Prof. J. B. Dissanayake
By K. A. I. Kalyanaratne
Senior Manager, Publications
Postgraduate Institute of Management
University of Sri Jayewardenepura
Vice President, Hela Havula
‘Cumaratunga created a philosophy on Sinhala grammar’
Says Martin Wickramasinghe
Without blindly following the tradition of grammar, commenced with the Sidath Sangarawa Cumaratunga Munidasa’s Vyakarana Vivaranaya can be considered as the first broad attempt to analyse the Sinhala language, placing it on a new vision.”
(The 77th Death Anniversary of Cumaratunga Munidasa was commemorated on 02 March, 2021)
Cumaratung’a Concept of Grammar
In the introduction to his seminal work on Sinhala grammar, “Vyakarana Vivaranaya,” Cumaratunga says
“Similar to a society that has no rules and regulations, a language also becomes messier and messier…Many a grammarian considered the grammars of other languages in formulating a grammar for the Sinhala language. In fact, the rules they followed were those of Pali and Sanskrit…The Sidath Sangarawa and those that followed it (in this endeavour) clearly show this dependence…Herein we based our effort only on our language… The rules that were solely confined to Sinhala were seen by us as most noble…
‘Cumaratunga Created a Philosophy on Sinhala grammar’ –
The late Martin Wickramasinghe, journalist, writer and intellectual, who popularized the reading habit among our society with a rich variety of publications, including short stories and novels, as well as an array of critical compositions, was a contemporary of the late Cumaratunga Munidasa. Martin Wickramasinghe critiquing the works of Cumrataunga in his ‘Ape Viyath Parapura ha Bhasha Samaja Parinamaya’ (Our Erudite Generation and the Evolution of Language and Society) makes a unique assessment , especially of Cumaratunga’s expositions on Sinhala grammar. He says,
“The Sidath Sangarava is a prescriptive grammar and not a grammar based on principles of philosophy. Hence, Kumaratunga’s rejection of the Sidath Sangarava is justifiable; the reason being that he created new concepts based on his independent thinking. Turning out a philosophy into a prescriptive methodology is like an attempt to convert a philosophy into a religion….The usages like Ovun giya, minisun weda kala, daruwa gasin bimata panna, were created based on his philosophy of grammar, I think, because he intended to provide a grammar suitable for the colloquial language (as well). … Nelevili geeya (lullaby-verses) is a poetic composition effortlessly composed with words taken from the colloquial language.”
Professor J. B. Dissanayake, expressed views similar to those of Martin Wickramasinghe, on Cumaratunga’s approach to Sinhala grammar, in his ‘Bhashavaka Bhavithaya ha Vigrahaya’ (Usage and Analysis of a Language)
“Without following in the same manner the tradition of grammar commenced with the ‘Sidath Sangarawa’, Cumaratunga Munidasa’s ‘Vyakarana Vivaranaya’ could be considered as the first broad step to analyse the Sinhala Language basing on a new vision. Although this is not a comprehensive analysis of all the aspects, deviating from the tradition of language analysis that existed up to then, (Cumaratunga’s Vyakarana Vivaranaya) shows a more scientific analysis of the language. In the Vyakarana Vivaranaya there appears certain concepts that are being held in high esteem by modern linguist. “
Philosophy – Meaning and Usage
The word ‘philosophy’ takes in different shades of meanings, depending on the context it’s being used. However, all these definitions would lead to a common frame that it is the study of the general and fundamental nature of reality, existence, knowledge, values, reason, mind and language. As a method philosophy is often distinguished from other ways of addressing (such) problems by its questioning, critical and generally systematic approach and its reliance on rational argument.” Further, logicality and rationality are two of the important cornerstone of any philosophical approach to an issue.
Cumaratunga’s Endeavour to Instill a Philosophic Base to Sinhala Grammar
Based on this definition Cumaratunga endeavoured to instill a philosophic base to Sinhala grammar by (i) analysing the development of the language through the ages, (ii) assessing the usages vis a vis the current context, and (iii) making it realistic and lively, as far as the idiom of the language permits. It could also be said that going beyond the prescriptive approach commonly adopted by grammarians, including the author of the Sidath Sangara, Cumaratunga introduced rationality to Sinhala grammar. Herein he was compelled to tap the Sinhala classics, both prose and verse, belonging to the golden-era of Sinhala literature, in ascertaining the true nature of the Sinhala language as well as apprehending how articulately the language was used to express ideas, feelings and sentiments.
When in English it is expressed that “a woman got a child by her husband /because of her husband” the Sinhala idiom as used in Sinhala classics is,
Baranes nuware Brhamdatta nam bamuna pinisa Dhanapathi nam beminiya kuse pilisinda gena…’ (Amavatura-Chapter on Paribrajaka Damanaya).
This instance alone shows the philosophies behind the two languages, Sinhala and English. However, it appears that ‘pinisa’ has lately been replaced by ‘bamunata dava’.
Cumaratunga’s Two Seminal Works – Vyakarana Vivaranaya and Kriya Vivaranaya
Cumaratunga in his unparalleled task of writing the two expositions the ‘Vyakarana Vivaranaya’ and the ‘Kriya Vivaranaya’ deviated completely from the dogmatic and prescriptive approach followed by the Sidath Sangarawa (as rightly pointed out by Martin Wickramasinghe) relying on the colloquial idiom in composing lively pieces of prose and verse. This is a trend not followed by any other linguist of the current times. Relying on the colloquial idiom is not a feature new to the Sinhala language. The colloquial Sinhala parlance heavily makes use of gerunds (bhava kriya/ bhava nama kriya/ haw namu kiriya pada). They are created out of verbs, but function as nouns.
See how the Amavatura writer Gurulugomi uses gerunds creatively in the conversation prince Siddhartha had with the horse Kanthaka at the commencement of his journey to emancipation:
“Bosathano Raal Kumaruvan deke pahayin bese ashvaya kara elaba, “Me re tho ma tharava. Mam mulu lova tharavami.”. (
The Bodhisatva, having seen prince Rahula, and descending from the palace, went towards the horse, and said to him “This night you take me across the river, (thereafter) I will take the entire world across.”
The Glamour of Grammar
Roy Peter Clark writing on ‘The Glamour of Grammar” extols the virtues of grammar in making one’s writings fascinating and glamourous. In this book he aims to put the glamour back in grammar, and convince those who use the language that grammar, in fact, adds glamour to writing, and does not take glamour out of it. Moreover, grammar brings clarity to what one says. The basic element underpinning glamour is to understand without vagueness what exactly the writer wishes to convey. In this context grammar becomes more a tool than a rule. Grammar, as expressed by him, gives the readers all the tools they need to ‘live inside the language’.
Cumaratunga was an ardent believer that grammar is there to embellish your writings. In an editorial captioned ‘The Birth Anniversary of Jesus Christ, he provided to the Lakmini Pahana journal on December 25, 1934, a lively verbal portrayal of the story of the woman caught in adultery. This incident is a beautiful illustration of Jesus Christ silencing his critics while graciously addressing a sinner in need of mercy. According to a critique “The poignant scene delivers to anyone with a heart weighed down with . When Jesus forgave the woman, he did not . Rather, he expected a change of heart–. In turn, he presented the woman with an opportunity to begin a new life.”
This is how Cumaratunga colourfully portrays and breathes life into the incident, resting the description on the highest norms of grammar:
එ දා ගැහැනු කම කෙලෙසන වරදක් කොටැ අසු වැ, මර බියෙන් තැති ගෙනැ වෙවුලවෙවුලා බිමැ හොත් අසරණ ගැහැනිය දැන් පෙනෙයි. ර්ණමෙ තරම් නීච කමක් කළ මැය ගල් ගසා මරම්හ” යි මහත් මහත් ගල් අතින් ගෙනැ ඇය වටා රවමින් ගොරවමින් සිටි සාහසිකයෝ පෙනෙති. ඒ කලකලය අසා ශාන්ත වැ දාන්ත වැ එ තැනට පය න`ගන ඔබ ද පෙනෙන සේකැ. එ තන්හි තතු විමසනු වස් ඔබ මුවින් නික්මෙන රජත කිංකිණි නාදයෙන් කන පිනායෙයි. රළු පරළු හ`ඩින් අර අසරණ ගැහැනිය ගේ දොස හුවා කියන සාහසිකයන් ගේ අමිහිරි වචන ද නෑසෙන්නේ නො වේ. ඔබ කුමක් කී සේක් ද? ර්ණතොප අතුරින් එක ද වරදක් නො කළ තැනැත්තේ මේ ගැහැනියට පළමු මැ ගල් පහර ගසා වාෟ” කවර ආශ්චර්යයෙක් ද, කි්රස්තු තුමනි? එක අතෙකුත් නො
නැෙ`ගයි. එක ගලෙකුත් අතින් නො ගිලිහෙයි. මනුෂ්යයා ගේ සත්ය වූ තත්ත්වය ඔබ කෙසේ හැඳිනැගත් සේක් ද?
A reader of this passage would, for sure, will come to see how effective glamorous grammar and elite writing can be. In fact, in this particular composition Cumaratunga has followed the style and verbiage adopted by Vidyachacravarthi, the author of the Buthsarana, to describe the confrontation between the Omniscient One and Elephant Nalagiri. Similar to the occasion quoted above, the writer of the Buthsarana also exemplifies the different behaviours of the Omniscient One and the elephant.
’ඈතැ දුලීන් වැසී ගිය ඇත් රජ යැත මැතැ සවනක් ගන බුදු රැසින් සෑදී ගිය බුදු රජාණෝ යැ. ඇතැ කෝපයෙන් රත් වැ ගිය ය වටක් වැනි ඇස් ඇති ඇත් රජ යැත මෑතැ කරුණායෙන් තෙත් වැ ගිය නිල් මහනෙල් පෙති පරයන ඇස් ඇති බුදු රජාණෝ යැ. ඈතැ එබු-එබු පයින් මහ පොළෝ පළා පියන්නා සේ දිවෙන ඇත් රජ යැත මෑතැ එබු-එබු පයින් මිහි කත සනහ-සනහා වඩනා බුදු රජාණෝ යැ. ඈතැ බැලූ-බැලූ වන් අනේ අනේv යි කියවන ඇත් රජ යැත මෑතැ බැලූ-බැලූ වන් සාධු සාධු යි කියවන බුදු රජාණෝ යැ. එ වේලෙහි ඒ ඇතු ළං වත්, සැදැහැත්තෝ ළෙහි අත් ගසන්නට වන් හත බලා සිටියැ නො හෙම්හ යි මුහුණින් හෙන්නට වන් හ.
The technique adopted by the two writers, Cumaratunga and Vidyachakravarthi in composing the two passages appears almost identical, which establishes the fact that grammar and correct idiom would bring glamour and liveliness to one’s writing, and not vice versa.
Grammar is Language : A Teaching Philosophy and Grammar Gives Us Tools and Not Rules
The above exposition drives home the fact that language and its grammar should not/ cannot be taught purely by studying the grammatical rules of that language. In fact, the grammatical basis of a language cannot be/ should not be considered or treated as its rules but as tools. Herein what is necessary and more fruitful method would be to adopt a context-related approach, in realizing the basis of a language, so that when the context is remembered automatically the applicable tool would come to one’s mind. Hence, cramming or mind-teasing to remember different usages, considering them as rules would become irrelevant and superfluous. Cumaratunga says in his Vyakarana Vivaranaya that “The best approach to learn grammar is by studying how the language had been used by learned men.”
A Novel Art of Teaching Grammar as Extoled by Cumaratunga
The teaching of language (through grammar) is one that must be very well thought out by all educators, as it is not just your typical lesson plan. In fact, grammar and its many facets are engulfed in every aspect of writing, speaking, and just language in general. While many may see grammar as a tedious task both to teach and to learn, it is an important and necessary component to language that it can actually be fun and easy to teach and to catch on to. Through the instruction of reading and writing activities, grammar can be taught successfully in the classroom. However, this approach may be time consuming, as well as it demands preparation by the teacher to hunt for and collect instances as examples of different usages. Although it’s committed work for the teacher, ultimately both the teachers and the students stand to gain, as both become learners and teachers at the same time. This approach ultimately transforms the students to become inquirers, researchers and investigators in finding the correct answers on their own. This is, in short ‘experiential learning’, where students become investigators and their own teachers.
Grammar plays a significant role in professionalism and credibility, and there are many easy ways to emphasize this to students. Grammar is about professionalism. Many people will put down or discredit an article that has blatant grammar errors. If teachers can show students the importance of good grammar in the real world, they may be more apt to learn and retain it for everyday use—not just for use in the classroom. Show them examples of newspapers, brochures, and websites that use poor grammar, and have them evaluate the credibility of those pieces of text. It needs to be emphasized that grammar is not about rules but it is about tools, to make once language glamourous and lucid. We have, thus far caught grammar from the wrong end to memorize and byheart. Grammar is a practical subject. It. Therefore, demands a practical approach.
Protect health of environment, animals, humans to prevent future pandemics
By Debapriya Mukherjee
Former Senior Scientist
Central Pollution Control Board, India
The COVID-19 pandemic has demonstrated that the veneer of civilization is very thin. we did not have knowledge, resources and technologies to deal with such a devastating pandemic. More than 3.1 million people worldwide have died from Covid-19 and more than 146 million cases have been recorded till date. This pandemic is a crisis not today, this is only the beginning. The other viruses of animal origin are just around the corner. A future pandemic could be worse than the ongoing crisis because we are pushing nature to its limit by destroying and degrading amazingly diverse ecosystems, like tropical forests, rivers, lakes, mountains, coral reefs and many more and ultimately removing natural buffers and expanding the interface, the touch points, between wildlife and people where pandemics emerge.
This unsustainable exploitation of the environment due to human induced land-use change, intensive agriculture and animal-based food systems, growing trade in and farming of wildlife species and their consumption leads to instabilities in ecosystems and host microorganism dynamics. Increased intimate contact between wildlife, livestock, and people, potentially leads to emerging many zoonotic diseases either directly or indirectly. These problems are not restricted to any single species and the viability of even highly resilient natural populations of animals are now at risk.
A majority of emerging viruses come from wildlife but we cannot blame wild creatures, because behaviours of human to fulfill their greed by destroying the natural resources at a dizzying pace invite these viruses into our living room. Among all the human activities, deforestation is likely the single biggest source of new zoonotic diseases. As forests become increasingly fragmented, the chance of humans and their livestock coming into contact with wildlife and contract viruses increases. Nipah virus first spread in Indonesia when forests were burned for agriculture. Fruit bats fled to orchards, passing the disease to pigs and pig farmers. It is widely assumed that a pathogen in a bat jumped to another animal to a human in China and then hopped onto the “globalization express”, causing extraordinary suffering and trillions of dollars in damage. This happened after several decades of other pandemics— with bats or civets in the case of Ebola and SARS-CoV-1 and most likely chimps in the case of H.I.V.
Arrogance and luxurious lifestyle compel us to assume that humans are superior to the rest of living beings on earth and there is no need to maintain relationship with the wild. In this context I just want to mention that forests, freshwater systems, oceans, grasslands and the biodiversity within us literally give us the clean air, clean water, climate-stabilizing buffers and healthy food, as well as natural protection from viruses. Despite realizing this truth, we could not motivate us to stop exploitation in the name of so-called development.
Though upon occurrence of this pandemic, huge money is being spend towards treatment of Covid-19 patients and development of vaccine, governments and politicians, irrespective of any political affiliation, did not give any emphasis to stop this unsustainable exploitation. Otherwise, how multinational companies continuously undertake large-scale logging or mining in the world’s remaining great forests and construct hydropower projects on river? These MNCs need to pay for the pandemic risks associated with these extractive activities. In such a hypothetical scenario, perhaps some of these projects would not be undertaken at all. In this context it is pertinent to mention that halting these practices is the only sustainable vaccine against the next pandemic. This COVID-19 crisis is also clear that the cost of the boldest initiative to prevent future pandemics of this magnitude is less than the price we pay once a pandemic occurs, as opined by the researchers.
By 2050 or so, the human population is expected to cross nine billion mark. Those billions will be seeking food, water and other resources on a planet where humans are already shaping climate and the web of life. Now the question is what collective actions are needed to prevent this pandemic and at the same time to meet the population’s dietary needs? Now we have to explore the most important change that needs to be made by addressing 21st Century education challenges in a One Health manner.
The starting point of “one health” is to recognize that the health and well-being of humans, animals and the environment are intricately linked. The experts from a range of sectors, notably human health, animal health, plant health and the environment, work together in building a response infrastructure that emphasizes the sharing of information and the coordination of actions across multiple sectors. The “One Health” approach resembles other public health initiatives that attempt to break down disciplinary or sectoral silos, such as whole-of-government or health-in-all-policies approaches, or more recent calls for prioritizing eco-health or planetary health. It differs, however, by focusing on how competing interests such as agricultural productivity, farm livelihoods, animal health and the health of populations far removed from the farm must be balanced over a long period. This poses difficult governance and implementation challenges as the spectre of imminent health catastrophe is seldom present at the pre-epidemic stage when action is most crucial.
To strengthen its integrative approach to One Health, one of the important tasks is to collect data Systematically on the occurrence of infectious diseases, and related behaviours, in both humans and animals, can eventually contribute to developing models to estimate the probability of the emergence of a new zoonotic agent. Such systematic monitoring also facilitates the tracking of the spread of infection while providing early warning to human and animal health officials for response measures.
Next is the challenge of coordination and active collaboration required between various agencies for a unified, timely response. This is not only required at the local level but also for global response efforts to minimize the likelihood of pandemic potential.
Another challenging action is to better understand the differing regulatory environments that govern the live animal markets as a crucial first step in assessing the role of local or national-level institutions in minimizing zoonotic disease risk. In addition to above, health equity concerns are to be integrated for framing the policy for improvement of protection of vulnerable populations in current and future infectious disease outbreaks, both through attention to the socio-historical conditions and recognition of the knowledge and capabilities to prevent or mitigate the health harms arising from such outbreaks.
Though the One Health approach is considered crucial to address governance challenges of zoonotic diseases but its implementation in practice remains quite limited. It is time for international law to catch up with global reality. But global health scholars can neither simply focus on the health sector nor limit their work to scientific and technological improvement. All will have to realize is that food, trade, human rights, humanitarian relief, and the environment are critically important in improving health and reducing health inequalities.
In the year 1973, the Galle Cricket Club playing their Daily News Trophy match against the Chilaw Cricket Club, registered the highest partnership of 210 runs for the 4th wicket in club cricket. The Galle C.C. players were R.L. Hewa and A.T. Fonseka, an Assistant Superintendent of Police (A.S.P) attached to the Galle Police.
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The last time I went to the Galle Police Station, it was to pay a courtesy call on A.S.P. Bandula Seneviratna, who had come from Badulla. Like me, he was a fellow columnist in ‘Amita’s Column’ in The Island. That was the only time I met him. His anecdotes enormously enlivened us, more so how G.A.S.M. Silva, who had a penchant for toddy, became G. U. S Mutti Silva.
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In the late 1950s, there was this policeman, Zoysa, attached to the Galle police, who was a popular Baila Maestro. One of his melodious Bailas was:
Dukayi kiya dukayi kiya handai lokaya!’
Aida priye yanna giye apa duke dama!
Ara asiyathika ratawala kathanayaka
Ma piyaneka garu Bandaranaike
* * *
An A.S.P. serving away from his native Galle used to come to the Club on his visits to the town. One of his brothers was the new Mp, who rode on the tidal wave of 1977 and was the butt of many an unkind joke. This A.S.P very much liked to hear them. One such was about the ‘Nila’ Telephone. One day when the M.P. came home for lunch, he saw some workman busy installing a telephone. He asked them what was going on. “Manthrituma we are installing your Nila Telephone,” they said, meaning official telephone, but which literally translated, meant blue telephone. “Nila telephone be damned! I want a Kola Telephone!” (a green telephone). We gathered on the grapevine that he shared these jokes with his M.P. brother.
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In the late 1930s, the Galle folk were not without entertainment. On moonlit nights, under the able and popular direction of Inspector Lazarus, the Police Band played delightful music on the Ramparts to the enjoyment of the residents of the town. How nice it would be if we could revive it now? The Police Courts of Galle were established in 1844.
When a police party led by an OIC raided a kasippu (illicit liquor) den, run by a man and his sister, the man fired at the OIC with his unlicensed gun. When the OIC directed fire at the man, he fell dead. During the raid when one policeman attacked the man’s sister with a baton, she fell and sustained injuries to her leg. When the OIC went up to her, she said, “Forgive us, Sir! Despite my telling my brother not to engage in this illegal business, he carried on, as he said that he had no other job.” When the OIC looked at her sweet pathetic face, tears came to his eyes. Carrying her in his arms to his jeep, he took her to hospital.
When she recovered from her injuries, the OIC took pity on this pretty girl with nobody to support her and married by special licence and lived happily thereafter. A few days after the marriage, he received a letter from his father, asking him to come home, as there was a favourable proposal of marriage to a pretty girl with a fat dowry!
* * *
Once two cars driven by two lady drivers collied. Alighting from their vehicles, the two ladies began abusing each other in shrill, strident tones. Not even the grizzled, elderly police sergeant who arrived on the scene could stop their shrieking. At last the sergeant got a brainwave. Talking out his notebook and pencil, he said aloud, “Now then ladies; will the older of you two please tell me what exactly happened!” Immediately there was a deafening silence!
* * *
It was midnight and a policeman on beat duty watched curiously, as a drunk tried to insert his door key into a hole in the lamp post. Walking up to him, the policeman said “Hello, what are you doing?” “I am trying to open the door of my house!” said the drunk. “It’s no use,” said the policeman diplomatically. “Everybody in the house is out.” “Don’t be shilly,” said the drunk. Can’t you shee the light burning upstairs?”
* * *
Writing to The Daily News of June 7, 1999, Herby Jayasuriya, the retired Senior Superintendent of police, stated that the Government Services Cricket Tournament in Kandy, in 1960, had been won by the Agriculture Department. Thereafter a match was arranged to be played at the Asgiriya Police grounds between the losing combined Government Services Teams and the champions – the Agriculture Department.
Duckworth from the Kandy Prisons was selected as the captain of the combined team while Cotalingam was the other player from the Kandy Prisons. B. Jurampathy and Herby Jayasuriya were selected from the Kandy Police. The former Zahira captain, Haleem, who played for the Agriculture Department bowled an over to Duckworth, who hammered all six balls for six sixes. After the next over was bowled from the other end, Haleem bowled his next over, this time to Cotalingam, who also hammered Haleem for six sixes that over. Bowler Haleem was so disappointed and disgusted that he sat on the ground and cried for 10 minutes. Play was interrupted till Haleem finished his crying session.
Ruhunu Puthra remembers Cotalingam, who was an old boy of S. Thomas’ College, Mt. Lavinia, serving as the Superintendent of Prison, Galle in the mid 1960s. He was a perfect gentleman and of the friendly type who used to come to our club in the evenings. After his retirement from the Prisons, he lived in Anuradhapura. Unfortunately, he met with a tragic death; he was stabbed by the very boy whom he had adopted, an avaricious fellow.
Here is an extract from Herby Jayasuriya’s book ‘A Policeman Remembers’ (pg;241):
These are the reminiscences of a person who spent almost 39 years as an officer in the Police service. Considering all, it was only by the Grace of God that I survived this period and ended with an unblemished record. I always endeavoured to do my duty without fear or favour. I may have got to a higher rank had I sought political patronage. Nevertheless, I leave with no regrets having thoroughly enjoyed my work as a Policeman.
* * *
I wish to end my story with a Policeman’s Prayer, which I came across when I visited Singapore about ten years ago. The text was on the office wall of a Singaporean Police Inspector. I copied it, had it framed and hung in my office. This is the prayer.
Teach me that sixty minutes makes one hour, sixteen ounces a pound, and one hundred cents a dollar. Help me to live that I can lie down at night with a clear conscience, without a gun under my pillow and haunted by faces to whom I have brought pain. Grant that I may earn my meal ticket on the square and in earning it may do to others as I would have others do unto me. Deafen me to the jingle of tainted money and the rustle of unholy skirts. Blind me to the faults of the other fellow, but reveal to me my own. Guide me so that each night when I look over the dinner table at my wife, who has been a blessing to me, I shall have nothing to conceal. Keep me young enough to laugh with little children and sympathetic enough to be considerate to the old. And when comes the day of darkening shadows and the smell of flowers, the tread of footsteps and the crunch of wheels in the yard, make the ceremony short and the epitaph simple:
‘HERE LIES A MAN’
Towards a world where meat, milk and leather don’t come from animals
I am hopeful that, in my lifetime, I am going to see a disruptive change in the eating and wearing of animal flesh. It is coming fast: the largest slaughter companies, and the largest investors in the world, have invested in laboratory created real meat (called clean meat) and milk. These meats are already in the market in countries like Singapore. Perfect Day, which makes milk cells, is on the market with yoghurt (under the label Smitten) that is made of animal free dairy. The Netherlands and Israel are far ahead in meat grown from in-vitro animals’ cell culture, instead of from slaughtered animals. Indeed, if clean meat would replace intensive farming as an industry standard, the benefits for the environment would be immense. As consumers, we would also have “cleaner” meat, meaning a product that doesn’t have the antibiotic residues and bacterial contamination that come with slaughtered meat. We would also save the lives of over 56 billion animals yearly. Yes, that’s the number of animals that are eaten every year by humans.
The meat industry keeps bringing out statistics, that vegans and vegetarians are still less than 5% of the market. That is simply not true. If it were, entire supermarket sections and fast food vendors would not be catering to them. Impossible Foods, which makes plant-based meat, is one of the fastest growing companies in the world. Its current valuation is $4 Billion.
And the largest slaughterhouse companies in the world would not be investing in an alternative meat future.
Vegetarians and vegans finally have meat eaters on the run.
But the wearing of meat in the form of leather – has it gone down? Not yet. But it will.
Apart from the millions of animals that it kills every year, especially young calves, the leather industry is extremely dangerous for the Earth’s survival. The rivers are polluted with the toxic chemicals used in leather, leather polish alone kills millions of fish. A 2018 global impact study, by Quantis, stated that 700 million metric tons of carbon dioxide are emitted by the leather footwear industry annually – a major reason for global warming.
The New Zealand shoe company, Allbirds, which is in partnership with the giant Adidas, has just announced that it is investing millions in plant-based leather. Allbirds has been going this way for a long time: shoes made of eucalyptus and cotton fibre for instance, insoles made of castor bean oil, recycled plastic laces. This new material, plant leather, is made from vegetable oil, natural rubber and other bio inputs. The company announced their investment in a material innovation firm called Natural Fiber Welding, Inc. and says it will be adding “the world’s first 100% natural plant-based leather” to its product lineup by December 2021. This material, which is called Mirum, is said to have 40 times less carbon impact than real leather, and produces 17% less carbon than synthetic leather made from petroleum-based sources. Mirum will be constructed without any polyurethane, meaning that the material can biodegrade at the end of its life, without leaving traces of plastic in the soil, or it can be reground into new Mirum .
Joey Zwillinger, co-founder of Allbirds, said in a press release, “For too long, fashion companies have relied on dirty synthetics and unsustainable leather, prioritizing speed and cost over the environment. Natural Fiber Welding is creating scalable, sustainable antidotes to leather, and doing so with the potential for a game-changing 98% reduction in carbon emissions. Our partnership with NFW, and planned introduction of Plant Leather based on their technology, is an exciting step on our journey to eradicate animals and petroleum from the fashion industry.”
Vegan leather, an oxymoron, is the ethical and cruelty-free alternative to traditional leather. It is meant to look and feel like traditional leather, without the baggage of pollution and suffering. As more and more people grow aware of the leather industry’s effects on the environment and on animals, the market for cruelty-free alternatives keeps growing.
British materials company, Ananas Anam, set up in 2013, was among the first to come out with a plant-based leather alternative called Piñatex. The material uses fibres derived from pineapple leaves, sourced from the Philippines. These fibres are mixed with polylactic acid (PLA), a bioplastic derived from corn, to create a flexible and durable material. Piñatex is being used by Hugo Boss and Canadian brand Native Shoes.
Dutch designer Tjeerd Veenhoven has sourced his vegan leather from the leaves from the Areca Betel Nut (Supari). The Palmleather project was born as a low-cost plant-based replacement for animal leather, plastic and rubber, and uses far fewer pollutants and water consumption than animal leather.
The company, Desserto, has introduced a vegan leather made from nopal cactus leaves, which can be used to make furniture and car interiors, wallets, purses, and shoes. The nopal cactus grows in abundance across Mexico without requiring any water, making it a low-impact crop.
Major luxury fashion houses including Stella McCartney, Adidas, and Gucci parent company Kering, have invested in a leather substitute product called Mylo, a soft leather like material, created from mycelium, the branching filament structure that mushrooms and other fungi use to grow. The material consumes substantially less water than is needed to produce animal leather, while emitting fewer greenhouse gases. It takes just days to produce and is completely biodegradable and non-toxic. MusKin is a leather-like material made from the caps of a mushroom called Phellinus ellipsoideus. The fungus is native to subtropical forests and feeds on tree trunks.
Will’s Vegan Store is an online store that makes luxurious vegan leather shoes from cereal crops. The company’s vegan leather is made from a mix of polyurethane and bio-oil made from cereal crops . The company is trying to move away from using polyurethane, and recently rolled out a new product using viscose made from eucalyptus bark.
In 2017, the high-end vegan shoe company Veerah rolled out leather made from 50 percent apple peels leftover from the apple juice industry, and 50 percent polyurethane. The peels are dried and ground into a fine powder, which is then mixed with non-toxic pigment, and polyurethane, to become a leather-like fabric.
Here are the Indian entrepreneurs that you should buy from, or invest in:
Malai Biomaterials Design Pvt Ltd, a Kerala based initiative, is the brainchild of Zuzana Gombosova and Susmith Suseelan. It produces a vegan alternative to leather, using sustainable bacterial cellulose sourced from waste coconut, banana stem, sisal fibre and hemp fibre. It is completely biodegradable, flexible, water resistant stretchy and has the same thickness as leather.
The company collects coconuts from farmers in Kerala. The water is left undisturbed for bacterial culture to feed on. The end process results in jelly-like cellulose, which is mixed with banana fibre, or gum, to create raw material in the form of sheets or three-dimensional shapes. To make the sheets colourful and glossy, the company uses natural dyes such as indigo, madder or cutch.
The company’s major clients are prestigious companies like Crafting Plastics, TON, Ma-tt-er, Kazeto, and the products are bags, wallets, backpacks. I do not know whether they have started making shoes as yet.
Aulive is an online Indian brand that has genuinely beautiful vegan, cruelty-free leather products. It labels itself as “Genuinely Not Leather” and uses Pinatex. They have come out strongly against the cruelty, and toxicity, of the animal leather trade. Look up the site when you want to buy suitcases, briefcases and bags.
Kanpur Flower Cycling, owned by engineer Ankit Agarwal, has created Fleather, a leather made of temple flowers. Even though it’s not on the market yet, Fleather has already won a UN Sustainability Award and a PETA award for best innovation. The company has already been making Florafoam – a compostable alternative to styrofoam (non-biodegradable plastic) from moulding dried flowers with natural fungi. Brands, like Bajaj and Havells, are already using Florafoam packaging. Fashion houses, like Anita Dongre, have also shown interest in this breathable and tensile material called ‘Fleather’.
These companies can only be successful if you change your buying pattern.
(To join the animal welfare movement contact firstname.lastname@example.org, www.peopleforanimalsindia.org)
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