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Givantha Arthasad animates life

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By Uditha Devapriya

On the way to Moratuwa from Piliyandala you cross the Bolgoda Bridge, where the path bifurcates between the road to Katubedda on your right and the road to Rawathawatta on your left. The road to Rawathawatta is smaller, and yet more crowded: you pass countless furniture shops, fruit and vegetable stalls, fishmongers, and grocery stores, as well as a church and a temple. After driving on for two kilometres, you wind into a suburb called Shramadhana Road, which forks into several small lanes.

 

This is where Givantha Arthasad lives.

I initially found it difficult to locate him, because of the maze-like lanes that lead to his house. Once I found it, however, all those other houses seemed to vanish before me; this one looked like it stood a world or two apart from them.

A series of steps lead to a lower elevation, with copious shrubs and bushes flanking either side. The veranda, where I sat down to meet the man I had come to talk to, was adorned with so much craftwork and so many designs, including paintings and clay figures, that I could only be awed. I felt like I had walked into a lair.

Givantha Arthasad likes to call himself an artist. What kind of artist? Diplomatically, he refrains from answering. For someone who led so many lives – graphic designing, painting, photography, drama, cinema, television, broadcasting, and journalism – calling him an artist hardly captures his versatility, since his contributions surpass anything a crass generalisation of that sort can lead us to assume. This is his story.

He was born Baminihennedige Givantha Arthasad Peiris in Katunayake to a religiously devout father and mother, both of whom were involved in education: his father, George A. Peiris, was the Scout Commissioner of Sri Lanka, while his mother, Dulcie Peiris, worked as a teacher. “I initially attended Methodist College in my hometown, where my father served as principal, before being sent to Wesley College Colombo from Grade Two.”

Givantha inherited his artistic touch from his parents. “My mother used to bring children in our neighbourhood to our home, where she taught them to make toys, sculpt, and paint for free. Naturally, she taught me too.” His father, on the other hand, taught him “to read newspapers upside down, and to read aloud, paying close attention to the dramatic nuances of a passage.”

With these early encounters, he moved on to Wesley. His first class teacher there had seen him paint, and, since he painted well for his age, had even once remarked, “You shouldn’t have been born in a country like this.” That classteacher was Cyril Wickramage.

He hadn’t been the only staff member who’d encouraged his talent. “My Grade Three class teacher, Mrs Ivy Marasinghe, used to conduct art classes after school which we helped her with. During weekends she took us to watch cartoons. That’s where I encountered the world of animation, from Mickey Mouse to Donald Duck.”

Surprisingly for someone who loved to draw, young Givantha opted for science at Wesley. This became a problem when his studies clashed with his desire to paint and to submit what he painted to various art competitions. The principal of Wesley back then, the renowned educationalist Shelton Wirasinha, had to sign his work before it could be despatched, “and almost every time I went to his office, he’d say something to the tune of ‘Putha, we can’t do this every day, it would be better if you chose art.’”

Not that he cut himself from science. In fact, physics had been one of his favourite subjects. “As I moved up, I graduated from geometry to mechanical drawing. I can’t say these didn’t influence my career. For instance, when we draw, the foundation for our work is the line and the circle. No matter what those who try to divide art and science try to say, there will always be a scientific aspect to drawing. I realised this very early on.”

Still, as he confesses, “Mr Wirasinha’s prodding caused me to wonder whether I ought to be studying science.” Fortunately for him, through the intervention of Wirasinha and Jayantha Premachandra, the head of the Arts Section, he shifted from the science stream to Arts. As for his elders, “my father had wanted me to become a parson due to a promise they’d made to God after the death of my elder brother.” But they gave into his wishes. “After my O Levels, they allowed me to do what I pleased.”

The problem for Givantha was that no institution taught the field he had chosen. “The only place I could go to was Heywood. But Heywood taught music. I realised soon that it wasn’t my cup of tea, so I decided to teach myself.” He reckoned that “an opportunity would come my way.”

The opportunity did come, much sooner than he’d reckoned.

Linus Dissanayake, a doctor turned film producer, had started a small but prominent studio called Dissanayake Studios. It had bankrolled Professor Siri Gunasinghe’s groundbreaking film Sath Samudura in 1967, which featured a breakthrough performance by Givantha’s first class teacher at Wesley, Cyril Wickramage. Three years later the studio financed another landmark production, Vasantha Obeyesekere’s Wes Gaththo, also starring Cyril.

By the time of Wes Gaththo’s release, Givantha had come into contact with Dissanayake, “from whom I borrowed a camera and went on to make a short animated sketch on Andare. The Film Critics’ and Journalists’ Association nominated it for their annual Short Film Festival in 1971, where I competed with Sunil Ariyaratne and Dharmasena Pathiraja.”

Givantha’s next destination was Ceylon Theatres, where, thanks to his friendship with the comedian and singer Freddie Silva, he made contact with “a man called Derrick Fernando, who worked as an official there,” and Titus Thotawatte, “who taught me filmmaking and introduced me to Andrew Jayamanne, who taught me cinematography.”

By now he had made another animated short film, Muhuda Yatin Ira Payayi, which won for him a Jury Prize from the Film Critics’ and Journalists’ Association in 1972. His third attempt, seven years later, would leave behind a much larger imprint on cinema.

That third film, Dutugemunu, was not well received by officials at the time of its release in October 1979, though the few ordinary people who saw it had been thrilled by it. Based on an important episode from Sri Lankan history, its charm lay mainly in the dazzlingly novel way it presented an otherwise serious subject.

“I didn’t follow a conventional narrative,” Givantha tells me. “Instead of relating the story of the hero, I started with an unlikely beginning: a cat visiting the Ruwanwelisaya Dagaba with its kittens, which ask about the story behind its construction. From there the film relates the Mahavamsa version of events. The cat figures in those events because in one of its previous births, it had served as Dutugemunu’s purohita or chaplain.”

Boasting a prominent cast, including influential figures from Givantha’s own childhood (Cyril Wickramage voiced the eponymous hero, while Felix Premawardhana the thespian, who’d taught literature at Wesley, voiced his main soldier, Nandimitra), Dutugemunu concentrated on the hero’s search for the giants in his battle against Elara. With Henry Jayasena voicing Kavantissa and Givantha voicing various other characters, it was tipped to be a watershed. As things turned out though, “audiences barely noticed it.”

The issue hadn’t been with the audiences. It had instead been with political authorities. In 1977 the United National Party had come to power promising, on the one hand, a dharmista samajayak or a ‘righteous society’, and on the other, ethnic coexistence.

According to Givantha, “certain educationists thought the story of Dutugemunu was not amenable to coexistence, given the racialist overtones of his triumph over Elara. They made a complaint to the Education Ministry, which excised the story from textbooks and imposed a ban on any form of propagating it. That is why I was forced to take out my film right after I’d released it.” An avoidable tragedy, because the movie didn’t carry a racist message – “It was entertainment for kids based on Westerns like The Magnificent Seven!” as Givantha puts it – and also because the director had toiled hard to make its characters – including the sunglass-wearing cat that takes us through history – come alive onscreen.

How hard had he toiled, really? Consider that this was a time when digital cinema remained, even in the West, a distant dream. “I had to insert India ink on every frame. In each of my first two films I used more than a thousand such frames. Dutugemunu used more than that. You can imagine the concentration I had to put into these efforts.”

Mercifully, he didn’t have to suffer a loss due to the ban. Far from it, in fact: he tells me that “I bought this house with the compensation I got, for costs incurred on the production, from the authorities after they ordered theatres to stop screening my film.”

The controversy over Dutugemunu notwithstanding, Givantha proceeded to the next phase of his career. Six months before Dutugemunu’s release, television had made its entry to the country. The following year Givantha was sent to study television in Berlin. Upon his return he was posted to the Animation Division of the Sri Lanka Rupavahini Corporation. Later, through a request by the then State Minister Anandatissa de Alwis and then Secretary at the Ministry Sarath Amunugama, he got to work in various other Divisions as well.

In 1987 he tendered his resignation from Rupavahini, two years after he had discovered his eyesight was failing. “Dr Upali Mendis, the head of the Eye Hospital, told me my retina had got damaged, and I’d lose my sight in a few years. He said I would have to live with God. Well, God has been merciful to me. I can see clearly even now,” he tells me.

He also discovered a new career: stamp designing. On the walls of his veranda is a huge poster displaying his most prominent designs, including the 150th anniversary stamp of Royal College and a stamp issued to celebrate the opening of the Victoria Dam. Once again, in a pre-digital era, “drawing these wasn’t the easiest thing to do, even for an artist like me.” For the Victoria Dam stamp, for instance, Givantha had to personally visit and survey the site, “just to come up with a miniature graphical representation.”

In 2001, 22 years after Dutugemunu, Givantha made Sri Lanka’s first digitally animated film: Mahadana Muththayi Golayo Roththayi. Due to the then ongoing war, however, it too passed by unnoticed, though on those who saw it (including an eight year old me), it made a favourable impression. It certainly made an impression on the OCIC. At the 28th OCIC and UNDA Awards Ceremony the following year, it won a Special Jury Prize.

Last year he screened his third feature film – after Dutugemunu and Mahadana Muththayi Golayo Roththayi – called Eureka, for dignitaries and journalists. Unfortunately, it still hasn’t been released. There’s little doubt it’ll pass by noticed this time; in fact there’s reason to believe Givantha will get his long sought after place in the sun that his first two films barely garnered, and his third feature length masterpiece did not, with this newest venture.

The writer Thilakarathna Kuruwita Bandara describes Eureka as an experimental work that may well become “a turning point in the cinema for young directors.” Only time will tell if the film, as a whole, stands up to such an estimation. Until then, we can only wait.

 

The writer can be reached at udakdev1@gmail.com



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Sat Mag

Notes on a not-so radical class

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By Uditha Devapriya

A little over a year ago, Devani Jayathilaka, the Gampaha Division Wildlife Officer now on a crusade against the government, stood up to a State Minister and got away with it. Objecting to Sanath Nishantha’s proposal to build a children’s playground on forest land, she stood her ground even as the Minister and his acolytes attempted to intimidate her.

Videos of Devani retorting to Nishantha and those acolytes gained supporters across social media. Public opinion being very much with her, the government quickly began feting her: Bandula Gunawardena said that the Cabinet took her side, and S. M. Chandrasena regretted the incident while half-heartedly exonerating the Minister.

Devani Jayathilaka’s courage was seen at the time as a symptom of the President’s resolve to make the bureaucracy more independent and efficient, free of bias and politicisation. As such, supporters of the government jumped on the bandwagon. The Daily News dedicated an entire editorial to her, calling her “the toast of all environmentalists, nature lovers and generally all those who cherish our country’s legal and constitutional integrity.” Hopefully, the laudatory piece concluded, “this signal act… will be a beacon to others in the public service to do their bit in fulfilling their public duty while resisting the pressures of politicians.” The subtext was unmistakably clear: the President’s reformism had empowered the officer’s activism.

A year later, and here we are: the premature love affair aborted, the feeling of celebration dampened. Yet could one have expected otherwise? At no point here in living memory have environmental concerns permeated every layer of society, from Colombo’s civil society to Sinhala nationalist outfits, as they are now. A broad conjuncture of oppositional forces, some drawn from organisations that fuelled the ideology which brought the government to power (such as the Sinhale movement), has pitted itself against that government’s apathy over the environment, while social media continues to enthrone activists: environmentalists and state officials. The President’s men, meanwhile, seem to be resorting to a policy of either ignoring or retorting to these voices. In both cases, it’s the government that has lost out.

It is hard not to side with the activists. They have a point: no regime has engaged properly with the environment. Between 2017 and 2019, forest cover reduced from 29.7% to 16.5%. It was the yahapalana government, remnants of which are tweeting against the present regime’s environmental record now, that held

the reins of power then. Yet the administration before it was no different: in 2012, to give just one example, roughly 1,585 hectares of primary forest land were lost, the biggest annual loss in a decade. The numbers for 2020 and 2021 have not been released yet, but there’s no doubting they are as big as, if not bigger than, these figures; according to the Rain Forest Protectors of Sri Lanka, forest cover stands at 17%, above what it was in 2019, but well below the 30% promised by the president.

The politics of the campaigns against the government, however, goes well beyond a simple dichotomy between political representatives and wildlife activists. Frustratingly enough, it’s not easy to put a finger on the dynamics of these protests, to draw a line between protagonists and antagonists within them, not least of all because a simple twofold division – government versus us – has been replaced by a threefold one in them: the government (high level officials included) on one side, activists and officials on another, and us on yet another.

Led by a mostly Sinhala and Buddhist lower middle-class, including the clergy (no less than the Sinhala Ravaya), these campaigns, which have mobilised activists and officials, appear to have unearthed a rather interesting contradiction from within that middle-class: a distrust of political representatives, and an ambivalent attitude towards lower level officials. To identify this contradiction for what it is, and explore it, is not easy: that requires research, the mettle of an anthropologist or ethnographer, and I am neither. Yet from what little I have been able to gather, it appears that this recent spurt of activism has facilitated a shift in the character of anti-state activism, particularly in its class composition. How so?

Devani’s message resonates profoundly with a section of the country’s upward aspiring middle-class, educated mostly in Sinhala but idealising a better life: one to which they feel both government representatives and private interests are obstacles.

They hold contrasting views regarding the state. As far as the government proper – Ministers plus high level officials – is concerned, they are against it. It’s a different story with officials, not least because of the latter a great many hail from the milieu they do: Sinhala educated and upward aspiring. This is the demographic Patali Champika Ranawaka is targeting through his “43 Senankaya”, a demographic parties have not tried to court until fairly recently.

What explains their relationship with the state? Regarding government representatives, their opposition is easy to rationalise: most of these representatives are seen to have risen to where they are now by foul means, not fair. That irks an educated middle-class bereft of political or economic power; simply put, they feel hard done by, left out, unrepresented.

Such feelings of distrust cut through parties; indeed, a defining characteristic of the middle-class is the absence of a unifying political ideology. Any Opposition which believes that by coming to power on the strength of their convictions it can expect support from them forever is therefore walking on water, for this lower middle-class happens to be adamantly protean. It is their protean character, incidentally, that explains their response to state officials.

Their view of the latter is borne out by two main considerations: that they hail from the same class background, and that, since of late, these officials have taken up arms against political authorities, a group whose actions are seen as burdening the lower middle-class.

Indeed, far from berating officials like they berate political authorities, the lower middle-class rebelling against the regime share a desire to enter the bureaucracy as either professionals or administrators, though through education attainment, and not political backing. This desire is essentially a retread of the demand made by unemployed graduates: they want to fill a post in a state institution as soon as they leave university. Under Gotabaya Rajapaka their integration into the bureaucracy has been remarkably rapid: by September last year, for instance, around 60,000 graduates had been absorbed into the Public Service, as part of his “Rata Wenuwen Weda” programme. Yet even this rather modest realisation of lower middle-class aspirations has failed to dampen, or stunt, lower middle-class opposition to his government.

To sum up, what we are seeing here is a division between state officials, assumed to have entered the government through merit, and political representatives, assumed to have entered it through influence. That Devani Jayathilaka continues to be idealised by this class therefore points at the consolidation of a uniquely petty bourgeois consciousness, which at once aspires upward in the bureaucracy, and pits itself against the government overseeing the bureaucracy. Gravitating to meritocratic ideals, they have become a huge floating electorate.

This raises another point: their disavowal of party politics. Let’s not mistake karawala for mallum here, however; the line this milieu touts, that they lack party ideology, should not mislead one into thinking that they can’t be co-opted into any party ideology. For those who believe that a non-political middle-class rebelling against an elected government, even one infringing every other norm in the book, is incapable of political manoeuvring, the case of Anna Hazare offers a counterargument: opposed to political groups, what Hazare achieved in the end was an electoral landslide for just such a group, Narendra Modi’s BJP.

By no means am I saying that Anna Hazare was/is to India what officials crusading against political representatives are/will be to Sri Lanka. Yet not unlike Hazare, these officials have given what little of an Opposition that’s there in the country some much needed ammunition (with which to topple the government). Far from welcoming such a state of affairs, I see two problems with this: the lack of a proper policy on the environment from the Opposition (apart from a few perfunctory protests), and the risk of letting what environmentalists are combating continue under a future administration led by that Opposition. As environmentalists and Left activists have pointed out only too clearly, much of what is being protested against, including the Sinharaja debacle, can be traced back to the yahapalana period. How wise would it be to trust the party that held the cards then so much as to return them to power now?

To these two problems one can add a third: the contradiction between the social conditioning and the activism of the middle-class. That contradiction translates itself into another: between political ideals that pit this middle-class against political authority, and social aspirations that orient them towards personal achievement in education and employment.

One can ask why this is a problem, why it’s so problematic. In matters of political concern, so the idealists say, personal matters are of no relevance.

But that’s precisely the issue. How pertinent are one’s personal aspirations to one’s political inclinations? Not pertinent, some would say; pretty pertinent, in my book.

That leads us to a crucial issue, the most important to crop up from what we’re seeing today: the extent to which those leading the protests are willing to own up to how class aspirations, and not just state complicity, have contributed to environmental degradation.

Let me reduce this to a simple query: how much do you attribute everything wrong with the environment to the government’s doing and non-doing, and how much do you attribute it to, say, our propensity to import, a major factor in environmental degradation?

To be fair, of course, it’s not only imports. The truth is that degradation of the environment is linked inextricably to an economic model rooted in consumerism and urbanisation.

But that merely reinforces my point: consumerism is promoted by the private sector, and urbanisation by the public, because both have an audience: the same middle-class blaming the government for what’s happening to our forests, our rivers, our way of life.

To restate this as simply as I can, then, the problems of environmental degradation today are the result of a decades-long experiment with capitalism and neoliberalism that has failed. The crisis is thus a crisis of a consumerist and exploitative model based on a capitalist framework. Now no critique of what is happening to our forests can evolve without taking this model into consideration. As perhaps its biggest beneficiaries, the middle-class must hence recognise the need to formulate an alternative model to it, in line with their activist inclinations.

However, in continuing to ignore if not marginalise this need, those taking the government to task over the environment are offering an inadequate response, radical enough to question the regime for its failings, yet not radical enough to question our embracement of an acquisitive, consumption-led economic model that has contributed to the quagmire we are in. Now I hate gazing into crystal balls, but if this is what will continue in the future, then these protests, no matter how laudable, will someday, somehow, fizzle out. That would be a pity.

The writer can be reached at udakdev1@gmail.com

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Sat Mag

CELEBRATING EARTH DAY: THE VOICE OF THE NEXT GENERATION

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Our world needs transformational change, and it is time for us, those of the present generation to hold ourselves accountable for our role in the environmental crisis while also calling for bold, creative, and innovative solutions. This year marks the 51st anniversary of Earth Day and this Webinar is designed to commemorate the occasion and to support the worldwide efforts to conserve and revitalize the environment of the blue planet that is our home. If we are to succeed, we must listen to the children who will link hands from around the world during this webinar and voice their concerns and ideas to preserve a pristine environment for their generation.

This is the 17th of a series of virtual zoom panel discussions hosted by the America-Sri Lanka Photographic Art Society in Los Angeles California, USA (ASPAS); Member of Photographic Society of America (PSA) and The International Federation of Photography of Art in France (FIAP). The objective of the series is to showcase the beauty of world fauna and flora and promote environmental conservation in the context of nature photography and tourism, with a special focus on the grandeur of Sri Lanka’s natural habitat. The upcoming programme will commemorate World Earth Day 2021.

At a previous ASPAS Webinar, Dr. Peter H. Sand, former Secretary-General of ICUN, stated, “Pandemics, such as coronavirus, are the result of humanity’s destruction of nature, the illegal and unsustainable wildlife trade, as well as the devastation of forests and other wild places, are the driving force behind the increasing number of diseases leaping from wildlife to humans.” The ASPAS Webinars are intended to offer a platform to discuss a more balanced relationship with these ecosystems and the tools that can help us reach this objective, so that future generations can continue to enjoy and benefit from them sustainably and responsibly.

Earth Day marks the anniversary of the birth of the modern environmental movement in 1970 which gave voice to an emerging public consciousness about the state of our planet. Our planet is an amazing place, but it needs our help to thrive! That is why each year on April 22, more than a billion people celebrate Earth Day to protect the planet from pollution and deforestation and environment related issues. By taking part in activities like picking up litter and planting trees, we are making our world a happier, healthier place to live.

In the decades leading up to the first Earth Day, the world was consuming vast amounts of leaded gas through massive and inefficient automobiles. Industry belched out smoke and sludge with little fear of the consequences from either the law or the press. Air pollution was commonly accepted as the smell of prosperity. Until this point, the world remained largely oblivious to environmental concerns and how a polluted environment threatens human health. Since, the great challenge for the environmental community is to combat the cynicism of climate change deniers, well-funded oil lobbyists, reticent policy makers, and a disinterested public. In the face of these challenges, Earth Day prevailed and established itself as a major movement for global action for the environment.

Over the decades, it has brought hundreds of millions of people into the environmental movement, creating opportunities for civic engagement and volunteers in 193 countries. Earth Day engages more than 1 billion people every year and has become a major steppingstone along the pathway of engagement around the protection of the planet.

Now, the fight for a clean environment continues with increasing urgency, as the ravages of climate change become more and more apparent every day. As the awareness of our climate crisis grows, so does civil society mobilization, which is reaching a fever pitch across the globe today. Digital and social media are bringing these conversations, protests, strikes and mobilizations to a global audience, uniting a concerned citizenry as never before and mobilizing generations to join together to take on the greatest challenge that humankind has faced.

It is quite apparent that the youth of our world should also be engaged in this vital conversation as an absolutely indispensable partner.

Governments have recognized this for decades and many have introduced some level of climate and environmental education into their education systems. But the truth is that impact of climate and environmental education is in some cases week, cursory, and still in many countries non-existent. In the decades since the launch of the global environmental movement, it is estimated that more than 3 billion young people have graduated from high school having learned little or nothing about one of the greatest issues that will shape their lives and their livelihoods for decades to come.

The time is now, indeed it is long overdue, for a massive environmental literacy campaign that can create a generation of citizens, workers and leaders who really understand why and how to stop climate change and environmental degradation, ensuring that every student around the world completes their formal education as an environmental and climate literate citizen. A citizen who is ready to take action and speak up for change and build knowledge and skills for the growing green sector of clean energy, efficient transportation, sustainable business and making themselves competitive for new jobs.

The youth must also equip themselves with the knowledge and skills needed to build a better future and be stewards of this planet. They must learn that to sustain a functional society and economy, natural resources must be used wisely and efficiently while protecting the ecological systems to ensure clean air, clean water, and food security for all.

But just as vitally, we need to equip future generations with the knowledge, skills, and enthusiasm to survive and indeed thrive in the decades to come. And that begins in school. Even world leaders recognized that pivotal role as far back as 30 years, when the countries that forged the original United Nations climate change treaty in 1992 at the Rio Earth Summit enshrined climate education as an essential part of a national response to a global emergency.

Educationists believe every school in the world must have compulsory, assessed climate and environmental education with a strong civic engagement component. They have also pointed out that the onus for developing environmental consciousness in youth could not be the sole responsibility of schools as the young people need the help of adult allies. There is a role for everyone, parents, relatives, and society to support youth voices and stand alongside them.

It is in that spirit that the America-Sri Lanka Photohtaphic Art Society Los Angeles, led by its President, Suriya Jayalath Perera, has organized this Webinar to bring together 10 young people from the U.S., the U.K., Canada, and Sri Lanka to voice their concerns and present their ideas on the occasion of Earth Day 2021. Youth from ages six to 18, will address the entire gamut of environmental issues from climate change to plastic pollution. It would be a truly ground-breaking event, and you can be a part of it by virtually joining them on Sunday April 18th, 2021. The webinar will be moderated by Medini Ratnayake.

More Information: www.usacaaspas.com

Join us live on Sunday April 18th, at 8.30 P.M. 2021 https://www.facebook.com/aspaslausa/live Nandasiri (Nandi) Jasentuliyana, Former Deputy Director-General, United Nations

 

 

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Sat Mag

How to flush cholesterol out of your body

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Cholesterol is a waxy, fat-like substance found in all the cells in your body. Your body needs cholesterol to make hormones, vitamin D, and substances that help you digest foods. Your liver makes all the cholesterol you need. The cholesterol in your body that you do not need comes from animal bodies.

If you have more cholesterol in your body than you need, then you are heading for heart disease and heart attacks. A build-up of cholesterol narrows arteries, causing a restriction of blood flow to the heart. Very often a person with high cholesterol levels has no symptoms until he has his first heart attack.

This is even more problematic if you are overweight – which you will be, because the food that causes an increase in cholesterol also increases your weight. Though some cholesterol components are stored in the liver and gallbladder, the main storage area is in fat cells called adipocytes. When you have too much cholesterol, these cells swell up and you gain weight. Too much cholesterol can be caused by eating too much fat or carbohydrates.

 

There are two types of cholesterol: HDL and LDL

High density lipoprotein (HDL) is good cholesterol which protects you from hearts attacks, and strokes, by mopping up excess bad cholesterol. It takes the cholesterol that you don’t need back to the liver. The liver breaks it down so it can be passed out of your body. LDL is bad cholesterol. This blocks the blood supply and causes strokes and heart attacks. Non-HDL take cholesterol from the liver to the cells around your body. Too much bad cholesterol (non-HDL) can be harmful because it sticks to the inside walls of your arteries. This can lead to fatty material (atheroma) building up – this process is known as atherosclerosis.

Cholesterol is found in animal foods, meat, milk, butter and cheese.

There are only two things that raise cholesterol in the blood: saturated and trans fats.

Saturated fats are found in meats, dairy products, chocolate, baked goods like biscuits and popcorn, margarine, deep-fried, and processed foods, basically junk food.

Trans fats occur in some fried and processed foods, also in junk food.

In adults, total cholesterol levels less than 200 milligrams per deciliter (mg/dL) are considered healthy. 200 – 239 mg/dL is borderline high. 240 mg/dL and above is high. LDL cholesterol levels should be less than 100 mg/dL.

How do you know that your cholesterol levels are high? You usually don’t. There are no typical signs if you have high cholesterol, which is why it is so important to get it checked. It is a hidden risk factor, which means it happens without us knowing until it is too late. Some people get soft, yellowish, growths or lesions on the skin, especially round the eyes, called xanthomas. If you are lucky you develop left-sided chest pain, pressure, or fullness; dizziness; unsteady gait; slurred speech; or pain in the lower legs. Any of these conditions may be associated with high cholesterol.

How do you flush cholesterol out of your body?

Stop eating meat or drinking milk. Avoid ghee, butter and paneer, and seafood like crabs, shrimps and lobsters. Don’t smoke. Exercise. Eat fewer refined grains such as maida. Foods to avoid if you have high cholesterol levels include white bread, white potatoes, and white rice, highly processed sugars. Fried foods should be avoided, as well as foods high in saturated fats.

Eat fruits, vegetables, beans and whole grains, every day.

A report from Harvard Health has identified foods that actively decrease cholesterol levels: Oats, barley and whole grains, beans, eggplant and okra, nuts, vegetable oil (canola, sunflower), fruits (mainly apples, grapes, strawberries, and citrus), soy and soy-based foods. Eating just one and one-half cups of cooked oatmeal a day can lower your cholesterol by 5 to 8%. Oatmeal contains soluble and insoluble fibre – two types that your body needs.

In June 2020 a report, led by Imperial College London Majid Ezzati, et al.​ and involving dozens of universities, “Repositioning of the global epicentre of non-optimal cholesterol” ​was published in Nature. It said that while cholesterol levels have declined in high income countries, particularly Europe, since 1980 , they have increased vastly in lower and middle income countries, with Asia, specially Southeast Asia, now being the centre.

The reason for this is the consumption of animal-based foods, refined carbohydrates (maida) and palm oil. In short, the heart attack and stroke risks have been globally repositioned with the shifting of a high cholesterol diet.

A group of nearly 1,000 researchers, from around the world, analysed data from 1,127 studies comprising 102.6 million adults, to assess global trends in cholesterol levels from 1980 to 2018. This is the largest ever study of global cholesterol levels.

Previously cholesterol was considered a problem in high income Western countries.

The report said that Belgium, Sweden, Switzerland (the centre of the milk/meat diet) and Iceland (meat) had shown the steepest declines in cholesterol, going from the highest to the lowest. There has been a sharp drop in LDL cholesterol in the UK, according to the British Heart Foundation.

China, which had the lowest levels of cholesterol in 1980, was among the highest in 2018. India, Malaysia, Philippines and Thailand have not covered themselves in glory either.

In 1980 Australian women ranked 32nd highest in the world in cholesterol levels. Today they are 146th . Australian men have fallen from 31st highest to 116th. 

Dr Avula Laxmaiah, National Institute of Nutrition, one of the authors of the research paper, said LDL cholesterol among Indian men ranked 128th in 1980 and remained the same in 2018.  Women are 139th in the global line-up.

Other conditions, that can lead to high cholesterol levels, include diabetes drugs that increase LDL cholesterol and decrease HDL cholesterol, such as progestins, anabolic steroids, and corticosteroids. India is one of the highest users of steroids – not directly, but through these being fed to chicken.

The authors have suggested that each country in Asia set into place prices, and regulatory policies, that shift diets to non-saturated fats. But, at the end of the day it is not prices that will decide – meat/chicken and milk are already expensive but it doesn’t stop you from eating them. You will have to take a personal decision, depending on how much you value your life or the lives of your family.

(To join the animal welfare movement contact gandhim@nic.in, www.peopleforanimalsindia.org)

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