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ARRIVING IN ENGLAND & SCOTLAND – Part 49

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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

Back in England

After departing France, we arrived at the Eastern Docks of Dover in the United Kingdom (UK) which serve as the main cross-channel ferry terminal. Often people rushing through Dover do not pay much attention to its history as a port and trading gateway which dates back to the Bronze age and before. Historic sites such as the eleventh century Dover Castle and the eighteen century Dover Western Heights were interesting.

In addition to being a major cross-channel ferry terminal, Dover is also a cruise terminal, maritime cargo and marina facility situated in Kent, south-east England. It is one of the world’s busiest maritime passenger ports with over 10 million passengers a year in the early 1980s. In addition, a vast number of lorries, trucks, coaches, cars and motorcycles passed through the Port of Dover every day. The modern port facility features a large artificial harbour constructed behind stone piers and a protective, concrete breakwater.

London

The train from Dover to London Victoria railway terminal took 90-minutes. After that, most of our trips within London were by the tube (subway), the most famous and oldest (since 1863) transport system of its kind in the world. This underground network of nearly 250 miles was always the most efficient and quickest way to travel around this great city.

We both were very happy to be back in London, a city we knew well and had many friends and a few family members living in it. As we both had spent a few months in London during our first visits there in 1978 and 1979, we did not plan to visit tourist attractions that we were familiar with. Soon after we arrived, we were invited to a few lunches and dinners hosted by our friends in London. I also met some of my Ceylon Hotel School (CHS) friends/batchmates. One of the parties organized by our friends to welcome us was also attended by four of my former guests of Hotel Swanee, who worked near London as school teachers. We certainly felt warmly welcomed back to London!

UN/ILO Fellowship Activities in UK

On my first Monday in London, the UN/ILO fellowship coordinator in UK for my individual program, Larry Wilson, met with me. Larry was an experienced consultant with useful contacts in the hospitality industry, the academia and the wine and spirits industry. He informed me that my first assignment would be in Glasgow, Scotland. After that, he had organized three assignments in South England for me. He explained details of my observer assignments in Cosham (near Portsmouth) and South Downs before attending a short, but an advanced, management development study program at the University of Surrey in Guildford.

Due to my hectic study tours within UK, my wife decided to stay with my aunt’s family in Kilburn, in North London. We met in London on the weekends and in between my travels. She occasionally visited me in Cosham where UN/ILO had arranged complimentary board and lodging for me with a local family who lived near the college where I was understudying Senior Lecturers in hospitality management. My wife simply loved living in London, which was our favourite city which we later called home in the mid-1980s and the early 1990s.

I knew that a majority of international tourists spent their time in UK only within London. Therefore, I was happy that I had been given ample opportunities to travel to different parts of the country and explore the natural beauty, history, food, culture and people of different areas of UK. The day after my orientation to the program in UK, Larry and an associate drove two ILO Fellows from Indonesia and me from London to Birmingham.

Stratford-upon-Avon

Stratford-upon-Avon was an interesting stop on our way to Birmingham. We did a quick tour there and then had lunch in an old pub. Although the long, rich history of over 13 centuries was impressive, the most popular tourist attraction of this destination was the birthplace of one famous Englishman from the sixteenth century. William Shakespeare is widely regarded as the greatest writer in the English language and the world’s greatest dramatist and often called England’s national poet and the ‘Bard of Avon’.

The Royal Shakespeare Company resides in Stratford. As an award-winning dramatist, my father had studied Shakespeare in depth, and had acted in a couple Ceylonese plays inspired by the great Bard’s work. Before and after my father’s visits to Stratford-upon-Avon decades prior, he ensured that I had an appreciation of the life and work of Shakespeare. Therefore, visiting Stratford-upon-Avon in 1982, allowed me to happily tick off a box on my bucket list.

During his short lifetime, William Shakespeare had created an amazing body of written work including 38 plays categorised as comedies, tragedies, historic and romantic. In addition, he had written over 150 long and short poems. During my brief visit to Shakespeare’s birthplace, I was inspired to pay some attention to his usage of and the great influence on the English language.

There were different estimations, but based on my quick research, I guessed that there were nearly 170,000 English words used in early 1980s. Out of that, Shakespeare was credited with the invention or introduction of 1,700 words (that are still used today) or 1% of the modern English language. Many scholars had concluded that Shakespeare used over 17,000 words in his body of work. In comparison, it is estimated that an average person today uses only between 7,000 and 10,000 words.

As someone who learnt to speak English frequently only after joining college at the age 17, during this visit I focused on gradually improving my command of my second language. In terms of native speakers, English ranked third in the world (behind Mandarin and Spanish). However, in terms of total number of speakers, English is the most spoken language in the world. Therefore, English usage has a great diversity of accents and dialects around the world.

During my travels within UK in 1982, I was also surprised with the numerous accents of English language within England among English people. I wondered if the percentages of modern English words deriving from language groups such as Latin (29%), French (29%), Germanic (26%) and Greek (6%) and other languages (10%), a reason for this.

Birmingham

“Which city has more canals – Venice or Birmingham?” Larry asked us a trick question as we were reaching Birmingham in his car. All three ILO Fellows had gotten the answer wrong and were surprised to hear that the correct answer was Birmingham! Although this is somewhat of a myth, Birmingham is the epicentre of UK’s bustling, canal network, and proudly boasts around 35 miles of waterways. Most of these were built in the 1700s and 1800s.

Larry also told us that Birmingham has numerous cultural activities and festivals, including one of the world’s largest St. Patrick’s Day Parades. “Chandi, why don’t you visit Birmingham with your wife in three weeks’ time to enjoy St. Paddy’s Day events?” Larry planted a seed in my mind. At a time when there was hardly any global appreciation of British food which was widely considered ‘bland’, Birmingham’s culinary scene and reputation had already started to progress. One reason for this was the growing diversity of the population of Birmingham. As the second largest city of UK, in 1982, out of its one million residents, nearly 15% were from South Asian countries. This population segment grew every year.

Birmingham was a city with many other surprises. On our second day in Birmingham, we did a long morning walk around the pedestrian-friendly Victoria Square. We discovered there the famous concert hall and venue for popular assemblies, the old Town Hall, built in 1834.

After lunch, I said goodbye to the two ILO Fellows from Indonesia. Larry and his associate dropped me off at the main train station in Birmingham and said to me, “You seem like a seasoned traveller, Chandi. You will be OK traveling alone. When you reach Glasgow train station, a senior manager from Teachers Whisky, John Ross, will be there holding a sign with your name. He will make all the arrangements for your week in Scotland. Enjoy Scotland and the best whisky in the world! Remember not to pay any bills!” were his parting words.

My second trip to Birmingham was 22 years later. That opportunity came when I was invited by the main Community College in Birmingham to deliver a guest lecture to a large group of hospitality management students. By then, I was the President of the largest professional body in UK for hospitality managers – Hotel & Catering International Management Association (HCIMA, now Institute of Hospitality, UK).

The train journey from the second city of England to the second city of Scotland took around six hours. The countryside of West England is very scenic. Warrington Bank Quay area had a special appeal to me. After passing Lancaster area I enjoyed watching a beautiful sunset on the Irish Sea. Once again, the train then gradually moved away from the coast while the surroundings got darker. I arrived in Scotland around eight in the evening.

Lost in Glasgow

After getting off the train in Glasgow, I did not see anyone holding a sign with my name. After walking around this large and old train station for a little while, I decided to seek assistance from the information counter. When I checked how far away is the Stakis Hotel in Glasgow, the employee politely asked me, “Which Stakis Hotel? There are a few in Glasgow.”  In this pre-smart phone era, I felt lost. I took a call from a telephone booth and left a SOS message at John Ross’s office. Finally, I spotted him with a large sign, but on another platform. After apologizing, John quickly took me to the hotel and hosted me to a late supper.

“I would have booked you at the best Stakis Hotel in Glasgow and the flagship hotel of the company – Grosvenor Hotel. Unfortunately, it was totally destroyed recently in a major fire” John said. Like many Scots, John was very friendly. When he sensed that I liked hotel stories, he explained over dinner, how self-made billionaire, Reo Stakis (a Cypriot-Scottish hotel magnate) changed the way Scottish people dined out, by offering affordable pricing strategies in his chain of Stakis restaurants and hotels (in later years, over 30 properties were sold to Hilton Hotels).

After that, John explained my training itinerary within the Teachers Whisky factories, bottling plants and marketing department over the next six days. As I was scheduled to teach ‘Wines and Spirits’ as well as ‘Bar Practical’ at the Ceylon Hotel School, I looked forward to this training program to gain as much first-hand experience as possible in the Whisky production process. As I was a believer in story telling rather than delivering formal lectures, I was in the process of expanding my repertoire of European stories relevant to the courses I would be teaching.

Learning Whisky Production

All of the staff at Teachers Whisky were very helpful to me. A family-owned company until its takeover in 1976, William Teacher & Sons had started out as a large chain of bars in Glasgow before becoming a distiller and blender supplying whiskies worldwide. From humble beginnings providing blends for its bars, the company began to supply bespoke blends for the trade and grew its global footprint. One of these blends provided the basis for the brand that would make it internationally famous: Teacher’s Highland Cream. Their bottling plant in the outskirts of Glasgow had a large group of friendly Scottish ladies who loved to hear my jokes, every time they trained me.

A Tourist in Scotland

After work, on most late afternoons, John took me on quick sightseeing visits in Glasgow and nearby areas. As a proud Scot, he loved talking about the rich history and culture of Scotland. I enjoyed those interesting chats over dinner at different restaurants every day during my stay in Scotland. I told John that the only famous Scot I knew at that time, Sean Connery, is one of my favourite actors since I first saw him in ‘Dr. No’ in 1962. John was happy, but jokingly said that “Sean is not from Glasgow. Although he is from Edinburgh, we all are still very proud of him!”

The Kingdom of Scotland had emerged as an independent sovereign state in the ninth century and became a part of Great Britain in 1707. Four countries (England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland) were officially renamed as the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland (UK) in 1927.

Covering the northern third of the island of Great Britain, Scotland has a 96-mile border with England to the south-east. In 1982, out of a total population of 56 million in UK, Scotland had around 9% or little over five million. Glasgow’s population then was around 600,000 and it was the most populous city in Scotland. Natives or inhabitants are known as Glaswegians and are well known for their distinctive dialect and accent.

Although identified as the industrial capital of Scotland, Glasgow is blessed with various major cultural institutions – the Burrell Collection, Kelvingrove Art Gallery and Museum, the Royal Scottish National Orchestra, Scottish Ballet and Scottish Opera – all which enjoy international reputations. John took me to the Glasgow Cathedral which is the oldest cathedral in Scotland and the oldest building in Glasgow. We also visited the Sauchiehall, one of the main shopping streets in the city centre of Glasgow.

A Missed Opportunity

My father was somewhat disappointed when he heard that after having spent a week in Scotland, I did not visit the capital and his favourite Scottish city (where he had some training), Edinburgh. “Chandana, you should have taken a quick, one-hour train ride from Glasgow to experience this must-see city of Edinburgh. It is the home of the Fringe – the largest art festival in the world”, he said. I made a mental note of my father’s advice, but had to wait for another 23 years until I had an opportunity to visit Edinburgh!

In 2005, I was happy to be invited by my then employer to visit Edinburgh to work briefly for an organizational client with whom I had secured a contract. In Edinburgh, I was a presenter at a master’s degree management seminar held at the famous Balmoral Hotel, for a group of General Managers from Rocco Forte Hotels. It was done in my then capacity as the International Vice President of the International Management Centres Association (IMCA), in UK.

During my global travels since 1979, I learnt quickly that one must optimize opportunities in travels in an optimistic manner. Often when I hear people saying that “I plan to travel the world after I retire”, I disagree and suggest, “Do it now! Life is too short to postpone things you like to do until the end of a long career. It is even better if you can combine both.” In my opinion, for globe-trotting one needs four things – time, energy, health, money or luck. Although I often did not have money as I spent all I had on travel, I had lot of luck and opportunities, for which I am grateful.

An Amazing Progress of Glasgow

In later years, I was amazed how Glasgow, as a rather an industrialized city with a blue-collar image prior to 1980s, eventually became the European Capital of Culture in 1990. With this designation bestowed by the European Union since 1985, Glasgow followed prestigious predecessors and five of my favourite cities – Athens, Florence, Amsterdam, Berlin and Paris. It was a great tourism turn-around success story. Today, Glasgow is notable for many things – architecture,  culture, media, music scene, art, sports, clubs, cuisine, and transport. Glasgow is also famous for being a UNESCO City of Music, one of the friendliest cities in the world and, of course, for its Haggis.

I recently read a promotional blog about Scotland. It said that, “You’ll see the gems of Scotland’s past in Edinburgh and its bright future in Glasgow. This city has no pretensions and you’ll get to know Scottish people on a deeper level than you would anywhere else.” I fully agree.



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Features

Scarcity, prices, hoarding and queuing

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By Usvatte-aratchi

We live in a scarcity economy and will do so well into 2024, past the next Presidential elections if it comes then; it may not. (The new minister may open bets.) All economies are scarcity economies; otherwise, there would be no prices. We also live in plentiful economies; look at the streets of Tokyo, Shanghai, Singapore, Paris or San Francisco during day or night. Scarcity is a relative term, as most terms are. A scarcity economy is one where prices rise relentlessly, where cigarettes are more expensive in the evening than they were the same morning. Scarcity economies will have two or more sets of prices: one official, others in markets in varying shades of grey until black. Scarcity economies are where everyone (producers, traders, households) hoards commodities, hoards everything that can be hoarded, at reasonable cost. Scarcity economy is one where productivity is lower than it was earlier, where both labour and capital idle. Scarcity itself may push down productivity. Observe thousands of people standing in queues to buy all kinds of things whilst producing nothing. That is labour idling. Others hang on to dear life in crowded trains arriving in office late to leave early, to get to ill lit homes where to cook each evening they repeat what their ancestors did millions of years ago to light a fire. Money is one commodity that can be hoarded at little cost, if there was no inflation. The million rupees you had in your savings account in 2019 is now worth a mere 500,000, because prices have risen. That is how a government taxes you outside the law: debase the currency. In an inflation afflicted economy, hoarding money is a fool’s game.

The smart game to play is to borrow to the limit, a kind of dishoarding (- negative hoarding) money. You borrow ten million now and five years later you pay 500 million because the value of money has fallen. US dollars are scarce in this economy. It is hoarded where it can wait until its price in Sri Lanka rises. Some politicians who seem to have been schooled in corruption to perfection have them stored elsewhere, as we have learnt from revelations in the international press. Electricity is not hoarded in large quantities because it is expensive to hoard. Petrol is not hoarded very much in households because it evaporates fast and is highly flammable. That does not prevent vehicle owners from keeping their tanks full in contrast to the earlier practice when they had kept tanks half empty (full). Consequently, drivers now hoard twice as much fuel in their tanks as earlier. Until drivers feel relaxed as to when they get the next fill, there will be queues. That should also answer the conundrum of the minister for energy who daily sent out more bowser loads out than earlier, but queues did not shorten.

As an aside, it is necessary to note that the scarcity economy, which has been brought about by stupid policies 2019-2022, and massive thieving from 2005 is partly a consequence of the fall in total output (GDP) in the economy. Workers in queues do not produce. The capital they normally use in production (e.g. motor cars, machines that they would otherwise would have worked at) lie idle. Both capital and labour idle and deny their usual contribution to GDP. Agriculture, industries, wholesale and retail trade, public administration, manufacturing and construction all of which have been adversely affected in various ways contribute more than 75% of total GDP. Maha (winter crop) 2021-22, Yala (spring crop) 2022 and Maha 2022-23 and fishing are all likely to have yielded (and yield) poor harvests. Manufacturing including construction are victims of severe shortages in energy and imported inputs. Wholesale and retail trade which depend directly on imports of commodities have been hit by the sharp drop in imports. Tourism, which is more significant in providing employment and foreign exchange, collapsed dreadfully since late 2019 and has not recovered yet. About 16 percent of our labour force work in the public sector. They have failed to contribute to GDP because they did not engage in productive work due to variegated reasons. Teachers were on strike for two months in 2021. In 2022, so far government employees have worked off and on. Wages of government employees are counted as contributions to GDP, by those that make GDP estimates. However, here is an instance where labour was paid but there was no output equal to the value of those wages. Such payments are rightly counted as transfers and do not count to GDP. For these reasons estimates of GDP for 2021 must be well below the 2020 level. The 3.6 growth in official estimates is unlikely. The likely drop in 2022 will be roughly of the same magnitude as in 2021. These declines are not dissonant with misery one sees in towns and the countryside: empty supermarket shelves, scant supplies of produce in country fares, scarce fish supplies, buses idling in parks and roads empty of traffic. There have been warnings from our paediatricians as well as from international organisations of wasting and probable higher rates of child mortality. It is this sort of sharp fall in wellbeing that engenders the desperation driving young and ambitious people to obtain passports to seek a living overseas. You can see those from mezzo-America amassed on the southern border of US. Will our young men and women end up beyond the wall of China?

Of this lowered supply of goods and services, this society is expected to pay a massive accumulated foreign debt. (Remember the reparation payments in the Versailles Treaty). In real terms it will mean that we forego a part of our lower incomes. Do not miss this reality behind veils of jargon woven by financial analysts. It is not something that we have a choice about. That is where international help may kick in. Gotabaya Rajapaksa government after much senseless dilly dallying has started negotiations with the IMF. There is nobody compelling our government to seek support from IMF. They are free go elsewhere as some who recently were in their government still urge. Examine alternatives and hit upon an arrangement not because it permits the family grows richer but because it will make life for the average person a little less unbearable.

If prices are expected to rise people will seek resources to hoard: money to buy commodities, space and facilities to hoard, security services to protect the property and much more. Rice producers cannot hoard their product because animals large as elephants and small as rodents eat them up. Because of the unequal distribution of resources to hoard, the poor cannot hoard. In a scarcity economy, the poor cannot hoard and famines usually victimise the poor, first and most. If prices are expected to fall, stocks are dishoarded to the market and prices fall faster and deeper. In either direction, the rate at which prices change and the height/depth of the rise/fall depends on the speed at which expectations of change in prices take place. A largescale rice miller claims he can control the price of rice at a level that the government cannot. His success/failure will tell us the extent of his monopoly power.

When commodities are scarce, in the absence of a sensible system of coupons to regulate the distribution, consumers will form queues. A queue is rarely a straight here, nor a dog’s tail (queue, in French, is a dog’s tail which most often crooked). Assembled consumers stagnate, make puddles and sometimes spread out like the Ganges, with Meghna, disgorges itself to the Bay of Bengal. They sometimes swirl and make whirlpools and then there is trouble, occasionally serious. There is order in a queue that people make automatically. To break that order is somehow iniquitous in the human mind. That is why breaking the order in a queue is enraging. For a queue to be disobeyed by anyone is infuriating, and for a politician to do so now in this country is dangerously injurious to his physical wellbeing.

The first cause of rising prices, hoarding and queues is the scarcity of goods and services in relation to the income and savings in the hands of the people.

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Terror figuring increasingly in Russian invasion of Ukraine

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In yet another mind-numbing manifestation of the sheer savagery marking the Russian invasion of Ukraine, a shopping mall in Ukraine’s eastern city of Kremenchuk was razed to the ground recently in a Russian missile strike. Reportedly more than a hundred civilian lives were lost in the chilling attack.

If the unconscionable killing of civilians is a definition of terrorism, then the above attack is unalloyed terrorism and should be forthrightly condemned by all sections that consider themselves civilized. Will these sections condemn this most recent instance of blood-curdling barbarism by the Putin regime in the Ukrainian theatre and thereby provide proof that the collective moral conscience of the world continues to tick? Could progressive opinion be reassured on this score without further delay or prevarication?

These issues need to be addressed with the utmost urgency by the world community. May be, the UN General Assembly could meet in emergency session for the purpose and speak out loud and clear in one voice against such wanton brutality by the Putin regime which seems to be spilling the blood of Ukrainian civilians as a matter of habit. The majority of UNGA members did well to condemn the Russian invasion of Ukraine close on the heels of it occurring a few months back but the Putin regime seems to be continuing the civilian bloodletting in Ukraine with a degree of impunity that signals to the international community that the latter could no longer remain passive in the face of the aggravating tragedy in Ukraine.

The deafening silence, on this question, on the part of those sections the world over that very rightly condemn terror, from whichever quarter it may emanate, is itself most intriguing. There cannot be double standards on this problem. If the claiming of the lives of civilians by militant organizations fighting governments is terror, so are the Putin regime’s targeted actions in Ukraine which result in the wanton spilling of civilian blood. The international community needs to break free of its inner paralysis.

While most Western democracies are bound to decry the Russian-inspired atrocities in Ukraine, more or less unambiguously, the same does not go for the remaining democracies of the South. Increasing economic pressures, stemming from high energy and oil prices in particular, are likely to render them tongue-tied.

Such is the case with Sri Lanka, today reduced to absolute beggary. These states could be expected ‘to look the other way’, lest they be penalized on the economic front by Russia. One wonders what those quarters in Sri Lanka that have been projecting themselves as ‘progressives’ over the years have to say to the increasing atrocities against civilians in Ukraine. Aren’t these excesses instances of state terror that call for condemnation?

However, ignoring the Putin regime’s terror acts is tantamount to condoning them. Among other things, the failure on the part of the world community to condemn the Putin government’s commissioning of war crimes sends out the message that the international community is gladly accommodative of these violations of International Law. An eventual result from such international complacency could be the further aggravation of world disorder and lawlessness.

The Putin regime’s latest civilian atrocities in Ukraine are being seen by the Western media in particular as the Russian strongman’s answer to the further closing of ranks among the G7 states to the Russian invasion of Ukraine and the issues growing out of it. There is a considerable amount of truth in this position but the brazen unleashing of civilian atrocities by the Russian state also points to mounting impatience on the part of the latter for more positive results from its invasion.

Right now, the invasion could be described as having reached a stalemate for Russia. Having been beaten back by the robust and spirited Ukrainian resistance in Kyiv, the Russian forces are directing their fire power at present on Eastern Ukraine. Their intentions have narrowed down to carving out the Donbas region from the rest of Ukraine; the aim being to establish the region as a Russian sphere of influence and buffer state against perceived NATO encirclement.

On the other hand, having failed to the break the back thus far of the Ukraine resistance the Putin regime seems to be intent on demoralizing the resistance by targeting Ukraine civilians and their cities. Right now, most of Eastern Ukraine has been reduced to rubble. The regime’s broad strategy seems to be to capture the region by bombing it out. This strategy was tried out by Western imperialist powers, such as the US and France, in South East Asia some decades back, quite unsuccessfully.

However, by targeting civilians the Putin regime seems to be also banking on the US and its allies committing what could come to be seen as indiscretions, such as, getting more fully militarily and physically involved in the conflict.

To be sure, Russia’s rulers know quite well that it cannot afford to get into a full-blown armed conflict with the West and it also knows that the West would doing its uttermost to avoid an international armed confrontation of this kind that could lead to a Third World War. Both sides could be banked on to be cautious about creating concrete conditions that could lead to another Europe-wide armed conflict, considering its wide-ranging dire consequences.

However, by grossly violating the norms and laws of war in Ukraine Russia could tempt the West into putting more and more of its financial and material resources into strengthening the military capability of the Ukraine resistance and thereby weaken its economies through excessive military expenditure.

That is, the Western military-industrial complex would be further bolstered at the expense of the relevant civilian publics, who would be deprived of much needed welfare expenditure. This is a prospect no Western government could afford to countenance at the present juncture when the West too is beginning to weaken in economic terms. Discontented publics, growing out of shrinking welfare budgets, could only aggravate the worries of Western governments.

Accordingly, Putin’s game plan could very well be to subject the West to a ‘slow death’ through his merciless onslaught on the Ukraine. At the time of writing US President Joe Biden is emphatic about the need for united and firm ‘Transatlantic’ security in the face of the Russian invasion but it is open to question whether Western military muscle could be consistently bolstered amid rising, wide-ranging economic pressures.

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At 80, now serving humanity

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Thaku Chugani! Does this name ring a bell! It should, for those who are familiar with the local music scene, decades ago.

Thaku, in fact, was involved with the original group X-Periments, as a vocalist.

No, he is not making a comeback to the music scene!

At 80, when Engelbert and Tom Jones are still active, catering to their fans, Thaku is doing it differently. He is now serving humanity.

Says Thaku: “During my tenure as Lion District Governor 2006/2007, Dr Mosun Faderin and I visited the poor of the poorest blind school in Ijebu Ode Ogun state, in Nigeria.

“During our visit, a small boy touched me and called me a white man. I was astonished! How could a blind boy know the colour of my skin? I was then informed that he is cornea blind and his vision could be restored if a cornea could be sourced for him. This was the first time in my life that I heard of a cornea transplant. “

And that incident was the beginning of Thaku’s humanity service – the search to source for corneas to restore the vision of the cornea blind.

It was in 2007, when Dr Mosun and Thaku requested Past International President Lion Rohit Mehta, who was the Chief Guest at MD 404 Nigeria Lions convention, at Illorin, in Nigeria, to assist them in sourcing for corneas as Nigeria was facing a great challenge in getting any eye donation, even though there was an established eye bank.

“We did explain our problems and reasons of not being able to harvest corneas and Lion Rohit Metha promised to look into our plea and assured us that he will try his utmost best to assist in sourcing for corneas.”

Nigeria, at that period of time, had a wait list of over 70 cornea blind children and young adults.

“As assured by PIP Lion Rohit Mehta, we got an email from Gautam Mazumdar, and Dr. Dilip Shah, of Ahmedabad, in India, inviting us for World Blind Day

“Our trip was very fruitful as it was World Blind Day and we had to speak on the blind in Nigeria.”

“We were invited by Gautam Mazumdar to visit his eye bank and he explained the whole process of eye banking.

“We requested for corneas and also informed him about our difficulties in harvesting corneas.

“After a long deliberation, he finally agreed to give us six corneas. It was a historical moment as we were going to restore vision of six cornea blind children. To me, it was a great experience as I was privileged to witness cornea transplant in my life and what a moment it was for these children, when their vision was restored.

“Thus began my journey of sight restoration of the cornea blind, and today I have sourced over 1000 corneas and restored vision of the cornea blind in Nigeria, Kenya and India till date.

“Also, I need to mention that this includes corneas to the armed forces, and their family, all over India.

“On the 12th, August, 2018, the Eye Bank, I work with, had Launched Pre-Cut Corneas, which means with one pair of eyes, donated, four Cornea Blind persons sight will be restored.”

Thaku Chugani, who is based in India, says he is now able to get corneas regularly, but, initially, had to carry them personally – facing huge costs as well as international travel difficulties, etc.

However, he says he is so happy that his humanitarian mission has been a huge success.

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