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In retrospect – Music and Dance in my life

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By Dr Nihal D Amerasekera

Music and dance charts my life from its early days. The very first song I was taught to sing, as a skinny kid of six, was the national anthem for Ceylon. It was for the forthcoming Independence Day celebrations on February 4, 1948. I sang it with a group of children at school. Then I was far too young to appreciate the meaning of the poignant lyrics and the nuances of the appealing melody. The true significance of the event was lost in the visual revelry and jubilation. Just like the memorable Day, this brilliant composition by Ananda Samarakoon will be remembered and treasured forever.

My generation were fortunate to have spent our childhood in the immediate aftermath of independence. We were now out of the shackles of colonial rule. One hundred and thirty three years of British rule had left an indelible mark on Ceylonese society. We emulated the British. Their ways infiltrated every aspect of the lives of the privileged class. In the early years that followed we enjoyed the best of both worlds. There was law and order. Independence of the judiciary was sacrosanct. Society was free of unconcealed corruption. We were the envy of the world.

When I was growing up what I saw around me had a tremendous and lasting impression on my life. My parents were in Kegalle in the early 1950’s. There were many British “up country” Planters still around. The Planters’ Club was the hub for all social events in the district. This was the watering hole for the British planters and for our own Brown Sahibs. Those were the days of formal and dignified ballroom dancing. The fox trots, quick steps and waltzes were the dances in vogue. Dancing on Saturday nights kept the members entertained. These close encounters fuelled by booze in a dimly lit dance hall often gave rise to malicious gossip and mischievous innuendo. I was merely an innocent witness.

My father was a government servant and was transferred every four years. He served his time far away from Colombo. My childhood was spent in rural Nugegoda in the early 1950’s in a modest unostentatious house owned by my grandparents. I had several cousins for company. This was like a boarding house without the strict regimentation. Growing up together our lives were littered with lots of laughter and some tears. Evenings were great fun. My aunt played the guitar and made us sing the Sinhala music of the period. We also sang the popular European operatic arias and Neapolitan favourites like Santa Lucia. We entertained the visitors with our singing and loved the applause and the sweets that followed.

In those days it was the radio that provided the entertainment. Radio Ceylon and its commercial arm popularised both Ceylonese and Western music. Lama Pitiya was one of my earliest recollections of a Sinhala children’s program. This was brilliantly presented by Karunaratne Abeysekera. There were plenty of stories and music. Artistes like Indrani Wijebandara and Chandra Cabraal produced wonderful entertainment. The Radio Ceylon English service too had some fine announcers who brought the music of that era to life. Hit Parade and Sunday Choice had an enormous following.

When I was at Wesley College my love of music prevailed. I joined the school choir. Then much of it were hymns at Sunday school and at church. They were solemn pieces of music with fine old melodies. There was music for every human event from cradle to grave. Carol Services during Christmas were a colourful event in the school calendar. Singing together as a group was fun and this promoted lasting friendships. We formed barbershop quartets singing “African American spirituals” in four-part harmony. We performed Operettas at school. They were immensely exciting times.

As teenagers, our generation became part of the music revolution of the mid 1950’s. The slow music of the crooners like Bing Crosby gave way to the intoxicating rhythm and the stirring beat of Bill Haley and the Comets. I well remember seeing Rock Around the Clock at the Savoy. The music was rousing and electrifying. I watched in awe and amazement the craze that unfolded amongst teenagers in Colombo. Every Tuesday night the radio programme called the “Hit Parade” played the most popular music of the week and we all gathered round the Rediffusion set.

When the famous leader of an American Jazz band, Duke Ellington, visited Ceylon in 1955 he played in an airport hangar in Ratmalana. The school took us for this thrilling performance. I remember him play that magical piece “The syncopated clock”. It was in 1956 the film “High Society” with Louis Armstrong and Frank Sinatra brought jazz into my life giving it a new dimension. Dixieland Jazz began in New Orleans. It was characterised by the freedom of improvisations. The strumming of the banjos gave Dixie that distinctive style and feel.

In my teenage years parental influence was overpowering. It was not until I entered the Faculty of Medicine that I saw freedom. The excitement and the pleasure of dancing has no equal. The pounding rhythms drove us all into a frenzy. Being so close to female company in such subdued lighting heightened our sexual desires and sent our pulse racing. It was at University I learnt to combine the rhythmic music and the twirl and swirl of the gyratory dancing. The University calendar had many dances held at its halls in Reid Avenue. It was here the students showed off their ability to dance. Alcohol provided the confidence and lubricated the joints while the hormones did the rest. There was the inevitable baila session to end the night. They were wonderfully exciting years.

In the Faculty of Medicine exams came and went with monotonous regularity and soon it was all over. As hospital interns, onerous on-calls and busy schedules filled our days and nights. I was then working in Kurunegala. There were gatherings and dances at the Social Clubs. Many parties were held in the House Officers Quarters. We entertained ourselves in the evenings with bawdy songs and naughty limericks to find release from the tensions of day.

In the 1950’s and 60’s the music of Jim Reeves, Elvis Presley and Cliff Richards hogged the airwaves. They were the heady days of our youth. The Beatles with their thunderous drums, screaming vocals and the blistering guitars kept our feet tapping. I remember them for their irresistible irreverence. The ballads too made a return. This rather soulful music was made popular by Englebert Humperdink and Tom Jones.

After emigrating to the UK, family and career took precedence and dancing went on the back-burner. There were parties and dances in hospital during Christmas and on special occasions when it was mostly sedate and proper. However my love of music remained strong. I listened to the old Sinhala songs and also the Western music of the day of Eric Clapton and David Bowie.

With the passage of years, I gradually moved away from the noise and mayhem of loud music. Classical music became my first love. After retirement I moved back to the big city. London is the Mecca for music lovers. Now I live 20 minutes walk away from the Royal Academy of Music and easy striking distance of the Royal Albert Hall and the Royal Festival Hall. These venues have classical music events everyday. Music now fills my life and I have no words to describe the peace and contentment I feel.

Since its origins in 15th Century Italy, Ballet has captured the imagination of audiences worldwide. Breath-taking choreography and graceful movements make it so pleasing to watch. I see most ballets on TV but see some of them live in London. Rudolph Nureyev and Margot Fonteyn are recognised as the best dances of the 20th century. Much has been written about their sad lives and their tragic deaths away from the spotlight.

The Opera is not for everyone. Much of the old operas are in Italian and the stories are hard to follow. They require much homework to read up about the story. Operas of Puccini and Verdi are popular for their fine music. Georges Bizet’s “The Pearl Fishers” is set in ancient Ceylon. Although not as famous as “Carmen” which he wrote 10 years later I like the former for its connection to my homeland.

Retirement gave me the time to travel the world. One of the best trips was to South America. Watching the Tango danced by professionals in El Viejo Almacén in Buenos Aires, Argentina was simply a magical experience. The Tango is a mesmerizingly beautiful dance. Its elaborate movements relate a story. The tango music is a mix of Spanish, African and South American rhythms that became popular in the 19th century. This music and the dance initially began in brothels and its movements show the titillations of the ladies and the fire in the belly of their clients. Soon the Tango caught the imaginations of the people and began to be accepted by high society in Buenos Aires.

Despite the 42 years in exile, I had brought with me memories of life in old Ceylon. Listening to the music from back home is always an emotional journey and a reminder of those places and the people. The music of Sunil Santha, Chitra and Somapala from my childood days in Nugegoda have a certain timeless quality. Then CT Fernando, Sanath Nandasiri, Amaradeva and Victor Ratnayake from those later years will always be with me. When I was young, Hindi music was ever present in the tea boutiques and roadside cafes all over Colombo. It was my grandfather who introduced me to Hindi films.

I still own a fine collection of Lata Mangheskar, Mohammed Rafi and Asha Bhosle songs to remind me of those years in Sri Lanka. I was an avid filmgoer in my youth and saw many of the Sinhala films right from the old BAW Jayamanne’s “Broken Promise” and “Kela Handa” to the later films of Lester James Peiris. Their music have a special appeal and pride of place in my memory. Rukmani Devi and Mohideen Beig sang some unforgettable songs. Their haunting melodies and beautiful lyrics will always remain with me. Many of the old favourites have been revived by younger singers with a faster beat and modern instruments. I love these new versions. They indeed have breathed new life into the old.

Baila entered our mainstream culture when the likes of Wally Bastian, Patrick Denipitiya, MS Fernando and others made it popular by their live performances on stage and on radio. This music had tremendous appeal with its pulsating beat which is an invitation to dance. The love of baila with the lively music and the rhythmic dancing is a constant reminder of my medical student days.

Music and dance have been a large part of my life. It has given me immense pleasure and continues to do so today. On looking back I feel deeply sentimental of those years gone. I recall with nostalgia the innocence of those times without the endless scrutiny of social media. At last I have now learnt to acknowledge the foresight, prudence and judgement of my parents to keep me on the straight and narrow. They have given me a fine all round education to appreciate the good things in life. May their Souls Rest in Peace.



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Features

Italy: The Hard Right nears power

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By Gwynne Dyer

There’s an election in Italy next Sunday, almost exactly 100 years after Benito Mussolini’s ‘blackshirts’ marched on Rome and brought the first fascist dictator to power.Giorgia Meloni, the hard-right populist politician who is likely to win that election, rejects any comparison with that ugly past. The party she leads, Brothers of Italy, has some ‘nostalgic’ neo-fascists in its ranks, but she prefers to compare it to Britain’s post-Brexit Conservative Party or the US Republican Party as rebranded by Donald Trump.

She shares her hostility to the European Union with Britain’s Conservatives, her hatred of immigrants, gays and Muslims with the US Republicans, and her truculent nationalism with both those parties. She is also militantly Christian, and she dabbles in ‘Great Replacement’ paranoia. And just like them, she wages a non-stop culture war.

“There is no middle ground possible,” Meloni told a rally last June. “Today, the secular left and radical Islam are menacing our roots…Either say yes, or say no. Yes to the natural family, no to the LGBT lobbies. Yes to the universality of the Cross, no to Islamist violence. Yes to secure borders, no to mass immigration.”

The brutal simplicity of these slogans works just as well with lower-income, poorly educated Italians as it does with the same sort of people in ‘heartland’ America or ‘red wall’ Britain. The goal is to distract them from the fact that their populist heroes really govern in favour of the rich (which explains why those leaders must be shameless liars).

Giorgia Meloni lies, too, but when you compare her to populist peers like Viktor Orbán in Hungary, Jair Bolsonaro in Brazil, and Donald Trump in the United States, she actually doesn’t seem that bad.

Like them, she has no permanent political principles, just a bundle of cynical techniques for attracting distressed and desperate voters. But she needed to shift towards the centre ground to build her Brothers of Italy party up from 4% of the vote in the 2018 election to a predicted 25% this time – so that’s what she did.

She now claims to support both the European Union and the NATO alliance. Even before the Russian invasion of Ukraine, she avoided the pro-Putin stance that was common on the radical right in both Europe and the United States. With the fragile Italian economy teetering on the brink of recession, she is promising good behaviour to Brussels.

So not a complete disaster, then. Continued access to the EU’s Covid recovery fund, which has promised Italy 191 billion euros over the next six years, should keep Meloni from straying too far from orthodox economics. If the EU withholds those funds, her prospects of remaining in power would be slim.

Brothers of Italy will probably be the largest Italian party after this election, but with only 25-30% of the vote she will not be able to govern alone. The problem is that the two parties she will need to make a coalition with, Silvio Berlusconi’s Forza Italia! (Go Italy!) and Matteo Salvini’s Lega (The League), are direct rivals of her own party.

Berlusconi at 85 is still a big political player thanks to his huge media empire. Salvini is willing to bring any coalition down if it improves his chances of being prime minister in a different one. Both men will be trying to claw back the popular support that Meloni’s Brothers of Italy has stolen from them, so there will be tears before bedtime.

In normal times, their chosen tactic would be to undermine Meloni’s party by pushing for harsher policies on immigration and bigger conflicts with the EU. With the Russian energy blockade promising a hard time for Europe economically this winter, however, the obvious strategy for far-right parties is to advocate a softer line on Putin’s war in Ukraine.

Both men have been Putin fanboys in the past. Berlusconi sees the Russian dictator as a personal friend, and Salvini called him “the best statesman on Earth” three years ago. Now Salvini soft-pedals his admiration for Putin, but he demands an end to the sanctions against Russia because they are allegedly hurting Italy more than Russia.

Meloni can’t afford to play that game, and the expected post-election coalition of far-right parties is unlikely to last very long. She has sufficiently detoxified herself that she could lead a coalition with other parties instead, and that may well happen.Post-fascist parties in power in Italy are still bad news, but the damage to the European Union and the NATO alliance can probably be contained.

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Features

Why do we go to the IMF?

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By Shahid Mehmood

THE resumption of the IMF package, that was badly needed to avert an external payments crisis, has reignited passions. As most countrymen wrestle with the question of whether or not the Fund is a tool of neocolonialism to keep countries like Pakistan sedated and subservient, what is lost in the debate is why we always wind up at its door. Let’s take a peek.

Energy is the relevant sector to get this conversation going as it constitutes the largest portion of our import bill. Economic growth and economic mobility depend on energy, whose demand rises as economies expand (along with other factors like population growth). A large portion of Pakistan’s entire energy edifice is dependent on imported fuels, given our meagre internal energy sources.

Aside from raw material, the machines and equipment underpinning our power production are also imported — from turbines at hydel power plants to equipment at LNG, coal and furnace oil plants. So, not only are we importing raw materials, we are also importing services to sustain them over the long term. All these have to be paid for in dollars.

Read: Wanted — a non-partisan economic plan

Here, let me address a misconception, that ‘indigenous’ sources of power will take care of the matter. Think again. These can’t be utilised without outside help. Decades after the construction of the Mangla and Tarbela dams, we still need foreign experts to solve critical issues related to them. Consider the Neelum-Jhelum run-of-the-river hydel power project, which has extracted gazillions from Pakistanis under the label of ‘surcharge’. Meant to utilise an ‘indigenous’ source of energy, hardly a year later it is down due to a ‘fault’ that required the services of foreign experts because our own ‘experts’ could not identify it. (It meant inflicting losses in the billions on consumers due to power production from expensive, imported fuel).

We are importing not only raw materials, but also the services to sustain them over the long term.The case of other indigenous sources is somewhat similar: we cannot build nuclear power plants without foreign help; we had to hire foreign experts to determine whether our coal plants could use Thar’s indigenous coal, etc.

This is not a revelation: there has been recognition for long that Pakistan creates problems for itself that, in turn, generate a demand for dollars, which we are usually short of. The Economic Survey of 1980-81, for example, recognised that long-gestation projects under the public investment garb was the main reason for saddling Pakistan with an external debt of $9bn. Yet, PSDPs refuse to budge! It’s still about grand projects like roads that incentivise an increase in vehicular traffic, in turn creating more demand for dollar imports, as the main components of the products of our highly protected car manufacturers are imported.

Let’s move to the role of public regulations. A few of endless examples will suffice. We have this infinite fascination with horizontal sprawls, complemented by ‘housing societies’ in the public and private sector. Aside from cities becoming administratively difficult to govern, a result of these endless sprawls is the need for more vehicles, leading to greater demand for energy products such as oil and diesel. There has, arguably, never been an estimate of the increase in energy imports that accrued to the country due to this endless expansion. But if ever such an exercise is carried out, the results will make other import-related issues — like IPPs — look puny.

These endless sprawls have resulted in millions of acres of fertile agricultural land being gobbled up over time. Given that more than 100 agricultural ‘research’ institutes are producing little or nothing in terms of higher land and crop productivity, complemented by a rapidly expanding population, there is little choice but to import food staples to meet our food requirements — so much for being an ‘agricultural country’.

Another good example: the illogical fascination with uniform pricing. In terms of the ultimately imported energy products, it leads to waste. Pakistan’s fast-depleting natural gas reserves are an apt illustration of this phenomenon. First, it was Balochistan, and now it is Sindh whose natural gas reserves are dwindling fast. There has, historically speaking, always been an incentive to consume it inefficiently because they have been under-priced, primarily due to uniform prices that are way below the market prices. Had the pricing been market-based from the start, there might not have arisen the need for importing expensive LNG or coal, which severely taxes our dollar earnings.

Moving away from big-ticket items, even the micro level does not inspire much confidence. Consider the common office chair. Some time back, they were in short supply, carrying a premium. That’s because they are merely ‘assembled’ here from imported parts. Most other products fare little better.

To summarise, Pakistan’s economic edifice is built in a manner that, unless we import, our economic activity will come to a standstill. And as GDP inches up, we end up importing more — to the extent that our dollar earnings will never be enough to pay for our imports. So whether it’s the IMF or anyone else, Pakistan will sooner or later knock at their door for dollars.

How to change all this? Before someone presents ‘import substitution’ as the Holy Grail, God save us from that predicament. Our earlier experiments only ended up producing rent-seeking seths and the likes of the car industry that sells low-quality tin for millions — the promised ‘localisation’ never happened. For a start, enough of brick-and-mortar ‘plans’ that create more liabilities than assets, besides raising pampered generations of subsidy-sucking businessmen under the banner of ‘infant industry’ and ‘qaumi mufaad’ (national interest). Neither do we need NOCs or hundreds of regulatory agencies to scare away foreign and domestic investors.

The way out of our dollar cash-flow troubles lies in greater global integration and trade, promoting competition and developing our human capital base. For a change, take the government out of business and let Schumpeterian creative destruction prevail on a level playing field. (The Dawn/ANN)

The writer is an economist and research fellow at PIDE.

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National Day of Saudi Arabia – 23rd September 2022

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Crown Prince Message- Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques King Salman Bin Abdulaziz Al-Saud

It is my pleasure to present Saudi Arabia’s Vision for the future. It is an ambitious yet achievable blueprint, which expresses our long-term goals and expectations and reflects our country’s strengths and capabilities. All success stories start with a vision, and successful visions are based on strong pillars.The first pillar of our vision is our status as the heart of the Arab and Islamic worlds. We recognise that Allah the Almighty has bestowed on our lands a gift more precious than oil. Our Kingdom is the Land of the Two Holy Mosques, the most sacred sites on earth, and the direction of the Kaaba (Qibla) to which more than a billion Muslims turn at prayer.

The second pillar of our vision is our determination to become a global investment powerhouse. Our nation holds strong investment capabilities, which we will harness to stimulate our economy and diversify our revenues.The third pillar is transforming our unique strategic location into a global hub connecting three continents, Asia, Europe and Africa. Our geographic position between key global waterways, makes the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia an epicenter of trade and the gateway to the world.

Our country is rich in its natural resources. We are not dependent solely on oil for our energy needs. Gold, phosphate, uranium, and many other valuable minerals are found beneath our lands. But our real wealth lies in the ambition of our people and the potential of our younger generation. They are our nation’s pride and the architects of our future. We will never forget how, under tougher circumstances than today, our nation was forged by collective determination when the late King Abdulaziz Al-Saud – may Allah bless his soul – united the Kingdom. Our people will amaze the world again.

We are confident about the Kingdom’s future. With all the blessings Allah has bestowed on our nation, we cannot help but be optimistic about the decades ahead. We ponder what lies over the horizon rather than worrying about what could be lost.

The future of the Kingdom, my dear brothers and sisters, is one of huge promise and great potential, God willing. Our precious country deserves the best. Therefore, we will expand and further develop our talents and capacity. We will do our utmost to ensure that Muslims from around the world can visit the Holy Sites.

We are determined to reinforce and diversify the capabilities of our economy, turning our key strengths into enabling tools for a fully diversified future. As such, we will transform Aramco from an oil producing company into a global industrial conglomerate. We will transform the Public Investment Fund into the world’s largest sovereign wealth fund. We will encourage our major corporations to expand across borders and take their rightful place in global markets. As we continue to give our army the best possible machinery and equipment, we plan to manufacture half of our military needs within the Kingdom to create more job opportunities for citizens and keep more resources in our country.

We will expand the variety of digital services to reduce delays and cut tedious bureaucracy. We will immediately adopt wide-ranging transparency and accountability reforms and, through the body set up to measure the performance of government agencies, hold them accountable for any shortcomings. We will be transparent and open about our failures as well as our successes, and will welcome ideas on how to improve.

All this comes from the directive of the Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques, King Salman bin Abdulaziz Al-Saud, may Allah protect him, who ordered us to plan for a future that fulfills your ambitions and your aspirations.In line with his instructions, we will work tirelessly from today to build a better tomorrow for you, your children, and your children’s children.

Our ambition is for the long term. It goes beyond replenishing sources of income that have weakened or preserving what we have already achieved. We are determined to build a thriving country in which all citizens can fulfill their dreams, hopes and ambitions. Therefore, we will not rest until our nation is a leader in providing opportunities for all through education and training, and high quality services such as employment initiatives, health, housing, and entertainment.

We commit ourselves to providing world class government services which effectively and efficiently meet the needs of our citizens. Together we will continue building a better country, fulfilling our dream of prosperity and unlocking the talent, potential, and dedication of our young men and women. We will not allow our country ever to be at the mercy of a commodity price volatility or external markets.

We have all the means to achieve our dreams and ambitions. There are no excuses for us to stand still or move backwards.Our Vision is a strong, thriving, and stable Saudi Arabia that provides opportunity for all. Our Vision is a tolerant country with Islam as its constitution and moderation as its method. We will welcome qualified individuals from all over the world and will respect those who have come to join our journey and our success.

We intend to provide better opportunities for partnerships with the private sector through the three pillars: our position as the heart of the Arab and Islamic worlds, our leading investment capabilities, and our strategic geographical position. We will improve the business environment, so that our economy grows and flourishes, driving healthier employment opportunities for citizens and long-term prosperity for all. This promise is built on cooperation and on mutual responsibility.

This is our “Saudi Arabia’s Vision for 2030.” We will begin immediately delivering the overarching plans and programmes we have set out. Together, with the help of Allah, we can strengthen the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia’s position as a great nation about which we should all feel an immense pride.

His Royal Highness Prince Mohammed bin Salman bin Abdulaziz Crown Prince, Deputy Prime Minister, and Chairman of the Council of Economic and Development Affairs.

History & Heritage

Saudi Arabia has long occupied an important role at the center of the Islamic and Arab worlds. Located at the heart of three continents, the Kingdom has served as an important ancient trade route and a vital link connecting East and West.

It also has a unique heritage landscape that has developed over the centuries, including 6 UNESCO World Heritage sites.

People & Culture

Saudi Arabia has a rich culture shaped by the diversity of its people, which has formed the basis of its cultural identity. The Kingdom has 13 regions across which 34 million people live who are united by the Arabic language, but each region has a unique dialect, traditions, heritage, and culinary identity.

The Kingdom has four official yearly celebrations; two Islamic celebrations, Eid al-Fitr and Eid al-Adha, Founding Day (February 22) and Saudi National Day (September 23).

The people of Saudi Arabia embrace many social values influenced by their Islamic values which preserve the Kingdom’s ancient customs and traditions, including generosity, courage, hospitality, and maintaining strong family relationships.

Economy & Business

Saudi Arabia has implemented structural economic and financial reforms since the launch of Vision 2030, which established a new economic system that prompts the creation of a diversified and robust economy that achieves sustainable growth for the Kingdom.

Investing in previously untapped sectors has supported the Kingdom’s economic diversification efforts and led to an improved business environment. Thus, strengthening the role of the private sector in the economy and creating the necessary environment for sustainable growth.

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