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Leopards at Pilimagala and Kumana

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by Walter R. Gooneratne

I have made frequent jungle trips over the past 50 years, and these covered most regions of the country. I have camped out on several occasions in the intermediate zones of both Ruhuna and Wilpattu National Parks, but however interesting and exciting these were, the first trip was the most memorable.

In this period about the 1950’s, which I write about, our jungles were teeming with wildlife, and in that unenlightened era, animals were referred to as game, and some such as the bear were officially called vermin. Shooting them was considered sport. Principles of conservation were just beginning to be understood. Attitudes towards conservation have changed now, and hopefully we should be able to save our dwindling species. At the beginning, when shooting was allowed on permits, I indulged in this so- called sport, but gave it up over the past 25 years or more and am now an ardent conservationist.

Leopards at Pilimagala

In June 1951 1 was transferred to General Hospital, Kandy as a house officer, and it was there that I met two kindred spirits, Dr.Mackie Ratwatte, who was also a house officer, and Dr. S. J. Lawrence, better known as Pervey, or Tango Lawrence, so named for his elegant performance of this dance. Pervey was an anaesthetist. We soon discovered that we had a common interest, namely that of nature, wildlife and adventure, and most of our “off’ week-ends were spent in the jungles in Dambulla, Inamaluwa, and Kibissa near Sigiriya.

When the new Department of Wildlife (as it was then called) was formed, areas around national parks were declared as buffer or intermediate zones. People were allowed, on permit, to enter and shoot a limited number of game in these zones. There being no bungalows to hire, only camping was available, and that too at any preferred spot. For the princely sum of ten rupees a party had the exclusive use of the whole block for ten days. The Yala Intermediate Zone was divided into two parts, north and east. The north was further divided into block one (Galge), block two (Warahana) and block three (Muduntalawa).

We decided that we should be more adventurous and go camping into an intermediate zone. Having made inquiries we decided to go to Galge. Fortunately for us, a friend of ours lent us an old war-model Willys Jeep, and another gave us a tarpaulin and a canvas ground sheet. Pervey’s armoury consisted of a 9.3mm Mauser rifle and a double-barrel shot-gun, and as for me, I had borrowed my father’s 7.9mm Mauser and his Stevens six shot repeater shot-gun. I also borrowed my brother’s 0.22 inch calibre Hornet rifle. Mackie had no weapons, for he did not shoot.

When news got around that we were going hunting, there was a special request from an old attendant of the hospital, Seetin Singho. He was a chronic asthmatic and wanted us to bring him some kara mus or flesh from the back of the leopard’s neck. There was a belief that the call of the leopard sounded like panting as in asthma, but it was unable to lick the back of its neck, and therefore eating kara mus was considered a cure for asthma.

Having loaded the jeep, we left Kandy early one morning in February 1952. In addition to the three of us we also took along a cook. The old jeep, groaning under its heavy load, brought us without further incident to Kataragama at about 11 am.

We now had to meet our tracker, Babun Appuhamy who was going to be our guide for the rest of the journey. He had informed us that he lived on the other side of Menik Ganga. Fortunately the river was at a low ebb, and the jeep, despite its heavy burden, had no problem getting across. Everybody at Kataragama seemed to know Babun, and we had no difficulty in finding his house. Our first meeting was a memorable one. He looked at us in surprise, for as he told us later, when he heard that the party consisted of three doctors, he had expected to see three staid middle-aged men. He changed his look of surprise to one of approval.

Babun was about five feet three inches in height and of a dark complexion. He did not seem to have an ounce of fat on his body, and his wiry muscles rippled under his dusky skin. His age was anybody’s guess. He inspected our weapons with the eye of a connoisseur and inquired closely about the Hornet. He said it would be the ideal weapon for small game such as jungle fowl and hare. When I told him that I could and would use it on larger game, he expressed his serious doubts. The Hornet, though of 0.22inch calibre had a muzzle velocity of 3,500 feet per second and fired a much heavier bullet than the ordinary rim fire weapon.

Camping at Pilimagala

Having had a lunch of rice and curry at a small eating house or buth kade in Kataragama, we started on the last lap of our journey to the campsite. The old Buttala-Kataragama road was a nightmare. The first three or four miles of the road were a drain four to five feet deep and just wide enough for our vehicle. Rainwater had gouged out deep channels on its floor, and when the jeep fell into these ruts it would tilt at crazy angles. We had therefore to dismantle the hood to prevent it from being damaged on the banks of the road.

At the sixth milepost, there was a shrine dedicated to Lord Ganesh. Babun hung a leaf at the shrine with a prayer to the deity for a safe journey. At this point we turned right on the track to Pilimagala, our campsite. After about four and a half miles we came to an open plain or eliya. This was Thalakola Wewa. The bund of this former tank or reservoir, as suggested by the name wewa, had breached many years ago and the resulting plain was lush and green after the recent rains. Here was a herd of about twenty deer. There were many does and a few bucks, which gazed at us in curiosity.

Babun wanted me to shoot the big antlered buck both for food and as bait for the leopard. I decided to use the Hornet, but Babun admonished me saying that I would only injure the animal and thereby lose him. Ignoring Babun’s advice I shot the buck in the shoulder with a hollow-point bullet. At my shot the animal collapsed in its tracks. Total disbelief was written all over the tracker’s face. He examined the rifle closely to make sure that I had not deceived him about the calibre.

We arrived at the campsite at about six pm and got about setting up our camp, which was a very simple affair. A rope was tied between two trees and the tarpaulin slung over it. The four corners of the tarpaulin were tied to some pegs driven into the ground. The ground sheet was spread on the floor and our tent was complete.

Pilimagala was a huge slab of rock, about 300 yards long and 150 yards wide. At the base of the rock, where our camp was located, there was a water-hole or kema extending some distance into the rock. This provided what we considered pure water (except for a few frogs!) for drinking and cooking. Towards the left corner of the rock, was a cave about twenty yards long and ten feet deep. It had a drip-ledge on the overhanging rock above the opening, providing architectural proof that centuries ago it was part of a monastery. It would have been occupied by monks, who would have worshiped the statue and the vihare, the ruins of which still existed at the top.

The rock itself was two tiered. The lower and bigger part had a large water-hole (kema) about 30 feet long and eight feet wide. The upper part was smaller and at its summit was a smaller water-hole and the ruins of the statue and vihare. It is this statue that has given the rock the name Pilimagala. (pilima = statue; gala = rock).

We washed away our grime and fatigue of the journey in a cool bath with water drawn from the kema and lingered awhile to enjoy the cool breezes that blew over the green canopy. The view too was breathtaking, an unbroken sea of varying shades of green around us. Back in camp, we relaxed with a drink, and now that the cook had prepared the dinner, we had a delicious meal of venison curry, pol sambol and rice. We then had unbroken steep till next morning.

Baits for leopard

After breakfast the next day, we set about tying up baits for the leopards. The first was taken eastwards to a swampy plain called Unawa, which was about a mile from camp. The bait was in fact dragged along the track, as Babun said that when a leopard, in its nightly wanderings spots the drag mark, it follows it to the bait. The next bait was tied up at Thalakola Wewa close to the water-hole.

That evening we did a trek to the other side of Pilimagala, where there were large plains, interspersed with high forest. We kept to the edge of the forest so as not to disturb any animals in the glades. Suddenly there was an alarm call of a deer to our right and in front. Babun immediately signaled us to freeze. There were more hysterical calls warning the jungle folk that there was a leopard on the prowl. Pervey and I were ready with our rifles in case the leopard should show up. However, after a short while, the calls ceased, indicating that the leopard had most probably spotted us and moved away.

Clapping for jungle fowl

As we went further along, a jungle fowl called in the thicket to our right. Babun immediately motioned us to squat and whispered to me to be ready with the Hornet.

rolled up the lower part of his sarong into a ball and having placed it on the palm of his left hand, clapped on it with his right palm. One sharp clap was followed after a second by four or five rapid ones. Each series of claps was immediately followed by the crowing of the cock. This went on for some time, and each time the bird got closer and closer, and suddenly it dashed towards us.

However, on seeing us he immediately took flight. I took a quick shot, but missed completely. I learned two lessons, one being how to call up jungle fowl, and the other to use only a shot gun for shooting it. I have used this technique several times since then with spectacular success. I demonstrated this to Dr. Chris Uragoda recently at Malwariya Kema in Yala Block Five. The theory behind this technique is that every time a jungle fowl crows to announce its territory, it flaps its wings. The muffled clap on the sarong simulates the flapping of the wings of an intruder and he rushes in to meet his challenger.

Building hides

Early next morning we set out to inspect the baits. The one at Unawe had been attacked by a leopard as evidenced by the profusion of pug-marks around it. However, only a small amount of flesh had been eaten, but all internal organs had been carried to the edge of the jungle and devoured. Babun deduced that the leopard had found the bait only at day-break, and had therefore taken only the detachable parts and eaten them at the edge of the jungle. It would undoubtedly return to the feast. We now set about building a hide or kotuatte. It was sited about fifteen yards from the bait at the edge of the forest. Four stout saplings were cut from trees some distance away, so as not to disturb the area close to the bait. These saplings were now planted at the selected site to make a five-foot square. Thinner sticks were lashed to this frame to form a lattice. Strips of bark from the tree, maila were used as rope for this purpose. Next, small branches were threaded into the lattice until it was completely covered. In front were two holes or kapollas at eye level, one being for the tracker, and the other for the hunter to look and point his rifle through. These were covered with large leaves from the penera tree. At the back was an opening for the prospective occupants to get in, after which it was closed with a leafy branch. Finally, Babun inspected the contraption to make sure it was completely covered. He claimed that the leopard had such keen eyesight that it could spot even the batting of an eye-lid. Its hearing too was very acute.

As luck would have it, the bait or kuna at Thalakola Wewa had also been eaten. We built a kotuatte here too and returned to camp for a bath at the kema and lunch.

Mistaken identity

At 5 pm. we left for our respective hides. Pervey and Babun went walking to Unawe as it was not far, and Mackie and I took the jeep to Thalakola Wewa. Babun gave us strict instructions on how to conduct ourselves in the hide. We were to stay absolutely motionless, even if we were being drained of our blood by the hordes of mosquitoes that abounded there. Only when we heard the sound of the leopard eating the bait were we to open the kapolla and shoot.

At about 6 pm. we heard the alarm call of langur, a species of monkey, to the front of us but some distance away. A short while later a sambhur called, warning the animals that a leopard was on the prowl. For quite some time the jungle fell silent, except for the raucous calls of some Malabar pied hornbills from a tree behind us. It was now growing dark, and we thought that the leopard had spotted us and gone away. We were about to abandon our hide and get back to camp when a whole herd of spotted deer called from the track on our right and crashed away into the jungle.

The leopard was near at hand, but still no sounds of feeding were heard. Swarms of mosquitoes blanketed us, and it was quite dark by now. The moon had risen but was still covered by the wall of tall trees. Suddenly there was the sound of tearing of flesh and the simultaneous growl of the leopard. The growling and tearing of flesh continued for some minutes. We assumed that the leopard had spotted us and was trying to frighten us or maybe attack us.

By now the moon had just crested the trees and there was some light. We had to act fast before the leopard was on us. I exchanged the rifle for the shot-gun. I signaled Mackie to open his kapolla, and I did likewise. I then saw in the faint light what I thought was a gray head as it tore away the flesh. Taking careful aim I fired. At my shot, the animal crashed away and fell into the water-hole nearby. We, in our ignorance, had assumed that the leopard had been mortally wounded, and we could come the next day and recover the body.

When we got back to camp, the others had not returned yet. Half an hour later they were back. Their leopard had, for some reason not turned up. When I told Babun what had happened to us, he had a hearty laugh. He explained that it was a crocodile from the nearby water hole that was feeding, on the kill, and leopard in the thicket was trying to drive it away. No self-respecting leopard, he said, would jump into a water hole. It was not the leopard I had shot but the crocodile. Sure enough, the next morning Babun probed the water-hole with a pole and fished out the dead crocodile.

Another night’s vigil

In the evening we left early as Babun predicted that the leopard would come to the bait early to thwart the crocodile. He explained that the sound of gunfire, as long as the leopard was not injured, would be attributed by it to the sound of thunder. I can now confirm this, based on what happened to two of my friends on later occasions. The late Mr. Simon Gunewardene at Galge, and again the late Dr Ivor Obeyesekera at Kumana each had fired at and missed a leopard. On both occasions the leopards returned to the kill a short while later.

At 5.40 pm we were alerted by the numerous alarm calls of peafowl, langur and spotted deer from quite a distance away. Obviously the animal had no reason for stealth, as he knew that a ready-made feast was awaiting him. A few minutes later there was the welcome sound of tearing of flesh and crunching of bone. Our leopard had come and was feeding. This was the moment we were waiting for. I signaled Mackie to look through his kapolla and simultaneously looked through mine. There was the leopard quite oblivious to his surroundings, gorging away at the meat.

I took the Mauser and fired at its head at that short range. At my shot the raised head came down and rested on its paws, and a shudder went through its whole body. All was now still. However, going on the old adage ‘never trust a leopard until he’s skinned’, we got out of the hide with the shot gun cocked. I asked Mackie to throw clumps of earth from a termite mound that lay nearby. Nothing happened. The leopard was dead.

The jeep was brought and the carcass hauled onto the bonnet in triumph. When we arrived at the camp, the others had not returned yet. A few minutes later, there was the sound of gun-fire. However, Babun had warned, that should we hear gun shots, we should stay put. In case the leopard should be injured, we would be blundering into an infuriated animal. An hour later they returned. Pervey had also got his prize. The jeep was taken and the leopard brought back.

After a bath in the kema, we drank the rest of the liquor in celebration. Then dinner and bed were most welcome The whole of the next morning was spent skinning the two leopards. At about 10 am, Pervey and I walked to Unawe. There we surprised a huge lone wild boar with prominent Lushes wallowing in the mud. We both got our rifles up, but it was too quick for us and crashed away into the nearby jungle.

In the evening, we walked towards Muduntalawa. About four miles from camp was a huge rock, with a long kema at ground level. The rock overhung the kema. Its surface was adorned with a pale green water weed in the shape of a rose petal. This was Banawelkema. On the way back, there were large numbers of spotted deer, but we did not shoot any, as it was getting late and we were in no mood to carry carcasses. The place was a paradise for leopard, and the track was riddled with their pug marks. A bear had also walked towards Muduntalawa.

It was getting quite dark when returning to camp, and had to walk with much caution as we had forgotten to bring a torch, for we had not expected to get so late. However, we sang at the top of our voices to warn any prowlers that some tough guys were on their way. When we got back to camp, the cook informed us that a leopard had called from the rock. Late at night the leopard called again, and Pervey and Babun went to investigate, but as there was bright moonlight the creature must have spotted them and moved away.

The next morning was cloudy and there was a drizzle. Though we had planned to stay two more days, we were compelled to leave the next day as our food supply was running out. We had misjudged the appetites of Babun and the cook, who could and did eat double of what we did.

(To be continued)



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Scarcity, prices, hoarding and queuing

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By Usvatte-aratchi

We live in a scarcity economy and will do so well into 2024, past the next Presidential elections if it comes then; it may not. (The new minister may open bets.) All economies are scarcity economies; otherwise, there would be no prices. We also live in plentiful economies; look at the streets of Tokyo, Shanghai, Singapore, Paris or San Francisco during day or night. Scarcity is a relative term, as most terms are. A scarcity economy is one where prices rise relentlessly, where cigarettes are more expensive in the evening than they were the same morning. Scarcity economies will have two or more sets of prices: one official, others in markets in varying shades of grey until black. Scarcity economies are where everyone (producers, traders, households) hoards commodities, hoards everything that can be hoarded, at reasonable cost. Scarcity economy is one where productivity is lower than it was earlier, where both labour and capital idle. Scarcity itself may push down productivity. Observe thousands of people standing in queues to buy all kinds of things whilst producing nothing. That is labour idling. Others hang on to dear life in crowded trains arriving in office late to leave early, to get to ill lit homes where to cook each evening they repeat what their ancestors did millions of years ago to light a fire. Money is one commodity that can be hoarded at little cost, if there was no inflation. The million rupees you had in your savings account in 2019 is now worth a mere 500,000, because prices have risen. That is how a government taxes you outside the law: debase the currency. In an inflation afflicted economy, hoarding money is a fool’s game.

The smart game to play is to borrow to the limit, a kind of dishoarding (- negative hoarding) money. You borrow ten million now and five years later you pay 500 million because the value of money has fallen. US dollars are scarce in this economy. It is hoarded where it can wait until its price in Sri Lanka rises. Some politicians who seem to have been schooled in corruption to perfection have them stored elsewhere, as we have learnt from revelations in the international press. Electricity is not hoarded in large quantities because it is expensive to hoard. Petrol is not hoarded very much in households because it evaporates fast and is highly flammable. That does not prevent vehicle owners from keeping their tanks full in contrast to the earlier practice when they had kept tanks half empty (full). Consequently, drivers now hoard twice as much fuel in their tanks as earlier. Until drivers feel relaxed as to when they get the next fill, there will be queues. That should also answer the conundrum of the minister for energy who daily sent out more bowser loads out than earlier, but queues did not shorten.

As an aside, it is necessary to note that the scarcity economy, which has been brought about by stupid policies 2019-2022, and massive thieving from 2005 is partly a consequence of the fall in total output (GDP) in the economy. Workers in queues do not produce. The capital they normally use in production (e.g. motor cars, machines that they would otherwise would have worked at) lie idle. Both capital and labour idle and deny their usual contribution to GDP. Agriculture, industries, wholesale and retail trade, public administration, manufacturing and construction all of which have been adversely affected in various ways contribute more than 75% of total GDP. Maha (winter crop) 2021-22, Yala (spring crop) 2022 and Maha 2022-23 and fishing are all likely to have yielded (and yield) poor harvests. Manufacturing including construction are victims of severe shortages in energy and imported inputs. Wholesale and retail trade which depend directly on imports of commodities have been hit by the sharp drop in imports. Tourism, which is more significant in providing employment and foreign exchange, collapsed dreadfully since late 2019 and has not recovered yet. About 16 percent of our labour force work in the public sector. They have failed to contribute to GDP because they did not engage in productive work due to variegated reasons. Teachers were on strike for two months in 2021. In 2022, so far government employees have worked off and on. Wages of government employees are counted as contributions to GDP, by those that make GDP estimates. However, here is an instance where labour was paid but there was no output equal to the value of those wages. Such payments are rightly counted as transfers and do not count to GDP. For these reasons estimates of GDP for 2021 must be well below the 2020 level. The 3.6 growth in official estimates is unlikely. The likely drop in 2022 will be roughly of the same magnitude as in 2021. These declines are not dissonant with misery one sees in towns and the countryside: empty supermarket shelves, scant supplies of produce in country fares, scarce fish supplies, buses idling in parks and roads empty of traffic. There have been warnings from our paediatricians as well as from international organisations of wasting and probable higher rates of child mortality. It is this sort of sharp fall in wellbeing that engenders the desperation driving young and ambitious people to obtain passports to seek a living overseas. You can see those from mezzo-America amassed on the southern border of US. Will our young men and women end up beyond the wall of China?

Of this lowered supply of goods and services, this society is expected to pay a massive accumulated foreign debt. (Remember the reparation payments in the Versailles Treaty). In real terms it will mean that we forego a part of our lower incomes. Do not miss this reality behind veils of jargon woven by financial analysts. It is not something that we have a choice about. That is where international help may kick in. Gotabaya Rajapaksa government after much senseless dilly dallying has started negotiations with the IMF. There is nobody compelling our government to seek support from IMF. They are free go elsewhere as some who recently were in their government still urge. Examine alternatives and hit upon an arrangement not because it permits the family grows richer but because it will make life for the average person a little less unbearable.

If prices are expected to rise people will seek resources to hoard: money to buy commodities, space and facilities to hoard, security services to protect the property and much more. Rice producers cannot hoard their product because animals large as elephants and small as rodents eat them up. Because of the unequal distribution of resources to hoard, the poor cannot hoard. In a scarcity economy, the poor cannot hoard and famines usually victimise the poor, first and most. If prices are expected to fall, stocks are dishoarded to the market and prices fall faster and deeper. In either direction, the rate at which prices change and the height/depth of the rise/fall depends on the speed at which expectations of change in prices take place. A largescale rice miller claims he can control the price of rice at a level that the government cannot. His success/failure will tell us the extent of his monopoly power.

When commodities are scarce, in the absence of a sensible system of coupons to regulate the distribution, consumers will form queues. A queue is rarely a straight here, nor a dog’s tail (queue, in French, is a dog’s tail which most often crooked). Assembled consumers stagnate, make puddles and sometimes spread out like the Ganges, with Meghna, disgorges itself to the Bay of Bengal. They sometimes swirl and make whirlpools and then there is trouble, occasionally serious. There is order in a queue that people make automatically. To break that order is somehow iniquitous in the human mind. That is why breaking the order in a queue is enraging. For a queue to be disobeyed by anyone is infuriating, and for a politician to do so now in this country is dangerously injurious to his physical wellbeing.

The first cause of rising prices, hoarding and queues is the scarcity of goods and services in relation to the income and savings in the hands of the people.

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Terror figuring increasingly in Russian invasion of Ukraine

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In yet another mind-numbing manifestation of the sheer savagery marking the Russian invasion of Ukraine, a shopping mall in Ukraine’s eastern city of Kremenchuk was razed to the ground recently in a Russian missile strike. Reportedly more than a hundred civilian lives were lost in the chilling attack.

If the unconscionable killing of civilians is a definition of terrorism, then the above attack is unalloyed terrorism and should be forthrightly condemned by all sections that consider themselves civilized. Will these sections condemn this most recent instance of blood-curdling barbarism by the Putin regime in the Ukrainian theatre and thereby provide proof that the collective moral conscience of the world continues to tick? Could progressive opinion be reassured on this score without further delay or prevarication?

These issues need to be addressed with the utmost urgency by the world community. May be, the UN General Assembly could meet in emergency session for the purpose and speak out loud and clear in one voice against such wanton brutality by the Putin regime which seems to be spilling the blood of Ukrainian civilians as a matter of habit. The majority of UNGA members did well to condemn the Russian invasion of Ukraine close on the heels of it occurring a few months back but the Putin regime seems to be continuing the civilian bloodletting in Ukraine with a degree of impunity that signals to the international community that the latter could no longer remain passive in the face of the aggravating tragedy in Ukraine.

The deafening silence, on this question, on the part of those sections the world over that very rightly condemn terror, from whichever quarter it may emanate, is itself most intriguing. There cannot be double standards on this problem. If the claiming of the lives of civilians by militant organizations fighting governments is terror, so are the Putin regime’s targeted actions in Ukraine which result in the wanton spilling of civilian blood. The international community needs to break free of its inner paralysis.

While most Western democracies are bound to decry the Russian-inspired atrocities in Ukraine, more or less unambiguously, the same does not go for the remaining democracies of the South. Increasing economic pressures, stemming from high energy and oil prices in particular, are likely to render them tongue-tied.

Such is the case with Sri Lanka, today reduced to absolute beggary. These states could be expected ‘to look the other way’, lest they be penalized on the economic front by Russia. One wonders what those quarters in Sri Lanka that have been projecting themselves as ‘progressives’ over the years have to say to the increasing atrocities against civilians in Ukraine. Aren’t these excesses instances of state terror that call for condemnation?

However, ignoring the Putin regime’s terror acts is tantamount to condoning them. Among other things, the failure on the part of the world community to condemn the Putin government’s commissioning of war crimes sends out the message that the international community is gladly accommodative of these violations of International Law. An eventual result from such international complacency could be the further aggravation of world disorder and lawlessness.

The Putin regime’s latest civilian atrocities in Ukraine are being seen by the Western media in particular as the Russian strongman’s answer to the further closing of ranks among the G7 states to the Russian invasion of Ukraine and the issues growing out of it. There is a considerable amount of truth in this position but the brazen unleashing of civilian atrocities by the Russian state also points to mounting impatience on the part of the latter for more positive results from its invasion.

Right now, the invasion could be described as having reached a stalemate for Russia. Having been beaten back by the robust and spirited Ukrainian resistance in Kyiv, the Russian forces are directing their fire power at present on Eastern Ukraine. Their intentions have narrowed down to carving out the Donbas region from the rest of Ukraine; the aim being to establish the region as a Russian sphere of influence and buffer state against perceived NATO encirclement.

On the other hand, having failed to the break the back thus far of the Ukraine resistance the Putin regime seems to be intent on demoralizing the resistance by targeting Ukraine civilians and their cities. Right now, most of Eastern Ukraine has been reduced to rubble. The regime’s broad strategy seems to be to capture the region by bombing it out. This strategy was tried out by Western imperialist powers, such as the US and France, in South East Asia some decades back, quite unsuccessfully.

However, by targeting civilians the Putin regime seems to be also banking on the US and its allies committing what could come to be seen as indiscretions, such as, getting more fully militarily and physically involved in the conflict.

To be sure, Russia’s rulers know quite well that it cannot afford to get into a full-blown armed conflict with the West and it also knows that the West would doing its uttermost to avoid an international armed confrontation of this kind that could lead to a Third World War. Both sides could be banked on to be cautious about creating concrete conditions that could lead to another Europe-wide armed conflict, considering its wide-ranging dire consequences.

However, by grossly violating the norms and laws of war in Ukraine Russia could tempt the West into putting more and more of its financial and material resources into strengthening the military capability of the Ukraine resistance and thereby weaken its economies through excessive military expenditure.

That is, the Western military-industrial complex would be further bolstered at the expense of the relevant civilian publics, who would be deprived of much needed welfare expenditure. This is a prospect no Western government could afford to countenance at the present juncture when the West too is beginning to weaken in economic terms. Discontented publics, growing out of shrinking welfare budgets, could only aggravate the worries of Western governments.

Accordingly, Putin’s game plan could very well be to subject the West to a ‘slow death’ through his merciless onslaught on the Ukraine. At the time of writing US President Joe Biden is emphatic about the need for united and firm ‘Transatlantic’ security in the face of the Russian invasion but it is open to question whether Western military muscle could be consistently bolstered amid rising, wide-ranging economic pressures.

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At 80, now serving humanity

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Thaku Chugani! Does this name ring a bell! It should, for those who are familiar with the local music scene, decades ago.

Thaku, in fact, was involved with the original group X-Periments, as a vocalist.

No, he is not making a comeback to the music scene!

At 80, when Engelbert and Tom Jones are still active, catering to their fans, Thaku is doing it differently. He is now serving humanity.

Says Thaku: “During my tenure as Lion District Governor 2006/2007, Dr Mosun Faderin and I visited the poor of the poorest blind school in Ijebu Ode Ogun state, in Nigeria.

“During our visit, a small boy touched me and called me a white man. I was astonished! How could a blind boy know the colour of my skin? I was then informed that he is cornea blind and his vision could be restored if a cornea could be sourced for him. This was the first time in my life that I heard of a cornea transplant. “

And that incident was the beginning of Thaku’s humanity service – the search to source for corneas to restore the vision of the cornea blind.

It was in 2007, when Dr Mosun and Thaku requested Past International President Lion Rohit Mehta, who was the Chief Guest at MD 404 Nigeria Lions convention, at Illorin, in Nigeria, to assist them in sourcing for corneas as Nigeria was facing a great challenge in getting any eye donation, even though there was an established eye bank.

“We did explain our problems and reasons of not being able to harvest corneas and Lion Rohit Metha promised to look into our plea and assured us that he will try his utmost best to assist in sourcing for corneas.”

Nigeria, at that period of time, had a wait list of over 70 cornea blind children and young adults.

“As assured by PIP Lion Rohit Mehta, we got an email from Gautam Mazumdar, and Dr. Dilip Shah, of Ahmedabad, in India, inviting us for World Blind Day

“Our trip was very fruitful as it was World Blind Day and we had to speak on the blind in Nigeria.”

“We were invited by Gautam Mazumdar to visit his eye bank and he explained the whole process of eye banking.

“We requested for corneas and also informed him about our difficulties in harvesting corneas.

“After a long deliberation, he finally agreed to give us six corneas. It was a historical moment as we were going to restore vision of six cornea blind children. To me, it was a great experience as I was privileged to witness cornea transplant in my life and what a moment it was for these children, when their vision was restored.

“Thus began my journey of sight restoration of the cornea blind, and today I have sourced over 1000 corneas and restored vision of the cornea blind in Nigeria, Kenya and India till date.

“Also, I need to mention that this includes corneas to the armed forces, and their family, all over India.

“On the 12th, August, 2018, the Eye Bank, I work with, had Launched Pre-Cut Corneas, which means with one pair of eyes, donated, four Cornea Blind persons sight will be restored.”

Thaku Chugani, who is based in India, says he is now able to get corneas regularly, but, initially, had to carry them personally – facing huge costs as well as international travel difficulties, etc.

However, he says he is so happy that his humanitarian mission has been a huge success.

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