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Being blooded into the Ceylon Army in 1971

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Gotabaya R was in that officer intake

By Maj Gen (Rtd) Nanda Mallawaarachchi VSV

History bears evidence that the consolidation of a security arm of any country has its origins in a crisis.

In Sri Lanka, formerly known as Ceylon, it fell on the world’s first woman Prime Minister, Mrs. Sirima Bandaranaike, to face an insurrection by the Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna better idenfified as the JVP. Through attacks on Police Stations that began on April 5, 1971, their abortive attempt to overthrow a lawfully elected government began with an attempt to seize weapons.

Using shotguns, locally turned-out Gal Kattas and other improvised weapons they attacked the Wellawaya Police Station pre-dawn. Whether this launch was the result of mixed up communications or not, it did alert both the Police and the Armed Forces

Whether this group received wrong information regarding the date of the attack is arguable. Whatever the case, the JVP’s overall strategy and tactics utilized failed to overthrow the government. Unlike the present day, the Armed Forces of the 70s were miniscule in comparison. The Police Force was the main bastion of the state. To overcome future eventualities, Mrs. Bandaranaike took the crucial decision to expand the then Ceylon Army. As a result, 30 officer cadets, the largest contingent since the inception of the Ceylon Army, were recruited on April 26, 1971. It was to be Officer Cadet Intake 4. Nandasena Gotabaya Rajapaksa was among them.

I was fortunate to join 29 other school leavers to embark on an epic journey. Having reported to the Army Recruiting Officer at Army Head Quarters on Lower Lake Road (later Baladasksha Mawatha), we went through the enlistment procedure. We were now officially Officer Cadets with Cadet number C/51183 assigned to me including a princely monthly salary of SLR 430.00.

After being accommodated in a billet at the Headquarter Company of the Army HQ, we were served dinner. On the following day all of us were bundled into a rickety old Army bus for the journey to the Army Training Centre (ATC) in Diyatalawa. We were escorted all the way to the ATC by a dashing young Captain. We never saw him again until we passed out as officers and joined our respective regiments. (Later we recognised this dashing Captain as the “Aide-de Camp” to the then Army Commander, Major General Sepala Attygalle.

The bus ride to Diyatalawa was of course the time for dreams. A smart jungle green uniform with umpteen pips on the shoulders, sitting rigidly in an Army jeep being driven around was a favourite scene for all of us. Talk about pies in the sky! Instead of jeeps, we were carted around in a WW II era 4T transporter in which the tailgate was never lowered. Getting in and out of this vehicle was therefore a challenge. Cursing and swearing during this high risk manoeuvre was a regular norm for us in addition to being ingrained with the military term “debussing”!

Diyatalawa was a different kettle of fish to what we were used to where the weather was concerned. If it was shock tactics we were supposed to be subjected to, then it worked perfectly. It was freezing cold during nights. The blankets, probably of World War I vintage, did little to keep us warm. The next day after the attendance being noted, we were issued with the Universal Army Kit Bag, better know as the “Ali Kakula” and the AFQ-1 items issued to a recruit. These consisted of basic items such as an aluminium plate, a mug, a mess tin etc. Various types of uniforms were also issued including berets, cap badges, collar badges and the likes.

Once the “kit issue” parade was concluded and the newly acquired items packed inside the “Ali Kakula“, it weighed at least 20 kg. The fun had just begun! We were then taken on a “camp visit” with strict orders for the “Ali Kakula” to be held over our heads. It was however not a walk in the park but a camp tour “on the double”, a medium paced jogging speed. The “Ali Kakula” was not allowed to be kept on the ground at any time during the “Observation tour”. What a spectacle we would have made; dressed formally in shirt, formal trousers and neck-tie carrying the Universal Kit Bag over our heads.

Ten minutes were allocated for us thereafter to change into out PT kits and report. There we were, punctually, in white shorts, white T shirt, white socks and white canvas PT shoes for the next round of manoeuvres. Frog-jumps, Forward rolls and the likes were thereafter executed under the hawk eyes of the Under Officer from Intake 3. The initial briefing in the Cadets’ Café by the Chief Instructor, Major SP De Silva of the CLI, still echoes in the writer’s mind. “Gentlemen, welcome to the Ceylon Army” he said. “We will break you and re-make you in such a manner that nobody, repeat nobody, will be able to break you ever again!”

For three long months thereafter it was being “ground into the ground”. Gruelling lessons, drill, parades and the deadly billet and uniform inspections. We spent most nights in a foxhole (two-man trench) defending the camp with rain and freezing cold as team members. It was a miracle that nobody lost teeth due to the constant chattering. There was no respite in the mornings thereafter. Roll call was once again at 0530h. The camp buglers ensured that we were up prior to the rooster’s call.

PT, ablutions and breakfast thereafter was the routine. Half a loaf of bread, pol sambol and gravy with a banana thrown in; was the gourmet breakfast menu, day in day out. We ate fast as the small amount of gravy in the plate might otherwise have evaporated. All movements during this time within the camp were “on the double”. The entire batch of officer cadets would be moving “on the double” from the billet to the mess hall, from the mess hall to the training area, from the training area to the lecture hall etc. Dozing off during lectures was a norm for some due to physical fatigue. The Spartans from the days of yore would have been proud of our training regime.

By the third week of this “breaking us” (prior to remaking us), we had hit an extreme situation where morale was concerned. “Decamping” was a common topic of discussion amongst us. One cadet threw in the towel during the first week; he could not take it anymore. The initial financial bond which we all had to sign at “A” Branch of Army HQ, compelling us to pay a proportionate amount to the Army in the event we resigned, might have been psychological balm that motivated some cadets to carry on. By and by, we gradually got used to the training whereas rules allowed us to “march” instead of moving “on the double” between venues after the first month.

Teachers form an integral part of anything taught. A teacher could make the training interesting and absorbing or make it lacklustre for the student not to learn at all. We had a batch of disciplined instructors of sterling quality who ensured that we learnt all that was supposed to be learnt. Discipline in parallel was ingrained into us from day one. The Commandant of the then Army Training Centre (ATC), was none other than Lt. Col. Denis Perera (later the Army Commander), a stickler for discipline. No slack was tolerated at any time. He would occasionally visit us during our theory classes held at that time in the Cadets’ Café. You could hear a pin drop during the silence that followed.

The military lecturer, after obtaining permission, would carry on with the lecture. Any cadet dozing off, would suddenly be jolted back to life when his name was fired after a question was posed by the Commandant himself. He was omniprescent, his rough and commanding voice unmistakable. He would drive around the cantonment in his personal vehicle. The Mercedes Benz with its registration number 5 Sri 111, is still etched in this writer’s mind.

We learnt tactics, fieldcraft, map reading and current affairs. Leadership studies of course overarched all courses. Military tactics such as defilading, enfilading and reverse slope manoeuvres began to haunt us thereafter in our dreams. WO 2 Peris of the Armoured Corps, as the “Cadet Wing” Se argent Major, equipped with the pace stick, taught us drill. Corporal Dassanayake of the Signal Corps was the specialist teacher on signals theory and practices. Corporal Cyril the PT Instructor made us physically fit and robust. Gymnastics, “horse work” and rope climbing were to become a norm during this time. Corporal Cyril also took us on walks and runs up to the Diyatalawa City Marker in the direction of Haputale. Corporal Wreeves, the explosives expert from the Engineers taught us the use of minor explosive devices. He also had the dubious honour of checking us inside the foxholes at night and meting out punishment to whoever was caught sleeping.

Corporal Thusiman, the perpetual disciplinarian, was ever ready to mete out extra punishments. Corporal Boyagoda was the compassionate one checking on our wellbeing at all times. While we were busy during military drill at the Parade Square, our billets were inspected by the Under Officer or Course Commander for orderliness and cleanliness. Anything “out of line, balance and sheen” was rewarded with “pack-drill” during afternoons and night.

Weapon training was another adventure. We were issued the 22 during the first term and trained to shoot at indoor targets at 50y meters. Later we used the legendary Short Magazine Lee Enfield rifle (known as the “Smellie” during WW II), better known as the 303, with five rounds in the magazine. Natural sense prevailed when adjusting the sights. It was “click-up” or “click-down” for elevation during sighting. We developed a healthy respect for the weapon. Woe betide anybody having a space between the rifle butt and “anterior deltoid” during prone firing exercises. The 303’s recoil was so powerful that a mule kick, in comparison, could have been considered a pleasant experience.

It was a miracle there were no broken shoulder blades. The bayonet and the 303 were also a deadly combination. We were mighty careful during rifle drill, especially during “slope arms” with the bayonet fitted. The bayonet would have pierced the right cheek had we not been careful. We used the 303 even as officers in the various units till the advent of the “self-loading rifle” era. The 303 was used for Inter Unit Firing Competitions where we had to hit the “bull” on a 10’ x 10’ target at 1000 yards. The “click-up” and “click-down” adjustments came in handy during these extreme distances.

We were allowed to leave the camp for a day out after our first term of training. Terms and conditions still applied. We could only go out in pairs. We had to keep step when walking and walk abreast. Polished shoes, smart trousers, pressed long sleeved shirt, neck tie and blazer were a must. The writer remembers getting “Seiyathu” the tailor, to sew his blazer. It was a matter of undertaking a couple of fittings before the blazer was ready. The day out was of course memorable. We would make a dash to Bandarawela by bus; a one way ticket cost 30 cents. The Chinese Restaurant operated by Mr. Lee was one of our favourite haunts. A bottle of beer was Rs 6.00 whereas a sumptuous meal was Rs. 9.00. The Hidaya Bakery was another restaurant we used to frequent. We would walk the entire length of the Main Road from the Bus stand, past the Market building down to Cyril Studio and back to get on the bus for the return to the Camp.

We were taken to Lahugala for a thirty-three day “Jungle Training” during our final term of training. Captain Wijaya Wimalaratne (posthumously promoted to Major General in 1992) who had returned from Malaysia after having followed the Malayan Jungle Course was to be our instructor. The then Malayan Army having fought a long drawn jungle warfare campaign had managed to defeat communist insurgents. This experience had been condensed into a few jungle warfare books and pamphlets and published. These publications would initially serve as basic theory for us.

Captain Wimalaratne was to conduct the practical training for us. He had designed and built a “Jungle Base” consisting of a billet for thirty officer cadets, accommodation for the officer instructors, other rank Instructors and cook house etc. The base was located adjacent to the ‘Heda Oya’, thereby ensuring a regular supply of clean water.

The cadets divided into three sections were taken into elephant infested jungle, progressively penetrating deeper and deeper into the dense foliage where the jungle canopy did not even allow the sun to penetrate and where advancing even a metre required the use of machetes. Ambushing the enemy, counter ambushing drills, Immediate Action drills (IA Drills) etc. were the norms during this time. It was 33 days of hell. The conditions were exacerbated due to real life scenarios. There was no possibility of bathing for up to five days. Drinking water was limited and carried in our water canteens. The only food allowed was “meal ready to eat” (MRE), where the quantities consisted of no more than two to three tablespoons.

The Jungle Warfare Training started during the Intake 4 era, morphed from the initial embryo stage into a fully functional streamlined, professional training in later years. The credit for organizing and streamlining this training goes to the late Major General Wijaya Wimalaratne, who was known as “Jungle Wimale” amongst our batch mates.

We started rehearsals for the “Passing out Parade” (POP) exactly two months prior to the event. This was to be the hightpoint of our training and subsequent graduation. We were eager to become commissioned officers. All rehearsals included the sword and the scabbard. The sword of course symbolised “the commission” presented by the Governor General of Ceylon. Full dress rehearsals were held two to three weeks prior to the event again so that we were fully versed with the process and utilization of full regalia. The Hon. Lakshman Jayakody (Deputy Minister of Defence) was the Chief Guest at the POP. Nineteen cadets passed out in 1972 as Second Lieutenants. We were officers of the Ceylon Army. Our pride knew no bounds! The commissioning dinner was thereafter held at the Ceylinco House (opposite the Central Bank) in Colombo which at that time was the tallest building in the country.

As new commissioned officers, we had the option of joining a unit of our choice. This of course was based on the number of vacancies in that particular unit and our aptitude for the unit’s speciality. Most got their chosen unit whereas some did not. However all batchmates settled in where they were posted to develop a professional military career. The writer was posted to the Ceylon Light Infantry (CLI), an ambition fulfilled. This would be the start once again of other specialised training for us, the freshly baked Second Lieutenants. The training in Diyatalawa was a foundation at the beginning of a career. It broke us in a way and remoulded us to fit a specific role. We were taught never to give up and to find options and solutions. Now, light years away from the gruelling training we can look back at those days with nostalgia.

Us batchmates, were many and we definitely were different. Some were physically strong, some mentally. Each had his own strengths and weaknesses. We managed to amalgamate into a strong group and exploit our strengths, which were to prove crucial in later years. We managed to provide moral strength to each other. Whatever was thrown at us, good or bad, was accepted with courage and purpose. We never looked down on our colleagues until unless it was, literally, to give them a helping hand.

Our batch accepted all challenges that came our way in life. Some of us rose to the highest ranks in the military. We served our country and proved ourselves in combat with heads held high. Let us also bow our heads for a moment in silence to remember the batchmates not with us today. Some of us upon retirement from our “employer” went on to accept other challenges. “The batch” produced Secretaries of various Ministries, Directors-General of Departments and Ambassadors who represented the country. Intake 4 should also be the proudest batch of Officer Cadets.

Officer Cadet C/51185, our batchmate of Intake 4, Gotabaya Rajapaksa, went on to become the nation’s Defence Secretary and subsequently the incumbent Executive President! Allow me, on behalf of the entire Intake 4, to wish His Excellency, the best in fulfilling his duties. Thus a saga undertaken in 1971 has continued to this day. Strong foundations laid 50 years back have enabled us to build even stronger structures throughout our journeys in life.



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Ramazan spirit endures amid pandemic

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This will be a sombre Ramazan, indeed, with the country under a lockdown. But the spirit of Ramazan lives on in all Muslims. Ramadan, also referred to as Ramazan, Ramzan, or Ramadhan, in some countries, is the ninth month of the Islamic calendar, and Muslims the world over dedicate this holy month for fasting, prayer, reflection and community.

Although most non-Muslims associate Ramazan, solely with fasting, it is believed to bring Muslims closer to God and inculcate in them qualities such as patience, spirituality, and humility. Those of the Islamic faith believe that fasting redirects one away from worldly activities, cleanses the inner soul and free it from harm. It also teaches self-discipline, self-control, sacrifice, and empathy for those who are less fortunate and encourage actions of generosity and charity. It is a time of self-examination and increased religious devotion.

Ramazan is a commemoration of Prophet Muhammad’s first revelation, and the annual observance of Ramazan is regarded as one of the Five Pillars of Islam. The Five Pillars are basic acts, considered mandatory by Muslims, namely Muslim life, prayer, concern for the needy, self-purification, and the pilgrimage. Prophet Muhammad’s first revelation is believed to have taken place in 610 AD, in a cave called Hira, located near Mecca, where Muhammad was visited by the angel Jibrīl, who revealed to him the beginnings of what would later become the Qur’an. The visitation occurred on Ramazan.

Ramazan lasts from one sighting of the crescent moon to the next and the local religious authority is tasked with announcing the date. The Colombo Grand Mosque announced on Wednesday (12) that Sri Lankan Muslims will celebrate Ramazan on Friday (14). Because the Muslims follow a lunar calendar, the start of Ramazan moves backwards by about 11 days, each year, in the Gregorian calendar. Fasting from dawn to sunset is considered fard (obligatory) for all adult Muslims who are not acutely, or chronically, ill, travelling, elderly, breastfeeding, diabetic, or menstruating.

During this month, Muslims refrain not only from partaking of meals, but also tobacco products, sexual relations, and sinful behaviour, devoting themselves to prayer or salat and recitation of the Quran. The pre-dawn meal is referred to as suhur, and the nightly feast that breaks fast is referred to as iftar. During Ramazan, Muslims wake up well before dawn to eat the pre-dawn meal. This is considered the most important meal, during Ramazan, since it has to sustain one until sunset. This means eating lots of high-protein food and drinking as much water as possible, right up until dawn, after which one cannot eat or drink anything. The day of fasting ends at sunset, the exact minute of which is signalled by the fourth call to prayer, at dusk.

It is believed that spiritual rewards, or thawab, of fasting multiply during Ramazan. Muslims do not Fast on Eid, but Sri Lankan Muslims believe that observing the six days of optional fasting, that follows Eid, multiplies spiritual rewards.

Eid-Ul-Fitr is the Festival of Breaking the Fast, also simply referred to as Eid, and marks the end of the month-long dawn-to-sunset fasting of Ramadan, as well as the return to a more natural disposition of eating, drinking, and marital intimacy. In Sri Lanka, this Festival of Breaking the Fast is also referred to, colloquially, as Ramazan. Eid begins at sunset, on the night of the first sighting of the crescent moon. Muslims hand out money, to the poor and needy, as an obligatory act of charity, before performing the Eid prayer.

Globally, the Eid prayer is generally performed in open areas, like fields, community centres, or mosques in congregation. In Sri Lanka, the prayer is performed annually in Galle Face Green and mosques. The Eid prayer is followed by the sermon and then a supplication asking for Allah’s forgiveness, mercy, peace and blessings for all living beings across the world. The sermon encourages Muslims to engage in the rituals of Eid, such as zakat, almsgiving to other fellow Muslims. After the prayers, Muslims visit relatives, friends, and acquaintances, or hold large communal celebrations.

After prayer, Muslims celebrate Eid, with food being the central theme. Sri Lankans celebrate Ramazan with watalappam, falooda, samosa, gulab jamun and other national and regional dishes. The festivals were said to have initiated in Medina, after the migration of Muhammad from Mecca.

This year, as well as last year, Sri Lankan Muslims will have to forgo the custom of communal prayers, and celebrations, due to the ongoing pandemic, and will have to settle for private prayers and celebrations of Ramazan during this period of curfew. While these preventive measures are in place, during this year’s Ramazan, the principles of this holy month remain the same. Devout Muslims all over the world, will still be honouring this pillar of Islam, albeit from the security of their homes.

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Dip Corps Plum Job? I don’t think so!

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I was reading an article in the papers the other day saying that the Attorney General (soon to retire) had turned down a “plum job” (interesting and archaic term) by refusing to go as the High commissioner to Canada. In the days when terminology such as “plum job” was used indeed any member of the Diplomatic Corps was considered elite. They usually came from people who had got degrees with a class and preferably a 1st class, and I believe they had to get through a tough civil service exam as well. Before they reached the top post of High Commissioner (if they came from the service) they had to spend many years learning the ropes. A few High Commissioners were appointed from among civil service retirees in other fields and if so, their role was largely ceremonial with the other staff in the embassy handling the actual policy matters.

Ever since the advent of “Kukul Charlie” to Scandinavia as H/C, during the R. Premadasa regime, this worthy actually had a mini chicken farm in the premises of the embassy, and slightly before that the actions of A.C.S. Hameed as the minister of foreign affairs during the J.R.J. regime.The Dip: Co: has degenerated into a mess. Most of the staffers are political appointees and even the progeny of Ministers and MP draw salaries from the embassy, to fund their overseas studies. Everybody seems to be running his or her own little racket to supplement his or her foreign currency incomes. Many of them don’t even come back when their terms are over. The Ambassador’s main role seems to be a taxi driver or to use modern terminology Uber driver for vising VIP’s and their assorted relatives.

Is it a wonder that the incumbent Attorney General chose to decline an offer of this sort? An offer that would have consigned him to oblivion (as seems to be what happens to all able-bodied, intelligent, and capable people in the Pearl) and to top it off, dealing with the freezing conditions of the Canadian winter. This is a blatant attempt to sideline a capable professional who is perceived as a threat to the government as he seems a bit of a maverick and his penchant to toe the line cannot be guaranteed. Now, instead of appreciating constructive criticism and the actions of a professional guided by his knowledge and ethics, the increasingly military regime wants order followers. Extensions of terms come very easily to those characterless wimps who fill and overflow the ranks of government employees! In this case, a “kick upstairs” seems to be what the powers that be require. I guess the inherent and ever-present guiding light of jealousy among his peers, keeps organisations such as the bar association from protesting these actions? I am sure they will find an excuse all covered in legalize. I fear Mr. Livera will have to carve his own path through the morass of muck that is the Pearl at present.

What demoralises me further is that editors of newspapers and even so-called “journalists” write and publish such articles when they are well aware of the true reasons and facts. Then again, I have read articles quoting government financial “geniuses” saying that printing money will not be detrimental to the economy and even some ministers saying that devaluation of the rupee simply means more money coming in from Middle Eastern remittances and a better lifestyle for the beneficiaries! I was even sent a link by a friend to a published article saying Sri Lanka has done a better job than New Zealand to maintain a low Covid death rate. Of course, the link came with the words “Ammata Siri” from a friend of mine!

On the subject of Covid, I am told the predictions for the Pearl based on statistics put out by American Universities, are dire. Now, I know that those ruling the country firmly believe that Sri Lanka is the centre of the universe and anything said by anyone other than themselves is utter rubbish. BUT I see an opportunity here … this is the time to form a “war cabinet” to overcome this catastrophe. Kick out all the idiots who are simply drawing huge salaries, and gadding about in flash new duty-free vehicles. Send them to their electorates and tell them to stay there, travel by bus, mix with the populace, and do their JOBS. Cut their salaries by 75% and use that money to give benefits to those affected by the virus and resultant recession. Form a Cabinet of 20 (maximum) and concentrate on saving our country and her people so that we can live to fight another day.

I have heard rumblings of discontent among the ruling clan. The big cheese is apparently being hampered by the blue cheese (old cheese) and his direct decedents. Be that as it may there certainly are around 70% of those currently in government who can be sent home to their electorates. There are a handful of those in Opposition who may be able to do a good job in these circumstances if included in this war cabinet. There certainly is a foreign minister in waiting, who doesn’t even have a parliamentary seat at present. The current sitting of parliament is said to cost an astronomical figure per sitting. Close it down and have cabinet meetings at Temple trees or TT as is the current local parlance. Another huge saving that can be distributed among those daily paid labourers who have no way to feed their families at present. Use the Parliamentary cooking facilities to make lunch packets for the needy.

There are opportunities even among this present and perceived chaos. All it takes is the will of a strong leader who is prepared to think outside the box. The current president certainly has the powers, but does he have the will? The country certainly thought he had done when they gave him that massive majority!

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Vaccine need and experts vs political power

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Manna from the skies and the drop of water to a man dying of thirst is for most now a jab in the upper arm which will hopefully keep at bay the dreaded omnipotent, omnipresent Covid 19 virus. It seems to be getting more virulent especially in poorer countries. But countries with massive daily numbers of those ill with C19 and large numbers dead, are fast returning to near normal e.g. USA. A young man who hibernated for the last fourteen months is away on holiday in the Big Apple – a separate State from his. And take it from Cassandra whose age, experience and potent gut feeling qualify her to judge situations, the improvement is due to President Biden’s leadership against that of Trump. Kudos go to Biden mostly for his selection of experts in relevant fields heading various government departments; selected solely on merit and matching the need; not considering relatives, sycophants, ethnic origin of the selected Americans. And he is totally receptive to expert advice. Judge his Secretary of State – Antony Blinken – a polar difference from big brash Mike Pompeo, in the mould of Trump. See how Dr Antony Fauci speaks now to the American media as shown us by CNN. He is confident; knows he is respected and trusted as Chief Medical Advisor to the President and also Director of the National Institute of Infectious Diseases while with Trump he nearly had his head cut off for making statements about the pandemic contrary to what Trump wanted to hear. In this context why Dr Anil Jasinha was transferred as Secretary, Environmental Ministry, is still a mystery, since we Ordinaries do not believe it was a promotion. He did magnificently well, with the Army Commander and others in minimising the damage of the first C19 wave.

Many in Colombo are due for the second dose of AstraZeneca vaccine. When will it be given? We were lulled to complacency being told some time ago that the second dose was safely stored in time for vaccination three months after the first. Now we find the medical department’s cupboards are as bare as Mother Hubbard’s as regards the A-Z vaccine and there’s begging going on for the WHO to shower enough of this vaccine on poor Siri Lanka. Threatened is a cocktail of merrily mixed AstraZeneca with Sputnik or the Chinese vaccine. We all shout: No thank you!

We do sympathize with the government battered on all sides and reduced to begging. We appreciate what is being done, but go mad when we hear statements like “Development must go on” when development is a speedway to Ratnapura and purchase of helicopters.

Many approve of the move to lockdown regions and Grama Sevaka divisions and now even provinces since locking down the entire country is really too drastic a measure even though it will reduce mass infection.

Wise experts give of their expertise all the time.

The major issue that confronts the government at present is imminently losing the battle of the Covid 19 pandemic. Next, of course, is the mess of the second vaccine for which blame lies on the government. Then the fast-declining economy and solutions thereof, one solution being import of tourists and asylum given to those fleeing India. For this obvious blunder, blame is squarely on offshoots of the government like hoteliers, travel agents and leading the lot, Udayanga W with his Covid barrier-breaking influx of ‘ballooned’ tourists from Ukraine, one of the worst affected countries. The ‘balloons’ burst no sooner they landed in Paradise and were taken traipsing around Resplendent Sri Lanka.

Another disturbing situ inaugurated by the Prez himself is the fertiliser issue – his overnight banning of chemical fertilisers, to save farming community from kidney disease and win laurels as first country to ban such. Misfiring. Tests have shown the use of these fertilisers is not the cause of KDC. More damning: the sudden ban with no substitute organic fertiliser in large quantity will badly affect our primary cash crop and from the next Yala harvest itself our stomachs will rumble with hunger pangs and the poorer will surely starve. Nothing must be done with the sweep of the pen or the gush of words of command.

And here is Cassandra’s bone which she picks with the government. Experts abound in this country of intelligent people. They are not, apparently, consulted before decisions are made. As Prof, Rohan Rajapakse writes in his article Ban on agrochemical: where are we heading? in The Island of 11 May: “Three eminent scientists, namely Dr Parakrama Waidyanatha, Prof O A Ileyperuma and Prof C S Weeraratne have effectively dealt with the repercussions of the ban on chemical fertilizers.” (He gives their credentials in full). Prof Rajapakse goes on in his article to the sphere of pesticides and warns about that too.

No politician or army high-up nor even the Prez knows it all. So experts must be hearkened to, to serve the country and save its people.

Ubiquitous

Have you noticed as Cass has that the Minister of Sports and Youth is seen at very many meetings and exhibits involvement in fisheries, the environment, even the economy; far extended from his sphere of sports and youth. Latest sighting (Tuesday May 11) was him on TV news inspecting the marvelous hospital constructed in a couple of days by hard working, skilled young men. It will be manned mostly by young girls, nursing Covid 19 patients, at risk to themselves. So, Cass praises this young minister for being so interested in the welfare and well-being of the Ordinaries – we the people of Free Sri Lanka. A sports writer in the gossipy column on the last page of The Island of 12 May, gave him a paragraph, not complimentary like Cass’ paragraph (this). Also, we do not approve at all of exercise equipment being set up in villages. The villager has enough exercise in his farming and his spouse in house and garden work. Such centres, said to be open air, will only attract gawkers in their numbers, and laughter. Of course, someone will make money.

Dire danger of military in power

The youth of Myanmar are demonstrating to the entire world what the consequences are of military men ruling countries. Pro-democracy leader Daw Suu Kyi was given one term of half governing the country as Counsellor; the second time she and her National League for Democracy won a landslide victory. She worked with the army leaders and going along with them – a la the Rohingya – was derided as a Nobel Peace Laureate.

The November 8, 2020 elections gave her Party a bigger majority. Then power was snatched off her and she was held hostage god knows where. (She suffered long years of strict house confinement after her first victory.)

The youth of the country rose up for democracy and for Suu Kyi being released. Listening to excerpts of conversations with two fighters for democracy – male and female – on BBC, Cass was overwhelmed with a fifty-fifty, long lasting spurt of emotion: sorrow and admiration for these young uns. Bless them and may they win the battle for a right of every human being – freedom from oppression and dictatorship. But these kids are being shot at with live bullets and more than fifty (if remembered correctly) are dead. Why-oh-why are base men so greedy for power?

The young of Hong Kong also fought unrelentingly but they were imprisoned and not killed deliberately. Their battle is against the growing power of China where a dictator resembling a military man rules supreme.

A bright spot

In media, whether print or visual, we long for news with optimistic effect to drive away, even temporarily, the doom and gloom that envelops us. Cass had her descending-to-depression spirits uplifted by watching a video clip of the Queen declaring the new Parliamentary sessions ‘open’.

Here was the mid-90s Sovereign walking steadily with her eldest son beside her and reading her speech about what ‘her government’ and ‘her ministers’ would do for the country in a steady voice with steady hands holding the script.

Top on this list was fast recovery from the pandemic followed by environmental, health and educational betterment. She hid signs of emotion that would have battered her because for almost seven decades she came in with her beloved Philip by her side at this ceremony.

Cass took courage from this marvelous woman.

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