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PATRIARCH OF THE PRESS

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by ECB Wijeyesinghe

The Ides of March are coming. Let them come. But before that fateful day, let us eat, drink and be merry, for tomorrow, Herbert A. J. Hulugalle (whom God preserve) will celebrate his 81st birthday.

In the kingdom of journalists where Old Mortality takes a premature toll, Hulugalle, who is universally regarded as the grey eminence of the profession, has managed to thumb his nose at the Psalmist and to retain his enthusiasm for life.

When men younger than himself, with the ball-points running dry, are turning to get on the shelf, the Patriarch of the Press is busy at his typewriter rattling off the eventful story of his boyhood in the hamlet off Kurunegala where his father was the President of the Village Tribunal. When Herbert Alexander Jayatilaka was born on March 10, 1899, his grand-uncle, Adigar Hulugalle, summoned the astrologers, as was and is the custom even today among some Christian families. While the wise men conferred and cast his horoscope, they were horrified by the unusual features that appeared to dot the landscape of his life. Judging by the extraordinary position of the planets at his birth, young Herbert was built to defy convention all along the line.

His mother, a very conservative lady from the proud old Rakkawa Seneviratne clan was greatly worried. She was a devout Buddhist and had a little more faith in the occult sciences than her husband who was a Christian. She was a small-made woman who believed in maintaining the traditions of language, race and religion. Her husband was a domineering and sceptical six-footer, who wished to be known as a progressive. While the other people in the village went about in a hackery, Herbert’s father even at that distant period, rode an enormous Harley Davidson.

As President of the Village Tribunal this mode of transport gave him an immediate sense of importance and power even if he could not aspire to be a Dissawa or an Adigar like his uncle. According to his horoscope Herbert was destined to be a cross between Marco Polo, the Italian, and Ibn Batuta, the Arab. He had the characteristics of both men. Together with the inquisitive traveller’s lust for knowledge he had the scholar’s gift of describing his adventures in limpid prose, untouched by journalistic jargon.

HOROSCOPE

For once the astrologers were right. The young man who was groomed to be a Kachcheri clerk, was sent to Trinity College, the nursery of Kandyan chieftains. After a short spell under Fraser and Senior, he proceeded to S. Thomas’ College where he studied Science but narrowly missed the University Scholarship. He was beaten by M. V. del Tufo, the rotund but brilliant son of an Italian lady photographer. Then he took another unexpected step. Instead of building on his scientific foundation to become a doctor, he joined the Law College. He also read widely, and it is recorded that his knowledge of British politics and personalities. for a Ceylon boy fresh from school, was phenomenal.

When he took to journalism it was like the proverbial duck taking to water. Meanwhile he passed out as an Advocate and D. R. Wijewardene, who was just then dreaming of being the Napoleon of the newspaper world made Herbert his aide-de camp. He joined the staff of the Daily News in 1918 when the paper was only a few months old and stuck on patiently for 30 years. For 17 of these tempestuous years he was the Editor of the Daily News. He worked in close association with his Boss and together they moulded and mirrored public opinion until Ceylon attained her political freedom.

After that, of course, he was Ceylon’s first Information Officer and our Envoy in Rome and Athens. He has also written nearly a dozen books covering a wide range of topics, but his two biographies – those of D. R. Wijewardene and D.S. Senanayake – will probably be his most valuable contributions to the history of Ceylon.

EARLY DAYS

When Hulugalle joined the Daily News there was no Editor as such. The clever Jaffna lawyer, A. V. Kulasingham, obliged Wijewardene by sitting in the editorial chair and dictating his leaders to one of the junior members of the staff. Kulasingham was a facile writer, but not a newspaperman in the broadest sense. His sentences, according to Hilaire Jansz, the old Lake House stalwart, marched across and down the column with a certain staid dignity.

One of the things that amused the early inhabitants of the Daily News was the confusion created among people who came to the building and saw Herbert Hulugalle at one desk and Hilaire Jansz at the other. In their youth there was a striking resemblance between the slim Kandyan from Kurunegala and the gaunt Dutch Burgher from Dehiwela. Even their wives would not have been able to tell them apart. Luckily, they were not married at the time.

Both men, however, were endowed with a keen sense of humour and enjoyed the fun at being called the Heavenly Twins or the Dolly Sisters (then the rage in London). Even to Editor S. J. K. Crowther they were like Tweedledum and Tweedledee and he once reprimanded Hilaire for a mistake made by Herbert. Crowther was full of apologies later for not being able to tell the difference between a blue-blooded Kandyan and a red-blooded Dutch burgher.

As the years passed, old Father Time played havoc with Herbert’s head and the resemblance between the two men receded with their hairlines. Crowther left the Daily News in a huff owing to a potty dispute, but he retained the highest respect for Hulugalle who succeeded him as Editor. He even made him one of the executors of his Last Will and Testament.

TRAVELLER

Like the eminent Indian diplomat, K. P. S. Menon, Hulugalle had an irrepressible itch to wander throughout the world. One of the first things he did when he had saved up a little money was to take a slow boat to Palestine and the Isles of Greece whither he went later as Ceylon’s envoy. There was something about the Jews and their way of life that fascinated young Herbert. Perhaps this was partly due to his interest in the Old Testament prophets, but he carried his studies into the modem age and there was not a single Semitic celebrity with whose career he was not familiar.

Once, while roaming about in Syria he got off the train and asked a taxi to take him to Thomas Cook’s. The swarthy driver, with grizzled beard and stained teeth, drove on merrily for a couple of hours before he suddenly applied the brakes and asked Herbert to get down. “Is this Thomas Cook’s?” asked Herbert in mild protest, because there was no office in sight. “Yes, this is Damascus,” growled the driver who had brought him far, far away from his destination. The Arabs pronounce Damascus in the French style and “Damas-coos” can sound very much like Thomas Cook’s when spoken rapidly.

After his visit to the Holy Land and a close study of the Scriptures, it occurred to Herbert that it would be better to marry than to burn. About this time he had the good luck to fall in love with a good woman.

Her grand-father was a millionaire. So was her father at one time. but he had lost a vast fortune owing to a series of unwise investments. It was with a heavy heart that he had to part with his magnificent mansion, Regina Walauwa, in Thurstan Road, to appease some of his creditors.

When Herbert met Lillian.,her father, T. H. A. de Soysa was practically in penury. But the daughter had a heart of gold. Herbert had only a paltry income, but however unconventional and uncomfortable the circumstances, the couple were determined to go through with the wedding. It proved to be a copy-book marriage. Though the stiff-necked friends of both parties were at first inclined to look at it in askance, they have since then had nothing but secret admiration for the pair who defied the dead hand of caste prejudice and raised a family that is the envy of the aristocrats, plutocrats and all the other rats that tried to destroy their happiness.

Unfortunately, one month before their Golden Wedding, Lillian left Herbert in obedience to a higher call, but the fragrance of her life still lingers in her five sons and two daughters to whom she has passed on her sweet and generous nature. As his 81st birthday dawns tomorrow Herbert Hulugalle will rise with the birds to say a little prayer, tend his little garden and write a little note to his sons who are generally dispersed, like the Jews, in the four corners of the world. At present one is in Geneva, the other in Las Vegas, and the third in Stockholm. The fourth is getting ready to go to Kuala Lumpur, while the fifth commutes regularly between London and Colombo.

They are the Rolling Stones that gather the Moss.

(From Men and Memories first published as a newspaper article in 1980)



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Features

Glimmers of hope?

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The newly appointed Cabinet Ministers leaves Cass un-uplifted. She need not elaborate. She wishes fervently that Dr Harsha de Silva will leave party loyalty aside and consider the country. Usually, it’s asking politicians to cast aside self-interest, which very rarely is done in the political culture that came to be after the 1970s. Thus, it is very unusual, completely out of the ordinary to appeal to Dr Harsha to forego party loyalty and do the very needful for the country by accepting the still vacant post of Minister of Finance. We are very sorry Eran W too has kept himself away.

Some of Cassandra’s readers may ask whether she is out of her right mind to see glimmers of hope for the country. She assures them she is as sane as can be; she does cling onto these straws like the dying man does. How else exist? How else get through these dire times?

What are the straws she clings to? News items in The Island of Tuesday 24 May.

‘Sirisena leaves Paget Road mansion in accordance with SC interim injunction.’ And who was instrumental in righting this wrong? The CPA and its Executive Director Dr Pakiasothy Saravanamuttu. It is hoped that revisions to the system will come in such as giving luxury housing and other extravagant perks to ex-presidents and their widows. Sri Lanka has always lived far beyond its means in the golden handshakes to its ex- prezs and also perks given its MPs. At least luxury vehicles should not be given them. Pensions after five years in Parliament should be scrapped forthwith.

‘Letter of demand sent to IGP seeking legal action against DIG Nilantha Jayawardena.’ Here the mover is The Centre for Society and Religion and it is with regard to the Easter Sunday massacre which could have been prevented if DIG Jayawardena as Head of State Intelligence had taken necessary action once intelligence messages warned of attack on churches.

‘CIABOC to indict Johnston, Keheliya and Rohitha’. It is fervently hoped that this will not be another charge that blows away with the wind. They do not have their strongest supporter – Mahinda R to save them. We so fervently hope the two in power now will let things happened justly, according to the law of the land.

‘Foreign Secy Admiral Colombage replaced’. And by whom? A career diplomat who has every right and qualification for the post; namely Aruni Wijewardane. If this indicates a fading of the prominence given to retired armed forces personnel in public life and administration, it is an excellent sign. Admiral Colombage had tendered his resignation, noted Wednesday’s newspaper.

‘Crisis caused by decades of misuse public resources, corruption, kleptocracy – TISL’.

Everyone knew this, even the despicable thieves and kleptocrats. The glaring question is why no concerted effort was made to stop the thieving from a country drawn to bankruptcy by politicians and admin officers. There are many answers to that question. It was groups, mostly of the middle class who came out first in candle lit vigils and then at the Gotagogama Village. The aragalaya has to go down in history as the savior of our nation from a curse worse than war. The civil war was won against many odds. But trying to defeat deceit power-hunger and thieving was near impossible. These protestors stuck their necks out and managed to rid from power most of the Rajapaksa family. That was achievement enough.

Heartfelt hope of the many

The newly appointed Cabinet Ministers leaves Cass un-uplifted. She need not elaborate. She wishes fervently that Dr Harsha de Silva will leave party loyalty aside and consider the country. Usually, it’s asking politicians to cast aside self interest, which very rarely is done in the political culture that came to be after the 1970s. Thus, it is very unusual, completely out of the ordinary to appeal to Dr Harsha to forego party loyalty and do the very needful for the country by accepting the still vacant post of Minister of Finance. We are very sorry Eran W too has kept himself away. As Shamindra Ferdinando writes in the newspaper mentioned, “Well informed sources said that Premier Wickremesinghe was still making efforts to win over some more Opposition members. Sources speculated that vital finance portfolio remained vacant as the government still believed (hoped Cass says) Dr Harsha de Silva could somehow be convinced to accept that portfolio.”

Still utterly hopeless

Gas is still unavailable for people like Cass who cannot stand in queues, first to get a token and then a cylinder. Will life never return to no queues for bare essentials? A woman friend was in a petrol queue for a solid twelve hours – from 4 am to 4 pm. This is just one of million people all over the country in queues. Even a common pressure pill was not available in 20 mg per.

Cassandra considers a hope. We saw hundreds of Sri Lankans all across the globe peacefully protesting for departure of thieves from the government. The ex-PM, Mahinda Rajapaksa’s answer to this was to unleash absolute terror on all of the island. It seems to be that with Johnson a younger MP stood commandingly.

Returning from that horror thought to the protesters overseas, Cass wondered if each of them contributed one hundred dollars to their mother country, it would go a long way to soften the blows we are battered with. Of course, the absolute imperative is that of the money, not a cent goes into personal pockets. The donors must be assured it goes to safety. Is that still not possible: assuring that donations are used for the purpose they are sent for: to alleviate the situation of Sri Lankans? I suppose the memory of tsunami funds going into the Helping Hambantota Fund is still fresh in memory. So much for our beloved country.

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Ban on agrochemicals and fertilisers: Post-scenario analysis

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By Prof. Rohan Rajapakse

(Emeritus Professor of Agriculture Biology UNIVERSITY OF RUHUNA and Former Executive Director Sri Lanka Council of Agriculture Research Policy)

There are two aspects of the ban on agrochemicals. The first is the ban on chemical fertilisers, and the second is the ban on the use of pesticides. Several eminent scientists, Dr Parakrama Waidyanatha (formerly the Soil Scientist of RRI), Prof OA Ileperuma (Former Professor of Chemistry University of Peradeniya), Prof C. S. Weeraratne (former Professor of Agronomy University of Ruhuna), Prof D. M. de Costa University of Peradeniya, Prof. Buddhi Marambe (Professor in Weed Science University of Peradeniya) have effectively dealt with the repercussion of the ban on chemical fertilisers which appeared in The Island newspaper on recently.

The major points summarised by these authors are listed below.

FERTILISER ISSUE

1. These scientists, including the author, are of the view that the President’s decision to totally shift to organic agriculture from conventional could lead to widespread hunger and starvation in future, which has become a reality. Organic farming is a small phenomenon in global agriculture, comprising a mere 1.5% of total farmlands, of which 66% are pasture.

2. Conventional farming (CF) is blamed for environmental pollution; however, in organic farming, heavy metal pollution and the release of carbon dioxide and methane, two greenhouse gases from farmyard manure, are serious pollution issues with organic farming that have been identified.

3. On the other hand, the greatest benefit of organic fertilisers as against chemical fertilisers is the improvement of soil’s physical, chemical and biological properties by the former, which is important for sustained crop productivity. The best option is to use appropriate combinations of organic and chemical fertilisers, which can also provide exacting nutrient demands of crops and still is the best option!

4. Sri Lanka has achieved self-sufficiency in rice due to the efforts of the Research Officers of the Department of Agriculture, and all these efforts will be in vain if we abruptly ban the import of fertiliser. These varieties are bred primarily on their fertiliser response. While compost has some positive effects such as improving soil texture and providing some micronutrients, it cannot be used as a substitute for fertiliser needed by high yielding varieties of rice. Applying organic fertilisers alone will not help replenish the nutrients absorbed by a crop. Organic fertilisers have relatively small amounts of the nutrients that plants need. For example, compost has only 2% nitrogen (N), whereas urea has 46% N. Banning the import of inorganic fertilisers will be disastrous, as not applying adequate amounts of nutrients will cause yields to drop, making it essential to increase food imports. Sri Lankan farmers at present are at the mercy of five organizations, namely the Central Department of Agriculture, the Provincial Ministry of Agriculture, the Private sector Pesticide Companies, the Non-Government organizations and the leading farmers who are advising them. Instead, improved agricultural extension services to promote alternative non-chemical methods of pest control and especially the use of Integrated Pest Management.

Locally, pest control depends mostly on the use of synthetic pesticides; ready to use products that can be easily procured from local vendors are applied when and where required Abuse and misapplication of pesticides is a common phenomenon in Sri Lanka. Even though many farmers are aware of the detrimental aspects of pesticides they often use them due to economic gains

We will look at the post scenario of
what has happened

1. The importation of Chemical fertilisers and Pesticides was banned at the beginning of Maha season 1 on the advice of several organic manure (OM) promoters by the Ministry of agriculture.

2. The Ministry of Agriculture encouraged the farmers to use organic manure, and an island-wide programme of producing Organic manure were initiated. IT took some time for the government to realize that Sri Lanka does not have the capacity to produce such a massive amount of OM, running into 10 tons per hectare for 500000 hectares ear marked in ma ha season.

3. Hence the government approved the importation of OM from abroad, and a Company in China was given an initial contract to produce OM produced from Seaweed. However, the scientists from University of Peradeniya detected harmful microorganisms in this initial consignment, and the ship was forced to leave Sri Lankan waters at a cost of US dollar 6.7 million without unloading its poisonous cargo. No substitute fertiliser consignment was available.

4. A committee in the Ministry hastily recommended to import NANO RAJA an artificial compound from India to increase the yield by spraying on to leaves. Sri Lanka lost Rs 863 million as farmers threw all these Nano Raja bottles and can as it attracts dogs and wild boar.

Since there is no other option the Ministry promised to pay Rs 50000 per hectare for all the farmers who lost their livelihood. It is not known how much the country lost due to this illogical decision of banning fertilisers and pesticides.

Recommendations

1. Judicious use of pesticides is recommended.

2. The promotion and the use of integrated pest management techniques whenever possible

3. To minimize the usage of pesticides:

Pesticide traders would be permitted to sell pesticides only through specially trained Technical Assistants.

Issuing pesticides to the farmers for which they have to produce some kind of a written recommendation by a local authority.

Introduction of new mechanism to dispose or recycle empty pesticide and weedicide bottles in collaboration with the Environment Ministry.

Laboratory-testing of imported pesticides by the Registrar of Pesticides at the entry-point to ensure that banned chemicals were not brought into the country.

Implementation of trained core of people who can apply pesticides.

Education campaigns to train farmers, retailers, distributors, and public with the adverse effects of pesticides.

Maximum Residue Level (MRL) to reduce the consumer’s risk of exposure to unsafe levels.

Integrated pest Management and organic agriculture to be promoted.

1. To ensure the proper usage of agrochemicals by farmers

All those who advised the Minister of Agriculture and the President to shift to OM still wield authority in national food production effort. The genuine scientists who predicted the outcome are still harassed sacked from positions they held in MA and were labelled as private sector goons. The danger lies if the farmers decide not to cultivate in this Maha season due to non-availability of fertilisers and pesticides the result will be an imminent famine.

The country also should have a professional body like the Planning Commission of

India, with high calibre professionals in the Universities and the Departments and

There should be institutions and experts to advise the government on national policy matters.

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Thomians triumph in Sydney 

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Nothing is happening for us, at this end, other than queues, queues, and more queues! There’s very little to shout about were the sports and entertainment scenes are concerned. However, Down Under, the going seems good.

Sri Lankans, especially in Melbourne, Australia, have quite a lot of happenings to check out, and they all seem to be having a jolly good time!

Trevine Rodrigo,

who puts pen to paper to keep Sri Lankans informed of the events in Melbourne, was in Sydney, to taken in the scene at the Sri Lanka Schools Sevens Touch Rugby competition. And, this is Trevine’s report:

The weather Gods and S.Thomas aligned, in Sydney, to provide the unexpected at the Sri Lanka Schools Sevens Touch Rugby competition, graced by an appreciative crowd.

Inclement weather was forecast for the day, and a well drilled Dharmaraja College was expected to go back-to-back at this now emerging competition in Sydney’s Sri Lanka expatriate sporting calendar.

But the unforeseen was delivered, with sunny conditions throughout, and the Thomians provided the upset of the competition when they stunned the favourites, Dharmaraja, in the final, to grab the Peninsula Motor Group Trophy.

Still in its infancy, the Sevens Touch Competition, drawn on the lines of Rugby League rules, found new flair and more enthusiasm among its growing number of fans, through the injection of players from around Australia, opposed to the initial tournament which was restricted to mainly Sydneysiders.

A carnival like atmosphere prevailed throughout the day’s competition.

Ten teams pitted themselves in a round robin system, in two groups, and the top four sides then progressed to the semi-finals, on a knock out basis, to find the winner.

A food stall gave fans the opportunity to keep themselves fed and hydrated while the teams provided the thrills of a highly competitive and skilled tournament.

The rugby dished out was fiercely contested, with teams such as Trinity, Royal and St. Peter’s very much in the fray but failing to qualify after narrow losses on a day of unpredictability.

Issipathana and Wesley were the other semi-finalists with the Pathanians grabbing third place in the play-off before the final.

The final was a tense encounter between last year’s finalists Dharmaraja College and S.Thomas. Form suggested that the Rajans were on track for successive wins in as many attempts.  But the Thomians had other ideas.

The fluent Rajans, with deft handling skills and evasive running, looked the goods, but found the Thomian defence impregnable.  Things were tied until the final minutes when the Thomians sealed the result with an intercept try and hung on to claim the unthinkable.

It was perhaps the price for complacency on the Rajans part that cost them the game and a lesson that it is never over until the final whistle.

Peninsula Motor Group, headed by successful businessman Dilip Kumar, was the main sponsor of the event, providing playing gear to all the teams, and prize money to the winners and runners-up.

The plan for the future is to make this event more attractive and better structured, according to the organisers, headed by Deeptha Perera, whose vision was behind the success of this episode.

In a bid to increase interest, an over 40’s tournament, preceded the main event, and it was as interesting as the younger version.

Ceylon Touch Rugby, a mixed team from Melbourne, won the over 40 competition, beating Royal College in the final.

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