By Dr UPUL WIJAYAWARDHANA
“While the country is burning”: the caption for the front-page photograph in The Island of 29th October, displaying the antics of our senior government politicians at the opening of “Colombo Dunes” ATV adventure centre, said it all! Have they inherited the genes of Nero, who is supposed to have played the fiddle while Rome was burning? I wondered; or, has the Covid-19 virus had a specific effect on Sri Lanka, making many sections of the populace mad to varying degrees? This second explanation seems more plausible due to a variety of reasons.
Craziness does not seem to be confined to Pohottuwa politicians, the others behaving equally badly at the time of a great national disaster. There are rumours that the SLFP will split into three, and that would be the death knell of the Bandaranaike era! The leader of the SJB, who tries to cover up his inadequacies by verbosity, often inappropriate, is being undermined by some in his alliance. Ranil shouts loudly that the future of the UNP is with the youth, but refuses to hand over the reins to a young leader!
Of course, the government takes the cake! It seems to progress from one fiasco to the other. It wants to ‘go green’ and stopped importation of fertiliser at the most inopportune of times. Can we afford experimentation that may adversely affect the economy, at a time when the economy is on its knees? A secret midnight deal signed by a Minister holding dual US citizenship with a US energy firm is now threatening a split in the Pohottuwa, some ministers openly attacking in the strongest possible terms. When I posed the question “Pohottuwa: Will it blossom or wither?” (The island, 6 July), I never expected the withering to start so soon!
Unfortunately, the medical profession lost the esteem of the public, due to the long-standing erratic behaviour of its prime trade union. Even leaders of ‘learned societies’ seem to be making headline grabbing statements, rather than making positive contributions during a grave medical emergency. However, no one can beat the life-president of the GMOA, for making pseudoscientific statements that embarrass anyone with even a basic knowledge of science! I felt squeamish, to say the least, when I watched a video clip that showed him telling the President that kidneys should be given with chemical fertilisers! He seems to have his own statistics that show Sihalayas of yore had longevity, not recorded in any other source. He has written, in a Sinhala newspaper, that there was a time when human beings lived so long that a woman had to be 500 years old to get married! He seems to be propagating ‘folk’ Buddhism, not as a path to Nibbana, but as a path to Diyawannawa; or, perhaps, to the seat of Secretary of Health!
Talking of my profession, a retired physician, has written a piece supporting the teachers strike (‘In defence of teachers’ struggle; The Island, 25 October) maybe because his parents were teachers, or because he had been an active trade unionist in the past, or both. I got an interesting response to this from a friend of mine Dr Upali Abeysiri, retired Plastic Surgeon:
“One justification is that his parents were teachers. So were yours and mine. They were a special class. We always had at least two poor kids fed and housed at our home while having education. None did private tuition. If any student asked for tuition, it was given free when possible. Whenever there were any extra activities, they did not grudge or expect payment. Contrast some of the present generation. Their best talents are spared for tuition classes.”
He has not mentioned the fact that this old problem, not solved by many governments, cannot be solved at once due to the present circumstances. While an estimated 60% of the population of Sri Lanka did not have even two meals a day for over a year, they were paid for demonstrating on the road. Children were educationally at a standstill. How human are they?”
Another reason why Sri Lanka is a ‘land like no other’ is because it continues to pay those on strike! To its credit, the government went out of the way to find a solution to the teachers’ salary issue, but how did they respond? They left the youngest of children stranded for two days, extending their strike in a vain attempt to show their might. To me, this is madness of the highest order. Anyway, what is there to lose; they get paid whether they work or not! My parents, who dedicated their lives to teaching, would turn in their graves if they knew what is going on.
Among the striking teachers were Bhikkhus of the pirivena schools. As pointed out by Upali Abeysiri: “They don the robe saying, ‘sabba dukkha nissarana – nibbana sacchikaranatthaya’ meaning to strive to end all suffering. Is that ending suffering, demanding payment for teaching novice monks dhamma?”
I have written many times about Buddhist monks undertaking roles unbecoming of them. The latest fiasco involves Ven. Galagodaaththe Gnanasara Thera, a controversial figure, about whom I changed my opinion after watching the Derana 360 programme, wherein he pointed out the representations made to him by moderate Muslims that their concerns about extremism has been disregarded by successive governments. It may be because of this that the President decided he should head the Presidential Task Force (PTF) to make recommendations in respect of the ‘One Country, One Law’ concept. When the President made this request, it would have been incumbent on Ven. Gnanasara to point out that it was a position a Bhikkhu should not hold, for many reasons. Unfortunately, he accepted it instead, which may produce disastrous consequences, if one is to go by Shamindra Ferdinando’s report in The Island of 1 November, to the effect that the Minister of Justice may resign over this issue.
As rightly pointed out in the editorial “It’s mandates stupid!” (The Island, 1 November), it is very democratic to question this flawed decision by the President. More so, if it means the resignation of a capable minister. Even a President can make mistakes, and admitting that and making amendments could only enhance the prestige of the President. It is only fools who refuse to admit mistakes and continue to defend the indefensible.
President’s Counsel Ali Sabry, the only Muslim in the Cabinet, is one of the most educated and, more importantly, one of the most effective members of the Cabinet. His attempts to correct the slow turning of wheels of justice is much needed, and if he were to leave it would be a great loss to the country. May I humbly request Ven. Gnanasara to step down from the position, to not only avoid embarrassment to the government but also prevent the country losing the services of an able minister, a rare commodity nowadays. Perhaps, he can continue as a member in view of his experience regarding the grievances of the moderate Muslim community.
Another obvious lapse is the lack of a Tamil representative in the PTF. This anomaly can easily be rectified by the appointment of Mrs. P.S.M. Charles, who is eminently qualified to head the PTF. She, who served as Jaffna District Secretary, held the positions of the Director General of Customs and the Secretary to the Ministry of Health and Indigenous Medicine, before being appointed the Governor of the Northern Province. Someone of that calibre and experience is needed to head a Presidential Task Force.
The need of the day is consensus, to get our problems solved, not madness.
Sri Lanka cricket: what ails thou?
By a Sports Aficionado
This cricket-mad nation was appalled by the pathetic and blatantly disgraceful performance of its National Cricket Team at the premier event of the game, the World Cup. Even before the event ended, heads rolled over here on the cricket board. Such action should have been taken long ago but what we need now is an honest analysis of the debacle and the remedial measures that need to be taken.
One of the root causes of the problem is that there is far too much money in the game at present. Even in the face of the current economic crisis the money that has been remorselessly thrown around cricket is totally unbelievable. The amount of money that has been paid out to the so-called ‘support staff’ is absolutely mind-boggling. For what, pray we ask? To repeatedly lick the sporting wounds inflicted even by lesser mortals? Shame on the Cricket Board that seems to have completely wasted all that money for years in the past. In recent years we have not gained even an iota of returns for all the money spent on locals and foreigners to supposedly elevate the performance levels.
What we are not told are the most likely princely sums paid out to the players by the Cricket Board. If we are to judge that by the amounts paid to the support staff, the amounts paid to the players must be in a celestial planetary orbit. Those amounts are most likely to be astronomical. It is also a certainty that the Cricket Board Staff too have been at the receiving end of even cosmological amounts. The beneficiaries in the Cricket Board also include various types of managers and other assorted executives and supervisors. Then for good measure, add overriding perpetual corruption and you have the recipe for the disaster that it was. The current situation is nothing new., it has been there for quite a while.
So, for a start, trim down the expenses and most definitely the amounts paid to all and sundry through the Cricket Board. We do not need all kinds of suddhas in the supporting staff brigade to resurrect the game. We have locals who could do even a better job for much less payment. Just take a chapter from the book of India, the nation that is flying sky-high in cricket at present. They do not have foreign managers, foreign coaches, or any other foreign white-skinned ‘experts’ to guide their players. What they have is a home-grown well-knit team of local experts who work behind the scenes to produce the results that they consistently provide. They also have a local medical team that can hold its own against the very best in the world. Their players will interact beautifully with the local experts quite unlike our players who would even venerate the ground those so-called foreign experts walk on, but look down practically murderously at local experts. Our players might even refuse to play if a local expert is put in charge of guiding them.
A good start for enhancing performance up to the highest levels is to have a reasonable monthly retainer for players contracted to the Cricket Administration and to that add appearance fees for matches and substantial rewards for good performance in the field. These could be payments for individual achievements as well as stellar successes by the team to be shared equally amongst the players. There is no harm in paying dearly for proven successes.
Our cricket team is so very poor in adjusting to various situations mentally. In any sport, there are ups and downs. It is only the mentally strong who will be able to come through the setbacks and shine. A sportsperson should first learn to handle defeat before he or she can savour the joys of victory. A winner is just the one who can convert fear into confidence, setbacks into comebacks, excuses into firm decisions and mistakes into learnings. Any sporting person or team needs to adjust to the mental strains of intense competition. A person who can help in such situations is a Sports Psychologist. We have never had a dedicated Sports Psychologist for our cricket team. Apparently, the players are totally against using the services of a Sports Psychologist. They are probably of the mistaken belief that psychologists are needed only by the mentally deranged. The end result is that they become perpetual losers who continue to earn loads of dough. Little do they realise that Sports Psychologists are part and parcel of top-class teams of any sport and even individual high-flying performers.
To add salt to the wounds of our cricket team, many and varied injuries are a real bane for consistent performance at the highest levels by our cricketers. Our players get all the possible injuries in the book., some getting the same injury repeatedly. It has been very clearly demonstrated that in any sport, including those that do not involve muscular exertion, physical fitness is of the utmost importance for stellar performance. It is not necessary to delve too deeply into this as far as our cricket team is concerned. They are probably the most unfit team in the flock of teams playing international cricket. They have only to look at the training programme of 35-year-old Virat Kohli to see what needs to be done. He works extremely hard at his physical fitness and the results are there for all to see. In addition to being a classy batsman, his running between the wickets, together with his fielding and catching are the greatest hallmarks of the cricketer.
There is no proper medical team led by a qualified Sports Team Physician who is in charge of all medical matters related to training, diagnosis of injuries and appropriate management. Unfortunately, it is the physiotherapists and physical trainers who seem to be doing all of that in our cricket team and running the show. When a player gets injured on the field, it is a physiotherapist or a trainer who runs onto the field. It should be a properly qualified sports doctor who should be doing that with the other ancillary service providers following behind him or her. Our players have come to a stage where they trust the ancillary service providers rather than properly qualified sports doctors. Those providers speak a kind of high-flown language that impresses the players. However, those words would fail them miserably if they were to be confronted by properly qualified medical personnel.
The woes of our national cricket scenario are multifactorial. Yet for all that people who are selected to represent our country in cricket should realise what an honour and a privilege it is to represent our country. They should take tremendous pride in that. Then they should try always to give of their best to our beautiful country. There are no simple solutions to the problems of Sri Lankan cricket. The talent is there for all to see. It just needs to be properly nurtured and harnessed. It would be pertinent here to echo the words of the 36-year-old champion tennis player Novak Djokovic after winning the most recent Paris Masters Tournament: “Either you let the circumstances and the feelings that you have at that moment master you or you try to master them in a way. There is no in-between. You either fold, retire, or simply give away the match, or you try to draw the energy from the adrenaline that you are feeling from the crowd, from the momentum that you are feeling on the field.”
Need we say more? With proper guidance and classy management, our cricketers need not be the perpetual losers.
Going ritual mode
The article titled “The distortion of Buddhism and the rise of meaningless rituals” written by ‘Member of the silent majority’, which appeared in The Sunday Island of November 26 is a bold explication of Buddhists’ going ritual mode, which most of them seem to feel as the highpoint of living a Buddhist life. The writer comments on the wanton waste in terms of money, resources and time on revelries that pass as demonstrations of religious fervour: “All this excess is expressed in the form of Katina pinkamas that we are witnessing right now. They may be described as carnivals, not religious practices.” This is the unadorned truth of the matter. What is more harmful is that this sort of ritualistic routine helps perpetuate nothing but mass excitement unwittingly construed as the most certain indication of living a Buddhist life and protecting Buddhism.
It is this very skewed attention to the habitual rites that prevents us from seeking the meaning and, more importantly, the applicability of even the religion’s basic teachings in practical life. Unfortunately, the more festive and adorned our outward expressions of religion are, the more easily we tend to think that festivals are the most reliable guarantors of our religion.
Our elites, who are skilled in the delicate art of exploiting the religious sentiments of people for ensuring self-gain and political stability, make a big fuss about ‘protecting religion’ thereby, wittingly or unwittingly, sowing the seeds of divisive feelings of “self” and “other”. This is a grand way of making Buddhists feel that Buddhism is, more than anything else, something to be protected like personal property. Stating that Buddha discourages rituals, the writer goes on to say that Buddha extolled the practice of virtue: “The path which is simple and direct, is clearly stated by the Buddha, namely: the practice of generosity, virtue and mindfulness for lay people; and the practice of virtue, concentration and wisdom for the monks.” Our rulers seem to continuously maintain that if anyone wishes to ‘protect Buddhism’, he has to protect it from any ‘harm’ coming from outside. The writer challenges this when he says, “The Buddha predicted that the decline of Buddhism would indeed be caused by its corruption from within.”
However, the problem is, for the people, be they Buddhists, Christians, Muslims, etc. there is no escape from the political, economic and social forces that determine their entire outlook on life. The good values like generosity, empathy, tolerance, etc., which are not the exclusive preserve of one religion but virtues that promote the wellbeing of all societies, will remain just rarefied notions in the air until the root causes of greed, corruption and mindless competition propelled by consumerism continue to constitute our criteria of progress.
Most ‘development’ projects that hide corrupt deals bringing enormous jackpots to the elites begin with loud religious ceremonies that help maintain the collective myth of preserving religion. The more we start any programme: opening ceremony, construction project, shramadana, funeral, community meeting and whatnot, the more intense our feeling of religiosity becomes, and the more assured we are of ‘preserving’ our religion. In other words, what we are strongly convinced of as the preservation of our religion is the routine observance of the relevant set of rituals. ‘Protecting’ religion, in this sense is the name of the game and all devotees feel happy that ‘our religion’ is ‘protected’. The whole caravan of religions moves forward satisfying the weekly, monthly or seasonal outpouring of our sense of ‘spirituality’ and our sense of religiosity is well taken care of.
It is this kind of cosmetic religiosity that is easily hijacked by political leaders who never miss a chance of showing their religious fervour whenever there are TV cameras around them. And they are the very people who, unluckily, get exposed at regular intervals for their connivance in all kinds of scams. However, we rarely find time to question how these self-professed guardians of religion have benefitted from being publicly religious and swearing to protect religion.
It would be more beneficial to society if people start asking themselves whether it is possible to envision a good society without religious branding. After all, what everyone wants is a good society where all can live peacefully and work productively for the well-being of all- where ‘peace’ cannot be sold as an election promise.
It matters little whether you label your society as Buddhist, Christian, Hindu, Moslem, multi-religious or secular.
LIFE IS A FROLIC…. Goolbai Gunasekara’s latest book of humour
Published by BAYOWL Press Sam and Hussein Publishing House
Versatile author, Goolbai Gunasekara’s books are always eminently readable whether they be on History, Education or Humour. Her latest book is hilarious from beginning to end and all Sri Lankan readers will relate to her amusing anecdotes, relationships, and laughable incidents told with a personal chuckle and a genuine sense of laughter.
“Humour is only amusing when you can laugh at yourself” says Goolbai. You must never laugh at other people by saying anything hurtful.” She quotes, “My mother used to tell me never to write about someone who cannot hit back. I have tried to follow this advice and although humour is sometimes exaggerated to make it funnier it is never offensive.”
I recall the KitKat stories of her granddaughter which were such a hit years ago. KitKat was actually a composite of ALL children of that age. Today, Goolbai’s humour ranges over every known topic against a back drop of modern doings The Social life 65 years (ago as a school girl) is compared to social life today. The difference if mind boggling. Visits to the Dentist are particularly funny as one of my best friends is a Dentist. Goolbai asks how a Dentist expects a patient to answer with his mouth open, but still manages to carry on, cheerfully, with his monologue anyway!
Weddings of yesterday are compared to weddings of today. One story ends with a father viewing the unfolding expenses with horror and telling his bridesmaid daughter, “Darling, when you want to marry, do me a favour and elope.”
The story “Bicycle Boom” describes “Our lovely Mayor Rosy” and the Dutch Ambassador (of some time ago,) trying to popularize the use of the bike to help traffic. Another pithy comment describes the place ‘Clothes and Shoe Brands’ have in the life of a complete philistine (herself) who hardly recognizes a Nike from a Bata.
Nothing Goolbai says can ever cause offence. She is witty and kind in all the 58 short episodes and I am both entertained and fascinated by the versatility of this well-known authoress who writes books on Education with the same panache and sense of humour as LIFE IS A FROLIC.
I cannot end these few comments without reference to the drivers of long ago. They were better than Mosad agents in keeping beady eyes on unwanted male attention and were thoroughly trusted by suspicious parents.
Read this book as a complete Mood Lifter. You can’t go wrong
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