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Heard at the club – II

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Casino Kings have been very much in the news lately, but few can compare with our first Casino King, the inimitable, flamboyant, great-hearted Donovan Andree. He made money, and he flung away money. His many acts of kindness and generosity were legion.

About three decades ago, there was this young planter from the South who would sally forth to Colombo the weekend after pay day and have a flutter in Donovan’s ‘Three Clubs Casino’.

One day this planter lost heavily; in fact, his entire salary. Without money even to get back home, he sat in a corner of the casino, head in his hands, the picture of dejection.

Donovan Andree walking in, saw the hapless young man, almost in tears.

“What’s wrong, son?” asked Donovan, and the young planter told him the whole sad story.

“My dear chap,” said Donovan, placing a fatherly arm around the planter’s shoulders, “casinos are not for salaried people like you, they are for people with money to throw away.”

He then instructed the manager of the casino to refund every cent the planter had lost. Then he took the lad to the bar and gave him a few drinks on the house. Finally, he sent for the security officers outside the casino, and told them sternly that the young planter was never again to be allowed inside the casino.

***

My friend Sena is a confirmed bachelor, though many a pretty girl has given him the glad eye, prompting him to say, “It is easy to get married, but staying single is a difficult thing.” He has, however, been looking for the ideal woman for many years. But alas, he hasn’t found her, and now he has given up all hope.

Many years ago, when the local Lions’ Club was celebrating ‘World Services Day’, they distributed food parcels among the poor. My friend Sena was in charge of one such distribution centre, and noticing that one old man returned repeatedly to collect food parcels, Sena went up to the man and told him sternly: “That’s the third food parcel you have collected. I’ve been watching you.”

“Sir,” said the man piteously, “I have three wives!”

“Good Heavens, man,” gasped Sena. “You have three wives and here I am, unable to find even one! I congratulate you!”

And Sena had given the old Bluebeard a hundred-rupee bill.

***

One of our club members had run up several bar bills and despite many reminders, he had confessed that he was not in a position to pay them as his other vice, betting invariably left him broke. But one fine day, one of his ‘all-ons’ clicked, bringing him quite a packet. That evening he walked into the club like a lord, and with a flourish, settled all his outstanding bills. Then he pocketed the bills, ordered drinks all round, had a large one himself, went swaggering (or staggering?) home, had his dinner and slept.

Next morning, he went to the toilet, ascended the throne and gasped in dismay. For pasted on the inner side of the toilet door by an irate wife, were all the liquor bills he had settled the previous evening!

***

During a flu epidemic in Galle the doctors were kept busy. When a doctor (a private practitioner) walked into the club one evening, a member who was no poet but one after a few shots, recited this impromptu verse.

“An apple a day keeps the doctor away!

No apple a day keeps the doctor in the pay!

And the patients at bay!”

***

One day an elderly member recalled the days of his youth. He said that in 1922, at the young age of 17 years, he had joined his uncle who had a curio shop in La Palmas, one of the seven Canary Islands off the coast of Spain. There were about 70 Galle traders who had settled down there. Business there was good and they were all happy. It had the Nuwara-Eliya climate. There were rice and curry, plenty of meat and fish, fruit and wine, with low cost living.

All that was till General Franco came to power in Spain. Thereafter it was not possible to remit the earnings to the motherland. Some Ceylonese merged with the indigenous population while the others came back to Ceylon, adding that he was one of them who returned to his native Galle and started a business of his own (in a rare field) which flourished.

***

Lakshman Jayakody was a Cabinet Minister at the time, who sometimes used to spend a holiday with his cousin at Galle, whenever he found the time. His cousin lived on the same road I lived. And sometimes they picked me up on their way to the club, in the evening.

Lakshman was a public-school product, a sportsman of the friendly and unassuming type, who enlivened us at the club. One day, he asked me what I knew of his electorate of Divulapitiya, when my thoughts drifted to the dark days of 1915 riots, with a ‘shoot at sight order’ under Martial Law, when a brave young man from a wealthy family in Divulapitiya, Mark Leo Fernando, tried to make peace, but was kept against a wall with his hands tied and shot dead in the name of Law and Order. Lakshman was lost in thought.

***

One of my cousins was afflicted with a terrible form of eczema and when he got these attacks, which was often, his feet and legs would be covered with tiny running sores. At last, unable to bear it any longer, he went to a well-known doctor and begged to be cured of his affliction. “Curing your eczema is not a big problem,” said the doctor. “But I must warn you that you may develop asthma as a result. Many people do, you know.” Having but the haziest idea of what asthma was, and what it entailed, my cousin replied, “That’s all right, doctor, I’ll take the risk. Anything is better than this cursed eczema.”

The doctor gave him a course of injections, and the eczema began to disappear. Not long afterwards, my cousin got his first attack of asthma. He sat up all night, wheezing, coughing, groaning and moaning, unable to breathe properly or even talk. And the entire household had to dance attendance on him, applying all sorts of oils and balms on his chest, back, nostrils and neck. Early next morning he rushed to the doctor who had treated him, and wheezed. “Doctor, doctor, for God’s sake, can I have my eczema back?”

***

Several years ago, a young doctor attached to the Galle Hospital, then at Mahamodara, on the Galle-Colombo road, was in the habit of going to Colombo every pay day. He would come back to his quarters at the hospital in the last bus. As he approached the Mahamodara bridge, he would ring the bell and get off. One pay day, coming back dog tired and a trifle drunk, he fell asleep in the bus, and got up all of a sudden to see the Mahamodara bridge looming ahead. He quickly rang the bell and hopped out. It was only after he had got off that he realised, to his dismay, that he had got off at the Gintota bridge. By now the bus had disappeared and with a groan he began walking towards Mahamodara, a good two-and-a-half miles away. As he reached the Dadella Cemetery, a car stopped beside him, and one of the occupants offered him a lift.

Gratefully he got in, but instead of getting a seat by the window he found himself sandwiched between two tough looking men. It didn’t take him long to realise that the four men were denizens of the underworld, and his thoughts flew to his pay packet in his pocket.

Then quite unexpectedly, the doctor caught a break when one of the gang asked him what he was doing at the cemetery at that ungodly hour of the night.

“Oh,” said the doctor, his voice casual, “I went to see a corpse!”

“Now, where are you going?”

“To the hospital mortuary to see another corpse!”

Ammo, moo holmanak!” shouted one of the thugs. (“Ammo, this man is a ghost!) and pushing him out of the car, they fled!

****

Why is it that when the Chief Guest or his wife draws the winning ticket in a raffle, that person gives the ticket to one of the organisers to read out the name or the number of the winner? Is the Chief Guest illiterate or something? I ask this question because at a club social in the South several years ago, the first prize was a kerosene cooker. This was on display at the club, and while I was admiring it, one of the organisers of the social came up to me and whispered that a certain lady, the wife of a friend of his, was going to win it. “Are you a soothsayer?” I asked him in surprise. “How can you tell in advance who the winner will be?” The man just grinned and gave me a sort of pitying look, and said, “Wait and see”.

The raffle was the last event of the night, and the Chief Guest’s wife put a shapely hand into a bag containing all the raffle tickets, took one out and gave it to the organiser I had spoken to earlier. And lo and behold! He read out the name of his friend’s wife, just as he had predicted.

Then giving me a surreptitious wink, he tore up the ticket. I did not have the slightest doubt it was somebody else’s name on that ticket.



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Opinion

Do they know what Parliament is there for?

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By Dr Upul Wijayawardhana

The behaviour of our elected representatives, at times, is so reprehensible that it is becoming increasingly difficult to separate them from village thugs. In a way, it is not surprising because thugs are elected to positions of power. In fact, many others are waiting to be elected to the Provincial Councils, but I am sure many voters are hoping that these elections would never be held as they do not want more thugs to harass them. It is hoped that the second rung of government would be scrapped whatever our ‘big brother’ may say. However, we cannot do without the Parliament, and the behaviour of the members of the hallowed chamber has left us aghast. They simply do not seem to understand what the Parliament is there for. Maybe, the younger generations are not that concerned but we, ‘oldies’, are worried as this was not the way the ‘honourable members’ behaved in the past.

It is a great shame that the MP do not seem to understand that the Parliament is a place for discussion and debate, not cheap protests. If they have to be held, they should be within the confines of parliamentary norms. Though the Opposition uses this tactic more often, the governing party, too, indulges in this kind of gesture politics. Perhaps, it is the telecast of parliamentary proceedings that has resulted in these theatricals aimed at impressing the public.

What we are witnessing today, in addition to an inept government, is an Opposition engaged in gesture politics which, it seems to think, would propel them to power. Instead of contributing to nation building, in a constructive manner, with debate and discussion based on facts, members of the Opposition seem keen to hold protests inside the Parliament and spreading misinformation. Worse still, they engage in street protests, in spite of the fact that we are still in the midst of a pandemic that is far from being controlled, as well alluded to in The Island editorial “Enemies of people” (The Island, 17 November).

Even if all this can be excused, the despicable behaviour of some ‘honourable members’ can never be condoned. They seem to relish using unparliamentary language, even raw filth! Quite often, exchanges between the government and the Opposition descends into a slang match, not infrequently leading to fisticuffs. too. Instead of being punished, they are rewarded for their misdeeds. One ‘honourable member’ who tampered with the private parts of a man-in-robes was rewarded with a ministry during the previous Rajapaksa administration! By the way, I have stopped referring to those who act against the teachings and the Vinaya rules of the Buddha as Bhikkhus, as they are nothing but men-in-robes seeking personal glory and power. They are more selfish than laymen and fight for seats in the Parliament. I am waiting for a government bold enough to stop Bhikkhus being elected to Parliament!

Obviously, disgraceful behaviour does not seem to be limited to uneducated MPs. Whilst there is a justifiable clamour for the introducing of minimal educational qualifications for MPs, lack of educational qualifications does not seem to be the only problem. What we need is an attitudinal change. I was shocked to watch a recent news item, where only a part of a speech made by MP Sarath Fonseka, former Army Commander, was broadcast. More than half of his speech was ‘bleeped-out’, making me wonder whether he was using unparliamentary language. What would have happened if schoolchildren had been present in the public gallery to watch democracy in action!

The Speaker of the House is supposed to be the guardian of the dignity of the chamber and it is his bounden duty to stop MPs from using unparliamentary language and behaving like thugs, but our modern-day speakers seem to be behaving like puppets! In the British House of Commons, the word that often rings loud is “Order”, sometimes repeated in a terse manner. Recently, the British Speaker reprimanded the PM when he was out-of-order! When will that happen in Sri Lanka? By electing a former Army man as President, voters expected discipline at all levels of government and public administration but, unfortunately, we seem to be having indiscipline from Parliament downwards.

MP Tissa Kuttiarachci opened a new low in the Parliament by making a speech full of double meanings in referring to some female MPs. It was so offensive that even a female minister raised objections. When the Speaker reprimanded him, he had the audacity to demand to know what wrong words he had used! Any decent individual would not hesitate to apologise to anyone upon being told that their feelings were hurt, but he refused to do so! Do these MPs lack even common decency? Or, are they deluded by grandiosity?

Parliament need not be a dry place. Debates can be, and should be, interesting. Good natured humour would be tolerated, enjoyed even though remarks may carry hidden meanings. After all, it was the great democrat and parliamentary debater Dudley Senanayake, on an interruption by Maithripala Senanayake, turned to the Speaker and said “Sir, he has reasonable use of Tamil at night”, alluding to the ethnicity of his wife Ranjini. The house roared with laughter, Maithripala Senanayake was amused! That is the finesse the politicians of the modern day lack. Crudeness seem to be their forte!

We had amazing speakers in the Parliament, one of them being the late Anura Bandaranaike. Though I did not have the fortune to listen to him, my good friend Nihal Seneviratne, former Secretary General of Parliament, confided in me that Anura was one of those rare MPs who frequented the library in the Parliament to gather fact for his speeches.

When the new Parliament was constructed, there was widespread criticism which was silenced by Minister Ananda Tissa de Alwis with a wonderful speech at the opening session of the Parliament. What has happened to Sri Lanka?

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Opinion

Don’t deride Sri Lankan scientists

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I have been watching with interest the exchange of views among several parties that commenced with the Article written by Prof. Chandre Dharmawardana to which Mr. Chris Dharmakeerti responded. My name and some of my research publications have been quoted in these exchanges. I myself responded to Prof. Dharmawardena stating that I don’t belong to the ‘Natha Deviyo Group’ and he has kindly said that he never did so. I’m sorry for my mistake. Yes, Prof. Dharmawardhana, Dr. Waidyanatha and myself have known each other for over 50 years. Both of them were a couple years senior to me and were serving as junior temporary staff members at the University of Ceylon, Colombo (at that time) when I was a final year undergrad student following a special degree. Immediately after my graduation I was appointed to the academic staff of the University of Ceylon

Peradeniya (later University of Peradeniya) and continued to serve the University for 40 years until my retirement in 2006. During this period, I was the Head of the Dept of Botany (five times), Dean, Graduate Studies, Dean Faculty of Science and acting Vice Chancellor during the most difficult period of 1989/90. While attached to the UoP, I made use of sabbatical and vacation leave to work at the International Rice Research Institute Philippines, the International Atomic Energy Agency, Vienna, the Weizmann Institute of Science, Israel, and at the Washington State University and the San Jose State University in the USA. I’m not trying to brag, but writing all this to educate people like Bodhi Dhanapala who write derogatory, baseless insinuations in his emails as if we are petty thieves.

I share the patent on Prof Gamini Seneviratne’s innovation Biofilm Biofertiliser (BFBF) on invitation because I was the supervisor for his PhD research studies during which he learnt a lot on soil microbiology and also gave him useful advice at the time he was venturing to study rhizosphere microorganisms and develop multi-microbial inoculants. I have not participated in the large-scale field trials he conducted with BFBFs. I think he has effectively replied to his critics, subsequently supported by Prof. Ben Basnayake.

Now I will focus on my own work which also has come under scrutiny. Prof. Dhamawardana quotes some of my publications of 2012 and 2016 where he claims that I have written only of ‘a potential or encouraging results’ but not for large scale application by farmers. I fully agree. Those are publications on cyanobacteria (blue-green algae) and Azolla. Even today my position is they only have a potential which has yet to be realised and not yet ready to be recommended for the farmers. What I wrote about applying N2-fixing biofertilisers refer to Rhizobial inoculants which form symbiotic root nodules with leguminous crops. Please read my write up carefully and you will find a statement that ‘out of all N2-fixing organisms and systems application of rhizobial inoculants was the most successful. This technology is nothing new. In fact, it is more than 125 years old! The first rhizobial inoculant with the commercial name Nitragin was patented in the USA in 1896 by Nobbe and Hiltner. Afterwards, this technology was adopted worldwide. Howeison and Herridge (2005) reported that Australia is annually saving 3 billion dollars by the judicious use of rhizobial inoculants. Sri Lanka imports 40% of our mung bean requirements from Australia.

We adopted the technology of using rhizobia native to Sri Lanka and embedding them in a local carrier material (modified coir dust) which enabled us to field test and eventually recommend it for large scale application. In adopting this technology for Sri Lanka, we have gone through several years of study. Commencing with basic studies of isolation, purification, characterisation and identification of rhizobia from local legumes (crop and wild) we have built up a germplasm of rhizobial isolates.

These have been authenticated and screened under greenhouse conditions to select the best strains for different crops, field tested in small plots in collaboration with the Department of Agriculture at HORDI and other research stations. In the final stages of transfer of technology, the most promising strains were used in large-scale field trials, some of which were conducted with the participation of farmers under our strict supervision and those of the field officers of the Plenty Foods company. It is after more than 20 years of painstaking research studies that we were able to get a breakthrough and transfer rhizobial inoculant technology to Sri Lankan farmers.

The Department of Agriculture got confidence in our products in 2017. That year they used our inoculants for extensive field cultivation of soybean. Their trials were successful and we were presented with a CD containing 100 photos of their cultivations with our inoculants. Two such photos are reproduced with this article.

Today, the best customers for our inoculants are the Central and Provincial Departments of Agriculture. Our team at the NIFS, which produces and market these inoculants (with the approval of the NIFS Board of Management) was felicitated a few months back by the Governor of the Central Province for the services rendered to the bean farmers from Hanguranketha to Welimada for low cost, eco-friendly bean cultivation. It is not easy to get a new technology accepted by farmers. By August this year we have supplied inoculants for more than 15,000 acres and more orders are coming. All these results of our work with rhizobial inoculants were presented at the Post-`Covid international symposium of the NSF and eventually published in its Proceedings. This is the Kulasooriya et al (2021) publication I have quoted in my write up.

I believe I have provided enough evidence to show that our efforts are to provide as much as possible some technologies based upon local resources for low cost, eco-friendly crop production and not a scam as some expatriates seem to think. They must not make baseless insinuations against genuine local scientists.

Prof. S. A. Kulasooriya

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Opinion

More shipments of ‘organic manure’ from China

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It has been reported that the Minister of Agriculture is trying to resolve the dispute over the Chinese organic fertiliser shipment by paying 75 % of the claim amounting to USD 6.7 million in respect of the rejected shipment and buying fresh stocks from the same company.

Enough has been discussed about why organic fertiliser should not be imported to this country as it is against the law to do so, and the best way is to prepare organic fertiliser on farms as far as possible, since transport of the large quantities needed will be too expensive and also cumbersome and a hassle to the farmer.

It was surprising to hear about the decision to buy fresh stocks of fertilisers from the same Chinese company whose first shipment was not allowed entry by the Plant Quarantine officials of the Department of Agriculture on the grounds that the samples were found to be contaminated with harmful microorganisms.

In the first instance, as an officer who worked in the Ministry of Agriculture for more than 23 years, I am pretty certain that organic materials cannot be imported on a commercial scale as per provisions and regulations under the Plant Protection Act of 1981 and also the subsequent Plant Protection Act no.35 of 1999. Only small samples of such materials can be allowed by the Director General of Agriculture who is the implementing authority for the Plant Protection Act, and such samples can be used only for laboratory research work and cannot be added to the land. I am also aware that no amendments have since been made to the Plant Protection Act to change the provisions referred to above and the regulations thereon. Furthermore, it is doubtful whether such amendments can ever be brought in since plant quarantine is an issue that cannot be compromised according to the whims and fancies of governments, and is subject to international covenants/agreements.

Hence, it is pretty certain that importation of tons and tons of this “organic fertilser” is illegal, the irony here being the direct involvement, as a facilitator or promoter in this instance, of the Ministry of Agriculture, which should actually be the guardian of issues pertaining to plant quarantine. Had it been a private company, one could understand.

Besides, if the government decides to buy fresh stocks from the same company, whose first shipment was rejected due to contamination, what guarantee is there that the so called ‘fresh stock’ will not be contaminated. On the other hand, if this imported material happens to be sterile by some chance, it ceases to be organic fertiliser any more, for organic manure must necessarily have microorganisms. If microbial activity is not there, it will be some inert matter only.

Specifications laid down regarding the material to be purchased when an agreement was entered into between the buyer and the seller in this case are not known. If the material is organic fertiliser as the authorities keep referring to, it should necessarily have microorganisms. Then it follows that the samples will fail the test this time, too, and the shipment will have the same fate as the earlier one. This is what I could foresee., what we are buying is not organic manure or ‘organic fertiliser’ but some inert matter.

I sincerely hope and pray that those in charge of Plant Quarantine will abide by the regulations, and stand their ground as one cannot afford to play around with microorganisms especially when they come in bulk from foreign lands to a totally new environment here and right now, the whole world has been brought to its knees by just a virus. Hence there cannot be any compromise especially in dealing with microorganisms. Let us hope for the best any way, as this importation remains an ill-advised and illegal venture, if it goes through and it will be the first time ever that Sri Lanka effected a bulk importation of organic manure or “organic fertiliser”, in contravention of its own Plant Protection Act.

A. Bedgar Perera

bedgarperera@gmail.com

Retired Director/Agricultural Development

Ministry of Agriculture

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