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Paranavitana on Hora Miniha, mistress to the world and sweet mangos



Dr. Senarath Paranavitana, the first Sri Lankan Commissioner of Archaeology, was one of the world’s foremost Archaeologists, who was famous for his discovery and interpretation of Sri Lankan monuments and rock edicts. About five miles to the East of the Galle town is the Metaramba Village. He was born in this village at Mabotuwanage Watta, on December 26, 1886, and was named Senarath by the Nayake Thera of the Yatagala Temple. The house where he was born does not exist now.

His mother passed away when he was just a child. He went to the village school from his married elder sister Sopaya’s house. From the village school, he joined the Buona Vista English School about two miles away. It was a difficult journey on foot, through jungle patches and paddy fields. His sister gave him one cent a day as pocket money, which he saved to buy books. After he joined the Archaeological Department, he gratefully sent a monthly payment to this sister of his, till her demise. The Buona Vista English School was founded in 1814 and boasts of other distinguished old boys like Sir Oliver Goonetilleke, the first Sri Lankan Governor-General, President Abdul Gayoom of the Maldives, the celebrated author Martin Wickremasinghe, National hero Dr. W.A. de Silva, and the patriot E.W Perera.

In his quest for knowledge in Sinhala, Pali and Sanscrit, he went to the Heenatigala Pirivena, after school, which was also two miles away. This resulted in his having to walk eight miles a day! One day he was going to the Pirivena over the ridges of the paddy fields, memorizing a sanscrit stanza, glancing at the book he was carrying, from time to time, when all of a sudden he fell into a muddy-pool. Having washed the mud, he proceeded and reached the Pirivena. Seeing him drenched, the Nayaka Thera laughed loud and asked him as to what exactly happened to him?

On leaving school, he served as a teacher in English in several schools before he joined the Archaeological Department, which he served with distinction, later to become its head as the first Sri Lankan Commissioner of Archaeology ushering in a golden age. His resounding success did not make him forget his native village of Metaramba, a rare trait when many a villager who achieve VIP status breaks ties with their kith and kin and the village.

When he was engrossed in literary work, he went to sleep around 2 or 3 a.m, getting up at 7.00 a.m., notwithstanding the sporadic attacks of Malaria and attended to his duties.

As a form of relaxation he liked to play card games like Bridge. He also loved to see Charlie Chaplin films and Russian Ballets.

Some of his monumental works were ‘Archaeological Survey of Ceylon’, ‘The Stupa in Ceylon’, ‘Epigraphia Zeilanica Graffiti’, ‘Ceylon and Malasiya and Sinhalayo’. After his retirement as the Commissioner of Archaelogy, he functioned as a professor of Archaeology at the University of Peradeniya. It is ironical that without a formal university education he came to be a professor. He was very popular with the university students who affectionately called him ‘The 20th Century Paranavitana.’ Once at an International Archaeological Conference, held in Ceylon, Dr. G.P. Malalasekera, who presided, introduced Dr. Paranavitana thus; “There is only one Dr. Senarath Paranavitana in the world. Here is he.” When Queen Elizabeth and the Duke of Edinburgh visited Sri Lanka, Dr. Paranavitana accompanied them to the historic sites. In recognition of his erudite scholarship and laudable services rendered, he was conferred the honour of C.B.E. (Commander of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire) by the Queen.

On hearing that there was an ancient statue in semi ruinous state, at a far off village, he went to see it. But it was not there. The villagers told him that as the statue was limestone, they prepared chunam out of it, for their quids of betel. This story is laced with humour. One day a teacher told a pupil that his handwriting was illegible, adding that not even Dr. Senarath Paranavitana would be able to read it. One day he was explaining some details of a matter pertaining to archaeology in English to a French State Guest, when the guests, wife said something in French belittling Dr. Paranavitana. Then, to her utter embarrassment, Dr. Paranavitana immediately switched to French.

Nowadays when some misguided individuals are making attempts to prove that Buddha was born in Sri Lanka, Dr. Paranavitana in his day announced that he was not able to say that Buddha visited Sri Lanka, due to lack of archaeological evidence. Dr. Paranavitana was once asked who in his opinion were the greatest monarchs of Sri Lanka. He said that they were King Dutugemunu, who drove away the Dravidians, and King Wijayabahu the Great, who drove away the Chola invaders, who for 77 long years ruled at Polonnaruwa and Anuradhapura, adding that they both hailed from Ruhuna.

Paranavitana went shopping in Colombo one day. As he was unusually late to come back, his driver went out looking for his master, when he saw him seated in another car. “What the hell were you doing all this time?” he asked the driver, “Sir! You are seated in someone else’s car,” said the driver. “Is that so,” said Paranavitana, and walked back to his own car. One day he was on his way to Anuradhapura, passing through jungle patches, with hardly any other vehicles on the road. All of a sudden he saw some distance away, a group of monkeys seated on the middle of the road. He told the driver not to proceed further and to take the car to a side until they finished their Raja Sabha meeting!

Another day he was engaged in archaeological excavation of a possible king’s cremation site. When he came for lunch and was in the process of taking his shoes off, an excavator came running and told him that ashes have surfaced from the site. As it was a welcome sign, he ran to the site with a sock in one leg. He was of the opinion that the word ‘Dhusta’ in ‘Dhusta Gamini’ meant brave in ancient Sinhala and not cruel or wicked.

Once he was invited to deliver a lecture at the Vidyodaya University. It was largely attended. Among the attendees were a number of Vice-Chancellors of the universities. Looking around and seeing them, he said that he was happy to see such a large number of Vice-Chancellors present, to hear him. Then in lighter vein, he proceeded to analyse the Sinhala word ‘Upa Kulapathi’ which is now used for a vice-chancellor. He said that, as between a wife and her husband in a family, the husband, of course, as the head of the family is known as ‘Gedera Miniha’ or Kulapathi. The word ‘Upa Kulapathi’ therefore means ‘Hora Miniha’ (paramour or husband substitute!) The audience roared with laughter.

Another day he analysed the word ‘Kawthukagaraya’. He said that the Sinhala word ‘Katugeya’ suggests museum. He said that this word means the room occupied by a newly-wed couple in the consummation of marriage. On another occasion he said that Parakramabahu VI had a daughter named ‘Lokanathaa’ which means ‘Lokayatama Hamine’ (mistress to the whole world). Referring to the designation ‘Sahakara Lekam’ of some Government Departments, Paranavitana said that the word ‘Sahakara’ means ‘Sweet Mango’, adding drily that if that the incumbent happens to be a lady, it would make some sense.

When he was supervising some excavations in a distant part of the country, he was in the habit of motoring down to his home in Colombo every weekend. One day some of the younger officers in the excavation party thought they could ‘rag’ their beloved chief, and ringing up every police station on the way, told them that such-and-such a car-bearing such-and-such a number, was transporting cannabis to Colombo. At the first two police stations, Dr. Paranavitana’s car was stopped and searched thoroughly and when it was stopped at the third police station, the revered scholar thought it was enough, and asked the Officer-in-Charge whether he could take a telephone call to the IGP.

With great reluctance the OIC allowed him to do so, and the way Dr. Paranavitana addressed the IGP made the OIC almost shoot out of his chair. “Richard,” said Dr. Paranavitana and went on to explain what was happening adding that it was obviously some fellow’s idea of a joke. (Then IGP Sir Richard Aluwihare, was a very close friend of his.) Sir Richard apologised profusely to the Commissioner for the inconvenience and ordered the OIC to provide him with a police escort right up to Colombo.

On October 4, 1972, he passed away at the age of 72. It was reported that his library was sold for Rs. 25,000,00 to a citizen in Jaffna (Anyway, three hearty cheers! to the Public Trustee).

He was truly a great son of the soil nay a staunch son, of Ruhuna! There will never be another like him.


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Foreign policy dilemmas increase for the big and small



‘No responsible American President can remain silent when basic human rights are violated.’ This pronouncement by US President Joe Biden should be interpreted as meaning that the supporting of human rights everywhere will be a fundamental focus of US foreign policy. Accordingly, not only the cause of the Armenians of old but the situation of the Muslim Uyghurs of China will be principal concerns for the Biden administration.

However, the challenge before the US would be take this policy stance to its logical conclusion. For example, the murder of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi was one of the most heinous crimes to be committed by a state in recent times but what does the Biden administration intend to do by way of ensuring that the criminals and collaborators of the crime are brought to justice? In other words, how tough will the US get with the Saudi rulers?

Likewise, what course of action would the US take to alleviate the alleged repression being meted out to the Uyghurs of China? How does it intend to take the Chinese state to task? Equally importantly, what will the US do to make light the lot of Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny? These are among the most urgent posers facing the US in the global human rights context.

Worse dilemmas await the US in Africa. Reports indicate that that the IS and the Taliban have begun to infiltrate West Africa in a major way, since they have been compelled to vacate the Middle East, specially Syria and Iraq. West African countries, such as, Mali, Burkina Faso, Nigeria and Mauritania are already facing the IS/Taliban blight. The latter or their proxies are in the process heaping horrendous suffering on the civilian populations concerned. How is the US intending to alleviate the cruelties being visited on these population groups. Their rights are of the first importance. If the US intends to project itself as a defender of rights everywhere, what policy program does it have in store for Africa in this connection?

It does not follow from the foregoing that issues of a kindred kind would not be confronting the US in other continents. For example, not all is well in Asia in the rights context. With the possible exception of India, very serious problems relating to democratic development bedevil most Asian states, including, of course, Sri Lanka. The task before any country laying claims to democratic credentials is to further the rights of its citizens while ensuring that they are recipients of equitable growth. As a foremost champion of fundamental rights globally, it would be up to the US to help foster democratic development in the countries concerned. And it would need to do so with an even hand. It cannot be selective in this undertaking of the first importance.

The US would also from now on need to think long and deep before involving itself militarily in a conflict-ridden Southern country. Right now it is up against a policy dilemma in Afghanistan. It is in the process of pulling out of the country after 20 years but it is leaving behind a country with veritably no future. It is leaving Afghanistan at the mercy of the Taliban once again and the commentator is right in saying that the US did not achieve much by way of bringing relief to the Afghan people.

However, the Biden administration has done somewhat well in other areas of state concern by launching a $1.9 trillion national economic and social resuscitation program, which, if effectively implemented could help the US people in a major way. The administration is also living up to the people’s hopes by getting under way an anti-Covid-19 vaccination program for senior US citizens. These ventures smack of social democracy to a degree.

The smaller countries of South Asia in particular ought to be facing their fair share of foreign policy quandaries in the wake of some of these developments. India, the number one power of the region, is in the throes of a major health crisis deriving from the pandemic but it is expected to rebound economically in an exceptional way and dominate the regional economic landscape sooner rather than later.

For example, the ADB predicts India will recover from an 8% contraction in fiscal 2020 and grow by 11% and 7% this year and next year. South Asia is expected to experience a 9.5% overall economic expansion this year but it is India that will be the chief contributor to this growth. A major factor in India’s economic fortunes will be the US’ stimulus package that will make available to India a major export market.

For the smaller states of South Asia, such as Sri Lanka, the above situation poses major foreign policy implications. While conducting cordial and fruitful relations with China is of major importance for them, they would need to ensure that their relations with India remain unruffled. This is on account of their dependence on India in a number of areas of national importance. Since India is the predominant economic power in the region, these smaller states would do well to ensure that their economic links with India continue without interruption. In fact, they may need to upgrade their economic ties with India, considering the huge economic presence of the latter. A pragmatic foreign policy is called for since our biggest neighbour’s presence just cannot be ignored.

The Sri Lankan state has reiterated its commitment to an ‘independent foreign policy’ and this is the way to go but Sri Lanka would be committing a major policy mistake by tying itself to China too closely in the military field. This would send ‘the wrong signal’ to India which is likely to be highly sensitive to the goings-on in its neighbourhood which, for it, have major security implications. A pragmatic course is best.

In terms of pragmatism, the Maldives are forging ahead, may be, in a more exceptional manner than her neighbours. Recently, she forged closer security cooperation with the US and for the Maldives this was the right way to go because the move served her national interest. And for any state, the national interest ought to be of supreme importance.

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A Sri Lankan centre for infective disease control and prevention



The need of the hour:

BY Dr B. J. C. Perera

MBBS(Cey), DCH(Cey), DCH(Eng), MD(Paed), MRCP(UK), FRCP(Edin), FRCP(Lon), FRCPCH(UK), FSLCPaed, FCCP, Hony FRCPCH(UK), Hony. FCGP(SL)

Specialist Consultant Paediatrician and Honorary Senior Fellow, Postgraduate Institute of Medicine, University of Colombo, Sri Lanka.

On 01st July 1946, the Communicable Disease Center (CDC) of the United States of America opened its doors and occupied one floor of a small building in Atlanta, Georgia. Its primary mission was simple, yet highly challenging. It was to prevent malaria from spreading across the nation. Armed with a budget of only 10 million US dollars, and fewer than 400 employees, the agency’s early tasks included obtaining enough trucks, sprayers, and shovels necessary to wage war on mosquitoes.

It later advanced, slightly changed its name, and transformed itself into the much-acclaimed and reputed Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). It became a unique agency with an exceptional mission. They work 24/7 to protect the safety, health and security of America from threats there and around the world. Highest standards of science are maintained in this institution. CDC is the nation’s leading science-based, data-driven, service organization that protects the public’s health. For more than 70 years, they have put science into action to help children stay healthy so they can grow and learn, to help families, businesses, and communities fight disease and stay strong and to protect the health of the general public. Their are a bold promise to the nation, and even the world. With this strategic framework, CDC commits to save American lives by securing global health and America’s preparedness, eliminating disease, and ending epidemics. In a landmark move, the CDC even established a Central Asia regional office at the U.S. Consulate in Kazakhstan in 1995 and have been involved in public health initiatives in that region.

More recently, the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC), was established. It is an agency of the European Union, aimed at strengthening Europe’s defences against infectious diseases. The core functions cover a wide spectrum of activities such as surveillance, epidemic intelligence, response, scientific advice, microbiology, preparedness, public health training, international relations, health communication, and the scientific journal Eurosurveillance.

Still later on, the African CDC (ACDC) was born. It strengthens the capacity and capability of Africa’s public health institutions, as well as partnerships, to detect and respond quickly and effectively to disease threats and outbreaks, based on data-driven interventions and programmes.

All these organisations are autonomous, independent, and are confidently dedicated to hold science to be sacred. They play a major role in advocacy and work in a committed advisory capacity. With the cataclysmic effects of the current coronavirus pandemic COVID-19, the contributions made by these institutions are priceless. What is quite important is that they are able to provide specific recommendations based on the latest scientific information available for countries and nations in their regions, even taking into account the many considerations that are explicit and even unique to their regions. All these organisations have been provided with optimal facilities and human resources. The real value of their contribution is related to just one phenomenon: AUTONOMY.

Well…, isn’t it the time for us to start a Sri Lankan Centre for Infective Disease Control and Prevention (SLCIDC)? It should be formulated as an agency constantly striving, day in and day out, to safeguard the health of the public. Science and unbending commitment to evaluation of research on a given topic should be their operating mantra. It would work as a completely apolitical organisation and what we can recommend is that it would be directly under the President of the Democratic Socialist Republic of Sri Lanka, unswervingly reporting to and accountable to the President. It would consist of medical doctors, scientists and researchers but no politicians of any sort, no non-medical or non-scientist persons, no hangers on and no business persons. All appointments to the SLCIDC will be made by the President of the country, perhaps in consultation with medical professional organisations.

The prime duty of the SLCIDC would be to assess the on-going situation of any infective issue that has any effect on the health of the public. The organisation will undertake in-depth examination and assessment of a given situation caused by an infective organism. They need to have all relevant data from within the country as well as from outside the country. There will not be any vacillation of the opinions expressed by them and their considered views should not be coloured by any consideration apart from science and research done locally and worldwide. Their considered opinion would be conveyed directly to the President of the country. They are free to issue statements to keep the public informed about the results of their deliberations.

We believe that it would be a step in the right direction; perhaps even a giant step for our nation, not only during the current coronavirus pandemic but also on any major problems of an infective nature that might occur in the future.


This writer wishes to acknowledge a colleague, a Consultant Physician, who first mooted this idea during a friendly conversation.

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Kudurai Madiri Pona



The big jumbo has come from the French land and as the French themselves say it is ‘annus mirabillis’ the miracle year, finally, and finally the wait is over. The world will now see the Big- Bus that we all waited for so long to see. As the years roll by, none would talk of delays regarding the delays on delivery dates and how late the bird flew in. These would be like words written on a blackboard, erased forever. But the aeroplane will grace the sky and, perhaps rewrite all the records of commercial aviation when the mega-miracle A380 dominates the international air-routes.

Singapore Airlines went into the record books as the launch customer. Some of my old friends from SIA would fly the A380. Perhaps, Luke would, too, and this story is about him. Luke of yesteryear and how he first flew as a cadet and how young Luke and I went romping the skies in our own special way, writing a few new lines in the flight training manual.

Luke was from Johor Baru, in Malaysia. His roots were in South India where years ago his grandfather had done a Robinson Crusoe and ended up in the Malayan Peninsula. Luke was named after one of the four Gospel scribes. Luke really isn’t his name. It is a pseudonym, I use just to give him some anonymity. Not much protection, but one is to three are playable odds. Like in Rumple stiltskin the manikin, you are welcome to guess the name.

We first flew to Seoul. He, straight out of flying College, and yours truly, as old as the hills, driving the ‘Jumbo’ classic, the lovable 747. The first thing I noticed about him was his socks, black and white diamond shapes, a mini version of the flags they swing at Grand Prix finals – if Luke swung his feet, a Ferrari would pass underneath. That we sorted out the first day itself. In Seoul,he went shopping and the next day he was Zorro, waist to toe, black as a crow.

His flying credentials were all there, somewhat mixed up between what they teach in modern flying schools and how to apply the ‘ivory tower’ jargon to cope with the big 747. As for raw handling of the aeroplane, all his skills were intact, only they were in bits and pieces and spread in places like an Irida Pola (Sunday Fair). They had to be streamlined, the wet market needed to be modified to a ‘Seven-Eleven’ – that was my job.

The next round we went flying to Europe, his first run to the unknown, like Gagarin in his Sputnik, young Luke flew to Rome. The flying was same as before, a bit mixed up amidst the hundreds of aero dynamical paraphernalia that spelled out from the encyclopaedic collection of books that he had to study.

That’s when I decided to change the tide.

‘Luke my friend,” I said to him in a fatherly fashion.

‘You and I are from similar fields, you from Kerala and me from Sri Lanka. These Min Drag Curves and VFEs and WAT limits and VLEs are too much for us. Just remember when you pull the stick back, the houses will become smaller and when you push the stick down, the houses will become bigger, that’s climbing and descending this monster,” I explained the simple theory of flight.

“As for landing my friend, Kudurai Madiri Pona, just ride it like a horse.”

That was it. We flew, over Europe and he flew like a Trojan, bravely battling the weather and the overcrowded skies. Every time he came in to land it was pure and simple Kudurai Madiri Pona and the big jumbo responded and touched down on the concrete as smooth as a honeymoon lover.

On the way back, we flew via Colombo, that’s my home ground. I requested the radar controller to give Luke a very short ‘four-mile’ final. They know me well here and the controller said “No problem, Captain.”

I was depicting what we did in the Old Hong Kong Airport or what we do in the Canarsi Approach in New York; both, most demanding. A ‘four-mile’ final is a challenge for anyone. I was throwing him in at the deep end and I had no doubt Luke could manage. He came in tight and right, like Hopalong Cassidy and rode the horse straight and beautiful to do a perfect landing. Gone was the Kampong kid and his ‘Irida Pola’ flying, this was Takashimaya and Robinsons rolled into one, everything was in place, nice and shining and professional to the tee.

That was our little story, Luke the ‘jockey’ and me. Sometimes in the field of training, the script needs a little changing. New acts to be introduced to suit the stage. That is the essence of teaching, different hurdles for different horses. It wasn’t for Luke to learn what I knew, more so, it was for me to know who he was and what he could cope with. That part was difficult to find in the flying training manual, and so was Kudurai Madiri Pona.

The world has gotten older and young Luke now wears four stripes and flies in command of Boeing Triple Sevens, fly-by-wire and multiple computers. I met him a few times, flew as his passenger, too, with great pride. “Captain Luke is in command,” the stewardess announced, and silently and gratefully I said, ‘Amen’.

I saw him walking down the aisle, looking for me. Same old Luke in his flat and uncombed Julius Ceaser hairstyle. He came to my seat and grinned and shook my hand and lightly lifted his trouser leg and said,

“Captain, the socks are black and it is still Kudurai Madiri Pona.

I am sure Luke will fly in command of the gigantic A380 one day. That’s a certainty. It would be the zenith for any pilot. Luke is ready, that I know. He is competent, polished and professional and will wear socks as black as midnight. It’s nice that he remembers his beginnings. That’s what flying is all about, that’s what life is all about.

Kudurai Madiri Pona

– ride it like a horse. Some flying lesson.

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