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Not just her good karma

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By Uditha Devapriya
Review of Sandya Salgado’s Not Just My Good Karma
2019, Rs. 2,500, 326 pages

One of the best anthropological studies of advertising ever written, Steven Kemper’s Buying and Believing charts the growth of the industry in Sri Lanka from the early 20th century. Kemper argues that advertising in the country was largely uneconomic in character until 1977. Companies advertised because they had to, not because they wanted to. There were several large-scale advertising agencies, many of them setting up shop during the Sirimavo Bandaranaike years. But limited to English-speaking audiences and middle-class tastes, their work hardly reached the Sinhala and Tamil speaking masses.

Everything changed after 1977. Responding to the UNP government’s liberalisation of the economy, the advertising industry grew by 20 percent a year. A whole spate of reforms, including the privatisation of State enterprises and the reduction of import tariffs, led to intrusions of not just foreign capital and investment, but also foreign, specifically Western, consumer tastes and preferences. These had a considerable effect on the industry. Unlike earlier, when agencies pandered to more sophisticated tastes, they began shifting to a local idiom. Thinking in English then, they began working in Sinhala and Tamil now. The advent of television, free trade zones, and garment factories only fuelled these trends.

Sandya Salgado’s entry into advertising coincided with this period. Armed with a degree in languages “and a head full of dreams”, she wrote to three agencies. Rejected by the first of them, she was interviewed by the second and hired by the third. Beginning her career in 1983, she shifted to other agencies with the years and ended almost three decades later. Not Just My Good Karma is an account of all those years. Lucidly written and accessible, it is at once a memoir and a study of a much vilified, little understood industry.

The book is in three sections. In the first, Sandya dwells on her hometown, Panadura. In the second, the longest, she walks us through the many agencies and outfits she worked at. In the third, she recounts what she did after leaving the industry, including a brief stint at the World Bank. She wraps it all up by insisting that she still hasn’t retired.

There’s a deeply personal touch in the first section. That has a lot to do with where Sandya hails from and what moulded her upbringing, but also, I think, with the fact that Panadura, her home town, is in many ways my hometown too. Sandya summons a melange of personal anecdotes and historical facts. She dwells on caste, class, religion, and politics, and how they intermingled at a time of deep political and social change.

Hardly a defender of the past, she nevertheless limits her memories to observations. Yet she often throws in a comment or two, as in her take on how social class determined where, and more importantly how, you sat in Panadura.

“Those who came for monetary gain mostly entered from the rear of the house, the kussi pila. They would speak standing while achchi would sit on a wooden sofa and listen to their tales of woe… The next social class of persons sat on the steps of the house while achchi would be seated on a chair facing them. There would be another class of people who were not invited into the drawing room, but would be requested to sit in the pila, the verendah of the house, as the drawing room was for special and distinguished guests… There was an underlying class system that prevailed in the welcoming of guests those days which we didn’t make a big deal about but accepted silently.

These are fascinating insights, and they fascinated me. What’s intriguing about them is how Sandya broke away from such strictures, rebelling against the place assigned to the women of the family. One of the first women in Panadura to drive a car, her mother encouraged this streak in her while “tactfully making us change our views to something less controversial or impractical.” As a result of such influences and encounters, Sandya came to sway between two worlds, of rebellion and pragmatism. She revelled in both, keeping in line with a Sinhala middle-class upbringing while defying the limits of such an inheritance.

Perhaps it’s the advertiser in her, or perhaps it’s how close she is to her hometown, but Sandya’s observations are surprisingly sharp and penetrative. At one level they are almost anthropological, especially her observations on caste and class in Panadura society, much of which make up a particularly edifying epilogue. The bottom line is that they all turned her away from conventional fields while empowering the career woman in her: one reason why she never pursued higher education beyond her Bachelor’s. It was with the latter degree, in fact, that she entered advertising, where she found herself a total misfit.

“I was not from Colombo, didn’t smoke or drink andI wore a saree – not the most common attire in advertising. Apart from not having any sensational stories about my sex life to share, I had a particular qualification: my Sinhala was better than my English. But what set me apart was that I was proud to acknowledge this fact openly.”

Throughout the 1980s the country’s leading advertising agencies went on a creative binge, outdoing each other locally and even internationally. The results were some of the most prodigiously creative campaigns to emerge from the industry. Handling accounts initially at TAL, then moving on to Grants, Sandya found herself in the thick of it all. Starting with CIC (Dulux Paints) and Anchor at TAL, she began coordinating bigger and more lucrative clients at Grants, including Ranasinghe Premadasa. It was her work for Premadasa, specifically for the Gramodaya project the latter oversaw during his presidency, which became her baptism of fire. From there on, for Sandya at least, it was uphill all the way.

What’s particularly interesting are the finer, little details that Sandya remembers from this period. Simply put, she doesn’t ignore anything. Working at an advertising agency then was obviously different to working at one now. How clients saw creatives and how creatives saw each other made up life in

the industry. That is why anecdotes are so important: because it’s the most personal encounters which often sparked off the most creative ideas.

“One morning when I was travelling to work, I saw a child less than 10 years old, not more than two and a half feet tall, carrying a load bigger than himself. The radio in my car was playing the song ‘Nobody’s Child.’ This immediately made me want to fight for children’s rights. I remember sitting with my ever-willing creative team to share my idea of developing a campaign against child abuse and they were on board with no questions asked.”

This, of course, was the origin of one of the most effective public service campaigns in the country’s history. It was, however, hardly the only one Sandya conceptualised and oversaw. Think of the two most innovative campaigns from this period: the child immunisation drive, and the polio eradication ads featuring Neela Wickramasinghe. Sponsored by UNICEF, both achieved their objectives, enabling Sri Lanka to achieve Universal Child Immunisation status and to eradicate polio completely by 1993. Both bore Sandya’s imprint, though they had to be promoted against much scepticism and opposition.

“I remember how the UNICEF team went completely quiet when [the idea of using Neela for an emotional plea over polio] was suggested. The nay-sayers had many excuses against this idea but I kept insisting that this would be a winner if we only could get Neela to agree… I recall meeting Neela at her home where she lived with her mother… Neela not only agreed promptly, but said she would appear for the campaign free of charge.”

In his book, Steven Kemper notes a rather curious paradox: While advertising executives tried to get closer to the local idiom through Sinhala and Tamil speaking audiences in the 1980s, their cultural conditioning made this gulf impossible to bridge. It was much later that agencies tried to go beyond media-centred communications, approaching rural audiences head-on. Kemper’s account ends in the late 1990s, around the time Sandya left conventional advertising, as she puts it, and entered Ogilvy Rural. A media-neutral agency, Ogilvy Rural, which later became Ogilvy Action, sought to do what advertising had failed to: reaching the broader masses. This was a gap agencies had not really addressed until then.

As usual Sandya found herself in the thick of things. Forming a network of young district coordinators, attempting and failing to woo Unilever with the new approach, and gradually striking gold with Dulux, Singer, Commercial Bank, Reckitt Benckiser, Maliban, and a host of other national and multinational brands, she came up with some of the most unforgettable campaigns from recent times, taking their messages to rural and suburban audiences. In this she had clear and definite ideas about what they should be aiming at.

“In my whole career I had never ever submitted or worked on a single piece of creative for the sake of an award… This was a concept I could never fathom and in fact I clashed many a time with my contemporaries in the industry on this topic. For me the first award comes from the consumer, when they accept and respond positively to our message. The second award is if the sales needle moves due to the campaign and of course the third and final one is the response I get from a contented client.”

In other words, winning awards was never a priority. Yet many of these campaigns did scoop up several prizes. More importantly, they gave us some of the most memorable one-liners ever to come out from the industry, including Maliban’s yahagunayen idiriyeta and Dialog’s gihin enakan, not to mention my personal favourite, Signal’s sinaha bo wewa.

It is to Sandya’s credit that she never took her commitment to these clients as an excuse to pollute, deface, and obstruct public spaces. She was particularly candid about what she calls “responsible communications.” Whether it was a Lifebuoy mobile shower in Kataragama or an Eveready makeshift lighthouse along “a dark, rural road”, she always tried to preserve. In doing so she emphasised the need for subtlety, and understatement.

“My eternal fight with the brand managers was not to ‘over-brand’ and clutter these sacred locations. I wanted it to be more a service with minimal commercialisation. When I couldn’t convince the Unilever activation team to be subtle, I would always complain to Amal and he would intervene, as he understood the importance of being mindful of the environment. This of course was my ongoing battle on many of the campaigns we worked on: to be as subliminal as possible with branding.”

Almost 30 years after joining TAL, Sandya Salgado left advertising in 2011. Working at the World Bank, then coming back home and setting up a travel agency, she has since refused to resign. At the end of the book she strikes a particularly optimistic note.

“Being forthright has been my trademark and ‘saying as it is’ was my thing. Age and maturity have made me bite my tongue more frequently and now, I smile, nod and shut up. This helps heaps. It’s now a conscious decision. My friends have said I am like Marmite: either I am loved or hated. How true!”

It’s difficult to read Not Just My Good Karma and not think of the years she spent in the field as the most rewarding anyone could have hoped for. This is an account of how life used to be in one of the more formative periods in the country’s and the industry’s history. Bringing together a galaxy of writers, designers, thinkers, and doers, ad agencies delivered on briefs, moved the sales needle, and contributed to the country’s pop culture. To paraphrase Steven Kemper, it was a time when companies advertised not because they had to, but because they wanted to. Sadly for us, this is a time that may never come back again.

The writer can be reached at udakdev1@gmail.com



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Features

Glimmers of hope?

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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

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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.

FERTILISER ISSUE

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.

Recommendations

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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Features

Thomians triumph in Sydney 

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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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