by Vijaya Chandrasoma
I apologize for writing about a subject of which I have little personal experience. I thought it may be interesting to reflect on how the concept of “Boy meets Girl” has evolved through our formative years, in my case since the 1950s, to the present day.
In Ceylon, we all attended single-gender schools. This is still largely true of Sri Lanka today, 70 years on. I read a recent opinion by the General Secretary of the Sri Lanka Teachers Union, Joseph Stalin, no relation, I assume, of the Russian dictator, extracts of which are reproduced below:
“Gender-segregated schools, in other words, single-sex schools, as well as the unavailability of sex education, not only significantly hamper any opportunity school children have in educational institutions to establish a constructive (I would add the word ‘healthy’) relationship with children of the opposite gender, it also allows for the perpetuation of traditional gender stereotypes, which in the long-run, is likely to beget more gender inequality related social issues.”
Stalin goes on to say that gender-segregated schools and higher educational institutions are outdated concepts, which should be replaced. I couldn’t agree more.
While developed nations generally have co-educational institutions from pre-school age, it may be relevant to point out that the most prestigious universities in the world admitted women only from the mid- 20th century.
The hitherto exclusively male colleges of Oxford started admitting women after the late 1960s, with Magdalen being the last in 1988; Yale admitted its first female students in 1969. Many of these universities had constituent colleges for women, a few examples being Girton at Cambridge, St. Anne’s at Oxford and Radcliffe at Harvard. Interestingly, female students of these associated colleges were not awarded university degrees till the 1940s.
In fact, in my brief time at Oxford, the presence of a woman in a male student’s room after 10.00 pm was grounds for expulsion. A rule more honoured in the breach unless the breach became a little too frequent. Predictably, each college had a means of escape. The escape hatch at Christ Church was a basement room, if memory serves, at Tom quad, from which one could climb out with your partner onto the street, often into the burly arms of the bowler-hatted Oxford Bulldogs, the private university constabulary. The Bullers, as they were affectionately named, were well aware of the locations of these escape routes. They were, in the main, most tolerant, and let you off with a twinkle in their eyes and a slap on the wrist. The occupant of that particular room at Christ Church was, predictably, a very popular, if sleep-deprived young man.
I remember another tradition about dating at Oxford, regrettably not through personal experience. Not too often, some of these evenings had a happy ending of persuading the date to be “entertained” in one’s rooms in college. These college rooms had two doors, with the outer oaken door usually kept open. However, if one was so entertaining, the outer door was also closed, serving as a heads-up to your roommate or friends that you were not to be disturbed. This practice used to be called “sporting the oak”, the American campus equivalent of hanging a tie on your door. And evoked envious phrases like “lucky bugger” from passers-by.
Single-sex schools in Sri Lanka, and the lack of sex education, caused problems for teenagers. Many of us got rid of our excess energy and frustrations by participating in strenuous sports. We were kept completely in the dark about all matters sexual. In truth, through my formative years, I was so naïve and innocent that I thought that the only function of my little man was urination! It was much later that I realized that a God, with a cruel sense of humour, had created the pleasure and waste-disposable organs of our bodies to be fungible.
I got an accelerated course in sex education when I went to London, barely 17 years of age. Though I learnt of the theory behind this complicated exercise, I had no opportunity for consensual practice, as I was living in a totally Sri Lankan environment, replete with parents, siblings and even a maid from Ceylon, Kusuma, in our rented house in Highgate, North London.
After the departure of my mother from London, I ganged up with other Sri Lankans in similar circumstances, living in neighbouring digs, often in the same building. Meeting members of the opposite sex continued to be a challenge for us all. Some of us did find slim pickings at the pre-university educational institutions we attended. Also, there were affordable dance halls, which provided for social interaction between men and women. These dance halls had become increasingly popular after World War II, through a combination of enhanced prosperity and greater leisure time for the lower orders. New musical styles, like ragtime and jazz, were added to the perennial fox trot.
The ability to participate in dancing, a skill I never learnt in Colombo, was a sine qua non at these establishments. So I thought I would become a Sri Lankan Fred Astaire and seek out my Ginger Rogers by enrolling in the most prestigious Arthur Murray School of Dancing in Oxford Street. A few lessons later, my female instructor gave up on me, her final, unforgettable words being, “I thought you people were light on your feet”. She pointed out that I had two left feet and no sense of rhythm. The effort of teaching me to dance would have been way above her pay grade.
I later discovered that one of my left feet righted itself after alcohol, which gave me the courage to get on the dance floor after a few drinks to participate in, as the song goes, “the vertical expression of a horizontal desire”. Even then, formal dance steps remained a mystery, so I concentrated on slow music which enabled me to sway in one spot.
Dating after my return to Colombo was also not easy. I had missed that period of a teenager’s life, usually between the ages of 16 and 20, when they met members of the opposite sex at parties and dances, and formed clandestine relationships which often led to marriage.
I was fortunate to be introduced to a beautiful young lady soon after my return, who was innocently optimistic enough to stand by me in spite of my many addictions and failings. Marrying her a few years later was one of the smartest things I have ever done, although I was stupid enough to have ruined even that relationship.
She finally came to her senses and kicked me out, 30 years and three beautiful children later. She had, too late, realized the truth of that old English proverb, “be not deceived by the first appearance of things, for show is not substance”.
In America, before the advent of the Internet, it was not difficult for single people to find partners for any kind of relationship, permanent, transitory or fleeting. The schools were co-ed and there were plenty of opportunities at the workplace, sporting activities and gyms. The ubiquitous sports and singles bars were also viable options, especially because people increased in their physical attractions with each successive drink. By closing time, even the plainest had paired up. Many to wake up to an unpleasant surprise in the sobriety of the next morning.
With the arrival of the Internet, on-line dating became the most popular method in the US of meeting partners. Unlike in Sri Lanka, where the “Personals” aim only at marriage, these dating sites offer a data base of other people looking for company of the sex of their preference for casual relationships which may lead to a more permanent commitment. Or not. No strings attached, no commitment necessary or assured.
Latest figures show that more than 35% percent of all marriages in the US is the result of on-line dating. Statistically, these Internet marriages also appear to have better chances of success than those achieved through traditional dating.
About three years after my divorce, I started using a dating service infrequently. Not with any desire of an emotional/physical relationship, but to enjoy female company at an occasional movie or dinner, with no commitment. The need for such companionship was not all that important in Los Angeles, as there were many friends within the Sri Lankan community I could visit of a lonely evening.
The need for friendship and company became much more pronounced when I moved to Phoenix, where I knew no one outside the workplace, and was at times desperately lonely. So I joined a dating service and met a bunch of extremely weird women, many of whose profile photographs, similar to those in today’s Facebook, were often taken decades ago and bore little resemblance to their current likeness. It would take a book to narrate the many and often strange adventures I had with many of these ladies, but I did greatly enjoy the first dates of these encounters.
The conversation on these first dates invariably revolved around the circumstances behind the failure of each other’s marriage/marriages. I excelled myself on these evenings, and as we lived in different worlds, had no mutual friends or acquaintances. I could make up all kinds of lies, any story that tickled my imagination, for the fictional failure of my marriage, in the full confidence these lies would never reach the ears of anyone in the Sri Lankan community.
My favourite story was that my marriage had ended because of my ex-wife’s continuing drinking problem, and how things had become intolerable when she started playing the horses. I embellished the story by describing my noble efforts to pull her out of her addictions, to no avail. The gambling and drinking were sometimes replaced with drugs and infidelity, depending on my perverse mood. The sympathy I received at these first dates was most gratifying. Even if I do say so myself, I deserved an Oscar for these far-fetched performances of role reversal.
I am hopeful that many who know my ex-wife, even my ex-wife herself, would find this obvious canard deliciously infuriating. I am counting on their tolerance and their sense of humour. I have no doubt that her God who created her as the softest, purest woman I have ever known will, in His omniscience, understand the irony, and spare me any cruel though deserved punishment.
David Bowie famously said, “Ageing is an extraordinary process where you become the person you always should have been”. Based on this nugget of wisdom, I have finally aged well enough to become the man my ex-wife thought she married. 50 years too late.
Encouraging signs, indeed!
Local entertainers can now breathe a sigh of relief…as the showbiz scene is showing signs of improving
Yes, it’s good to see Manilal Perera, the legendary singer, and Derek Wikramanayake, teaming up, as a duo, to oblige music lovers…during this pandemic era.
They will be seen in action, every Friday, at the Irish Pub, and on Sundays at the Cinnamon Grand Lobby.
The Irish Pub scene will be from 7.00 pm onwards, while at the Cinnamon Grand Lobby, action will also be from 7.00 pm onwards.
On November 1st, they are scheduled to do the roof top (25th floor) of the Movenpik hotel, in Colpetty, and, thereafter, at the same venue, every Saturday evening.
Constructive dialogue beyond international community
by Jehan Perera
Even as the country appears to be getting embroiled in more and more conflict, internally, where dialogue has broken down or not taken place at all, there has been the appearance of success, internationally. President Gotabaya Rajapaksa will be leading a delegation this week to Scotland to attend the UN Climate Change Conference (COP26). Both the President, at the UN General Assembly in New York, and Foreign Minister Prof G L Peiris, at the UN Human Rights Council, in Geneva seem to have made positive impacts on their audiences and, especially amongst the diplomatic community, with speeches that gave importance to national reconciliation, based on dialogue and international norms.
In a recent interview to the media Prof Peiris affirmed the value of dialogue in rebuilding international relations that have soured. He said, “The core message is that we believe in engagement at all times. There may be areas of disagreement from time to time. That is natural in bilateral relations, but our effort should always be to ascertain the areas of consensus and agreement. There are always areas where we could collaborate to the mutual advantage of both countries. And even if there are reservations with regard to particular methods, there are still abundant opportunities that are available for the enhancement of trade relations for investment opportunities, tourism, all of this. And I think this is succeeding because we are establishing a rapport and there is reciprocity. Countries are reaching out to us.”
Prof Peiris also said that upon his return from London, the President would engage in talks locally with opposition parties, the TNA and NGOs. He spoke positively about this dialogue, saying “The NGOs can certainly make a contribution. We like to benefit from their ideas. We will speak to opposition political parties. President Gotabaya Rajapaksa is going to meet the Tamil National Alliance on his return from COP26, which we will attend at the invitation of the British Prime Minister. So be it the NGO community or the foreign diaspora or the parliamentary opposition in Sri Lanka. We want to engage with all of them and that is very much the way forward”
The concept of a whole-of-government approach is indicative of a more cohesive approach to governance by government ministries, the public administration and state apparatus in general to deal with problems. It suggests that the government should not be acting in one way with the international community and another way with the national community when it seeks to resolve problems. It is consistency that builds trust and the international community will trust the government to the extent that the national community trusts it. Dialogue may slow down decision making at a time when the country is facing major problems and is in a hurry to overcome them. However, the failure to engage in dialogue can cause further delays due to misunderstanding and a refusal to cooperate by those who are being sidelined.
There are signs of fragmentation within the government as a result of failure to dialogue within it. A senior minister, Susil Premajayantha, has been openly critical of the ongoing constitutional reform process. He has compared it to the past process undertaken by the previous government in which there was consultations at multiple levels. There is a need to change the present constitutional framework which is overly centralised and unsuitable to a multi ethnic, multi religious and plural society. More than four decades have passed since the present constitution was enacted. But the two major attempts that were made in the period 1997-2000 and again in 2016-2019 failed.
President Rajapaksa, who has confidence in his ability to stick to his goals despite all obstacles, has announced that a new constitution will be in place next year. The President is well situated to obtain success in his endeavours but he needs to be take the rest of his government along with him. Apart from being determined to achieve his goals, the President has won the trust of most people, and continues to have it, though it is getting eroded by the multiple problems that are facing the country and not seeing a resolution. The teachers’ strike, which is affecting hundreds of thousands of schoolchildren, is now in its fourth month, with no sign of resolution. The crisis over the halting of the import of chemical fertiliser is undermining the position of farmers and consumers at the present time.
An immediate cause for the complaints against the government is the lack of dialogue and consultation on all the burning issues that confront the country. This problem is accentuated by the appointment of persons with military experience to decision-making positions. The ethos of the military is to take decisions fast and to issue orders which have to be carried out by subordinates. The President’s early assertion that his spoken words should be taken as written circulars reflects this ethos. However, democratic governance is about getting the views of the people who are not subordinates but equals. When Minister Premajayantha lamented that he did not know about the direction of constitutional change, he was not alone as neither does the general public or academicians which is evidenced by the complete absence of discussion on the subject in the mass media.
The past two attempts at constitutional reform focused on the resolution of the ethnic conflict and assuaging the discontent of the ethnic and religious minorities. The constitutional change of 1997-2000 was for the purpose of providing a political solution that could end the war. The constitutional change of 2016-19 was to ensure that a war should not happen again. Constitutional reform is important to people as they believe that it will impact on how they are governed, their place within society and their equality as citizens. The ethnic and religious minorities will tend to prefer decentralised government as it will give them more power in those parts of the country in which they are predominant. On the other hand, that very fact can cause apprehension in the minds of the ethnic and religious majority that their place in the country will be undermined.
Unless the general public is brought aboard on the issue of constitutional change, it is unlikely they will support it. We all need to know what the main purpose of the proposed constitutional reform is. If the confidence of the different ethnic and religious communities is not obtained, the political support for constitutional change will also not be forthcoming as politicians tend to stand for causes that win them votes. Minister Premajayantha has usefully lit an early warning light when he said that politicians are not like lamp posts to agree to anything that the government puts before them. Even though the government has a 2/3 majority, this cannot be taken for granted. There needs to be buy in for constitutional reform from elected politicians and the general public, both from the majority community and minorities, if President Rajapaksa is to succeed where previous leaders failed.
JAYASRI twins…in action in Europe
The world over, the music scene has been pretty quiet, and we all know why. This pandemic has created untold hardships for, practically, everyone, and, the disturbing news is that, this kind of scene has been predicted for a good part of 2022, as well,
The band JAYASRI, however, based in Europe, and fronted by the brothers Rohitha and Rohan, say they are fortunate to find work coming their way.
Over the past few months, they have been performing at some of the festivals, held in Europe, during the summer season.
Says Rohitha: “As usual, we did one of the biggest African festivals in Europe, AfrikaTage, and some other summer events, from July up to now. Some were not that big, as they used to be, due to the pandemic, health precautions, etc.”
For the month of October, JAYASRI did some concerts in Italy, with shows in the city of Verona, Napoli, Rome, Padova and Milano.
The twins with the
late Sunil Perera
On November, 12th, the JAYASRI twins, Rohitha and Rohan, will be at EXPO Dubai 2020 and will be performing live in Dubai.
Rohitha also indicated that they have released their new single ‘SARANGANA,’ describing it as a Roots Reggae song, in audio form, to all download platforms, and as a music video to their YouTube channel – www.youtube.com/user/jayasri
According to Rohitha, this song will be featured in an action drama.
The lyrics for ‘SARANGANA,’ were created by Thushani Bulumulle, music by JAYASRI, and video direction by Chamara Janaraj Pieris.
There will be two audio versions, says Rohitha – a Radio Mix and a DUB Mix by Parvez.
The JAYASRI twins Rohitha and Rohan
After their Italian tour, Rohitha and Rohan are planning to come to Sri Lanka, to oblige their many fans, and they are hoping that the showbiz scene would keep on improving so that music lovers could experience a whole lot of entertainment, during the forthcoming festive season.
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