CONFESSIONS OF A GLOBAL GYPSY
By Dr. Chandana (Chandi) Jayawardena DPhil
President – Chandi J. Associates Inc. Consulting, Canada
Founder & Administrator – Global Hospitality Forum
The 50th Anniversary of CHSGA
On October 16, 2021 I attended another annual general meeting (AGM) of the Ceylon Hotel School Graduates Association (CHSGA). This week, both CHSGA and I celebrated 50 years in hospitality. As a Past President of CHSGA (1985-1986) I am proud of the work done by all my 27 predecessors and the current executive committee, which includes many of my past students of the Ceylon Hotel School (CHS). They have taken the association to new heights of professionalism, efficiency and innovation.
Usually, the CHSGA AGM is a three-day event of professional, social and fellowship celebrations. Due to the pandemic, we had to settle for less via Zoom; but the show went on. Considering the humble beginnings of CHSGA in 1971 at the CHS hostel with fewer than 50 members, it is impressive that CHSGA now has over 1,200 professional members and is going from strength to strength.
Like many other hospitality institutions, CHSGA is affected by the pandemic. However, its commitment to professional development of its members through centres for excellence and support to the Sri Lanka Institute of Tourism and Hotel Management (SLITHM) and students continues commendably. CHSHA due to previous fund-raising efforts and projects such as the Hotel Show, continues to be financially sound.
A nostalgic interview
On October 17, 2021, the 3,550-member strong (from over 100-countries) Global Hospitality Forum (GHF) hosted its first-ever online Q&A session. It was organized with the assistance from the International Tourism Volunteers Association (ITVA). I interviewed a CHS graduate of the first batch (1966-1969), who taught me hospitality 50 years ago. As a former student of Mr. Rohan De Silva Jayasundara, it was indeed nostalgic and an honour for me to do this interview. With a view of inspiring the audience, I asked of series of questions about my lecturer’s amazing career in hospitality education in seven countries. Listening to this legend in International Hospitality Education talk about his career in Sri Lanka, West Germany, Brunei, Australia, Cook Islands, Vanuatu, and Marshall Islands was a rare opportunity.
For the benefit of those who missed the webinar, the organizers will post its video clip on Facebook pages of GHF and ITVA. Encouraged with its popularity, it was decided to hold such online Q&A sessions with hospitality legends (with over 50 years’ experience in distinguished careers), every month. On November 14, the Global Hospitality Forum’s Q&A session will be with Mahinda Ratnayake who as General Manager, opened the first ever five-star resort in Sri Lanka in 1982 – Triton Hotel. These sessions are open for anyone interested, free of charge.
Interviews at Hotel Lanka Oberoi
In 1974 I did well at my first interview for a post of chef de partie at Hotel Lanka Oberoi which was getting ready to open the largest hotel in Sri Lanka. After the interview I was short listed for a kitchen practical test held at Hotel Renuka where the Executive Chef of Lanka Oberoi and his senior brigade stayed during the hotel’s pre-opening stage. The practical test was to prepare a full meal from a surprise menu given to the finalists five minutes before its commencement. I thought I did well but was not chosen. Later, I heard that the successful candidate was Das Perumpaladas, the Executive Chef of Hotel Renuka and a graduate of the CHS, three years my senior. I realized that they valued his executive chef experience in a small three-star hotel gained over three years.
A week later I was called for two more interviews – one of them at Hotel Lanka Oberoi. The other was at the head office of Whittall Boustead Ltd./Ceylon Holiday Resorts, the owners of my favourite, Bentota Beach and its sister hotel, Coral Gardens. At Hotel Lanka Oberoi I was interviewed by Mr. Joe Madawela, the charismatic Personnel Manager, who was in charge of hiring over 600 employees for the hotel opening. He told me that although I did not make it as a chef de partie, I would be a good candidate for a post such as a bar supervisor. He also told me that if I do well there, I may get an opportunity in a couple of years to be further trained at the Oberoi School of Hotel Management in India for two years. That was the key to become a hotel manager within this regional hotel chain. I agreed to think about it and get back within a week if I was interested.
Eleven years later, I met Joe for the second time. In 1985, he was managing the Queens Hotel in Kandy on a secondment from Hotel Lanka Oberoi. I was then the General Manager of the two largest hotels of John Keells Group – The Lodge and The Village, Habarana. I was also the Founding President of Rajarata Hotels Association (North Central Province). The hoteliers in Kandy were thinking of forming a similar association and sought my advice. To advise them and share our best practices from the NCP, I made a couple of trips to Kandy. I enjoyed chatting with Joe during one of those visits. He had a remarkable memory and narrated details of my interview with him 11 years earlier saying he was disappointed that I did not take his offer in 1974 as he thought that I would have done well with Oberoi. Four years later in 1989, I finally accepted an ‘expatriate contract’ offer from the Oberoi Group and became the Food and Beverage Manager of Hotel Babylon Oberoi in Baghdad, Iraq. Of the ten managers who reported to me, half were graduates of the Oberoi School of Hotel Management in India.
An offer from Bentota Beach Hotel
When I went for the interview at Whittall Boustead, I was immediately offered the post of Trainee Executive Chef (number three in the kitchen) at Bentota Beach Hotel. Mr. Gilbert Paranagama, the Director in charge of their two hotels told me that the management of the hotel was impressed with my work during my recent CHS internship. He made a good offer of a 500-rupee salary and free board and lodging at the executive quarters within the hotel. I was very pleased and accepted the offer. He also briefly introduced me to the Company Chairman, Mr. Sanmugam Cumaraswamy, a well-known Chartered Accountant and businessman.
When I gave notice and handed over my resignation from Havelock Tourinn, the General Manager, Mr. C. Nagendra was very disappointed. He was shocked that someone would leave the position assistant manager of a city hotel to become number three chef in a resort hotel. However, having made my career plan, I was convinced that I was making the right move. Leaving Colombo was not easy. It was my birth place and I lived there for the first 20 years of my life. With my career move, and the desire to live in different parts of Sri Lanka, I knew that I would miss my family, friends, Judo club, many social events and entertainment.
I kept in touch with many of my CHS friends now scattered around the country and students from junior CHS batches who were continuing in Colombo. The friendships that commenced in 1971 at CHS, have now continued for over 50 years. Since 2011, I administered a private Facebook group I founded. It is branded as ‘CHS Lord Veterans’, where nearly 100 CHS colleagues who graduated with the original three-year diploma between 1969 and 1976, are connected around the world. The members of this exclusive group regularly share past, present and future posts. Most are retired now and sadly over a dozen have passed away in recent years. Another recent initiative is a WhatsApp group branded as, ‘Seftonites – 66-76’ exclusively for those CHS colleagues who lived in our good old hostel – Sefton, named after an original expatriate faculty member. This WhatsApp group is very active with several general posts and comments every day. The bonding we made at CHS is very special and the CHS nostalgia lives on…
A Brief Romance in Negombo
In between my departure from Colombo and settling in Bentota, I had a free long weekend. I planned to spend it at the Katunayake airport bidding farewell to my CHS batch mate, Neil Maurice who was migrating to Australia. Almost all our batch came to this farewell and we made it a ‘one for the road’ booze party at the airport to the displeasure of the airport security guards. Our ‘Dutch courage’ certainly helped us to bravely ignore them.
After that, I planned to spend two days at Blue Oceanic Hotel in Negombo with two friends. One of my high school mates, Ruvan Samarasinghe (now the Managing Director at Jetwing Hotels) was the Manager of this first hotel built by Mr. Herbert Cooray for his Jetwing Group. One of my batchmates, Sunil Dissanayake (now the CEO of BMICH) was the Front Office Manager. Like all Sri Lankan hoteliers, Ruvan and Dissa were very hospitable. They hosted me generously.
On my first evening at Blue Oceanic, Ruvan invited me for dinner after drinks at the bar. A few young Swedish tourists who were very friendly asked why we were laughing so much and joined our table. A 19-year-old girl, whose nickname was Blondie, asked me, “Chandi, what kind of music is played by the hotel band?” When I told her that it was Calypso from Trinidad and Tobago, she asked me, “Can you dance to this music?” “Yes, I will show you.” I was quick to grab her before my friends got ideas and took her to the dance floor to show her how it’s done. We later went for a long care-free, barefoot beach walk counting fishing boats and the stars on a beautiful moon-lit night.
I met those friendly tourists again the next morning and ended up hanging out with them on the beach the whole day. The next day I had to leave early for Bentota to begin my new job at Bentota Beach Hotel. When I said goodbye, Blondie promised “I will write to you” and did so regularly for the next three years. We became pen pals until she returned to Sri Lanka in 1977 for a three-week holiday in search of her soulmate. Blondie was my first ‘serious’ girlfriend.
UK support for govt.’s pragmatic reconciliation process
By Jehan Perera
The government would be relieved by the non-critical assessment by visiting UK Minister for South Asia, United Nations and the Commonwealth, Lord Tariq Ahmad of his visit to Sri Lanka. He has commended the progress Sri Lanka had made in human rights and in other areas as well, such as environmental protection. He has pledged UK support to the country. According to the President’s Media Division “Lord Tariq Ahmad further stated that Sri Lanka will be able to resolve all issues pertaining to human rights by moving forward with a pragmatic approach.” The Minister, who had visited the north and east of the country and met with war-affected persons tweeted that he “emphasised the need for GoSL to make progress on human rights, reconciliation, and justice and accountability.”
Prior to the Minister’s visit, President Gotabaya Rajapaksa had announced in Parliament that his government had not violated nor would support “any form of human rights violations.” This was clearly an aspirational statement as the evidence on the ground belies the words. Significantly he also added that “We reject racism. The present government wants to safeguard the dignity and rights of every citizen in this country in a uniform manner. Therefore I urge those politicians who continue to incite people against each other for narrow political gains to stop doing so.” This would be welcome given the past history especially at election time.
The timing of Lord Ahmad’s visit and the statements made regarding human rights suggest that the forthcoming session of the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva, commencing on February 28, loomed large in the background. The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights will be presenting a written report on that occasion. A plethora of issues will up for review, including progress on accountability for crimes, missing persons, bringing the Prevention of Terrorism Act in line with international standards, protecting civil society space and treating all people and religions without discrimination.
The UK government has consistently taken a strong position on human rights issues especially in relation to the ethnic conflict and the war which led to large scale human rights violations. The UK has a large Tamil Diaspora who are active in lobbying politicians in that country. As a result some of the UK parliamentarians have taken very critical positions on Sri Lanka. Lord Ahmad’s approach, however, appears to be more on the lines of supporting the government to do the needful with regard to human rights, rather than to condemn it. This would be gratifying to the architects of the government’s international relations and reconciliation process, led by Foreign Minister Prof G L Peiris.
In the coming week the government will be launching a series of events in the North of the country with a plethora of institutions that broadly correspond to the plethora of issues that the UNHRC resolution has identified. War victims and those adversely affected by the post war conditions in the North and livelihood issues that arise from the under-developed conditions in those areas will be provided with an opportunity to access government services through on-the-spot services through mobile clinics. The programme coordinated by the Ministry of Justice called “Adhikaranabhimani” is meant to provide “ameliorated access to justice for people of the Northern Province.”
Beginning with Kilinochchi and Jaffna there will be two-day mobile clinics in which the participating government institutions will be the Legal Aid Commission, Office for National Unity and Reconciliation, Office for Reparations, Office on Missing Persons, Department of Debt Conciliation Board and the Vocational Training Authority to mention some of them. Whether it is by revising 60 laws simultaneously and setting up participatory committees of lawyers and state officials or in now launching the “Adhikaranabhimani” Justice Minister Ali Sabry has shown skill at large scale mobilisation that needs to be sustained. It is to be hoped that rather than treating them as passive recipients, the governmental service providers will make efforts to fulfill their need for justice, which means that the needs of victims and their expectations are heard and acknowledged.
It will also be important for the government to ensure that these activities continue in the longer term. They need to take place not only before the Geneva sessions in March but also continue after them. The conducting of two-day mobile clinics, although it will send a message of responsiveness, will only be able to reach a few of the needy population. The need is for infusing an ethic of responsiveness into the entirety of the government’s administrative machinery in dealing with those problems that reaches all levels, encompassing villages, divisions, districts and provinces, not to mention the heart of government at the central level.
The government’s activities now planned at the local level will draw on civil society and NGO participation which is already happening. Government officials are permitting their subordinate officials to participate in inter-ethnic and inter religious initiatives. It is in their interest to do so as they would not wish to have inter-community conflicts escalate in their areas which, in the past, have led to destruction of property and life. They also have an interest in strengthening their own capacities to understand the underlying issues and developing the capacity to handle tensions that may arise through non-coercive methods.
Many of the institutions that the government has on display and which are going to the North to provide mobile services were established during the period of the previous government. However, they were not operationalized in the manner envisaged due to political opposition. Given the potency of nationalism in the country, especially where it concerns the ethnic conflict, it will be necessary for the government to seek to develop a wide consensus on the reconciliation process. The new constitution that is being developed may deal with these issues and heed the aspirations of the minorities, but till that time the provincial council system needs to be reactivated through elections.
Sooner rather than later, the government needs to deal with the core issue of inter-ethnic power sharing. The war arose because Sinhalese politicians and administrators took decisions that led to disadvantaging of minorities on the ground. There will be no getting away from the need to reestablish the elected provincial council system in which the elected representatives of the people in each province are provided with the necessary powers to take decisions regarding the province. In particular, the provincial administrations of the Northern and Eastern provinces, where the ethnic and religious minorities form provincial majorities, need to be reflective of those populations.
At the present time, the elected provincial councils are not operational and so the provincial administration is headed by central appointees who are less likely to be representative of the sentiments and priorities of the people of those provinces. In the east for instance, when Sinhalese encroach on state land the authorities show a blind eye, but when Tamils or Muslims do it they are arrested or evicted from the land. This has caused a lot of bitterness in the east, which appears to have evaded the attention of the visiting UK minister as he made no mention of such causes for concern in his public utterances. His emphasis on pragmatism may stem from the observation that words need to be converted to deeds.
A video put out by the UK Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office confirms a positive approach with regard to engaging with the Sri Lankan government. In it Lord Ahmad says “the last three days illustrated to me that we can come together and we can build a constructive relationship beyond what are today with Sri Lanka. We can discuss the issues of difference and challenge in a candid but constructive fashion.” Lord Ahmad’s aspiration for UK-Sri Lankan relations needs to be replicated nationally in government-opposition relations, including the minority parties, which is the missing dimension at the present time.
Yohani…teaming up with Rajiv and The Clan
I know many of you, on reading this headline, would say ‘What?’
Relax. Yohani, of ‘Manike Mage Hithe’ fame, is very much a part of the group Lunu.
But…in February, she will be doing things, differently, and that is where Rajiv and the Clan come into the scene.
Rajiv and his band will be embarking on a foreign assignment that will take them to Dubai and Oman, and Yohani, as well as Falan, will be a part of the setup – as guest artistes.
The Dubai scene is not new to Yohani – she has performed twice before, in that part of the world, with her band Lunu – but this would be her first trip, to Oman, as a performer.
However, it will be the very first time that Yohani will be doing her thing with Rajiv and The Clan – live on stage.
In the not too distant past, Rajiv worked on a track for Yohani that also became a big hit. Remember ‘Haal Massa?’
“She has never been a part of our scene, performing as a guest artiste, so we are all looking forward to doing, it in a special way, during our three-gig, two-country tour,” says Rajiv.
Their first stop will be Dubai, on February 5th, for a private party, open-air gig, followed by another two open-air, private party gigs, in Oman – on February 10th and 11th.
Another attraction, I’m told, will be Satheeshan, the original rapper of ‘Manike Mage Hithe.’
He will also be a part of this tour (his first overseas outing) and that certainly would create a lot of excitement, and add that extra sparkle, especially when he comes into the scene for ‘Manike Mage Hithe.’
Yohani and her band, Lunu, last performed in Dubai, a couple of months back, and Satheeshan, they say, was the missing link when she did her mega internet hit song – live, on stage.
There was a crowd to catch her in action but it wasn’t a mind-blowing experience – according to reports coming our way.
A live performance, on stage, is a totally different setup to what one sees on social media, YouTube, etc.
I guess music lovers, here, would also welcome a truly live performance by Yohani de Silva.
In the meanwhile, I’m also told that Rajiv Sebastian plans to release some songs of the late Desmond de Silva which he and Desmond have worked on, over the years.
According to Rajiv, at this point in time, there is material for four albums!
He also mentioned that he and his band have quite a few interesting overseas assignments, lined up, over the next few months, but they have got to keep their fingers crossed…hoping that the Omicron virus wouldn’t spike further.
We all know Trishelle as the female vocalist of Sohan & The X-Periments, so, obviously it came to me as a surprise when it was mentioned that she is a highly qualified Bharatanatyam dancer, as well.
What’s more, she has been learning the skills of Bharatanatyam, since her kid days!
And, to prove that she is no novice, where this highly technical dance form is concerned, Trishelle, and the disciples (students) of State Dance Award winning Bhartanatyam Guru, Nritya Visharad Bhashini, Thamesha Herath, will be seen in action, on January 29th, at 4.00 pm, at the Ave Maria Auditorium, Negombo.
Said to be the biggest event in Bharatanatyam, this Arangethram Kalaeli concert will bring into the spotlight Avindu, Sithija, Mishaami, Nakshani, Venushi, Veenadi, Amanda, Sakuni, Kawisha, Tishaani, Thrishala (Trishelle), Sarithya, Hewani, Senuri, Deanne and Wasana.
In addition to her singing, and dancing skills, Trishelle has two other qualifications – Bachelor in Biomedical Science, and Master in Counselling Psychology.
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