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Hafeel Farisz’s lesson



I can’t remember how I met Hafeel Farisz. It must have been my writing. There was a time when I wrote on nearly everything and anything. I still do, but back then the brakes were missing; I just went on, unrestrained. One of the delights of writing nonstop is that it puts you in touch with people from nearly every shade of life. They send you their comments about the columns you’ve typed, encouraging you to continue and advising you on where to slow down and show restraint. Some remain for more than a message; most disappear into the void of the internet. A few hang on for much, much longer. But they are rare.

Hafeel belongs to Category Three. By the time I got to know him he had established himself as a journalist who not only read, but also wrote, between the lines. Modest to a fault, he kept coming back with tip after tip. I recall the discussions we had, though I can’t quite recall how they began and ended. We both had day jobs, yet somehow, somehow, found the time to talk. Eventually, to our pleasant surprise, we realised how much we thought alike.

I am, like Hafeel, an idealist, though on some matters only. We don’t share the same political stances, but we do agree on certain things. Hafeel is not a liberal, if by liberal you mean the coffee shop variety whom he has flayed so mercilessly in his columns. Neither am I. He likes, however, to see life without the veils we’ve thrown over everything we write. So do I. What makes us idealists there is not so much a desire to see things in a particular way as a desire to un-see them, to reveal the other side. Each of us believes, as strongly as the other, that there’s no point rejecting the past, if all you do is relegate it to the dustbin. History is formidable, yet as we have shown in our articles – him more than me – it is also complex. In that sense I suppose one can say we are more realist than idealist, and more idealist than liberal.

The trick, then, is not to repudiate or reject history, but to unveil those aspects of the past that have escaped the common readership. Hafeel has done that with Islamism, particularly in his defence of Sufi poets (whom he can conjure up in his mind and quote effortlessly, even over a telephone conversation) and his critique of extremist ideology. I am but a pale reflection of Hafeel; I’ve tried, without much success, to reveal the hidden history of what nationalists and social scientists term Sinhala Buddhism. Regardless of my failings though, the two of us have come to realise one crucial point: that religious ideology is never intrinsically exclusivist, that at its inception it carves a place for the outsider, the nonbeliever, the “heretic.”

A quarter-century ago, Qadri Ismail wrote that “identities are fluid, transient, always in flux.” By default an identity accommodates while it discriminates, embracing change and affirming transformation. This is what, long before Ismail, Martin Wickramasinghe wrote of Sinhala Buddhist identity: “Originality in cultural invention,” he once observed, “is nothing but the change, partial or complete, of a borrowed element in readaptation.” The late Siri Gunasinghe believed in this also; that formed the basis of his critique of Gunadasa Amarasekara. The Sufi mystics and early Islamic scholars made a similar case for change, particularly Al-Farabi and Avicenna. It is sad, if not regrettable, that Muslims today have forgotten these scholars, just as Sinhala Buddhists today have forgotten Wickramasinghe and Gunasinghe.

Of course they quote them and they celebrate them. But only selectively. What would Sinhala nationalists say, for instance, about Martin Wickramasinghe’s defence of the Bandaranaike-Chelvanayakam Pact, which he saw as an attempt to accord “the rightful place to the Tamil language”? What would Muslim extremists say about Al-Farabi’s rejection of the immortality of the soul and Avicenna’s belief that the soul, once it left the body, returned to a universe of disembodied beings (a Buddhist equivalent being the realm of the pretayas?) These were not radicals in the conventional sense of that term; they believed in tradition, and anchored their critique of culture in tradition. Yet they dared to think, and think different.

Perhaps we’ve misunderstood what radicalism actually means. To be a radical is not to reject everything from the past. This is an illusion even I subscribed to in my adolescence. It was a consequence, I think, of a misreading of Marx, who I assumed rejected everything to do with tradition. Yet Marx and Engels did not by any means fail to appreciate culture: to give one example, they both considered communal organisation among the North American Iroquois as an antecedent of communism. The issue is that in Sri Lanka, as in the rest of the non-West, Marxism is deployed as a critique of all things traditional, and it continues to occupy the echo chamber of left-liberals. To limit it to such echo chambers is not what I intend by a critique of our understanding of the past, and it is not what Hafeel intends either.

What we intend to prove is this: cultures are always evolving, and they are never immune to change. Cultural purism is a fiction; it does not exist, and if it does, it does so in the passing moment. Yet that in itself does not mean one should repudiate the past and rubbish history, as radicals do, for to repudiate is to forget what radicalism really entails: not a rejection of, but a return to, one’s roots. In this the purists are as wrong as the “radicals”: the former believe in monopolising the cultural narrative, while the latter believe in doing away with it.

The true believer of tradition does not always go back to the past, just as the true radical does not go always back on it; they embrace it on the understanding that it is subject to “revolution and evolution.” This is what Martin Wickramasinghe believed in as well.

I owe much of my understanding of that to several people. Among them, Hafeel. I do not know whether what I believe in is what most of us believe in. I do know this, however: if one is to move forward, heal the wounds of our society, and stand up for each other, one has to do more than just critique tradition. One has to delve into it, and in doing so, realise the ebb and flow of change our past has been built on. Now that would be a truly radical thing to do. But where are the radicals to see this through? Missing, as of yet. 2020 sorely needed them, here especially. My guess is that 2021 will need them more than ever.

Hafeel taught me some important lessons there. A thank you would be empty and hollow, but right now, it’s the best I can do. So thank you Hafeel. Thank you very much.


The writer can be reached at

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Sohan…adapting to the ‘new normal’



Surprisingly, the Coronavirus pandemic seems to have galvanised our entertainers into action.

True, most of the big bands are finding the going pretty tough, these days, as most public shows, like concerts, sing-along, and dances, have been put on hold.

Fortunately, we do have artistes who capitalise on unexpected situations to continue to keep the public, and their fans, entertained – of course, doing it differently

Band leader Sohan, of Sohan & The X-Periments fame, who is always innovative, when it comes to music, has hit upon a novel idea, in order to keep his band occupied, for the next three months.

He has decided to put The X-Periments into ‘recording mode.

Says Sohan: “I’m getting them involved in doing in-house recordings at my home studio.”

And, what’s more, I’m told that Sohan has found a secret sponsor, so the boys will be paid, too. Obviously, it’s a win-win situation and that makes Sohan extra happy!

The veteran artiste/entertainer went on to explain that the main CD will contain cover versions of his favourite songs, and will also include a duet with his daughter Erandika who is scheduled to be in Sri Lanka, hopefully, in May. She is currently in the States.

The song, Sohan has in mind, is that immensely popular golden oldie, made popular by the late Nat king Cole (and daughter Natalie Cole) – ‘Unforgettable.’

Clifford Richards will be seen in a virtual concert, along with Corrine Almeida, and Sohan

The second CD will feature Sohan’s original songs, both western and oriental. 

Sohan will be working with Shobi Perera, Kumar de Silva, Rajiv Sebastian, Roshan de Silva, Chrys Wikramanayake, Rukshan Perera and Damian Wikkramatillake on his novel project, while Krishantha de Silva, who manages Sonexco Enterprises, will take on the role of coordinator.

Although this project will keep The X-Periments, busy, one day of the week will be designated as ‘recording day’ and they have a deadline of three months to complete this project, said Sohan.

There is also a possibility of Sohan inviting a few of his friends to join him in the vocals but that will depend on the materiel he decides on.

“There is no point in hanging around, waiting for work. Musicians have to innovate and create work to keep going, during these challenging times.”

 Sohan is also working closely with Corinne Almeida  and Clifford Richards and has an idea of doing a virtual concert, with the same line up that was featured at the Valentine show, called  ‘Love at the Edge.’

Rajitha, of Misty, is helping them with the technical details of the show,

No doubt, things are looking a bit rosy for Sohan & The X-Periments, and Trishelle.. 

The guys are also working with Benjy and Aquarius, on a mega event, for Richard de Soysa, to be held at Nelum Pokuna,  which is scheduled for mid- May, of 2021, and will feature 10 leading artistes ..

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Remembering Dr. Neville Fernando



This tribute is in remembrance of my father-in-law, the late Dr. Neville Fernando who would have celebrated his 90th birthday on 9th March 2021. He passed away unexpectedly on the 4th of February 2021 due to the deadly COVID-19 virus.

His birthday will be remembered with an almsgiving to the priests at the Kotikawatta temple to invoke merits on him to attain the Supreme bliss of Niravana. Religious observances on his birthday were an annual occurrence even during his lifetime.

As I ponder his memories, being ‘no more’ is the saddest thought that crosses my mind. I suspect that if you are reading this you understand what I mean logically. Death means that our loved ones never grow a year older, although logic does little to clear up our confusion when his birthday continues to happen year after year.

His memories and deeds throughout his life brought back towards the day I joined his family, when I was just a medical house-officer at the Nawalapitiya Hospital in 1982, through the marriage to his only daughter. Even then he was known to be a real legend and an honest politician. Today, I am in this position as a cardiologist due to his encouragement, loving care and continuous assistance in whatever means. My mind is full of memories of those loving moments shared together. He was a loving, kind and straight gentleman. I may also use the words handsome and charismatic leader. He will inspire us throughout our lives. His pleasant disposition will charm anyone and uplift our mood.

He led a good life and now has a left a good legacy of four children( three boys and one girl) whom any father would be proud of, nine grandchildren and five great grandchildren loved by everyone. He is now no more and no one can fill the void nor bring back the warmth and love he exuded.

We all have courage and we have our convictions, but rarely have the courage of our conviction. His kindness and compassion were his key attributes that made him so special. He had been a good general practitioner before coming to Parliament defeating a formidable leftist politician Leslie Goonewardene who represented Panadura for decades. It was a landmark victory for the UNP in 1977. He was a kind and compassionate doctor who served the rich and poor alike in Panadura for many years and was sought after by his patients for his well known ‘athguna’ (healing hands). This is where he earned his loyal fan base to enter into politics.

Among many things he achieved in Panadura establishing the “Kethumathi” Maternity Hospital, the only one of its kind outside Colombo, helping Sri Sumangala Girls College expansion programme, starting Agamathi Girls school and Janadhipathi Boys School and self funding the Sri Saugatha Vidyalaya Pirivena building at n the Rankoth Viharaya temple in Panadura. Likewise he helped many Buddhist temples during his tenure.

He also started an industrial zone in Modarawila, Panadura which was an abandoned marshy area before that. He had provided the first computer lab and two acres of additional land to expand the Sri Sumangala Vidyalaya which is spoken with gratitude by the students of his alma mater. He did not expect anything in return.

He was a fearless ,principled and honest man who opposed JRs’ motion to takeaway Mrs.Bandaranaikes’ civic rights as he never wanted to compromise his basic human qualities over politics. Very soon he left the Government before any attempt to expel him and formed a small party with few other honest politicians. Later he joined SLFP on the invitation of Mrs.Bandaranaike and worked in the party as an Assistant Secretary for the progress of the country.

He was a maverick par excellence ,an entrepreneur ,extraordinaire and a businessman with a foresight. As one of the pioneers in the hospitality industry, he built hotel Swanee, subsequently he started JF and I, one of the most modern printing and packaging factories in the country to date. He also pioneered a porcelain factory called “Royal Fernwood Porcelain” in Kosgama. Which provided so many employment opportunities and in time to come, helped to economically develop the area.

Continuing his political career, he entered Parliament again as an SLFP opposition member. Later on in 1994 he decided to give up politics.

His divestments in the Porcelain factory enabled him to purchase Asha Central Hospital which was developed with latest equipment and brought to international standards. This is the time I had to take a difficult decision to leave the Government as a Consultant Cardiologist and join Asha Central Hospital in 1998 to help him in his endeavour. He developed and managed Asha Central Hospital till 2007 and subsequently sold it to start his new venture SAITM or South Asian Institute of Technology and Medicine with the encouragement of the then Min.of Higher Education Wishwa Warnapala.

Infact I was very much concerned about the new development because of the past experience in the country with the North Colombo Medical College. He always used to tell “every child should have the right for a decent education either in a government or non-government organisation”. His main vision was to give a higher education opportunity for the students .Therefore apart from medicine he also established nursing, engineering , IT, management programmes with the help of esteemed academics who believed in his vision. He established the Dr Neville Fernando Teaching hospital (NFTH) in Malabe to provide clinical training for his students at the medical faculty .It was a impressive state of the art hospital with 1002 beds and latest medical equipment . All of this was done during his 80s which was a remarkable achievement.

SAITM gave him immense pride and a lot of pain at the same time. He was very proud of the fact that he was able to give so many scholarships to deserving students (close to Rs.600 million scholarships during his time).In addition to saving a tremendous amount of foreign exchange he was also able to give an opportunity to students to stay in Sri Lanka with their parents, without having to go overseas for their education leaving behind all family and friends.

However, he had to face many obstacles during this period and was socially and politically crushed due to SAITM. With time, he made a decision to give the NFTH to the Government in return for the clinical training of the medical students of SAITM. In 2017 SAITM was closed down by Maithripala Sirisena who gave in due to the heavy opposition made by the unions against private medical education.

At 89 years of age he was an avid Facebook warrior and used to keep abreast of what was going on in the social media. He was a big cricket fan and never missed watching a cricket match day or night.

Writing about this unique personality cannot be limited to a few words. His life is a monumental story full of new chapters. He dreamed big and his dreams were of public service, even when he was no longer a politician. He yearned to make this country a better place for people to live in, even in his eighties.

May his journey of Sansara be a short one and may he attain the supreme bliss of Nirvana!


Dr Mohan Jayatilake

Consultant Cardiologist



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Boogie Night with Suzi



Yes, music lovers, get ready to boogie the night away, this Saturday, March 13th.

From 9.00 pm to 10 pm, you would be given the opportunity to see Friends’ former female vocalist, Suzi Croner (Fluckiger) boogie away on Facebook, on Talent Network Group (TNG).

Suzi is excited about this new scene, which will be live streamed, worldwide., and she plans to belt out songs from the Friends’ era (’80s and ’90s), country, and rock ‘n’ roll.

She is already working on her repertoire and says she will make ‘Boogie Night with Suzi’ a real exciting event.

TNG is a Dubai-based project, administered in Dubai, with moderators, worldwide.

And, that means, the whole world is going to see Suzi boogie away.

Several local artistes have already been featured on TNG.



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