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Library of our first University Memories of “Villa Venezia”

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I wonder how many are yet around to share my memories of the wonderful library of Villa Venezia that brightened our undergraduate years in the University before it fled Thurstan Road to Peradeniya. It was, probably, Jennings’ predecessor Marrs, who picked on the exotic Villa Venezia to house the University Library. I have not yet come across any photograph, or drawing, of this miniature Venetian palazzo built for an imaginative, but long forgotten, Colonial grandee amidst the lush greenery of Cinnamon Gardens.

The Villa was a baroque two-storied pink building flanked by elegantly twisted columns, and overhung by an ornate balcony that would have enthralled Romeo. A large ground floor room charmed its readers by walls frescoed by scenes from Greek and Roman mythology, closely copied from Venetian originals. The top floor housed the library proper and the spacious reading room. This was an era long before the invasion of electronic gadgetry. Reference books were ranged subject-wise on wooden shelves to be withdrawn, on request, by helpful, and surprisingly literate, Library Assistants.

The spacious and airy reading room held long desks and chairs for readers silently poring over reference books. Generally this silence was interrupted only by the scraping of chairs pushed back by departing readers. But there was one time-honoured exception. This was when readers noticed a lovely fresher creeping stealthily along the corridor or a courting couple oblivious to the readers. These diversions gave rise to ‘The Stamp’. This was the spontaneous scraping of shoes by the whole community of readers who, meanwhile kept their heads buried in their books with enthusiasm. Much stamping took place during the Vacation, inspired/provoked by the holiday wear of female undergrads. These young ladies were very properly dressed in sarees during lectures. But when Vacation dawned on me and no lectures threatened, they embraced casual wear to visit the library at Villa Venezia. Bird watching male undergrads now enjoyed admiring the elegant calves of fair batch mates in short dresses – a welcome change from ankle length sarees.

The disappearance of Villa Venezia took place after I left University. Unimaginative University authorities seem to have missed the opportunity of acquiring this unrecorded architectural gem. It fell to the wreckers’ sledge hammers of the philistine who bought the property.

So ended the life and death of Villa Venezia, as the first library of our first University, Its ornate splendor and marble floors now echo only in the memories of those ancients who loved its ambience many decades ago. May this essay be its requiem!

TISSA DEVENDRA

( 1948- 1952)

 

 



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Opinion

How many people can the Earth sustain?

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=On Nov 15 November 2022, we became a world of 8 billion people. 

It’s a milestone we can celebrate, and an occasion to reflect: How can we create a world in which all 8 billion of us can thrive? The growth of our population is a testament to humanity’s achievements, including reductions in poverty and gender inequality, advancements in health care, and expanded access to education. These have resulted in more women surviving childbirth, more children surviving their early years, and longer, healthier lifespans, decade after decade.

Looking beyond the averages, at the populations of countries and regions, the picture is much more nuanced – and quickly takes us beyond the numbers themselves. Stark disparities in life expectancy point to unequal access to health care, opportunities and resources, and unequal burdens of violence, conflict, poverty and ill health.

Birth rates vary from country to country, with some populations still growing fast, others beginning to shrink. But underlying these trends, whichever way they point, is a widespread lack of choice. Discrimination, poverty and crisis – as well as coercive policies that violate the reproductive rights of women and girls – put sexual and reproductive health care and information, including contraception and sex education, out of reach for far too many people.

We face serious challenges as a global community, including the mounting impacts of climate change, ongoing conflicts and forced displacement. To meet them, we need resilient countries and communities. And that means investing in people and making our societies inclusive, so that everyone is afforded a quality of life that allows them to thrive in our changing world.

To build demographic resilience, we need to invest in better infrastructure, education and health care, and ensure access to sexual and reproductive health and rights. We need to systematically remove the barriers – based on gender, race, disability, sexual orientation or migration status – that prevent people from accessing the services and opportunities they need to thrive.

We need to rethink models of economic growth and development that have led to overconsumption and fuelled violence, exploitation, environmental degradation and climate change, and we need to ensure that the poorest countries – which did not create these problems, yet bear the brunt of their impacts – have the resources to build the resilience and well-being of their growing populations.

We need to understand and anticipate demographic trends, so that governments can make informed policies and resource allocations to equip their populations with the right skills, tools and opportunities.

But while demographic trends can help guide the policy choices we make as societies, there are other choices – including if and when to have children – that policy cannot dictate, because they belong to each individual. This right to bodily autonomy underlies the full range of our human rights, forming a foundation for resilient, inclusive and thriving societies that can meet the challenges of our world. When our bodies and futures are our own, we are #8BillionStrong.

(UNFPA)

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Opinion

Sri Lanka Now Famous For Bribery And Corruption

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Bribery and corruption are two words that Sri Lanka has become “famous” for during the last few decades. This was something rare about half a century ago. We very rarely heard of Cabinet Ministers resorting to bribery, except in two cases.

If I remember right one was indicted in courts and had to serve a period in Her Majesty’s free hostel. The other was one of the members of the multi-Member Kadugannawa constituency, but it was not a very serious one as it involved the granting of appointments like sub-Post Mistress. There was also a businessman nabbed for giving bribes and held in a house in Paget Road. However, then it was rare and only a few cases such as that mentioned were known. In addition, these instances did not in any way effect the economy of the country or the people.

Gradually, the art of bribery and corruption became so well-known that most investors and contractors from abroad and locally were not willing to tender for essential supplies and construction of buildings and roads as they had to oil the palms right down the line. At one time a Cabinet Minister was nicknamed Mr. Ten Percent indicating his ‘cut’ on any tender or contract!

This country became famous for bribery and corruption in a big way after the tsunami in 2004 with the Helping Hambantota project, where funds from abroad to assist the victims went into a wrong pocket.

It was also very recently that a Cabinet Minister was reported to the President regarding a bribe he had solicited from a foreign tenderer. The then President asked him to step down till an inquiry was held. But with the change in the top position, a retired judge was appointed to inquire into this allegation. As in the bond scam the inquiry found him not guilty, and he was reinstated in the Cabinet. It is only in Sri Lanka that this type of thing could happen.

The Sri Lankan diaspora would have helped the country to recover from the economic mess the leaders plunged it into by sending money from abroad. But they did not want to do so as they knew what would happen to such funds. Even people here requested them not to send assistance till the corrupt leaders have been got rid of.This resplendent island may have been the pearl of the Indian Ocean at one time but now it has become notorious for bribery and corruption! When will we get honest leaders to run this country as was done about a century ago?

HM NISSANKA WARAKAULLE

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Opinion

The Rehabilitation Bill

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The high priests of our temple of justice has reaffirmed our faith in our legal system and the rule of law. A country without the rule of law will disintegrate into worse chaos than we are plunged in today.

It was heartening to see the determination by the Supreme Court on the Rehabilitation Bill. The legal preamble is a bit hard for an average lay person to follow. To my understanding, they have thrown some strong road blocks on the passage of this Bill. Well and good. I don’t think it will be that easy for the govt to surmount them. The legal fraternity, civil society and ordinary citizens, must fight hard to see that there is no transgression of the determination of the Supreme Court.

We need not and don’t need to incarcerate anybody. Those addicted to drugs should be handled by the health dept. or better still their families. These are our misguided sons and daughters who have taken a wrong path due to a failure in their families and the society around them. They need to be handled with care and consideration. Institutionalizing them would make the problem a costly failure.

Our lawmakers should hang their heads in shame if they vote for this draconian Bill as they may be viewed as persons who serve the wishes of the rulers and not those of the people.

Padmini Nanayakkara
Colombo-3

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