Perera, everyone thought that the Gypsies would disband.

Perhaps that would have been in the minds of even the members, themselves, as Sunil was not only their leader, and frontline vocalist, but also an icon in the music scene – he was special in every way.

Many, if not all, thought that the Gypsies, without Sunil, would find the going tough and that is because they all associated the Gypsies with Sunil Perera.

Sunil receiving The Island Music Award for ‘Showbiz Personality of the Year’ 1990

It generally happens, with certain outfits, where the rest of the members go unnoticed and the spotlight is only on one particular member – the leader of the group.

Some of the names that come to mind are Gabo and The Breakaways (Gabo) Misty (Rajitha), Darktan (Alston Koch), Upekkha (Manilal), Jetliners (Mignonne), Sohan & The X-Periments (Sohan), and the list is quite lengthy….

Yes, the Gypsies will continue, says Piyal Perera, and he mapped out to us what he has in mind.

They will take on a new look, he said, adding that in no way would they try to recreate the era of the Gypsies with Sunil Perera..

“That era is completely gone and we will never ever look to bringing that era into our scene again.

“My brother was a very special individual and his place in the band can never ever be replaced.”

Will Sunil join this scene…at Madame Tussauds!

Piyal went to say that the Gypsies will return to the showbiz scene, in a different setting.

“In all probability, we may have a female vocalist, in the vocal spotlight, and our repertoire will not be the songs generally associated with Sunil and the Gypsies.

“It will be a totally new approach by the new look Gypsies,” said Piyal.

In the meanwhile, Piyal also mentioned that they are working on the possibility of having an image of the late Sunil Perera at the Madame Tussauds wax museum, in London.

He says they have been asked, by the authorities concerned, to submit a PowerPoint presentation of Sunil’s achievements, and that they are working on it.

It’s, indeed, a wonderful way to keep Sunil’s image alive.

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