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Musings in the winter – a compilation of thoughts

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by Dr Nihal D Amerasekera

It is once again the time of the year when the winter storms batter my windows. I snuggle up in my rocking chair allowing my mind to wander. Those thoughts reflect lazily on the twists and turns of my life’s fandango. It is also a time to appreciate the good things in life also to be critical of the things that are wrong. The chair provides a perfect posture to meditate, ruminate and cogitate about the world around me. I am partial to a tot of whisky, in medicinal amount, to help lubricate my thoughts, just taken neat as the makers recommended.

This is my second stint in London. After spending eight gruelling but fulfilling years studying Radiology in the 1970’s I moved away to a leafy suburb in Hertfordshire. As my professional tenure ended, leaving my rural idyll was a heartbreak. Still, there is fun to be had in the big city with a kaleidoscope of culture, museums, art galleries and music venues. In the words of Wordsworth: “An eye to perceive, a heart to enjoy.” Being retired I now live in an apartment in a block of flats. Living in a flat requires a different mind-set. The block is a community, although not a close one. Everyone is busy with their own lives. We hardly know our neighbours. There are house rules – some written and others implied. There are also civic and social responsibilities. We must respect others’ privacy while sharing the space. Looking through the window at night, I see the geometrically arranged lights of the surrounding blocks. This creates its own beauty. Each light represents people with their own lives, joys and sorrows – we are all a part of the rich tapestry of life.

We humans have caused global warming. Glaciers are melting, sea levels are rising, forests and wildlife are dying. There is a sense of foreboding of an impending apocalypse. Cop26 has come and gone. Humanity is undergoing an existential crisis. As we defer, delay and prevaricate, time is running out. Something has to be done sooner rather than later. The days of being next to the warm glow of a real fire is fast fading. Burning wood and coal harms the environment. Fossil fuel power stations are being run down. The promise of a better tomorrow is enticing. While the renewable sources of energy take on the slack the cost of heating and electricity have sky rocketed. Whenever I complain about the bitter cold people remind me that I have left the heat and sunshine in the tropical paradise where I was born!

Politics is the bane of society. But we need politicians. Despite political upheavals, coup d’état and insurrections, Sri Lanka has remained a democracy. The quality of life has improved for the majority including healthcare and education. The villagers now have a voice. But as a country we are not where we should be and yet much still needs to be done. The origins of the art and science of governance is not clear. But sleaze, corruption and criminality in politics is old as the hills. Extreme power and control over people corrupt and destroys societies and lives. But we never seem to learn from history. As I look around there is not a single country in the world where politics is clean as intended. In the West there is unacceptable political corruption, but it lies below the surface and far less conspicuous. In some countries bribery, deceit and deception are accepted as the norm. This causes tremendous hardship to the people. Some Politicians aren’t true to their conscience. They will in the fullness of time lose their power and with it the respect, recognition and reverence which they yearn and crave for so much.

There is a high level of economic inequality in the world which is shocking and obscene, and it is getting worse. People have long dreamt of an egalitarian society. Despite the human existence for thousands of years, all the religions and the philosophies of this world have failed to inspire and encourage us to live in peace and share our wealth. Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels’ political philosophy and thinking had a tremendous influence on politics and society. But even Marxism, Socialism and Communism have failed to live up to their tenets. We now accept inequality as a part of life. Covid-19 has brought to the forefront the problems of inequality between the developed and the developing countries. This has indeed deepened the existing inequalities hitting the poorest the hardest.

Despite the huge numbers of new cases of Covid every day in Europe and so many deaths, people get about their business, with no masks, no distancing and some even no vaccination. This nasty lurgy has been with us for over two years and people are tired of the lockdowns, restrictions, and the never-ending government dictates. There is a feeling in the air “we want to be free”. But freedom comes at a price. A new variant, Omicron, has emerged from South Africa. There is mounting scientific worry about the characteristics of this variant. A failure to share the vaccines seem ‘cold and callous’. No one is safe until we are all safe.

Cricket, the game played by gentlemen, is in turmoil in the country where it all began. Yorkshire Cricket Board is accused of racism. It is alleged the governing body, the England and Wales Cricket Board, has not done enough to stamp out this evil. They got bowled over by a wrong’un from Azeem Rafiq. Now the country seems to have woken up and the government has stepped in to sort out this unholy mess. Religious, ethnic and gender inequality and intolerance are unacceptable although they exist in every country. Although much has improved with the passage of years not enough is done to stamp it out completely. The ethnic trouble that broke out into an all-out war in Sri Lanka was a tragedy to many thousands of innocent people. This remains a stain on the history of our country. Fairness, equality and tolerance should be taught young, in schools. The government must be impartial and provide proper leadership and guidance. The religious leaders should encourage the public to be more tolerant and to show fairness and humanity to prevent another catastrophe and suffering.

Being a septuagenarian, It is so wonderful to look through the mist of a lifetime of joy and grief and the full spectrum of emotions. What props up often are those happy days of my youth. Then I had nothing of value to call my own. My future was beyond the horizon and out of view. The 1950s and sixties now seem like a distant fantasyland. There is now a never-ending desire to make that journey to the past and there is no better vehicle than music. The music of my teenage years and early twenties has greater and more lasting impact than songs in later life due to the psychological phenomenon called the reminiscence bump. Friday nights remain my music nights when I listen to the music of my childhood. To my mind that was the golden age of cinema and radio in Ceylon. In 1955 we were hit by the typhoon of Rock and Roll music. Bill Haley redefined music and created the magic and we all felt its energy. Then came Elvis Presley the King of Rock and Roll. He mesmerised us all with his songs and his cult. Despite the puritanical warnings we emulated our icon’s distinctive pompadour hairstyle, Cuban collar shirts and pleated trousers.

Post- independence the Sinhala songs and cinema came of age. The stories and songs from the Sinhala films had a dark and dramatic edge to it. There were songs about our country, culture and the natural beauty. We sang those songs at school and at home. The best-loved singers of that bygone years were Sunil Santha, Chitra and Somapala, Rukmani Devi, Mohideen Beig, C.T Fernando and several more. Probably none of them are alive today. Many of those old Sinhala favourites have been given a new lease of life. With clever musical arrangements and sound, those songs retain the magic and the romance of the days gone. When there is a generous flow of the amber nectar, music has the amazing ability to transfer emotions through time. They bring back memories of events and people from long ago and that of my beloved country. As I age tears come far more easily now. I Just hold fast to those memories and what memories they are.

In the Northern hemisphere, as the days move towards Christmas, the mellow light of the evening sky soon merges with the darkness of the night. Christmas has morphed into a global festival. It is the season of goodwill, a time for giving and for meeting with family. Selecting presents is indeed part of the fun. In the whirlwind of consumerism, the prestigious shops on London’s Oxford Street have beautiful displays enticing passes by. My needs now are few. I get books as presents. My Christmas shopping is to give some happiness to others. This is also the time we think of the dawn of a new year and what that may bring.

We are all aware of the lively imagery and the immense power of poetry. I have been so taken up with a poem by Piers Plowright which speaks volumes, more than the 15 lines, it shows on paper. He taught English in Khartoum in Sudan in the 1960’s and handed this poignant poem to a friend when he was flying back home to England. I leave it to your imagination to interpolate its deeper echoes to different situations we will face in the future.

ON GOING

At the corner, I turned

And looked back

There was nothing unfamiliar

Only streets and trees

Which I believed would vanish

When I had gone.

The people no longer moved

They belonged to a frieze

Remembered even as I looked at them

For a particular moment

Which was done

But such going

Needs no tears

It is merely a way of showing

That life is being, not going.



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Features

Is it impossible to have hope?

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So, a woman has lost again to a man. I refer here to Matale District SJB MP Rohini Kaviratne having to concede her bid for Deputy Speaker of Parliament to some bod of the Pohottu Party, who, sad to say makes only a negative impression on Cass. Conversely, Kaviratne looks competent, capable, trustworthy, able to communicate and command, and most importantly speaks and conducts herself well balanced. So different from most of the MPs, particularly of the government side, who lack education, and in appearance and behaviour – decency. Please, take my word for the fact that I am not a party person. What I want in our representatives is education and decorum. And they should at least once in a while use their own heads and make decisions that are good for the country and not follow the leader through sheep like, sycophantic obedience. Of course, even more than this is self interest that prompts the way they act and decisions are taken, especially at voting times.

Rohini Kaviratne made a bold statement when, as Wednesday’s The Island noted, she told Parliament “the government was neither run by the President nor the Prime Minister but by a ‘crow.’” Utterly damning statement but totally believable. Deviousness as well as self-preservation is what motives action among most at the cost of even the entire country. And, of course, we know who the crow is – kaputu kak kak. Cass lacks words to express the contempt she feels for the black human kaputa, now apparently leading the family of kaputas. Why oh why does he not depart to his luxury nest in the US of A? No, he and his kith are the manifestation of Kuveni’s curse on the island. Strong condemnation, but justified.

You know Cass had a bold kaputa – the avian kind – coming to her balcony in front of her bedroom and cawing away this morning. Normally, she takes no notice, having developed sympathetic companionship towards these black birds as fellow creatures, after reading Elmo Jayawardena’s Kakiyan. She felt sorry for the crow who cawed to her because his name has been taken to epithet a politico who landed the entire country in such a mess. And he is bold enough to attend Parliament. Bravado in the face of detestation by the majority of Sri Lankans! Cass did not watch afternoon TV news but was told father and son, and probably elder brother and his son attended Parliamentary sessions today – Wednesday May 18. May their tribe decrease is the common prayer; may curses rain on them. Cass recognises the gravity of what she says, but reiterates it all.

I am sure Nihal Seneviratne, who recently and in 2019, shared with us readers his experiences in Parliament, moaned the fact that our legislature always lacked enough women representation. Now, he must be extra disappointed that political allegiance to a party deprived Sri Lanka of the chance of bringing to the forefront a capable woman. Women usually do better than men, judging by instances worldwide that show they are more honest and committed to country and society. The two examples of Heads of Government in our country were far from totally dedicated and commitment to country. But the first head did show allegiance to Ceylon/Sri Lanka in fair measure.

As my neighbour moaned recently: “They won’t allow an old person like me, after serving the country selflessly for long, to die in peace.” Heard of another woman in her late 80s needing medical treatment, mentally affected as she was with utter consternation at the state of the country. One wonders how long we can be resilient, beset on every side by dire problems. But our new Prime Minister was honest enough to voice his fears that we will have to go through much more hardship before life for all Sri Lankans improves.

Thus, my choice of pessimistic prediction as my title. Will we be able to hope for better times? Time will be taken but is it possible to have even a slight glimmer of hope for improvement?

There is much debate about the appointment of Ranil W as PM. We admire him for his knowledge and presence. But the greatest fear is he will defend wrong doers in the R family. Let him be wise, fair and put country before saving others’ skins. He has to be praised for taking on the responsibility of leading the country to solvency. He said he will see that every Sri Lankan has three meals a day. May all the devas help him! The SJB, though it refuses to serve under a R Prez, has offered itself to assist in rebuilding the nation. Eran, Harsha, and so many others must be given the chance to help turn poor wonderful Sri Lanka around. And the dedicated protestors, more so those in Gotagogama, still continue asking for changes in government. Bless them is all Cass can say at this moment.

Goodbye for another week. hoping things will turn less gloomy, if brightness is impossible as of now.

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Lives of journalists increasingly on the firing line

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Since the year 2000 some 45 journalists have been killed in the conflict-ridden regions of Palestine and senior Al Jazeera journalist Shireen Abu Akleh was the latest such victim. She was killed recently in a hail of bullets during an Israeli military raid in the contested West Bank. She was killed in cold blood even as she donned her jacket with the word ‘PRESS’ emblazoned on it.

While claims and counter-claims are being made on the Akleh killing among some of the main parties to the Middle East conflict, the Israeli police did not do their state any good by brutally assaulting scores of funeral mourners who were carrying the body of Akleh from the hospital where she was being treated to the location where her last rites were to be conducted in East Jerusalem.

The impartial observer could agree with the assessment that ‘disproportionate force’ was used on the mourning civilians. If the Israeli government’s position is that strong-arm tactics are not usually favoured by it in the resolution conflictual situations, the attack on the mourners tended to strongly belie such claims. TV footage of the incident made it plain that brazen, unprovoked force was used on the mourners. Such use of force is decried by the impartial commentator.

As for the killing of Akleh, the position taken by the UN Security Council could be accepted that “an immediate, thorough, transparent and impartial investigation” must be conducted on it. Hopefully, an international body acceptable to the Palestinian side and other relevant stakeholders would be entrusted this responsibility and the wrong-doers swiftly brought to justice.

Among other things, the relevant institution, may be the International Criminal Court, should aim at taking urgent steps to end the culture of impunity that has grown around the unleashing of state terror over the years. Journalists around the world are chief among those who have been killed in cold blood by state terrorists and other criminal elements who fear the truth.

The more a journalist is committed to revealing the truth on matters of crucial importance to publics, the more is she or he feared by those sections that have a vested interest in concealing such vital disclosures. This accounts for the killing of Shireen Abu Akleh, for instance.

Such killings are of course not unfamiliar to us in Sri Lanka. Over the decades quite a few local journalists have been killed or been caused to disappear by criminal elements usually acting in league with governments. The whole truth behind these killings is yet to be brought to light while the killers have been allowed to go scot-free and roam at large. These killings are further proof that Sri Lanka is at best a façade democracy.

It is doubtful whether the true value of a committed journalist has been fully realized by states and publics the world over. It cannot be stressed enough that the journalist on the spot, and she alone, writes ‘the first draft of history’. Commentaries that follow from other quarters on a crisis situation, for example, are usually elaborations that build on the foundational factual information revealed by the journalist. Minus the principal facts reported by the journalist no formal history-writing is ever possible.

Over the decades the journalists’ death toll has been increasingly staggering. Over the last 30 years, 2150 journalists and media workers have been killed in the world’s conflict and war zones. International media reports indicate that this figure includes the killing of 23 journalists in Ukraine, since the Russian invasion began, and the slaying of 11 journalists, reporting on the doings of drug cartels in Mexico.

Unfortunately, there has been no notable international public outcry against these killings of journalists. It is little realized that the world is the poorer for the killing of these truth-seekers who are putting their lives on the firing line for the greater good of peoples everywhere. It is inadequately realized that the public-spirited journalist too helps in saving lives; inasmuch as a duty-conscious physician does.

For example, when a journalist blows the lid off corrupt deals in public institutions, she contributes immeasurably towards the general good by helping to rid the public sector of irregularities, since the latter sector, when effectively operational, has a huge bearing on the wellbeing of the people. Accordingly, a public would be disempowering itself by turning a blind eye on the killing of journalists. Essentially, journalists everywhere need to be increasingly empowered and the world community is conscience-bound to consider ways of achieving this. Bringing offending states to justice is a pressing need that could no longer be neglected.

The Akleh killing cannot be focused on in isolation from the wasting Middle East conflict. The latter has grown in brutality and inhumanity over the years and the cold-blooded slaying of the journalist needs to be seen as a disquieting by-product of this larger conflict. The need to turn Spears into Ploughshares in the Middle East is long overdue and unless and until ways are worked out by the principal antagonists to the conflict and the international community to better manage the conflict, the bloodletting in the region is unlikely to abate any time soon.

The perspective to be placed on the conflict is to view the principal parties to the problem, the Palestinians and the Israelis, as both having been wronged in the course of history. The Palestinians are a dispossessed and displaced community and so are the Israelis. The need is considerable to fine-hone the two-state solution. There is need for a new round of serious negotiations and the UN is duty-bound to initiate this process.

Meanwhile, Israel is doing well to normalize relations with some states of the Arab world and this is the way to go. Ostracization of Israel by Arab states and their backers has clearly failed to produce any positive results on the ground and the players concerned will be helping to ease the conflict by placing their relations on a pragmatic footing.

The US is duty-bound to enter into a closer rapport with Israel on the need for the latter to act with greater restraint in its treatment of the Palestinian community. A tough law and order approach by Israel, for instance, to issues in the Palestinian territories is clearly proving counter-productive. The central problem in the Middle East is political in nature and it calls for a negotiated political solution. This, Israel and the US would need to bear in mind.

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Doing it differently, as a dancer

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Dancing is an art, they say, and this could be developed further, only by an artist with a real artistic mind-set. He must be of an innovative mind – find new ways of doing things, and doing it differently

According to Stephanie Kothalawala – an extremely talented dancer herself – Haski Iddagoda, who has won the hearts of dance enthusiasts, could be introduced as a dancer right on top of this field.

Stephanie

had a chat with Haski, last week, and sent us the following interview:

* How did you start your dancing career?

Believe me, it was a girl, working with me, at office, who persuaded me to take to dancing, in a big way, and got me involved in events, connected with dancing. At the beginning, I never had an idea of what dancing, on stage, is all about. I was a bit shy, but I decided to take up the challenge, and I made my debut at an event, held at Bishop’s College.

* Did you attend dancing classes in order to fine-tune your movements?

Yes, of course, and the start was in 2010 – at dancing classes held at the Colombo Aesthetic Resort.

* What made you chose dancing as a career?

It all came to mind when I checked out the dancing programmes, on TV. After my first dancing programme, on a TV reality show, dancing became my passion. It gave me happiness, and freedom. Also, I got to know so many important people, around the country, via dancing.

* How is your dancing schedule progressing these days?

Due to the current situation, in the country, everything has been curtailed. However, we do a few programmes, and when the scene is back to normal, I’m sure there will be lots of dance happenings.

* What are your achievements, in the dancing scene, so far?

I have won a Sarasavi Award. I believe my top achievement is the repertoire of movements I have as a dancer. To be a top class dancer is not easy…it’s hard work. Let’s say my best achievement is that I’ve have made a name, for myself, as a dancer.

* What is your opinion about reality programmes?

Well, reality programmes give you the opportunity to showcase your talents – as a dancer, singer, etc. It’s an opportunity for you to hit the big time, but you’ve got to be talented, to be recognised. I danced with actress Chatu Rajapaksa at the Hiru Mega Star Season 3, on TV.

* Do you have your own dancing team?

Not yet, but I have performed with many dance troupes.

* What is your favourite dancing style?

I like the style of my first trainer, Sanjeewa Sampath, who was seen in Derana City of Dance. His style is called lyrical hip-hop. You need body flexibility for that type of dance.

* Why do you like this type of dancing?

I like to present a nice dancing act, something different, after studying it.

* How would you describe dancing?

To me, dancing is a valuable exercise for the body, and for giving happiness to your mind. I’m not referring to the kind of dance one does at a wedding, or party, but if you properly learn the art of dancing, it will certainly bring you lots of fun and excitement, and happiness, as well. I love dancing.

* Have you taught your dancing skills to others?

Yes, I have given my expertise to others and they have benefited a great deal. However, some of them seem to have forgotten my contribution towards their success.

* As a dancer, what has been your biggest weakness?

Let’s say, trusting people too much. In the end, I’m faced with obstacles and I cannot fulfill the end product.

* Are you a professional dancer?

Yes, I work as a professional dancer, but due to the current situation in the country, I want to now concentrate on my own fashion design and costume business.

* If you had not taken to dancing, what would have been your career now?

I followed a hotel management course, so, probably, I would have been involved in the hotel trade.

* What are your future plans where dancing is concerned?

To be Sri Lanka’s No.1 dancer, and to share my experience with the young generation.

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