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Our ride into the sunset



by Dr Nihal D Amerasekera

I am writing this as a septuagenarian. Having worked most of my professional life in England my thoughts are coloured by the laws and healthcare in the UK. The fundamentals and the basic principles of my message will ring true wherever in the world one lives.

“Media vita in morte sumus” – In the midst of life we are in death. This is the first line of a Gregorian chant circa 1300. This rings true now as it did all those years ago. Presently we battle through our lives in the midst of Covid-19. For septuagenarians like myself, in the autumn of our lives, there are many other pitfalls that lurk just around the corner.

At any age we all lust for longevity. Although we all will face it someday, our aversion to talk about death is universal. This is partly due to the fear of the unknown and also not wanting to tempt fate. During my childhood grim legends abounded and tales were told of death, devils and the darkness of hell. These daunting images continue to colour my thoughts even now. It is true there is little point in talking about death when we are young and healthy. The scene changes irrevocably when we become septuagenarians. This is the time to bite the bullet and face reality while still able to enjoy the good life.

Life expectancy has risen considerably in our lifetime. Perhaps, professionally, we have helped to make this happen. In the United Kingdom the life expectancy for men is 79 and for Women 82. Living longer has many benefits. It is indeed so wonderful to see our own grandchildren grow-up and perhaps also to see their children too. But there is a price to be paid while the years take their toll on us. The sudden deaths that took away our parents and our grandparents don’t happen anymore. We just live longer.

Our bodies continue to wither away as the years pass. A fistful of tablets and an earful of advice keep us going. The joints continue to creak and the back aches as we trundle along. I can feel the gradual decline and the loss of energy as the months pass. I am not as steady on my feet as I was last year. Gravity is gradually trying to take over when I walk or try to maintain my erect posture for long. These issues that are rather trivial now will only get worse with time. If I live long enough I will need help for walking, feeding and ablutions. This may be with a carer at home or in an institution. This requires careful thought and judicious planning.

Life must have an end. A rapid exit is everyone’s dream. Unlike for the previous generations the end for us may not be swift. Cancers or degenerative nervous diseases like strokes, dementia and Parkinsonism are some of the common ways to exit this world. Departing this life is never pleasant. Then again we will need help in the way of a carer or be confined to an institution. These issues need careful planning now when we are compos mentis. Importantly the family should be consulted. They must be aware of our choices that may have significant financial implications. We must remember it is their pain and burden too. They must have the information to discuss with us the feasibility of our plans.

To plan ahead we must make an informed choice. For this the doctors must provide us with the information with frankness and honesty. Thankfully, in the new millennium, the conceit and the patronising pomposity that existed in the medical profession has large melted away. This has resulted in far better rapport between the doctor and the patient. When confronted with a terminal illness we need to know the prognosis, the positive and negative implications of treatment and also of having no treatment. Before making a choice It is essential to weigh up the implications of a range of alternatives, some of which may be “off the menu”.

It is wise to leave written instructions as to our care including treatments we do not want to have. This is legally binding and is called the Advance Decision to Refuse Treatment (A living will). I know some have instructions not to be resuscitated. Some want all treatment stopped including antibiotics. We can also allow someone else to make the decisions for us when we can’t. This is called the Legal Power of Attorney. Some cancer patients do not want any treatment. They do not wish to prolong life not wanting the stress and struggle of radiotherapy and chemotherapy and its many unpleasant side effects. It is imperative the doctor should discuss the quality of life on treatment. Many others show great resilience and courage in continuing and completing the treatment schedule and we respect their choice.

If terminally ill I should have the right to end my life. This issue has come into prominence in the UK in several high-profile cases of Motor Neurone Disease and Multiple Sclerosis that reached the Supreme Court. Adequate safeguards must be built in for this. In the UK there has been a shift in common morality for euthanasia and assisted suicide both of which are illegal under English law. Some go to Dignitas in Switzerland, a place for assisted suicide, to end their lives. Ending one’s life is a last resort. The National Health Service provides good palliative care as well as providing psychological, social and spiritual support.

The answers to the many questions that arise and the solutions to the many problems that surface will vary according to our personal circumstances. It is paramount that the wishes of the patients and their relatives are respected. I am merely raising awareness to a common problem we will all face sooner or later. As I write I know of 90 year olds, like Queen Elizabeth II and the Duke of Edinburgh, who are still smiling, enjoying life and their families. But they are no doubt in the minority. Some still cling to the old fashioned, laid-back and carefree mindset “Que sera sera” – Whatever will be will be!! This may just leave our loved ones in the dark about an issue which may be long and protracted and financially draining.

Making that final journey to exit from this world is something we must all do in the fullness of time. This challenging journey may take from a few days to a few months. Professional medical input is vital during this period to remain free of pain and to receive psychological and physical support. We must leave behind the sadness and regrets of the past, taking with us only those happy and joyful memories. In the lonely waking hours one may wish to walk with God for comfort and support or focus the mind on meditation and mindfulness. Some receive comfort from the “Mozart effect” of listening to soothing classical music. There is a lot of helpful advice available from professionals, carers and institutions to reach that final destination with dignity.

As much as there is no holding back the night, there is no hope of a second dawn. I feel we leave this earth never to return again. I seek the wisdom of that great Roman Poet Horace “NON OMNIS MORIAR” (Not all of me will die). Our children and grandchildren are shaped by the genes they inherit from us. They smile and laugh like us and even may think like us at times. They will carry our baton into the future.

For septuagenarians, their minds are much calmer now. There is no burning ambition or desire to chase money or position. We have done our caring for our progeny. Once we have made our choices for our parting it is so important to return to our regular routine. It serves no purpose to dwell on death and dying. We will deal with it when it comes. It is so true we will not pass this way again. So enjoy the beauty of nature, the charm of the countryside and seeing the birds and the bees. The company of family and friends will continue to bring us joy.  It is only then we can dare to sing that famous song “Que sera sera” .

Here are my best wishes for a happy and peaceful journeys end.


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Development after the elections



By Jehan Perera

Many years ago, former Government Agent of Jaffna, Dr Devanesan Nesiah, explained the northern sentiment when elections were taking place.  He said there was apprehension about the possible turn of events over which they had no control.  The minority status of the Tamil people would invariably mean that their future would be determined by the outcome of the power struggle in the south of the country.  I was reminded of these words of Dr Nesiah during discussions organised by the Civil Society Platform in the northern towns of Vavuniya and Jaffna on the democratic challenges arising from the forthcoming elections.

The main theme, at the present elections in the south, and most of the country, has been the need to elect a strong government and to give it a 2/3 majority to change the constitution, accordingly.  The response in Vavuniya and Jaffna, by the members of civil society, was that a strong government would not heed the wishes of the people. Like people in other parts of the country, they felt let down by the political leaders and said they did not know for whom to vote.  The issues that they highlighted as being their concerns were economic ones, such as the lack of jobs for youth and the harm to families caused by an unregulated micro credit scheme that made them vulnerable to the predatory actions of money lenders.

The civil society members, in the towns of Vavuniya and Jaffna, did not take up the issue of the 19th Amendment and the possible threat to civil society space that the speakers from the south put before them. This indicated a longer term need to have educational programmes on the importance of the rule of law and judicial independence, in particular, to ensure justice and non-discrimination.  But they also did not comment or discuss the manifesto put out by the main Tamil political party, the TNA, which addressed longstanding issues of the Tamil polity, including self-determination, federalism, the merger of the Northern and Eastern provinces or the newer post-war issues of missing persons and accountability for war crimes.


The absence of public debate, at the civil society meetings in the north on the political dimension at the forthcoming elections, may reflect a wariness about speaking publicly on politically controversial matters. Civil society groups throughout the country have been reporting there is more police surveillance of their work. The fear of falling into trouble and being seen as anti-government may have restrained the participants at the civil society meeting in the north from expressing their true feelings. On the other hand, there is also the reality that existential issues of jobs, loans and incomes are of immediate concern especially in the context of the Covid-induced economic downturn. The short term concerns of people are invariably with economic issues.

One of the salient features of the present elections has been the general unwillingness of even the main political parties to address any of the issues posed by the TNA.  This would be due to their apprehension of the adverse fallout from the electorate. It could also be due to their lack of ideas regarding the way forward. Apart from the 19th Amendment, another impediment to a strong government, that is identified by its proponents is the 13th Amendment. In the run up to the elections, there have been calls for the abolition of the 13th Amendment, which created the devolved system of provincial councils, along with the 19th Amendment that directly reduced the power of the presidency and increased the independence of state institutions. The provincial councils have been emasculated by denying them of both resources and decision making power and are condemned for being white elephants.

It has been noted, by the political commentator D B S Jeyaraj, that the TNA’s choice of focusing on issues of transitional justice, in dealing with war time violations of human rights, led to the TNA aligning itself with Western powers. This did not yield the anticipated benefits as the previous government failed to implement many of its commitments in regard to transitional justice. It would have been better to have focused instead on getting the provincial councils in the north and east to engage in more development-oriented work which would have met the existential needs of the people.


Jeyaraj has also surmised that if the TNA had chosen the path of utilising the provincial council system for development work, it could have obtained support from India, which had been the co-architects of the provincial council system, in 1987, along with the then Sri Lankan government. India has a moral obligation to contribute to developing the north and east of the country where the war raged in full fury and led to immense destruction. India’s role in destabilising Sri Lanka and enhancing the military capacity of the Tamil armed groups, including the LTTE, is a bitter and abiding memory which the journalist Shamindra Ferdinando has written extensively about.

A creative suggestion made during the civil society discussion in Jaffna was for the provincial councils to implement what governments have promised to implement but have failed to do. An example given was that of reparations to war victims. The previous government pledged to set up a system of reparations in terms of the UNHRC resolution in 2015. But, although an Office for Reparations was established, very little was done. The question was whether the provincial councils in the north and east could not have utilised their resources for the purposes of instituting schemes of reparations as it would be clearly within the policy framework of the government.

While the issues in the TNA’s manifesto will remain perennial ones to the Tamil polity, the people are looking for political leaders who will deliver them the economic benefits in the same way as in the rest of the country. The civil society meetings in the north suggests that the northern people are not showing priority interest in political issues as they believe these are non-deliverable at the present time. Instead of using its majority status in parliament and seeking to abolish the 13th Amendment, and the provincial council system, and creating a crisis with the Tamil polity and India, the new government would do better to work through them to meet the material needs of the people. They need to also realize limits of the constitution, and focus on social, economic and political pluralism and promote values of tolerance, pragmatism, cooperation and compromise, and consent of the governed.


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A blazing story!



The local showbiz scene is ablaze with a story about the members of a particular band, who indicated that they are undergoing a tough time, abroad, because of the coronavirus pandemic.

It was a video, showing the members pouring forth their difficulties, and earnestly requesting the authorities concerned to bring them back home, that got others to move into action…and the truth has come out.

After having looked into their situation, extensively, knowledgeable sources say that the video contained a load of lies and, according to reports coming our way, the band has now been blacklisted by the authorities for lying about their situation.

These guys have, apparently, gone on Holiday Visas and have, thereby, contravened the Visa conditions.

The story going around is that they have had problems, within the band, as well.

The authorities, in Sri Lanka, are aware of the situation, in that part of the world, but there are many others who are waiting to get back home and, they say, musicians can’t get into the priority list.

So, it’s likely to be a long wait for these guys before they can check out their hometown again!


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Top local stars to light up ARISE SRI LANKA



Richard de Zoysa’s brainchild, ARISE SRI LANKA, is going to create an awesome atmosphere, not only locally, but abroad, as well.

This telethon event will feature the cream of Sri Lankan talent, said Richard, who is the Chairman of Elite Promotions & Entertainment (Pvt) Ltd.

Put together as a fund-raiser for those, in the frontline, tackling the coronavirus pandemic, in Sri Lanka, ARISE SRI LANKA will bring into the spotlight a galaxy of local stars, including Noeline Honter, Damian, Mahindakumar, Rukshan, Melantha, Jacky, Ranil Amirthiah, Mariazelle, Trishelle, Corinne, Sohan, Samista, Shean, Rajitha, Umara, April, Shafie, Dr. Nilanka Anjalee Wickramasinghe, Kevin, Ishini, and Donald.

Mirage is scheduled to open this live streaming fun-raiser, and they will back the artistes, assigned to do the first half of the show.

Sohan & The X-Periments will make their appearance, after the intermission, and they, too, will be backing a set of artistes, scheduled to do the second half.

The new look Aquarius group, led by bassist Benjy Ranabahu, will also be featured, and they will perform a very special song, originally done by The Eagles, titled ‘There’s A Whole In The World.’

The lyrics are very meaningful, especially in today’s context where the coronavirus pandemic has literally created holes, in every way, and in every part of the world.

Aquarius will be seen in a new setting, doing this particular song – no stage gimmicks, etc.

The finale, I’m told, will be a song composed by Noeline, with Melantha doing the musical arrangements, and titled ‘Arise Sri Lanka.’

The programme will include songs in Sinhala, and Tamil, as well, and will be streamed to many parts of the world, via TV and social media.

Richard says that this show, scheduled for August 29th, is in appreciation of the work done by the frontliners, to keep the pandemic, under control, in Sri Lanka.

“We, in Sri Lanka, can be proud of the fact that we were able to tackle the Covid-19 situation, to a great extent,” said Richard, adding that even the World Health Organisation (WHO) has acknowledged the fact that we have handled the coronavirus pandemic, in an exceptional way.

The team, helping Richard put together ARISE SRI LANKA, include Noeline Honter, Sohan Weerasinghe, Donald Pieries, from the group Mirage, Benjy Ranabahu, and the guy from The Island ‘Star Track.’


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