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MY PRINCESS OF HOSPITALITY

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CONFESSIONS OF A GLOBAL GYPSY

By Dr. Chandana (Chandi) Jayawardena DPhil

Today, instead of chronologically narrating another episode from my career, I will write something different. It is something close to my heart. At this difficult time, I am happy to share this story with the readers of my column. It is a story of how my curiosity about a young lady turned into an unconditional love that lasted over 25 years. On November 6, 1995, I was introduced to Miss Mélaine Patrice le Mercier DuQuesnay. Since then, until July 27, 2021, she was my Princess of Hospitality…

November, 1995 – A Sales Call in Jamaica

Soon after organizing a series of Halloween special events, I left my position as the General Manager of the main hotel in Guyana – Forte Crest Pegasus – and an eco-resort in the Amazon – Timberhead. I landed in Jamaica the next day, on November 1, 1995, at noon to start my orientation as the new General Manager of the largest business hotel in the island as well as the best hotel in the capital of Jamaica – Kingston. Forte Grand Jamaica Pegasus had 360 rooms and over 400 full-time staff including a large sales team.

As my predecessor, a Swedish hotelier, had two more weeks in Jamaica, I decided to dedicate half of my time during those two weeks to do 30 sales calls with ten different members of the sales team. My aim was to meet the main customers of the hotel and observe the effectiveness of the sales team. On November 6, the Director of Sales took me to one of the two largest printing companies on the island – Lithographic Printers Limited. While waiting to meet with the Chairman of the company, we chatted with his daughter. This young lady in her late twenties was the Director of Operations and Sales of the printing company.

She was also a chatterbox. She quicky said, “I am Mélaine. Welcome to Lithographic Printers. I handle all printing for Jamaica Pegasus.” I was intrigued by her beautiful smile and her mesmerising greenish blue eyes. I told her that, “You may have to impress the new General Manager to continue to handle all printing for the hotel.” Her eyes sparkled, while she smiled again. I felt that she liked a challenge.

A week later, Mélaine came to see me for a meeting over a cup of coffee at my office. I was surprised to learn that she had earned a Bachelor of Commerce Honours Degree from one of the best comprehensive universities in Canada, University of Guelph, with Hotel and Food Administration as her major. Mélaine then told me that as a teenage girl growing up in Canada, she was fascinated with the mid-1980s TV soap opera, Arthur Hailey’s ‘Hotel’, and decided to become a hotelier. She said that she loved the bearded hotel general manager, the main character in the series, acted by James Brolin. She then said, “You look like him, but with curly hair.” I returned a compliment, “You look like Julia Roberts, but with green eyes.” She corrected me, “They are blue, but the colour changes a little depending on the colour of my dress!”

 

November, 1996 – A Fighting Friendship in Jamaica

Later, I learnt that Mélaine had done her university co-ops/internships at the Niagara-on-the-Lake Tourist Information Centre in Canada and the Forte Grand Jamaica Pegasus Hotel. That explained her popularity among hotel employees in the front office and food & beverage operations. I continued to give her printing contracts and her company gave us some room business.

In addition to Forte Grand, Melaine handled a few other prestigious key printing accounts in the hospitality and tourism industry in Jamaica. Her corporate clients included Ramada Renaissance, Sandals and SuperClubs hotel brands. She also handled Air Jamaica and Jamaica Tourist Board accounts. Her university education in hospitality management had become useful in serving these organisations as a supplier, since 1990.

A year later, I became very busy with an unprecedented calendar of entertainment shows, art exhibitions, food festivals and holiday programs including a record-breaking 100 holiday events over a period of 38 days. We printed a monthly newsletter using Lithographic Printers. Some of my tough price negotiations led to a few disagreements between Mélaine and I. Once or twice, she left my office in tears. One day, I heard that her father had been annoyed with our ongoing love-hate relationship. He had told Mélaine, “Don’t mix business with relationships. Whatever you do with the Coolie Man, don’t lose the Pegasus account!” I was offended by that outdated racist term, but soon realized that it is a common ‘friendly’ term in Jamaica for anyone who looks Indian.

 

November, 1997 – An Affair in Jamaica

In 1997, my employer, Forte PLC in the UK, purchased Le Meridien from Air France. Jamaica Pegasus was one of the five-star Forte Grand hotels from around the world chosen for rebranding as Le Meridien. I was entrusted with a major upgrading project prior to the rebranding. All stationary, menus, etc., had to be reprinted in keeping with Le Meridien standards. This meant that I had frequent weekly meetings with my favourite printer in Jamaica.

Two years after I first met her outside of her father’s office, Mélaine and I went on our first date. It was a grand ball organised by the Jamaica Chamber of Commerce at the Pegasus. We were at the head table. Our friendship soon blossomed into a romance. I was occasionally invited to her father’s house for dinner parties. On some Sundays, we went on her father’s boat to the Lime Cay and Maiden Cay located just off the coast of the famous pirate town, Port Royal. Frequent dinner dates, movie nights and short breaks to resorts became common. On Mélaine’s invitation I delivered a training session to her team. We became a couple for festive events and Christmas. After that I called her ‘Mélaine’ only when she annoyed me. All other times, I affectionately called her, ‘Boo’. She was my ‘Boo’, forever…

 

November, 1998 – In Love in Jamaica

Towards the end of my three-year contract, I was considered for the opportunity to open a new Le Meridien in Kathmandu, Nepal. I invited Mélaine to leave her family business and travel with me to Asia. However, she was a bit nervous about taking our relationship to such as an adventurous new level. This led me to instead accept an offer by the University of West Indies (UWI) as a Senior Lecturer (Associate Professor) in Tourism Management. With that, I was able to remain in Kingston – Mélaine’s birth place. We were now lovers and I moved to her house in an affluent area in Kingston. Having lived in the hotels where I worked for nearly 20 years, I was good at running hotels but clueless about running a house. Mélaine soon became my trainer, coach, mentor and boss! I was a bad trainee and that annoyed Mélaine for some time.

 

May, 1999 – Getting Married

One day, when I was at work at UWI, I received an urgent call from Mélaine. She was so thrilled; the message was not clear to me. I asked, “Boo, for heaven’s sake, calm down and tell me what happened.” She happily screamed, “I am pregnant!” After returning home that day early and giving my Boo a big hug, I sat on our back patio looking at pouring rain on large bamboo trees. I served myself a large Appleton Rum and Coke to build up my courage. When Mélaine joined me, I went on my knees and proposed to her, “Boo, would you marry me?” “YES!”, she screamed.

We married on May 1, 1999, and ended up on a six-week long honeymoon in nine countries (Canada, England, Italy, Egypt, Israel, Palestine, Cyprus, Greece and Sri Lanka). In between, we had a memorable homecoming wedding at the Mount Lavinia Hotel, Sri Lanka. In later years, we travelled to 30 countries together, including a tour of Africa for nearly a month performing my duties as the President of the Hotel & Catering International Management Association, UK (HCIMA, now the Institute of Hospitality, UK).

 

July 2001 – Moving to Canada

After a decade in Jamaica, Mélaine wanted to move back to Canada with our little daughter, Danika. I was very happy in Jamaica, and I was not keen about moving to Canada, to experience those freezing ‘brass monkey’ weathers. Finally, we compromised and agreed to give it a try for a year. I was fortunate to arrange a faculty exchange Professor post at the School of Hospitality and Tourism Management at Ryerson University in Toronto. Mélaine worked for a couple of years in guest service at the 4-diamond hotel Queens Landing in Niagara-on-the-Lake.

When our son Ché Rana was born in 2003, Mélaine took a 10-year break from work to dedicate her full-time focus to raise our two kids and support my career. To me, that was the most noble job a parent could do. Mélaine was simply a Princess of Hospitality. She did everything at home including maintaining our backyard swimming pool which was a popular meeting and partying place for our neighbours. She entertained many of our friends and family with her cooking, infectious laughter and story-telling. In between, we found time to do a few quality assurance consulting assignments as a husband-wife mystery guest team at Le Royal Meridien King Edward Hotel in Canada, SuperClubs Resort in the Bahamas and Le Meridien Dubai in UAE.

 

Mélaine’s Return to the Hotel Industry

In 2013, she re-entered the hotel industry as a Guest Service Agent at Holiday Inn & Suites in St. Catharines, Canada. After training with the InterContinential Hotel Group (IHG), she was entrusted with the role of IHG Loyalty Champion (Platinum Level).

After five years in that post, she accepted an offer as the Front Office Team Leader of the hotel opening team for Hampton Inn by Hilton in St. Catharines. In this position, she received world-class training with the Hilton Hotel Corporation. Soon after the hotel opening, she was promoted to Front Office Manager.

Impressed with Mélaine’s dedication, professionalism, and her desire to ensure customer satisfaction, I nicknamed her the “Princess of Hospitality.” Every day when she came home after work, our children and I enjoyed hearing various interesting stories about her day. I was re-living my hotel management days through Mélaine. Occasionally she sought my advice, but I quickly realised that she did not require any advice. She was a natural hotelier. Everything was perfect.

 

Shocking End

On January 30th, 2020, while the world was struggling to comprehend the danger of COVID-19, I returned to Canada after a one-month trip to Sri Lanka and the UK. That day, we celebrated Mélaine’s 53rd birthday. A few weeks later, when I came home after some work in Niagara-on-the-Lake, my son told me that, “Mommy is not well. She looked yellow at work and we took her to the emergency room!” I was surprised. Mélaine had never been sick in her life. I rushed to the hospital to be with her. A few hours later we heard the results of the CT scan. The doctor who came to Mélaine’s hospital room knelt down before giving us the shockingly bad news. Mélaine had pancreatic cancer.

Having lost both of her parents within the last three years due to different types of cancer, Mélaine was well-informed and educated about this deadly disease. When the kneeling doctor described the stage of her cancer, Mélaine calmly asked, “this means that I have maximum eighteen months to live?” After a pause, the doctor looked down and reluctantly said, “yes.” I hugged my Boo and cried, uncontrollably. Mélaine ordered me, “’stop crying, Chandi. Let’s fight this thing, while we enjoy the short time left for us to be together.” We did exactly that for seventeen months in the midst of pandemic-related restrictions, hospitalizations, surgeries, procedures and twenty-three bouts of chemotherapy.

During the last one and half years, I realised that my new role as the key caregiver is the most noble job I have ever done. I was optimistic till last week, when the hospital stopped treatment and transferred Mélaine to a palliative care unit. While our two children and I stayed with Mélaine by her bedside day and night for a week, I wrote my final poem during my wife’s lifetime.

 

HOLDING…

 

Smiling blue eyes full of love

Fun and laughter until now

I cry, head down and bow

When to stop and how?

 

Days come and go

We are holding on

Right beside your bedside

Hoping for a miracle

 

The darkness of night, slowly

Hoping for another slight smile

Before sleeping peacefully

Comfortably as possible

Payers and wishes from all, in unity

Loved ones hugging, in uncertainty

Closer to meeting with divinity

Our love is destined for eternity

 

On July 27, 2021, at around 5:00 AM, the night nurse woke me and said, “your wife is ready to go…” While I was holding Mélaine’s hands and kissing her forehead, Mélaine passed away quietly and peacefully. My daughter’s favourite teddy bear was with Mélaine. My last poem was placed closed to her heart when Mélaine was cremated, the very next day.

Mélaine’s final wishes included no funeral, no flowers and no tomb stone. She wanted us to sprinkle her ashes over moving water. I will do so wishing to see her again, one day, somewhere else… She requested that instead of flowers, donations be made to Hospice Niagara where she spent her final week. For those who wish to watch a video tribute to Mélaine or comment about her extraordinarily happy but short life and how she touched many, please do so on www.butlerniagara.ca

Now Mélaine has ceased to be my Princess of Hospitality, but she will live in my heart as my angel, until it is my turn to join her. GOOD NIGHT MY ANGEL PRINCESS…



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Covid-19 vaccination: Is it the proverbial ‘Silver Bullet’?

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Dr B. J. C. Perera

MBBS(Cey), DCH(Cey), DCH(Eng), MD(Paed), MRCP(UK), FRCP(Edin), FRCP(Lon), FRCPCH(UK), FSLCPaed, FCCP, Hony FRCPCH(UK), Hony. FCGP(SL)

Specialist Consultant Paediatrician and Honorary Senior Fellow, Postgraduate Institute of Medicine, University of Colombo, Sri Lanka.

In this emerald isle, people take to any form of vaccination, like the legendary ducks take to water. Offer them a vaccine against anything and they will take it; at least most of them would do so. The vaccine antagonists and anti-vaxxers are extremely few and far between, so as to be almost a virtual non-entity. With a very high literacy rate, and a population that is prepared to take heed to the hilt, the axiom that dictates ‘prevention is better than cure’, it is the absolute dream of the experts in the public health scenario that there is unmitigated abiding interest on the part of our populace to get vaccinated against COVID-19. It has been said that vaccines do not save lives but vaccination most definitely does. Vaccines have to be given to people for them to produce the optimal effects. A receptive population to such a notion is indeed, a much-fancied reverie of all health service providers.

In such a background, it is most laudable that Sri Lanka is going pell-mell, even in an impetuous rush, to vaccinate her population against COVID-19, at what could best be described as at break-neck speed. Even given the spectacle of an insufficiency of adequate stocks of the coronavirus vaccines to freely vaccinate the population, the authorities are making the very best of the situation. We must, of course clearly appreciate the steps taken by the Government and the Ministry of Health in this initiative. The tri-forces, the Army in particular, have to be congratulated, in playing the lead role in organising a scheme of things to administer the vaccines in an orderly fashion. TAKE A BOW; ALL OF YOU, you are indeed giving the very best of yourselves in this endeavour.

Well, the goal is to somehow secure a high enough herd-immunity to defeat the virus; most definitely a commendable final goal. The currently prevalent mantra is to vaccinate, vaccinate, and vaccinate even more. Yet for all that there is much misinformation and an infodemic doing the rounds, especially on social media, about widespread speculations on loss of sexual prowess, impotence, subfertility and infertility, as undesirable effects of the COVID-19 vaccines. THERE IS ABSOLUTELY NO SCIENTIFIC BASIS FOR ANY OF THESE IMPLICATIONS. NONE OF THE CURRENTLY AVAILABLE COVID-19 VACCINES DO ANY OF THIS. It is just stupid covidiocy on the part of a few anti-vaxxers. It has induced a lot of young people to refuse the vaccine. This is a crime against humanity to spread such falsehoods. It is absolutely crucial to realise that the current vaccination drive is just a very important one of quite a few things we can do to try and keep the coronavirus at bay.

We have seen the fantastic results of immunisations against ‘child-killer diseases’ in paediatric healthcare. This author, as a young junior doctor, was witness to the ravages of the much-feared childhood diseases that killed or maimed scores of young children even in the second half of the last century. Those diseases such as tetanus, diphtheria, whooping cough, polio, measles, Japanese encephalitis; just to mention a few that took scores of young lives of yore, are a thing of the past now. Adequate vaccination has completely wiped them out. The last case of childhood polio in Sri Lanka was seen just around a quarter of a century ago. The young junior doctors of today and the current lot of medical students have not seen any of these dreaded diseases.

In the child healthcare scenario, vaccination has become the panacea for all ills in the above-mentioned diseases. In the same vein, it is quite reasonable to expect the coronavirus vaccines to provide a similar end-result. However, is it really so? It is a most lamentable fact that it is perhaps not quite so.

There is a well-recognised fundamental difference between all the vaccines that are used to prevent the much-feared childhood diseases of the past and the currently available vaccines against the coronavirus that is causing the current pandemic. The vaccines against all those childhood diseases COMPLETELY PREVENT children getting the disease!!!, period. Well, if the recipients are protected against getting the infection, it is the end of the story; a definitive conclusion of the matter in hand.

However, right up to just a few days ago, none of the currently available vaccines against COVID-19, were thought to be able to COMPLETELY PREVENT anyone getting the disease to any appreciable degree. How they work is by reducing the severity of the disease and by preventing the deaths. So…, the basic end-result characteristics of all the currently available COVID-19 vaccines were thought to be quite different to the standard vaccines against all other infective diseases. One could still get the disease in spite of being vaccinated against COVID-19 and would still be able to spread the illness to others.

Yet for all this, there seems to be a little bit of light at the end of the tunnel. In a most recent scientific publication in the New England Journal of Medicine, released as recently as 22nd September 2021, an interim analysis of a large study conducted in 99 centres of the USA has shown significant protection against CONTRACTING THE DISEASE as well as AGAINST MORE SEVERE DISEASE AND DEATH by the mRNA-1273 (Moderna/Spikevax) vaccine, administered as two doses 28 days apart. Vaccine efficacy in preventing Covid-19 illness was 93.2%, the effectiveness in preventing severe disease was 98.2% and the efficacy in preventing asymptomatic infection, starting 14 days after the second injection, was 63.0%. Vaccine efficacy was consistent across ethnic and racial groups, age groups, and participants with coexisting conditions. No safety concerns were identified.

Be that as it may, added to all our problems, now there is the daunting spectacle of the various types of variants and mutants, ranging from Alpha through delta, even to Epsilon and most recently to a particularly nasty strain called ‘Mu’, of the coronavirus which could cause problems even in the fully vaccinated. We still do not understand completely the potential impact of these more virulent strains in vaccinated people.

However, a case in point in relationship to these facts is the presently dominant situation in Israel. That country, one of the fastest in vaccination and most-vaccinated nations in the world, in spite of almost the entire population being vaccinated, is having some problems at the present time. By mid-March 2021, Israelis were partying as lockdowns ended and by April, masks had more or less vanished, turning the tiny country into a tantalising glimpse of a post-pandemic future. However, the crafty blight of a coronavirus seems to have come back with a vengeance. From a few dozen daily cases in early June 2021, even zero on June 9, new daily COVID infections twice hovered near 6,000 very recently, the highest daily rate in six months. Having won early access to supplies of the BioNTech/Pfizer jab in exchange for sharing nationwide data on how mass vaccination drives affect the pandemic, Israel is a closely watched indicator of a country where well-inoculated developed economies are heading.

As new infections soared, so did the long tail of hospitalisations in Israel. Even though the unvaccinated were five to six times as likely to end up seriously ill, the vaccine’s protection was waning fastest for the oldest; the most vulnerable, who got their first jabs as early as December 2020. At this rate, health officials predicted at least 5,000 people would need hospital beds by early September, half of them with serious medical needs, twice as many as Israel is equipped to handle. The current Prime Minister of Israel was honest with Israelis when he announced a new measure just a couple of weeks ago, whereby the government was trying to cushion the blow. On August 1, it had started offering people, over 60, a third shot of the Pfizer vaccine, embarking on its own public health experiment as it tumbled into an unpredictable fourth wave. So far, 775,000 people have taken their third shot and doctors say they can see antibody counts rising measurably within days of the third jab.

For Israelis, the booster shots are a reminder that they are still on the frontier of Covid-19 vaccinations. They celebrated when they were the first to get jabbed, cheering Pfizer as lockdowns ended in March 2021. Now, they are the first to experience the limits of the vaccine and the first to accept a long-whispered inevitability: the need to give regular booster shots to stay protected.

All these facts tend to bring into sharp focus, again and AGAIN, the undoubted importance of time-tested manoeuvres of avoiding crowds, maintaining a social distance of at least one to two metres, wearing suitable and effective masks; even double-masking, and repeated washing of hands, as our own personal weapons against this dastardly blight. Vaccination against COVID-19 will probably not be the panacea for all ills in combating this pandemic, although it would be a very powerful tool in the hands of the authorities in their quest towards victory over this disease. It will certainly not be the ultimate ‘SILVER BULLET’ against the disease.

If there is a lesson to be learnt from Israel today, it is this: corona, in fact, is not over; perhaps not for quite a while. This summer was just an intermission. Next may come winter., sadly perhaps, a winter of discontent. We do hope to high heaven that it may not be so for this beautiful and much-treasured Motherland of ours.

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Proposed Parakrama Samudraya walking path devalues ancient heritage

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By Eng. Thushara Dissanayake

The construction work of the proposed walking path on the Parakrama Samudra tank bund was suspended after the protest of a group of Buddhist monks. Whether it is appropriate for monks to intervene in this matter is a different issue and the objection is admirable because many remained silent over this issue of national significance.

Since then many views, both pros and cons, on the proposed walking path, have been expressed by various parties. Experts in the engineering field express views on the safety of the dam after the proposed construction, which meddles with its existing riprap, the structural arrangement that prevents bund erosion by wind-generated water waves. Some others, including local administrative level officers and politicians see this as essential development for the area. However, technical issues can be resolved at any cost, and I am more concerned about the facts whether this track is a genuine necessity and the possible subsequent damage it can inflict on the historical value of the tank and the image of the great King Pararamabahu.

The objective of a walking path is to help people maintain their health, not only by engaging in physical activities like walking and jogging but also by allowing them to be with nature. While walking and jogging, can improve physical health, a serene, natural environment can improve mental health. If we take an area like Polonnaruwa, which is not as urbanized as many of the major cities in the country, there are ample places that offer the above-mentioned benefits. Further, neither visitors of the area nor residents will use it as a walking track, and an observation platform would be sufficient, if people need to stay safe from traffic that moves along the bund. Therefore, this type of project would no doubt be a white elephant that ruins millions of public money.

There was a time when the leader of the country went about erecting clock towers at every junction. Soon after they were built many of them showed the wrong time due to inferior construction work, resulting from corruption, putting the public in difficulty. Unlike those days, today there is no need for clock towers as everybody has the exact time since everyone has a mobile phone, more accurate than a wristwatch. We have to come to terms with the reality that what we value today would become obsolete tomorrow in the fast-changing world. Who is to say that these walking paths would not become obsolete in the future given the fact that lives of people are becoming complex and busy, and people may turn to indoor gymnasiums and exercise machines?

Moreover, a closer look at some of the already constructed walking paths would reveal that the selection of locations for such facilities was ill-informed, without proper evaluation as they remain under-utilised. One such example is the track that has been constructed in Badulla urban park which is popularly known as the Wawul Park. This park is located on the edge of three main playgrounds of the city; Vincent Dias ground, cricket ground and football ground. The track is blanketed in thousands of droppings of bats that inhabit the trees of the park, the odour of it so foul that it is very difficult to reach the track. Every day hundreds of people walk in the aforementioned playgrounds while the walking path remains abandoned.

Coming back to the topic, after the walking path is constructed, as per the usual practice of the country, a huge plaque will be erected on the bund mentioning the names of politicians who suggested, advised, supervised, participated and declared open the track. There will probably come a day in future when our children, who visit the Parakrama Samudraya, would say that the tank was constructed by this and that politician. Alas! The statue of the Great King Parakramabahu, who had a great vision to manage the water resources of the country, will be disregarded.

Way forward

Before making any structural changes to heritage sites, opinion should be sought from experts and other stakeholders as well. According to personal experience, when I last visited the place a few years ago, people who visited the tank needed no walking path, but being travellers from remote areas, there was a crying need for other basic facilities. They required shelter, water, facilities to have their meals, dispose of waste safely, and a proper waste collection system, among other things.

In addition, a mini auditorium can be constructed at a suitable place in the vicinity, that has audio-visual facilities to educate children about the history of the tank. A model of the reservoir can be used to explain its components and operation. Then our children will not take this amazing Parakrama Samudraya, that they are endowed with today, for granted but learn to appreciate the great vision and dedication of their ancestors in making this marvel a reality.

Let me conclude with a poem I posted on my FB page sometime ago, with its translation.

There is a huge plaque at the end of the tank bund. It reads that the politician is akin to King Parakramabahu. The river downstream overtops with the sweat of the people who built the tank. Still, the people who built the tank are of no value)

(The writer is a Chartered Engineer. This article is based on his personal views and does not reflect those of the organisations where he holds positions)

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Antics of State Minister and Pohottu Mayor; mum on chemical fertiliser mistake; The Ganga – a link

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Reams have been written in all local newspapers; much comment has traversed social media and persons have been bold to call for justice on two absolutely unrestrained and yes, evil, SLPP VIPs who have recently been dancing the devil as the saying goes. These evil doers seem to be pathologically unable to control themselves and behave as human beings: heads outsised with hubris and apparently bodies often pickled with liquor.

Very succinct comments have been made on Lohan Ratwatte, one being: “a leopard never changes his spots” referring to the many crimes supposed to have been committed by him, and the other that he is a gem of a man who may make a jewellery heist soon enough. He has the audacity to say he did nothing wrong in barging into two prisons; in one to show off to pals the gallows and in the other, to brandish a gun and place it against the heads of two shivering Tamil prisoners. All done within the week when world attention was focused on Sri Lankan human rights violations directed by the UNHRC

Cass’ comment is that Lohan Rat was committing hara-kiri (minus even a trace of the Japanese spirit of self sacrifice) and taking the entire country on a suicidal mission through his inability to hold his drinks and destructive hubris and murderous inclination. Cass particularly favoured Don Mano’s summation in his comment on the unlawful prison intrusions in the Sunday Times of September 19. “Any semblance of a shabby cover-up to enable Lohan Ratwatte to retain his position as State Minister of Gems and Jewellery will not only endanger the economy by depriving the nation’s dollar bare coffers of a GSP benefit of nearly 2.7 billion dollars, but will risk putting 21 million Lankans from the frying pan into the fire and test their tolerance to the core.”

The visit to the Welikada prison by the State Minister of Prison Reform and … was said to be with some men and one woman. Identities were kept under wraps and confusion raised by making the dame a beauty queen or cosmetician. But who she was, was soon known along the vine of gossip. One report said the person in charge of the prison or its section with the gallows, cautioned Lohan Rat and tried to dissuade his advance with friends in tow since the lady companion was in shorts and them walking through where prisoners were, would cause a commotion. But no, the State Minister advanced to show off the gallows with his short-shorts wearing woman companion and imbibing mates.

Cass is actually more censorious of this woman than even of the State Minister himself. Is she a Sri Lankan, so vagrant in her woman-ness? Doesn’t she have even an iota of the traditional lajja baya that decent women exhibit, even to minor level nowadays? Is associating with a State Minister and his drinking pals such a prized social event? Shame on her! She, if people’s assumption of identity is correct, has boasted political clout and been elevated by it too. Such our young girls! Do hope they are very few in number, though this seems to be a baseless hope as social events unroll.

Pistol packing – correction please – toy pistol packing Eraj Fernando is aiding the ex State Minister of Prison Reform to deface, debase and deteriorate Sri Lanka in the eyes of the world. He is interested in land and not in gallows or scantily clad gals. With thugs in tow he trespassed a property in Bamba and assaulted two security guards. Repetition of an incident he was embroiled in – a land dispute in Nugegoda a couple of weeks ago. He was taken in by the police and before you could say Raj, he was granted bail. What quick work of police and courts.

As the editor of The Island opined in the lead article of September 20: “The Rajapaksas have created quite a few monsters who enjoy unbridled freedom to violate the law of the land.” A convicted murderer known for his thug ways was presidentially pardoned a short while ago.

The good thing is that people talk, write, lampoon, and draw attention to these heinous crimes and do not seem scared for their necks and families. White vans have not started their rounds. And very importantly the memories of Ordinaries are not as fickle as they were. Wait and see is their immediate response.

New fad – jogging lanes on wewa bunds!

Some monks and men gathered recently on the partly torn up bund of Parakrama Samudraya and had the foolish audacity to say the bund needed a jogging lane. Tosh and balderdash! Then news revealed that other wewas too were being ‘attacked and desecrated’ to construct jogging lanes. In such remote rural areas which even tourists do not visit? Is there illicit money-making in this activity? Otherwise, no explanation is available for this sudden interest in farmers’ and toilers’ physical well being. They get enough exercise just engaging in their agriculture, so for whom are these jogging lanes?

Sharply contrasting persons

As apposite to the former two, are superb Sri Lankans up front and active and giving of their expertise, albeit unobtrusively. Consider the medical men and women and their service to contain the pandemic; farmers who protest to ensure harvests are not damaged too severely by false prophets who won the day for the banning of chemical fertilisers, pesticides and weedicides. The latest blow and justification of what so very many agriculturists, agrochemists, have been saying all along – organic is good but to be introduced very slowly; without importing compost from overseas, is the Chinese import containing evil microorganisms. Experts have categorically stated that chemical fertilisers are sorely needed for all agriculture; more so paddy and tea; and if used prudently cause no illness to humans or injurious side effects.

The four experts who comprised the panel at the MTV I Face the Nation discussion monitored by Shameer Rasooldeen on Monday September 20, agreed totally on these two facts and went on to say that it must be admitted a hasty decision was taken to stop import of chemical fertilizers. We listened to the considered wise opinions backed by true expertise of vibrantly attractive and articulate Dr Warshi Dandeniya – soil scientist, of Prof Saman Seneweera from the University of Melbourne, Prof Buddhi Marambe – crop scientist, and Dr Roshan Rajadurai – media person of the Planters Association. Listening to them, Cass swelled with pride and told herself see what sincerely-interested-in-the-country’s welfare eminent scientists we have in this land of rowdy politicians and uneducated MPs. They labeled the sudden banning of chemical fertilisers and insecticides and pesticides as “very dangerous and causing irreversible harm. It is not too late to reverse the decision, even if admitting fault is not possible.”

Garlic

Oh dear! The stench! Never ending series of scams; executed or approved by politicians and all for illicit gains. Even the tragedy of the pandemic and suffering of much of the population does not seem to have curbed selfish lust for money.

Focus on the Mahaweli Ganga

Interesting and deserving of thanks. Chanaka Wickramasuriya wrote two excellent articles in the Sunday Islands of September 12 and 19 on the Mahaweli Ganga, imparting invaluable facts of the present river and its history, as for example which king built which wewa or anicut. He ended his second article by hoping the waters of the great river will feed the north of the island too: “Maybe then this island will be finally uplifted. Not just from north to south, but across class and caste, language and philosophy, and political partisanship. Hopefully driven by a newfound sanity among its denizens, yet symbolically attested to by the waters of the Mahaweli.”

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