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Lalitha. K. Witanachchi, veteran teacher, talented journalist, award winning author

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by Dhilmini Palipane

A unique event took place at College House, University of Colombo, a few years ago when seven distinguished Alumni of the University of Ceylon, Colombo, were felicitated for their attainments in their respective fields and for their distinguished service to the country. They were Prof. Carlo Fonseka, Tissa Devendra, Iranganie Serasinghe, Deloraine Brohier, M. Saldin, Dr. C.R. Panabokke and Lalitha K. Witanachchi.

The President and Executive Committee of the Alumni Association, University of Colombo at its 34th Annual General Meeting made a presentation to each of these alumni “in proud recognition of their achievements and contribution to the nation as distinguished alumni of the University of Ceylon, Colombo.”

Of the seven recipients, award winning writer Lalitha Karalliadde Witanachchi was a teacher for 30 years and a journalist of the Daily News for 12 years. She had her education at Hillwood College, Kandy, and entered the University of Ceylon, Colombo, winning the “Geography Exhibition” in December 1945. She received her degree in Geography Special, having obtained a Grade A in her subsidiary subject Economics.

Soon after graduation she joined the staff of Good Shepherd Convent, Nuwara Eliya, teaching English and Geography, besides taking extracurricular activities such as tennis, “Little Friends”, and even acting as Akela for the young scouts as there was no male Scout Master!

After her marriage in 1951 she joined her husband who was a District Land Officer, at Anuradhapura. At that time, this was a station which had no electricity or water service. There were very few graduates serving here, and she was invited by the Director of Education to teach at the Central College, Anuradhapura, which had a dearth of teachers. At first she was reluctant, as she had her first baby to look after, but after much persuasion agreed, in order to help these children from the dry zone who were scholars and hindered due to the lack of English teachers.

Thus from October 1953 she became a devoted teacher, the first graduate teacher of Central College, Anuradhapura, still honoured by her loyal students of the 1950s, who to this day never fail to invite her to their Past Pupils’ Reunion, in gratitude for her unstinted efforts to teach them English, Geography and History, even after school hours. Many of her students entered the University and served the country, among them C. M. Medduma Bandara who became Emeritus Professor and Vice Chancellor of Peradeniya University.

Her husband served in various districts in the country, and she joined him, teaching in different schools in Nuwara Eliya, Anuradhapura, Kalutara, Kurunegala, Kandy and Colombo, finally as a Senior teacher at Visakha Vidyalaya, Colombo.

She obtained the Diploma in Education from the University of Peradeniya, and after teaching in Sri Lanka for 30 years she joined the public service of Sokoto State of Nigeria and was appointed Senior Master of English at Haliru Abdu Teachers’ College of Bernin Kebbi. After two years she returned to Sri Lanka and was selected as a journalist on the Features Desk of the Daily News, where she proved to be an excellent writer.

In 1984 she was awarded the First Prize in the Short Story Contest for New Writing by the Linguistics Department of Macquarie University, Sydney, Australia, for her short story “The Truth”, based on the happenings of “Black July” of 1983. On a visit to Sydney she was invited to address the prestigious Sri Lanka – Australia Association on her literary activities. In 1992 she won the State English Writing Competition for her Eight Short Stories and in 1993 the Arts Council of Sri Lanka English Writing Competition- awarded her the prize for her short stories for children Rays of Sunshine.

The same year, she was co-winner of the first Gratien Award for her book The Wind Blows over the Hills. She also won the Esmond Wickremasinghe Award for Journalism for her article “My Days at Anuradhapura Central College”, commemorating 50 years of free education in the country.

In 1993 at a unique event held at Bandarawela by the Governor of Uva Province, to honour those born in Uva Province for their achievements in their respective fields, Lalitha Karalliadde who was born in 1927 at Bandarawela, was presented the Uva Erudites Award for being the first woman graduate from Uva.

After retiring from the Lake House Group of Newspapers/Associated Newspapers of Ceylon Ltd, she continued as a freelance journalist. She became a founder member of Sahanaya National Council for Mental Health, and was a Secretary of the Working Girls’ Hostel of the National Foundation of the Freedom from Hunger Society.

She also taught English at Sri Lanka Institute of Development Administration (SLIDA) to senior Government Servants as well as to the orphans at the Sri Lankadara Society, Wellawatte. She began teaching Buddhism in English for children studying in internationals schools, at the Dhatumalu Temple, Kohuwela, headed by Rev. Pitigala Sonuththara Thero. She taught English to the young monks in the temple as well, including Rev. Soratha Thera, now a senior monk of Jetavanarama Temple in Birmingham, UK, and to Tumpalata Dharmaratne Thero who was studying at Vidyodaya, entered Sorbonne and is now at a temple in Paris.

She is also an active member of the Past Pupils’ Association of her old school Hillwood College, and a welcome guest of the Anuradhapura Central College Past Pupils’ Association and the Visakha Vidyalaya Past Teachers Association.

On July 30th, 2011 she received the Kala Bhooshana State Award. On June 30th, 2016 she was one of the seven recipients of the special awards given by the Alumni Association of the University of Colombo, “in proud recognition of their achievements and contribution to the nation as distinguished alumni of the University of Ceylon, Colombo.”

I watched with pride and joy as this beautiful, noble, gracious lady of 89 years was bestowed this honour by the University which she entered at the age of 18, for the special reason that she is my grandmother. She met her husband Douglas Witanachchi, my grandfather, at the University. My late grandfather and my mother Neelanjani and I are also alumni of the University of Colombo.

Our hearts are full of affection, gratitude, appreciation and honour for her as she has been a devoted wife, and is a caring mother, grandmother and great-grandmother, who has led a good and responsible life in dignity, intellectually alert and of service to others. She now spends her time in true retirement, managing her own affairs, visiting her children overseas, reading, and playing Scrabble with my mother, working crossword puzzles and solving Sudoku, and above all studying the Majjima Nikaya and the Samyutta Nikaya translated by Bhikku Bodhi, which she says “will lead her to the unique path of spiritual emancipation.”

(This article was first published in this newspaper in ept. 2016. Mrs. Witanachchi passed away at age 95 on Sept. 26)



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Features

Dangerous rail travel by tourists: Why not create an opportunity?

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Coiling Dragon Cliff skywalk, Zhangjiajie, China

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.

Suggested railings

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.

Conclusion

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?

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Remebering Prophet Muhammad’s legacy – ECOLOGICAL WELFARE

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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.

Email: deenmohamed835@gmail.com

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Features

Gypsies…to continue

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The original Gypsies, with Sunil (centre)

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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