From the pseudo–sublime to the utterly ridiculous!
With abject apologies to Tom Paine, who in the Age of Reason (1794), coined the phrase from the sublime to the ridiculous, the situation in the Pearl and indeed the world today, warrants the additional descriptive words that I have used when paraphrasing!Sublime could be construed to mean serious or worth considering therefore the pseudo sublime situation that came to the USA and the world with the voting in of a geriatric president should be looked at. Covid is still rampant but less talked about in that country and the complete disaster that has been the withdrawal of troops from Afghanistan is utterly ridiculous, isn’t it? This disaster is even worse than the last debacle that the Americans concocted in Vietnam. On the other hand, this can spark off an ideal situation for selling even more American weapons which have always been the driving force of the American economy.The brutality and the sheer lack of mercy (undoubtedly exaggerated by the western media) displayed by the Taliban can be attributed in part to frustration stemming from the rape of their country that was carried out by the USA and other western forces, but can it be justified? The geriatric president may have made a huge mess of things but saying that it was not a situation instigated by him is no excuse. He was elected to rectify this and other situations. Has there been any solution that can be accepted at any level?Recognising the rule of ANY power that relies on religious extremism is wrong. Therefore, until some form of rational thinking can be displayed with a degree of credibility by the Taliban, acknowledging their regime will only serve to promote extremism within the countries that acknowledge that regime. I saw somewhere that the British PM has said that Britain intends to work with the Taliban. Surely not the Taliban in its present form? The Taliban that so many British soldiers have died fighting against, isn’t this another level of ridiculousness?
There are many insightful articles on just how badly the Americans got it wrong in Afghanistan. How the people expected deliverance but got nothing of the kind. Apparently, all they saw was a huge surge of corruption and total decimation of their values and standards. This is what has kept the Taliban going and has now resulted in them gaining back control of the whole country. America has wasted billions of dollars on what was essentially a project to gain revenge for the destruction wrought by 911. They also seem to have armed and equipped a dangerous and uncontrollable foe with equipment and arms left behind during this hasty withdrawal. Now, it looks like it is the Taliban’s turn for revenge. Hundreds of people remain trapped in Afghanistan. Surely, the Taliban should spare their own countrymen? If they want to get out and the West is willing to take them let them go. Let the West find ways to feed them, medicate them and find them employment.
Meanwhile, the West is welcoming thousands of Afghans who in turn expect a land with pavements of gold and the realisation of all their dreams. Wonder what the disillusionment of not finding suitable employment and the subtle and not so subtle racism that they will encounter will bring? Maybe an outcome similar to the knife wielding “terrorist” who attacked innocents in a shopping mall in Auckland, or worse.
Many people would expect a quote from the Buddhist scriptures at this point. One about how anger only begets anger, but those quotes are almost hackneyed now, ever since JRJ used them and gained the Pearl much mileage with Japan. I prefer the old adage that goes somewhat like this when paraphrased to be fit for publication: when elephants indulge in sexual conduct it is the ants who get crushed!
The world has just finished commemorating the 911 tragedy. In the light of the latest outcome in Afghanistan one is left wondering who came off on top of that one? America has spent multi billions, lost many of her brave sons’ and daughters’ and the Taliban have got their country back!
Moving onto the Pearl. It has been informed that the President and his brother accompanied large delegations are going in different directions of the world on “official travel”. The President to America to purportedly address the United Nations in New York. The fact that the whole country knows that he has a new grandchild (progeny of his son) in a neighbouring state and this tour is mainly aimed at seeing his grandchild may actually have gained some form of acceptance had the truth been told. Meanwhile, elder brother, the Prime Minister is headed in the direction of Italy where an engine failure or some sort of emergency seems to be his only chance of landing in the Vatican City. It is a well-known fact that the senior Mrs Rajapaksa is a devotee and a chance to kiss the ring and spin a yarn to cover up the current agitation aroused by the Roman Catholic church regarding the Easter massacres may be on the cards.
It is obvious that absolutely no regard is given for the plight of the people who voted them in with such a huge majority. It is also clear that nothing will be done about it. A surge of empty rhetoric on the Internet and a few pitiful squeaks in parliament (if sittings are allowed) from a ridiculous opposition, is the most that will happen.
All those who thought they were seeing “progress” with the new rules for driving elephants seem to have not realised that this was simply an excuse to return all the elephants that has been confiscated for illegal ownership. I hope it leads to more of the “lifers” in Pinnawela been given suitable homes among the populace for they cannot be released into the wild for obvious reasons. I wouldn’t wish a life of mind numbing incarceration to such intelligent animal or even to one of today’s parliamentarians , for that matter, who have much inferior brains and intellect than those poor beasts.We pray for relief from the utter ridiculousness of “the powers that be”, for those in the Pearl and those trapped in Afghanistan. It really seems to be beyond human control and up to the Gods. In these days that are beginning to increasingly resemble Armageddon, one wonders if the Gods’ have forsaken us.
Daring siege of the Cultural Ministry
The University of Colombo, Sri Lanka was established in 1979 in accordance with the provisions of the Universities Act No. 18 of 1978. The university was given all the land from the road joining Bauddhaloka Mawatha and Reid Avenue (later named Prof. Stanley Wijesundera Mawatha) right up to the Thummulla junction.
There were the court premises set up to try the insurgents of 1971, the Curriculum Development Centre (CDC), the Queen’s Club, an unauthorized temple which had everything else like car wash, canteen, night life, etc, except what should be found in a temple.
Of these the university was able to get rid of the bogus temple. The request to get the CDC premises did not materialize as the then Secretary of Education turned it down. Later these buildings were taken over to house the Ministry of Cultural Affairs.
One day in the early 1990s just prior to closing time the Senior Assistant Registrar in charge of Student Affairs came into my office and told me that the Students Union is planning to take over the Buildings of the Ministry of Cultural Affairs. Their plan was to wait till dusk and get in surreptitiously two by two. I told the Senior Assistant Registrar not to divulge this to anybody else and to wait till the following morning to see the outcome.
When we reported for work the following morning, I asked the Senior Assistant Registrar as to what had happened. He said the mission had been successfully accomplished and now the students were occupying the buildings. It seemed that what the university had been trying to get for a long time, the students had successfully achieved in one night!
On the second day the students who were occupying the buildings were a little agitated, telephoned me and asked whether the Special Task Force (STF) was planning to surround the building with a view to oust them as the STF personnel were occupying vantage points on buildings in the vicinity . I telephoned and inquired from the OIC of Cinnamon Gardens Police station, and he told me that there was no such plan and that they were only watching the situation. I conveyed this to the students and allayed their fears.
A meeting was convened at the Ministry of Higher Education to see how the problem could be sorted out. At the meeting a student showed a copy of a Cabinet decision where agreement had been reached to hand over the CDC buildings to the University of Colombo. The Minister of Cultural Affairs at that time, Mr. Lakshman Jayakody, was surprised and asked the student as to how he got the copy of the decision as even he had not seen it. The student stated that he did not want to divulge the source.
The Minister stated that his immediate need was to get the pay sheet and cheque book as the employees had to be paid their salaries. The students were adamant not to surrender, and they stated that this was done as they needed hostels. Hence the decision to lay siege to the buildings. Mr. Jayakody agreed to vacate the buildings so that the university could make use of them.
That ended the saga of the famous siege of a Ministry building by a few daring undergraduates. The buildings were used to house the newly established Faculty of Management and Finance. The undergraduates were accommodated in other buildings in Muttiah Road and Thelawala, which were handed over to the university to be used as hostels.
HM NISSANKA WARAKAULLE
Professor Dayantha Wijeyesekera
Professor Dayantha Wijeyesekera who passed away a few days ago was a dynamic personality who headed not one but two national universities in Sri Lanka. It was as the Vice-Chancellor of the Open University of Sri Lanka (OUSL) that I first encountered him, an encounter that highlighted Professor Wijeyesekera’s powers of perseverance and persuasion. During the late 1980s, I was happily ensconced at the University of Colombo when I started receiving messages from Professor Wijeyesekera to ask me to consider moving over to the OUSL. The proposition did not seem very viable to me at the time and I ignored his calls But for almost two years, he persisted until I finally gave in and shifted my academic career to Nawala- a move never regretted.
OUSL at that time was in the throes of changes and innovation, most of which were spearheaded by Professor Wijeyesekera who had taken over the leadership of OUSL in 1985 at a most controversial time. Perceptions of the OUSL were negative and the authorities were even considering closing it down. With his characteristic vigour, Dayantha Wijeyesekera set about putting things right bringing in changes, some of which were most controversial and even considered detrimental to OUSL.
In spite of opposition, he stuck to his vision and it is testimony to his persistence that a number of changes have lasted to this day – Faculties headed by Deans instead of Boards of Study headed by Directors, Departments of Study and not Units, a two-tier administrative system akin to the conventional university system of Council and Senate. To help support students who needed to come to Nawala for workshops and laboratory classes, he established student hostels-another move deemed by his critics as undermining the concept of Distance Education. The hostels still stand and have even been expanded.
Other changes were welcomed such as his indefatigable pursuit of state –of the art technology for OUSL. The OUSL’s centre for Educational Technology was a gift from Japan due to Professor Wijeyesekera’s efforts. And it was in his period of stewardship at OUSL that the first ever language laboratory to be established in a Sri Lankan university was set up in the Department of Language Studies – a gift from KOICA, the South Korean aid agency.
During Professor Wijeyesekera’s tenure as Vice Chancellor, the OUSL experienced growth and expansion in academic sectors too. During the 1980s, the university had only a handful of centres but under Dayantha Wijeyesekera the number rapidly grew- there were Regional Centres in major cities such as Colombo, Kandy and Jaffna. Study centres were set up in towns throughout the island and he was more than supportive when requested permission to establish teaching centres for English in smaller urban conglomerations such as Akkaraipattu .
Academic programmes blossomed. The Faculty of Humanities and Social Sciences for example had just one Bachelor’s degree, the LLB, during the 1980s. In Professor Wijeyesekera’s time this grew to include a Bachelor of Management Studies, a Bachelor’s degree in Social Sciences and the first ever Bachelor’s degree in English and English Language Teaching. The first degree programme for nurses in Sri Lanka, the BSc. In Nursing, was established at the Faculty of Science with support from Athabasca University in Canada. In addition there also sprang up a whole cohort of Certificate and Diploma programmes catering to the diverse needs of professionals all over the island.
The growth of the university was reflected in the expansion of facilities. New buildings sprang up on reclaimed land bordering the Narahenpita-Nawala Road – a new Senate House which offered space to all the administrative sections and had a spacious facility for Council and Senate meetings. A three-storey building was provided for the Faculty of Humanities and Social Sciences and a new Library building took shape near the Media Centre.
In addition Professor Wijeyesekera reached out to international centres of Distance Education and Open Universities across the world. In the early 1990s, he hosted with aplomb the Conference of the Association of Asian Open Universities (AAOU) and OUSL became a respected member of the AAOU as well as of the Commonwealth of Learning.
Dayantha Wijeyesekera began his career at OUSL in 1985 when the fate of the OUSL hung in the balance. Under his stewardship, the university burgeoned into a national university, a leader in Distance Education which others sought to emulate.. When he joined the OU, the student enrolment stood at 8,000. When he left, nine years later, there 20,000 students registered at the university. It was his hard work, his dedication, his commitment to academic progress that helped transform the OUSL.
May his soul rest in peace.
Open University of Sri Lanka
X-Press Pearl disaster
It will be a crying shame if we fail to get the much wanted and much spoken about compensation due to us for the monumental maritime disaster caused in around our shores when the X-Press went down.
Our government and all those departments and ministries responsible had ample time to make a water tight claim to make the compensation 1claim to the right place. The best available brains and talent to deal with this complex problem involving a host of subjects including the ecology, marine biology, shipwrecks, the law of the sea, maritime laws and whatever else should have been organized to fight our case.
The moment the disaster occurred, all concerned should have acted with single minded dedication to make a strong claim for compensation. Much video and other evidence of the damage done is available. All of us are aware of the shoals of fish, turtles and other sea creatures that died and were washed ashore and the plastic and oil pollution of our beaches. Some of those creatures that died live for over 100 years.
What we saw on our shore post-disaster was a heartbreaking sight. I don’t think it’s possible to assess the ecological damage done in monetary terms. The plastic nurdles the ship has been washed as far as Matara and it is said the acid pollution caused will be with us for a century. Fishermen have suffered great hardship by the loss of catch.
The case filed is being heard in Singapore. I hope the verdict will temper justice with mercy. The damage and misery suffered through no fault of ours is untold.
Padmini Nanayakkara, Colombo-3.
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