Implication of COVID-19 Pandemic for South Asia:
By Nimmi Jayathilake
Regional Centre for Strategic Studies
The outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic in South Asia has adversely affected all domains of social, economic and political life in the region. This global pandemic which engulfed every nook and corner of the world in the wink of an eye, entered South Asia in March 2020. By the beginning of the second quarter it had spread to all South Asian countries to a varying degree. The shock injected to South Asia by COVID-19 resulted in closed education institutes, stalled factories, idle ports, empty roads, and life standstill, at least initially. It filled hospitals and deserted public spaces, reversing the process of globalization to “slowbalization”.
Decisive and far-reaching developments are set in motion at present in South Asia and yet the true proportions of the blow and its real impact on the region are yet to be encountered in the coming future. However, it seems that South Asia would surely witness a decisive alteration post-COVID-19. In this context, the Regional Centre for Strategic Studies (RCSS) organized a successful two-days virtual workshop titled “The Implication of COVID-19 Pandemic for South Asia: Civil Society Perspectives” as an initiative to create a common platform for experts and young scholars from South Asia to present and discuss research that they had carried out for the past six months exploring and analyzing the various aspects that have emerged as a result of the pandemic and the future prospects for a way forward from a civil society perspective.
South Asia has always been recognized as one of the most volatile and conflict-ridden regions in the world. The South Asian nations have been experiencing both inter-state and intra-state conflicts. The inter-state conflicts mostly occur as a consequence of the tensions created by identity-politics and intra-state conflicts spark particularly in between the smaller nations and India due to unsolved border disputes. These countries have still not overcome the political and emotional baggage that they have carried since historical times and hence the suspicions and tensions have not eased off especially between India and Pakistan and thereby continue to remain in the same environment which has been marred by mutual antagonism and an uncompromising attitude. Moreover, over the last 15 years, the region has experienced an increased scale of terrorist activity in comparison to the other regions across the globe. Under this situation, where Afghanistan is seeking for peace negotiations with the Taliban, Sri Lanka was barely recovering from the unfortunate Easter Attacks and India was facing protests from all over the country due to its Citizenship Amendment Act, ‘Hindu Rashtra’ movements, people’s disenchantment with the government, youth bulge and so on what would be the implications of COVID-19 for the existing multi-layered conflict-dynamics and peace-building processes in this unstable region?
South Asia also comprises 40% of the world’s poor. The COVID-19 pandemic has widened the gap between the rich and the poor and thereby affected the vulnerable, marginalized, discriminated and subaltern groups disproportionately in a region where one third of the people struggle with poverty for their everyday existence. It tends to even further widen inequalities and deepen insecurities in the society, specifically among the disadvantaged and alienated sections. Thus, COVID-19 did not simply slow down the economic progress of the region, it has exacerbated and brought forth the already existing issues to the forefront too. The South Asian countries might well experience its worst economic performance in 40 years, with at least half the countries falling into a deep recession. It has already triggered sharp jobs and earnings losses. Tens and thousands of migrant laborers have returned home and thereby the flow of foreign remittances to the South Asian nations have decreased considerably. Overall, as a consequence, the crisis arising from the economic front would lead to an accentuation of preexisted issues with multiplied effects such as the citizens’ dissatisfaction with the functioning of the government and the expanding youth bulge. Thus, social discontent, tremendous reproduction of social class inequalities, extension of poverty and the incapacity to generate any new economic opportunities or employment would ultimately result in an equally grave social and political crisis with furious and restless citizens and a militarized government trying to contain civil protests.
Therefore, to what extent would public policies instituted by the South Asian countries prove its strength in mitigating the socio-economic impact of COVID-19, by paying adequate attention and honest concern to the marginalized and economically disadvantaged communities victimized by the already existing abstract ideological constructions of social class, caste, gender and even language? Further, the breakdown of world supply chains, shrinking of the global market, decline of air travel and constraints on international trade have severely affected the South Asian economies from broken pieces to shackles. In such a condition, what would be the long-term economic implications of the COVID-19 pandemic for South Asia?
The outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic occurred at a crucial time when the western hegemons feared over the gradual global power-shift towards Asia. The Asian superpowers displayed tremendous improvement in the power-play to a point where it was estimated that they would surpass North America and Europe combined in global power based on GDP, population size, military spending and technological investment by 2030. In effect, South Asia was declared the fastest growing region in the world in 2016 and proved its economically stable position during the last five years. In relation to shifting the centre of gravity in global politics from the West to the East, South Asia’s recognition in the global order was also going through a phase of positive alteration. Nevertheless, how would the impact of the global pandemic on the evolving global balance of power alter South Asia’s position in the post-COVID world order?
The multi-dimensional threats posed by COVID-19 and the manner in which they are addressed at present will bring forth profound implications for the role and stature of the state and state-society relations in South Asia. With regards to this factor, it brings into attention the impact of emergency measures adopted to cope up with exigencies of COVID-19 on democratic political structures and processes in South Asia. The theory of surveillance has been familiar in the critical discourse of the West since the times of Bentham and Foucault. Surveillance developed with time from its physical mode of a ‘Panopticon’ to power-play with the datafication of society and transition to network surveillance. Today, some states in the South Asian region too employ ‘intrusive surveillance methods’ to keep tabs on vulnerable sectors in identified pandemic hotspots. Though it effectively saved lives by curtailing the spread of the virus, possible covert implications of such methods for civic activities in democratic governance are a matter of serious concern.
Moreover, COVID-19 has also facilitated the tendency for Democratic South Asian nations to move towards an executive friendly mode. The emergency situation created by the pandemic seems to be utilized almost as a tool of distraction to instrumentalize and solidify executive authoritarianism by citing the discourse of public health as a principal reason for greater executive control and consolidation. Hence, COVID-19 has definitely magnified certain impulses and dynamics of conflict and governance within the region rather than ameliorating the existing trends towards anti-democratization, populism, militarization and currently altered our everyday government and its governance. In this regard, what would be the directions of democratic governance in post-COVID South Asia?
South Asia still remains as one of the least integrated regions in the world and its intra-regional trade accounts for a mere 5% of its total trade, manifesting a low degree of economic bonding in the region. Despite several attempts to foster cooperation among its member states, SAARC appears to be in limbo since 2016 after India’s boycott of the Islamabad Summit. Yet it brought some hope into the faltering SAARC process when all the eight South Asian nations’ leaders gathered together on a virtual platform to address the emergency situation created by the pandemic and to contribute funds to combat the pandemic as one region. Will the COVID-19 pandemic prepare for the re-awakening of a new era of regional cooperation and compel the SAARC member-states to cooperate with each other to encounter the virus that does not take man-made divisions and boundaries into account in its itinerary. Would practical requirements in dealing with the COVID-19 threat act as a lever to minimize the trust deficit among the South Asian countries and hence create a novel chapter for regional cooperation?
Thus, it is clear that the arrival of COVID-19 halted the progress of South Asia at a historic crossroad and created a barrier over the many potential directions and options which stood before it along with various opportunities for global recognition and integration. And at the moment, we are left in an unpredictable situation with many questions unanswered, issues unsolved and a bleak tomorrow. Thus, RCSS in a joint-venture with GPPAC South Asia gathered a panel of distinguished South Asian academicians from Sri Lanka, India, Nepal, Pakistan, Bangladesh and Afghanistan namely Prof. Gamini Keerawella, Dr. Pakiasothy Saravanamuttu, Prof. Jayadeva Uyangoda, Dr. Mallika Joseph, Prof. Suba Chandran, Dr. Nishchal Pandey, Ms. Saloni Singh, Prof. Moonis Ahmar, Dr. Salma Malik and Miss Lailuma Nasiri respectively to bring to the table their thoughts and views on this historic juncture with regards to the significance of civil society intervention in a responsible manner and contribute to generate policies that are more effective, equitable and gender-sensitive and those that could be capable and influential enough to mobilize societal capacities in order to mitigate adverse social, economic and political effects of the pandemic and to shape the direction of post-Covid South Asia on a better and effective track. It was also noteworthy that young researchers from the above mentioned South Asian nations too participated and presented informative and well-analyzed Country Reports in an attempt to map the impact of COVID-19 pandemic in South Asia and to share each country’s experience on a common platform in order to examine the policy responses to counter adverse effects and to promote recovery from a civil society perspective and of course to generate a discourse in civil society as to its role in post-COVID South Asia.
The Keynote address of the inaugural session was delivered by Admiral Prof. Jayanath Colomabage, Secretary, Ministry of Foreign Affairs. His participation to this regional workshop was indeed an honour for RCSS. Admiral Prof. Colombage made a significant and informative speech on the current proceedings of Sri Lanka in countering the various challenges posed by the second wave of COVID-19 and the measures taken by the government in order to adapt to the “new normal” without disrupting the progression of the country. He also referred to the current repatriation process which keeps ongoing despite the outbreak of the rapidly spreading second wave and where over 40,000 stranded Sri Lankans were brought back to the motherland.
The first technical session brought forth into discussion the trends towards the retreat of democracy and the kind of impact it would have especially on two of the oldest Democratic nations in South Asia- India and Sri Lanka. And if this would ultimately result in a democratic backlash from the civilian side? Several aspects with regards to regional governance and multilateralism in the COVID-19 world were also brought into attention. And there was further discussion on the implications of COVID-19 for the existing conflict patterns and the process of regional cooperation in South Asia.
The second technical session included the presentation and discussion of the country reports of Sri Lanka, Bangladesh and Afghanistan. The third technical session focused on the country reports of India, Pakistan and Nepal. The six research reports from six different South Asian countries brought into discussion several common issues that have been concerning the region as a result of the pandemic situation such as rising inequalities, increase in smuggling, health-care challenges and responses, increased domestic violence, the digital gap that has affected students from rural areas at large in continuing their education online and the extent to which the vulnerable communities suffer from food and health insecurity as these groups won’t be able to hold any longer till the economy recovers at a slow pace. And country wise, the country report on Pakistan pointed out how the citizens acted irresponsible pertaining to different myths on COVID-19 and the dilemma of the government in choosing to protect life and livelihoods. In the case of India, COVID-19 has vastly impacted the manufacturing sector, disrupted the supply chain and led to job losses. The inability to make proper and timely announcements especially with regards to the lockdown of the country pushed the migrant laborers into a very uncomfortable situation. Nevertheless, several small states such as Kerala have continued to perform well despite the damage caused by the pandemic. Moving onto Afghanistan, its citizens who reside in the provinces which are being controlled by the Taliban remain unable in reaching out to the services provided by the government. And on top of that, the suicide bombings too have not decreased and the people keep losing their lives both from the pandemic and from terrorist attacks.
History depicts the end of a catastrophe as the beginning of social, economic and political change and revival from one age to another. When one way does not work, mankind has always proved to be creative and thrived their businesses and institutions in a novel way. They have been remarkably quick to discover innovations to recover and reemerge once again. Catastrophes created a pause in the usual universal procedures and provided space for mankind to rethink and make necessary changes to the manner in which they live, to the modes through which goods and services are produced and distributed and to the institutions through which collective decisions are made and implemented. Thus, in this phase of the modern era, will COVID-19 pandemic serve as a propellant for social, economic and political change?
All communities should be treated equally without distinction
by Jehan Perera
The government was elected on a platform that stressed national security and unity. The elections took place in the aftermath of the Easter suicide bomb attacks of 2019 that caused the highest numbers of casualties in Christian churches. As the bombers were all Muslim, the Muslim population in the country came under public suspicion which was spontaneous and widespread. There was also equally widespread fear and anxiety about follow on attacks that could target Christians in particular and also the population in general. The cause of the attacks and the master minds behind them were a mystery then as they are now.
Due to the timely intervention of Malcolm Cardinal Ranjith, Archbishop of Colombo, in whose diocese the two most serious attacks took place, there was no retaliation against the Muslim population by those who had lost their kith and kin. However, in the weeks that followed, there were mob attacks against the Muslim community in parts of the country that were distant from the bomb attacks. These attacks were not spontaneous but organised and intended to loot Muslim property and cause fear in them. The government, which was under political siege for having failed to prevent the suicide bomb attacks, failed once again to adequately protect the Muslim community.
It is in this context that Malcolm Cardinal Ranjith’s statement on the occasion of the second anniversary of the Easter bombings takes on significance. About two months ago he gave a deadline by which he asked the government to identify who was behind the Easter attacks and the cause for them. The Cardinal has consistently spoken up on the issue of the Easter bombing, first to ask for restraint on the part of the victims, then to ask the government to identify the perpetrators and prior to the elections to take the position that the people needed a government that could protect them. Now he has said that “Our brethren were attacked not by religious extremism, but by a group that exploited it to use the attackers as pawns in order to strengthen their political power.”
Two years after the Easter bombings in which they were branded as supporters of religious extremism, the Muslim community seeks in many different ways to overcome the suspicion that once engulfed them and which they fear can do so again. The use of the black Islamic dress that was an increasing trend among Muslim women has been much reduced. Muslim organisations are making energetic efforts to network with other religious organisations, join inter-religious groups and to liaise with civil society. They make available to them the Islamic teachings on peace and coexistence. This weekend I was invited to the opening of a community centre in the Kurunegala District by a Muslim organization.
On the walls of the community centre there were panels put up with sayings from the different religions on a number of important matters, such as how to treat others, and the role of spiritual values in everyday life. The foremost place at the opening ceremony was given to Buddhist monks who had come to attend the ceremony along with government officials and police officers. The monks who spoke said that the Muslim community living in the village had good relations with the Sinhalese living in the neighbouring villages, and this had continued for generations. Another monk said that after the Easter bombings they had heard there were violent gangs heading in the direction of the Muslim village, they had come there to ensure no harm would befall those people.
In this context, the announcement that the government will ban 11 Muslim organisations sends a negative message to the country at large about the Muslim community. It creates an impression that Muslims organisations are under suspicion and possibly even close to performing acts of violence which necessitates them being banned. Of the 11 banned organisations, two are foreign ones, the Islamic State and Al Qaeda which have been reported internationally as engaging in violence. However, the other nine are Sri Lankan organisations which do not have a track record of violence or illegality. Four of them have the name “Thowheed” in them, which in the Arabic language means “faith.”
The ban on these Thowheed organisations may be due to the fact that the leader of the suicide squad, Zahran, was part of an organisation that had the name “Thowheed” in it. The ban on them may also be due to the fact that the Commission of Inquiry into the Easter bombings recommended such action against them. However, the Commission also recommended that other non-Muslim organisations be banned which has not happened. This suggests that the Muslim organisations are being treated differently. The danger is that when it treats organisations differently, the government may be generating resentment in the Muslim community, especially the youth. If the words of Malcolm Cardinal Ranjith are correct, the problem lies not in Muslim extremism but in partisan power politics.
Sri Lanka has experienced Sinhalese youth insurrections twice and even the Tamil militant movement was started by youth, who were once called “the boys.” Perhaps in anticipation of such a radicalisation phenomenon, the government has recently passed an add-on called the “De-radicalisation from holding violent extremist religious ideology” to the Prevention of Terrorism Act. This will permit people who fall into its ambit to be send to rehabilitation centres for up to two years without trial. This may provide the government with an opportunity to release up to 250 Muslim citizens currently under detention on suspicion of being involved in the Easter bombings and send them for rehabilitation. On the other hand, this regulation may be used in the future in regard to other persons and other groups. The better way to prevent radicalization is to make people feel that the law is even-handed to all, and also to encourage engagement between communities.
During the discussion that took place at the opening of the community centre in Kurunegala, it was noted that the younger generation had fewer inter-community linkages than those of older generations. This may be due to the changing nature of society and the economy where people spend less time with other people and more time with machines or doing narrow and specialised jobs. In multi-ethnic and multi-religious societies in which there is conflictual relations, the tendency on the part of those from different communities will be to live in their own silos rather than interact with those of other communities. Living in peace in plural societies requires purposeful and energetic interaction which is organised. Where there has been ethnic and religious strife the world over, the better answer has been to provide people with encouragement and incentives to mix together, which is what the Muslim organization in Kurunegala was trying to do.
TNGlive…a boon to artistes affected by the pandemic
No doubt, Covid-19 has ruined the entertainment industry, throughout the world.
Entertainment venues have been shut down, concerts cancelled…and musicians are finding the going pretty tough.
However, it’s heartening to know that there are performers who find solace in keeping the public entertained, via online performances.
In this instance, those responsible for TNGlive must be congratulated for creating this platform, on social media, in order to give lots of folks, from around the globe, the opportunity to showcase their talent, on a regular basis.
Quite a few Sri Lankans have been featured on TNGlive, including Melantha Perera, Suzi Croner (Fluckiger), Sureshni Wanigasuriya, Yasmin de Silva, and Kay Jay Gunesekere,
Suzi did this scene twice, and on both occasions her performance was highly rated, with bouquets galore coming her way…on social media.
On Saturday, April 10th, she was featured (8.00 pm Sri Lankan time) doing songs from the country and western catalogue.
It was a very entertaining programme, which also contained some dance scenes (line dancing) from the audience present, in her living room – her friends.
Her repertoire included ‘Joline, ‘Me And Bobby McGee, “Johnny B. Goode,’ ‘Blue By You,’ ‘Okie From Muskogee,’ ‘Tennessee Waltz,’ ‘Rose Garden,’ ‘Mississippi’ and ‘Cotton Eyed Joe.’
Suzi is to make her third appearance, on TNGlive, shortly, but this time it won’t be a solo effort, she says.
“For variety, I would be having a guy from the Philippines, and he sings the hit songs of Tom Jones and Engelbert.”
So get ready for another special from Suzi, who now resides in Switzerland.
Suzi was the frontline vocalist for the group Friends who were, at that point in time, top of the pops!
Another artiste who impressed viewers, performing on TNGlive, with his daughter, was Nigel Gerrard John Galway.
Nigel is from India, and has been a Chef for the last 23 years, with 12 years spent at the Oberoi hotels. He was also an executive Sous Chef at Taj, in Coimbatore.
In fact, Allwyn Stephen, TNGlive chief, referred to Nigel as…probably the first Singing/Dancing Chef in the world!
He, and his 18-year-old daughter, Lean Pamela Mary, did get the attention of many, with their unique style of presentation; while Nigel handled the vocals, Lean, using only gestures, expression, and movements, brought out the meaning of the lyrics in most of the songs her dad did. And, she did it beautifully.
Yes, she also did exercise her vocal cords, on this particular programme
Says Nigel: “We come from a family of musicians, but we attempted singing, only during the pandemic, on various social media groups, and we did so only because we were all stuck at home.
“We joined TNGlive, through a friend, and have been performing ever since. The love and support we received from people around only encouraged us to keep growing and now we have a page of our own called THE SINGING CHEF.”
Heard at the club
A member reminisced an incident that happened long years ago, during those peaceful times when terrorism was unheard of. He had been driving his car, on the Deniyaya Road, when about six miles from Galle, he saw a village in a state of panic. So he stopped his car near the village boutique and asked the mudalali what was happening? The mudalali had said that the self-opinionated ‘mudliyar’ of the village (a court interpreter) had organised a ‘dane’ (an alms giving) and was awaiting the procession of monks, complete with drummers, from the temple. And, seeing it coming over the paddy fields which was a short cut, instead of the village road as show off, put him in a paddy, and he had chased the monks away. So the monks had gone back to the temple. As the meal time deadline for monks was fast approaching, the villagers brought the meals they had cooked in their homes, to serve the monks! That was the panic.
He was an unpopular villager who rose to a high position in the public service with political influence. Cussed by nature, he used his official position to harass villagers. When he met with an untimely death and, right at the moment the coffin was taken to the hearse, the whole village reverberated with the sound of fire crackers, organised by the irate villagers.
Once a terrible post office blunder very nearly wrecked a marriage. A certain sales rep sometimes sold his wares on credit. One such creditor was the owner of a shop named ‘Chandra Cafe’ who was slack in his payments. So the sales rep sent him a telegram that he would be coming to collect his dues, next Monday. On receipt, the owner of Chandra Cafe telegraphed the rep asking him not to come on Monday and the telegram received by him read, ‘Do not come on Monday – Chandra K.P.’ And when the rep’s wife read the telegram there was some misunderstanding at home which nearly rocked his marriage.
This reminded us of another telegram. An army officer was to go back to camp by the night mail. When he arrived at the railway station, he found a lady in an advanced state of pregnancy, almost in tears, because no berths were available. Gallantly the officer offered her his berth and, at the nearest post office, sent a telegram to his commanding officer saying ‘Unable to return tomorrow as ordered. Gave berth to lady. Arriving tomorrow evening.’
Obviously, the vital word ‘berth’ had been misspelt as ‘birth’, for the gallant officer received this reply from his commanding officer, ‘Your next confinement will be to barracks’.
A philanthropist donated a building to his old school. An opening ceremony was held with a VVIP as the chief guest. A group photograph was also taken. As the donor was keen to get this photograph published in the newspapers without delay, he sent the local correspondent in his limousine to Colombo. He met the editor who happened to be an old boy of the same school. After a look at the photograph, he folded it in such away to eliminate the principal and sent it for publication. The editor seemed to have an axe to grind with the principal!
It was in the early 60s and I was on my way to the club in the evening, when I met a friend near the club. With him was another, I invited them both to the club and after a few drinks we were headed out of the club, when near the gate, my friend pulled me aside and said that his friend was going for some trade union work to Hambantota and was short of funds. I told him that he should have told me that before I paid the club bill and also told him I had only Rs.18.00 which I gave. This trade union leader was non other than Rohana Wijeweera, who was to become JVP leader.
It was towards the end of the 1980s and a club member, a tea factory owner was on his way home all alone in his car, at the break of down, after finishing his factory work. He had to travel 12 miles. After about five miles, he saw a youth profusely bleeding with injuries, coming down a hill. The good Samaritan that he was, he took him in his car to the hospital. On the way, the police took him and the injured youth into custody for terrorist activities. Fortunately for him, Major-General Lucky Wijeratna, who was a classmate of his at school, was there to save him.
This happened several decades ago. There was a certain popular elderly club member, who was a wealthy businessman and drank nothing but whisky. That day when he came to the club, he seemed to have lost his bearings. He told his friends that he was going to donate all his wealth to the Home for Disabled Children which was close to his house, because his only child, a daughter, had eloped. His friends prevailed on him to defer his decision for a few months. About a year or so later, he came to the club one evening carrying a big flask in his hand. He said that it was for his errant daughter who has now reconciled, adding that he was a grandfather now!
A busy garage was located in a residential area and it was open day and night. To highlight their services, they put up an impressive signboard, ‘We never sleep’. The following day a prankster had written below it ‘and neither do the neighbours’.
During the day of insanity – 29th July 1987, the Open University at Matara was burnt down and the Ruhunu University remained closed. A wall poster came up. It read: ‘Close the Open University’ and ‘Open the closed University’.
A young teacher, met a young man at the Dehiwala Zoological Gardens. Although their native villages were far apart, they
became close friends and planned to get married in the near future. He posed as a private bus owner. One day on a visit to his fiancée, he stayed the night over and muttered in his sleep, “Borella – Battaramulla! Borella – Battaramulla!” This aroused serious suspicions about his identity. So a few days later, her parents came to the Borella junction, to see him in a sarong loading passengers to private buses as a ‘bus crier’. And the love story ended right there.
A long time ago a wealthy industrialist, a popular member of the club, was having his drink in a secluded corner of the club, most unlike him. He appeared to be quite agitated. Some concerned friends asked him what happened. He said that his only daughter (he also had a son) had married a man of her choice adding that his wife was in favour of the marriage. The daughter he said, was 22 years old. His friends told him that at that age, she was entitled to choose her partner in life and appealed to him to take things easy as his wife too approved of the marriage. After about a year or so, a friend visited him. Proudly pointing out a large multiple storey house in his sprawling garden, he had said that it was built by his son-in-law.
A certain member served abroad for many years. One morning he come back to his native Galle in a hired helicopter. That evening he came to the club and ordered a case of beer for his friends!
Several years ago, a member had gone to the Galle Post Office to send a telegram to a close relative. He was informed by the postal authorities that there was a breakdown in the telegraphic services and that it was unlikely that his message, about a bereavement in the friend’s family, would reach his relative in time. They advised our friend to telephone someone in the area where his relative lived and to get the message delivered orally. Those were the days when only a few had telephones. As the member did not know anyone in that area with a telephone, he thought of S. Jayasinghe, known as Mr. S, who was not know to him personally and who was a Junior Minister residing in the area where our friend’s relative lived.
When our friend telephoned him from the post office, he had just got into his car to go somewhere. Soon after he was speaking to our friend over the phone as if he was talking to an old friend. He also told our friend that he was about to go to the site where he was building a new house. Our friend then gave him the message and appealed to him to get it delivered. The rest of the story was told to our friend by his relative who had said that during a heavy shower of rain, he found a car near his gate and that when he went up to the car he recognized him to be the Junior Minister. Like my friend, he did not personally know the Junior Minister. Instead of giving the message then and there, he had got off the car and had gone to our friend’s house and not only given the message but also consoled him by talking to him for a few minutes.
It was in the late 1980s, at the height of the insurrection, that this member was travelling all alone to Galle in his jeep. He was going through the Kottawa Forest which was famous at the time for tyre pyres. The Navy had stopped his vehicle and asked him to take a young man who was injured in a motorcycle accident, to the Galle Hospital, about eight miles away. The young man was bleeding profusely. He got him admitted to the hospital but our friend was forced to stay there for a long length of time, culminating in his having to give his consent for a surgical operation on the injured, whom he had never seen before. Alas! The purpose of his visit to Galle was lost.
A member had two sons, twins aged three years. As they fell ill, he channelled a specialist doctor who examined one twin and refused to examine the other, as an appointment was not made for him. So our friend had the other twin channelled as well. Certainly, it was no personification of Hippocrates!
A popular elderly member used to come to the club only on his pay day to keep himself warm. He worked at ‘Sathosa’ (C.W.E). The younger members would then tell him that he is very fortunate to work in a historic establishment like ‘Sathosa’ which is also referred to in Guttila Kavya (an epic) thus:
‘Sara Salelu Jana Sathose.’
Highly elated he would order a round of drinks, adding ‘Surapana karathi mese’.
This happened many decades ago. A member who was an inveterate gambler once lost heavily at the card table and mortgaged his expensive wrist watch. A member who was not well disposed towards him had sent a post card to his wife informing her that her husband sold his watch to gamble. He also had a 15-acre well-maintained tea estate which he had to sell when his gambles failed.
This story was related by a member and is about the ‘kings’ in the planting circles. A planter in the coconut belt of the North Western Province who owned acres of coconut, once named himself ‘King Coconut’. He argued that if a planter in the Kalutara District who owned vast acres of rubber could be referred to as a ‘Rubber King’ why shouldn’t he be called ‘King Coconut’.
One day a member related a story, which is hard to believe. A teacher who served in an uncongenial station, in his quest for higher knowledge, had studied for an external degree at a university. And he passed the examination with flying colours, obtaining first class honours and was highly commended by the university authorities for his brilliance, while serving in a different area. He had confided to his friends that his success at the exam was due to the gift of seeing all the question papers in a dream, before the examination!
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