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Going off to a new life in Singapore

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Sold my appliances and pyrex to Abans to pay my bond

by Sumi Moonesinghe narrated to Savithri Rodrigo

Our romance flourished. We kept seeking ways to be together, keeping our meetings under wraps and very secretive. Most often, our rendezvous was at the hotel where it all began, Hotel Suisse in Kandy. We always booked adjoining rooms – 91 and 92 — and met over the weekends. We would leave on Friday evening and return on Sunday, but deliberately traveled separately.

I was under the impression that our relationship was top-secret, but Susil’s friends had by now deduced the story and would rib him whenever they met him about the young lady he had fallen in love with. This included Susil’s good friend Upali Wijewardene, probably one of the country’s earliest successful entrepreneurs and founder of the Upali Group. He took to teasing Susil incessantly with the coined phrase, “91-92”.

I had been invited to the Asia-Pacific Broadcasting Union (ABU) meeting in Manila. The ABU is a collective of over 260 members from 70 countries and a member of the World Broadcasters’ Union with the mandate to develop broadcasting in the region. Being a broadcast engineer, I was very excited to be among other similar-minded professionals. After my training at the BBC, this would be first time I would be having a dialogue and participating in discussions in not just broadcast engineering, but standards, systems and frequencies pertaining to radio and television. And another reason for me to be excited; as the head of CBC, Susil too had been invited to the ABU meeting.

When we returned to Sri Lanka after the meeting, Susil took my passport, saying it was for safekeeping. By this time, I was totally in love with him and never asked questions. He also told me he had decided to leave his wife. Throughout this time, I had well-meaning friends who would advise me about my actions. They would constantly tell me how wrong I was in engaging in an affair with a married man, that I was breaking up a family and as a last resort, that I deserved better, in an attempt to tap into my self-worth and dignity.

It wasn’t that I didn’t know right from wrong. I understood that my friends were right and what I was doing was wrong. But the attraction was just too strong and there was also that stubborn recklessness in me that must have liked taking things to the edge – living on the brink. I just carried on regardless.

It was understood now that we were together.

When I underwent a minor surgical procedure, it was Susil who visited me in hospital every day, feeding me meals prepared by his mother. He came from a family where sons could do no wrong especially in a mother’s eyes and hence, when he did tell his mother about me, she seemed to approve. It was not that I didn’t have my bouts of good sense kicking in. There were times when I would feel a semblance of guilt and cut off all communication with Susil. Then it was his mother who would call me and plead on her son’s behalf.

Since Susil had told me he was leaving his wife, it was more or less understood that the next step was marriage although he never articulated it until many months later. While returning from Kandy one day, he said, “You must say ‘Yes’ to getting married.” Susil had this way of asking me things and I could never say “No” because I was deeply in love with him. But this time, I stood my ground. “No way,” I said quite adamantly. “I’m going back to England. I want my passport back!” But of course that never happened.

As luck would have it, Susil was going on an official trip and we decided that I would join him. I took a month’s leave from the station. To avoid any unnecessary gossip, he left earlier and I joined him later in Karachi. From there, we first went to Paris so he could attend to some work pertaining to CBC. As a businessman, Susil had acquired a wide network of contacts and we were wined and dined quite extravagantly; although when it was just the two of us, we spent some idyllic moments – cruising on the River Seine and walking the streets of Paris.

From Paris, we flew to London. Susil had obtained special [permission from Prime Minister Sirimavo Bandaranaike to visit London and Paris, citing a need to meet the people he had met in broadcasting circles. In London, he called Mrs. Bandaranaike and asked if he could go to Washington DC as well. Again she agreed, but asked him to meet the Sri Lankan High Commissioner in London and the Ambassador in Washington DC.

Susil would never let me leave his side. He took me wherever he went, which also meant I was with him at every one of his official meetings, lunches and dinners. So, I accompanied him to dinner at High Commissioner Tilak Goonaratne’s official residence in London and then, when we got to Washington, to Ambassador Dr. Neville Kanakaratna’s residence as well. While in DC, Susil took me to a play at the Kennedy Center and I laughingly reminded him of the play we went to in Colombo, when he couldn’t take his eyes off me.

We traveled from Washington to Hong Kong and stayed at the Mandarin Hotel. From there, it was onto Singapore. Somewhere along this trip, we had decided that we would definitely get married. But that decision also meant many feathers would be ruffled in Sri Lanka. We realized that given Susil’s status both in politics and in society, we couldn’t continue living in Sri Lanka after we married.

Having thought long and hard about what we could do, when we landed in Singapore, I made contact with the Chairman of Singapore Television whom I had met at the ABU Conference in Manila. I asked him if he could find me a job and he unhesitatingly said “Yes” because my training in colour television at the BBC was a rare commodity. At very short notice, he organized an interview for me with the Head of the Singapore Institute of Research Dr. Lee Kum Tat, who offered me the post of lecturer at the Singapore Polytechnic, the first and oldest polytechnic in Singapore. My new appointment would give me the status of an expatriate lecturer plus a very attractive salary and a lovely apartment to top the deal off.

With this job in hand and knowing we had a route out of the country, Susil and I took the flight back to Colombo. With my job confirmed at the Singapore Polytechnic, my next task was to resign from my post at CBC. I quickly wrote my resignation letter and handed it to the Director General of CBC. The resignation was readily accepted. We could never have predicted however, that the acceptance of that letter was to be his last official duty as Director General of CBC.

As we landed in Colombo, the news hit us that Susil had been dismissed from his post at CBC. Neither of us could understand the reason but Susil surmised that it was the powerful Minister of Public Administration Felix Dias Bandaranaike who was instrumental in the dismissal. It was well known that since the attempted coup d’etat in January 1962 when a group of officers from the military and police planned to topple Sirimavo Bandaranaike’s Government, Felix was responsible for aborting that coup and the investigations that followed and had thus become a very influential member of her cabinet.

Mrs. Bandaranaike entered politics in 1960 following the assassination of her husband Prime Minister S W R D Bandaranaike by a Buddhist monk at their Rosmead Place home Tintagel. She was the first woman Prime Minister in he world. Her Government stayed in power until 1965 when she lost the election, but she remained in Parliament as the Leader of the Opposition. She regained power in 1970 with her United Front Coalition, a triad of the Communist Party, Lanka Sama Samaja Party and the Sri Lanka Freedom Party.

This was 1970 and Mrs. Bandaranaike’s second stint as Prime Minister. Susil concluded in hindsight, that after a decade in politics, Mrs. Bandaranaike should be a mature politician and didn’t quite need to be influenced by her cousin Felix. But there was no point in pondering over questions we didn’t have answers to. Whatever the reasons and whoever directed it, Susil had been dismissed.

During our one month away, we had been blissfully unaware of the wheels which had begun turning in Sri Lanka in our absence. Susil’s wife Ganga had heard about us and visited my parents, of which again, I was unaware. Having no inclination of Ganga’s visit to Kegalle, I made my habitual visit to see my parents after we returned from our one month overseas. They never confronted me but kept repeating, quite vehemently, that I shouldn’t return to Colombo.

This insistence went on for hours, with my mother in tears and my sister very upset. Ignorant of what had transpired, this behaviour was quite baffling to me until my little niece spilled the beans. In all her innocence, she said, “A fair aunty came in a big car from Colombo to see Achchi and Seeya.” I deduced this was Ganga as being of Sindhi’ descent she was fair complexioned and the big car was the Moonesinghe car.

In the close-knit environment of my conservative village in Kegalle, gossip is rife. Everyone knows everything about everybody and news generally spreads like wildfire. So, if someone says, “Your daughter has eloped with a married man,” there would be absolute loss of face for my family. They were teachers who had always been held in high esteem in Kegalle and a black mark like this would be hard to bear. Susil’s family, on the other hand, were hardly affected because his mother already knew about us and these things were accepted as part of life. There was nothing scandalous.

Despite my family’s pleadings, I had to get back to Colombo. My sister’s husband drove me back. It was quite a silent drive as there was quite a dark cloud of unspoken questions that needed answers hanging over our heads.

Colombo was teeming with the news. I had never realized this would be the way it all panned out. It became unbearable and I just wanted to escape. To assuage some of the troubles that kept bubbling to the surface, Susil wisely got a seat for Ganga on the inaugural Air Lanka flight to London so she would be spared the gossip that was swirling the city.

However, Ganga wouldn’t let things slide by so easily. Once she got to London, she made contact with my boyfriend, who until this point was unaware of the series of events that had unfolded in Colombo. I hadn’t told him anything. On hearing the entire story from Ganga, he subsequently told me he was heartbroken beyond comprehension and even had bouts of disbelief. “I still believed we were going to get married,” he said. It transpired eventually that we would remain good friends, with our families intertwined in that strong friendship we nurtured decades ago.

The next step was paying my bond. Since I had resigned from my job at CBC, I was obligated to repay my bond which was quite sizable at that time. On my various trips abroad, I had stocked my home at Sulaiman Terrace with a range of duty free appliances. I put them up for sale. There was a Hoover polisher, Electrolux vacuum cleaner, Belling cooker, Necchi sewing machine and Pyrex dishes, all of which in the 1970s constituted a treasure trove.

The country was pursuing an economy shaped by socialist ideology, which in the simplest of terms, brought on a ban on imports and import substitution. My appliances therefore proved to be a boon for one innovative entrepreneur, Aban Pestonjee, who was just starting off her business. She would eventually found one of the biggest conglomerates in the country, the Abans Group of Companies, and be the first entrepreneur to introduce Korean technology to Sri Lanka. A remarkable woman indeed!

Susil’s uncle was the High Commissioner in Canberra, and a few years earlier, Susil had sent his daughter Tara to study in Canberra under his care. However, with all that was going on, Ganga brought Tara back to Sri Lanka, much against Susil’s wishes. This disrupted Tara’s education and added to the complications. Ganga left no stone unturned to get Susil back.

Susil finally did leave Ganga and came to stay with me at Sulaiman Terrace with just the clothes on his back, two pairs of trousers and a few shirts. I lost nearly all my friends during this period. I had Loretta who stood steadfastly by my side, allowing us to stay with her until we left for Singapore. I also remember my friend Nali’s husband, whom I had known from 1960, sitting with me for two hours and coaxing me to rethink what I was doing. I was treated like a pariah because everyone felt sorry for Tara, the child caught in the middle, a reaction that was understandable.

Just before we left for Singapore, I went with Susil to see my parents to tell them about my job offer and that I was leaving Sri Lanka for some time. My mother didn’t come out to see me and only my father spoke with me. I remember him telling me, “I have faith and trust in your ability to make decisions for yourself and I respect them. Be careful.”

While there were upheavals and lots of bad blood at the time, Ganga, Tara and I eventually became very close friends and it was a friendship that lasted throughout Ganga’s last years and through Tara and her children as well. I am grateful that as I grew and matured, I managed to resolve some of the issues I grappled with, even in a small way, by being there for both Ganga and Tara as part of my hybrid family.

As a Buddhist, the resolution of the hurts we cause is an important aspect of the concept of Karma. It is a blessing to carry no evil into the afterlife. I was young, foolish and in love. But the older and wiser I grew, I realized I too had my own punishment meted out when my marriage to Susil ended and the whole cycle of love, loss and pain in was completed in one lifetime. That is the karmic cycle.



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BRICS emerging as strong rival to G7

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It was in the fitness of things for Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi to hold a special telephonic conversation with Russian President Vladimir Putin recently for the purpose of enlightening the latter on the need for a peaceful, diplomatic end to the Russian-initiated blood-letting in Ukraine. Hopefully, wise counsel and humanity would prevail and the world would soon witness the initial steps at least to a complete withdrawal of invading Russian troops from Ukraine.

The urgency for an early end to the Russian invasion of Ukraine which revoltingly testifies afresh to the barbaric cruelty man could inflict on his fellows, is underscored, among other things, by the declaration which came at the end of the 14th BRICS Summit, which was held virtually in Beijing recently. Among other things, the declaration said: ‘BRICS reaffirms commitment to ensuring the promotion and protection of democracy, human rights and fundamental freedoms for all with the aim to build a brighter shared future for the international community based on mutually beneficial cooperation.’

It is anybody’s guess as to what meanings President Putin read into pledges of the above kind, but it does not require exceptional brilliance to perceive that the barbaric actions being carried out by his regime against Ukrainian civilians make a shocking mockery of these enlightened pronouncements. It is plain to see that the Russian President is being brazenly cynical by affixing his signature to the declaration. The credibility of BRICS is at risk on account of such perplexing contradictory conduct on the part of its members. BRICS is obliged to rectify these glaring irregularities sooner rather than later.

At this juncture the important clarification must be made that it is the conduct of the Putin regime, and the Putin regime only, that is being subjected to censure here. Such strictures are in no way intended to project in a negative light, the Russian people, who are heirs to a rich, humanistic civilization that produced the likes of Dostoevsky and Tolstoy, among a host of other eminent spirits, who have done humanity proud and over the decades guided humans in the direction of purposeful living. May their priceless heritage live long, is this columnist’s wish.

However, the invaluable civilization which the Russian people have inherited makes it obligatory on their part to bring constant pressure on the Putin regime to end its barbarism against the Ukrainian civilians who are not at all party to the big power politics of Eastern Europe. They need to point out to their rulers that in this day and age there are civilized, diplomatic and cost-effective means of resolving a state’s perceived differences with its neighbours. The spilling of civilian blood, on the scale witnessed in Ukraine, is a phenomenon of the hoary past.

The BRICS grouping, which encompasses some of the world’s predominant economic and political powers, if not for the irregular conduct of the Putin regime, could be said to have struck on a policy framework that is farsighted and proactive on the issue of global equity.

There is the following extract from a report on its recent summit declaration that needs to be focused on. It reads: BRICS notes the need to ensure “Meaningful participation of developing and least developed countries, especially in Africa, in global decision-making processes and structures and make it better attuned to contemporary realities.”

The above are worthy goals that need to be pursued vigorously by global actors that have taken upon themselves the challenge of easing the lot of the world’s powerless countries. The urgency of resuming the North-South Dialogue, among other questions of importance to the South, has time and again been mentioned in this column. This is on account of the fact that the most underdeveloped regions of the South have been today orphaned in the world system.

Given that the Non-aligned Movement and like organizations, that have espoused the resolution of Southern problems over the decades, are today seemingly ineffective and lacking in political and economic clout, indications that the BRICS grouping is in an effort to fill this breach is heartening news for the powerless of the world. Indeed, the crying need is for the poor and powerless to be brought into international decision-making processes that affect their wellbeing and it is hoped that BRICS’s efforts in this regard would bear fruit.

What could help in increasing the confidence of the underdeveloped countries in BRICS, is the latter’s rising economic and political power. While in terms of economic strength, the US remains foremost in the world with a GDP of $ 20.89 trillion, China is not very far behind with a GDP of $ 14.72 trillion. The relevant readings for some other key BRICS countries are as follows: India – $ 2.66 trillion, Russia – $ 1.48 trillion and Brazil $ 1.44 trillion. Of note is also the fact that except for South Africa, the rest of the BRICS are among the first 15 predominant economies, assessed in GDP terms. In a global situation where economics drives politics, these figures speak volumes for the growing power of the BRICS countries.

In other words, the BRICS are very much abreast of the G7 countries in terms of a number of power indices. The fact that many of the BRICS possess a nuclear capability indicates that in military terms too they are almost on par with the G7.

However, what is crucial is that the BRICS, besides helping in modifying the world economic order to serve the best interests of the powerless as well, contribute towards changing the power balances within the vital organs of the UN system, such as the UN Security Council, to render them more widely representative of changing global power realities.

Thus, India and Brazil, for example, need to be in the UNSC because they are major economic powers in their own right. Since they are of a democratic orientation, besides pushing for a further democratization of the UN’s vital organs, they would be in a position to consistently work towards the wellbeing of the underprivileged in their respective regions, which have tremendous development potential.

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Queen of Hearts

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She has certainly won the hearts of many with the charity work she is engaged in, on a regular basis, helping the poor, and the needy.

Pushpika de Silva was crowned Mrs. Sri Lanka for Mrs. World 2021 and she immediately went into action, with her very own charity project – ‘Lend a Helping Hand.’

When launching this project, she said: “Lend a Helping Hand is dear to me. With the very meaning of the title, I am extending my helping hand to my fellow brothers and sisters in need; in a time where our very existence has become a huge question and people battling for daily survival.”

Since ‘Lend a Helping Hand’ became a reality, last year, Pushpika has embarked on many major charity projects, including building a home for a family, and renovating homes of the poor, as well.

The month of June (2022) saw Pushpika very much in action with ‘Lend a Helping Hand.’

She made International Father’s Day a very special occasion by distributing food items to 100 poor families.

“Many are going without a proper meal, so I was very keen, in my own way, to see that these people had something to keep the hunger pangs away.”

A few days later, the Queen of Hearts made sure that 50 more people enjoyed a delicious and nutritious meal.

“In these trying times, we need to help those who are in dire straits and, I believe, if each one of us could satisfy the hunger, and thirst, of at least one person, per day, that would be a blessing from above.”

Pushpika is also concerned about the mothers, with kids, she sees on the roads, begging.

“How helpless is a mother, carrying a small child, to come to the street and ask for something.

“I see this often and I made a special effort to help some of them out, with food and other necessities.”

What makes Pushpika extra special is her love for animals, as well, and she never forgets the street dogs that are having a tough time, these days, scavenging for food.

“These animals, too, need food, and are voiceless, so we need to think of them, as well. Let’s have mercy on them, too. Let’s love them, as well.”

The former beauty queen served a delicious meal for the poor animals, just recently, and will continue with all her charity projects, on a regular basis, she said.

Through her charity project, ‘Lend a Helping Hand,” she believes she can make a change, though small.

And, she says, she plans to be even more active, with her charity work, during these troubled times.

We wish Pushpika de Silva all the very best, and look forward to seeing more of her great deeds, through her ‘Lend a Helping Hand’ campaign.

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Hope and political change:No more Appachis to the rescue

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KUPPI on the current economic and political crisis: intervention 1

by Harshana Rambukwella

In Buddhist literature, there is the Parable of the Burning House where the children of a wealthy man, trapped inside a burning house, refuse to leave it, fearful of leaving its comfort – because the flames are yet to reach them. Ultimately, they do leave because the father promises them wonderful gifts and are saved from the fire. Sri Lankans have long awaited such father figures – in fact, our political culture is built on the belief that such ‘fathers’ will rescue us. But this time around no fathers are coming. As Sri Lankans stare into an uncertain future, and a multitude of daily sufferings, and indignities continue to pile upon us, there is possibly one political and emotional currency that we all need – hope. Hope is a slippery term. One can hope ‘in-vain’ or place one’s faith in some unachievable goal and be lulled into a sense of complacency. But, at the same time, hope can be critically empowering – when insurmountable obstacles threaten to engulf you, it is the one thing that can carry you forward. We have innumerable examples of such ‘hope’ from history – both religious and secular. When Moses led the Israelites to the promised land, ‘hope’ of a new beginning sustained them, as did faith in God. When Queen Viharamahadevi set off on a perilous voyage, she carried hope, within her, along with the hope of an entire people. When Martin Luther King Jr made his iconic ‘I have a dream’ speech, hope of an America where Black people could live in dignity, struck a resonant chord and this historical sense of hope also provided inspiration for the anti-Apartheid struggle in South Africa.

This particular moment, in Sri Lanka, feels a moment of ‘hopelessness’. In March and April, this year, before the cowardly attack on the Gota Go Gama site, in Galle Face, there was a palpable sense of hope in the aragalaya movement as it spread across the country. While people were struggling with many privations, the aragalaya channeled this collective frustration into a form of political and social action, we have rarely seen in this country. There were moments when the aragalaya managed to transcend many divisions – ethnic, religious and class – that had long defined Sri Lanka. It was also largely a youth led movement which probably added to the ‘hope’ that characterized the aragalaya. However, following the May 09th attack something of this ‘hope’ was lost. People began to resign themselves to the fact that the literally and metaphorically ‘old’ politics, and the corrupt culture it represents had returned. A Prime Minister with no electoral base, and a President in hiding, cobbled together a shaky and illegitimate alliance to stay in power. The fuel lines became longer, the gas queues grew, food prices soared and Sri Lanka began to run out of medicines. But, despite sporadic protests and the untiring commitment of a few committed activists, it appeared that the aragalaya was fizzling out and hope was stagnant and dying, like vehicles virtually abandoned on kilometers-long fuel queues.

However, we now have a moment where ‘hope’ is being rekindled. A national movement is gathering pace. As the prospect of the next shipment of fuel appears to recede into the ever-distant future, people’s anger and frustration are once again being channeled towards political change. This is a do-or-die moment for all Sri Lankans. Regardless of our political beliefs, our ideological orientation, our religion or class, the need for political change has never been clearer. Whether you believe that an IMF bailout will save us, or whether you believe that we need a fundamental change in our economic system, and a socially and economically more just society, neither of these scenarios will come to pass without an immediate political change. The political class that now clings to power, in this country, is like a cancer – poisoning and corrupting the entire body politic, even as it destroys itself. The Prime Minister who was supposed to be the messiah channeling international goodwill and finances to the country has failed miserably and we have a President who seems to be in love with the idea of ‘playing president’. The Sri Lankan people have a single existential choice to make in this moment – to rise as one to expel this rotten political order. In Sri Lanka, we are now in that burning house that the Buddha spoke of and we all seem to be waiting for that father to appear and save us. But now we need to change the plot of this parable. No father will come for us. Our fathers (or appachis) have led us to this sorry state. They have lied, deceived and abandoned us. It is now up to us to rediscover the ‘hope’ that will deliver us from the misery of this economic and political crisis. If we do not act now the house will burn down and we will be consumed in its flames.

Initiated by the Kuppi Collective, a group of academics and activists attached to the university system and other educational institutes and actions.

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