CONFESSIONS OF A GLOBAL GYPSY
By Dr. Chandana (Chandi) Jayawardena DPhil
President – Chandi J. Associates Inc. Consulting, Canada
Founder & Administrator – Global Hospitality Forum
After returning from Scotland, I had two leisure days in London with my wife. Early morning on a Monday in late February, 1982, my United Nations (UN)/International Labour Organization (ILO) Fellowship Coordinator for the United Kingdom (UK), Larry Wilson, drove me to a small town, Cosham, in South East England. My one month stay there opened many doors for me to explore this beautiful region.
Today, the South East is the third largest region out of nine official regions of England (in 1982, known as the government office regions). The South East region consists of nine counties of Buckinghamshire, Oxfordshire, Berkshire, Hampshire, Surrey, Kent, East Sussex, West Sussex, and the Isle of Wight. I eventually visited 20 cities in this region.
I lived in Cosham for a month while travelling across the region. Cosham is a northern suburb of Portsmouth lying within the city boundary but off Portsea Island. Its population in 1982 was around 10,000. I enjoyed going for long walks in a friendly neighbourhood. There were no significant tourist attractions there. However, I was happy to experience living with a local English family. All members of this young family were very friendly.
Every week day, they prepared a heavy English breakfast for me, and the family sat with me for supper around 6:00 pm. After that on most evenings, I played pranks on their two young children and their dog which amused the young parents. “Chandi, shall we watch some telly”, the parents usually invited me while switching to BBC Channel One to watch the TV news in the evening. Some other families in Cosham with a room or two to spare, also made a little extra income by accommodating international students from the nearby Highbury College of Technology.
The Highbury College’s new facility for Hotel & Catering programs was opened just before my arrival. At the College I was mentored by Freddy Watts, a Senior Lecturer in Food & Beverage Operations. I shadowed Freddy in all of his theory classes and practical sessions. He demonstrated to me how efficiently he ran the training bar while teaching his students to make over 60 most popular cocktails in the world, something I followed when I returned to Ceylon Hotel School to teach Bar Theory and Cocktail Making Practical Demonstrations.
Towards the end of my one month at Highbury College, I was invited to deliver a few guest lectures. I happily used that opportunity to practice my newly acquired teaching skills from the Turin Centre in Italy. When I asked Freddy one day, which were the best universities or colleges in UK to study hotel management, Freddy said, “The best is the University of Surrey. Then comes Ealing College, and the Westminster College, which is the oldest. Highbury College is now coming closer to those top three.”
I became a regular evening visitor to the nearby historic city Portsmouth. It was one of the most densely populated cities in UK. Portsmouth is mostly located on Portsea Island. As one of the world’s best-known ports, Portsmouth’s history can be traced to Roman times and has been a significant Royal Navy dockyard and base for centuries. Portsmouth has the world’s oldest dry dock, ‘The Great Stone Dock’, originally built in 1698.
By the early-19th century, Portsmouth was the most heavily fortified city in the world, and was considered ‘the world’s greatest naval port’ at the height of the British Empire. By the mid-19th century, a ring of defensive land and sea forts, known as the Palmerston Forts had been built around Portsmouth in anticipation of an invasion from Continental Europe. I found the history of Portsmouth fascinating.
HMS Victory and Lord Nelson
I became interested in one of the greatest British heroes of all time – Admiral Horatio Nelson (Lord Nelson). It stemmed from my frequent visits in and around the Trafalgar Square by foot and London buses in 1979 and 1982. Looking up at the most impressive 169 feet tall Nelson’s Column fired my curiosity about this legendary hero, who had injured one eye and lost one arm in two different battles.
Lord Nelson supposedly had popularized the term: ‘turned a blind eye’ when wilfully disobeying a signal from a superior to withdraw his ship during a naval engagement. His inspirational leadership, visionary strategy and unconventional tactics brought about a number of significant British naval victories during the French Revolutionary and Napoleonic Wars.
He is widely regarded as one of the greatest naval commanders in history. The Battle of Trafalgar in 1805 was one of the most decisive naval battles in history, when a British fleet under the command of Lord Nelson defeated a combined French and Spanish fleet off the coast of Spain. Lord Nelson died on his flagship, HMS Victory at the end of the Battle of Trafalgar.
As the legend has it, fatally wounded Lord Nelson, asked, “Did Britain win?” According to the tour guide who took me to Lord Nelson’s cabin on HMS Victory, after hearing the good news, Lord Nelson gave his final order, “Bury me in England” and took his final breath. As the voyage back to Portsmouth would have taken a several days, naval officers arranged to have Lord Nelson’s body placed in a cask filled with brandy and rum.
Upon arrival at Portsmouth, however, the story goes that when the cask was opened it was empty of any liquor. The pickled body was then removed. Upon inspection, it was discovered that the a few liquor-addicted sailors had drilled a hole in the bottom of the cask and drunk all the brandy and rum. “Now you understand how the popular term – ‘Full Bodied Wine’ originated!” our guide joked.
I liked watching famous movies about Lord Nelson such as ‘Bequest to the Nation/The Nelson Affair’ (with Peter Finch as Lord Nelson and Glenda Jackson as his mistress – Lady Hamilton). When I lived in the West Indies/the Caribbean for nearly a decade from the early 1990s, my museum visits sparked further interest about this legendary character. During Lord Nelson’s near-decade long early period of naval duty in the Caribbean, he left records and myths about both his professional life and personal life, including affairs and slave ownership.
After serving in and around Port Royal, Jamaica (which was my second home), Lord Nelson had been transferred to the islands of Antigua and Barbuda. In his late twenties he commanded this important (due to its close proximity to the islands of the French West Indies), naval base within the English Harbour. The base is named after its most famous resident, as ‘Nelson’s Dockyard’, which is now a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Currently, his former residence, is an expensive 10-bedroom boutique hotel with an amazing historical charm – Admiral’s Inn. In the year 2000, during an official trip for my then employer, the University of the West Indies, I did a special trip to the English Harbour and managed to stay for one night in the bedroom used by Lord Nelson. During my travels in 26 Caribbean countries, this stay was one of the most memorable.
“Chandi, get ready to move from Cosham to South Downs for a few days. I have arranged a special management observer period for you at a Holiday Inn in that area”, Larry Wilson told me over the telephone. Arriving in South Downs in Larry’s car, I could not take my eyes off a range of chalk hills that extends over many counties with steep escarpment on one side. The South Downs are characterised by rolling chalk downland with close-cropped (by the sheep) turf and dry valleys, and are recognised as one of the most important chalk landscapes in England.
The South Downs are relatively less populated compared to South East England as a whole. There is a rich heritage of historical features and archaeological remains, including defensive sites, burial mounds and field boundaries. The downland is a highly popular recreational destination, particularly for walkers, horse riders and mountain bikers.
My observer period at the Holiday Inn focused mainly on training new food and beverage servers. Developed by their corporate offices, the on-the-job training sessions covered the very basics of customer service in a most effective manner. Having recently completed a training program at the ILO head office in Switzerland on ‘Modules of Employable Skills’, my role at the Holiday Inn quickly changed from a mere observer to a facilitator.
This new experience was helpful to me when, one year later, as a consultant, I developed a two-week food and beverage training session for hotel workers in Sri Lanka. This was on the invitation of my friend, Imtiaz Cader, the General Manager/Director of the Holiday Inn in Colombo.
I was happy to receive an invitation from a family friend, Mary Anderson to spend a couple of days at her house in Winchester. In 1980, Mary travelled to Sri Lanka to attend our wedding. Mary came with her granddaughter Sarah to pick me up from the coach station and took me on a long tour covering many tourist spots of their historic city.
Winchester is a city on the edge of South Downs National Park. Mary took great pride in taking me to see the medieval Winchester Cathedral. The Great Hall of Winchester Castle houses the medieval round table linked to the mythological figure, King Arthur who was the head of the Kingdom Camelot and the Knights of the Round Table.
“I am too old to do the long Keats’ walk by the River Itchen. Sarah, you go with Chandi”. Mary sat down to rest with a cup of tea. After a beautiful walk passing the famous city mill and shop, Sarah took me along the Water Meadows Alms-houses (bede-houses) established from the 10th century to provide a place of residence for poor, old and distressed people. The oldest Alms-house still in existence is the Hospital of St. Cross in Winchester, built around 1,000 years ago.
A friend of mine from London drove me to Windsor, which is a town on the River Thames, just west of London. It is the home to Windsor Castle, a residence of the British Royal Family. Built by William the Conqueror in the 11th century, the castle was extensively remodelled by subsequent monarchs. We took part in a guided public tour.
St George’s Chapel at Windsor Castle built in the late-medieval Perpendicular Gothic style. It was built in the 14th century by King Edward III and extensively enlarged in the late 15th century. It is located in the Lower Ward of the castle. The chapel has been the scene of many royal services, weddings and burials, over the centuries.
UN/ILO arranged for my final week in UK to be in Guildford. I found the medieval Guildford Castle, in the centre of town to be very impressive. The immaculately landscaped gardens and views from its square tower were beautiful. I enjoyed a visit to Loseley Park, a large a 16th-century Tudor manor house with a walled garden. As an artist, I was particularly interested in visiting the nearby Watts Gallery, and Artists’ Village, which displayed Victorian paintings and sculptures.
In the later years, I visited a few other cities in South East England, including Canterbury, Tunbridge Wells, Folkstone, Eastbourne, Brighton, Southampton, Bournemouth, Torque, Plymouth; for leisure, work or research.
University of Surrey
I then moved to Guildford for a week. My accommodation was in the student residence of the University of Surrey. It is a public research university which had received its royal charter in 1966, along with a number of other institutions previously known as colleges of technology. Over the years, the university’s research output and global partnerships have led to it being regarded as one of UK’s leading research universities.
In March, 1982, I attended a week-long management development program there, designed for middle managers of the British hotel industry. Our program focused on hotel design, marketing, finance, and food and beverage controls. I was the only international attendee of this program.
During the management development program, we had our lunches and dinners at the training restaurant of the Department of Tourism and Hotel Management of the University of Surrey. Each table for dinner was hosted by one of the professors or a senior lecturer. Around mid-week, at the dinner table where I was seated, there was no host, but a vacant chair next to me. Just before the service began, a middle-aged gentleman sat at that chair and started a friendly conversation with me. That chat changed and influenced my professional life significantly, over many decades.
“I am Richard Kotas. Where do you come from?” the gentleman asked me soon after sitting at the head of the table. During the discussion over dinner, we learnt a lot about each other. I was very impressed about his life story. After leaving a labour camp in the Nazi Germany after World War II, Richard Kotas arrived in UK as a refugee. His whole family in Poland, was sadly displaced. “All I had was my father’s wristwatch, five British pounds and the ability to speak about five words in English,” he old me explaining his humble beginnings in a new country.
In 1982, Richard Kotas was a highly respected Senior Lecturer and author who had published over a dozen text books related to hotel finance and accounting. He then gave me a signed copy of a very popular textbook titled, ‘Food and Beverage Control’ which he had co-authored. “This is for you Chandi. I will discuss this book, cover to cover, over the next two days with your group”, he said with a friendly hand shake.
Twelve years after that dinner meeting, Richard Kotas and I co-authored a British text book which became popular in many universities in the Commonwealth. It was based on my master’s degree dissertation, which he supervised in 1984. I got into writing and editing text books, mainly due to the encouragement and coaching by Richard Kotas, over the years.
Over that dinner in March 1982, Richard Kotas informed me that, the world’s first master’s degree in International Hotel Management will commence at the University of Surrey in September 1983, with him as the Program Coordinator. “You would be a good candidate for this master’s degree”, he encouraged me, and I immediately said, “Yes!”. The very next day, he arranged an appointment for me to be interviewed by his Head of Department.
Unfortunately, I was rejected by Professor Philip Nailon, Head of the Department of Tourism and Hotel Management, as I did not have the entry qualification of a four-year honour’s bachelor’s degree. Rejection always was a motivator for me, and I continued to pursue then possibilities. “Your credentials are impressive and we are happy to enrol you in the fourth year of our bachelor’s degree, before joining the master’s degree.”
After checking the program fees, I realised that I simply could not invest the money for two years of studies in UK. “There must be some other way for me to bridge the gap and join the first cohort of the master’s degree” I gently pushed towards achieving my objective. Professor Nailon then said, “OK. When you return to Sri Lanka, look for reputed university programs equivalent to the fourth-year level academic studies, and let me know if you find something good for me to re-consider your application to the MSc in International Hotel Management.” I was certainly determined to do so.
According to Professor Richard Kotas, I was his best student in 1983/84 during my master’s degree studies at the University of Surrey. He was my favourite teacher of all time. Later, he became my boss, co-author, co-presenter of seminars, business partner, fellow board member, lifelong mentor and more importantly; loyal friend. Over the years, we did joint-assignments in UK, Sri Lanka and Jamaica. In 1990, when he was the Director of the School of Hotel Management at Schiller International University in London, he hired me as his deputy.
Professor and Mrs. Kotas were like my parents and they also loved my wife, like the daughter they never had. Over 38 years, every time I was in West London, I visited Professor and Mrs. Kotas and had a home-cooked Polish meal in their home. The last time I did so was in January 2020, when I spent six hours with them, on my way from Toronto to Colombo.
During that meeting, we compared fruits of our new mutual hobby – poetry. He gave me signed copies of his two latest books, with his poems. I read some of my new poems and sought Professor Kotas’s input. “My dear Chandi, your poetry is beautiful. You must publish a book of poetry”, he planted a seed in my mind. He never saw my book of poetry, ‘Emotions’ which was published in 2022. Professor Kotas passed away a few months after my final meeting with him in London in 2020, when he had just turned 91. RIP, my dear friend! Thank you for everything! I love you.
Scarcity, prices, hoarding and queuing
We live in a scarcity economy and will do so well into 2024, past the next Presidential elections if it comes then; it may not. (The new minister may open bets.) All economies are scarcity economies; otherwise, there would be no prices. We also live in plentiful economies; look at the streets of Tokyo, Shanghai, Singapore, Paris or San Francisco during day or night. Scarcity is a relative term, as most terms are. A scarcity economy is one where prices rise relentlessly, where cigarettes are more expensive in the evening than they were the same morning. Scarcity economies will have two or more sets of prices: one official, others in markets in varying shades of grey until black. Scarcity economies are where everyone (producers, traders, households) hoards commodities, hoards everything that can be hoarded, at reasonable cost. Scarcity economy is one where productivity is lower than it was earlier, where both labour and capital idle. Scarcity itself may push down productivity. Observe thousands of people standing in queues to buy all kinds of things whilst producing nothing. That is labour idling. Others hang on to dear life in crowded trains arriving in office late to leave early, to get to ill lit homes where to cook each evening they repeat what their ancestors did millions of years ago to light a fire. Money is one commodity that can be hoarded at little cost, if there was no inflation. The million rupees you had in your savings account in 2019 is now worth a mere 500,000, because prices have risen. That is how a government taxes you outside the law: debase the currency. In an inflation afflicted economy, hoarding money is a fool’s game.
The smart game to play is to borrow to the limit, a kind of dishoarding (- negative hoarding) money. You borrow ten million now and five years later you pay 500 million because the value of money has fallen. US dollars are scarce in this economy. It is hoarded where it can wait until its price in Sri Lanka rises. Some politicians who seem to have been schooled in corruption to perfection have them stored elsewhere, as we have learnt from revelations in the international press. Electricity is not hoarded in large quantities because it is expensive to hoard. Petrol is not hoarded very much in households because it evaporates fast and is highly flammable. That does not prevent vehicle owners from keeping their tanks full in contrast to the earlier practice when they had kept tanks half empty (full). Consequently, drivers now hoard twice as much fuel in their tanks as earlier. Until drivers feel relaxed as to when they get the next fill, there will be queues. That should also answer the conundrum of the minister for energy who daily sent out more bowser loads out than earlier, but queues did not shorten.
As an aside, it is necessary to note that the scarcity economy, which has been brought about by stupid policies 2019-2022, and massive thieving from 2005 is partly a consequence of the fall in total output (GDP) in the economy. Workers in queues do not produce. The capital they normally use in production (e.g. motor cars, machines that they would otherwise would have worked at) lie idle. Both capital and labour idle and deny their usual contribution to GDP. Agriculture, industries, wholesale and retail trade, public administration, manufacturing and construction all of which have been adversely affected in various ways contribute more than 75% of total GDP. Maha (winter crop) 2021-22, Yala (spring crop) 2022 and Maha 2022-23 and fishing are all likely to have yielded (and yield) poor harvests. Manufacturing including construction are victims of severe shortages in energy and imported inputs. Wholesale and retail trade which depend directly on imports of commodities have been hit by the sharp drop in imports. Tourism, which is more significant in providing employment and foreign exchange, collapsed dreadfully since late 2019 and has not recovered yet. About 16 percent of our labour force work in the public sector. They have failed to contribute to GDP because they did not engage in productive work due to variegated reasons. Teachers were on strike for two months in 2021. In 2022, so far government employees have worked off and on. Wages of government employees are counted as contributions to GDP, by those that make GDP estimates. However, here is an instance where labour was paid but there was no output equal to the value of those wages. Such payments are rightly counted as transfers and do not count to GDP. For these reasons estimates of GDP for 2021 must be well below the 2020 level. The 3.6 growth in official estimates is unlikely. The likely drop in 2022 will be roughly of the same magnitude as in 2021. These declines are not dissonant with misery one sees in towns and the countryside: empty supermarket shelves, scant supplies of produce in country fares, scarce fish supplies, buses idling in parks and roads empty of traffic. There have been warnings from our paediatricians as well as from international organisations of wasting and probable higher rates of child mortality. It is this sort of sharp fall in wellbeing that engenders the desperation driving young and ambitious people to obtain passports to seek a living overseas. You can see those from mezzo-America amassed on the southern border of US. Will our young men and women end up beyond the wall of China?
Of this lowered supply of goods and services, this society is expected to pay a massive accumulated foreign debt. (Remember the reparation payments in the Versailles Treaty). In real terms it will mean that we forego a part of our lower incomes. Do not miss this reality behind veils of jargon woven by financial analysts. It is not something that we have a choice about. That is where international help may kick in. Gotabaya Rajapaksa government after much senseless dilly dallying has started negotiations with the IMF. There is nobody compelling our government to seek support from IMF. They are free go elsewhere as some who recently were in their government still urge. Examine alternatives and hit upon an arrangement not because it permits the family grows richer but because it will make life for the average person a little less unbearable.
If prices are expected to rise people will seek resources to hoard: money to buy commodities, space and facilities to hoard, security services to protect the property and much more. Rice producers cannot hoard their product because animals large as elephants and small as rodents eat them up. Because of the unequal distribution of resources to hoard, the poor cannot hoard. In a scarcity economy, the poor cannot hoard and famines usually victimise the poor, first and most. If prices are expected to fall, stocks are dishoarded to the market and prices fall faster and deeper. In either direction, the rate at which prices change and the height/depth of the rise/fall depends on the speed at which expectations of change in prices take place. A largescale rice miller claims he can control the price of rice at a level that the government cannot. His success/failure will tell us the extent of his monopoly power.
When commodities are scarce, in the absence of a sensible system of coupons to regulate the distribution, consumers will form queues. A queue is rarely a straight here, nor a dog’s tail (queue, in French, is a dog’s tail which most often crooked). Assembled consumers stagnate, make puddles and sometimes spread out like the Ganges, with Meghna, disgorges itself to the Bay of Bengal. They sometimes swirl and make whirlpools and then there is trouble, occasionally serious. There is order in a queue that people make automatically. To break that order is somehow iniquitous in the human mind. That is why breaking the order in a queue is enraging. For a queue to be disobeyed by anyone is infuriating, and for a politician to do so now in this country is dangerously injurious to his physical wellbeing.
The first cause of rising prices, hoarding and queues is the scarcity of goods and services in relation to the income and savings in the hands of the people.
Terror figuring increasingly in Russian invasion of Ukraine
In yet another mind-numbing manifestation of the sheer savagery marking the Russian invasion of Ukraine, a shopping mall in Ukraine’s eastern city of Kremenchuk was razed to the ground recently in a Russian missile strike. Reportedly more than a hundred civilian lives were lost in the chilling attack.
If the unconscionable killing of civilians is a definition of terrorism, then the above attack is unalloyed terrorism and should be forthrightly condemned by all sections that consider themselves civilized. Will these sections condemn this most recent instance of blood-curdling barbarism by the Putin regime in the Ukrainian theatre and thereby provide proof that the collective moral conscience of the world continues to tick? Could progressive opinion be reassured on this score without further delay or prevarication?
These issues need to be addressed with the utmost urgency by the world community. May be, the UN General Assembly could meet in emergency session for the purpose and speak out loud and clear in one voice against such wanton brutality by the Putin regime which seems to be spilling the blood of Ukrainian civilians as a matter of habit. The majority of UNGA members did well to condemn the Russian invasion of Ukraine close on the heels of it occurring a few months back but the Putin regime seems to be continuing the civilian bloodletting in Ukraine with a degree of impunity that signals to the international community that the latter could no longer remain passive in the face of the aggravating tragedy in Ukraine.
The deafening silence, on this question, on the part of those sections the world over that very rightly condemn terror, from whichever quarter it may emanate, is itself most intriguing. There cannot be double standards on this problem. If the claiming of the lives of civilians by militant organizations fighting governments is terror, so are the Putin regime’s targeted actions in Ukraine which result in the wanton spilling of civilian blood. The international community needs to break free of its inner paralysis.
While most Western democracies are bound to decry the Russian-inspired atrocities in Ukraine, more or less unambiguously, the same does not go for the remaining democracies of the South. Increasing economic pressures, stemming from high energy and oil prices in particular, are likely to render them tongue-tied.
Such is the case with Sri Lanka, today reduced to absolute beggary. These states could be expected ‘to look the other way’, lest they be penalized on the economic front by Russia. One wonders what those quarters in Sri Lanka that have been projecting themselves as ‘progressives’ over the years have to say to the increasing atrocities against civilians in Ukraine. Aren’t these excesses instances of state terror that call for condemnation?
However, ignoring the Putin regime’s terror acts is tantamount to condoning them. Among other things, the failure on the part of the world community to condemn the Putin government’s commissioning of war crimes sends out the message that the international community is gladly accommodative of these violations of International Law. An eventual result from such international complacency could be the further aggravation of world disorder and lawlessness.
The Putin regime’s latest civilian atrocities in Ukraine are being seen by the Western media in particular as the Russian strongman’s answer to the further closing of ranks among the G7 states to the Russian invasion of Ukraine and the issues growing out of it. There is a considerable amount of truth in this position but the brazen unleashing of civilian atrocities by the Russian state also points to mounting impatience on the part of the latter for more positive results from its invasion.
Right now, the invasion could be described as having reached a stalemate for Russia. Having been beaten back by the robust and spirited Ukrainian resistance in Kyiv, the Russian forces are directing their fire power at present on Eastern Ukraine. Their intentions have narrowed down to carving out the Donbas region from the rest of Ukraine; the aim being to establish the region as a Russian sphere of influence and buffer state against perceived NATO encirclement.
On the other hand, having failed to the break the back thus far of the Ukraine resistance the Putin regime seems to be intent on demoralizing the resistance by targeting Ukraine civilians and their cities. Right now, most of Eastern Ukraine has been reduced to rubble. The regime’s broad strategy seems to be to capture the region by bombing it out. This strategy was tried out by Western imperialist powers, such as the US and France, in South East Asia some decades back, quite unsuccessfully.
However, by targeting civilians the Putin regime seems to be also banking on the US and its allies committing what could come to be seen as indiscretions, such as, getting more fully militarily and physically involved in the conflict.
To be sure, Russia’s rulers know quite well that it cannot afford to get into a full-blown armed conflict with the West and it also knows that the West would doing its uttermost to avoid an international armed confrontation of this kind that could lead to a Third World War. Both sides could be banked on to be cautious about creating concrete conditions that could lead to another Europe-wide armed conflict, considering its wide-ranging dire consequences.
However, by grossly violating the norms and laws of war in Ukraine Russia could tempt the West into putting more and more of its financial and material resources into strengthening the military capability of the Ukraine resistance and thereby weaken its economies through excessive military expenditure.
That is, the Western military-industrial complex would be further bolstered at the expense of the relevant civilian publics, who would be deprived of much needed welfare expenditure. This is a prospect no Western government could afford to countenance at the present juncture when the West too is beginning to weaken in economic terms. Discontented publics, growing out of shrinking welfare budgets, could only aggravate the worries of Western governments.
Accordingly, Putin’s game plan could very well be to subject the West to a ‘slow death’ through his merciless onslaught on the Ukraine. At the time of writing US President Joe Biden is emphatic about the need for united and firm ‘Transatlantic’ security in the face of the Russian invasion but it is open to question whether Western military muscle could be consistently bolstered amid rising, wide-ranging economic pressures.
At 80, now serving humanity
Thaku Chugani! Does this name ring a bell! It should, for those who are familiar with the local music scene, decades ago.
Thaku, in fact, was involved with the original group X-Periments, as a vocalist.
No, he is not making a comeback to the music scene!
At 80, when Engelbert and Tom Jones are still active, catering to their fans, Thaku is doing it differently. He is now serving humanity.
Says Thaku: “During my tenure as Lion District Governor 2006/2007, Dr Mosun Faderin and I visited the poor of the poorest blind school in Ijebu Ode Ogun state, in Nigeria.
“During our visit, a small boy touched me and called me a white man. I was astonished! How could a blind boy know the colour of my skin? I was then informed that he is cornea blind and his vision could be restored if a cornea could be sourced for him. This was the first time in my life that I heard of a cornea transplant. “
And that incident was the beginning of Thaku’s humanity service – the search to source for corneas to restore the vision of the cornea blind.
It was in 2007, when Dr Mosun and Thaku requested Past International President Lion Rohit Mehta, who was the Chief Guest at MD 404 Nigeria Lions convention, at Illorin, in Nigeria, to assist them in sourcing for corneas as Nigeria was facing a great challenge in getting any eye donation, even though there was an established eye bank.
“We did explain our problems and reasons of not being able to harvest corneas and Lion Rohit Metha promised to look into our plea and assured us that he will try his utmost best to assist in sourcing for corneas.”
Nigeria, at that period of time, had a wait list of over 70 cornea blind children and young adults.
“As assured by PIP Lion Rohit Mehta, we got an email from Gautam Mazumdar, and Dr. Dilip Shah, of Ahmedabad, in India, inviting us for World Blind Day
“Our trip was very fruitful as it was World Blind Day and we had to speak on the blind in Nigeria.”
“We were invited by Gautam Mazumdar to visit his eye bank and he explained the whole process of eye banking.
“We requested for corneas and also informed him about our difficulties in harvesting corneas.
“After a long deliberation, he finally agreed to give us six corneas. It was a historical moment as we were going to restore vision of six cornea blind children. To me, it was a great experience as I was privileged to witness cornea transplant in my life and what a moment it was for these children, when their vision was restored.
“Thus began my journey of sight restoration of the cornea blind, and today I have sourced over 1000 corneas and restored vision of the cornea blind in Nigeria, Kenya and India till date.
“Also, I need to mention that this includes corneas to the armed forces, and their family, all over India.
“On the 12th, August, 2018, the Eye Bank, I work with, had Launched Pre-Cut Corneas, which means with one pair of eyes, donated, four Cornea Blind persons sight will be restored.”
Thaku Chugani, who is based in India, says he is now able to get corneas regularly, but, initially, had to carry them personally – facing huge costs as well as international travel difficulties, etc.
However, he says he is so happy that his humanitarian mission has been a huge success.
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