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On a Desert Island

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by Dr Nihal D Amerasekera

We’ve had a turbulent couple of years with Covid-19 and its variants. Lockdowns and its inescapable incarcerations were a trial on how to cope with loneliness. Solitude is also an opportunity to think rationally. I was shut out from the outside world for long periods. The mind then began to concentrate on what is important in life and what I can do without. It was an interesting exercise to think of the bare minimum required to maintain my sanity and survive until I was able to join the rest of the world. Money cannot buy happiness. Happiness is a state of mind which is difficult to define and often hard to achieve even if we have everything we need.

Desert Island discs is a BBC Radio programme which has been on the air since 1942. This year marks its 80th anniversary. This has been named the greatest radio programme of all time by a panel of industry experts. It is now a great British Institution.

The programme invites high-profile guests to appear on the show. Each guest is called a “castaway” and is asked to select pieces of music, books and any luxury items they wish to take with them if they were to drift away inexorably into an uninhabited island. It is an interesting exercise to think what your choices would be and what really matters to you.

We take so much for granted in our lives. It is so hard to imagine a situation being alone and so far removed from people and current events. I vividly recall reading Jonathan Swift’s Gulliver’s Travels and Daniel Defoe’s Robinson Crusoe as a teenager which brought home to me the perils, desolation and the utter loneliness of being marooned in an island. Sleeping beneath the trees one could also find true peace and freedom there. The stories made me appreciate company, courage and human endurance.

The castaway’s choice is limited to eight recordings, one book and one luxury item. A music player is included. The luxury item has to be inanimate – so no mobile phones, laptops, iPads, TV etc. Call it divine help – food and drink will be provided!! It is not known when and how one will be rescued – No divine help there!!

The past programmes of Desert Island Discs are available online. It is interesting to discover what people like Alfred Hitchcock, David Attenborough, Margaret Thatcher, Bill Gates, Helen Mirren, Whoopi Goldberg, Ted Dexter and Tony Blair have selected and the reasons for their choice. One famous British TV personality chose Rod Stewarts “Sailing” in her grief to remember the death of her son. The lyrics of that piece of music encompasses her despair. I found it hard to hold back my tears. Our selections will always resonate with our own experiences of life. I sincerely hope you would find this an interesting exercise and also give you a useful insight into your psyche. Do share your experiences of being a castaway.

The opening theme music for Desert Island discs was composed in 1942 by Eric Coates. The theme music is a haunting melody called Sleepy Lagoon which is so simple yet so bewitchingly beautiful. The tune begins with the squawking seagulls and the crashing of waves. This fine melody transports me across the wide oceans and vast stretches of land to the peace and tranquillity of the Negombo Lagoon. From 1956-58, my parents lived in Katunayake when it was a beguilingly attractive small town. The lagoon was at the back of our house. On an evening, with the setting sun, I often sat at the waters-edge with the wind whistling on my face. I watched the fishermen go out to work. The sky took on a deep crimson glow at sunset as flocks of birds flew in V-formation. This enchanting scene captures the beauty of old Ceylon which has now largely disappeared.

Music:

Making this selection is not easy. It is virtually the soundtrack of my life’s journey. The advice is to let your heart rule your head. The choice is made more for the memories they bring than for the music. I have thought long and hard and made my selections.

1. Sunil Santha – Ambilimame It brings back wonderful memories of my childhood growing up in Nugegoda in the 1940’s and 50’s. When visitors arrived we were encouraged to sing a song. I sang Ambilimame with my three cousins. Sadly two of them are now no more. Humans have been fascinated by the moon since the beginning of time. It now seems like the moon was bigger and brighter when we were kids!! The fine lyrics of the song depicts childhood innocence and their magical world of fantasy.

2. Yaad Kiye Dile Ne – The music is from the Hindi film of 1953 called Patita. The song was so beautifully sung by Lata Mangheskar and Hemant Kumar. When I hear the melody it always takes me back to the love and affection of my grandfather. I loved him dearly. He was gentle, kind and a noble man from Kandy. He was a sage, a philosopher, a man with many stories and an expert in country lore. Grandfather took me to the Metro Theatre, Nugegoda to watch Hindi and Sinhala films. I was given an ice cream at the interval and a pocket full of sweets for later. These just about made up for being bitten by bugs in those theatre seats.

3. During the morning Christian worship at my old school we sang many beautiful Hymns. One that stuck with me is “Guide Me O Thou Great Jehovah” for the sheer beauty of its melody and the lyrics. This was a popular hymn with the boys. We sang it with such gusto and so much feeling we nearly lifted the roof. This hymn is still very popular and was sung at the wedding of Prince William & Catherine Middleton in Westminster Abbey. The Hymn brings back wonderful memories of those carefree schooldays.

4. Nothing brings back memories of the Faculty of Medicine than the music of the Beatles. One that stands-out is that timeless piece called “Hard days Night“. It’s a reminder of the feeling of release from the hard grind and study while dancing at King George’s Hall to the music of the Harold Seneviratne Combo. Looking around the dance hall I can still picture Razaque Ahamat, Sidath Jayanetti and Bernard Randeniya gyrate in gay abandon. Sadly, none of them are alive today.

5. In 1991 our elder son Steve was leaving the Kingshott Preparatory School in Hertfordshire, UK. He was called upon to play Mozart Clarinet Concerto which he played with zest and eloquence, age 13. I was in the audience and felt deeply emotional and so very proud. This piece was published posthumously and was Mozart’s last major instrumental composition. The piece reminds me of a very happy time in my life.

6. In the Summer of 1996 my younger son, Andrew, was leaving Bedford School in UK. At the School’s Annual Festival of Music he played George Gershwin’s Rhapsody in Blue on the piano with the school orchestra. Andrew looked so dapper in his cream formal attire and blue bow tie. With the integration of jazz rhythms with classical music this composition soon became very popular and the most performed of all American concert works. Being biased, I would say it was beautifully played and a polished performance. This will indeed remain in my memory for the rest of my days.

7. The 1945 romantic drama Brief Encounter is a film I remember for its simple story and the brilliant acting of Trevor Howard and Celia Johnson. It is enduringly popular and considered as one of the greatest films of all time. Sergei Rachmaninoff’s Piano Concerto No. 2 is played all through the film where its beautiful melody wraps around the story most elegantly. This piece of music is also considered as one of the finest concertos of all time. I have such fond memories of watching this film with my younger son, Andrew, in his flat on the 23rd floor on a warm night in Hong Kong.

8. I was born in Kandy, that beautiful citadel in the hills. Although I have lived in the UK for nearly half a century the love and yearning for that warm tropical sunshine has never left me. Every winter I wait patiently for the Spring to arrive and the leaves to appear and the flowers to bloom. All through those cold and wet days and dark nights of winter it is Beethoven’s Spring Sonata that brings life to my soul. It is also called the Violin Sonata No. 5 in F major, Op. 24. The sonata is for violin and piano and is in four movements. All four of them are brilliant pieces of music but I have a special preference for the sublime and heart-rending second movement also called Adagio molto espressivo.

Books:

Every castaway receives a religious text of his/her choice and the Complete Works of Shakespeare as a matter of routine. I would take the King James version of the Holy Bible which was a large part of my life growing up in Ceylon.

Princess Margaret and Ian Fleming are among the many castaways who’ve selected Tolstoy’s War and Peace as their book choice. To select just one book to take with me isn’t easy. For a long spell as a castaway, I did think of The Prophet by Kahlil Gibran and The Art of Happiness by the Dalai Lama. These would help me to clean up my act when I am rescued!! After much thought I have selected Nelson Mandela’a autobiography “Long Walk to Freedom“.

As a country South Africa has been through the mill. It is now on a roller-coaster. From 1948-94 politics was dominated by Afrikaner nationalism with racial segregation and white minority rule, known officially as apartheid. From 1962 the armed struggle of the ANC against apartheid was led by Nelson Mandela. From 1964 to 1982 Mandela was incarcerated at Robben Island Prison, off Cape Town. I have visited the prison and seen for myself the rigid and harsh conditions.

It is so hard to imagine how he maintained his sanity being behind bars for so long. The regime was brutal. He had tremendous courage to stand up to the tyranny. Nelson Mandela returned to normal life after 28 years of incarceration. He led the country to majority rule and showed great willingness to forgive and reconcile. This indeed showed his wisdom and true greatness. The probity, dignity and honesty with which he led the country is a lesson for all politicians.

Luxury item:

The desert Island discs radio programme lasts approximately 45 minutes. During this time there is an interesting dialogue between the presenter and the castaway. Often the discussion is amusing and entertaining. Occasionally it takes a naughty turn. When pretty Kirsty Young was the presenter, one of the castaways wanted to take her as the luxury item, which of course she flatly refused.

Pianos, guitars and binoculars are the most-requested luxuries. But I would go for pen and paper. Writing is one of the greatest of human inventions. This has helped mankind enormously to learn, teach, discover, communicate, invent and make life so wonderful for everyone. I cannot imagine a world without writing and the written word.



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Responding to our energy addiction

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by Ranil Senanayake

Sri Lanka today is in the throes of addiction withdrawal. Reliant on fossil fuels to maintain the economy and basic living comforts, the sudden withdrawal of oil, coal and gas deliveries has exposed the weakness and the danger of this path of ‘development’ driven by fossil energy. This was a result of some poorly educated aspirants to political power who became dazzled by the advancement of western industrial technology and equated it with ‘Development’. They continue with this blind faith even today.

Thus, on December 20th 1979, an official communiqué was issued by the Government and displayed in the nation’s newspapers stating, “No oil means no development, and less oil, less development. It is oil that keeps the wheels of development moving”. This defined with clarity what was to be considered development by the policy-makers of that time. This fateful decision cast a deadly policy framework for the nation. The energy source that was to drive the national economy would be fossil-based. Even today, that same policy framework and its adherents continue. Everything, from electricity to cooking fuel, was based on fossil energy.

The economics of development, allows externalizing all the negative effects of ‘development’ into the environment, this being justified because, “industrialisation alleviates poverty”. The argument, is that economies need to industrialise in order to reduce poverty; but industrialisation leads to ‘unavoidable emissions. Statements like, ‘reduction in poverty leads to an increase in emissions’ is often trotted out as dogma. Tragically, these views preclude a vision of development based on high tech, non-fossil fuel driven, low consumptive lifestyles. Indeed, one indicator of current ‘development’ is the per capita consumption of power, without addressing the source of that power.

A nation dependent on fossil fuel is very much like an addict dependent on drugs. The demand is small, at first, but grows swiftly, until all available resources are given. In the end, when there is nothing else left to pawn, even the future of their children will be pawned and finally the children themselves! Today, with power cuts and fuel shortages, the pain of addiction begins to manifest.

The creation of desire

This perspective of ‘development’, the extension of so-called ‘civilised living’ is not new to us in Sri Lanka, Farrer, writing in 1920, had this to say when visiting Colombo:

“Modern, indeed, is all this, civilised and refined to a notable degree. All the resources of modern culture are thick about you, and you feel that the world was only born yesterday, so far as right-thinking people are concerned.

And, up and down in the shade of glare, runs furiously the unresting tide of life. The main street is walled in by high, barrack like structures, fiercely western in the heart of the holy East, and the big hotels upon its frontage extend their uncompromising European facades. Within them there is a perpetual twilight, and meek puss-faced Sinhalese take perpetually the drink orders of prosperous planters and white-whiskered old fat gentlemen in sun hats lined with green. At night these places are visible realisation of earthly pleasure to the poor toiling souls from the farthest lonely heights of the mountains and the jungle.” The process goes on still …

Develop we must, but cautiously – with the full awareness of the long-term consequences of each process. Development must be determined by empowering the fundamental rights of the people and of the future generations. Clean air, clean water, access to food and freedom from intoxication, are some of these fundamental rights. Any process that claims to be part of a development process must address these, among other social and legal fundamental rights.

One problem has been that, the movement of a country with traditional non-consumptive values, into a consumerist society based on fossil energy tends to erode these values rapidly. Often, we are told that this is a necessary prerequisite to become a ‘developed country’, but this need not be so. We need to address that fundamental flaw stated in 1979. We need to wean ourselves away from the hydrocarbon-based economy to a carbohydrate-based economy. Which means moving from a fossil fuel-based economy to a renewable energy-based economy.

Fossil Fuels or fossil hydrocarbons are the repository of excess carbon dioxide that is constantly being injected into the atmosphere by volcanic action for over the last 200 million years. Hydrocarbons are substances that were created to lock up that excess Carbon Dioxide, sustaining the stable, Oxygen rich atmosphere we enjoy today. Burning this fossil stock of hydrocarbons is the principal driver of modern society as well as climate change. It is now very clear that the stability of planetary climate cycles is in jeopardy and a very large contributory factor to this crisis are the profligate activities of modern human society.

As a response to the growing public concern that fossil fuels are destroying our future, the fossil industry developed a ‘placating’ strategy. Plant a tree, they say, the tree will absorb the carbon we emit and take it out of the atmosphere, through this action we become Carbon neutral. When one considers that the Carbon which lay dormant for 200 million years was put into the atmosphere today, can never be locked up for an equal amount of time by planting a tree. A tree can hold the Carbon for 500 years at best and when it dies its Carbon will be released into the atmosphere again as Carbon Dioxide.

Carbon Dioxide is extracted from the atmosphere by plants and converted into a solid form through the action of photosynthesis. Photosynthetic biomass performs the act of primary production, the initial step in the manifestation of life. This material has the ability to increase in mass by the absorption of solar or other electromagnetic radiation, while releasing oxygen and water vapor into the atmosphere. It is only photosynthetic biomass that powers carbon sequestration, carbohydrate production, oxygen generation and water transformation, i.e., all actions essential for the sustainability of the life support system of the planet.

Yet currently, it is only one product of this photosynthetic biomass, sequestered carbon, usually represented by wood/timber, that is recognized as having commercial value in the market for mitigating climate change. The ephemeral part, the leaves, are generally ignored, yet the photosynthetic biomass in terrestrial ecosystems are largely composed of leaves, this component needs a value placed on it for its critical ‘environmental services’

With growth in photosynthetic biomass, we will see more Oxygen, Carbon sequestering and water cleansing, throughout the planet. As much of the biomass to be gained is in degraded ecosystems around the planet and as these areas are also home to the world’s rural poor, these degraded ecosystems have great growth potential for generating photosynthetic biomass of high value. If the restoration of these degraded ecosystems to achieve optimal photosynthetic biomass cover becomes a global goal, the amazing magic of photosynthesis could indeed help change our current dire course, create a new paradigm of growth and make the planet more benign for our children.

Instead of flogging the dead horse of fossil energy-based growth as ‘Economic Development’, instead of getting the population addicted to fossil energy, will we have the commonsense to appreciate the value of photosynthetic biomass and encourage businesses that obtain value for the nations Primary Ecosystem Services (PES)? The realization of which, will enrich not only our rural population but rural people the world over!

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Australia-Sri Lanka project in the news…Down Under

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The McNaMarr Project is the collaboration between Australian vocalist and blues guitarist, John McNamara, and Andrea Marr, who is a Sri Lankan-born blues and soul singer, songwriter and vocal coach.

Her family migrated to Australia when she was 14 and, today, Andrea is big news, Down Under.

For the record, Andrea has represented Australia, at the International Blues Challenge, in Memphis, Tennessee, three times, while John McNamara has also been there twice, representing Australia.

Between them, they have 10 albums and multiple Australian Blues awards.

Their second album, ‘Run With Me,’ as The McNaMarr Project, now available on all platforms, worldwide, has gone to No. 1 on the Australian Blues and Roots Sirplay charts, and No. 12 on the UK Blues charts.

Their debut album, ‘Holla And Moan,’ released in 2019, charted in Australia and the US Blues and Soul charts and received rave reviews from around the world.

Many referred to their style as “the true sound of soulful blues.”

= The Rocker (UK): “They’ve made a glorious album of blues-based soul. And when I say glorious, I really mean it. I’ve tried to pick out highlights, but as it’s one of the records of this year – 2019 – (or any other for that matter) it’s tricky. You have to own this.”

= Reflections in Blue (USA): “Ten original tunes that absolutely nail the sound and spirit of Memphis soul. Marr has been compared to Betty Lavette and Tina Turner and with good reason. She delivers vocals with power and soul and has a compelling stage presence. McNamara’s vocals are reminiscent of the likes of Sam & Dave or even Otis Redding. This is quality work that would be every bit as well received, in the late 1950s, as it is today. It is truly timeless.”

= La Hora Del Blues (Spain): “Andrea Marr’s voice gives us the same feeling as artistes, like Betty Lavette, Tina Turner or Sharon Jones, perfectly supported by John McNamara’s work, on vocals and guitar…in short words, GREAT!”

Yes, John McNamara has been described as an exceptional vocalist, guitarist and songwriter, whose voice has been compared to the late great Sam Cooke and Otis Redding, while Andrea Marr often gets compared to the likes of Tina Turner, Gladys Knight and Sharon Jones.

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Manju Robinson’s scene…

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Entertainer and frontline singer, Manju Robinson, is back, after performing at a leading tourist resort, in the Maldives, entertaining guests from many parts of the world, especially from Russia, Kazakhstan, Germany, Poland…and Maldivians, as well.

His playlist is made up of the golden oldies and the modern sounds, but done in different styles and versions.

While preparing for his next foreign assignment…in the Maldives again, and also Dubai, Manju says he has plans to do his thing in Colombo.

Manju has performed with several local bands, including 3Sixty, Shiksha (Derena Dreamstar band), Naaada, Eminents, Yaathra, Robinson Brothers, Odyssey, Hard Black and Mark.

He was the winner – Best Vocalist and the Best Duo performer – at the Battle of the Bands competition, in 2014, held at the Galadari Hotel.

In 2012, he won the LION’s International Best Vocalist 2012 award.

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