CONFESSIONS OF A GLOBAL GYPSY
By Dr. Chandana (Chandi) Jayawardena DPhil
President – Chandi J. Associates Inc. Consulting, Canada
Founder & Administrator – Global Hospitality Forum
As a young child I virtually grew up on stage. My father was an award-winning playwright, stage producer, director and actor. His other artistic talents such as set and costume designing enhanced the overall quality of his productions. In 1956, his play ‘Janma Bhumi’ was chosen by the government to celebrate 2,500 years of recorded history of Sri Lanka, as a part of Buddha Jayanthi celebrations. With the opening of that play, he became the first-ever to use now famous Lumbini Theatre in Colombo. Growing up in a culturally rich environment meant frequent visits by our family to art galleries, theatres, cinemas and traditional cultural events. My parents also sent my elder sister and I to learn Kandyan dancing. I was lousy at it and gave it up after a few sessions.
During my Ceylon Hotel School (CHS) student years, my favourite show was the first ever solo concert by a Sri Lankan singer – Victor Ratnayake. His concert known as ‘Sa’ (the root or tonic note in the Indian music scale) was first performed in 1973. I saw ‘Sa’ four times over four decades. I had mixed feelings when Victor finally ended ‘Sa’ in the year 2012, with the 1,450th concert. For the final show he chose Lumbini Theater where the first ‘Sa’ was held 39 years before that.
I never had the privilege of talking with Victor, but had the opportunity to work with the other two greatest classical musicians in Sri Lanka – Amaradeva and Nanda Malini. They occasionally entertained the guests at the Hotel Ceysands, during the oriental food events which I organized. I was the Executive Chef and the Food & Beverage Manager of that hotel in late 1970s. Arranging such high caliber classical musicians to entertain tourists was not common in hotels in Sri Lanka.
I also equally enjoyed western music shows. Those days, we called these ‘Beat Shows’. In addition, my neighbourhood friends used to organize large scale road dances in Bambalapitiya Flats, which had a refreshingly diverse population. A few days ago, I tracked down a pioneer in western music shows in Sri Lanka, now living in USA – Kumar Navaratnam. Kumar used to organize popular beat shows in Colombo in late 1960s and early 1970s. When Kumar saw the iconic performances by Jimmy Hendrix, Carlos Santana, the Who etc. in a documentary film about Woodstock, Kumar was inspired to do something different in Colombo.
Previously having introduced rock and hard rock to Sri Lankan audiences, Kumar planned to organize something big. His ambition was to organize the first-ever Rock Festival from 6:00 pm to 6:00 am at the Havelock Park in Colombo, in the style of Woodstock. Once his friend, then turned rival, Gabo Peiris had the same idea. Eventually one week apart, there were two competing Rock Festivals organized by Gabo and Kumar held at the same venue. Most of my CHS batchmates went with me to both events. I wore a tie and dye tee shirt, a chain with a large peace sign and a pair of old torn jeans with the largest possible bell bottoms (36 inches!).
There were heavy rains during Gabo’s Rock Festival and that enhanced the ‘Woodstock’ type atmosphere and mood of the attendees. While the rock music continued nonstop, we danced in the rain and jumped into small puddles of mud, until dawn. When I asked Kumar last week if he has any photographs from his Rock Festival, he told me, “Machang, I was too drugged to remember or arrange any photos of that festival!” Kumar’s departure to USA at the height of his popularity in the 1970s created a void in the western music scene in Sri Lanka that lasted for some time. Those two festivals are yet to be matched by contemporary rock groups on the island. Kumar remains regarded as a pioneer of Sri Lankan Western music.
Meeting Mark Bostock
In 1973, as the Tournament Secretary, once again I led the organizing committee of the Nationalised Services Rugby Football Club’s annual tournament. I also played for the CHS seven-a-side team, which was one of the fourteen teams that competed for the prestigious trophy. CHS lost to the Bank of Ceylon, in the quarter finals. The chief guest for the tournament was an Englishman well-known in Sri Lanka as a sportsman and a business leader, Mr. Mark Bostock. He was the President of the Ceylon Rugby Football Union and the Chairman of the John Keells, the largest group of companies in Sri Lanka. We shook hands and spoke briefly. I felt that he was impressed with the organization of the tournament.
That brief introduction to Mr. Bostock led me to find employment with John Keells on two occasions during my mid-career in the hotel industry. At the age twenty-five I managed one of John Keells hotels, and befriended Mr. Bostock. He arranged for me to be trained in London with the largest British hotel company – Trust House Forte in the late 1970s. He was the attesting witness when I got married. In the mid-1980s, my family was invited to visit the Bostock family in their home in Tunbridge Wells, Kent, England and stay overnight with them. We had a great time there. In later years his daughter Clare, who studied hospitality management in the UK, worked at Le Galadari Meridien Hotel, where I worked in mid-1980s.
In 1986, I arranged a small farewell to Mr. and Mrs. Mark Bostock, just before his retirement, in Habarana. At that time as the General Manager, I managed the two largest hotels built by John Keells, the Lodge and the Village, Habarana, as well as their farm and Keells food distribution in the North Central Province of Sri Lanka.
Towards the end of our second year at CHS, we were very busy organizing the second CHS Graduation Ball. With the experience gained in 1972, my batch had become more efficient at event planning and organizing. We raised more funds through souvenir advertisements and were able to secure the most prestigious and expensive venue in the country – the ballroom of the Hotel Ceylon Inter.Continential. The dance tickets were sold out quickly and the dance was an overall success in terms of attendance, profits as well as finding partners.
Scraping Coconuts at
Five of my batchmates and I were able to arrange well-sought after summer internships at one of the best-known multinational corporations operating in Sri Lanka. It was at Lever Brothers, fondly known to many generations of Sri Lankans as ‘The Sunlight Company’, since 1938. At this Anglo-Dutch corporation, Lever Brothers (now Uni-Lever), we were exposed to new employee orientations, training and development as well as, employee benefits. These standards were far superior to what the hotel industry was providing those days.
My main task was scraping coconuts and peeling sweet potatoes for meals of their 1,000 employees. As four meals a day (breakfast, lunch, dinner and mid-night meal) all included curries, they needed a large quantity of grated coconut and coconut milk. Having done the same function throughout the summer of 1973, I became an expert at coconut scraping using the motorized scraper at the Lever Brothers staff kitchen. That machine was my friend, whom I called, ‘NUTS’. We also had to do shift work. Morning and afternoon shifts were good. However, we disliked doing the night shift and delivering midnight snacks to different factories.
Although we worked as trainee staff cooks; we were given some extra benefits. We had our meals at the junior executive meal room. We were also given some excellent supervisory technique training with handouts developed in Europe. I also learnt for the first-time sales concepts, public relations and union relations. At one of our training sessions, the Personnel Manager, asked us, “What is the best for management – negotiating with one union or several unions?”. I quickly raised my hand and answered, “Several!” when the manager asked my rationale for the answer, I said, “Because with several unions, the management can divide and rule”. He disagreed and explained how the management could have better and mutually beneficial industrial relations by dealing with one union. We learnt a lot at Lever Brothers, in addition to scraping coconuts.
Meeting Stanley Jayawardena
During this seventh part-time job, I was fortunate to get an opportunity to briefly meet Mr. Stanley Jayawardena, who later became Unilever Sri Lanka’s first Sri Lankan Chairman. He told interesting and inspiring stories about his remarkable career. He had joined Lever Brothers as a Sales Manager in 1955 with little knowledge in sales. However, over the decades that he worked at Unilever, he became a highly respected Marketing Guru.
He played a dominant role in shaping the destiny of Unilever Sri Lanka. Nine years after this brief meeting, I learnt Marketing from this expert. In 1982 and 1983 I did an Executive Diploma in Business Administration at the University of Colombo and Mr. Stanley Jayawardena taught its Marketing course. He arranged the ex-Marketing people from Unilever Sri Lanka, such as Upali Mahanama, Sri Sangabo Corea to give us guest lectures. That inspired me to study Marketing further with the Chartered Institute of Marketing (CIM) in UK and eventually become a graduate of the CIM.
Mastering the Concept of Marketing
The seeds of Marketing knowledge and practical tips in Marketing shared by Mr. Stanley Jayawardena, made a significant impact in my career. Most things I did in my mid-career in hospitality management – food festivals, stage productions, food and beverage operations, banqueting sales, were influenced by the basic principles of Marketing. Identifying the market segments and the customer needs and then satisfying those needs while making profits, is a simple, yet a powerful concept.
Having seen the benefit of Marketing knowledge in most things I did, I further studied and practiced Marketing. In the year 1990, I embarked in an MPhil/PhD in Hospitality Marketing at the University of Surrey, UK. Over the next 17 years as a full-time and part-time Visiting Professor/Senior Lecturer/Professor, I taught Marketing in 13 post-secondary educational institutions in eight countries (Schiller International University in UK, International Hotel School in Sri Lanka, Ceylon Hotel School, International Hotel Management Institute in Switzerland, Pegasus Hotel School in Guyana, University of Guyana, The University of the West Indies in Jamaica, Private Hotel School of Aruba, Mona School of Business in Jamaica, Ryerson University in Canada, Canadian School of Management, Ravens University in USA and Niagara College in Canada).
Thirty years after my first meeting with my Marketing Guru, I worked for the Canadian School of Management as their Senior Vice President in Market Development. Thank you for the insight and the inspiration, Mr. Stanley Jayawardena!
Dangerous rail travel by tourists: Why not create an opportunity?
Before the Covid Pandemic hit Sri Lanka, there was some debate and concern voiced about tourists standing at the door ways of trains and even hanging out, while the train is moving. Some pictures of a young couple hanging out of an upcountry train, while clutching on to the side rails, went viral, on social media, with debates of the ‘pros’ and ‘cons’ reaching fever pitch. While certainly this is a dangerous practice, not to be condoned, If we ‘think out of the box’ could there be a way to make this seemingly popular, though dangerous pastime among some tourists, into an opportunity to be exploited. This paper aims to explore these options pragmatically.
By Srilal Miththapala
Social media, and even some of the more conventional media, were all a-buzz before the CoVid crisis, when some pictures of a young tourist couple appeared, hanging out of a Sri Lankan upcountry train in gay abandon, savouring the exciting moment. There were hot debates about this form of ‘promotion of Sri Lanka’, with many people talking about the dangers of such a practice, and that it would bring negative publicity for Sri Lanka if something dangerous were to happen. This part of the train ride, along the upcountry route, is arguably one of the most scenic train routes in the world.
And quite rightly so, I guess. I myself was one who joined the chorus who vehemently spoke against this.
However thinking out of the box, I got thinking – Can we create an opportunity here ?
The ‘new’, experience and thrill seeking tourist of today
There is no doubt that there is a new segment of discerning, younger, experience and adventure seeking tourists, emerging and travelling all over the world. They are very internet and social media savvy, seeking more adventurous and exciting experiences, and are usually very environmentally conscious. They are most often seen exploring ‘off-the-beaten-track’ holidays, planned out individually according to their needs and wants.
Through the ages, mankind has been pushing the limits of exploration: We have conquered land, sea and space. We have discovered many hitherto unknown wonders of our planet with our unabated thirst for knowledge.
Tourists are no different. To get away from their daily stressful life, they seek something different, even venturing into hostile or dangerous places to experience the excitement of discovery and the feeling of adventure. No longer is a clean hotel room with a range of facilities, good food and some sunshine good enough to a tourist.
According to booking.com, the yearning for experiences, over material possessions, continues to drive travellers’ desire for more incredible and memorable trips: 45% of travellers have a bucket list in mind. Most likely to appear on a bucket list are thrill seekers wanting to visit a world famous theme park, travellers looking to go on an epic rail journey or visiting a remote or challenging location. ()
Drive-reduction theory in psychology postulates that one is never in a state of complete fulfilment, and thus, there are always drives that need to be satisfied. Humans and other animals voluntarily increase tension by exploring their unknown environments, self-inducing stress and moving out of their comfort zones. This gives them a sense of achievement and self-satisfaction. ()
Therefore, unknown thrills, adventures and the ‘adrenaline rush’ does attract travellers.
What have other countries done ?
As mentioned many countries are developing unique , memorable and thrilling experiences into their product offering.
A few are described below
Walk along Sydney Harbour Bridge
Walk along Sydney Harbour Bridge
Small groups are taken on a walk along the massive, arched steel structured Sydney Harbour Bridge . The dramatic 360 deg. view from the bridge, 135 meters above ground, of the harbour, and the nearby Sydney Opera house, while being completely exposed to the elements, is, indeed, a rare and thrilling experience.
Coiling Dragon Cliff skywalk, Zhangjiajie, China
In the northwest of China’s Hunan province, visitors can take a leisurely stroll along the walkway attached to Tianmen Mountain — 4,700 feet above the ground.
The glass-bottomed walkway is more than 300 feet long and only about five feet wide, providing an experience that is said to be exhilarating and frightening .
The CN tower Edge walk, Canada
The tallest attraction in Toronto lets people stand right at the edge of the CN tower and lean over. It is the world’s highest full circle, hands-free walk on a 1.5 m wide ledge encircling the top of the Tower’s main pod, 356m , 116 storeys above the ground. EdgeWalk is a Canadian Signature Experience and an Ontario Signature Experience.
A variety of unique trekking opportunities, in Rwanda and Uganda, allow you trek into the jungle to gaze into the eyes of the Gorillas in their natural habitat. It’s a completely unique African safari experience. This moment leaves a lasting and unforgettable impression, coming so close to this majestic wild animal.
These are just a few. So there are already a range of unique, visitor attractions that thrill tourists the world over.
The CN tower Edge walk, Canada
Safety – the one overriding condition
All these thrill seeking, and seemingly dangerous tourist attractions have one common denominator that is never ever compromised – Safety.
Safety is of paramount importance in all these activities and are subject to stringent checks and review, periodically. All personnel who guide and instruct these thrill seeking tourists are well trained and disciplined.
Any equipment that is used for safety, such as harnesses and safety belts, are designed to the highest standards and are periodically tested. Nothing is left to chance and if there is the slightest semblance of danger, due to any unforeseen environmental conditions, the attraction is closed down temporarily. ( e.g when there are strong winds the Sydney Harbour bridge walk is suspended).
Such safety measures are an imperative necessity, because any unforeseen accident can lead to serious and grave consequences of litigation and even closing down of the attraction.
So what about our train ride ?
The attraction of the Sri Lankan upcountry train ride (most often between Nanu Oya and Ella – the most scenic section) is the fact that a tourist can stand ‘on the footboard’ of the open train carriageway door, and feel the cool breeze against their faces while absorbing the beautiful hill country and tea plantations. This is something most western tourists cannot do back home, where all train carriageway doors are automatically shut when the train starts moving.
In fact I am told that some Tour Agents in Australia are specifically asked by tourists to arrange this ‘experience’ for them, when booking their tour.
So why not be creative and make a proper attraction out of this ?
Cannot we modify one carriage to have an open ‘balcony’ along the side where a person can stand ‘outside’ and ‘feel the open environment’? It could be fitted with proper safety rails and each person can be anchored to the carriage with a harness (like what is used in other attractions where the interaction is open to the elements). A special charge can be levied for this experience.
One factor that favours the safety aspect is that during traversing this stretch, due to the steep gradient, the train travels at a ‘snail’s pace’, unlike in foreign countries where speeds could reach 80-100 kms per hour.
This attraction could be used as an income generator for the Railway Department as tourists wanting to experience this ‘thrill’ can be charged a fee, for a specific time period that they could use the facility.
Although this may seem simplistic, in reality there may be several logistical issues that need to be addressed.
But, if there is a will, and the different departments involved can all see the opportunity, and get on to the same ‘wavelength’, cutting through the inordinate bureaucracy that usually prevails, then surely it would not be at all difficult.
But the overall point in this entire treatise, is that we have to ‘think out of the box’ and grasp at all possible opportunities that are available, especially as we gradually open up for tourists after the pandemic. We are quite used to ranting and raving about all the shortfalls that prevail.. But there’s so much that still can be done if there are a few motivated and dedicated people who can get together.
Tourism after all is really ‘show businesses’ and without creativity, panache, actors and showmanship, what is show business?
Remebering Prophet Muhammad’s legacy – ECOLOGICAL WELFARE
By Dr M Haris Deen
COVID-19 came and as yet remains, at the same time the world is plagued with another serious issue, that of global warming and other ecological disturbances. While remembering the birth of Prophet Muhammad (Peace and Blessings of Allah be upon him) let us recall the contributions he made towards the applying Islamic principles of Islamic welfare towards protection of the environment.
The Prophet of Islam (May peace be upon him) advocated during his lifetime the stringent application of Islamic principles in respect of ecological welfare. Prophet Muhammad (Peace be upon him) taught his followers to live on less, neither to be extravagant nor to be miserly and to protect animal and plant life and to worship the Creator by being merciful to His creations. He forbade the killing of any animal unless out of necessity to feed the people. Al Albani reports that the Prophet (on whom be peace) said “If the Hou r (meaning the day of Resurrection) is about to be established and one of you was holding a palm shoot, let him take advantage of even one second before the Hour is established to plant it”. Imam Bukhari reported the Prophet (Peace be on him) as having said that “if a Muslim plants a tree or sows seeds, and then a bird, or a person or an animal eats from it, it is regarded as a charitable gift (sadaqah) for him”. It is also reported in Ibn Majah that once the Prophet (peace be upon him) happened to pass by his companion Sa’ad (May God be pleased with him) and found him performing ablution (wudu) next to a river and questioned him “Sa;ad what is this squandering? And when Sa’ad asked in return “can there be an idea if squandering (israf) in ablution?’ the Prophet replied “yes, even if you are by the side of a flowing river”.
In another Hadith narrated by Ibn Majah, the Prophet (on whom be peace) said “Beware of the three acts that cause you to be cursed: (1) relieving yourself in shaded places (that people utilise), in a walkway or in a watering place”.
The Qur’an in chapter 56 verses 68 to 70 states “consider the water which you drink. Was it you that brought it down from the rain cloud or We? If We had pleased, We could make it bitter”.
Prophet’s companion Abu Dhar Al Ghaffari (May Allah be pleased with him) reported the Prophet (on whom be peace) said “Removing harmful things from the road is an act of charity” and in another Hadith authenticated by Albani, the Prophet (on whom be peace) said “the believer is not he who eats his fill while his neighbour is hungry”. The Prophet further cautioned as reported by Tirmadhi and Ibn Majah that “Nothing is worst than a person who fills his stomach. It should be enough for the son of Adam to have a few bites to satisfy his hunger. If he wishes more, it should be : one third for his food, one third for his liquids and one third for his breath”.
Imam Bukhari reported an amazing story narrated by the Prophet (on whom be peace) that “A man felt very thirsty while he was on the way, there he came across a well. He went down the well, quenched his thirst and came out. Meanwhile, he saw a dog panting and licking mud because of excessive thirst. He said to himself. “This dog is suffering from thirst as I did, “So, he went down the well again, filled his shoe with water, held it in his mouth and watered the dog. Allah appreciated him for that deed and forgave him”. The companions inquired, “O Allah’s Messenger, is there a reward for us in serving the animals?” He replied: “There is a reward for saving any living being”.
Animals have a huge role in the ecological welfare system. The tenets of the Shariah Law towards animal rights make it obligatory for any individual to take care of crippled animals, to rescue strays and to guard birds’ nests of eggs’.
Sal Allahu Ala Muhammad Sal Allahu Alaihi wa Sallam. May Allah Shower His Choicest Blessings on the Soul of Prophet Muhammad.
Of course, I know for sure fans of the Gypsies, and music lovers, in general, not only in Sri Lanka but around the world, as well, would be thrilled to know that this awesome outfit hasn’t called it a day.
After the demise of the legendary Sunil Perera, everyone thought that the Gypsies would disband.
Perhaps that would have been in the minds of even the members, themselves, as Sunil was not only their leader, and frontline vocalist, but also an icon in the music scene – he was special in every way.
Many, if not all, thought that the Gypsies, without Sunil, would find the going tough and that is because they all associated the Gypsies with Sunil Perera.
Sunil receiving The Island Music Award for ‘Showbiz Personality of the Year’ 1990
It generally happens, with certain outfits, where the rest of the members go unnoticed and the spotlight is only on one particular member – the leader of the group.
Some of the names that come to mind are Gabo and The Breakaways (Gabo) Misty (Rajitha), Darktan (Alston Koch), Upekkha (Manilal), Jetliners (Mignonne), Sohan & The X-Periments (Sohan), and the list is quite lengthy….
Yes, the Gypsies will continue, says Piyal Perera, and he mapped out to us what he has in mind.
They will take on a new look, he said, adding that in no way would they try to recreate the era of the Gypsies with Sunil Perera..
“That era is completely gone and we will never ever look to bringing that era into our scene again.
“My brother was a very special individual and his place in the band can never ever be replaced.”
Will Sunil join this scene…at Madame Tussauds!
Piyal went to say that the Gypsies will return to the showbiz scene, in a different setting.
“In all probability, we may have a female vocalist, in the vocal spotlight, and our repertoire will not be the songs generally associated with Sunil and the Gypsies.
“It will be a totally new approach by the new look Gypsies,” said Piyal.
In the meanwhile, Piyal also mentioned that they are working on the possibility of having an image of the late Sunil Perera at the Madame Tussauds wax museum, in London.
He says they have been asked, by the authorities concerned, to submit a PowerPoint presentation of Sunil’s achievements, and that they are working on it.
It’s, indeed, a wonderful way to keep Sunil’s image alive.
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