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HIGH JINKS AT MEDICAL COLLEGE

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by ECB Wijeyesinghe

Just after I left school I thought I should help in a small way to solve the over-population problem, which was then beginning to rear its head. I joined the Medical College in the hope that some day I would become a doctor. A merciful Providence, however, had other plans for me.

Among the students who joined with me were men who later acquired fame in different fields of medicine or surgery. Many others did not specialize at all and preferred to be general practitioners, which was probably much more remunerative. Some of the specialists like Dr. G.R. Handy, are now at the top of the cardiac curve, while GPs like the beloved Dr. G.R. (Raddy) Muttumani of Wellawatte also continue to flourish. Despite the fact that the hair on Dr. Muttumani’s head is grey, the grey matter within remains unimpaired.

Dr. Shelton Karunaratne, of blessed memory, who passed away a few years ago, was the life and soul of the batch of students who entered the portals of the college with us. For some unknown reason someone called him “Carroty” and the name stuck. He was an old Josephian with an extraordinary sense of humour and his best cracks were directed at his numerous relatives, some of whom were near-millionaires. Dr. C.H. Gunasekere, the All-Ceylon cricketer, was his brother-in-law.

`RAGS’

Though he was a Buddhist, Shelton was a great believer in the Biblical aphorism that “the love of money is the root of all evil,” and did his best to drive it into the heads of his richer colleagues like Dr. Reggie Allen. Shelton was a good footballer and a light-footed dancer. He also possessed a fair singing voice. But he had a special gift for perpetrating bizarre practical jokes and he figured prominently in every “rag” and extra-mural activity of the student population.

Among our seniors at the time were Dr. Wijesena de Zoysa, (affectionately known as ‘Walhamu’), Dr. Albert Rajasingham, Dr. M.V.P. Peiris, Dr. Arden Ratnayake and Dr. Nicholas Attygalle.

The acknowledged leader, however, was Wijesena de Zoysa, whose impromptu speeches, delivered with such grace and in a beautiful mellow voice, gave one the impressions that he had lost his vocation in Hulftsdorp.

He would have made a mark just as his brother, the late Gunasena de Zoysa did in the Civil Service. But Fate plays strange tricks, and Wijesena vegetated in the Medical College, while less intelligent but more studious colleagues overtook him in the race for the licentiateship.

Almost as soon as we became medical students, the Ceylon University College was inaugurated and we came under the wing of Professor R. Marrs, the Principal, a stern disciplinarian, who came with university experience in Calcutta. His office was at Regina Walauwa, the old Thurstan Road home of Mr. and Mrs. T.H.A. de Soysa, and students in their leisure hours used to leave the lecture rooms with the notes in their hands and a song on their lips.

During one of these ebullient intervals, Professor. Marrs was disturbed by a gang of singing students. He stopped them, summoned his clerk and asked him to take down their names. The students co-operated readily and the clerk, with a weak smile, noted down the names of numerous Pereras, Silvas and Fernandos. I do not think there was a single correct name in the clerk’s list.

DIPLOMAT

Marrs was a diplomat. He invited all the office-bearers of the University College Union to tea and clock-golf after the annual general meeting. There, in his bungalow near the race-course, he must have noticed some of the faces he saw earlier near his office. I had to be there, because incredible as it may sound, I had been elected captain of cricket in succession to Lalita Rajapakse.

Marrs, however, put on a poker face, while we consumed the sandwiches wearing absolutely innocent looks. My early days at the Medical College were uneventful, except that during the first week I cycled under a ladder after a zoology lecture. Some superstitious spectators held up their hands in horror and said it was very unlucky and that I had had it.

They were right. Or maybe they were wrong. But the fact remained I could not attend another lecture for a long time to come. I contracted enteric fever, which kept me in bed for nearly two months, and then as I was about to get back to work, I developed para-typhoid. Thus my first three months in the Medical College were disastrous and I felt that my hopes of becoming a doctor and reducing the population were being dashed to the ground.

DR. V GABRIEL

In course of time I went on to the Anatomy Block, on probation as it were. The lecturer was Dr. V. Gabriel, a handsome young man who had just returned from England, glowing with the FRCS degree. The man fascinated us, especially when he started speaking. He clothed the dead bones of his subject in almost poetic language and Gray’s popular text-book on Anatomy was like a rubbish heap of dull prose, compared with Dr. Gabriel’s picturesque descriptions of the devious ways of nerves, veins and arteries.

We concentrated not on what he said, but on the way he said it. Very soon I had to meet Dr. Gabriel in another capacity. University College was engaged in a soccer match against a club called the Chums at Campbell Park and our team which was captained by my friend, Shelton Karunaratne, was one man short. Shelton asked me to deputise for the goal-keeper and I promptly removed my shoes and stood between the posts.

But alas, instead of kicking the ball at one critical moment, I missed. the ball and kicked one of the hard wooden goal posts. The impact broke two metatarsal bones in my right foot. I dropped down in agony and was immediately rushed to the OPD, where Dr. Gabriel was on duty. I was given to understand then that it was one of his first assays in setting broken bones. I believe it. There is a big knob on my right foot to prove it.

Dr. Gabriel, however, starting with me gained so much experience that eventually he became one of Ceylon’s most skilful surgeons and during his eventful career his knife had probed the insides of half the socialites in Colombo. One thing I must say about Dr. Vraspillai Gabriel. His English diction was impeccable. There were few other I know who spoke with the same fluency. One was the late H.A.P. Sandrasagara, K.C. and another is G.G. Ponnambalam, Q.C., who is still in active practice. If you placed them behind a screen and asked them to say something no one would say they were not natives of the United Kingdom.

My stay in the dissecting room of the Anatomy Block was short but breezy. One of the few things that annoyed me was to find the dried-up sector of a male reproductive organ in my coat pocket when I went home. The following day I did some detective work among the cadavers laid out in the block and was almost sure who the culprit was. But I could not have my revenge as I was dissecting a female body. There was a tit for tat I could have perpetrated, but it revolted against my aesthetic senses and I rejected it as being flat, stale and unprofitable.

RAGGING

When so many blood-curdling stories are told about ragging in campuses these days, I must say that the freshers in my time had a very easy time. The most they were asked to do was to shell out some cash according to their means. As the hat was passed round the seniors stood round them and solemnly intoned the words: “Let us prey.” The students theme song followed. The words of the song consisted of most of the deadly drugs and tinctures in the British Pharmacopoeia.

The ditty, as it was in Latin, sounded suspicious to untrained ears. While the chorus “Glory, glory, alleluia” was intoned the party marched in procession to the tuck-shop, where ‘kalu dodol’ and cakes were consumed with avidity till the stocks were exhausted. With the freshers own money their health was drunk to in hot milk tea.

But the other “rags” in which the whole college participated were of a different order. They were organized on a grand scale and had the elements of a dramatic extravaganza. One such “rag” was got up to protest against the Salaries Commission’s report of the early twenties, which ignored the claims of the medical profession to higher emoluments. A hearse and all the trappings of woe were hired from an undertaker and within the hearse, drawn by a black horse, was a small black coffin which contained the Salaries Commission’s report.

A special hymn condemning the report was composed to the tune of the Dead March in “Saul” and hundreds of students in black arm-bands and carrying appropriate banners followed the hearse. The chief mourners were the senior students, who were soon to feel the pinch of the miserable recommendations. We, the juniors, were in the rear but gained Importance owing to the fact that some of the best singers – S.C.Thurairajah, Botha de Kretser, Daniel de Alwis and Claude Fernando – were in our batch.

And so we proceeded, slowly and sadly to the Galle Face Green, our destination and crematorium. En route people raised their hats in salute to the “corpse”, not being aware of what the coffin contained. On the Green the funeral orations were delivered. “Walhamu” de Zoysa, with his voice of silver, excelled himself and convulsed the listeners, bringing them to the verge of tears.

One bottle of kerosene and a match did the rest. As the coffin and its contents crumbled in flames a mighty roar went up and mingled with the roar of the waves beating on the rocks. It was a great day and a great “rag” — something that the whole country applauded. It was original as well as clever, and the entire proceeding was conducted on the highest intellectual plane. A protest such as that had never been staged before nor since.

The rest of the evening was devoted to merry-making or what some people would call a “wake.” Every pub in Slave Island and the Fort did a roaring business. Five or six students they say, were carried home. But that is an exaggeration. They were merely taken back to college as they could not remember where they lived.

(Excerpted from The Good At Their Best first published in 1976)



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Features

Glimmers of hope?

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The newly appointed Cabinet Ministers leaves Cass un-uplifted. She need not elaborate. She wishes fervently that Dr Harsha de Silva will leave party loyalty aside and consider the country. Usually, it’s asking politicians to cast aside self-interest, which very rarely is done in the political culture that came to be after the 1970s. Thus, it is very unusual, completely out of the ordinary to appeal to Dr Harsha to forego party loyalty and do the very needful for the country by accepting the still vacant post of Minister of Finance. We are very sorry Eran W too has kept himself away.

Some of Cassandra’s readers may ask whether she is out of her right mind to see glimmers of hope for the country. She assures them she is as sane as can be; she does cling onto these straws like the dying man does. How else exist? How else get through these dire times?

What are the straws she clings to? News items in The Island of Tuesday 24 May.

‘Sirisena leaves Paget Road mansion in accordance with SC interim injunction.’ And who was instrumental in righting this wrong? The CPA and its Executive Director Dr Pakiasothy Saravanamuttu. It is hoped that revisions to the system will come in such as giving luxury housing and other extravagant perks to ex-presidents and their widows. Sri Lanka has always lived far beyond its means in the golden handshakes to its ex- prezs and also perks given its MPs. At least luxury vehicles should not be given them. Pensions after five years in Parliament should be scrapped forthwith.

‘Letter of demand sent to IGP seeking legal action against DIG Nilantha Jayawardena.’ Here the mover is The Centre for Society and Religion and it is with regard to the Easter Sunday massacre which could have been prevented if DIG Jayawardena as Head of State Intelligence had taken necessary action once intelligence messages warned of attack on churches.

‘CIABOC to indict Johnston, Keheliya and Rohitha’. It is fervently hoped that this will not be another charge that blows away with the wind. They do not have their strongest supporter – Mahinda R to save them. We so fervently hope the two in power now will let things happened justly, according to the law of the land.

‘Foreign Secy Admiral Colombage replaced’. And by whom? A career diplomat who has every right and qualification for the post; namely Aruni Wijewardane. If this indicates a fading of the prominence given to retired armed forces personnel in public life and administration, it is an excellent sign. Admiral Colombage had tendered his resignation, noted Wednesday’s newspaper.

‘Crisis caused by decades of misuse public resources, corruption, kleptocracy – TISL’.

Everyone knew this, even the despicable thieves and kleptocrats. The glaring question is why no concerted effort was made to stop the thieving from a country drawn to bankruptcy by politicians and admin officers. There are many answers to that question. It was groups, mostly of the middle class who came out first in candle lit vigils and then at the Gotagogama Village. The aragalaya has to go down in history as the savior of our nation from a curse worse than war. The civil war was won against many odds. But trying to defeat deceit power-hunger and thieving was near impossible. These protestors stuck their necks out and managed to rid from power most of the Rajapaksa family. That was achievement enough.

Heartfelt hope of the many

The newly appointed Cabinet Ministers leaves Cass un-uplifted. She need not elaborate. She wishes fervently that Dr Harsha de Silva will leave party loyalty aside and consider the country. Usually, it’s asking politicians to cast aside self interest, which very rarely is done in the political culture that came to be after the 1970s. Thus, it is very unusual, completely out of the ordinary to appeal to Dr Harsha to forego party loyalty and do the very needful for the country by accepting the still vacant post of Minister of Finance. We are very sorry Eran W too has kept himself away. As Shamindra Ferdinando writes in the newspaper mentioned, “Well informed sources said that Premier Wickremesinghe was still making efforts to win over some more Opposition members. Sources speculated that vital finance portfolio remained vacant as the government still believed (hoped Cass says) Dr Harsha de Silva could somehow be convinced to accept that portfolio.”

Still utterly hopeless

Gas is still unavailable for people like Cass who cannot stand in queues, first to get a token and then a cylinder. Will life never return to no queues for bare essentials? A woman friend was in a petrol queue for a solid twelve hours – from 4 am to 4 pm. This is just one of million people all over the country in queues. Even a common pressure pill was not available in 20 mg per.

Cassandra considers a hope. We saw hundreds of Sri Lankans all across the globe peacefully protesting for departure of thieves from the government. The ex-PM, Mahinda Rajapaksa’s answer to this was to unleash absolute terror on all of the island. It seems to be that with Johnson a younger MP stood commandingly.

Returning from that horror thought to the protesters overseas, Cass wondered if each of them contributed one hundred dollars to their mother country, it would go a long way to soften the blows we are battered with. Of course, the absolute imperative is that of the money, not a cent goes into personal pockets. The donors must be assured it goes to safety. Is that still not possible: assuring that donations are used for the purpose they are sent for: to alleviate the situation of Sri Lankans? I suppose the memory of tsunami funds going into the Helping Hambantota Fund is still fresh in memory. So much for our beloved country.

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Ban on agrochemicals and fertilisers: Post-scenario analysis

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By Prof. Rohan Rajapakse

(Emeritus Professor of Agriculture Biology UNIVERSITY OF RUHUNA and Former Executive Director Sri Lanka Council of Agriculture Research Policy)

There are two aspects of the ban on agrochemicals. The first is the ban on chemical fertilisers, and the second is the ban on the use of pesticides. Several eminent scientists, Dr Parakrama Waidyanatha (formerly the Soil Scientist of RRI), Prof OA Ileperuma (Former Professor of Chemistry University of Peradeniya), Prof C. S. Weeraratne (former Professor of Agronomy University of Ruhuna), Prof D. M. de Costa University of Peradeniya, Prof. Buddhi Marambe (Professor in Weed Science University of Peradeniya) have effectively dealt with the repercussion of the ban on chemical fertilisers which appeared in The Island newspaper on recently.

The major points summarised by these authors are listed below.

FERTILISER ISSUE

1. These scientists, including the author, are of the view that the President’s decision to totally shift to organic agriculture from conventional could lead to widespread hunger and starvation in future, which has become a reality. Organic farming is a small phenomenon in global agriculture, comprising a mere 1.5% of total farmlands, of which 66% are pasture.

2. Conventional farming (CF) is blamed for environmental pollution; however, in organic farming, heavy metal pollution and the release of carbon dioxide and methane, two greenhouse gases from farmyard manure, are serious pollution issues with organic farming that have been identified.

3. On the other hand, the greatest benefit of organic fertilisers as against chemical fertilisers is the improvement of soil’s physical, chemical and biological properties by the former, which is important for sustained crop productivity. The best option is to use appropriate combinations of organic and chemical fertilisers, which can also provide exacting nutrient demands of crops and still is the best option!

4. Sri Lanka has achieved self-sufficiency in rice due to the efforts of the Research Officers of the Department of Agriculture, and all these efforts will be in vain if we abruptly ban the import of fertiliser. These varieties are bred primarily on their fertiliser response. While compost has some positive effects such as improving soil texture and providing some micronutrients, it cannot be used as a substitute for fertiliser needed by high yielding varieties of rice. Applying organic fertilisers alone will not help replenish the nutrients absorbed by a crop. Organic fertilisers have relatively small amounts of the nutrients that plants need. For example, compost has only 2% nitrogen (N), whereas urea has 46% N. Banning the import of inorganic fertilisers will be disastrous, as not applying adequate amounts of nutrients will cause yields to drop, making it essential to increase food imports. Sri Lankan farmers at present are at the mercy of five organizations, namely the Central Department of Agriculture, the Provincial Ministry of Agriculture, the Private sector Pesticide Companies, the Non-Government organizations and the leading farmers who are advising them. Instead, improved agricultural extension services to promote alternative non-chemical methods of pest control and especially the use of Integrated Pest Management.

Locally, pest control depends mostly on the use of synthetic pesticides; ready to use products that can be easily procured from local vendors are applied when and where required Abuse and misapplication of pesticides is a common phenomenon in Sri Lanka. Even though many farmers are aware of the detrimental aspects of pesticides they often use them due to economic gains

We will look at the post scenario of
what has happened

1. The importation of Chemical fertilisers and Pesticides was banned at the beginning of Maha season 1 on the advice of several organic manure (OM) promoters by the Ministry of agriculture.

2. The Ministry of Agriculture encouraged the farmers to use organic manure, and an island-wide programme of producing Organic manure were initiated. IT took some time for the government to realize that Sri Lanka does not have the capacity to produce such a massive amount of OM, running into 10 tons per hectare for 500000 hectares ear marked in ma ha season.

3. Hence the government approved the importation of OM from abroad, and a Company in China was given an initial contract to produce OM produced from Seaweed. However, the scientists from University of Peradeniya detected harmful microorganisms in this initial consignment, and the ship was forced to leave Sri Lankan waters at a cost of US dollar 6.7 million without unloading its poisonous cargo. No substitute fertiliser consignment was available.

4. A committee in the Ministry hastily recommended to import NANO RAJA an artificial compound from India to increase the yield by spraying on to leaves. Sri Lanka lost Rs 863 million as farmers threw all these Nano Raja bottles and can as it attracts dogs and wild boar.

Since there is no other option the Ministry promised to pay Rs 50000 per hectare for all the farmers who lost their livelihood. It is not known how much the country lost due to this illogical decision of banning fertilisers and pesticides.

Recommendations

1. Judicious use of pesticides is recommended.

2. The promotion and the use of integrated pest management techniques whenever possible

3. To minimize the usage of pesticides:

Pesticide traders would be permitted to sell pesticides only through specially trained Technical Assistants.

Issuing pesticides to the farmers for which they have to produce some kind of a written recommendation by a local authority.

Introduction of new mechanism to dispose or recycle empty pesticide and weedicide bottles in collaboration with the Environment Ministry.

Laboratory-testing of imported pesticides by the Registrar of Pesticides at the entry-point to ensure that banned chemicals were not brought into the country.

Implementation of trained core of people who can apply pesticides.

Education campaigns to train farmers, retailers, distributors, and public with the adverse effects of pesticides.

Maximum Residue Level (MRL) to reduce the consumer’s risk of exposure to unsafe levels.

Integrated pest Management and organic agriculture to be promoted.

1. To ensure the proper usage of agrochemicals by farmers

All those who advised the Minister of Agriculture and the President to shift to OM still wield authority in national food production effort. The genuine scientists who predicted the outcome are still harassed sacked from positions they held in MA and were labelled as private sector goons. The danger lies if the farmers decide not to cultivate in this Maha season due to non-availability of fertilisers and pesticides the result will be an imminent famine.

The country also should have a professional body like the Planning Commission of

India, with high calibre professionals in the Universities and the Departments and

There should be institutions and experts to advise the government on national policy matters.

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Thomians triumph in Sydney 

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Nothing is happening for us, at this end, other than queues, queues, and more queues! There’s very little to shout about were the sports and entertainment scenes are concerned. However, Down Under, the going seems good.

Sri Lankans, especially in Melbourne, Australia, have quite a lot of happenings to check out, and they all seem to be having a jolly good time!

Trevine Rodrigo,

who puts pen to paper to keep Sri Lankans informed of the events in Melbourne, was in Sydney, to taken in the scene at the Sri Lanka Schools Sevens Touch Rugby competition. And, this is Trevine’s report:

The weather Gods and S.Thomas aligned, in Sydney, to provide the unexpected at the Sri Lanka Schools Sevens Touch Rugby competition, graced by an appreciative crowd.

Inclement weather was forecast for the day, and a well drilled Dharmaraja College was expected to go back-to-back at this now emerging competition in Sydney’s Sri Lanka expatriate sporting calendar.

But the unforeseen was delivered, with sunny conditions throughout, and the Thomians provided the upset of the competition when they stunned the favourites, Dharmaraja, in the final, to grab the Peninsula Motor Group Trophy.

Still in its infancy, the Sevens Touch Competition, drawn on the lines of Rugby League rules, found new flair and more enthusiasm among its growing number of fans, through the injection of players from around Australia, opposed to the initial tournament which was restricted to mainly Sydneysiders.

A carnival like atmosphere prevailed throughout the day’s competition.

Ten teams pitted themselves in a round robin system, in two groups, and the top four sides then progressed to the semi-finals, on a knock out basis, to find the winner.

A food stall gave fans the opportunity to keep themselves fed and hydrated while the teams provided the thrills of a highly competitive and skilled tournament.

The rugby dished out was fiercely contested, with teams such as Trinity, Royal and St. Peter’s very much in the fray but failing to qualify after narrow losses on a day of unpredictability.

Issipathana and Wesley were the other semi-finalists with the Pathanians grabbing third place in the play-off before the final.

The final was a tense encounter between last year’s finalists Dharmaraja College and S.Thomas. Form suggested that the Rajans were on track for successive wins in as many attempts.  But the Thomians had other ideas.

The fluent Rajans, with deft handling skills and evasive running, looked the goods, but found the Thomian defence impregnable.  Things were tied until the final minutes when the Thomians sealed the result with an intercept try and hung on to claim the unthinkable.

It was perhaps the price for complacency on the Rajans part that cost them the game and a lesson that it is never over until the final whistle.

Peninsula Motor Group, headed by successful businessman Dilip Kumar, was the main sponsor of the event, providing playing gear to all the teams, and prize money to the winners and runners-up.

The plan for the future is to make this event more attractive and better structured, according to the organisers, headed by Deeptha Perera, whose vision was behind the success of this episode.

In a bid to increase interest, an over 40’s tournament, preceded the main event, and it was as interesting as the younger version.

Ceylon Touch Rugby, a mixed team from Melbourne, won the over 40 competition, beating Royal College in the final.

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