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From kingpin to beggar on horseback!

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By I. P. C. MENDIS

For “homo sapiens”, destiny is undoubtedly very much in charge and control in any aspect of life from the cradle to the grave, and very much so in the history of a country. In the context of the grave crisis we are facing today in Sri Lanka, it would indeed be opportune to reminisce into our journey down the slippery slope, particularly during the post-independence era. Many a conscience would certainly have gone pita-pat hearing our own icon, Sunil Perera, the veteran band leader, lamenting just before his unfortunate demise – “When I was attending school this was a Third World country, now when I am in the throes of death, it is still a Third World country” ! Did we have a Statesman worthy of that name in the mould of Lee Kwan Yew of Singapore or Mahathir Mohamed of Malaysia, who even attempted to put the country before party politics or self? The answer is an emphatic “NO’. If they did, a National Plan would have topped the priority list. Instead, we have had plans of varied hues baptized as Mid-Term Plans, Short-Term Plans, Crash Programmes, Integrated Programmes, etc., no doubt faithfully funded often by foreign aid. And that, too, has been faithfully and systematically squandered in various ways not excluding personal advancement.

We had the much-respected Hon. D.S. Senanayake who, despite lack of certificates to brandish, was able and well -equipped to lead a qualified team comprising practically all races. DSS is remembered undisputedly as the Father of the Nation for his contribution to the development of the country, agriculture in particular, holding together inter-racial amity. Notwithstanding the lack of paper qualifications, he could walk with kings without losing common touch. He was nattily attired in a tail coat and tie for the occasion, mingling with the British aristocracy. Even he did not see the merit in a national plan for organized continuity. However, our stock was held high internationally, and one of the hallmarks was the international acclaim for the then Finance Minister, JRJ’s plea at the San Francisco Conference after World War II, on behalf of Japan quoting the Buddha – “Hatred does not cease by hatred but by Love alone”. Japan to this day has it in its memory.

DSS’s son, Dudley Senanayake , who was recognised as the epitome of democracy having succeeded his father as Prime Minister , found to his dismay not very long to his first term, that a rather tumultuous environment, created by the Marxist movement via a hartal, was not his kettle of fish and decided to throw in the towel in the Westminster tradition with Sir John Kotelawela assuming control. Sir John started off with a bang and flair with welcome ceremonies, tamashas topping the precedence list, culminating in his being crowned as the King of Delft Island in the North. While D.S. Senanayake used to ride his horse (more for exercise) down Galle Face way sometimes in the mornings, Sir John too had similar inclinations and the “Laird of Kandawela” was often observed down Ratmalana way in majestic trot clad in jodphurs. He was known to be quite at home in the trappings of a Knight in shining armour given the opportunity. His breakfast table was open for a visitor who had any penchant for egg-hoppers and was famous for “off the cuff” remarks which were often eagerly used or mis-used by the Press to boost up their sales. It was during his tenure that a Non-Aligned conference was held in Bandung, Indonesia, and his pro-American stance did raise eye-brows earning him the sobriquet “Bandung Booruwa” here in Sri Lanka. His speech may have surprised even his own Advisers in terms of reports that trickled in. However, it did concern Jawaharlal Nehru who was provoked to inquire from him why he (Sir John) had not consulted him, in reply to which he had shot back – “Why should I – You do not consult me before you speak?” Indeed, he had the honour of receiving Queen Elizabeth II and Prince Phillp at the then Parliamentary premises (now Presidential Secretariat) at Galle Face. The Royal guests were ceremoniously led up the stairway outside in what was described as a very windy day. Sir John, who was quite at home with Royalty or commoner, had his favourite – veteran Lake House photographer Rienie Wijeratne – close by. Sir John had forgotten himself for a split second observing the majestic apparel being embarrassingly disturbed by the strong gust of wind and was reported to have whispered to photographer Rienzie W. – “Ganing yako ganing!”

He enjoyed seeing himself caricatured by Observer Cartoonist Aubrey Collette and one which had him depicted as a damsel before a mirror had been enlarged and hung in his office room at Transworks House when he was a Minister. That was the colourful Sir John Kotelawela – the author (clandestine) of “The Premier Stakes’ written when DSS had bequeathed the Premiership to son Dudley. He gracefully bowed out to Her Majesty’s country-side resort “Brogueswood” the purchase facilitated by his one-time arch rival, SWRDB in the release of scarce foreign exchange.

The Age of the Common Man

Then came the Pancha Maha Bala Vegaya, led by SWRDB – an Oxford product of no mean repute, who with all its perfectly good intentions ( as paved in the path to heaven ) was ham-strung by political, racial and trade union problems not totally unexpected from quarters that had hitherto been neglected and/or restrained in many ways. As a prelude, they gate-crashed into Parliament and occupied the Speaker’s chair. If that was not enough, vested interests within the camp which had been waiting long on the wings to capitalise on the victory became restless, conspiring against SWRDB who, to make a long story short, fell vicitim, paying with his life after only three years in office. He did make an attempt to draw up a national plan which died a natural death thereafter.

1959/60.

The era that followed with W. Dahanayake as the PM was a disaster. Parliamentary elections followed after a few months and Dudley Senanayake formed a minority government in March 1960 which was defeated in Parliament. The SLFP-led coalition won the July 1960 general election and Mrs Bandaranaike was sworn in as Prime Minister from the Senate and launched many people-friendly nationalist projects. The election campaign was bitterly fought and some of the slogans and propaganda were centred on Mrs Bandaranaike mostly targeting her inexperience (nothing more than a housewife) and lack of qualifications, while some of the foul-mouthed did not spare her from personal remarks (also insulting to women in general) unprintable in its content. She nevertheless proved herself to be a woman of steel leading the coalition to victory. Strangely, in next to no time she forged herself into the spotlight as the world’s first woman Prime Minister, fitting herself well and truly as an effective leader hobnobbing with some of the world’s greatest, particularly in the Non-Aligned Movement, earning respect. She carried herself well and proved to be a no-nonsense leader, much respected and feared no less. She maintained cordial relations with practically every national leader, particularly Indira Gandhi, so much so that she was picked to mediate on one of the Indo-China burning issues. She was able to solve to a great extent the Indian plantation labour issue. She mooted the idea of declaring the Indian Ocean a Zone of Peace.

The Non-Aligned conference held in Colombo was a feather in her cap. She had no personal agendas and while any other in her position would have accepted with both hands an invitation to attend the Commonwealth Prime Ministers’ Conference in London soon after taking office, she opted to stay back arranging for her Minister of Justice to represent her – a long shot from the great effort another VVIP of a different regime was said to have been made to cadge an invitation to attend the wedding of the Prince of Wales and Princess Diana. Mid-way in her term, she decided to coalesce with the Left but .some of her rightist members did not see eye to eye with the decision which ensured the defeat of the government on the Press Bill and subsequent disintegration of the coalition and the rise of a coalition of convenience in a seven-party outfit led by Dudley Seanayake, prominent among them being the TULF and the MEP which ruled for the full term.

Mrs B’s Second Term

Mrs Bandaranaike won the general elections in 1970 fortifying herself with a coalition winning a 2/3rd majority which helped her to declare Sri Lanka a Republic. In doing so, the two years spent on that effort was sought to be compensated by a similar addition to the five-year term in the new Constitution. Many an important activity was undertaken, but progress was hampered with the JVP uprising in 1971. This together with the LTTE problems aggravated the situation faced and if that was not enough bickering within the coalition camp began to surface and the coalition broke up in around 1976 resulting in the UNP-led by J.R. Jayawardene obtaining a 5/6th majority .

Executive Presidency

JRJ ensured the birth of a new Republican Constitution and the transformation into an Executive Presidency in which he was deemed to be the first Executive President. Many changes in the economic sphere were introduced, including liberalization of the economy. Development work was expanded, the most important being the accelerated Mahaweli development opening the floodgates for corruption not excluding duty –free facilities of one kind or another. In fact, reports had it that once JRJ had opined that commissions obtained were not bribes . The Mahaweli programme carried out mostly through aid programmes did bring many benefits but the liberalisation policy undermined local agricultural and industrial programmes. The shift in policy was so pro- American that it infuriated Indira Gandhi , which coupled with adverse personal remarks targeting Indira Gandi and son Rajiv, drove India to support in a very big way the LTTE which is well known. JRJ was succeeded by R. Premadasa who can be applauded for his foresight in embarking on the apparel industry which is now a foreign exchange winner. He was generally believed to have had some prejudice against professionals and his style of governance somehow infuriated the likes of Lalith Athulathmudali and Gamini Dissanayake who engineered an Impeachment motion. Premadasa bought time through a prorogation of Parliament and finally a settlement had been reached . He ruled till his unfortunate demise on 1st May 1993. His exit saw the rise of Chandrka Bandaranaike Kumaratunge mentioned earlier.

LTTE Enters the Fray

Prabhakaran entering the fray made successive governments to devote their time, energy , manpower/financial resources , at tremendous cost of development. Successive governments while confronting the LTTE and its cohorts, both foreign and local, had to keep the homefires burning while countering strong adverse political and international onslaughts aimed at discrediting the government and even acts of sabotage by word and deed. (“Alimankade / Pamankada, Kilinochchi/ Madawachchi, Baron’ s Cap, etc.). The ups and downs suffered need not be reiterated except to emphasise the genesis of borrowing and the easy way of further borrowing to settle the earlier borrowings. On the side of stupidity comes , inter alia, the surrender of a military platoon on a governmental fiat, only to be massacred in cold blood by the LTTE, the supply of arms to the LTTE to fight the IPKF, the so-called peace treaty with the LTTE which saw a fake surrender of arms and the “free–for –all” much later in Bond scams which had the blessings of the highest in the land. The Tamil diaspora was influential enough for the International community to ensure that there would be no assistance, financial or otherwise,. to Sri Lanka in the war with the LTTE. Consequently, the Rajapakse government had to resort to various other expensive methods, including borrowing at commercial interest rates to which the UNP led by Ranil Wickremesinghe responded by publicly declaring that they would not honour such obligations if and when they assume power. Measures such as the hedging deal and investments in Greek Bonds, Lotus Tower, Suryawewa Cricket stadium, Road Races, Magam Ruhuna International Conference Hall to name a few, did swell the already burdened debt trap. They added to the misery complemented with wastage and rampant corruption multiplying the woes haunting the government no less. The opportunity that came after the defeat of terrorism, was foolishly frittered away in a situation of mix-up of priorities necessitated by considerations other than national. Mahinda Rajapakse’s decision to seek re-election two years before ex,

Earlier, President Chadrika Bandaranaike’s tenure continued with the decorum hitherto displayed by her predecessors in office in all her dealings, maintaining her stature with the exception that she carried it a little too far in throwing manners to the wind being habitually unpunctual for appointments. Quite unruffled, she was reported to have kept Prince Charles kicking his heels at Temple Trees for quite a while. Indeed, she got away with it and also proved she could be quite out-spoken and frank on occasions. In fact, she appears to be quite popular with the media. She carried herself well despite certain shortcomings. By far, apart from the LTTE issue, the greatest challenge she had was the Tsunami debacle through which she sailed successfully.

Her successor Mahinda Rajapakse although not of the same mould of aristocratic origin, showed his mettle the way he handled the LTTE together with his brother Gotabaya R and the European messiahs that arrived to coax him to stop the onslaught against the LTTE. The usaual regalia was absent in receiving the latter, the location being in the rough and tumble of Embilipitya. They departed disappointed.

Yahapalan/Nawapalana

– The purpose of this Article is to reveal how the rating of the country has receded slowly but surely not only in terms of its financial obligations but also in its international standing, in regard to which the integrity, conduct, performance, management skills , results and general decorum do play their individual and collective roles. The recent history relating to the Yahapalana regime and the present outfit is fresh in the minds of the people and repetition would unnecessarily tax the time of the reader. As for Yahapalana, it is a story of manipulation, deceit, highway robbery (Bond scams, etc.,), intrigue, anti-nationalist and financial mis-management, the worst being security lapses culminating in the Easter Sunday debacle. Like Pontius Pilate,the bulk of its remains have projected itself by another name (SJB) in a bid to wash its hands off its sins and responsibility of everything they silently condoned.

The new regime (Nawapalanaya) of the SLPP combine led by President Gotabaya from which much was expected, has so far not lived up to expectations , burdened no less by the global epidemic and consequent world-wide financial and other consequences coupled with local financial constraints, demonstrations, demands and a host of insurmountable problems, some of which are of their own making. The country is virtually on the edge of a precipice notwithstanding outward show and rhetoric while opulence in some quarters in power are not invisible. Shamelessly now, they are running helter-skelter except to the IMF failing to realise that internationally even their personal and official standing, despite the protocol, are at a low ebb and not anywhere near what was in the past, particularly as a one-timeleader in the Non-Aligned Movement. Indeed, what a fall ? . It is no surprise that even a friend like China had reacted the way it did on the organic feriliser issue, now diplomatically seeking to recompense with 100,000 metric tons of rice commemorating 75-year of the Rubber/Rice Trade Agreement. The Chinese indeed are professionals – Sri Lankans pompous amateursp itifully transformed from Kingpin to beggar on Horseback !



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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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