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Nadungamuwe Raja, a prisoner of culture, an ambassador of culture or rather, an ambassador of conservation?

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By Manasee Weerathunga

It is no doubt that the passing away of the ceremonial tusker Nadungamuwe Raja was sorrowful news to the entire country, regardless of religions and ethnicities. It is highly unlikely that there could have been any Sri Lankan who did not love this gentle giant for his majesty and tranquility. However, the question at which everyone who loved Nadungamuwe Raja becomes divided, is on whether Nadungamuwe Raja lived a life of grandeur or a life of suffering?

Nadungamuwe Raja is best known as the ceremonial tusker, bearing the main casket of the Tooth Relic of Lord Buddha in the annual procession of Esala, in Kandy, Sri Lanka. As in ancient traditions, it is only a male tusker of remarkable physique that is eligible for bearing the casket of the Tooth Relic. It is this majesty of this beast which prompted many Sri Lankans, especially the devout Buddhists, to place Nadungamuwe Raja, up on a pedestal of sanctitude. In the eyes of devout Buddhists, Nadungamuwe Raja was not only privileged enough to bear the casket of the Tooth Relic of Lord Buddha (something which is not approachable to a layman) but also was able to gather a plethora of merit in this lifetime, for the rest of Samsara, by being in service to the Lord Buddha. However, in the eyes of animal lovers and workers for animal rights, Nadungamuwe Raja was a prisoner of culture and blind religious devoutation, having had lived a life, chained in a domestic setting with no access to the natural habitat of an elephant or its co-inhabitants.

The opulent pair of long, intersecting pair of tusks can be named as the crowning glory of Nadungamuwe Raja, not to mention that he was the tallest domestic elephant known in whole Asia. In addition to these unmistaken resplendent features of Nadungamuwe Raja, the placidity of this beast’s nature, points out some facts noteworthy about elephants. Asian elephants, the species to which Nadungamuwe Raja belongs, differ from their African elephant cousins, with respect to several features. Firstly, Asian elephants are of significantly smaller build in comparison to African elephants, which makes the height of Nadungamuwe Raja, remarkable. Secondly, unlike the African elephant, which possesses tusks in both male and female alike, tusks are a rarity found in some male Asian elephants only, ticking off another box for Nadungamuwe Raja’s exceptionality. Thirdly, domesticated African elephants are unheard of because they do not share the serene demeanor of their Asian counterparts, while Nadungamuwe Raja is only one of the many domestic Asian elephants found in several countries of Asia.

However, domestication of animals is not something which is discrete for a region of the world. The history of animal domestication spans as far as the beginning of human civilization. The pre-historic man of Stone Age was in the habit of chasing and hunting the animals they wanted to fulfill their food requirements, and then moving to a new location once he had exploited all the animals in his surrounding location. However, as the humans moved on to the farming age by growing their food in their locality and forming permanent settlements, they realized that rather than going in search of animals to hunt, holding the animals in captivity, raring them and harvesting the milk, meat and hides that they needed was an easier option. That marked the beginning of animal domestication, resulting in some animal species, such as dogs, cats and ornamental fish breeds, to become fully domesticated species by the present times. A major step in this process involved identifying animals who were passive enough to be approached, caught, and held captive and tamed. This has resulted in the evolution of most domestic animal species to have traits that would make them better suited to a domestic setting while wiping out the traits which would help them survive in the wild. For example, evolution has taken away from the dogs, the traits of aggression shown by their distant relatives, the wolves, as well as any skills of surviving in the wild by hunting and avoiding predation. Therefore, if an enthusiast of animal rights is to argue that holding a gold fish in a fish tank is a violation of its rights and that it would be better off swimming freely in a stream, it is going to be one of the most frivolous points to make because a gold fish would hardly survive in a wild stream for more than 24 hours without getting predated. That is because the ancestors of these domestic animals, running back to hundreds of generations, have not even seen a wild environment so that their genes no longer contain the traits suited for the wild.

However, we cannot say the same about Asian elephants so confidently, because elephants still do exist in the wild and therefore is not a completely domesticated animal species. While the harsher environment that African elephants inhabit has made them more aggressive and violent by their genetic makeup, Asian elephants are more approachable which has enabled many countries to domesticate Asian elephants for centuries. Therefore, a fair number of domestic Asian elephants, found in many countries, are elephants who had been born and bred in domestic settings for generations. Hence, although many activists for animals rights have been voicing out in social media platforms that Nadungamuwe Raja lived a life of suffering by being chained in a domestic setting, having been an elephant born in a domestic elephant stable in India, it is uncertain what percentage of Nadungamuwe’s Raja’s genes still retained the traits that would help him survive in the wild. Usually, several generations of inbreeding of domesticated animals result in establishment of gene combinations best suited for domestic settings and purging those suited for wild environments. Still, it is uncertain how rapidly it happens in each species. With evolutionary biologists and behavioural scientists worldwide conducting a plethora of research on the question of whether nature or nurture determines the behavioural traits of an animal, the question of whether Nadungamuwe Raja would have been happier roaming freely in the wild remains an open question, with not enough data on how much of wild traits that he retained in his genes.

Nevertheless, if we were to assume that Nadungamuwe Raja was still biologically fully capable of living in a wild environment, we should not forget that he would be living in an environment where the humans have become a major predator for elephants. Evolution being a very slow process that takes millions of years, usually the genetic makeup that currently exists in many organisms is the genetic combination that evolved to suit the environmental conditions that existed thousands of years ago. The genome of many organisms is still undergoing the process of adapting to the current environment, which has changed rapidly from what it was a few hundreds of years back. Therefore, organisms do not evolve adaptations to match the changing environmental conditions as rapidly as the environment changes. The same is true for elephants because their genetic makeup has not evolved to keep up with the rapidly changing environment and hence, lack the adaptations to survive the threats posed by their greatest predator of the current world, the human. Therefore, it is fairly agreeable if someone says that Nadungamuwe Raja could have been poached long ago for his magnificent pair of tusks or could have been killed by ‘hakka patas’ traps if it had not lived in the seclusion of a domestic environment. However, it should be noted that Nadungamuwe Raja lived the average lifespan of an Asian elephant. The most common natural cause of death for wild elephants is a mechanical cause resulting from the loss of teeth. Elephants usually have four sets of teeth during their course of life and once the last set of teeth is lost, elephants die a slow and painful death due to the inability to feed and nourish themselves. It is noteworthy that the owners of Nadungamuwe Raja took the utmost effort to preserve the last set of teeth of the elephant so that his lifespan could be prolonged, by meticulously managing the elephant’s diet and behaviour. However, whether living in a natural environment and choosing his own diet from natural sources could have prolonged the lifespan of the elephant is contentious.

The increasing rarity of tusks as sumptuous as Nadungamuwe Raja’s in Asian elephants itself signals an evolutionary trend of elephants towards adaptation to the hostility created in wild environments by humans. It is the general trend of evolution to get rid of any traits that would pose a threat to the survival and fitness of any organism. By evolution, tusks serve the purpose of attracting female mates to male elephants, while helping males with combat with other males for territory and mates as well as obtaining food. With humans as a predator of elephants in wild environments, tusks have unfortunately become the worst nightmare for the survival of elephants in the wild. It is highly probable that the tusks of Nadungamuwe Raja could have brought the same unfortunate fate on him if he had lived in the wild. Even with living a domesticated life, the tusks of Nadungamuwe Raja had been too heavy for his head to bear towards the latter part of his life, although the situation had been ameliorated by his owners by arranging a sleeping place for the elephant where he could rest his head above his body. However, it is doubtful whether the tusks of Nadungamuwe Raja would have grown to that length and weight if it had lived in the wild. If a wild elephant had tusks as long and big as that, it goes without saying that it would pose a hinderance and a danger to the movement of the animal in dense vegetation, which are the common habitats of Asian elephants. Therefore, wild elephants have the habit of wearing off their tusks by rubbing them against tree branches, while the tusks of wild elephants are subjected to breakage during combats between males. For example, Gemunu, who is a well-known tusker inhabiting the Yala National Park of Sri Lanka, had only one tusk until recently, with the other being broken off during a dual. The remaining tusk was also broken off a couple of years earlier, during a dual with Nandimitra, another male elephant of the Yala National Park. Usually, once a male elephant loses his tusks in a combat, it either dies of the wounds of the combat or lives a quiet and short life restricted of mates or food of the territory, without the advantage of tusks. Therefore, another open question remains of whether Nadungamuwe Raja would have had such a luxurious pair of tusks until the end of his lifetime, had he lived in a wild environment.

Considering all these whether Nadungamuwe Raja was a prisoner of culture or not remains a question to be answered based on each person’s own morals and judgment. But, while dividing into sides and splitting hairs to prove whether Nadungamuwe Raja lived a life of a prisoner or that of royalty, there is a fact that many forget. While limiting the discussions about Nadungamuwe Raja to decorating him as an icon of Sri Lankan culture or fighting for his rights for a free life, we forget that not only Nadungamuwe Raja but all other domestic elephants of Sri Lanka which are treated with high esteem can serve a bigger role as ambassadors of environmental conservation. Nadungamuwe Raja and all other celebrated domestic elephants of Sri Lanka such as Kataragama Wasana, Indi Raja, Miyan Raja etc. fit perfectly well to the category of Flagship Species. The concept of Flagship Species introduced by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) includes organisms having an aesthetic importance while representing a certain habitat, issue, or environmental cause. The objective of this concept is by conserving and drawing public attention to these animals which are of aesthetic attraction, the entire habitat they represent will be conserved and the environmental issue that they are involved in would be resolved. The giant panda endemic to China is an ideal example of a flagship species being a successful ambassador in resolving a conservation issue. With the giant panda being categorized as an endangered species by the IUCN in the 1980s, a massive campaign was launched to save China’s beloved national icon. This involved not only in-situ conservation efforts such as setting up nature reserve areas habitable for pandas, but also numerous ex-situ conservation techniques such as breeding pandas in captivity and propagating public interest and awareness on these cute creatures with the use of domesticated pandas held in captivity. These pandas did their job as environmental ambassadors so perfectly that by 2016, IUCN declared that giant pandas are no longer endangered but just vulnerable.

Right now, the number of Sri Lankans who worship Nadungamuwe Raja, holding him at a highly revered position is countless. Similarly, the number of Sri Lankans who fight for animal rights pointing out that Nadungamuwe Raja spent a torturous, miserable life is also fairly high. Amidst all that clamour, the number of elephants killed each year by poachers or by ‘hakka patas’ traps, the number of elephants shot by villagers for encroaching into cultivated lands, the number elephants hit by trains, plus the number of human lives lost each year by wild elephant attacks remain escalating. This disturbing trend signals to us that right now the most serious issue regarding elephants in Sri Lanka is not the debate of whether domestic elephants are cultural icons or prisoners of culture, but the human-elephant conflict which has gone unresolved, yet escalating to an extremely unfortunate level, for the past years. Wild elephants cannot be blamed for the circumstances considering the plight they are in with the construction of motorways fragmenting natural habitats of elephants and blocking their passes, human encroachment into natural habitats limiting the availability of food, water and space for the elephants plus poaching for ivory. On the other hand, the retaliation by humans to wild elephants is also fair considering the threat to property and lives it poses and the economic and emotional turmoil it costs when living in an area of wild elephant threat. That is why Nadungamuwe Raja and his fellow domestic elephants, should be viewed as ambassadors of environmental conservation rather than either icons or prisoners of culture. While thousands of people have been coming to pay their last respects to Nadungamuwe Raja with heavy hearts, while the authorities are taking steps to preserve Nadungamuwe Raja as a national treasure, while Nadungamuwe Raja’s predecessor tusker Raja has a museum dedicated all to himself and preserved and displayed as a national treasure, and while animal rights activists are launching heated social media campaigns to free the domestic elephants from their chains, there are numerous elephants in the island who portray major conservation issues. The wild elephant Natta Kota who roams the premises of tourist hotels bordering the Yala national park, has become a scavenger on garbage of the hotels which lure him to be a tourist attraction. The elephants inhabiting the forests bordering motorways of areas such as Habarana and Buttala had fallen to the plight of mafia gangsters who don’t let vehicles pass unless they are given the ransom of food. The elephants scavenging on garbage dumps of Tissamaharama have fallen to the plight of homeless beggars, picking through trash to fill their stomachs.

It goes without saying that Nadungamuwe Raja is a national treasure because a tusker of that stature and physique is indeed an asset to any country’s natural resource chest. But the reverence shown towards this animal needs to be extended to countless other elephants in Sri Lanka who are at the risk of getting poached for ivory, or killed by traps. As good as it is that Nadungamuwe Raja’s body be preserved as a national treasure as that of Raja, by housing it in a museum as a mere icon of cultural importance, the natural homes of the wild elephants of Sri Lanka needs to be preserved as well, as elephants are assets of Sri Lanka. The activists and enthusiasts of animal rights who voice out protests on the chained life that Nadungamuwe Raja led, should extend their fighting towards winning freedom for the numerous unnamed wild elephants who cannot roam wherever they wish in their native habitats and eat as much natural food as they like. Therefore, it is high time that the authorities start hailing Nandungamuwe Raja as an icon of conservational importance, rather than as a mere national treasure of cultural importance while the worshippers of Nandungamuwe Raja and the fighters for Nandungamuwe Raja’s animal rights start portraying him as an ambassador of environmental conservation rather than an ambassador of culture or a prisoner of culture.

(The writer is a PhD Student in Evolutionary Biology, University of Florida, Gainesville, US. She thanks Gihan Athapaththu, former Naturalist at Jetwing Yala, currently Master’s student at Jeju National University, South Korea, for his contribution to this article.)



Features

Scarcity, prices, hoarding and queuing

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By Usvatte-aratchi

We live in a scarcity economy and will do so well into 2024, past the next Presidential elections if it comes then; it may not. (The new minister may open bets.) All economies are scarcity economies; otherwise, there would be no prices. We also live in plentiful economies; look at the streets of Tokyo, Shanghai, Singapore, Paris or San Francisco during day or night. Scarcity is a relative term, as most terms are. A scarcity economy is one where prices rise relentlessly, where cigarettes are more expensive in the evening than they were the same morning. Scarcity economies will have two or more sets of prices: one official, others in markets in varying shades of grey until black. Scarcity economies are where everyone (producers, traders, households) hoards commodities, hoards everything that can be hoarded, at reasonable cost. Scarcity economy is one where productivity is lower than it was earlier, where both labour and capital idle. Scarcity itself may push down productivity. Observe thousands of people standing in queues to buy all kinds of things whilst producing nothing. That is labour idling. Others hang on to dear life in crowded trains arriving in office late to leave early, to get to ill lit homes where to cook each evening they repeat what their ancestors did millions of years ago to light a fire. Money is one commodity that can be hoarded at little cost, if there was no inflation. The million rupees you had in your savings account in 2019 is now worth a mere 500,000, because prices have risen. That is how a government taxes you outside the law: debase the currency. In an inflation afflicted economy, hoarding money is a fool’s game.

The smart game to play is to borrow to the limit, a kind of dishoarding (- negative hoarding) money. You borrow ten million now and five years later you pay 500 million because the value of money has fallen. US dollars are scarce in this economy. It is hoarded where it can wait until its price in Sri Lanka rises. Some politicians who seem to have been schooled in corruption to perfection have them stored elsewhere, as we have learnt from revelations in the international press. Electricity is not hoarded in large quantities because it is expensive to hoard. Petrol is not hoarded very much in households because it evaporates fast and is highly flammable. That does not prevent vehicle owners from keeping their tanks full in contrast to the earlier practice when they had kept tanks half empty (full). Consequently, drivers now hoard twice as much fuel in their tanks as earlier. Until drivers feel relaxed as to when they get the next fill, there will be queues. That should also answer the conundrum of the minister for energy who daily sent out more bowser loads out than earlier, but queues did not shorten.

As an aside, it is necessary to note that the scarcity economy, which has been brought about by stupid policies 2019-2022, and massive thieving from 2005 is partly a consequence of the fall in total output (GDP) in the economy. Workers in queues do not produce. The capital they normally use in production (e.g. motor cars, machines that they would otherwise would have worked at) lie idle. Both capital and labour idle and deny their usual contribution to GDP. Agriculture, industries, wholesale and retail trade, public administration, manufacturing and construction all of which have been adversely affected in various ways contribute more than 75% of total GDP. Maha (winter crop) 2021-22, Yala (spring crop) 2022 and Maha 2022-23 and fishing are all likely to have yielded (and yield) poor harvests. Manufacturing including construction are victims of severe shortages in energy and imported inputs. Wholesale and retail trade which depend directly on imports of commodities have been hit by the sharp drop in imports. Tourism, which is more significant in providing employment and foreign exchange, collapsed dreadfully since late 2019 and has not recovered yet. About 16 percent of our labour force work in the public sector. They have failed to contribute to GDP because they did not engage in productive work due to variegated reasons. Teachers were on strike for two months in 2021. In 2022, so far government employees have worked off and on. Wages of government employees are counted as contributions to GDP, by those that make GDP estimates. However, here is an instance where labour was paid but there was no output equal to the value of those wages. Such payments are rightly counted as transfers and do not count to GDP. For these reasons estimates of GDP for 2021 must be well below the 2020 level. The 3.6 growth in official estimates is unlikely. The likely drop in 2022 will be roughly of the same magnitude as in 2021. These declines are not dissonant with misery one sees in towns and the countryside: empty supermarket shelves, scant supplies of produce in country fares, scarce fish supplies, buses idling in parks and roads empty of traffic. There have been warnings from our paediatricians as well as from international organisations of wasting and probable higher rates of child mortality. It is this sort of sharp fall in wellbeing that engenders the desperation driving young and ambitious people to obtain passports to seek a living overseas. You can see those from mezzo-America amassed on the southern border of US. Will our young men and women end up beyond the wall of China?

Of this lowered supply of goods and services, this society is expected to pay a massive accumulated foreign debt. (Remember the reparation payments in the Versailles Treaty). In real terms it will mean that we forego a part of our lower incomes. Do not miss this reality behind veils of jargon woven by financial analysts. It is not something that we have a choice about. That is where international help may kick in. Gotabaya Rajapaksa government after much senseless dilly dallying has started negotiations with the IMF. There is nobody compelling our government to seek support from IMF. They are free go elsewhere as some who recently were in their government still urge. Examine alternatives and hit upon an arrangement not because it permits the family grows richer but because it will make life for the average person a little less unbearable.

If prices are expected to rise people will seek resources to hoard: money to buy commodities, space and facilities to hoard, security services to protect the property and much more. Rice producers cannot hoard their product because animals large as elephants and small as rodents eat them up. Because of the unequal distribution of resources to hoard, the poor cannot hoard. In a scarcity economy, the poor cannot hoard and famines usually victimise the poor, first and most. If prices are expected to fall, stocks are dishoarded to the market and prices fall faster and deeper. In either direction, the rate at which prices change and the height/depth of the rise/fall depends on the speed at which expectations of change in prices take place. A largescale rice miller claims he can control the price of rice at a level that the government cannot. His success/failure will tell us the extent of his monopoly power.

When commodities are scarce, in the absence of a sensible system of coupons to regulate the distribution, consumers will form queues. A queue is rarely a straight here, nor a dog’s tail (queue, in French, is a dog’s tail which most often crooked). Assembled consumers stagnate, make puddles and sometimes spread out like the Ganges, with Meghna, disgorges itself to the Bay of Bengal. They sometimes swirl and make whirlpools and then there is trouble, occasionally serious. There is order in a queue that people make automatically. To break that order is somehow iniquitous in the human mind. That is why breaking the order in a queue is enraging. For a queue to be disobeyed by anyone is infuriating, and for a politician to do so now in this country is dangerously injurious to his physical wellbeing.

The first cause of rising prices, hoarding and queues is the scarcity of goods and services in relation to the income and savings in the hands of the people.

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Terror figuring increasingly in Russian invasion of Ukraine

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In yet another mind-numbing manifestation of the sheer savagery marking the Russian invasion of Ukraine, a shopping mall in Ukraine’s eastern city of Kremenchuk was razed to the ground recently in a Russian missile strike. Reportedly more than a hundred civilian lives were lost in the chilling attack.

If the unconscionable killing of civilians is a definition of terrorism, then the above attack is unalloyed terrorism and should be forthrightly condemned by all sections that consider themselves civilized. Will these sections condemn this most recent instance of blood-curdling barbarism by the Putin regime in the Ukrainian theatre and thereby provide proof that the collective moral conscience of the world continues to tick? Could progressive opinion be reassured on this score without further delay or prevarication?

These issues need to be addressed with the utmost urgency by the world community. May be, the UN General Assembly could meet in emergency session for the purpose and speak out loud and clear in one voice against such wanton brutality by the Putin regime which seems to be spilling the blood of Ukrainian civilians as a matter of habit. The majority of UNGA members did well to condemn the Russian invasion of Ukraine close on the heels of it occurring a few months back but the Putin regime seems to be continuing the civilian bloodletting in Ukraine with a degree of impunity that signals to the international community that the latter could no longer remain passive in the face of the aggravating tragedy in Ukraine.

The deafening silence, on this question, on the part of those sections the world over that very rightly condemn terror, from whichever quarter it may emanate, is itself most intriguing. There cannot be double standards on this problem. If the claiming of the lives of civilians by militant organizations fighting governments is terror, so are the Putin regime’s targeted actions in Ukraine which result in the wanton spilling of civilian blood. The international community needs to break free of its inner paralysis.

While most Western democracies are bound to decry the Russian-inspired atrocities in Ukraine, more or less unambiguously, the same does not go for the remaining democracies of the South. Increasing economic pressures, stemming from high energy and oil prices in particular, are likely to render them tongue-tied.

Such is the case with Sri Lanka, today reduced to absolute beggary. These states could be expected ‘to look the other way’, lest they be penalized on the economic front by Russia. One wonders what those quarters in Sri Lanka that have been projecting themselves as ‘progressives’ over the years have to say to the increasing atrocities against civilians in Ukraine. Aren’t these excesses instances of state terror that call for condemnation?

However, ignoring the Putin regime’s terror acts is tantamount to condoning them. Among other things, the failure on the part of the world community to condemn the Putin government’s commissioning of war crimes sends out the message that the international community is gladly accommodative of these violations of International Law. An eventual result from such international complacency could be the further aggravation of world disorder and lawlessness.

The Putin regime’s latest civilian atrocities in Ukraine are being seen by the Western media in particular as the Russian strongman’s answer to the further closing of ranks among the G7 states to the Russian invasion of Ukraine and the issues growing out of it. There is a considerable amount of truth in this position but the brazen unleashing of civilian atrocities by the Russian state also points to mounting impatience on the part of the latter for more positive results from its invasion.

Right now, the invasion could be described as having reached a stalemate for Russia. Having been beaten back by the robust and spirited Ukrainian resistance in Kyiv, the Russian forces are directing their fire power at present on Eastern Ukraine. Their intentions have narrowed down to carving out the Donbas region from the rest of Ukraine; the aim being to establish the region as a Russian sphere of influence and buffer state against perceived NATO encirclement.

On the other hand, having failed to the break the back thus far of the Ukraine resistance the Putin regime seems to be intent on demoralizing the resistance by targeting Ukraine civilians and their cities. Right now, most of Eastern Ukraine has been reduced to rubble. The regime’s broad strategy seems to be to capture the region by bombing it out. This strategy was tried out by Western imperialist powers, such as the US and France, in South East Asia some decades back, quite unsuccessfully.

However, by targeting civilians the Putin regime seems to be also banking on the US and its allies committing what could come to be seen as indiscretions, such as, getting more fully militarily and physically involved in the conflict.

To be sure, Russia’s rulers know quite well that it cannot afford to get into a full-blown armed conflict with the West and it also knows that the West would doing its uttermost to avoid an international armed confrontation of this kind that could lead to a Third World War. Both sides could be banked on to be cautious about creating concrete conditions that could lead to another Europe-wide armed conflict, considering its wide-ranging dire consequences.

However, by grossly violating the norms and laws of war in Ukraine Russia could tempt the West into putting more and more of its financial and material resources into strengthening the military capability of the Ukraine resistance and thereby weaken its economies through excessive military expenditure.

That is, the Western military-industrial complex would be further bolstered at the expense of the relevant civilian publics, who would be deprived of much needed welfare expenditure. This is a prospect no Western government could afford to countenance at the present juncture when the West too is beginning to weaken in economic terms. Discontented publics, growing out of shrinking welfare budgets, could only aggravate the worries of Western governments.

Accordingly, Putin’s game plan could very well be to subject the West to a ‘slow death’ through his merciless onslaught on the Ukraine. At the time of writing US President Joe Biden is emphatic about the need for united and firm ‘Transatlantic’ security in the face of the Russian invasion but it is open to question whether Western military muscle could be consistently bolstered amid rising, wide-ranging economic pressures.

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At 80, now serving humanity

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Thaku Chugani! Does this name ring a bell! It should, for those who are familiar with the local music scene, decades ago.

Thaku, in fact, was involved with the original group X-Periments, as a vocalist.

No, he is not making a comeback to the music scene!

At 80, when Engelbert and Tom Jones are still active, catering to their fans, Thaku is doing it differently. He is now serving humanity.

Says Thaku: “During my tenure as Lion District Governor 2006/2007, Dr Mosun Faderin and I visited the poor of the poorest blind school in Ijebu Ode Ogun state, in Nigeria.

“During our visit, a small boy touched me and called me a white man. I was astonished! How could a blind boy know the colour of my skin? I was then informed that he is cornea blind and his vision could be restored if a cornea could be sourced for him. This was the first time in my life that I heard of a cornea transplant. “

And that incident was the beginning of Thaku’s humanity service – the search to source for corneas to restore the vision of the cornea blind.

It was in 2007, when Dr Mosun and Thaku requested Past International President Lion Rohit Mehta, who was the Chief Guest at MD 404 Nigeria Lions convention, at Illorin, in Nigeria, to assist them in sourcing for corneas as Nigeria was facing a great challenge in getting any eye donation, even though there was an established eye bank.

“We did explain our problems and reasons of not being able to harvest corneas and Lion Rohit Metha promised to look into our plea and assured us that he will try his utmost best to assist in sourcing for corneas.”

Nigeria, at that period of time, had a wait list of over 70 cornea blind children and young adults.

“As assured by PIP Lion Rohit Mehta, we got an email from Gautam Mazumdar, and Dr. Dilip Shah, of Ahmedabad, in India, inviting us for World Blind Day

“Our trip was very fruitful as it was World Blind Day and we had to speak on the blind in Nigeria.”

“We were invited by Gautam Mazumdar to visit his eye bank and he explained the whole process of eye banking.

“We requested for corneas and also informed him about our difficulties in harvesting corneas.

“After a long deliberation, he finally agreed to give us six corneas. It was a historical moment as we were going to restore vision of six cornea blind children. To me, it was a great experience as I was privileged to witness cornea transplant in my life and what a moment it was for these children, when their vision was restored.

“Thus began my journey of sight restoration of the cornea blind, and today I have sourced over 1000 corneas and restored vision of the cornea blind in Nigeria, Kenya and India till date.

“Also, I need to mention that this includes corneas to the armed forces, and their family, all over India.

“On the 12th, August, 2018, the Eye Bank, I work with, had Launched Pre-Cut Corneas, which means with one pair of eyes, donated, four Cornea Blind persons sight will be restored.”

Thaku Chugani, who is based in India, says he is now able to get corneas regularly, but, initially, had to carry them personally – facing huge costs as well as international travel difficulties, etc.

However, he says he is so happy that his humanitarian mission has been a huge success.

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