Connect with us

Features

Memories of the old Alma Mater

Published

on

by Vijaya Chandrasoma

My father, an employee of the old Ceylon Civil Service, finally got a posting in Colombo, after many years in the outstations as we Sri Lankans refer, often disparagingly, to our boondocks.

We moved into an old house my mother owned on Fifth Lane, Colombo 3, a stone’s throw from Royal College, the leading government boys’ school in Sri Lanka. My father, being an old Anandian, would have preferred to have his sons study at his alma mater, Ananda College, the leading Buddhist boys’ school in Colombo. My father was, yet again, overruled by my mother, who persuaded him that we should seek admittance to Royal, pleading proximity and convenience. Being a snob at heart, I suspect she wanted us to attend Royal more for its upper-class, English/colonial overtones.

I was an above-average student at Royal Preparatory School and College, one of those students who ended their schooldays with average results expected of them by their parents. I participated in many sports, again with insubstantial success. I was compelled to end my school career prematurely in 1957, when my father went on assignment in London with the company for which he worked. My early departure was hardly a great loss to the school.

I do recall a few incidents of my schooldays. I was an average cricketer, who due to the various quirks of cricketing bureaucracy – quirks that exist today at the highest levels of Sri Lankan cricket – achieved the captaincy of the Harward House Under 14 and Under 16 cricket teams. Harward was one of four Houses into which the student population at Royal was subdivided, the others at that time being Hartley, Marsh and Boake. More Houses have since been added to accommodate the increased student population at Royal.

I had an aversion to be a member of the school’s Scout troop, where a “leg glance” was rumored to have a different connotation to the delicate stroke played at cricket. I dodged enrollment by persuading my mother to get a letter from our family physician that the rigors of marching in the hot sun would be deleterious to my “weak constitution”.

I had been a regular member of the College Under 16 cricket team for early season games. Imagine my dismay when I went to the notice board one day, found that I had been dropped from the eleven and demoted to first reserve for the match to be played the next weekend. The only function of the first reserve was to carry out drinks during breaks.

I hoped a mistake had been made and immediately sought out the Under 16 cricket master who unfortunately also happened to be a scout master. With a sardonic smile, he told me that he had dropped me from the team because of his concern for my well-being. After all, as I was medically advised to avoid marching in the hot sun in the Scout troop, it would be irresponsible, even cruel, to ask me to play cricket under the same hot sun. That was the end of my college cricketing career, which hadn’t shown much promise, anyway.

I was also a contender for the college’s junior (Under 16) team for the Public Schools Tennis Tournament. Due to the illness of our star player, I crept into the team, being selected to represent in the College B team (doubles), in the 1956 Public Schools Championships. I silenced all critics when my partner, a star Rugby player and later a member of the Canadian Diplomatic Corps, and I beat the highly ranked Royal College A Team, to win the Junior Doubles. In straight sets, no less.

The main reason for bringing this up today was a conversation I had last week with a member of the aforementioned Royal College A team, who has remained a good friend over the decades. During our conversation, I told him that I had included this achievement in a lighthearted narrative about my life I was writing for my grandchildren. My friend, who had gone on to be a nationally ranked tennis player, and is today an illustrious Buddhist scholar of unblemished reputation, expressed surprise.

He said it cannot be, that I must have my facts mixed up, as he and his partner had never lost an event in the Public Schools Championships, in 1956 or any other year. There is no way I can find the records of such an insignificant tennis tournament 65 years ago. I tried, but the archives at Royal were closed for the vacation. I will try again, because I want to prove a point: that successful men tend to forget their few failures, while we mere mortals treasure and jealously guard our few successes in our memories.

One of my most enduring teenage memories was when I was running in the school sports meet in the 440-yards event. My father had been a national class hurdler, and a member of the Colombo University 4 X 100 relay team which held the national record for this event for many years. He was watching at the final bend, cheering me on, “Come on, Vicky, Come on Vicky”. An event made memorable only because it gave birth to the name I have been known as all my life.

Of course, no narrative of school memories by any Royalist of my vintage would be complete without deference to the greatest and most versatile teacher Royal had, among a coterie of excellent teachers: the late Bevill St. Elmo de Bruin. There was nothing he could not teach, be it in English Literature, Mathematics, and any sport played at Royal. Together with my father, he was responsible for my abiding love of the English language.

I left school in early 1958, and lost touch with him, until I failed a paper in Mathematics in my Prelims examination at Oxford in 1960. Twice. So I was rusticated, which meant that I could resume reading for my degree in Philosophy, Politics and Economics at Christ Church if I passed Prelims. I was spending my rustication in London, and heard along the grapevine that Bruno, as he was affectionately known to all, was also teaching at a school in London.

I got his address, visited him and explained my predicament to him. He immediately offered me three evenings a week to tutor me in Math, but not even his God given brilliance as a teacher was able to penetrate my mind with the torturous intricacies of calculus. So I failed. Again. One of the few failures of his career, many in mine.

Fast forward to 1996. There were quite a few old boys in Los Angeles who had kept in touch with Bruno, or “Mr. Dibs” as he was called during his lengthy teaching career at Cornwall College in Montego Bay. I got his address and wrote to him, hoping he would remember me. His response in beautiful calligraphy, a letter which I treasure, states inter alia, “I remember you all right. That was in 1961, in the chill (to me) of an English autumn – and I hated the cold and the dark clouds. And while I would not have stepped out for a pack of cigarettes without wearing a ton of protective clothing, there you were with your shirt open at the neck, making nothing of the elements. That should convince you that I have reason to remember you”.

In my letter to him, I had told him how proud I was of my children, and praised my wife (this was in 1996, things have changed since). His conclusion: “If you remember Carl Muller, now a best -selling author sponsored by Penguin Books Ltd., he wrote about his third wife in much the same way that you praised your wife’s loyalty – even asking the Pope to canonize her. Please give your good lady my regards and best wishes. You can be proud of your wonderful family. God bless you all. Elmo de Bruin”.

25 years later, three out of four ain’t bad.

I believe Bruno or Mr. Dibs as he was known in Jamaica received Jamaica’s highest teaching honour, the Order of Distinction. He has been described as “a living treasure of Jamaica”. A treasure that was rightfully ours.

The only trouble I got into in my school career was during my final year, when we had forsaken our Kollupitiya home to live in government housing in North Colombo. I had to fend for myself for lunch. My mother gave me Rs. 1.50 to treat myself to a plate of mixed fried rice at a nearby Chinese restaurant. Some of us occasionally cycled to lunch at a vegetarian restaurant in Bambalapitya, the famous Saraswathie Lodge, a couple of miles from school. We used to polish off copious quantities of traditional Tamil food, followed by a Marcovitch Black & White cigarette, all at a cost of 47 cents, which enabled me to make a substantial profit from my lunch allowance.

These excursions had gained currency in the school, and prompted one of the school prefects to conduct a “raid”. We were caught red handed. The raider of the thosai joint reported us to the principal. I cannot remember the punishment meted out, only that it was not corporal.

This story is interesting only because the officious prefect who “copped” us was none other than the illustrious, though less so in his role of a college prefect in the incident under reference, Mr. Lalith Athulathmudali, who went on to be the President of the Oxford Union and a leading cabinet minister of the then ruling United National Party. He was tragically assassinated during the violence of presidential politics of the 1990s.

In those days, Mr. Athulathmudali lived in, I think, Deal Place, Colombo 3, and he had to walk down the drain, as 27th Lane was then called, passing our house on his way home. We had moved back to Fifth Lane at the time, after my father resigned from his government position at the Port of Colombo.

There were often one or more attractive aunts living with us while they were pursuing their university studies in Colombo. I was occasionally able to persuade one of them to make “funny faces and noises” from the balcony at the then pompous prefect, while I was greeting him most respectfully from ground level.

My classmates at Royal have ended up as masters of industry, eminent physicians, lawyers of international repute, towering above me in their achievements. I have no chance of equaling them in any way. So I plan to outlive them all.



Continue Reading
Click to comment

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Features

PLANES OF EXISTENCE

Published

on

(from THE BUDDHA AND HIS TEACHINGS by Venerable Narada Mahathera)

“Not to be reached by going is world’s end.” ANGUTTARA NIKAYA

According to Buddhism the earth, an almost insignificant speck in the universe, is not the only habitable world, and humans are not the only living beings. Indefinite are world systems and so are living beings. Nor is “the impregnated ovum the only route to rebirth.” By traversing one cannot reach the end of the world, says the Buddha.

Births may take place in different spheres of existence. There are altogether thirty-one places in which beings manifest themselves according to their moral or immoral Kamma.

There are four states of unhappiness (Apaya) which are viewed both as mental states and as places.

They are:

1. Niraya (ni + aya = devoid of happiness) woeful states where beings atone for their evil Kamma. They are not eternal hells where beings are subject to endless suffering. Upon the exhaustion of the evil Kamma there is a possibility for beings born in such states to be reborn in blissful states as the result of their past good actions.

2. Tiracchana-yoni (tiro = across; acchana = going), the animal kingdom. Buddhist belief is that beings are born as animals on account of evil Kamma. There is, however, the possibility for animals to be born as human beings as a result of the good Kamma accumulated in the past. Strictly speaking, it should be more correct to state that Kamma which manifested itself in the form of a human being, may manifest itself in the form of an animal or vice versa, just as an electric current can be manifested in the forms of light, heat and motion successively — one not necessarily being evolved from the other.

It may be remarked that at times certain animals particularly dogs and cats, live a more comfortable life than even some human beings due to their past good Kamma.

It is one’s Kamma that determines the nature or one’s material form which varies according to the skilfulness or unskilfulness of one’s actions.

3. Peta-yoni (pa + ita) lit., departed beings, or those absolutely devoid of happiness. They are not disembodied spirits of ghosts. They possess deformed physical forms of varying magnitude, generally invisible to the naked eye. They have no planes of their own, but live in forests, dirty surroundings, etc. There is a special book, called Petavatthu, which exclusively deals with the stories of these unfortunate beings. Samyutta Nikaya also relates some interesting accounts of these Petas.

Describing the pathetic state of a Peta, the Venerable Moggallana says:

“Just now as I was descending Vultures’ Peak Hill, I saw a skeleton going through the air, and vultures, crows, and falcons kept flying after it, pecking at its ribs, pulling apart while it uttered cries of pain. To me, friend, came this thought: O but this is wonderful! O but this is marvellous that a person will come to have such a shape, that the individuality acquired will come to have such a shape.”

“This being,” the Buddha remarked, “was a cattle-butcher in his previous birth, and as the result of his past Kamma he was born in such a state. “

According to the Questions of Milinda there are four kinds of Petas — namely, the Vantasikas who feed on vomit, the Khuppipāsino who hunger and thirst, the Nijjhamatanhikaā, who are consumed by thirst, and the Paradattapajavino who live on the gifts of others.

As stated in the Tirokudda Sutta these last mentioned Petas share the merit performed by their living relatives in their names, and could thereby pass on to better states of happiness.

4. Asura-yoni — the place of the Asura-demons. Asura, literally, means those who do not shine or those who do not sport. They are also another class of unhappy beings similar to the Petas. They should be distinguished from the Asuras who are opposed to the Devas.

Next to these four unhappy states (Duggati) are the seven happy states (Sugati). They are:

1. Manussa The Realm of human beings.

The human realm is a mixture of both pain and happiness. Bodhisattas prefer the human realm as it is the best field to serve the world and perfect the requisites of Buddhahood. Buddhas are always born as human beings.

2. Catummaharajika — the lowest of the heavenly realms where the Guardian Deities of the four quarters of the firmament reside with their followers.

3. Tavatimsa — lit., thirty-three — the Celestial Realm of the thirty-three Devas where Deva Sakka is the King. The origin of the name is attributed to a story which states that thirty-three selfless volunteers led by Magha (another name for Sakka), having performed charitable deeds, were born in this heavenly realm. It was in this heaven that the Buddha taught the Abhidhamma to the Devas for three months.

4. Yama — “The Realm of the Yama Devas.” That which destroys pain is Yāma.

5. Tusita — lit., happy dwellers, is “The Realm of Delight.”

The Bodhisattas who have perfected the requisites of Buddhahood reside in this Plane until the opportune moment comes for them to appear in the human realm to attain Buddhahood. The Bodhisatta Metteyya, the future Buddha, is at present residing in this realm awaiting the right opportunity to be born as a human being and become a Buddha. The Bodhisatta’s mother, after death, was born in this realm as a Deva (god). From here he repaired to Tavatimsa Heaven to listen to the Abhidhamma taught by the Buddha.

6. Nimmanarati — “The Realm of the Devas who delight in the created mansions.”

7. Paranimmitavasavatti — “The Realm of the Devas who make others’ creation serve their own ends.”

The last six are the realms of the Devas whose physical forms are more subtle and refined than those of human beings and are imperceptible to the naked eye. These celestial beings too are subject to death as all mortals are. In some respects, such as their constitution, habitat, and food they excel humans, but do not as a rule transcend them in wisdom. They have spontaneous births, appearing like youths and maidens of fifteen or sixteen years of age.

These six Celestial Planes are temporary blissful abodes where beings are supposed to live enjoying fleeting pleasures of sense.

The four unhappy states (Duggati) and the seven happy states (Sugati) are collectively termed Kamaloka — Sentient Sphere.

Superior to these Sensuous Planes are the Brahma Realms or Rupaloka (Realms of Form) where beings delight in jhanic bliss, achieved by renouncing sense-desires.

Rupaloka

consists of sixteen realms according to the jhānas or ecstasies cultivated. They are as follows:

(a) T’he Plane of the First Jhana;

1. Brahma Parisajja –– The Realm of the Brahma‘s Retinue.

2. Brahma Purohita — The Realm of the Brahma’s Ministers.

3. Mahaā Brahma — The Realm of the Great Brahmas.

The highest of the first three is Mahaā Brahma. It is so called because the dwellers in this Realm excel others in happiness, beauty, and age-limit owing to the intrinsic merit of their mental development.

(b) The Plane of the Second Jhāna:

4. Parittābhā — The Realm of Minor Lustre,

5. Appamānābhā — The Realm of Infinite Lustre,

6. Ābhassarā —

The Realm of the Radiant Brahmas.

(c) The Plane of the Third Jhāna:

7. Parittasubha — The Realm of the Brahmas of Minor Aura.

8. Appamānasubha — The Realm of the Brahmas of Infinite Aura.

9. Subhakinhaā — The Realm of the Brahmas of Steady Aura.

(d) The Plane of the Fourth Jhana:

10. Vehapphala — The Realm of the Brahmas of Great Reward.

11. Asaatta — The Realm of Mindless Beings,

12. Suddhavasa — The Pure Abodes which are further subdivided into five, viz:

i. Aviha — The Durable Realm,
ii. Atappa — The Serene Realm,
iii. Sudassa — The Beautiful Realm,
iv. Sudassi — The Clear-Sighted Realm.
v. Akanittha — the Highest Realm.

Only those who have cultivated the Jhanas or Ecstasies are born on these higher planes. Those who have developed the First Jhana are born in the first Plane; those who have developed the Second and Third Jhanas are born in the second Plane; those who have developed the Fourth and Fifth Jhanas are born in the third and fourth Planes respectively.

The first grade of each plane is assigned to those who have developed the Jhanas to an ordinary degree, the second to those who have developed the Jhanas to a greater extent, and the third to those who have gained a complete mastery over the Jhanas.

In the eleventh plane, called the Asaatta, beings are born without a consciousness.

Here only a material flux exists. Mind is temporarily suspended while the force of the Jhāna lasts. Normally both mind and matter are inseparable. By the power of meditation, it is possible, at times, to separate matter from mind as in this particular case. When an Arahant attains the Nirodha Samāpatti, too, his consciousness ceases to exist temporarily. Such a state is almost inconceivable to us. But there may be inconceivable things which are actual facts.

The Suddhavasas or Pure Abodes are the exclusive Planes of Anagamis or Never-Returners. Ordinary beings are not born in these states. Those who attain Anāgāmi in other planes are reborn in these Pure Abodes. Later, they attain Arahantship and live in those planes until their life-term ends.

There are four other planes called Arupaloka which are totally devoid of matter or bodies. Buddhists maintain that there are realms where mind alone exists without matter. “Just as it is possible for an iron bar to be suspended in the air because it has been flung there, and it remains as long as it retains any unexpended momentum, even so the Formless being appears through being flung into that state by powerful mind-force, there it remains till that momentum is expended. This is a temporary separation of mind and matter, which normally co-exist. “

It should be mentioned that there is no sex distinction in the Rupaloka and the Arupaloka.

The Arupaloka is divided into four planes according to the four Arupa Jhanas.

They are:

1. The Sphere of the Conception of Infinite Space.

2. The Sphere of the Conception of Infinite Consciousness.

3. The Sphere of the Conception of Nothingness.

4. The Sphere of Neither Perception nor Non-Perception.

It should be remarked that the Buddha did not attempt to expound any cosmological theory.

The essence of the Buddha’s teaching is not affected by the existence or non-existence of these planes. No one is bound to believe anything if it does not appeal to his reason. Nor is it proper to reject anything because it cannot be conceived by one’s limited knowledge.

Continue Reading

Features

Sins of Fathers and Comrades

Published

on

“The sins of the father will be laid upon the children.”

Exodus 20:5 (5th of Ten Commandments)

The Merchant of Venice (Act 3, Scene 5)

by Kumar David

It is a terrible, a terrifying curse that the sins of one generation will be visited upon successors. Some Christian sects, to this day, hold the Jews responsible for the murder of Jesus Christ though a learned Christian scholar, Lay-Preacher and friend assures me that this is perverse – Pontius Pilate must carry full responsibility he declares. But another with lesser ecclesiastical credentials (he never would have made it to Lay-Preacher though lay was not the obstacle) assures me that unlike JR in 1983, Pilate had good reason to fear that he had no choice and that the mob threatened governance. Actually, JR never made that lame-duck excuse – I think he rather enjoyed watching it. (Aside: Ranil was JR’s nephew in whose Cabinet he loyally served throughout the treachery and slaughter – Bahu please note).

Two organisations are paying a high price for their past, the blame for which is laid on their heads. The example in the headlines this month is the Taliban. The curses of centuries of faith-based relics have submerged it, though internal conflicts may still reverse the worst of the dark age. The other, always in the rear-view mirror of Lankan politics are the 1971 and 1989 events. I promised in a previous piece that I would stop bugging the JVP for long ago follies for which present leaders bear no responsibility. I intend to keep that promise. The misfortune is that that we the NPP still face “Didn’t your people do that?”, “Can we trust them again?” and such flak. A giant blunder by one generation of comrades hangs over the heads of their successors. This piece however is about the Taliban, a theme to which I seem to be getting addicted.

That Chairman fellow said “Women hold up half the sky”, but the Taliban by imposing cruel dress codes and obsolete conduct on unwilling women who have tasted personal freedom for two decades have created an implacable foe. (If some prefer to adhere of their own volition, that’s fine). Opposition to gender oppression and the Pashtun power grab will ignite conflict. There were sporadic protests by small groups of women earlier, but on September 7 a large one, thousands strong marched for miles through the streets of Kabul and was finally dispersed by shots in the air. There are videos of beating and detention of well-disciplined women protesters by bloody fool machismo in the lower ranks of the Taliban who will have to be crushed. It remains to be seen if the leadership has the guts to do this or whether it will go the way of all Lankan regimes on inter-racial and religious injustice. I am not holding my breath. On September 8 the regime impose a ban on demonstrations; this will be defied. If the Taliban mows down Afghan women with grapeshot what is left of its Islamic credentials?

So far, I have written in support of the expulsion of NATO. This has been done and now Act 2 of the drama has commenced. It is time to hold the Taliban to acceptable standards of human and democratic rights but instead it has formed an all-male mainly Pashtun government of aged hard-line dotards and given the lie to promises of ethnic inclusivity and recognition of women. It has slipped back to primeval faiths and primitive customs. The Taliban Education Minister who has never been to school, when challenged about his fitness for the job responded: “Education is irrelevant so long as you are pious.” There will be a push back by younger Taliban cadres as the economy goes into free fall and conflict with women and non-Pashtun ethnic-minorities swells. I am of the view that we are passing through a period in which nothing is settled and foresee changes within the Taliban and in the nature of the state.

Foreign occupation has had contradictory effects. On the one hand liberal values and a liber-democratic state were the proclaimed objectives. On the other hand, drones and artillery killed thousands of civilians, the Afghan army murdered and plundered, and billions of dollars unloaded on foreign contactors spread a plague of corruption from the President down. In sum the occupation was a disaster and a failure.

Confessional slavery

Saudi Arabia, the Gulf States, Iran, the Taliban regime and some others impose dress codes, curtail commonplace democratic rights, deny education and horse whip or stone to death women who defy primitive religious injunctions imposed on all whether these practices are egregious to other genders, faiths or ethnic collectives. (I avoid the term Islamic as I am not schooled in whether Islam actually sanctions such incongruity and cruelty). In the best-case, the Taliban will see the writing on the wall and retreat, give or take a few tactical adjustments. If it is deaf to half its population it will engender a women’s uprising; these women have nothing to lose but their chains and a world to gain. It will take time for a clandestine but identifiable leadership to mature and resistance organise itself. The Taliban does not want to give any rights to women and it will concede only what it is compelled to by domestic and international pressure.

The best Sri Lankans of all faiths, ages, communities and genders can do is to extend moral and if possible practical support to women enslaved by confessional states. Did you know that Afghans were making creative and aesthetically sensitive films from well before Taliban-I? Muslim women in open societies have shone in the professions, academia and public service. Their fathers, brothers and husbands now have a duty to help this process everywhere. It is a shame that Islamic clerics and Muslim laymen and scholars across the world have failed to denounce the Taliban’s behaviour. Many, not only in the thuggish lower ranks, who obstruct progress gun in one hand and whiplashing women on the streets, are alarmed by their own limited educational and intellectual horizons and nativist ignorance. That’s the long and the short of it.

The New Taliban Government: a formula for strife

The Taliban proclaimed an Islamic Emirate, but a Republic is emerging on the streets of Kabul and Herat. Two weeks ago I wrote about the internal dynamics in political movements in watershed periods. It is necessary now to admit that in Afghanistan and in the Taliban the first round has been won by the reactionaries. Nevertheless, professed pieties and hermetic decision making notwithstanding, the conflict within Taliban driven by anger on the streets and dissent in the countryside, is only beginning. Yes true, the Taliban did not fight for 20 years in the mountains to win power and then create a liberal state. Nor do the hardliners care a whit about the hardships people suffer without medical services and food. What will forces change within the movement is if these deficits provoke challenges to its power in the country at large, and if internal cracks within the Taliban widen under stress. The real world will in the end win over the imagined world of faith, ideology and ignorance.

You would be justified to reckon that the government was formed in a home-for-the-aged. Aging Mohammad Hassan Akhund, an aide of the Taliban founder Omar, is PM and Abdul Ghani Baradar his deputy. Omar’s son Yaqoob is defence minister. Two senior Haqqani network members, leader Sirajuddin Haqqani and his aging uncle Khalil Haqqani are interior minister and minister for refugees respectively. Akund, Siarjuddin and Khalil are on UN sanctions lists for terrorism. It’s as if after victory in the Panjshir Valley they cocked their thumb at the world, especially the West and said “Bugger off! We won the war. We will do as we please”. That in broad terms is the government though described as “Interim”. Unsurprisingly, Beijing welcomed the new government. It is playing at global foreign policy and currying favour with the Taliban not to interfere with its repression of Uighur Muslims. China will be of no help in the democratisation of Afghanistan (or Sri Lanka or Burma or anywhere).

The leaders professed that women will play a prominent role and have access to education, but they were excluded from talks when forming a government and there is no longer any mention of a ministry of women’s affairs. About 40% of school children are girls and 30% sitting the university entrance exams are women; unrepentant religious aboriginals in the leadership will attempt to roll all this back. I keep returning to the women’s issue because my sense is that repressing women who have tasted education and employment and then oppressing them socially is not sustainable and will engender conflict. Attempts to impose a Pashtun state on other ethnicities by an aged ideologically primitive leadership in the context of an economic meltdown will aggravate conflict and create splits and realignments within the movement. This may bring younger leaders to the helm and then modify the state itself. The signals as yet are mixed. If the leaders refuse to budge, conflict between the people and the Taliban will break into the open. This is not a desirable scenario; a compromise is better.

This essay has continuity in views and content with my column of September 5, “A perspective on conflicts in the Taliban” which readers may wish to consult.

Continue Reading

Features

My personal experience and perspective of Astrology and Palmistry

Published

on

by Dr Nihal D Amerasekera

I was simply fascinated by the stories about his experience with palmistry revealed by my erstwhile colleague Prof Sanath Lamabadusuriya in a recent article to the Sunday Island Newspaper.

Palmistry or Cheiromancy originated in ancient India more than 5,000 years ago and spread to China, Greece and Rome. Now palmistry as an art is practiced worldwide. At present there are three types of palmistry, Indian, Western and Chinese. The Western and Chinese palmistry now show a significant divergence from the original Indian palmistry. The Indian Vedic astrology is closely linked to the notions of karma. Palmists believe Palmistry is both a science and an art. Astrology originated in Babylon far back in antiquity around 2,400 years ago.

I spent much of my childhood with my grandparents both of whom were measured and well-mannered health care professionals. Bringing up their children in the aftermath of the first World War they endured the nomadic life of government transfers every four years serving in some of the most inhospitable places. Those were troubled times of malaria, dysentery and typhoid epidemics. In those days without TV and radio they developed a hobby which was all consuming. They were excellent and adept palmists and astrologers.

I still recall the many books on the subject that filled the bookshelves of our house in Nugegoda. Friends and family got my grandparents to cast horoscopes and got their palms read. For them it was a hobby for which no money changed hands. According to family folklore, when I was born at the Kandy hospital my grandma, was there with her watch recording the time of birth with accuracy. The local time in Ceylon was changed during World War II to what was called ‘War Time’. This caused enormous upheaval in the astrology community in getting the time correct for casting horoscopes.

I grew up in a milieu with great belief in the ability to predict the future. We all had our astrological charts on rolled up ola leaves. My grandparents were well aware of its difficulties and shortcomings and also how, when and what information to divulge. My grandfather was a fine palmist. He never lost his sense of playfulness or the ability to find humour in his predictions. When I was a young kid I was told that I will be a doctor and my future lies in another country. In retrospect I am amazed how accurately he summed up my future.

He was always discreet in his predictions and did so with great sensitivity. In the fullness of years, I can acknowledge now, the predictions were remarkably accurate. I had a cousin who was my age and attended the local school with me. When I asked my grandpa about her future he was reluctant to discuss it. It brought us great sadness when she died tragically age 35. There were times he did get things wrong. His clientele was family and friends. These errors came to light many years later and no one came to any serious harm.

My grandfather did tell me that I had the perfect chart to be a good palmist. I did learn the basics from him and loved it. He often said “practice makes perfect” and that I should read palms regularly. The idea did appeal to me. It is wonderful to be able to predict the future. As a teenager there were too many other interests and distractions. Although my interest receded it never died. I took it up again briefly after retirement, just as a hobby. On a Mediterranean cruise I discovered palmistry was a good ‘party trick’. The mere mention at the dinner table that I could read the palm generated great interest. Despite my disclaimer of being a novice the ladies lined up for their futures to be revealed.

When I was a first year medical student we visited a family friend in Kollupitiya. There was a large gathering. Amongst the crowd was a professional palm reader. They asked me if I want my palm read. Without much thought I agreed and realised later that was a huge mistake. As there was an audience the palmist played to the gallery. Some very personal events of my future life were bared for all to hear causing me great embarrassment and distress. Much of the past was incorrect and in retrospect the future predictions were a load of rubbish. In those days I wasn’t vocal enough and suffered in silence. I still blush when I think about it. This is an excellent example of how NOT to read the palm. There are many such unscrupulous quacks and rogues that hoodwink the people to earn a living.

All palmists should learn the trade as an apprentice to a true professional who should pass on their wisdom, teach the obligations and the refinements we call “bedside manner”. Like in the Hippocratic oath they should be taught “primum non nocere” ( first, do no harm). In my childhood I recall the village astrologers and palmists who frightened the people with impending doom and gloom and extracted money to counteract the forces of evil. Perhaps with increased literacy and learning these practices have now largely disappeared. It is my belief that like in every profession, for astrology and palmistry too, well beyond the aptitude, some have the special gift of instinct or intuition that set them apart from the rest. I have met a few such brilliant professional astrologers and palmists who have made a name for themselves and make an honourable living.

The art of predicting the future has always fascinated people all over the world. For a young person with all his/her life before them there is that inevitable desire to know what is in store. Even In the 21st century that desire still exist. There are some who would say “why know the future, just get on with life”. As a septuagenarian, knowing the fragility of life, I agree with that sentiment completely. Que sera sera – whatever will be will be.

On a personal level, my future has been predicted with great accuracy and I have good reason to believe in both palmistry and astrology. The accurate time of birth and proper casting of the horoscope is the key to its reliability. Even with all that the predictions are neither fool-proof nor flawless. Finding a genuine bona-fide palmist or astrologer is like searching for a needle in a haystack.

There is a conflict between my scientific background and those imprecise and unregulated business of astrology and palmistry. As a medical professional I am trained only to trust evidence-based information and have some scepticism and even some cynicism about matters I cannot deduce logically.

I never allowed my decisions to be guided by astrology or palmistry. Those predictions have no guarantee of accuracy although it gave me a fairly clear picture of what the future held for me. I have lived my life as I wanted making much of the decisions on the hoof. In the main I have no regrets. I have always believed that although my future lay in my own hands much what happens to us in life is governed and influenced by the awesome forces of destiny.

As old age came to my grandparents, they had the respect and love of the extended family. I will always remember grandma’s diligence, energy and enthusiasm, and grandpa’s calm reflective kindness. Their demise to me was an end of an era. The memory of my grandparents still remains with me as a dear and precious possession.

Continue Reading

Trending