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.
Dangerous rail travel by tourists: Why not create an opportunity?
Before the Covid Pandemic hit Sri Lanka, there was some debate and concern voiced about tourists standing at the door ways of trains and even hanging out, while the train is moving. Some pictures of a young couple hanging out of an upcountry train, while clutching on to the side rails, went viral, on social media, with debates of the ‘pros’ and ‘cons’ reaching fever pitch. While certainly this is a dangerous practice, not to be condoned, If we ‘think out of the box’ could there be a way to make this seemingly popular, though dangerous pastime among some tourists, into an opportunity to be exploited. This paper aims to explore these options pragmatically.
By Srilal Miththapala
Social media, and even some of the more conventional media, were all a-buzz before the CoVid crisis, when some pictures of a young tourist couple appeared, hanging out of a Sri Lankan upcountry train in gay abandon, savouring the exciting moment. There were hot debates about this form of ‘promotion of Sri Lanka’, with many people talking about the dangers of such a practice, and that it would bring negative publicity for Sri Lanka if something dangerous were to happen. This part of the train ride, along the upcountry route, is arguably one of the most scenic train routes in the world.
And quite rightly so, I guess. I myself was one who joined the chorus who vehemently spoke against this.
However thinking out of the box, I got thinking – Can we create an opportunity here ?
The ‘new’, experience and thrill seeking tourist of today
There is no doubt that there is a new segment of discerning, younger, experience and adventure seeking tourists, emerging and travelling all over the world. They are very internet and social media savvy, seeking more adventurous and exciting experiences, and are usually very environmentally conscious. They are most often seen exploring ‘off-the-beaten-track’ holidays, planned out individually according to their needs and wants.
Through the ages, mankind has been pushing the limits of exploration: We have conquered land, sea and space. We have discovered many hitherto unknown wonders of our planet with our unabated thirst for knowledge.
Tourists are no different. To get away from their daily stressful life, they seek something different, even venturing into hostile or dangerous places to experience the excitement of discovery and the feeling of adventure. No longer is a clean hotel room with a range of facilities, good food and some sunshine good enough to a tourist.
According to booking.com, the yearning for experiences, over material possessions, continues to drive travellers’ desire for more incredible and memorable trips: 45% of travellers have a bucket list in mind. Most likely to appear on a bucket list are thrill seekers wanting to visit a world famous theme park, travellers looking to go on an epic rail journey or visiting a remote or challenging location. ()
Drive-reduction theory in psychology postulates that one is never in a state of complete fulfilment, and thus, there are always drives that need to be satisfied. Humans and other animals voluntarily increase tension by exploring their unknown environments, self-inducing stress and moving out of their comfort zones. This gives them a sense of achievement and self-satisfaction. ()
Therefore, unknown thrills, adventures and the ‘adrenaline rush’ does attract travellers.
What have other countries done ?
As mentioned many countries are developing unique , memorable and thrilling experiences into their product offering.
A few are described below
Walk along Sydney Harbour Bridge
Walk along Sydney Harbour Bridge
Small groups are taken on a walk along the massive, arched steel structured Sydney Harbour Bridge . The dramatic 360 deg. view from the bridge, 135 meters above ground, of the harbour, and the nearby Sydney Opera house, while being completely exposed to the elements, is, indeed, a rare and thrilling experience.
Coiling Dragon Cliff skywalk, Zhangjiajie, China
In the northwest of China’s Hunan province, visitors can take a leisurely stroll along the walkway attached to Tianmen Mountain — 4,700 feet above the ground.
The glass-bottomed walkway is more than 300 feet long and only about five feet wide, providing an experience that is said to be exhilarating and frightening .
The CN tower Edge walk, Canada
The tallest attraction in Toronto lets people stand right at the edge of the CN tower and lean over. It is the world’s highest full circle, hands-free walk on a 1.5 m wide ledge encircling the top of the Tower’s main pod, 356m , 116 storeys above the ground. EdgeWalk is a Canadian Signature Experience and an Ontario Signature Experience.
A variety of unique trekking opportunities, in Rwanda and Uganda, allow you trek into the jungle to gaze into the eyes of the Gorillas in their natural habitat. It’s a completely unique African safari experience. This moment leaves a lasting and unforgettable impression, coming so close to this majestic wild animal.
These are just a few. So there are already a range of unique, visitor attractions that thrill tourists the world over.
The CN tower Edge walk, Canada
Safety – the one overriding condition
All these thrill seeking, and seemingly dangerous tourist attractions have one common denominator that is never ever compromised – Safety.
Safety is of paramount importance in all these activities and are subject to stringent checks and review, periodically. All personnel who guide and instruct these thrill seeking tourists are well trained and disciplined.
Any equipment that is used for safety, such as harnesses and safety belts, are designed to the highest standards and are periodically tested. Nothing is left to chance and if there is the slightest semblance of danger, due to any unforeseen environmental conditions, the attraction is closed down temporarily. ( e.g when there are strong winds the Sydney Harbour bridge walk is suspended).
Such safety measures are an imperative necessity, because any unforeseen accident can lead to serious and grave consequences of litigation and even closing down of the attraction.
So what about our train ride ?
The attraction of the Sri Lankan upcountry train ride (most often between Nanu Oya and Ella – the most scenic section) is the fact that a tourist can stand ‘on the footboard’ of the open train carriageway door, and feel the cool breeze against their faces while absorbing the beautiful hill country and tea plantations. This is something most western tourists cannot do back home, where all train carriageway doors are automatically shut when the train starts moving.
In fact I am told that some Tour Agents in Australia are specifically asked by tourists to arrange this ‘experience’ for them, when booking their tour.
So why not be creative and make a proper attraction out of this ?
Cannot we modify one carriage to have an open ‘balcony’ along the side where a person can stand ‘outside’ and ‘feel the open environment’? It could be fitted with proper safety rails and each person can be anchored to the carriage with a harness (like what is used in other attractions where the interaction is open to the elements). A special charge can be levied for this experience.
One factor that favours the safety aspect is that during traversing this stretch, due to the steep gradient, the train travels at a ‘snail’s pace’, unlike in foreign countries where speeds could reach 80-100 kms per hour.
This attraction could be used as an income generator for the Railway Department as tourists wanting to experience this ‘thrill’ can be charged a fee, for a specific time period that they could use the facility.
Although this may seem simplistic, in reality there may be several logistical issues that need to be addressed.
But, if there is a will, and the different departments involved can all see the opportunity, and get on to the same ‘wavelength’, cutting through the inordinate bureaucracy that usually prevails, then surely it would not be at all difficult.
But the overall point in this entire treatise, is that we have to ‘think out of the box’ and grasp at all possible opportunities that are available, especially as we gradually open up for tourists after the pandemic. We are quite used to ranting and raving about all the shortfalls that prevail.. But there’s so much that still can be done if there are a few motivated and dedicated people who can get together.
Tourism after all is really ‘show businesses’ and without creativity, panache, actors and showmanship, what is show business?
Remebering Prophet Muhammad’s legacy – ECOLOGICAL WELFARE
By Dr M Haris Deen
COVID-19 came and as yet remains, at the same time the world is plagued with another serious issue, that of global warming and other ecological disturbances. While remembering the birth of Prophet Muhammad (Peace and Blessings of Allah be upon him) let us recall the contributions he made towards the applying Islamic principles of Islamic welfare towards protection of the environment.
The Prophet of Islam (May peace be upon him) advocated during his lifetime the stringent application of Islamic principles in respect of ecological welfare. Prophet Muhammad (Peace be upon him) taught his followers to live on less, neither to be extravagant nor to be miserly and to protect animal and plant life and to worship the Creator by being merciful to His creations. He forbade the killing of any animal unless out of necessity to feed the people. Al Albani reports that the Prophet (on whom be peace) said “If the Hou r (meaning the day of Resurrection) is about to be established and one of you was holding a palm shoot, let him take advantage of even one second before the Hour is established to plant it”. Imam Bukhari reported the Prophet (Peace be on him) as having said that “if a Muslim plants a tree or sows seeds, and then a bird, or a person or an animal eats from it, it is regarded as a charitable gift (sadaqah) for him”. It is also reported in Ibn Majah that once the Prophet (peace be upon him) happened to pass by his companion Sa’ad (May God be pleased with him) and found him performing ablution (wudu) next to a river and questioned him “Sa;ad what is this squandering? And when Sa’ad asked in return “can there be an idea if squandering (israf) in ablution?’ the Prophet replied “yes, even if you are by the side of a flowing river”.
In another Hadith narrated by Ibn Majah, the Prophet (on whom be peace) said “Beware of the three acts that cause you to be cursed: (1) relieving yourself in shaded places (that people utilise), in a walkway or in a watering place”.
The Qur’an in chapter 56 verses 68 to 70 states “consider the water which you drink. Was it you that brought it down from the rain cloud or We? If We had pleased, We could make it bitter”.
Prophet’s companion Abu Dhar Al Ghaffari (May Allah be pleased with him) reported the Prophet (on whom be peace) said “Removing harmful things from the road is an act of charity” and in another Hadith authenticated by Albani, the Prophet (on whom be peace) said “the believer is not he who eats his fill while his neighbour is hungry”. The Prophet further cautioned as reported by Tirmadhi and Ibn Majah that “Nothing is worst than a person who fills his stomach. It should be enough for the son of Adam to have a few bites to satisfy his hunger. If he wishes more, it should be : one third for his food, one third for his liquids and one third for his breath”.
Imam Bukhari reported an amazing story narrated by the Prophet (on whom be peace) that “A man felt very thirsty while he was on the way, there he came across a well. He went down the well, quenched his thirst and came out. Meanwhile, he saw a dog panting and licking mud because of excessive thirst. He said to himself. “This dog is suffering from thirst as I did, “So, he went down the well again, filled his shoe with water, held it in his mouth and watered the dog. Allah appreciated him for that deed and forgave him”. The companions inquired, “O Allah’s Messenger, is there a reward for us in serving the animals?” He replied: “There is a reward for saving any living being”.
Animals have a huge role in the ecological welfare system. The tenets of the Shariah Law towards animal rights make it obligatory for any individual to take care of crippled animals, to rescue strays and to guard birds’ nests of eggs’.
Sal Allahu Ala Muhammad Sal Allahu Alaihi wa Sallam. May Allah Shower His Choicest Blessings on the Soul of Prophet Muhammad.
Of course, I know for sure fans of the Gypsies, and music lovers, in general, not only in Sri Lanka but around the world, as well, would be thrilled to know that this awesome outfit hasn’t called it a day.
After the demise of the legendary Sunil Perera, everyone thought that the Gypsies would disband.
Perhaps that would have been in the minds of even the members, themselves, as Sunil was not only their leader, and frontline vocalist, but also an icon in the music scene – he was special in every way.
Many, if not all, thought that the Gypsies, without Sunil, would find the going tough and that is because they all associated the Gypsies with Sunil Perera.
Sunil receiving The Island Music Award for ‘Showbiz Personality of the Year’ 1990
It generally happens, with certain outfits, where the rest of the members go unnoticed and the spotlight is only on one particular member – the leader of the group.
Some of the names that come to mind are Gabo and The Breakaways (Gabo) Misty (Rajitha), Darktan (Alston Koch), Upekkha (Manilal), Jetliners (Mignonne), Sohan & The X-Periments (Sohan), and the list is quite lengthy….
Yes, the Gypsies will continue, says Piyal Perera, and he mapped out to us what he has in mind.
They will take on a new look, he said, adding that in no way would they try to recreate the era of the Gypsies with Sunil Perera..
“That era is completely gone and we will never ever look to bringing that era into our scene again.
“My brother was a very special individual and his place in the band can never ever be replaced.”
Will Sunil join this scene…at Madame Tussauds!
Piyal went to say that the Gypsies will return to the showbiz scene, in a different setting.
“In all probability, we may have a female vocalist, in the vocal spotlight, and our repertoire will not be the songs generally associated with Sunil and the Gypsies.
“It will be a totally new approach by the new look Gypsies,” said Piyal.
In the meanwhile, Piyal also mentioned that they are working on the possibility of having an image of the late Sunil Perera at the Madame Tussauds wax museum, in London.
He says they have been asked, by the authorities concerned, to submit a PowerPoint presentation of Sunil’s achievements, and that they are working on it.
It’s, indeed, a wonderful way to keep Sunil’s image alive.
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