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JRJ’s impulsive utterances & startling statements



Excerpted from the memoirs of Chandra Wickremasinghe, Retd. Addl. Sec. to President

President Jayewardene had an amazingly retentive memory which enabled him to make elegant speeches on varied subjects, extempore.

He often amazed foreigners with the exhaustive and detailed knowledge he possessed of their own history. He was happiest I felt, browsing in the library in his home ‘Braemar’ where he used to relax among his books dressed casually in sarong and shirt.

President Jayewardene being a UNP stalwart, had an all too well known partiality for the US which earned him the sobriquet ‘Yankee Dicky’! After the landslide electoral victory the party received in 1977, it was therefore natural for him to try to cosy up to the US and the West. The ideological shift following his party victory was underscored euphorically, with undiluted free-market epithets like – ‘Let the robber barons come’! Unlike Prime Minister Sirima Bandaranaike, whose relations with our immediate neighbour India, were most cordial, President JR by his rather uncharacteristic, impulsive utterances almost from the outset, appeared to want to distance himself from India, which he did succeed in doing somewhat dramatically, by his needlessly demeaning and unkind analogies about PM Indira Gandhi and her son.

This was something one would not have expected from an elegant and suave, worldly-wise person of the stature of President JR, who was at the time, fast reaching the level of recognition as an elder statesman in the Asian Region. The infuriated Indian PM never forgave President JR for this uncalled for personal insult and vented her rage on him and tragically on SL, by vengefully providing facilities for the training of LTTE terrorists on Indian soil. I consider this a major faux pas which President JR could never live down as long as the Indian Lady PM was living.

The Nehru and the Bandaranaike families

It will be recalled how well the Bandaranaikes got on with the Nehru family to the point where the two families became virtually close family friends. These were heady times when India and SL were literally bending over each other and generously awarding each other concessions which even entailed sensitive and far reaching ones, like ceding the island of Kachchativu to SL. This buoyant optimism and bonhomie quickly evaporated and was replaced by mutual suspicion and animosity with the assumption of President JR to office.

One factor which perhaps made Mrs. Gandhi change her attitude towards SL was in my reckoning, the abject humiliation her good friend Mrs. Sirima Bandaranaike was made to suffer when she was stripped off her civic rights. One often wonders what really prompted President JR to forget his chivalrous and magnanimous qualities and condescend to doing such an act which was widely perceived at the time, as something quite ungracious and even malicious. The talk at the time was that it was an act of revenge for the harassment and the incarceration of President JRJ’s son Ravi Jayawardene, during the earlier dispensation.

All this would only go to show how personal relationships between leaders of political parties within a country or between leaders of different countries, could either strengthen or foul up relationships between countries. In restrospect, one observes how very tragically, the failure in relations between the former Indian PM, Mrs. Indira Gandhi and President JR changed the course of Sri Lanka’s history.

After the ’83 communal riots when SL was being hauled over the coals by the international community for the atrocities committed on the minority Tamils, Mrs. Gandhi took the opportunity to upbraid SL at every turn. I was even told by people close to President JR that Mrs. Gandhi had at times taken the President to task on the telephone, for his failure to give adequate protection to the Tamils. This was a time when new ‘lows’ were reached in our rapidly deteriorating relations with India.

I recall a discussion that took place at a reception at the President’s House with the President, Mr. DBIPS Siriwardhana, Gen. Attygalla and myself being present in the group. There was at this time an imminent threat of a flotilla of vessels heading towards Jaffna from South India. The President said that such an ‘invasion’ was very likely to happen and asked how we should respond. Gen. Attygalla said with the least hesitation “We will perform satyagraha at the point they would land.” The President’s face betrayed no emotion and remained as usual, inscrutable. I really do not know whether it was a ‘tongue in cheek’ utterance of Gen. Attygalla or whether he meant it in all seriousness. Thankfully for us, the President moved away from our small group to another group.

President Jayewardene at times used to make rather out of character , startling statements, which may have been out of uninhibited hubris or sly cynicism. Right at the beginning of his assumption of office as President, he made the somewhat pretentious declaration that his Govt. would be a ‘Dharmista Rajaya’. The seasoned, worldly wise politician that he was, the President would have known in his own mind that politics and ethics are not a happy mix. If anything, they are polar opposites.

Readers will further recall how President JR on becoming the first Executive President of SL, made the baffling statement, reflecting uncharacteristic temerity on his part, that the only thing he could not do was ‘turning a man into a woman.’ Another instance was the totally out of character speech he made over the media at the height of the ’83 riots. Yet another incredibly preposterous statement he made with amazing sang froid, was that he was ‘well on his way to attaining Nirvana’! Strangely enough, even at that time, people were more amused rather than offended by these statements.

Still, President JR being so knowledgeable and politically accomplished, one found it difficult indeed to associate him with such improbably braggadocio utterances. I myself and many others in fact, wondered why such a wise man had to mouth such demotic banalities at all. He was again, in my view, too wise and politically savvy to have believed in his own mind in these extraordinary utterances of his, nor would he have for that matter expected others to believe them. This was the indeed the supreme enigma that President JR was!

An admirable side of President JR’s personality was brought out by an incident involving a visit made by me to Mr. Cyril Mathew’s residence after the latter’s removal from the post of Minister following certain differences he had had with the President. Soon after Mr. Mathew’s removal, I thought I must pay him a visit as, despite my abrupt exit from the Ministry, he had been very good to me. I however, took the precaution of telling Gen. Attygalla, Secy/Defence, about the proposed visit adding that I considered it my duty to see him particularly after he had been stripped off his ministerial portfolio, as Mr. Mathew had treated me well during my stay in his Ministry.

I waited for about three days following Mr. Mathew’s removal and dropped in to see him on the fourth day. To my surprise, there was not a soul at the time of my visit at Mr.Mathew’s residence, except for his mustachioed green shirted ‘Major Domo’, who usually acted as the ma ster of ceremonies. He seemed somewhat subdued in his demeanour and requested me the take a seat saying the ‘Minister’ would be coming to see me soon .A couple of minutes later Mr. Mathew came in and greeted me asking me somewhat cynically, I thought, how things were in the Public Service. My conversation with him was all too brief as just at the time the peon came and said that there were some Buddhist priests to see him. Mr. Mathew thanked me for coming and left the room to greet the priests.All in all,I had the feeling that he was still not too happy with me for leaving his Ministry.

On my way out, I did not fail to notice two plainclothesmen, obviously from the CID, who would have been instructed to report on the visitors coming to see the ex-Minister. My suspicions were confirmed when two days later Secy/Defence told me that my visit had been duly brought to the notice of President JR who had enquired from Gen Attygalla why I had paid the visit to Mr. Mathew’s residence. On being told by Secy./Defence that I had told him beforehand of my visit to the ex-Minister’s residence, as the latter had been good to me during my stay in that Ministry, President JR had only remarked ‘Showing one’s gratitude is a good quality’ and left things at that.

After President JR stepped down from office, Stanley Kirinde and I visited him at home where he had a long and relaxed chat with us, in the course of which he said that he had known my father- in- law, ’Edo’ as he called him, from school days, adding that the two of them had played in the Royal College cricket team which had been captained by my father- in- law in 1927.

With his storehouse of anecdotes, President JR was an excellent raconteur. Although he had a dead pan face and was impassive in public, President JR had an impish sense of humour and was quite convivial and relaxed in known company, which gave one a surprisingly revealing glimpse of this little known aspect of his personality. He was clever and at times wily in dealing with men and matters. His cleverness could be gauged by the amazing volte- face he was able to maneuver and get the Indians to do by getting them, who were the veritable creators of the LTTE fighting cadres, to come round to fighting them on Sri Lankan soil. The LTTE never forgave India’s favourite son Rajiv Gandhi who was made to pay the supreme price, for the latter’s peace endeavours.

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From a ‘Clash of Civilizations’ to a ‘Dialogue among Civilizations’



A meeting of BRICS leaders

As the world continues to reel from the ‘aftershocks’ as it were of the October 7th Gaza Strip-centred savagery, what it should guard against most is a mood of pessimism and hopelessness. Hopefully, the international community would pull itself together before long and give of its best to further the cause of a political solution in the Middle East.

It is plain to see that what needs to be done most urgently at present is the prolongation of the current ceasefire, besides facilitating a steady exchange of hostages but given the present state of hostilities between the warring sides this would not prove an easy challenge.

Considering that there are no iron-clad guarantees by either side that there would be a longstanding ceasefire followed by a cessation of hostilities, what we have at present in the Middle East is a highly fraught ‘breather’ from the fighting. There are no easy answers to the currently compounded Middle East conflict but the external backers of the warring sides could alleviate the present suffering of the peoples concerned to a degree by bringing steady pressure on the principal antagonists to drastically scale down their hostilities.

If they mean well by the communities concerned, these external backers, such as the US, as regards Israel, and those major Middle Eastern states backing Hamas and other militant groups, would set about creating a conducive climate for a negotiated settlement to the conflict.

De-escalating the supply of lethal military hardware to the warring sides is a vital first step towards this end. External military backing is a key element in the prolongation of the war and a decrease in such support would go some distance in curtailing the agony of the peoples concerned. The onus is on these external parties to prove their good intentions, if they have any.

Meanwhile, major states of the South in increasing numbers are making their voices heard on the principal issues to the conflict. One such grouping is BRICS, which is now featuring among its prospective membership, countries such as Egypt, Ethiopia, Argentina, Saudi Arabia, the UAE and Iran. That is, in the foreseeable future BRICS would emerge as a greatly expanded global grouping, which would come to be seen as principally representative of the South.

Since the majority of countries within the BRICS fold are emerging economies, the bloc could be expected to wield tremendous economic and military clout in the present world order. With China and Russia counting among the foremost powers in the grouping, BRICS would be in a position to project itself as an effective counterweight to the West and the G7 bloc.

However, the major challenge before the likes of BRICS is to prove that they will be a boon and not a bane to the poorer countries of the South. They would be challenged to earnestly champion the cause of a just and equitable world political and economic order. Would BRICS, for instance, be equal to such challenges? Hopefully, the commentator would be able to answer this question in the affirmative, going ahead.

The current issues in the Middle East pose a major challenge to BRICS. One of the foremost tasks for BRICS in relation to the Middle East is the formulation of a policy position that is equitable and fair to all the parties to the conflict. The wellbeing of both the Palestinians and the Israelis needs to be staunchly championed.

Thus, BRICS is challenged to be even-handed in its managing of Middle Eastern questions. If the grouping does not do this, it risks turning the Gaza bloodletting, for example, into yet another proxy war front between the East and West.

Nothing constructive would be achieved by BRICS, in that the wellbeing of the peoples concerned would not be served and proxy wars have unerringly been destructive rather constructive in any way. The South could do without any more of these proxy wars and BRICS would need to prove its skeptics wrong on this score.

Accordingly, formations, such as BRICS, that are genuine counterweights to the West are most welcome but their presence in the world system should prove to be of a positive rather than of a negative nature. They need to keep the West in check in the UN system, for example, but they should steer clear of committing the West’s excesses and irregularities.

More specifically, the expanding BRICS should be in a position to curtail the proliferation of identity politics in the present world order. The West has, thus far, failed to achieve this. The seismic convulsions in the Gaza re-establish the pervasive and pernicious presence of identity politics in the world’s war zones, so much so, one could say that US political scientist Samuel Huntingdon is being proved absolutely right in his theorization that world politics over the past 30 years has been essentially a ‘Clash of Civilizations’.

After all, current developments in the Middle East could be construed by the more simple-minded observer as a pitting of Islam against Judaism, although there are many more convoluted strands to the Middle East conflict than a violent clash of these religious identities. More so why the influence of identity politics needs to blunted and eliminated by the right-thinking.

One way in which this could be achieved is the through the steady espousal and practise of former Iranian President Mohammad Khatami’s ‘Dialogue of Civilizations’ theory. While the existence of a ‘Clash of Civilizations’ cannot be denied on account of the pervasive presence of identity politics the world over, the negative effects of this brand of politics could be neutralized through the initiation and speeding-up of a robust dialogue among civilizations or identity groups.

Such an exchange of views or dialogue could prove instrumental in facilitating mutual understanding among cultural and civilizational groups. The consequence could be a reduction in tensions among mutually hostile social groups. Needless to say, the Middle East is rife with destructive politics of this kind.

Accordingly, there needs to be a paradigm shift in the way cultural groups interact with each other. The commonalities among these groups could be enhanced through a constant dialogue process and the Middle East of today opens out these possibilities.

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Their love story in song…



The duo in the company of Dinesh Hemantha and Jananga

It’s certainly encouraging to see Sri Lankan artistes now trying to be creative…where songs are concerned.

Over the past few weeks, we have seen some interesting originals surfacing, with legendary singer/entertainer Sohan Weerasinghe’s ‘Sansare,’ taking the spotlight.

Rubeena Shabnam, Sri Lankan based in Qatar, and Yohan Dole, living in Australia, have teamed up to produce a song about their love life.

‘Adare Sulagin’ is the title of the song and it’s the couple’s very first duet.

Says Rubeena: “This song is all about our love story and is a symbol of our love. It feels like a dream singing with my fiancé.”

Elaborating further, especially as to how they fell in love, Rubeena went on to say that they met via social media, through a common friend of theirs.

The song and video was done in Sri Lanka.

Rubeena and Yohan with lyricist Jananga Vishawajith

“We both travelled to Sri Lanka, in August this year, where we recorded the song and did the video, as well.

‘Adare Sulagin’ was composed by Dinesh Hemantha (DH Wave Studio, in Galle), while the lyrics were penned by Jananga Vishwajith, and the video was handled by Pathmila Ravishan.

It is Dinesh Hemantha’s second composition for Rubeena – the first being ‘Surali.’

“It was an amazing project and it was done beautifully. Talking about the music video, we decided to keep it more simple, and natural, so we decided to capture it at the studio. It was a lot of fun working with them.”

‘Adare Sulagin,’ says Rubeena, is for social media only. “We have not given it for release to any radio or TV station in Sri Lanka.”

However, you could check it out on YouTube: Adare Sulagin – Rubeena Shabnam, ft. Yohan Dole.

Rubeena lives and works in Qatar and she has been in the music industry for almost five years. She has done a few originals but this one, with Yohan, is very special to her, she says.

Yohan Dole resides in Australia and is a guitarist and vocalist.

He has a band called Rhythmix, in Australia, where they play at various events.

He has been doing music for quite a while now but doing an original song was one of his dreams, he says

Rubeena and Yohan plan to get married, in December, and do more music together, in different genres.

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Mathematics examinations or mathematics curriculum?



Some people say that it is not necessary for a Grade 10 student to buy an ordinary scientific calculator because they have smartphones with built-in calculators. If not, it is easy to install a calculator app on mobile phones. A smartphone should not be used as a calculator during a mathematics test or a mathematics exam because it can be used for cheating. In the UK and other developed countries students have to keep their smartphones in their school bags or in their lockers outside the classroom during mathematics tests and exams. 

by Anton Peiris

R. N.A. De Silva has, in a recent article, provided some useful tips to students as regards preparation for mathematics examinations. Trained teachers and graduates with professional qualifications are familiar with this topic.  All mathematics teachers have a duty to help the students with revision.

The more important task is to salvage the Sri Lankan O/Level mathematics students from the abyss that they have fallen into, viz. the implications and the retarding effect of the use of obsolete Log Tables. The Minister of Education, Senior Ministry Officials and the NIA are oblivious to the important and interesting things that have happened in Grades 10 and 11 mathematics in the UK, other parts of Europe, Japan, Canada, China and elsewhere. They have been like frogs in a well for almost half a century. Here are two important facts:

1. O/Level mathematics students in Sri Lanka are 46 years behind their counterparts in the UK and in other developed countries. Ordinary Scientific calculators were introduced to the O/Level mathematics classrooms in the UK way back in 1977. Prior to that those students used Slide Rules to facilitate their mathematical calculations. Ordinary scientific calculators give the values of Sine, Cos, Tan and their Inverses, Log, LN, exponential powers, square roots, squares, reciprocals, factorials, etc., at the press of a button, in addition to performing arithmetic functions. There is no memory to store mathematical formulae, etc. It is an invaluable tool for solving sophisticated and interesting mathematical problems and also problems in ordinary statistics. It has paved the way for achieving high standards in O/Level Mathematics in those countries.

Just compare the maths questions in the Cambridge IGCSE or the London O/Level Maths Exam with the questions in the Sri Lankan O/Level maths exam and you will see how far our students have fallen behind.

The Cambridge O/Level examination was replaced by the GCSE and the IGCSE (International General Certificate of Secondary Education) a few decades ago.

I am not referring to Programmable Calculators and Graphic Display Calculators (GDC), meaning devices with a small screen that can display graphs, perform statistical calculations like the Z- Score for large samples, show Matrix calculations, provide solutions to algebraic equations, etc., at the press of a few buttons. GDC is a compulsory item for A/Level mathematics students in the UK and in all developed countries.

Some teachers say that by using ordinary scientific calculators in Grades 10 and 11, students will not acquire the ability to carry out mental arithmetic calculations. This is not true because

(i). Calculators are introduced in Grade 10. Maths teachers have five years of Primary School and three years of Middle school (Grades 7, 8 and 9) i.e. a total of eight years to inculcate sufficient mental arithmetic skills in their students before the calculators are introduced in Grade 10!

(ii). In the IGCSE and in the London O/Level Mathematics Exams calculators are not allowed for Paper 1. Preparation for Paper 1 requires the acquisition of mental arithmetic skills, e.g., one lesson per week in class in Grades 10 and 11 in which calculators are not allowed. Sri Lanka could follow suit.

Some people say that it is not necessary for a Grade 10 student to buy an ordinary scientific calculator because they have smartphones with built-in calculators. If not, it is easy to install a calculator app on mobile phones. A smartphone should not be used as a calculator during a mathematics test or a mathematics exam because it can be used for cheating. In the UK and other developed countries students have to keep their smartphones in their school bags or in their lockers outside the classroom during mathematics tests and exams.

An ordinary scientific calculator costs less than 10 % of the price of a smartphone.

Sri Lankan students in International Schools sit the IGCSE or the London O/Level mathematics exams where ordinary scientific calculators are allowed. These students have made big strides in learning mathematics by using the calculators. Only the rich can send their children to International Schools in Sri Lanka. Millions of poor Sri Lankan students do not have calculators.

Our Minister of Education has announced that the government was planning to transform the country’s education system by introducing ‘’STEAM’ (Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts and Mathematics). Maintaining high standards in O/Level Mathematics is the key to a successful implementation of STEAM programme. Unfortunately, the Education Minister and top education official are not aware of the fact that the only way to improve the standard of O/Level Mathematics is to do what the developed countries have done, i. e., revamping the O/Level mathematics syllabus and to introducing the ordinary scientific calculator in Grades 10 & 11. If they do it, it will be an important piece of curriculum development.

Bear in mind that the UK and other developed countries have taken another important step during the last 20 years; they have introduced the Graphic Display Calculator (GDC) to the O/Level Mathematics class and by providing a Core Exam and an Extended Exam. In the Cambridge IGCSE Mathematics Exams, Papers 1, 3, and 5 constitute the Core Exam. Papers 2 ,4 and 6 constitute the Extended Exam. Calculators are not allowed in Papers 1 and 2.

The Core Exam is a boon to students who have very little or no mathematical ability. More on this in my next article.

By using Log Tables, our Sri Lankan O/Level students have to spend a lot of time to solve an IGCSE (Extended Syllabus) exam problem or a London O/Level mathematics exam problem because the use of Log Tables takes a long time  to work out the Squares, Square Roots, exponential powers, reciprocals , LN , factorials, etc., and that is tedious work while their counterparts in developed countries do that in a few seconds by pressing a couple of buttons in an ordinary scientific calculator.

The Calculator has given them more motivation to learn mathematics.

O/Level students in the UK have graduated from the ordinary scientific calculator to the Graphic Display Calculator (GDC) thereby improving their ability to solve more sophisticated, more important and more interesting problems in mathematics, statistics and physics. Sri Lankan O/Level students are compelled to use obsolete Log Tables.

Hats off to that Minister of Education who introduced the ordinary scientific calculator to the Sri Lankan A/ Level Mathematics classroom and to the A/Level Mathematics Exam a few years ago. That was a small step in the right direction. Minister Susil Premjayantha, please revamp the O/Level mathematics syllabus and introduce the ordinary scientific calculator to Grades 10 and 11 now. That will ensure a big boost for your STEAM programme and yield benefits for the Sri Lankan economy.

(To be continued. Topic 2:  The necessity for introducing an O/Level Mathematics Core Exam and an Extended Exam. The writer has taught O/Level and A/Level Mathematics and Physics for 45 years in Asia, Africa and Europe and is an Emeritus Coordinator for International Baccalaureate, Geneva.)

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