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Dating On-line and Off

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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Stalin goes on to say that gender-segregated schools and higher educational institutions are outdated concepts, which should be replaced.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.



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Features

Is it impossible to have hope?

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So, a woman has lost again to a man. I refer here to Matale District SJB MP Rohini Kaviratne having to concede her bid for Deputy Speaker of Parliament to some bod of the Pohottu Party, who, sad to say makes only a negative impression on Cass. Conversely, Kaviratne looks competent, capable, trustworthy, able to communicate and command, and most importantly speaks and conducts herself well balanced. So different from most of the MPs, particularly of the government side, who lack education, and in appearance and behaviour – decency. Please, take my word for the fact that I am not a party person. What I want in our representatives is education and decorum. And they should at least once in a while use their own heads and make decisions that are good for the country and not follow the leader through sheep like, sycophantic obedience. Of course, even more than this is self interest that prompts the way they act and decisions are taken, especially at voting times.

Rohini Kaviratne made a bold statement when, as Wednesday’s The Island noted, she told Parliament “the government was neither run by the President nor the Prime Minister but by a ‘crow.’” Utterly damning statement but totally believable. Deviousness as well as self-preservation is what motives action among most at the cost of even the entire country. And, of course, we know who the crow is – kaputu kak kak. Cass lacks words to express the contempt she feels for the black human kaputa, now apparently leading the family of kaputas. Why oh why does he not depart to his luxury nest in the US of A? No, he and his kith are the manifestation of Kuveni’s curse on the island. Strong condemnation, but justified.

You know Cass had a bold kaputa – the avian kind – coming to her balcony in front of her bedroom and cawing away this morning. Normally, she takes no notice, having developed sympathetic companionship towards these black birds as fellow creatures, after reading Elmo Jayawardena’s Kakiyan. She felt sorry for the crow who cawed to her because his name has been taken to epithet a politico who landed the entire country in such a mess. And he is bold enough to attend Parliament. Bravado in the face of detestation by the majority of Sri Lankans! Cass did not watch afternoon TV news but was told father and son, and probably elder brother and his son attended Parliamentary sessions today – Wednesday May 18. May their tribe decrease is the common prayer; may curses rain on them. Cass recognises the gravity of what she says, but reiterates it all.

I am sure Nihal Seneviratne, who recently and in 2019, shared with us readers his experiences in Parliament, moaned the fact that our legislature always lacked enough women representation. Now, he must be extra disappointed that political allegiance to a party deprived Sri Lanka of the chance of bringing to the forefront a capable woman. Women usually do better than men, judging by instances worldwide that show they are more honest and committed to country and society. The two examples of Heads of Government in our country were far from totally dedicated and commitment to country. But the first head did show allegiance to Ceylon/Sri Lanka in fair measure.

As my neighbour moaned recently: “They won’t allow an old person like me, after serving the country selflessly for long, to die in peace.” Heard of another woman in her late 80s needing medical treatment, mentally affected as she was with utter consternation at the state of the country. One wonders how long we can be resilient, beset on every side by dire problems. But our new Prime Minister was honest enough to voice his fears that we will have to go through much more hardship before life for all Sri Lankans improves.

Thus, my choice of pessimistic prediction as my title. Will we be able to hope for better times? Time will be taken but is it possible to have even a slight glimmer of hope for improvement?

There is much debate about the appointment of Ranil W as PM. We admire him for his knowledge and presence. But the greatest fear is he will defend wrong doers in the R family. Let him be wise, fair and put country before saving others’ skins. He has to be praised for taking on the responsibility of leading the country to solvency. He said he will see that every Sri Lankan has three meals a day. May all the devas help him! The SJB, though it refuses to serve under a R Prez, has offered itself to assist in rebuilding the nation. Eran, Harsha, and so many others must be given the chance to help turn poor wonderful Sri Lanka around. And the dedicated protestors, more so those in Gotagogama, still continue asking for changes in government. Bless them is all Cass can say at this moment.

Goodbye for another week. hoping things will turn less gloomy, if brightness is impossible as of now.

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Lives of journalists increasingly on the firing line

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Since the year 2000 some 45 journalists have been killed in the conflict-ridden regions of Palestine and senior Al Jazeera journalist Shireen Abu Akleh was the latest such victim. She was killed recently in a hail of bullets during an Israeli military raid in the contested West Bank. She was killed in cold blood even as she donned her jacket with the word ‘PRESS’ emblazoned on it.

While claims and counter-claims are being made on the Akleh killing among some of the main parties to the Middle East conflict, the Israeli police did not do their state any good by brutally assaulting scores of funeral mourners who were carrying the body of Akleh from the hospital where she was being treated to the location where her last rites were to be conducted in East Jerusalem.

The impartial observer could agree with the assessment that ‘disproportionate force’ was used on the mourning civilians. If the Israeli government’s position is that strong-arm tactics are not usually favoured by it in the resolution conflictual situations, the attack on the mourners tended to strongly belie such claims. TV footage of the incident made it plain that brazen, unprovoked force was used on the mourners. Such use of force is decried by the impartial commentator.

As for the killing of Akleh, the position taken by the UN Security Council could be accepted that “an immediate, thorough, transparent and impartial investigation” must be conducted on it. Hopefully, an international body acceptable to the Palestinian side and other relevant stakeholders would be entrusted this responsibility and the wrong-doers swiftly brought to justice.

Among other things, the relevant institution, may be the International Criminal Court, should aim at taking urgent steps to end the culture of impunity that has grown around the unleashing of state terror over the years. Journalists around the world are chief among those who have been killed in cold blood by state terrorists and other criminal elements who fear the truth.

The more a journalist is committed to revealing the truth on matters of crucial importance to publics, the more is she or he feared by those sections that have a vested interest in concealing such vital disclosures. This accounts for the killing of Shireen Abu Akleh, for instance.

Such killings are of course not unfamiliar to us in Sri Lanka. Over the decades quite a few local journalists have been killed or been caused to disappear by criminal elements usually acting in league with governments. The whole truth behind these killings is yet to be brought to light while the killers have been allowed to go scot-free and roam at large. These killings are further proof that Sri Lanka is at best a façade democracy.

It is doubtful whether the true value of a committed journalist has been fully realized by states and publics the world over. It cannot be stressed enough that the journalist on the spot, and she alone, writes ‘the first draft of history’. Commentaries that follow from other quarters on a crisis situation, for example, are usually elaborations that build on the foundational factual information revealed by the journalist. Minus the principal facts reported by the journalist no formal history-writing is ever possible.

Over the decades the journalists’ death toll has been increasingly staggering. Over the last 30 years, 2150 journalists and media workers have been killed in the world’s conflict and war zones. International media reports indicate that this figure includes the killing of 23 journalists in Ukraine, since the Russian invasion began, and the slaying of 11 journalists, reporting on the doings of drug cartels in Mexico.

Unfortunately, there has been no notable international public outcry against these killings of journalists. It is little realized that the world is the poorer for the killing of these truth-seekers who are putting their lives on the firing line for the greater good of peoples everywhere. It is inadequately realized that the public-spirited journalist too helps in saving lives; inasmuch as a duty-conscious physician does.

For example, when a journalist blows the lid off corrupt deals in public institutions, she contributes immeasurably towards the general good by helping to rid the public sector of irregularities, since the latter sector, when effectively operational, has a huge bearing on the wellbeing of the people. Accordingly, a public would be disempowering itself by turning a blind eye on the killing of journalists. Essentially, journalists everywhere need to be increasingly empowered and the world community is conscience-bound to consider ways of achieving this. Bringing offending states to justice is a pressing need that could no longer be neglected.

The Akleh killing cannot be focused on in isolation from the wasting Middle East conflict. The latter has grown in brutality and inhumanity over the years and the cold-blooded slaying of the journalist needs to be seen as a disquieting by-product of this larger conflict. The need to turn Spears into Ploughshares in the Middle East is long overdue and unless and until ways are worked out by the principal antagonists to the conflict and the international community to better manage the conflict, the bloodletting in the region is unlikely to abate any time soon.

The perspective to be placed on the conflict is to view the principal parties to the problem, the Palestinians and the Israelis, as both having been wronged in the course of history. The Palestinians are a dispossessed and displaced community and so are the Israelis. The need is considerable to fine-hone the two-state solution. There is need for a new round of serious negotiations and the UN is duty-bound to initiate this process.

Meanwhile, Israel is doing well to normalize relations with some states of the Arab world and this is the way to go. Ostracization of Israel by Arab states and their backers has clearly failed to produce any positive results on the ground and the players concerned will be helping to ease the conflict by placing their relations on a pragmatic footing.

The US is duty-bound to enter into a closer rapport with Israel on the need for the latter to act with greater restraint in its treatment of the Palestinian community. A tough law and order approach by Israel, for instance, to issues in the Palestinian territories is clearly proving counter-productive. The central problem in the Middle East is political in nature and it calls for a negotiated political solution. This, Israel and the US would need to bear in mind.

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Doing it differently, as a dancer

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Dancing is an art, they say, and this could be developed further, only by an artist with a real artistic mind-set. He must be of an innovative mind – find new ways of doing things, and doing it differently

According to Stephanie Kothalawala – an extremely talented dancer herself – Haski Iddagoda, who has won the hearts of dance enthusiasts, could be introduced as a dancer right on top of this field.

Stephanie

had a chat with Haski, last week, and sent us the following interview:

* How did you start your dancing career?

Believe me, it was a girl, working with me, at office, who persuaded me to take to dancing, in a big way, and got me involved in events, connected with dancing. At the beginning, I never had an idea of what dancing, on stage, is all about. I was a bit shy, but I decided to take up the challenge, and I made my debut at an event, held at Bishop’s College.

* Did you attend dancing classes in order to fine-tune your movements?

Yes, of course, and the start was in 2010 – at dancing classes held at the Colombo Aesthetic Resort.

* What made you chose dancing as a career?

It all came to mind when I checked out the dancing programmes, on TV. After my first dancing programme, on a TV reality show, dancing became my passion. It gave me happiness, and freedom. Also, I got to know so many important people, around the country, via dancing.

* How is your dancing schedule progressing these days?

Due to the current situation, in the country, everything has been curtailed. However, we do a few programmes, and when the scene is back to normal, I’m sure there will be lots of dance happenings.

* What are your achievements, in the dancing scene, so far?

I have won a Sarasavi Award. I believe my top achievement is the repertoire of movements I have as a dancer. To be a top class dancer is not easy…it’s hard work. Let’s say my best achievement is that I’ve have made a name, for myself, as a dancer.

* What is your opinion about reality programmes?

Well, reality programmes give you the opportunity to showcase your talents – as a dancer, singer, etc. It’s an opportunity for you to hit the big time, but you’ve got to be talented, to be recognised. I danced with actress Chatu Rajapaksa at the Hiru Mega Star Season 3, on TV.

* Do you have your own dancing team?

Not yet, but I have performed with many dance troupes.

* What is your favourite dancing style?

I like the style of my first trainer, Sanjeewa Sampath, who was seen in Derana City of Dance. His style is called lyrical hip-hop. You need body flexibility for that type of dance.

* Why do you like this type of dancing?

I like to present a nice dancing act, something different, after studying it.

* How would you describe dancing?

To me, dancing is a valuable exercise for the body, and for giving happiness to your mind. I’m not referring to the kind of dance one does at a wedding, or party, but if you properly learn the art of dancing, it will certainly bring you lots of fun and excitement, and happiness, as well. I love dancing.

* Have you taught your dancing skills to others?

Yes, I have given my expertise to others and they have benefited a great deal. However, some of them seem to have forgotten my contribution towards their success.

* As a dancer, what has been your biggest weakness?

Let’s say, trusting people too much. In the end, I’m faced with obstacles and I cannot fulfill the end product.

* Are you a professional dancer?

Yes, I work as a professional dancer, but due to the current situation in the country, I want to now concentrate on my own fashion design and costume business.

* If you had not taken to dancing, what would have been your career now?

I followed a hotel management course, so, probably, I would have been involved in the hotel trade.

* What are your future plans where dancing is concerned?

To be Sri Lanka’s No.1 dancer, and to share my experience with the young generation.

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