HERD IMMUNITY: A good analogy is protection of calves in a herd of wild buffalos from predation by leopards. A sizeable number of adult bulls and cows in the herd attack and repulse leopards. Once in a way, a leopard would succeed dragging a calf, but a large majority of calves survive to ensure the continuation of the species. (Picture courtesy HAP Channel: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=igx_pr6ptAg&ab_channel=HAPChannel)
By Prof.Kirthi Tennakone,
National Institute of Fundamental Studies
With the advent of coronavirus vaccines, the idea of herd immunity is gaining ground – but often misunderstood or considered something hard to fathom. Herd immunity means the resistance a community develops against an infectious disease, when a fraction of its residents above a threshold acquires immunity either by exposure to the pathogen or vaccination. Thus, achieving herd immunity could safeguard individuals who cannot be immunized for reasons of being too young, convalescent or because of inadvertent inaccessibility.
A good analogy is protection of calves in a herd of wild buffalos from predation by leopards. A sizeable number of adult bulls and cows in the herd attack and repulse leopards. Once in a way, a leopard would succeed dragging a calf, but a large majority of calves survive to ensure the continuation of the species. If leopards prey exclusively on buffalos, they might be starved into extinction. Buffalos and leopards live in the jungle because the latter also hunt other animals. Similarly, in absence of non-human reservoirs of the pathogen, herd immunity provides a way of controlling an infection causing an epidemic or a pandemic and the elimination of the causative agent.
History and theory of herd immunity
Epidemics originate when a pathogen invades a population devoid of immunity. Science fiction writer H.G. Wells in his novel, “The War of the Worlds”, says Martian invaders were not immune to earthly microbes and all died due to an infection. We are not so alien to viruses here and the ability to make antibody machinery to fight them are genetically imprinted in our bodies.
Even in olden days when precautionary measures remained completely unknown or misunderstood, maladies ended before everyone caught the infection. Those days, epidemics were considered divine punishments or expressions of anger of deities. The cause that receded them; attributed to prayers, rituals or offerings to the demons, has been in fact the natural herd immunity.
The Mahavamsa and the Elu Athanagalu Vamsa refer to a catastrophe during the reign of King Sri Sanga Bodhi (252-254 CE). According to the legend in the latter script; a demon named Ratharaksha came to Sri Lanka and cast a spell reddening the eyes of people who stared at it in fear. Many who looked at the eyes of those afflicted also developed red eyes and contracted the illness. Very high mortality thinned the population of the land and the distressed king, ritualistically confronted the demon driving it to exile. The version of the story in Mahavamsa is similar but implicate a female demon Ratarakshi. What is the infectious agent behind this outbreak? From the symptoms described and the extreme contagiousness implied, the illness that ravaged the kingdom seems to be measles. The herd immunity threshold of measles exceeds 95%. There was also a famine accompanying the epidemic. Presumably, malnutrition and absence of immunity greatly increased the measles death toll.
Ages ago people lived in isolated communities. Therefore, an infectious disease which decelerated and vanished after reaching herd immunity did not remerge until the immunized percentage was lowered by people born subsequently. Many epidemics, notably small pox and plague followed cyclic patterns for this reason. Later on, the establishment of vast human settlements and extensive migration, turned epidemics into pandemics and many diseases remained endemic. Historians have also argued that the consequent wider dispersion of diseases, boosted the immunity of the global human herd thereby escalating the population growth.
The idea of herd immunity was first introduced by the American veterinarian George Potter in 1917; he noted a cattle disease disappeared on its own when animals were not introduced to the herd from outside. He said disease resembled a fire which extinguished when all fuel has been consumed.
In 1919 bacteriologist W. Topley infected a few mice in a large colony with a germ. He observed the infection expanded, subdued and stopped after infecting only a certain percentage of mice. Further clarification of difference between individual immunity and herd immunity followed from the work of American statistician A.W. Hedrick. He studied the epidemiology of measles in United States 1900-1911 and concluded measles epidemics ceased when 68% of children under 15 years became immunised after contraction of the illness.
The idea of herd immunity was firmly established after invoking mathematics into epidemiology – mathematician turned physician Sir Ronald Ross pioneered the theme.
Ronald Ross, born in India 1857, received his education in the United Kingdom and returned to his country of birth after qualifying as a doctor. He joined the Indian Medical Service 1880 and worked in Bangalore badly infested with mosquitoes. At the time malaria was suspected to be associated with mosquitoes. Curious, Ronald strived hard to understand how it was transmitted. Mosquitoes in the place he lived has been a nuisance; he closed all stagnant pools in the vicinity of his residence and found the mosquito number falling drastically, but realized complete elimination would be an impossibility. When Ronald Ross was transferred to a station free of malaria, he declined to work in a locality free of malaria!
In 1895, Ronald Ross identified the malarial parasite in stomach of anopheles mosquitoes proving its mode of transmission. He was awarded 1902 Nobel Prize in Physiology for this work done in India.
Having found the cause of malaria; Ronald Ross determined to find a way to eradicate it and resorted to mathematics in attempting to find an answer. His remarkably insightful mathematical analysis revealed malaria could be eradicated by reducing the mosquito population below a threshold dependent on human population density, and the impossible task of destroying every anopheles mosquito was unnecessary. Following work of Ronald Ross, another physician A.G. Kendrick and biochemist W.O. Karnack both well versed in mathematics generalized Ronald Ross’s hypothesis, concluding the progress of infectious disease in a community depends on the average number of infected persons reproduced by one single carrier of the pathogen. If this number referred to as basic reproduction number (R) exceeds unity, the infection could expand into an epidemic whereas when the number is less than one the disease subsides after infecting a few. From statistics pertaining to the growth of an infection, the basic reproduction number can be estimated.
It is easy to see how an infection evolves depending on whether R is greater or less than one. Suppose 10 persons contracted with an infection with R=2 enters a susceptible population. On average, they pass sickness to 20 individuals and this 20 in return reproduce 40 cases – an endless series of ascending numbers. If R is less than one you obtain a descending sequence – implying cases die down.
Herd immunity threshold
Suppose a population of N persons includes a number M of individuals immune to a disease. The fraction of immunes in the population is M/N (M divided by N). From simple school arithmetic, it follows that the fraction of persons not immune (susceptible) is (1- M/N). In the presence of immunes, the basic reproduction number scale down proportionately to the fraction of the susceptible population so that the effective reproduction number is (1 –M/N) times R, written as (1-M/N) R. The threshold happens when the effective reproduction number is exactly equal to unity, implying (1 –M/N) R = 1 or equivalently M/N = 1 – 1/R. The fraction M/N given by the above formula, referred to as herd immunity threshold is normally expressed as a percentage. For example, measles being highly contagious, the basic reproduction number can take values close to 20. Setting R = 20 in the formula, we obtain M/N = 0.95. Expressed as a percentage, the herd immunity threshold for measles is 95. To protect a community against measles, over 95 percent of the population needs to be vaccinated.
Vaccinating a community to exceed the herd immunity threshold would not abruptly halt an epidemic. Although the incidence of the disease gradually decreases, vaccinations and containment measures have to be continued until positive cases disappear completely – smallpox was eradicated this way.
Can we achieve herd immunity to COVID-19?
Coronavirus vaccines have arrived sooner than expected – many countries including Sri Lanka expeditiously commissioning inoculation campaigns.
Vaccinations and continuous adherence to precautionary measures will undoubtedly tame the virus. However, it is premature to assume global herd immunity would follow and the pandemic will soon end.
According to some estimates an upper bound to basic reproduction number for COVID -19 is around 2.5. Formula M/N = 1- 1/R explained previously, imply that the herd immunity threshold corresponding to R = 2.5 is 60 percent. Vaccines may not be 100 percent efficacious. For an 80 percent effective vaccine, the above thresholds increase to 75 percent. The other question is how long the vaccine induced immunity would last. At the moment sufficient information is not available to decide how the duration of immunity will interfere with the herd immunity threshold and how often vaccinations need to be repeated.
If faster spreading variants of the virus take over, the basic reproduction number and therefore the herd immunity threshold will also increase. The variants may turn out to be more resistant to vaccines. Remodeling of vaccines to make them effective towards variants is technically feasible but would delay the immunisation protocols. The answer to the problem of variants and temporary immunity is speedy vaccination – obviously constrained by real world practicalities.
Decreasing trends of COVID -19 incidence
Many regions of the world have begun to see a decline in the number of COVID-19 cases and deaths – plausibly a combined outcome of preventive safeguards and immunity derived from exposure to the virus or vaccination.
Israel has given more coronavirus vaccinations per capita than any other country – around 50 percent given one dose and 35 percent both doses. Covid-19 cases are declining and the world is awaiting see the outcome of the Israel experiment.
The United Kingdom has vaccinated more than 30 percent of over 80s and noticed a dramatic reduction in COVID-19 related deaths in this group.
Prompt inoculation of a sizeable fraction of a community is not an easy task. We need to await patiently to see the effectuality of the vaccines.
Dependence of herd immunity threshold on preventive measures
The preventive strategies or so-called non-pharmacological interventions significantly reduce viral transmission thereby lowering basic reproduction number and therefore the herd immunity threshold. Wearing masks, social distancing, hand-sanitizing and ventilation are proven safeguards. There is some evidence and theoretical arguments to the effect that preventive measures not only reduce the risk of contracting the disease but those who catch the disease under such circumstances develop milder symptoms or recover soon, adding to the pool of immunes. Argument rest on inoculum theory of viral transmission, according which the intensity of the infection a patient develops depends on the number of virus particles to which he or she was exposed. Emphasizing this point authors of a recent article published in the prestigious medical journal Lancet appeal to the world to continue strict adherence to preventive measures. This is most prudent method to safeguard against new strains until vaccines are remodeled.
Vaccine production, procurement and organization of immunization campaigns decide the rate at which a community could be vaccinated. These limitations necessitate imposition of priorities. The World Health Organization and individual nations have laid down priority categories. Everyone agree the first priority should be frontline health care workers. The second category the older persons (generally above 65) more vulnerable and at the risk of death after contracting the sickness. Those living under conditions of extreme congestion and poverty are also a priority group identified by WHO. The younger working class, although they are less susceptible to danger of COVID-19, needs to be vaccinated. The policy of neglecting the older group in favour of younger working class is not only unethical but also epidemiologically flawed. In modern societies the percentage older persons (above 65) and socially active are significant. They, being most vulnerable to contracting the sickness because of impaired immunity, if infected, could also be the super spreaders. Recent studies have confirmed the presence of super spreaders, who are mostly elderly patients carrying larger viral loads.
Social reaction to vaccination
Societies react to vaccinations within confines of two extremes: vaccine hesitancy and vaccine overconfidence. The former has prevented eradication measles in localities where the herd immunity threshold stands inordinately high. In some parts of the world, vaccine hesitancy confuses mass COVID-19 inoculation. The latter misconception equally undermines the control effort. Not wearing a mask or not adhering to social distancing because you got the jab is not right. Vaccines are not 100 percent effective and immunity sometimes slacken. People not wearing masks, believing assurance of safety after the jab creates social stigma for those not vaccinated to abandon the precautions.
Vaccines and non-pharmacological interventions will certainly suppress the virus. Rapid decline in reported cases in some parts of the world may be a sign of a distant herd immunity in that region – but what we want is a global effect. As WHO Director Tedros said, “Until we end the pandemic everywhere, we will not end it anywhere “
Dialectics for a fast evolving scenario
by Kumar David
“The question whether objective truth can be attributed to human thinking is not a question of theory; it is a practical question. Man must prove the truth — i.e. the reality and power, the ‘this-sidedness’ of his thinking in practice. The dispute over the reality or non-reality of thinking that is isolated from practice is a scholastic question”. Second Thesis on Feuerbach
Don’t turn away, this is not going to be a boring treatise in abstract Marxism. I will quickly get to my topic, which is that the political circumstances we are living through are evolving rapidly and we should be alert and adjust to changing situations. First however allow me a few paragraphs about Lenin’s most dynamic years, from February 1917 till he fell seriously ill in late 1921. He died in January 1924 due to complications from bullets lodged in him in Fanny Kaplan’s August 1918 assassination attempt. The February Revolution, (old Julian-style last week of February to early March, new Gregorian-style second week of March) took Lenin and the Bolshevik Party by surprise. When first the women and then the workers of Petrograd fired up leaderless demonstrations which overthrew the monarchy, the Bolsheviks who had prepared the proletariat for revolution for 30 years were stunned! Except Trotsky the general expectation among socialists was a Two Stage Revolution; first Tsarism would be replaced by the rule of the bourgeoisie, then it would be the turn of the subaltern classes – a common at the time static misreading of Marx’s dialectical thinking.
I see developments in Sri Lanka moving fast with unforeseen changes and a regime that most of us last year considered strong and stable, now tottering. Of course it’s going to fall tomorrow but it’s wobbling and the domestic environment is changing unpredictably. Catholics are visibly angry about an alleged “cover up of Easter bombing organisers” (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EA2Zl1mVrOo); the in the Buddhist clergy have counter-attacked the Cardinal (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OC0WcSiJiJs0). Farmers in several areas are on the warpath according to News First. Furthermore nobody foresaw in 2019 the havoc covid would wreak, and the ferocity of UNHRC denunciations was unexpected. It is true that red lights were flashing about debt servicing and that the economy was in hopeless straights, but the convergence of bad news has been more rapid than foreseen and the regime has quickly gone belly up. All who join a mission with a single simple objective, to protect democracy, perforce, have to adjust to a fast changing scenario. The ability to think and act on one’s feet is what makes Lenin of 1917-1921 interesting. He remains the star disciple of Sun Tzu’s Art of War, a fifth century BC classic on strategy. While shifting and manoeuvring Lenin never lost sight of his final objectives. This is why I call him the dialectic on two feet.
Often in this column I have referred to the dialectic as the scientific method; true but how boring! Yes true enough Darwin, the best example in science was an assiduous and utterly trustworthy accumulator of data but with a mind that was alive to how phenomena change and evolve. Gautama Buddha pointed out that nothing is permanent and that all things are evolving but it took Darwin to work out the precise mechanisms by which this was happening in biology. Still, the dialectics of science and nature are slow moving. It is not exciting, it won’t keep you awake at night. Conversely, jumping from Two-Stage theory to instant proletarian revolution on April 1, 1917, capturing state power in October in defiance of scholastic Marxism, pushing back against attempts to militarise the trade unions and the refusal to give the Germans whole swathes of land so as to commit to the treaty of Brest-Litovsk (on both Trotsky erred), and in 1921 forcing through the New Economic Policy, a key market oriented concession to capitalist farming, these were momentous strategic transitions, quite breathtaking.
Bearded boring Bolshies 100 years ago, what’s it got to do with us you ask? I’ll tell you. The commonality is that quite unexpectedly we find ourselves in a very fast changing scenario. Lenin in 1917-1922, was an embodiment of the dialectic because he was able to think on his feet and keep his side united using his singular ability to deal with a swift change while the other side (sides to be more accurate) were confused and splintered. This is a useful example for those who seek a democratic, plural and united Sri Lanka because to date this side (I call it ‘we’) have managed to keep our message consistent and united while the ‘other’ side is splintering. President Gota bemoans his unpopularity and his inability to address challenges because “there is no unity” or some such words. I don’t have a clue what skulduggery is going on within the Royal Rajapaksa dynasty, though now is just the right time to make visible adjustments. The public is persuaded that Gota failed because he is inexperienced and his inner circle is dumb; Mahinda and Basil deftly keep out of the limelight. Less and less do you hear from those you marvelled 18 months ago that Gota as the incarnation of a strong leader who would lead Lanka to harmony and splendour? Lee Kuan Yew was a frequently quoted prototype. Where have all those people gone? On the other hand the opposition to an authoritarian new constitution, to excessive deployment of retired military brass and those worried that democracy is under threat (harassment of rights workers, fear in the mind of critics, damaging the judiciary) have succeeded in retaining a degree of commonality.
The shot in the arm for ‘our’ side was the UNHRC Commissioner’s Report and the Geneva Resolution which has de facto created a united front of Sri Lankan domestic forces and international opinion. The uprising in Burma and the opposition to authoritarianism in Sri Lanka must not allow themselves to be intimidated by reactionary nationalists who shriek about foreign support and anti-national traitors. International assistance should be accepted on our terms and in any case democracy is a universal clause. Remember that when the Germans offered to transport Lenin from Switzerland to Petrograd in a sealed train (“Like a bacillus” in Churchill’s words) he did not hesitate for a moment to accept the offer. The rest is history. In Burma as in Sri Lanka the defeat of the Junta or the containment of an assault on democracy are transnational tasks. “Patriotism is the last refuge of the scoundrel” when it is used to conceal the machinations of dictators.
You may recall Marx’s quip about standing Hegel on his head which in today’s language we would say has gone viral. It is about the relationship between real life on one hand and theories and philosophies on the other. Tamil agitation and at an extreme the LTTE was not an ideology of a separate state and Tamil cultural-civilisation finding expression in an uprising. Quite the converse, it was the practical conditions of a community creating such angst that it gave rise to extreme nationalism among a large number. That Sinhala-Buddhist chauvinist extremism which is holding this country hostage is about ancient civilisation, about hela jathika abimane is humbug. There were class, economic, employment in the late colonial capitalist and state economies, and education sectors which turned Sinhala blood blue with national pride. The nationalists who pontificate the opposite need to be stood on their heads. This critique of what is called the idealism (Ideas and philosophy is what determines the principal features of the real, material world) is very well known now and I think modern bourgeois sociology goes a long way towards recognising it.
What is perhaps not quite so well appreciated is that Marx was more a pupil than a critique of Hegel (not the post-Hegel epigenomes of course) in respect of the dialectic. He speaks of Hegel as a “mighty thinker” in the 1873 post-face to capital I. Certainly spurned the “the ill-humoured, arrogant, and mediocre epigones” who treated Hegel like “dead dog”. What Marx took away from Hegel was how to understand change, the dynamics of how change progresses. The conflicts and compromises in real social and human relations which at times mediate and at times determine how the history of societies evolves. The sociological companion to Darwinian evolution.
We are now live in a fruit salad world of international relations where three powers will decide our fate – over which we have little control – India, China and the US. They are each no doubt pondering what to do about our fruitcake regime. Competition among them to one side, it is in the interests of all three to unscramble this tabbouleh and avert this country’s descent into a failed-state abyss, which thankfully we have still not reached. It is not possible that they each do not have calculations up their sleeves about how to sort out this mess but an initiative from the regime itself proposing a via media to the UNHRC and to the aforementioned powers as proof that Lanka will accept its reconciliation-accountability responsibilities and will maintain a foreign policy balance which will not discomfit any great power will ease a compromise.
The Double-Paksa (two Rajapaksa) regime must forget about enacting a divisive new constitution to claw power into the grasp of the Executive; if firing military sorts already hired for top slots is infeasible at least it must give an undertaking that there will be no more sounding brass speaking in garbled tongues; it must put scientists in charge of pandemic control and win, as Biden seems to be doing; dump this squalid and reckless foreign policy team; it must stop manipulating the judiciary and halt asinine Presidential Commission circuses; it must stop pandering to extremists since this impedes a deal with the minorities. All this is doable if the executive is restructured and a plural orientation is adopted. If the government wishes to pull itself up by its bootstraps it must undertake the policy changes outlined in this para, restructure its personnel, pray much harder and offer trays of mangoes to the deities superintending Sri Lanka. The $64K question is whether Gota has the appetite for this healthy and fruitful menu. Those with no confidence that Gota’s Executive, Mahinda’s government or Basil-in-waiting can extricate themselves from their predicaments, must plan and act on their own outside this purview. The sole self-imposed condition is that change must be constitutional; what’s the point of a fight for democracy if one begins by abrogating it?
S. A. Welgama – A man amongst men
On the one hundred and tenth birth anniversary of my father-in -law S.A.Welgama I pen this tribute with much affection and pride.Affection as he was a second father to me and pride as he was a man amongst men;a man who stood tall and erect,a man unbowed ,unconquered and unsullied.Of him I could truthfully echo Marcus Aurelius, Emperor of Rome,”let men see,let them know a real man,a man who lives as he was meant to live”.
He was born in the hamlet of Ovitigala,in the verdant county of Pasdun Korale,the county of five yojana (sixty kms in Vedic measure),created by Parakramabahu the Great,by draining the basin of Kalu Ganga.
His mother was fair and comely and taught in the village school ,and the father a farmer tilled his own land.SAW never forgot his roots and even at the height of his fame and wealth would often say,I’m the son of a poor farmer.This alone would have tagged him for greatness, for according to John Ruskin “the first test of a truly great man is his humility.”
The origins of the Welgama clan are shrouded in the mists of time.One school of thought says that they were the caretakers of the Welgama vehera in Kinniya ,Trincomalee.Grateful kings had donated land to them in distant South.The stupa was built by King Devanampiyatissa in the third century B.C.and remained unscathed till the end of the Polonnaruwa era.Even the Chola marauders,who razed all they saw ,left it alone as it was a place of worship for Hindu devotees as well,the Navatar Kovil.
Another school is of the view that they were soldiers in the service of the Sinhala kings as evidenced by their ge name Welgama Hewage.This is likely too as the Welgamas were tall and had a martial bearing.
They migrated to the villages of Ihala (upper) and Pahala (lower) Welgama villages separated by a fast flowing river.This could only be forded by a ferry ,until SAW persuaded a friendly minister of state to build a bridge.
SAW had his early schooling in the Ovitigala village.His heart was ,however not in books but in machines and motor vehicles.Many a day he played truant with his classmates,one of whom was to later become an eminent Buddhist monk and a mentor to me and my brother.When I was being screened as a prospective son -in-law ,he made enquiries, from his friend the Rev Kevitiyagala Dhammasidhi.The priest had categorically stated ,’Sir do not look any further,he is the best of the best’.My fate was sealed.
While still a teenager he apprenticed himself to a local workshop and then came over to Colombo to gain further experience and skills.He had fifty cents in his pocket.The friend who accompanied him returned to the village after two days.But SAW soldiered on and joined the workshop of an English engineer.He worked long and hard and became a master of his trade and also earned the respect and goodwill of his employer,whose pet name for him was Pattison.
Being thrifty he regularly added his wages to a till which was well hidden.With his savings and some help he bought a car for the then princely sum of two thousand rupees ,and plied it for hire between Gampaha and Kaluthara.
As the war clouds gathered in the horizon in the late 1930s he sensed an opportunity in road haulage and this became his trademark.At one stage he owned and controlled over one hundred and fifty trucks and became a trusted agent of the colonial government;transporting goods to and from the Colombo harbour to the massive godowns built in anticipation of wartime food shortages.SAW and Sons became synonymous with road freight.With foresight he bought land at Panchikawatte,an emerging commercial hub for his headquarters.Later with the help of his son Nimal he extended this to a much larger holding.
A prized possession of his was the luxury tourist bus,which he imported when Mr J.R.Jayawardene inaugurated the push for tourism.This was used for family outings too and Kanthi and I remember vividly the visit to his estate with business associates.We also accompanied a group of visiting American cardiologists and spouses to Kandy.On the way ,the ladies started a singsong
to which we had to respond.My contribution was “My Bonnie lies over the ocean” which I had learnt at school.Our guide was a personable young man who later married a young French traveller and settled down in France.Although his fluency in English was not optimal Father saw in him the makings of a good escort.
Having reached the top of the greasy pole ,he knew the value of skills and hard work.He instilled these into the many young men he trained.They were accepted anywhere.The truck drivers employed by him needed two licences;one from the department of motor transport and one from him.He would personally conduct the driving test.In later years his son Mahinda assumed this role.
He had a fondness for new cars especially Mercedes.An exception to the run of Mercedes was the Holden Statesman which he purchased after the Non-Aligned Leaders conference in Colombo.When it was due for repainting,the original colour Salamanca red was not available in SriLanka.Kanthi and I shipped it from Brisbane where we were then living.
The first occasion we met was when he arrived at our house in his magnificent Mercedes.He was accompanied by his beautiful wife Beatrice and his eldest son Melvin.An imposing man dressed in an immaculate white sarong and shirt he was keen to meet the young lad who had been highly recommended as a prospective son in law.After the usual pleasantries ,I joined Melvin who became a close friend.SAW had been much moved that I too was dressed in sarong and shirt.
An interesting quirk of his was the insistence ,that all his vehicle registration numbers should end with the figure five.It’s likely that his birthday being on the fifth of April,this to him was an auspicious number.The denizens of Panchikawatte named him the ‘‘Agata Pahe Mudalali i.e the tycoon with number five at the end.”
Being a man of the soil ,land was at the core of his soul,and he invested in a rubber estate in Kahawatte and then a two hundred and fifty acre rubber plantation” the Deniston” in Mathugama.For the children he bought land in the most fashionable suburb in Colombo and also in Nuwara Eliya a block adjacent to the venerable Grand Hotel.Kanthi and I once spent a night at Deniston in the hilltop estate bungalow.He had arranged for us to be blessed with a ” thovil”, a devil dance ceremony to dispel any unseen hands harassing us; this went on all night.We were exhausted before the performers ,although their colourful costumes,masks,gyrations and the drumming held us spellbound.
About the same time as his rise, there was a group of Sinhala businessmen who too made their mark.They were all southerners who began their careers at the bottom of the pile.SAW and Nawaloka mudalali (H.D.Dharmadasa) were the unofficial leaders of this closely knit cluster.They too never forgot their roots and were all noted for their conviviality,philanthropy and vivacity.Two of their major projects were the Ranweta the gold fence around the Sri Maha Bodhiya and the first coronary care unit in Ceylon.The Sri Maha Bodhiya is the only living relic of the Buddha who attained enlightenment in the shade of the parent tree in BodhGaya.It is the oldest ,historically documented tree in the world.The coronary care unit was built at the instigation of Dr Ivor Obeysekare ,the first cardiologist of Ceylon and a former chief of mine.
SAW was a mover and shaker and associated with the highest in the land.J.R.Jayawardane the first executive president of SriLanka was a good friend and was an attesting witness at all the weddings of his children.He did have friends across the political spectrum including ,Maithripala Senanayake the benign deputy to Mrs Bandaranaike and Peter Kueneman,the sophisticated Cambridge educated leader of the Communist party.Though he “walked with Kings ,he did not lose the common touch” and was equally at home with the masses in villages and the busy bazaars of Colombo.
At the age of sixty five he handed over the control of the trucking company to his sons,but still supervised the estate.The weekly sojourn in the plantation became his greatest pleasure and relaxation.Meandering around ,he may have got to know every tree and shrub,hillock ,valley and stream and mingling with the Indian Tamil workers and villagers gave him a lot of satisfaction.The elder brother whom he adored,lived in a homestead and sharing the customary village fare with him at lunch gave him much gratification.The Sunday visit to the estate was a ritual he maintained till the last week of his life.The bracing air ,the soft breezes ,the solitude and the rural populace seemed to revitalize him.The work was challenging but less so because of his passion and enthusiasm for the land and the labour.
He epitomised Henry Wadsworth Longfellow’s words that “The heights by great men achieved and kept were not attained by sudden flight,but they while their companions slept,were toiling upward in the night.”
Unexpectedly,at the age of thirty three,he met a beautiful Kandyan teenager Beatrice Hidellarachchi.It was akin to Adam meeting Eve and was love at first sight.
Like John Milton,in “Paradise Lost”
“He saw grace in all her steps,
Heaven in her eyes,
In every gesture,dignity and love”
Beatrice being the cynosure of all eyes and adoration,delighted him ,and he encouraged her to dress herself in haut-monde finery.
It was a marriage made in heaven.and their happy partnership lasted till his passing away in 1990.
There were ten children in the family,five boys and five girls.He was a strict but adoring father.They were all brought up according to conventional Sinhala Buddhist values.Having missed out on a formal education,he made certain that they went to the highest ranking schools regardless of the denomination.For boys ,he chose S.Thomas’s College the famed school by the sea.Girls were admitted to the Holy Family Convent as he had the highest respect and admiration for the Catholic nuns and their discipline.But he also ensured that they got a Buddhist grounding through the Sunday school at the Vajiraramaya temple which was well known for its pious and erudite monks.
He would have loved for one or more of them to become doctors;instead he got two sons in law who achieved eminence in their specialties of medicine.However two sons became leading business men and chartered accountants.Another a prominent politician and one more a German trained gemologist.The youngest son Nalin was sent across to London ,while we were there, for further studies.
He did have reservations about girls attending universities ,but sent them to finishing schools where they became versed in social graces and upper class cultural rites.Later on he relented and permitted the youngest daughter Pradeepika to study at the Colombo Law school.
As he grew older he mellowed and relished having a drink with Mahinda and me.The faithful domestic Gamini brought his bottle of whiskey and he poured the pegs to all of of us himself.In our younger days we never imbibed with our elders.When he desired company ,he went to the Automobile Association or the Angler’s club.One night he spied us,the two eldest sons in law enjoying a drink in the confines of a car ,with our wives and sent us a round of drinks and a tray of devilled prawns which was a specialty of the AA.
He was a believer in rebirth and would say with conviction that Kanthi his second daughter was the reincarnation of his beloved mother,perhaps because she looked after him like a mother;and Nalin the youngest son,the reincarnation of his father.While on a trip to India ,he insisted on selecting Kanthi’s wedding saree himself ,while mother selected sarees for the other daughters.Kanthi’s saree was more expensive than all the others.
A special relationship too was with his second granddaughter Sadia.I reproduce what she wrote.
“He loved to put his dark arm against mine and tell me we were the same colour.We were.
He called me Podi Sriyani.( Loku Sriyani was his daughter).
He was a wonderfully patient and loving grandfather.He had a warm hug which made you feel loved and how I loved sitting on his lap.It felt like a very safe place to be.
He had a twinkle in his eye and always wore his hat.He had good taste and style.I had a feeling that he had some great stories to share ,but that I was too young to hear them…
He was magic.I still miss that magic.”
SAW was large hearted and munificent primarily to but not exclusively to his village ,villagers and less affluent relatives. A monk told us how ,even Beatrice was not aware of the monthly emoluments he dispensed to the needy.
The Diyapattugama junior school,now named S.A.Welgama junior school was given a large assembly hall.He built a new Stupa at the Ovitigala temple;Kanthi and I joined in this meritorious deed by gifting the “Chuda Manikya” the large crystal placed at its very top.Electricity was provided to the shrine and its environs.The Bodhi tree in the temple (the prathana ,i.e supplication,Bodhi) was brought by him from Bodhgaya.
After his passing away Beatrice built a maternity home in his memory in the village of Wettawe.This had been a cherished ambition of his.His own mother is said to have succumbed at childbirth,and he wanted the impoverished women of his village to have easy access to modern medical facilities.
SAW of course provided employment to hundreds of villagers at his establishments.
In retirement he indulged in travel which he had long denied himself.He wanted to ” walk where he had never been and wonder at the beauty of this world”Kanthi and I were lucky that we were able to host him in Britain and also in USA.The long morning walks,the coach trips and the sundowners ,while the ladies cooked supper ,brought us closer in a way not conceivable before.He revelled in the sights and history of UK Germany and Switzerland and also Disneyland and Hawaii.One of the highlights was his visit to the Mercedes factory in Stuttgart.The automated production of his favourite cars enthralled him.Caravans enticed him,as did the miniature trains he rode in a fun park in Newcastle upon Tyne.He did not care much for shopping ,although Mother and Kanthi dragged him along,and grumble that he had become a ‘nattambi’,a carrier of goods.I feel however he secretly enjoyed seeing Beatrice buying apparel and wares unavailable in Ceylon at that time of austerity.For him ,all he wanted was a couple of hats.
The beauty of the Lake District,the Black Forest and Switzerland and the ancient cities of London Edinburgh and Freiburg fascinated him.
He was indeed a man for all seasons.
We rejoice in a life lived to the fullest and that we were blessed to be touched by this great man.
Emeritus Consultant Cardiologist
The Townsville University Hospital.
I acknowledge the help of Ven Suriyagoda Siri Dhamma,Nimal and Mahinda Welgama and Sadia Samarasinghe.
Some thoughts on Geneva
I was saddened by the events in Geneva having thought we were a popular country and our people well thought of internationally.To think that only 11 countries supported us in Geneva was indeed a cause for alarm and distress. Maybe the want us to take a step back and think of how to make Sri Lanka a better place.
Reams have been written about this resolution by erudite men and women. There is a common theme running through all of this: the UNHCR is against us; the western countries have ganged up against us. I beg to disagree.
Let us look at this resolution dispassionately. The high commisioner has made note of the very things we ourselves don’t like about recent happenings in our country. Did we want all Muslim Covid dead to be cremated? No. Once the WHO okay was given, we all agreed that religious customs may be followed.
Did we want our civil administration to be invaded by the military? No. Our civil adminitrtion is not the world’s best but we have no great issues over that. A military presence has not resulted in a marked improvement either. The public service meanders lazily as of yore.
As for killing of prisoners, what happened in Mahara is unfortunate. Surely there must be other ways of dealing with rioting prisoners than killing them? There are other pitfalls we could have avoided had we been less arrogant and a little more submissive. After all we are in UNHCR on our own volition
Our political leaders are very visible in the Buddhist scene, frequenting temples, prostrating themselves before Bodhi trees and participating in Buddhist rituals. All that is well and good. At the same time I wish they would embrace the Dasa Raja Dharma edict on governance of King Asoka. We will then have fewer problems with the likes of UNHRC.
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