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Oranee Jansz

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by Rajiva Wijesinha

Oranee Jansz died last month after a brave battle with cancer, one day after her 77th birthday. I knew her for just less than half her life, having first met her when I joined the University of Sri Jayewardenepura in 1992.

I had moved there mainly to look after the English courses at Affiliated University Colleges, the brainchild of Arjuna Aluwihare. But of course USJP wanted to make greater use of me, both to restructure its English courses and build up a Department, and also to revitalize teaching of English to all students through the English Language Teaching Unit.

This latter request did not go down well with the host of long serving ladies who ran the ELTU at the time, and amongst the most opposed to the intrusion of an outsider was Oranee. But fortunately, before I took any steps, I engaged in a thorough survey of the customers as it were of the ELTU, the heads of the different Faculties and Departments whose students were supposed to learn English through the ELTU.

I found almost total despair as to what they saw as the incapacity to enthuse or teach well of the different ladies, but they all thought very highly of Oranee and asked me to allocate her to their students. I realized from that that she was an exceptional person and I treated her with great respect, to which in time she responded positively. I believe we bonded when we walked up one day from the shed which housed the ELTU to the main gate of the university, and she asked me whether I believed the assurances her colleagues had given me that their programme was going well. I think she was relieved when I told her I knew there were problems.

Prof Palihawadana, a thorough gentleman as that other great gentleman J B Dissanayake described him, was acting as Vice-Chancellor at the time given the kerfuffle about the appointment of the university Librarian, Mr Dorakumbura, as Vice-Chancellor. Palihawadana was a shrewd judge of character and ability and had wanted to make Oranee the ELTU head, since the lady who had been there had resigned when told that I would be asked to take charge of their programmes. But Oranee’s colleagues, who were I think nervous of her, protested, and the former head took over again.

Instead Oranee was asked to take charge of English for the medical faculty USJP had just started. This was a salutary measure for she did a great job, using the participatory techniques she had developed, and her students blossomed. In the strange world of Sri Lankan medicine, where established universities roundly condemn the new ones and claim standards are being lowered, with the new universities that achieve respectability then joining the old brigade to condemn newer ones, USJP has the distinction of being the university that soonest gained enough respect to join the charmed circle. And while this was obviously due to the excellence of its teaching staff, I believe too that the self confidence Oranee developed, along with excellent communicative confidence in English, contributed to the speed with which USJP doctors achieved parity with their peers.

Oranee selected her own team for the medical faculty, and made short shrift of one of the nastier of her peers who fell like a vulture on the Tamils we recruited after I was put in charge of English. Even Parvathi Nagasunderam, whom I had enticed from the NIE, was driven to tears by the viciousness, claiming that USJP had been free of Tamils earlier and there was no room there for terrorists. But she had been recruited to the Languages Department and decided that she would have nothing more to do with them. This was their loss at the time, though soon enough the younger staff there looked on her as mentor and inspiration, as did the products of the English Department she presided over for many years.

Less confident was a Tamil gentleman who had in fact settled in Colombo as a refugee from Tiger violence, totally unprepared for the onslaught of the Amazons. Oranee promptly took him under her wing, and he became a loved teacher for the Medical Faculty.

That was Oranee, a woman of infinite courage and kindness, and a fantastic and inspiring teacher. She developed her own course for the Medical Faculty but deigned to make use of some of the materials I had prepared, which fortunately the other ladies teaching other students did not resist, not least because I took on the book for the AUCs that the ELTU head had prepared. This book, ‘People’ was actually quite good and, though I had to do some editing, this was much less than was needed for the second book. As to that I was delighted when, after I had revised it thoroughly, Prof Chitra Wickramasuriya of Colombo who had been Consultant to the AUC programmes before I took over remarked enthusiastically that ‘Objects’ had been transformed.

My own productions were a set of Student Workbooks which I later divided into two texts, ‘A Handbook of English Grammar’ and a reader called ‘Read, Think and Discuss’. This latter was in collaboration with Oranee for by then she and I were working together as Coordinators of the pre-University General English Language Teaching programme, the GELT which we rechristened a Training programme.

I had got involved because, on coming back to Sri Lanka in 1993 from my stay at the Rockefeller Centre in Bellagio, I met Prof A J Gunawardena on the plane and he said that they had not been able to find anyone satisfactory to take over the GELT. He knew I was acquainted with the programme, for while at the British Council I had been commissioned by the Canadians to produce readers for the course. A J suggested I call Arjuna Aluwihare and offer my services.

I did so, for it fitted in well with the AUC work, but Arjuna told me he had asked Oranee to take it over. I suggested that I could work with her, which pleased him for I think he had been wary about what the traditionalists in the ELTU would have said about Oranee, whose original degree had been in Chemistry, though she had of course qualified since in ELT through the Colombo University Master’s programme. This was a professional course unlike the one year apology for a course that Kelaniya offered at the time (since, I believe, upgraded to a reasonable one).

Oranee was not I think pleased at my involvement for she had looked forward to doing her own thing, but she soon found that I had no intention of restricting her. I was delighted at the many ideas she had for developing initiative and thinking skills, well aware then as others in her field were not of the importance of what are now described as Soft Skills. She was a great believer in group work, in setting exercises to get students to develop and defend their own ideas, and then setting guidelines for developing a productive consensus.

We got on superbly in the little office allocated to us at the UGC, along with the staff who had started the programme way back in the late eighties, Mr Saparamadu, Lilani Samaranayake, the indefatigable typist Padma, and the stolid office aide Joseph. Oranee kindly took charge of the office work, including the checking and signing of innumerable vouchers, while I travelled to monitor the centres, making it to almost all of them including Mannar Island and Tirukkovil, closing those which had few students and lazy teachers, encouraging the many who did excellent work.

I tried to get Oranee to visit the centres, but she was a good family woman and did not like to leave her husband and children. But she was wonderful at the training sessions for staff we held regularly in the auditorium, trying to ensure that traditional talk was abandoned and group work with unobtrusive but clear guidance was done. And Oranee also developed a system of getting the centres to Colombo, or rather those who came to the finals of the competition we established for dramatization of the projects we insisted all students engage in. These proved wildly successful, and the enthusiasm of the students, to look into a local problem and propound solutions for problems, was a joy to see.

When we started work Oranee was not enthusiastic about my effort to ensure accuracy, for she was then in thrall to the theories of a man called Krashen who pushed fluency and claimed insistence on accuracy inhibited that. But before long she granted that errors would get entrenched unless corrected, and became even more enthusiastic than I was about accuracy. She became a great proponent of the Grammar Handbook, while I bowed to her wonderful imagination and gave her free rein to introduce innovative exercises in the companion reader.

These were much loved by students but of course no other university wanted to use them, since they all made much of what they termed the production of materials for which of course they were paid (neither Oranee nor I took any money for what we produced). Later, when I was moving away from the university system, and realized that no one else would ensure the books were kept in print, I accepted the offer of Cambridge University Press in India to publish the two texts under their Foundation Books imprint.

Oranee was pleased that I attributed sole authorship of ‘Explorations’, as CUP entitled ‘Read, Think and Discuss’, to her, and delighted that she received royalties for the book, which had not of course happened in Sri Lanka. Indeed CUP had the books prescribed by some Indian universities, so we did well out of them, though in Sri Lanka endemic jealousy makes it impossible for students at other universities to benefit thus.

Indeed this came home to me when a member of the current UGC asked me about the GELT materials we had used, since he had been put in charge of reviving the GELT course and thought there was no need to reinvent the wheel. I sent him details, but since then I gather that the traditionalists have stepped in, and I suspect the new effort at a GELT will be as disastrous as the GELT became at the turn of the century when the UGC decided to decentralize it. Within a couple of years of that decision the UGC closed the programme on the grounds that very few students attended, which was indeed the case in urban areas run by the old universities but of course by then there was little concern about the rural students who had been the main beneficiaries. Incidentally the bonding we had developed had stood the students in good stead during the rag but that confidence was no more after GELT was abolished.

Oranee by then had enough to do for she had finally been appointed to head the ELTU at USJP. Meanwhile I had used her, as well as Paru, for the training I embarked on when I took on responsibility for the reintroduction of English medium in government schools at the end of 2001. Sadly Ranil Wickremesinghe forbade the Minister renewing my contract to coordinate this in the middle of 2002, and the programme began to collapse, as indeed Ranil’s brother told me in urging me to persuade the Prime Minister to take remedial action (which did not happen though I am not sure whether his animosity to English medium or to me was the greater reason for this stubbornness).

Fortunately Chandrika revived the programme, and by then Oranee was retired from USJP so I could get her to work at the Ministry, where she headed the lovely team I set up in 2004 and 2005. Once again I was fascinated by how much she inspired the staff I had taken on from Sabaragamuwa.

I saw less of Oranee later, after I entered the world of public affairs, but we kept in touch and when I heard she had cancer I made it a point to see her regularly. That had to cease when COVID struck, but I kept in touch on the telephone, and resumed my visits over the last couple of months. And whereas towards the end of last year she seemed to be weakening, she was much more feisty in the last few months, and was a great pleasure to talk to. As usual she did not mince her words and, having been enthusiastic last year about GELT being revived, she too thought this year that the initiative had fallen prey to the incoherence that bedevils our system, and lots of people will make lots of money reinventing wheels and producing second rate materials.

But we talked about much more, mutual friends, students whom she had nurtured, politics, fellow academics about whom she had entertaining stories. And her zest for life was exemplified too when she insisted on seeing my dog, who was generally with me for I usually saw her when travelling to my cottage. His name is Toby, but she insisted that he had to have a surname that matched his distinguished appearance, and designated him Toby Parker Bowles.

That too, that zany zest for life, along with a deep affection for all those weaker than herself, a forceful commitment to social justice, an indefatigable appetite for action, and a vivid imagination, contribute to the memory of a wonderful colleague and a dear friend.



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Credibility in governance through elections and not security forces

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Ranil Wickremesinghe

By Jehan Perera

President Ranil Wickremesinghe’s warning that he is prepared to declare a state of national emergency and use the military to suppress any public protests for change of government would reflect the pressures he is under. The manner in which he has used the security forces to deal with the protest movement has been unexpected. His words and deeds are contradictory to what he has previously stood for as a five-time former prime minister. This is especially true in the case of the ethnic and religious minorities who have consistently voted for him and his party at elections. They have felt safer and more secure under his governments which always sought to reduce the heavy hand of state oppression in which national security is given pride of place. He has always promised them much though he has been unable to deliver on much of what he promised.

Notwithstanding the unfortunate rhetoric and actions of the present time the belief still persists that President Wickremesinghe is the best of the available options. Recent pronouncements of the president have reignited hope that he will address the problems of the religious and ethnic minorities. He has stated that he does not want to leave this problem to the next generation. He has said that he wants to resolve this intractable national problem by the country’s 75th independence anniversary on February 4 next year. The hope that the president will make a fresh effort to resolve their problems has led the main Tamil party, the TNA, to desist from voting against the budget which passed with a relatively small majority. Their spokesperson, M A Sumanthiran said in Parliament that due to the president reaching out to them, stretching out his hand, they did not vote against the budget although they disagreed with it.

It is not only in words that the president has reached out to the ethnic and religious minorities. Reports from the north and east indicate that the Maveer (Heroes) Day commemorations this year took place without incident. During the past two years scores of people were arrested and a massive presence of security forces blocked the people from participating in public events. On this occasion the security forces did not get involved in any attempt to stop the commemorations. University students distributed sweets and even cut a birthday cake to celebrate slain LTTE leader Velupillai Prabhakaran’s birthday. The analogy that the president drew to himself being seen as a Hitler who exterminated ethnic and religious minorities is misplaced. The release of those held under the Prevention of Terrorism Act for engaging in similar acts in the past would further contribute to the reconciliation process.

WORSENING CRISIS

In this context, the president’s use of militaristic rhetoric can only be understood in relation to the growing economic crisis that shows no sign of abating. The anticipated IMF bailout package is at risk of getting indefinitely delayed. It was initially anticipated to come in September then in November but now January is being targeted. Japan’s top brokerage and investment bank, Nomura Holdings Inc, has warned that seven countries – Egypt, Romania, Sri Lanka, Turkey, Czech Republic, Pakistan and Hungary – are now at a high risk of currency crises. Sri Lanka is in third place on the table of risk. The next devaluation of the rupee could see another spike in inflation that will make the cost of living even more unbearable to the masses of people.

The president is on record as having said that the economic crisis will get worse before it improves. Both anecdotal and statistical evidence indicates that it is indeed worsening. University teachers at the University of Sabaragamuwa reported that attendance in their classes was down by at least a quarter. Students who come from other parts of the country are unable to afford the cost of meals and so they stay at home. A study by the Institute of Policy Studies has shown that about four percent of primary, 20 percent of secondary and 26 percent of collegiate students had dropped out of school in the estate sector, which is the worst affected. The future costs to the country of a less well educated population is incalculable and inhumane.

As it is the situation is a dire one for large swathes of the population. Research from the University of Peradeniya has revealed that close to half of Sri Lanka’s population, 42 percent (up from 14 percent in 2019) are living under the poverty line. Professor of Economics Wasantha Athukorala has said there is a dramatic increase in the poverty level of over three-hold across the past three years. In 2019, nearly 3 million people lived below the poverty line, but that number has increased to 9.6 million in October 2022. In these adverse circumstances stability in a polity can be ensured either through legitimacy or through force. It would be tragic if the latter is the choice that is made.

ELECTORAL SOLUTION

President Wickremesinghe has been stressing the importance of political stability to achieve economic development. His recent statement that the security forces will be used to negate any unauthorised protest is a sign that the government expects the conditions of economic hardship to escalate. The general public who are experiencing extreme economic hardship are appalled at the manner in which those who committed acts of corruption and violence in the past are being overlooked because they belong to the ruling party and its cliques. The IMF has made anti-corruption a prerequisite to qualify for a bailout, calling for “Reducing corruption vulnerabilities through improving fiscal transparency and public financial management, introducing a stronger anti-corruption legal framework, and conducting an in-depth governance diagnostic, supported by IMF technical assistance.”

It is morally unacceptable even if politically pragmatic that the president is failing to take action against the wrongdoers because he needs their votes in parliament. As a start, the president needs to appoint a credible and independent national procurement committee to ensure that major economic contracts are undertaken without corruption. Second, the president needs to bite the bullet on elections. The country’s burning issues would be better accepted by the country and world at large if they are being dealt with by a statesman than by a dictator. Government that is based on the people’s consent constitutes the sum and substance of democracy. This consent is manifested through free and fair elections that are regularly held. Local government elections have been postponed for a year and are reaching their legal maximum in terms of postponement. These elections need to be held before March next year.

Elections will enable the people to express their views in a democratic manner to elect their representatives for the present. This would provide the government with guidance in terms of the decisions it is being called to take to revive the economy and place the burden in a manner that will be acceptable to the people. The provincial council elections have been postponed since 2018. Democratically elected provincial councils share in the burdens of governance. The devolution of power that took place under the 13th Amendment was meant to promote ethnic harmony in the country. The president who has taken the position that he is for a solution to the ethnic conflict should seriously consider conducting the provincial council elections together with the local government elections se their financial costs. By doing so he will also gain legitimacy as a democratic statesman and not a dictator.

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WEDNESDAY – Movie Review

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The Addams Family is back with a new tale to tell! Originally created by Charles Addams as a comic strip published in The New Yorker, it offered readers a sarcastic take on the ‘typical nuclear family’ by substituting it with a more macabre bunch of strange and eerie individuals. Since then the titular family has been adapted on to the big screen many times, from live action movies to animated versions, the Addams Family has gained many fans throughout the years. Created by Alfred Gough and Miles Millar, with Tim Burton working on four episodes of the eight-part series, Wednesday is a welcoming tale for young fans, but unfortunately fails to think outside the box and remains anchored to the floor with a messy storyline.

Dead-eyed Wednesday Addams (Jenna Ortega) is a stubborn, independent and intelligent teenager in this new series. Her penchant for attracting trouble wherever she goes alarms her parents, Morticia (Catherine Zeta-Jones) and Gomez (Luis Guzmán). With an already strained relationship with her parents (specifically her mother), Wednesday is enrolled at Nevermore, an academy for outcasts like herself. Having attended the academy themselves, Morticia and Gomez are hopeful that their daughter will ‘fit right in’. Caught between trying to build her own identity and other teenage complexities, Wednesday soon finds herself in the middle of a twisted mystery.

This is the first time audiences are introduced to a teenage Wednesday, which allowed the creators to build a new world on their own terms, but while keeping true to the original nature of the character. The creators do a fair amount of world building by introducing other outcasts like the Fangs (vampires), Stoners (Gorgons), Scales (sirens) and Furs (werewolves), among others. Nevermore Academy itself is beautiful and comes with the classic package of creepy crypts, hidden rooms and secret societies. The series also offers a decent amount of gore, although they could have added more given Wednesday’s proclivity for gore-related activities. The series deals with classic young-adult tropes which includes teenage crushes, bullies, relationships and even prom, among other things. The series navigates through Wednesday’s journey of self-discovery, which is a new avenue for both the character and the fans. From understanding and displaying her emotions to discovering her identity and understanding her peers, the series takes a deep dive into heavy material.

Ortega’s performance as the titular character plays a major role in keeping audiences glued to the screen. This is also the first time viewers are shown a teenage Wednesday Addams, which works to Ortega’s benefit as she depicts more dimensions to the ghoulish, morose character many are associated with based on previous renditions. Her facial expressions and ability to deliver on seriously emotional moments strengthens her role as the lead. The rest of the Addams Family, even with limited screen time, lack the eccentricities their characters should have. Hopeless romantics Morticia and Gomez seem incompatible in this version and Uncle Fester is far less crazy than he ought to be. The only member worth mentioning is the Thing—a severed hand— who brought more character and spirit to the series acting alongside Ortega. With barely any room to develop a majority of the characters are prosaic and tedious, even though they remain vital to the plot.

Apart from Ortega, Gwendoline Christie and Emma Myers deserve honorable mentions for their roles as Nevermore’s head teacher, Larissa Weems and the peppy Enid Sinclair respectively. Enid quickly became a fan favorite as the character was the polar opposite to Wednesday. Her character is vital to Wednesday’s character development and their journey to find common ground as mismatched individuals is amusing.

Christina Ricci who played Wednesday in the 90s returns as ‘normie’ teacher, Miss Thornhill and unfortunately barely stands out and this in large part due to the messy storyline. The series is bogged down with numerous subplots and overlapping tropes and the characters with potential for growth are completely overlooked. With love triangles, bullies and killer monsters on the loose, the series self-destructs and the climax sinks into disappointment.

At the end of the day, Wednesday plays to the beat of the new generation and touches on new themes, which is welcoming seeing as the character should grow up at some point. While not everyone may relate to Wednesday’s teenage perils, it is interesting to witness her growth and her journey as an ‘outcast’ or ‘weirdo’. And while Wednesday doesn’t exactly offer a distinctly unique story, it gives audiences a small taste of what Jenna Ortega’s Wednesday is capable of. Creating a story around a well-established franchise is a difficult task, and in this case the creators fail to add value to their visions. If the series continues, the creators will have the opportunity to think further outside the box and push the limits to Wednesday’s character and give audiences a bone-chilling experience. Wednesday is currently streaming on Netflix.

 

 

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Stage set for… AWESOME FRIDAY

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The past few weeks have been a very busy period for the new-look Mirage outfit…preparing themselves for their big night – Friday, December 2nd – when they would perform, on stage, for the very first time, as Donald Pieries (leader/vocals/drums), Benjy (bass), Niro Wattaladeniya (guitar), Viraj Cooray (guitar/vocals), Asangi Wickramasinghe (keyboard/vocals), along with their two frontline female vocalist, Sharon (Lulu) and Christine.

They have thoroughly immersed themselves in their practice sessions as they are very keen to surprise their fans, music lovers, and well-wishers, on opening night…at the Peacock, Berjaya Hotel, in Mount Lavinia.

Action starts at 8.00 pm and, thereafter, it will be five hours of great music, along with EFFEX DJs Widhara and Damien, interspersed with fun and excitement…for the whole family!

Yes, opening night is for the whole family, so you don’t need to keep some of your family members at home – kids, especially.

Working on their repertoire for Friday, bassist Benjy says “what we will dish out will be extra special, with lots of action on stage.”

It would be interesting to see Sharon (Lulu) doing her thing with Mirage, after her early days with the Gypsies, and, I’m told, a dynamic performance from Sharon is what is in store for all those who make it to the Peacock this Friday

Edward (Eddy) Joseph (centre) with Donald and Benjy

While the band was at one of their practice sessions, last week, they had a surprise visitor – Edward (Eddy) Joseph, a former member of the group Steelers, who is now based in Germany.

Eddy is here on a short visit and is scheduled to return to Germany, tomorrow (30).

He spent an hour with Mirage, at their practice session, and says he is disappointed that he would not be around for the group’s opening night.

However, there is a possibility of several well-known personalities, in the showbiz scene, turning up, on Friday night, to experience the sounds of the new-look Mirage, including Sohan Weerasinghe and Joey Lewis (from London).

Rajiv Sebastian, too, says he is keen to be a part of the fun-filled evening.

You could contact Benjy, on 0777356356, if you need to double check…their plans for AWESOME FRIDAY!

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