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More on jungle treks: Lahugala and bold leopards

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BY H A I Katugaha

(Continued from last week)

One morning in the 1950’s we had gone across into Yala Block 2 and our destination was Walaskema in search of the famous crossed tusker, so named because of the crossing of the tusks in front. We had Block 2 all to ourselves. Parking the jeep, we began our walk to Walaskema. There were four of us in the party, namely Uncle Sam, Upali, our tracker and myself.

We saw a leopard sitting under a tree. He got up and started walking towards us. This was most unusual. We shouted at him but he took no notice at all. He growled at us and kept getting closer. Shouting at him we walked backwards and even threw stones at him. One thrown by the tracker hit him on his head, but he kept on coming.

Having reached the jeep, Upali raced the engine and sped towards him. The leopard then ran off into the jungle. Leopards usually run off at the sight of man, and the difficulty is to get close to one. Uncle Sam was of the opinion that this one may well have been used to humans since the Kataragama pilgrims passed this way every year. Maybe he even had a taste of human flesh by eating the corpse of a pilgrim that had died during the walk across Kumbukkan Oya to Menik Ganga. It was a large male animal in the prime of his life.

We reached Walaskema, which was a water-hole, and though we waited till evening the famous tusker did not come to drink water. On our way back we did see a herd of elephants across the Pilinnawa plains.

Years later while camping out at Kosgasmankada in Yala Block 1, one night I noticed some movement under one of the lanterns that we had hung around the camp to keep animals away. Using my torch I discovered that it was a leopard that sat right under the lantern and watched our camp. Soon several torches were focused on it and we had a good look at this fine male leopard. One member of our party then turned the vehicle and put on the headlights. There he was in all his glory watching us with apparent delight.

Next morning we reported this unusual behavior to the park office and were told that this was a bold leopard that had even attacked a labourer attached to the department while walking along at the campsite. The rule is that a leopard will run off at the sight of man unless man has wounded him. It is always best to remember that there are exceptions to every rule.

Land of the gentle giants

At dawn, in the early 1960’s, I lay stretched out on a mat in the verandah of the old Irrigation Department bungalow at Lahugala. A regular swish-swish close by informed me that an elephant, perhaps two, were feeding on the luscious beru grass close to the sluice. It was still very dark. The first vocalists for the morning were a pair of magpies. Their whistling calls were welcome indeed. Next a shama gave vent to his repertoire of vocal renderings. Then the pair of brown fish owls that was always to be found near the sluice finished their serenade with a short burst of hoo hoo.

As darkness gave way to light that misty morning, I watched the dark shape of an elephant slowly moving up to the rock in front of the bungalow. He stood still, probably enjoying the cool breeze that was blowing across the tank. After about 15 minutes he came down and walked towards the well.

Sammy, the Department’s watcher at the bungalow, kindly brought me a hot cup of tea and whispered, “Sir, be careful when you go for a wash, there is an elephant by the well.” I thanked him for his concern.

By the time my friends and I finished our tea, the elephant left the well and moved off into the jungle to our right. We could now see that there were two elephants feeding by the sluice. About 7 am they slowly walked up the bend of the tank and faded away to the left of us.

Across the tank, felled logs of the majestic trees that they once were, stood out in the early morning sun. It happened to be the depot of the State Timber Corporation and quite an eyesore in such a wonderful setting. Birds that were resting by the tank, such as painted storks, pelicans, teal, open-billed storks and a few white-necked storks, took off to look for breakfast. Four adjutant storks began their stately walk in search of food.

It was a typical morning at Lahugala. As we walked up to the rock a solitary pied kingfisher hovered momentarily, dived and came up with a fish. He flew to his perch, flicked the fish up and expertly swallowed it head first. The purple herons and the coots were active in the grass, while the beautiful jacanas were flitting over the lotus leaves looking for food.

Lahugala was then only a forest reserve and not a national park. The tank was managed by the Irrigation Department and Sammy was its watcher that looked after the sluice. Later Lahugala became an elephant reserve. Elephants were the chief attraction and they were to be seen throughout the year, but during the dry season from July to September, they congregated in large numbers. During this period, the herds gathered here for water and for the beru grass that they loved so much. There was always a resident population of elephants numbering about twenty. It was not till the 1970’s that it finally became a national park. Though it was only five square miles in extent it was a haven for elephants.

That morning we got on our scooters and went to the village for breakfast. Coming back for a bath in the tank was always refreshing. Our lunch over we did have a short snooze, leaving Sammy on the lookout for elephants, It was not till 2 pm that the elephants began to come to the tank. The first to arrive were solitary bulls, six of whom arrived from different spots and waded into the tank. That evening the herds came late, and by 5.30 pm there were over 50 elephants out in the tank. Depending on where the herds were, we walked up to the nearest tree and observed them, feeling quite safe. (Walking in the park was allowed in those days.)

One afternoon, Mr.Peter Jayawardena, who was the Wildlife Department’s ranger stationed at Lahugala, took us for a walk along the bund. Hearing a noise he led us into the jungle. There in a clearing were three elephants lying flat and sleeping. The noise that we heard was their snoring. They were soon joined by another that came up to them, laid himself down and then slept. After a while Mr. Jayawardena clapped. The four elephants were up instantly and crashed away into the jungle. It was amazing to see such large animals get up and run so quickly. The jungle was soon silent.

At the time Lahugala was an elephant reserve, and the Wildlife and Nature Protection Society took the Irrigation Department’s old Bungalow on lease. It was renovated and made comfortable. The late Mr. Noel de Costa was responsible for getting the place into a satisfactory condition. Thereafter we were able to book the bungalow and stay in it in comfort. We had only to take our food and bedding with us.

During those days it was a common sight to see people walk into the jungle with guns and many dogs at their heel. Gunshots were heard every night. Venison was freely available at the bazaar. Poaching was rampant.

It has been my good fortune to see two leopards at Lahugala. One was on the road leading to the bungalow late one evening when we were returning from Kithulana. The other walked past the bungalow one night just as we were about to retire for the night, A bear came along the road one night and hooted, and we watched him by moonlight. Had he not made a sound we would never have seen him. Deer and wild boar were not seen in those early days, and no doubt poaching was responsible for this scarcity. Every night we heard gunshots..

Lahugala has always been a bird watcher’s paradise. The tank is a fine rendezvous for storks, herons, waders, and other water birds. The surrounding jungle abounds with birds. A pair of grey-headed fishing eagles had a nest on a tall tree close to the sluice. They carefully tended their nest every year. A pair of brown fish owls nested close by. Many raptorials were seen over the tank at all times. I have seen one black-necked stork in the 1970’s and several adjutant storks. The thrill was to spot the beautiful red-faced malkoha or the racquet-tailed drongo. On a short walk along the track leading to Heda Oya, one would invariably see the red-faced malkoha. In fact we named it Malkoha Lane. It was not uncommon to see them in groups of four to six.

It was during the time I was at Badulla that I was able to really explore Lahugala and its surroundings. One afternoon there were two bull elephants feeding by the sluice. Getting close to them, keeping behind the bund, I took photographs, but one of them suddenly charged. He could not have seen me and the wind was in my favour. I ducked down on the blind side of the bund and lay flat among some large granite blocks that were thankfully there. The bull elephant came up the bund and to my relief ran along it. Had I run in panic on that day I would not be writing this article.

I picked up my field glasses and went back to see what his problem was, this time from a very safe distance. He had suppurating gunshot wounds on both his hind legs, and his left ear was torn. Many other swellings on his body and head only proved how many times he had been shot at. Naturally he hated man. I informed the Wildlife and Nature Protection Society of this troublesome bull elephant, so that they could inform other occupants who came to this place to be careful of this animal.

Several months later I was at Lahugala with my family. Late one evening we met the elephant on the main road. A herd was feeding below the culvert and he was coming along to join the group. I was able to take a picture of him as he was crossing the culvert. While we were watching the herd I noticed that he was quickly moving parallel to us. and was trying to come in front of us. We moved ahead and waited for him. Sure enough he came to the road and immediately charged us. This time we were in a jeep and had no difficulty in avoiding his aggressive behaviour. He charged us three times on that day.

This bull elephant became quite a menace. He would wait quietly by the road and suddenly charge at any passing vehicle. Buses were his favourite targets. Three months later I was informed that he was shot. I drove down to verify if it was the same animal. It was truly the same troublesome bull, which was shot and had fallen in a chena close to Kithulana Tank. Birds were picking up dead maggots from his wounds. He had 23 wounds on the left side of his body and eight on his head. Finally he was at rest.

Lahugala was next declared a national park. The area began to be patrolled and it was at last getting the protection that it so richly deserved. It was in the late 1970’s that I saw the first herd of deer come out to feed. Wild boar soon made their presence felt.

One morning while I was seated on the rock, I met Appuhamy who came with a katty (a cutting blade with a long handle) on his ample shoulder. Having heard that I had come all the way to watch elephants, he took me to his chena, which was close to the Sengamuwa tank. To my horror I saw that his entire chena was devastated, having been trampled by a large number of elephants that had passed through. All his labour was lost in one night.

“You will see them at Lahugala today.” he said sadly. I gave him most of the cash I had with me and asked him about compensation. “Sir, I will get my money but I will have to give bribes in return; otherwise it will take months, perhaps even a year.” It is one thing for us to talk of conservation of the elephant from our homes and offices; while it is quite another matter for the poor cultivator. I told him it was a known fact that elephants come to Lahugala during that time of the year.

“True Sir, I would have harvested my crop by now, but the rains were delayed and so I planted late.” As I sat on the rock that evening and watched elephants pouring out of the jungle to my right, Appuhamy’s saying that I would see elephants at Lahugala that day kept ringing in my ears. As many as 186 elephants with four tuskers came to the tank. A herd of over a hundred elephants would have walked across his cultivation.

The conditions at the park improved rapidly, thanks to a dedicated staff that was stationed there. Being a small park it was easy to patrol. Poaching decreased. We began to see small herds of deer grazing close to the tank. I even saw a few sambhur.

There are many places of historical interest that one could visit while staying at Lahugala. One such place is Habutagala, where many ancient ruins, which include a forty-foot reclining statue of Lord Buddha in a cave, are found. Treasure hunters have dug into the statue. There is a small dagoba and several pillars to be seen. The most interesting features are Lord Buddha’s footprint carved in stone and an ancient stone inscription. These ruins belong to the Ruhunu period. Northern terrorists have attacked the village of Hulanuge twice.

Magul Maha Viharaya too is worthy of a visit. Situated close to Lahugala bazaar, it has several stone pillars and foundations. During the 1970’s, a unique moonstone was unearthed at this spot. It was in a fine state of preservation. Four of the elephants in the row of these animals carved on stone were dressed and had a rider on each. No other moonstone yet discovered anywhere in the country had this feature. Here again we find a small dagoba, a shrine room and a foundation of some structure with beautifully carved lions round its base.

More on jungle treks:…

Ancient stone inscriptions can also be seen. When conservation is completed some more interesting finds are likely to be found at this place.

Nilagiri Maha Seya is still covered in jungle. One has to cross Heda Oya and travel south along a jungle path to get there. We were warned to be extra careful and to make a loud noise when walking along, as there was a reputation for the presence of bears, in addition to the ever-present elephants. The walk was rewarding. The jungle was cool and had plenty of bird life to keep us occupied. My late brother, Upali, and Dr. Mahi Kottegoda accompanied me on all archaeological and nature-watching trips to the area. Kotte, as we called him, was an ardent bird watcher.

Nilagiri Maha Seya was in complete ruin. It was huge, with massive trees growing even at the summit. We were told that it was much bigger than the famous Tissamaharama dagoba. A large cylindrical stone kotha (crown of a Buddhist dagoba) was seen fallen at the very top of the dagoba, which resembled a hill covered in jungle.

A beautifully carved Bodhisatva statue is found at Mudu Maha Viharaya at Panama. This carving is in crystalline limestone and is really well done.

Lahugala became more and more popular. The Society bungalow was almost always occupied. Deer and wild boar were seen every day. Elephants were the main draw. One could see them every day of the year. A resident population of about 12 to 20 elephants never failed to appear. During the drought the numbers increased to about a hundred to 200 elephants. If we did not see them at Lahugala, we found them at Kithulana or Sengamuwa tanks.

Arugam Bay is only 12 miles away. It was a common practice to go there for the morning sea bath and bring back seafood for lunch. Then, followed by a well-earned siesta, we would wait for the elephants in the evening.

At ten past five, trumpeting announced the arrival of the herds as 32 elephants of different sizes ran to the water. They spread out in a line, had their drink and ran back to the jungle. They did not feed. It was obvious to us that they had arrived after a long walk. While we were wondering what had disturbed them, a large female, obviously the matriarch, led the 32 back to water. They were followed by over 80 more, who came out nearly in single file and waded into the tank. We counted them as they came out. We were seated on the rock in front of the bungalow.

Our friend Sammy whispered in my ear that more were coming. Sure enough another group came out to our left and walked over the bund to get into the tank. There were over 40 in this group. The two groups mingled freely and we saw a line of elephants across the Lahugala tank, a fabulous sight indeed. The bull elephants kept moving from one group to another testing the females for receptivity. One young female squealed and ran away from a bull. A larger one, probably the mother, came running to the bull and began stroking him around his ears. The bull immediately turned and began testing her.

We next noticed a huge bull elephant, which was the biggest in the gathering, coming along the bund. He made straight to the herds. Two smaller bulls took to their heels and left the herd to the big bull. Later in the evening when the elephants were leaving the tank, he was there by our rock with two female elephants. Yes, he was ready for a night of love.

It has been my good fortune to see six different tuskers at Lahugala. Two were really big ones, but sadly this gathering of over a 100 had none. I have observed mating of elephants at Lahugala on three occasions, too far for effective photography.

Up to about 1985 there was peace and tranquillity, then the terrorists began to attack the humble jungle villages. Soon the bungalow, the office of the Wildlife Department and the staff quarters were torched. The army soon moved in. One could still go past Lahugala on the way to the east coast at one’s own risk. The area was considered risky, and no one would dare to stay in the area.

The army is there and elephants still come to the tank. The small national park remains in mute silence. The deer and wild boar are no longer seen in daylight. Even elephants have been shot at. We can only hope that the interim cessation of hostilities will lead to permanent peace once again and we would be able to visit these places to enjoy what nature has bestowed so generously.

Reference: Trimen, Henry (1898). A hand-book to the flora of Ceylon, vol 3, p 216, Dulau & Co, London.

(Concluded)

(Excerpted from Jungle Journeys in Sri Lanka edited by CG Uragoda)



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THE DEMOCRATIC PARADOX OF SRI LANKA

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by R.J. de Silva, Attorney-at-law

In the distant past, there were many approaches to running civilizations. Cruel and ruthless dictators perpetrated assault on human rights, with impunity. The best known among these tyrants were ATTILA the HUN (AD 434-453 of present day Hungary ), GENGHIS KHAN ( 1206-1227 in Central Asia and China ), TIMUR ( 1370-1405 of modern Syria, Iran , Afghanistan) and QUEEN MARY alias ‘Bloody Mary’(1553-1558 in England ).

The combination of divine or absolute power and lack of contact with people made Dictators and Autocrats fascinating as well as terrifying. It is unclear if such characters suffered from mental illness as defined by current standards or whether their lives were marked by incidents that made them ruthless.

Hadenius and Teorell ( 2007 ) identified distinct dictatorships in monarchies, military regimes, one party regimes and restricted multiparty regimes. Studies have revealed that many dictatorial regimes, have democratic facades or some functioning democratic institutions, some holding regular elections and some having operational political parties and legislatures.

Dictatorships are a form of government in which all power remains in the hands of one person enjoying unlimited governmental power obtained by force or fraudulent means in sham elections. Dictatorships are often characterized by deaths or killings because of greed, hatred, pride and yearning for power. For instance, Hitler caused millions of deaths of Jews, Pol Pot killed millions of Cambodians to forcibly change its culture and Idi Amin was responsible for killing hundreds of thousands of Indians in Uganda.

Autocracy is very similar to a dictatorship. Here too, the supreme power lies in the hands of an individual with some supported by a slavish political party. Autocrats use little or no consultation when making decisions and exercise independent authority over policies and procedures. Their decisions are not subject to any legal restraints. The system suppresses public debate and makes criticism of the government, a criminal offence.

Like in dictatorships, autocracies also use force and punishments to those who disobey the leader’s commands. Autocrats manifest in many ways in despotism, oligarchy and fascism.

In the ideology of benevolent or enlightened despotism (popular in the 18th Century Europe),a absolute monarchs enacted a number of changes in political institutions and enlightened governance. Most of the despots started their careers as “freedom fighters”. Many of them amassed wealth abroad while the world was in denial.

An oligarchy is a form of government where power is in the hands of a small group of elite people, holding wealth or family or military prowess. Oligarchies are where a small minority rules the government and exercise power in corrupt ways. Such governments are frequently ruled by prominent families whose children are raised and coached as oligarchy’s heirs.

Fascism is a political ideology that elevates the nation and race above the individual and advocates a ‘Consolidated Autocratic government’ led by a dictator under strict economic and social regulation while suppressing the opposition. Fascist administrations were seen in Italy’s Fascist Party under Mussolini ( 1925-1945 )and the National Socialist German Worker’s Party ( Nazi Party ) under Adolf Hitler ( 1925-1943). Interestingly, the majority of the modern dictatorial regimes refer to their leaders by a variety of titles such as President, King and Prime Minister.

The 20th and 21st Century dictators and autocrats ruled with tyrannical power and never tolerated dissent. Some of them were VALDIMIR LENIN ( 1917-1924 Russia ), JOSEPH STALIN ( 1924-1953 Russia ), BENITO MUSSOLINI ( 1925-1945 Italy ), ADOLF HITLER ( 1933-1945 Germany ), FRANCISCO FRANCO ( 1939-1975 Spain ), MAO ZEDONG (1949-1976- China ), IDI AMIN (1971-1979 Uganda), AUGUSTO PINOCHET ( 1973- 1990 Chile ), GEOGIS PAPANDUPOULUS ( 1967-1974 Greece ), COL MUAMMER GADAFI ( 1969-2011 Libya ).

Dictator led countries are also associated with severe poverty, repression, decreasing health and life expectancy, famine, poor education and rising mental illnesses. Eight of these brutal and repressive autocracies which caused poverty in their countries were : KIM JONG UN since 2011 ( North Korea- 40% poverty ), NICOLAS MANDURO since 2013 with his Presidency in dispute ( Venezuela – 82% poverty ) , BASHA AL ASSAD since 2020 ( Syria -82% poverty ), PAUL KAGME since March 2000 (Rwanda -39.1% poverty ), RECEP ERDOGAN since 2014 ( an elected President in Turkey- 21.9% poverty ), and NGUEMA MBASOSGO longest standing President in the world since 1979 for 40 years to date ( Equatorial Guinea -76. 8% poverty). Two of them – PIERRE NKURUNZIZA ( Burundi ) and IDRIS DEBBY ( Chad ) died in June 2020 April 2021 leaving 64.6% and 46.7% poverty respectively, in their impoverished countries. However, VADIMIR PUTIN (since 2000 Russia ) and XI JING PING ( since 2013 China ) are leading economic powers, but these two countries have also never tolerated dissent.

It is common to see dictators and autocrats appointing prominent members of armed forces in civilian positions and show disrespect towards the independence of the judiciary and freedom for the media. Such systems and their rulers show no concern for human rights or dissent. For instance in China, when a popular national movement for democracy was precipitated by Chinese youth and students calling for greater accountability, constitutional due process, freedom of the Press, speech and association drawing about one million people to the Tiananman Square and about 400 other cities, China’s Paramount leader Deng Xiaoping violently suppressed the movement in one day on June 4, 1986, similar to what happened in Rathupaswela in Sri Lanka, subsequently.

The suppression of the Pro- Democracy movement by the use of the army was followed by the wide spread arrest and deportation of foreign journalists and the strict control of the Press. In Russia, VADIMIR PUTIN, characterized his rule with endemic corruption, jailing political opponents, intimidating media freedom and free and fair elections. When Russia invaded Ukrain in February 2022, Putin ordered the arrest of thousands of its own citizens for protesting against the war. Tsarist minded Putin decreed that the independent media and journalists will be will be given 15 year jail terms if the cruel destruction of Ukrain’s infrastructure, historical monuments, hospitals and bombing civilian targets are reported to the Russian people.

Dictators and Autocrats are prone to create personality based autocracies surrounded by family members. Family bandyism weakened State infrastructure in Sri Lanka after 2005. The Rajapaksa family based autocracy weakened the State, democratic practices and institutionalized corruption. Family members and lackeys of Iraq and Libyan leaders weakened the State apparatus of Iraq and Libya. The weakened States of Iraq and Libya were such that, it failed to produce nuclear weapons as planned, to meet the threat of Israeli expansion. Saddam Hussain ( Iraq ) appointed his son- in- law and notoriously brutal Hussein Kamil, to fast track the production of nuclear weapons. That resulted in scientists in Iraq intentionally further slowing down the programme and nicknamed it the “unclear power”.

In contrast, the tyrant Gadaffi ( Libya ) was surrounded by ‘yes men’ and female bodyguards and an ego trip as a result of which, had no inclination to produce scientists and engineers for the country capable of dealing with complex technicalities associated with the production of nuclear power.

Dictators and Autocrats are prone to interfere with the sovereignty of other countries. Chinese dictator XI JING PING despite being an economic power, is accused of subtle problematic debt trap diplomacy since 2018 in many poor countries in Africa and Asia ruled by corrupt and mismanaging leaders. PUTIN is facing credible allegations of gross violation of human rights in Ukrain and widespread calls for investigation leading up to a trial for war crimes.

Citizen tired of being oppressed and controlled made widespread demands for democracy and the creation of independent Nation States in Europe. Those revolutions popularly known as the ‘Peoples Spring’ in 1848, brought upheavals in Europe mainly due to the dissatisfaction with monarchies, which were at the helm of each country. The revolution started in Sicily and spread to France, Netherlands, Italy and Hungary, Austrian Empire, German Empire and the whole of Europe. Monarchies were replaced by Republics. Old leaders were forced to grant liberal constitutions.

Caught off guard, aristocracy and their allies plotted to return to power and many leaders of the revolutions went into exile. In the decades after 1848, little had changed. Many historians considered the “People’s Spring” a failure, due to the seemingly lack of permanent structural changes. Karl Marx, disappointed with the bourgeois character of the revolution, expressed the theory of a permanent revolution according to which the proletariat should strengthen democratic bourgeois revolutionary forces, until the proletariat itself was ready to seize power.

The Autumn of Nations between 1981 and 1991 (143 years after the political upheavals in Europe), brought down the former Soviet Union (USSR) which was beset with economic stagnation, mismanagement and excessive dogmatism of the Communist Party. It disintegrated USSR without bloodshed to endorse democratic reforms in their countries. Poland was the first to shrug off communism in 1989 after almost a decade of struggles. It was followed by Hungary, Czechoslovakia, Bulgaria and Romania.

Another wave of pro- democracy uprisings began in Muslim countries such as Morocco, Syria, Libya, Egypt and Bahrain in 2010/2011. It was named the “Arab Spring” and started in December 2010 from Tunisia. However, not all the nations that witnessed such social and political upheaval changed for the better. Some of the very same leaders who fought for democracy in the Muslim world (and in many other parts of the world), presided over the gradual decline of democratic rule in their countries.

In Egypt for example, despite the ouster of President Hosni Mubarak, authoritarian rule returned after the controversial election of Morsi in 2012 leading to a coup by his Defence Minister Abdel Fatah El-Sisi in 2013 and he remains in power till today. Libya, since Col Muammar Gaddafi was overthrown violently in October 2011, has remained in a state of civil war with two opposing governments ruling separate regions of the country. The civil war that began in Syria with the Arab Spring has lasted for several years due to ISIS declaring a CALIPHATE governed by Islamic Law in North East of Syria. The ISIS has been effectively defeated, but the oppressive regime of BASHAR AL ASSAD continues with Russian support.

Democracy

In modern times, generations have rebelled against dictatorships and autocrdacy and fought for human rights and respect for the Rule of law. DEMOCRACY is the method of rule most countries have begun to approve. Although democracy is vulnerable it is very resilient. Mahatma Gandhi said: “Democracy and violence go ill together. States that are today minimally democratic have either to become frankly totalitarian or if they must become fully democratic, they must become courageously nonviolent” and Langstone Hughes ( 1902 – 1967 ) wrote “Democracy will not come today, this year, not ever through compromise and fear. I tire so of hearing people say, let’s things take its own course. Tomorrow is another day. I do not need any freedom when I am dead. I cannot live on tomorrow’s bread.”

To be continued

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My intention was to create a safe place, a place without judgment says Beyonce

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Beyonce, shown attending the 2016 MTV Video Music Awards, is slated to release a new album in July 2022

Beyonce’s soaring vocals have their place on “Renaissance” but it’s the rhythmic, urgent call to the dance floor that stands out, with a tapestry of influences paying homage to pioneers of funk, soul, r Six years after she shook the culture with her powerful visual album “Lemonade,” Beyonce’s seventh solo studio work is a pulsating, sweaty collection of club tracks aimed at liberating a world consumed by ennui.

Beyonce, the paradigm-shifting music royal whose art has long established her as one of entertainment’s seminal stars, released her hotly anticipated album “Renaissance,” a house-tinged dance record primed for its summer needle drop

Eminently danceable and rife with nods to disco and EDM history — Queen Bey interpolates Donna Summer and Giorgio Moroder along with James Brown and the archetypal synth line from “Show Me Love,” the 1990s house smash by Robin S — the 16-song album is poised to reign over the season.

Prior to releasing her opus Beyonce had dropped “Break My Soul” to acclaim, setting the tone for her house revival that highlighted the Black, queer and working-class artists and communities who molded the electronic dance genre, which first developed in Chicago in the 1980s.The megastar has indicated that “Renaissance” is but the first act of three, in a project she said she recorded over the course of three years during the pandemic.

“Creating this album allowed me a place to dream and to find escape during a scary time for the world,” Beyonce on her website.

“It allowed me to feel free and adventurous in a time when little else was moving,” she continued. “My intention was to create a safe place, a place without judgment. A place to be free of perfectionism and overthinking.”

“A place to scream, release, feel freedom. It was a beautiful journey of exploration.”

– ‘Expansive listening journey’ –

In the weeks preceding the release of “Renaissance” Beyonce teased the album with the steady stream of glossy, curated portraits of herself that over the past decade have become her signature.But though she’s received wide praise for keeping the world of music videos on the cutting edge, Beyonce put out her latest record sans visuals (they’re promised at a later date.)

In a statement her label Parkwood Entertainment and Columbia Records lent insight into the decision, saying the artist “decided to lead without visuals giving fans the opportunity to be limitless in their expansive listening journey.”

Beyonce’s soaring vocals have their place on “Renaissance” but it’s the rhythmic, urgent call to the dance floor that stands out, with a tapestry of influences paying homage to pioneers of funk, soul, rap, house and disco.

“Unique / That’s what you are /Stilettos kicking vintage crystal off the bar,” she sings on “Alien Superstar,” which samples Right Said Fred’s “I’m Too Sexy” in a sonic ode to voguing, the stylized house dance that emerged from the Black LGBTQ ballroom culture of the 1960s.

That song closes by sampling a speech from Barbara Ann Teer, who founded Harlem’s National Black Theatre.

On “Virgo’s Groove” Beyonce gets raunchy with an unabashed sex anthem, adding a titular nod to her star sign — the Virgo turns 41 on September 4.Along with a smattering of deep house cuts as well as tributes to gospel, funk and soul, Beyonce’s collaborators on “Renaissance” include Nile Rodgers, Skrillex, Nigerian singer Tems, Grace Jones, Pharrell and, of course, her rap mogul husband Jay-Z.

– Album leaks, Beyhive stings –

Beyonce has long bucked music’s conventional wisdom, and is credited with popularizing the surprise album drop.She later made waves by releasing “Lemonade” — the groundbreaking work that chronicled her own emotional catharsis following infidelity within a generational and racial context — first on cable television, and limiting its streaming availability.

Since “Lemonade” she’s released “Homecoming,” a live album and film featuring footage from her mythic 2018 Coachella performance, as well as the critically acclaimed song “Black Parade” — which dropped amid mass protests ignited by the police murder of George Floyd.

That song saw the megastar, who first gained fame as a member of Destiny’s Child, become the winningest woman ever at the Grammys with 28, and the gala’s most decorated singer.But for all her cultural clout and an indisputable throne in music’s pantheon, Beyonce’s songs have not seen the same commercial dominance as other contemporary global stars — her last number one solo hit was 2008’s “Single Ladies (Put a Ring on It).”

That’s poised to change with “Renaissance.”

The album’s release saw Queen Bey return to music business as usual, deploying pre-sales, a lead single drop, a tracklist and polished social media fodder.But it wasn’t without a hitch — in the days prior to the official release, the album leaked online.

Bey thanked her hive for waiting, and added that “I appreciate you for calling out anyone that was trying to sneak into the club early.”

“We are going to take our time and Enjoy the music,” the megastar told her fandom. “I love you deep.”–AFP

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Are we to burn borrowed dollars just to cook a meal?

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Eng. Parakrama Jayasinghe

How many of the consumers who opt to use LPG for cooking, realize that they are burning the dollars borrowed with difficulty, just to cook a meal, while the use of LPG hardly brings in any foreign exchange? The reality is that while the country is struggling to raise the dollars even through loans to import adequate supplies of transport fuel, taking loans to import LPG, which will not result in any Forex earnings could hardly be considered ethical or a priority.

The CBSL data below shows the immense amount of dollars drained out of the country in the past years, purely due to the high powered promotions to coerce and trap the consumers to this non sustainable consumption.

With the escalation of world market prices and the depreciation of the rupee , the impact in rupee terms in year 2022, if we are to import the same quantities, would be much greater as estimated. The Governor of the Central Bank has quite rightly stated that

Sri Lanka will have to manage with available dollar inflows, not bridging finance: CB Governor

By Economy Next • Issue #391

However, the attempt by the government appears to be determined to continue this practice at whatever cost and detriment to the economy, to perpetuate a practice foisted on the people by unscrupulous officials, and thereby try and pretend that the gas queues are over. This has been achieved for the present, thanks to a further loan of $ 70 Million from the World Bank, to import 30,000 tons of LPG recently. Perhaps the daily visuals of the gas queues, that the electronic media took pleasure in broadcasting, may also have pushed the government to this short sighted move.

The other side of the coin is that, before the arrival of this load of LPG, while the empty cylinders remained in the queues, the people were absent. No doubt they sought and found alternative means of cooking their meals, albeit with less convenience than using gas. Obviously they would also have been helped in this by the intrepid efforts of many Sri Lankan entrepreneurs who designed and manufactured cooking stoves to use either fuel wood or charcoal, which do not require any dollars.

The novel stoves are yet to be available in adequate numbers in the market, although the manufacturers are running long waiting lists. As such some consumers may have been forced to revert to direct use of fire wood, accepting the disadvantage of smoke and soot. But Sri Lanka has already introduced most acceptable models of cooking stoves to use wood and wood charcoal, devoid of any smoke and soot. These have proved to be acceptable alternatives to the use of gas stoves for the daily cooking needs, even in high rise apartments.

The reality is that the consumers have recognized the fact that the government or the officials cannot be relied upon to provide their essential needs, and their salvation lies in seeking indigenous alternative solutions themselves which have proven to be equally effective.

But shouldn’t this positive change have been noted by the authorities and fostered with the same vigour with which the use of the imported LPG was promoted? What about the media? They diverted their cameras to the petrol and diesel queues, obviously the emerging negative scene of news value.

The officials of the Litro gas company are heard to give assurances of continued supply of LPG in the future, while they admit the loan received is adequate for supplies up to October only. According to their web page their customer base exceeds 4,000,000. The consumption in 2020 was 437,000 tons, purchased at a cost of $ 236 Million. By now it would exceed 450,000 tons annually. How far would the $ 70 Million loan go at present day gas prices? What happens next? Are they hoping to get yet another loan, when the Ministry of Power and Energy is forced to restrict the issue of essential transport fuels to a minimum, due to lack of dollars? Isn’t this a willful deception of the consumers?

Therefore, the discerning consumers are well advised to consider the following points in their decision making for the future.

  • = The import of LPG is possible only through loans which will have to be paid by our children and grandchildren
  • = Continued dependence on LPG is a never ending problem and will need more and more loans with no chance of the LPG used leading to any foreign exchange earnings
  • = The loans taken have to be repaid by the entire country ,while the benefit is enjoyed by only a limited section of the society, which is morally unacceptable
  • = For those fortunate to get even a cylinder of LPG, adopting the already available options of stoves using either charcoal or wood , for the cooking of the main meals , would substantially reduce the monthly expenditure as shown below. This would preserve the LPG cylinder bought with difficulty, to be available for any limited usage in between and for any emergencies for many months
  • = The consumers can be the drivers of the change which would reduce the demand for LPG and thus save the country millions of dollars year after year
  • = This would create a significant indigenous industry whereby the millions of dollars sent out would flow to the local industrialists and rural communities supplying the charcoal and wood. Even a 50% reduction of the imports could result in a local industry worth over Rs 80 Billion annually.

These are indeed practical and worthwhile contributions to resolve a national problem. Are each of us ready to commit to extend the use of our LPG cylinder to last several months, thereby reducing the demand to 50% or even to 25% in the coming year? This should be considered a national duty by all of us.

Just to assuage any fears of deforestation, contrary to popular belief, Sri Lanka already has adequate renewable and sustainable biomass resources formally counted as over 12,000,000 tons annually, contributing to 50% of the total primary energy demand. Simultaneously, a practical program of social reforestation has to be encouraged where the user of charcoal, plants wherever he can, plants trees to compensate for the charcoal he uses. In this way the next generation will also be assured of their own sustainable supply with absolutely no impact on the forest cover. A plant that can be recommended is Gliricidia Sepium among others, which can be harvested in two years, and thereafter every eight months.

(The writer is past president of the Bio Energy Association of Sri Lanka www.bioenergysrilanka.lk
Email: parajayasinghe@gmail.com)

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