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My travel buddies and a fairytale 70th birthday



“I started with noithing and how far I’ve come”

by Sumi Moonesinghe as narrated to Savithri Rodrigo

Having always been fascinated with history, I wanted to constantly walk through historic routes and relive historic tales. One of these was Route Napoleon, which was voted the best road in France and one of the most scenic routes to the south of France. Although I had decided to take the train, that plan went under as a bridge had collapsed. A tour company arranged a driver and car for about EUR 1,000.

The driver was a 32-year-old French ex-marine who turned up at six in the morning and was the perfect tour guide because every time I said something was beautiful, he would immediately stop so I could take in the view and a photograph and maybe even have a cup of coffee. We reached Geneva at 1700 in the evening, in time for my flight to Heathrow, where I connected for my return flight to Colombo.

I had also amassed a coterie of girlfriends who loved to travel. Dawn Austin, Rohini Nanayakkara, Thanchi Coomaraswamy and I booked ourselves on the Grand Mediterranean Cruise in 2007. I was already in London visiting Aushi and joined them in Rome. We were booked into adjoining rooms with balcony cabins. I remember walking into my luxury cabin and sitting on the bed and thinking about how I had started with nothing and how far I had come. Was it karma, hard work or destiny?

It was truly a super-luxurious cruise; we were pampered with anything and everything. From Rome, we sailed to Florence, then on to the Isle of Capri and the Greek Islands. We were four completely different personalities but got on absolutely well together. There was Rohini who wanted to see everything and Dawn who would feel sorry to see her go alone and therefore, accompany her. Thanchi and I didn’t care either way.

When we visited the Parthenon for example, we decided to have a cup of coffee before walking about. But Rohini was antsy, constantly asking if we can move on. At one point, Dawn said, “Rohini, this has been there for a thousand years and it will be there for another thousand years. So there is no need to rush. Let’s sit down, have a croissant and a coffee first.” Rohini finally sat down for a leisurely morning but not before some convincing and an assurance that she could walk about the Parthenon as much as she wanted and we wouldn’t rush her.

The guides were expensive, charging about EUR 80 per tour. I refused to pay such exorbitant amounts.. The three ladies looked at me, laughed and said, “Sumi, you spent so much on this absolutely luxurious cruise and now you don’t want to spend EUR 80 on the guide?” I know it sounds a little foolish but I couldn’t get that thrifty habit out of my system. We would shop a little en route, buying whatever took our fancy.

We also took a cruise to St. Petersburg in August 2009 anal enjoyed it thoroughly. Russia truly is a land of wonder and St. Petersburg, founded by Russian Tsar Peter the Great and named after the apostle Saint Peter, is absolutely beautiful. It is the cultural capital of Russia and judging by the limited sites we were able to visit due to lack of time, it’s a title well bestowed.

I simply adored the Hermitage Museum, which is the largest art museum in the world. Each wall showcasing the masterworks by great artists and the impressive collection that Catherine the Great had acquired from Berlin merchant Johann Ernst Gotzkowsky. From there we took a short walk to the Winter Palace, the iconic symbol of the Russian revolution but prior to that, was the official residence of the Russian emperors for nearly two centuries. The green and white palace has an imposing facade and we were told it probably has the most number of doors, windows, rooms and staircases in any single building constructed at the time – 1,886 doors, 1,945 windows, 1,500 rooms and 117 staircases.

There was so much to explore in St. Petersburg and I just wish we had more time. Sadly, we wasted one evening going to the ballet, which technically we could have seen anywhere else in the world and missed out on seeing Catherine’s Palace, the summer residence of the tsars. I could only imagine the striking architecture, being awed in the Hall of Lights which is the one thousand square metre ornate grand ballroom and walking in those acres of landscaped gardens admiring the gorgeous sculptures.

Rohini joined me to go to Egypt and on the trip to Israel, I traveled with Rohini and Rohini – my sister. We first flew to Jordan and had the most amazing pica bread in Petra. Then we hired a car and driver for our Israeli tour. Our driver was Israeli so he couldn’t take us into Palestine. At the border, a Palestinian driver would pick us up. I remember him saying, “Don’t believe anything I say. Just talk to the people you meet, listen carefully and make up your own mind.”

In just one month after we returned, conflict broke out in that region. In 2001, Thanchi, Romi and I decided to go to China, adding to our itinerary that we also wanted to experience the ‘real China’. We excitedly picked where we wanted to go – Beijing, Xian, Guilin and Shanghai. I contacted Robert Kuok’s office which as efficiently as always, organised the entire trip for us.

In every city we visited, we stayed at the Shangri-La. Now this isn’t quite the real China in the actual sense of the word, but We consoled ourselves that while we spent the day in the ‘real China,’ having a bit of luxury when we got back was worth it. We visited markets, looking for bargains with Thanchi being best at bargaining.

Thanchi spied a Chinese silk cheongsam and asked the vendor for the price. Knowing we were tourists, she promptly tapped out 250 Yuan on her calculator, which was how we communicated as we didn’t know Mandarin. Thanchi turned on her heel and walked off saying, “Expensive, too expensive!” When the woman said, “How much you pay?” Thanchi promptly replied, “I pay 40 Yuan.” I was flabbergasted and thought we would get assaulted or at the very least verbally abused by the vendor. Incredibly, Thanchi got her cheongsam for 40 Yuan.

Not too long ago, I asked Aushi if we could go to Morocco because I have always been fascinated with Humphrey Bogart and the movie ‘Casablanca’. From the moment we landed in Morocco, I was raring to revisit Humphrey Bogart’s story. Aushi, Eroshan and even our driver dissuaded me saying there was nothing to see. But of course, I was not to be put off.

I got into the car and asked the driver to take me to the places that Casablanca had been filmed and Humphrey Bogart had been. The man turned around and looked at me as if I was crazy, but drove me around anyway. There was nothing to see, but what I did notice was that the city was very clean, with not a speck of garbage anywhere.

In the midst of walking those amazing shopping streets in Marrakesh, I fell in love with a beautiful Moroccan door. The massive door, embellished with intricately carved silver metal sheets and inlaid with gold and ebony had me mesmerized. It took just a few minutes for me to purchase it, have it wrapped up and delivered to the Four Seasons, where we were staying. The door was part of my luggage on my return flight to Colombo and now stands in pride of place at the end of my veranda, seen by everyone who walks into my house.

In 2015 I turned 70. The girls were keen on giving me a special day and asked me what I would like to do. “I will have some friends over and we can have Mrs. Dao cook at home.” Mrs Dao was a Thai lady whose Thai food was absolutely delicious. She was a firm favourite of mine when it came to Thai cuisine. She would come home and cook in my kitchen, which was yet another reason to like her cooking. My girls asked me to list out the friends I would like to invite and also the menu I want Mrs. Dao to prepare. Both Aushi and Anarkali were having these conversations with me while they were in London.

Three days before my birthday, I had my first surprise. Aushi landed at home. It was lovely to have her and I thought this was an early birthday gift, which in a way it was. On May 5 and my birthday dawned, I was told by Aushi to take her children Tahlia and Sidhara on a tour of Colombo because they had never quite seen Colombo properly whenever they visited. She gave me a list of places to visit and looking at that, I realized I would be out the whole day.

I fretted a little and asked her whether she had contacted my friends with the invitation for this evening. She assured me that everything was under control. I got in the car for the tour of the city of Colombo with my grandchildren and returned about four in the evening. My house and garden were unrecognizable.

Aushi’s creativity had excelled. The place was magical and looked very festive. I walked into the kitchen, expecting to see Mrs. Dao but what greeted me was a battalion of chefs. Unknown to me, Robert Kuok had sent the chefs from the Shangri-La to prepare a feast for my birthday. Robert had organized the entire meal with Aushi and Anarkali – and Kumar’s help of course.

The chefs were supposed to cook at a cafe and send the dishes over, but when they saw my kitchen, they opted to cook at home. Kumar had been dispatched that morning to the Kollupitiya market, accompanied by one of the chefs to pick and choose whatever they wanted. Robert and his wife Poh-lin sent me two beautiful pots of orchids as an additional gift – the meal itself was their gift to me.

What a fantastic birthday I had. Surprise after surprise – with even my friend Duke and his wife Cathy flying in from the UK – I couldn’t have been blessed more.

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Glimmers of hope?



The newly appointed Cabinet Ministers leaves Cass un-uplifted. She need not elaborate. She wishes fervently that Dr Harsha de Silva will leave party loyalty aside and consider the country. Usually, it’s asking politicians to cast aside self-interest, which very rarely is done in the political culture that came to be after the 1970s. Thus, it is very unusual, completely out of the ordinary to appeal to Dr Harsha to forego party loyalty and do the very needful for the country by accepting the still vacant post of Minister of Finance. We are very sorry Eran W too has kept himself away.

Some of Cassandra’s readers may ask whether she is out of her right mind to see glimmers of hope for the country. She assures them she is as sane as can be; she does cling onto these straws like the dying man does. How else exist? How else get through these dire times?

What are the straws she clings to? News items in The Island of Tuesday 24 May.

‘Sirisena leaves Paget Road mansion in accordance with SC interim injunction.’ And who was instrumental in righting this wrong? The CPA and its Executive Director Dr Pakiasothy Saravanamuttu. It is hoped that revisions to the system will come in such as giving luxury housing and other extravagant perks to ex-presidents and their widows. Sri Lanka has always lived far beyond its means in the golden handshakes to its ex- prezs and also perks given its MPs. At least luxury vehicles should not be given them. Pensions after five years in Parliament should be scrapped forthwith.

‘Letter of demand sent to IGP seeking legal action against DIG Nilantha Jayawardena.’ Here the mover is The Centre for Society and Religion and it is with regard to the Easter Sunday massacre which could have been prevented if DIG Jayawardena as Head of State Intelligence had taken necessary action once intelligence messages warned of attack on churches.

‘CIABOC to indict Johnston, Keheliya and Rohitha’. It is fervently hoped that this will not be another charge that blows away with the wind. They do not have their strongest supporter – Mahinda R to save them. We so fervently hope the two in power now will let things happened justly, according to the law of the land.

‘Foreign Secy Admiral Colombage replaced’. And by whom? A career diplomat who has every right and qualification for the post; namely Aruni Wijewardane. If this indicates a fading of the prominence given to retired armed forces personnel in public life and administration, it is an excellent sign. Admiral Colombage had tendered his resignation, noted Wednesday’s newspaper.

‘Crisis caused by decades of misuse public resources, corruption, kleptocracy – TISL’.

Everyone knew this, even the despicable thieves and kleptocrats. The glaring question is why no concerted effort was made to stop the thieving from a country drawn to bankruptcy by politicians and admin officers. There are many answers to that question. It was groups, mostly of the middle class who came out first in candle lit vigils and then at the Gotagogama Village. The aragalaya has to go down in history as the savior of our nation from a curse worse than war. The civil war was won against many odds. But trying to defeat deceit power-hunger and thieving was near impossible. These protestors stuck their necks out and managed to rid from power most of the Rajapaksa family. That was achievement enough.

Heartfelt hope of the many

The newly appointed Cabinet Ministers leaves Cass un-uplifted. She need not elaborate. She wishes fervently that Dr Harsha de Silva will leave party loyalty aside and consider the country. Usually, it’s asking politicians to cast aside self interest, which very rarely is done in the political culture that came to be after the 1970s. Thus, it is very unusual, completely out of the ordinary to appeal to Dr Harsha to forego party loyalty and do the very needful for the country by accepting the still vacant post of Minister of Finance. We are very sorry Eran W too has kept himself away. As Shamindra Ferdinando writes in the newspaper mentioned, “Well informed sources said that Premier Wickremesinghe was still making efforts to win over some more Opposition members. Sources speculated that vital finance portfolio remained vacant as the government still believed (hoped Cass says) Dr Harsha de Silva could somehow be convinced to accept that portfolio.”

Still utterly hopeless

Gas is still unavailable for people like Cass who cannot stand in queues, first to get a token and then a cylinder. Will life never return to no queues for bare essentials? A woman friend was in a petrol queue for a solid twelve hours – from 4 am to 4 pm. This is just one of million people all over the country in queues. Even a common pressure pill was not available in 20 mg per.

Cassandra considers a hope. We saw hundreds of Sri Lankans all across the globe peacefully protesting for departure of thieves from the government. The ex-PM, Mahinda Rajapaksa’s answer to this was to unleash absolute terror on all of the island. It seems to be that with Johnson a younger MP stood commandingly.

Returning from that horror thought to the protesters overseas, Cass wondered if each of them contributed one hundred dollars to their mother country, it would go a long way to soften the blows we are battered with. Of course, the absolute imperative is that of the money, not a cent goes into personal pockets. The donors must be assured it goes to safety. Is that still not possible: assuring that donations are used for the purpose they are sent for: to alleviate the situation of Sri Lankans? I suppose the memory of tsunami funds going into the Helping Hambantota Fund is still fresh in memory. So much for our beloved country.

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Ban on agrochemicals and fertilisers: Post-scenario analysis



By Prof. Rohan Rajapakse

(Emeritus Professor of Agriculture Biology UNIVERSITY OF RUHUNA and Former Executive Director Sri Lanka Council of Agriculture Research Policy)

There are two aspects of the ban on agrochemicals. The first is the ban on chemical fertilisers, and the second is the ban on the use of pesticides. Several eminent scientists, Dr Parakrama Waidyanatha (formerly the Soil Scientist of RRI), Prof OA Ileperuma (Former Professor of Chemistry University of Peradeniya), Prof C. S. Weeraratne (former Professor of Agronomy University of Ruhuna), Prof D. M. de Costa University of Peradeniya, Prof. Buddhi Marambe (Professor in Weed Science University of Peradeniya) have effectively dealt with the repercussion of the ban on chemical fertilisers which appeared in The Island newspaper on recently.

The major points summarised by these authors are listed below.


1. These scientists, including the author, are of the view that the President’s decision to totally shift to organic agriculture from conventional could lead to widespread hunger and starvation in future, which has become a reality. Organic farming is a small phenomenon in global agriculture, comprising a mere 1.5% of total farmlands, of which 66% are pasture.

2. Conventional farming (CF) is blamed for environmental pollution; however, in organic farming, heavy metal pollution and the release of carbon dioxide and methane, two greenhouse gases from farmyard manure, are serious pollution issues with organic farming that have been identified.

3. On the other hand, the greatest benefit of organic fertilisers as against chemical fertilisers is the improvement of soil’s physical, chemical and biological properties by the former, which is important for sustained crop productivity. The best option is to use appropriate combinations of organic and chemical fertilisers, which can also provide exacting nutrient demands of crops and still is the best option!

4. Sri Lanka has achieved self-sufficiency in rice due to the efforts of the Research Officers of the Department of Agriculture, and all these efforts will be in vain if we abruptly ban the import of fertiliser. These varieties are bred primarily on their fertiliser response. While compost has some positive effects such as improving soil texture and providing some micronutrients, it cannot be used as a substitute for fertiliser needed by high yielding varieties of rice. Applying organic fertilisers alone will not help replenish the nutrients absorbed by a crop. Organic fertilisers have relatively small amounts of the nutrients that plants need. For example, compost has only 2% nitrogen (N), whereas urea has 46% N. Banning the import of inorganic fertilisers will be disastrous, as not applying adequate amounts of nutrients will cause yields to drop, making it essential to increase food imports. Sri Lankan farmers at present are at the mercy of five organizations, namely the Central Department of Agriculture, the Provincial Ministry of Agriculture, the Private sector Pesticide Companies, the Non-Government organizations and the leading farmers who are advising them. Instead, improved agricultural extension services to promote alternative non-chemical methods of pest control and especially the use of Integrated Pest Management.

Locally, pest control depends mostly on the use of synthetic pesticides; ready to use products that can be easily procured from local vendors are applied when and where required Abuse and misapplication of pesticides is a common phenomenon in Sri Lanka. Even though many farmers are aware of the detrimental aspects of pesticides they often use them due to economic gains

We will look at the post scenario of
what has happened

1. The importation of Chemical fertilisers and Pesticides was banned at the beginning of Maha season 1 on the advice of several organic manure (OM) promoters by the Ministry of agriculture.

2. The Ministry of Agriculture encouraged the farmers to use organic manure, and an island-wide programme of producing Organic manure were initiated. IT took some time for the government to realize that Sri Lanka does not have the capacity to produce such a massive amount of OM, running into 10 tons per hectare for 500000 hectares ear marked in ma ha season.

3. Hence the government approved the importation of OM from abroad, and a Company in China was given an initial contract to produce OM produced from Seaweed. However, the scientists from University of Peradeniya detected harmful microorganisms in this initial consignment, and the ship was forced to leave Sri Lankan waters at a cost of US dollar 6.7 million without unloading its poisonous cargo. No substitute fertiliser consignment was available.

4. A committee in the Ministry hastily recommended to import NANO RAJA an artificial compound from India to increase the yield by spraying on to leaves. Sri Lanka lost Rs 863 million as farmers threw all these Nano Raja bottles and can as it attracts dogs and wild boar.

Since there is no other option the Ministry promised to pay Rs 50000 per hectare for all the farmers who lost their livelihood. It is not known how much the country lost due to this illogical decision of banning fertilisers and pesticides.


1. Judicious use of pesticides is recommended.

2. The promotion and the use of integrated pest management techniques whenever possible

3. To minimize the usage of pesticides:

Pesticide traders would be permitted to sell pesticides only through specially trained Technical Assistants.

Issuing pesticides to the farmers for which they have to produce some kind of a written recommendation by a local authority.

Introduction of new mechanism to dispose or recycle empty pesticide and weedicide bottles in collaboration with the Environment Ministry.

Laboratory-testing of imported pesticides by the Registrar of Pesticides at the entry-point to ensure that banned chemicals were not brought into the country.

Implementation of trained core of people who can apply pesticides.

Education campaigns to train farmers, retailers, distributors, and public with the adverse effects of pesticides.

Maximum Residue Level (MRL) to reduce the consumer’s risk of exposure to unsafe levels.

Integrated pest Management and organic agriculture to be promoted.

1. To ensure the proper usage of agrochemicals by farmers

All those who advised the Minister of Agriculture and the President to shift to OM still wield authority in national food production effort. The genuine scientists who predicted the outcome are still harassed sacked from positions they held in MA and were labelled as private sector goons. The danger lies if the farmers decide not to cultivate in this Maha season due to non-availability of fertilisers and pesticides the result will be an imminent famine.

The country also should have a professional body like the Planning Commission of

India, with high calibre professionals in the Universities and the Departments and

There should be institutions and experts to advise the government on national policy matters.

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Thomians triumph in Sydney 



Nothing is happening for us, at this end, other than queues, queues, and more queues! There’s very little to shout about were the sports and entertainment scenes are concerned. However, Down Under, the going seems good.

Sri Lankans, especially in Melbourne, Australia, have quite a lot of happenings to check out, and they all seem to be having a jolly good time!

Trevine Rodrigo,

who puts pen to paper to keep Sri Lankans informed of the events in Melbourne, was in Sydney, to taken in the scene at the Sri Lanka Schools Sevens Touch Rugby competition. And, this is Trevine’s report:

The weather Gods and S.Thomas aligned, in Sydney, to provide the unexpected at the Sri Lanka Schools Sevens Touch Rugby competition, graced by an appreciative crowd.

Inclement weather was forecast for the day, and a well drilled Dharmaraja College was expected to go back-to-back at this now emerging competition in Sydney’s Sri Lanka expatriate sporting calendar.

But the unforeseen was delivered, with sunny conditions throughout, and the Thomians provided the upset of the competition when they stunned the favourites, Dharmaraja, in the final, to grab the Peninsula Motor Group Trophy.

Still in its infancy, the Sevens Touch Competition, drawn on the lines of Rugby League rules, found new flair and more enthusiasm among its growing number of fans, through the injection of players from around Australia, opposed to the initial tournament which was restricted to mainly Sydneysiders.

A carnival like atmosphere prevailed throughout the day’s competition.

Ten teams pitted themselves in a round robin system, in two groups, and the top four sides then progressed to the semi-finals, on a knock out basis, to find the winner.

A food stall gave fans the opportunity to keep themselves fed and hydrated while the teams provided the thrills of a highly competitive and skilled tournament.

The rugby dished out was fiercely contested, with teams such as Trinity, Royal and St. Peter’s very much in the fray but failing to qualify after narrow losses on a day of unpredictability.

Issipathana and Wesley were the other semi-finalists with the Pathanians grabbing third place in the play-off before the final.

The final was a tense encounter between last year’s finalists Dharmaraja College and S.Thomas. Form suggested that the Rajans were on track for successive wins in as many attempts.  But the Thomians had other ideas.

The fluent Rajans, with deft handling skills and evasive running, looked the goods, but found the Thomian defence impregnable.  Things were tied until the final minutes when the Thomians sealed the result with an intercept try and hung on to claim the unthinkable.

It was perhaps the price for complacency on the Rajans part that cost them the game and a lesson that it is never over until the final whistle.

Peninsula Motor Group, headed by successful businessman Dilip Kumar, was the main sponsor of the event, providing playing gear to all the teams, and prize money to the winners and runners-up.

The plan for the future is to make this event more attractive and better structured, according to the organisers, headed by Deeptha Perera, whose vision was behind the success of this episode.

In a bid to increase interest, an over 40’s tournament, preceded the main event, and it was as interesting as the younger version.

Ceylon Touch Rugby, a mixed team from Melbourne, won the over 40 competition, beating Royal College in the final.

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