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Lieut Gen Denzil Kobbekaduwa

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28th death anniversary commutation

Twenty Eight years ago, on 8th August 1992 , a bomb that exploded in an Army Land Rover at Araly Point took away a man, an intrepid officer, a gentleman and more importantly, a true friend. Denzil Kobbekaduwa was a distinguished General . As everyone knew , he always led from the front. He was knowledgeable, daring and popular and these were never in doubt. His tours of duty in the Army’s Northern Command would surely have made him aware of what the peace-loving people in the country needed and expected on the one hand; and on the other, what options were available to be pursued by political authority and defence forces if the LTTE ‘s intransigence could not be overcome by dialogue..

Denzil was conscious that the well-being and fundamental rights of the defenceless civilian and the unarmed LTTE cadre in custody , were the responsibility of the State. His sense of fair play, learnt on the rugby fields of Trinity College, simply exuded from him, and would certainly have earned for the Defence Establishment every chance of a speedy and just resolution of a totally unnecessary conflict. But this was not to be after that fateful day in Kayts.

Denzil, especially after reaching Flag Rank emphasized the need to prevent those who have suffered because of the conflict, from being further trodden upon. If not for his untimely demise, we may have perhaps been able to see him pave the way for all Sri Lankans to extend their hand of friendship to one another and more importantly, to convince the leaders of this country and the LTTE that all the money wasted on weapons of destruction, can be used for the welfare of all people alike, in the north, south, east and west

Many hundreds of appreciations, editorials and articles about this very inspiring soldier, exemplary officer, outstanding sportsman, efficient sports administrator, devoted husband, loving father and genuine friend have already been recorded and scripted. In his name, a Trust fund was established for the welfare of soldiers and their families and schools and roads were name after him..

There are another facets of this good, simple, lovable, mild-mannered person, playful man who had a puckish sense of humour who showed genuine concern for the young and the feeble – qualities no doubt inherited from and nurtured by his gracious parents and dutifully sustained after marriage by his wife, Lali.

A fine sportsman and a distinguished product of Trinity College Kandy , Denzil excelled at Rugby . He later played for Kandy SC and the Army and it was through Rugby that we met. In 1972, Denzil was the Hony Secretary of the Sri Lanka Rugby Football Union. When he was selected by the Army for training in the UK, he suggested to the late Mark Bostock, (President SLRFU -1972) that I succeed him. After Mark phoned me, I sought and obtained the approval of Air Force Commander, Paddy Mendis to accept this post, which I held for two years till 1974 — the year of the 3rd Rugby Asiad, when Sri Lanka entered the final and emerged runners-up to Japan, an achievement made possible , without doubt, by the exemplary leadership and discipline of Summa Navaratnam (President SLRFU -1974), late SB Pilapitiya (Manager/Coach) , assisted by the late inimitable Bertie Dias, Indrajith Coomaraswamy (Captain) and Denzil. Denzil, who had just returned to the Island helped me at the SLRFU Secretariat, along with former Air Force rugby stalwart Sqn Ldr Shantha Mendis.

In the late 1970’s, Denzil was with the Army Training Centre at Diyatalawa. He and his family were always welcome visitors to the Air Force Camp. He relaxed with his wife and children in the well laid out childrens’ park, or dropped in to play basketball, tennis or squash, go boating or visit the Air Force officers on the Station – Chrysantha de Alwis, MYC Perera, Ranjan Manukulasuriya, Mohan de Silva, Doyle Peiris, RP Atapattu and late Ravi Erampamurthy – with whom he and his family were very close. When the Station Officers decided to build a second squash court in the SLAF ( there was already one at Katunayake) out of donations they would obtain from well wishers, and from their own personal funds, a contribution of Rs. 250 (then a princely sum) was made by Major D L Kobbekaduwa,. Denzil is in the group photograph taken on the occasion when the court was declared open and any visitor to the beautifully laid out and picturesque Air Force Station at Diyatalawa today can see Denzil’s name in the Roll of Honour.

On one occasion, the Training Wing at SLAF Diyatalawa had planned a ‘training’ reconnaissance for the purpose of an exercise for Air Force Gunner Instructors. Denzil joined us. We stayed the night at the late Maxie Andrado’s residence in Hambantota. The next morning, Maxie showed us his .45 calibre “Elephant” rifle. Winking at Maxie, I sought permission to take the rifle on the recce. Denzil, being the correct serviceman he was , inquired why this weapon was needed as it was not a service issue, and that in any case we had five 7.62 calibre rifles for protection purposes. I said that maybe we would be lucky to come across and shoot the ‘loner’ rogue elephant that was causing panic among the chena cultivators and their families near the “Jafferjee Farm” at Tanamalwila. Denzil was aghast ! He stammered , ” you are a mad b…… ?” Later it dawned on him that I was only pulling his leg Such a simple, unassuming guy, was Denzil !

An amusing incident took place at ‘Bambara House, the then Sri Lanka Air Force Officers’ holiday bungalow at China bay . I had booked the bungalow and along with Denzil & Lali, Jayanstissa & Manel Ratwatte and their children, Tyronne & Charmaine Howie, Travis & Tammy de Jong, Sunil Keppitipola , my wife Rosemary & I spent a wonderful week’s holiday there. My 10 year old nephew ( now a Commander in the Sri Lanka Navy ) who also accompanied us, was trying to learn to swim by himself. Denzil observing this, tried to demonstrate the correct technique, missed a foothold and slipped and the next thing heard was a ‘plonk’ in the water. Denzil was dazed but not hurt with this ‘belly-landing’. Undeterred, he carried on his coaching lessons and over the next few days, the boy was able to swim one breadth of the pool. Many years later, this lad, as an Officer Cadet at the Royal Naval College Dartmouth, happened to meet Denzil in London – Denzil himself was on an Army Staff Course—and they had a big laugh when the young Cadet recalled the incident, after identifying himself.

Denzil liked to play hockey. On many occasions he was gladly invited to don the Air Force Station’s ‘Blue and Gold’ jersey, in friendly matches that were played on the Rendezvous Parade Ground, which was a stone’s throw from his married quarters.

When the Bishop of Badulla , the late Rt Rev Mgr Leo Nanayakkara was on a pastoral visit to the parish church and convent in Diyatalawa, his car gave trouble. The driver arranged for a “baas” in a garage in town to take a look. In the meantime, we contacted Denzil to borrow his car to take Bishop Leo back to Badulla . But, Denzil ,being Denzil, not only did he say “OK,” but volunteered to drive to Badulla himself. In the meantime he invited the Bishop to his married quarters where a sumptuous afternoon tea was served. Denzil, however, was spared the trip as the repair was fixed soon enough.

Whilst on leave in Colombo, Denzil spent most of his time with his family. It was not unusual to see the Kobbekaduwa family in their station wagon, parked in the shade by a cricket ground witnessing a match, or shopping at the Liberty Plaza on a Saturday morning, or visiting a friend or a relation for a quiet evening chat. He was a family man and this fine quality definitely influenced his way of life in the Army.

All who knew him well, loved and admired him. Those who served with him and under him, respected and trusted him. They would no doubt have specially and fondly remembered him on the 27th of July – his birthday anniversary.

An Army officer, who served under Denzil, wrote, ” General Kobbekaduwa fought bravely and relentlessly to safeguard the integrity of our country for a better tomorrow for all Sri Lankans— he was truly a man of the century .”

Indeed so!

Wg Cdr E H Ohlmus (SLAF Retd.)

(This was first published in 1982 in the Island. It is being republished in view of Gen. Kobbekaduwa’s approaching 28th death anniversary)

 



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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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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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