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R. ‘Killi’ Rajamahendran

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by Krishantha Prasad Cooray

It was early 2005, a few months after I had been made the CEO of Rivira Media Corporation, founded by Richard Pieris and Co. PLC. I had been warned that the media industry was a cutthroat one, and to expect little help for a fledgling newspaper like Rivira. Still I decided to reach out to the heads of some electronic media organizations to see if we could work together.

Among those I emailed was the Chairman of MTN Networks, Raja Rajamahendran, better known as Killi Maharaja. I introduced myself and the newspaper and asked if I could meet him at his convenience. Having sent the email, I took a moment to scoff at my own hubris. Mr. Rajamahendran, was not just the head of the country’s largest private broadcasting empire. He also chaired dozens of companies in areas as diverse as manufacturing and infrastructure development. There was no chance he would have time to spare for a young upstart trying to start a newspaper.

I soon discovered how wrong I was. He was exactly that kind of man.

Within hours, Mr. Rajamahendran had personally replied my email. He congratulated me on starting the newspaper and gave me an appointment to meet him the very next day. I was stunned, honoured and extremely impressed. When I went to his office on Dawson Street the next day, he met me on time, greeted me warmly and extended his full support. For over an hour, he advised me on the ins and outs of the media industry and gave me tips on everything from cultivating advertisers to assembling a first-class team. When I got up to leave, the man I now knew as Killi rose with me, escorted me downstairs and saw me to my car. He gave me his personal phone number. “Call me anytime,” he said as I left.

After that meeting I realized that it was no accident that he had built and rebuilt one of the most consequential conglomerates in the history of Sri Lanka. Killi had an eye for those who were different, who stood out, and who took on challenges. Whenever he saw these qualities in others, he was reminded of his own youth, and the challenge he and his brother faced having to fill their father’s shoes and take over the Maharaja Organization when Killi was just 23-years old. In the years since, he learned to recognize and groom people for success. He identified talent, ambition and drive, and made room for such people in his own life, irrespective of their age. And so it was that Killi and I became fast friends.

It wasn’t too long before that climate turned both our lives upside down.

On the night of 22 May, 2008, one of my deputy editors (of The Nation), Keith Noyahr, was abducted outside his home by a team of military intelligence commandos. Of course, at that time, we had no idea who had taken Keith or why, but we knew that time was of the essence if he was to be saved. Killi was one of the people I called for help. He mobilized the full power of his media juggernaut. Every one of his radio and TV stations slammed the brakes on their regular programming and focused on Keith’s abduction. That wall-to-wall coverage would have gone a long way in putting pressure on the government.

But our efforts to save Keith’s life took their toll. Killi and his network were already in the cross-hairs of bloodthirsty and powerful people. Now, for my role in saving Keith and exposing the state’s part in his ordeal, there was a price on my head, and I had to leave Sri Lanka for the United Kingdom. I was in London for several months before returning to Colombo.

While I was in the UK, Killi visited on more than one occasion. He would insist I stay with him at his home away from home in St John’s Wood. He would rib me ceaselessly and joke about how I was the “culprit” who had to flee Colombo for “stirring the pot”. When I returned to Sri Lanka, many friends including Lasantha Wickremetunga, warned me that I was at the top of the hit list. Heeding the demands of my friends, I left Sri Lanka again, this time for India on January 7, 2009, a day after Sirasa TV’s broadcasting station in Pannipitiya was bombed by a team of heavily armed commandos. Killi had left the country just a few days prior, for what was to be the most painful vacation he would ever take.

By then, Killi had received the deeply consoling news that none of his staff had died or suffered serious injury during the assault on his broadcast studio. But the relief would have been short lived. Soon he was to hear that Lasantha, another closed friend, had been killed on the street. For Killi, losing Lasantha was like having a vital organ torn out of his body.

Killi Maharaja could be called many things. From kind, to thoughtful, impish, strong headed, resolute, sensitive or intuitive. Those who butted heads with him could find him to be irascible at best and maddening at worst. But there was one thing that Killi never, ever was: afraid.

He never feared being judged, being wrong or being harmed. He did not fear friendship or intimacy. He was not afraid to laugh or be laughed at. He was unafraid of bad luck, unfortunate timing, consequences, impossible tasks or putting himself in harm’s way. Most uniquely, he was never ever afraid of politicians. In the truest sense of the word, he was a Maharaja from head to toe, unabashedly unbowed and unfailingly unafraid.

It is common among business leaders to make decisions written in sand, easily blown away by a breath of air from the political powers of the day. But when Killi Maharaja made a decision, it was irreversible – carved in stone. He stood by his friends; the consequences be damned.

So, when I returned to Sri Lanka, and the most powerful rulers in the land personally called major business leaders and warned them of dire consequences if any of them dared to give me a job, he could not have cared less. Knowing that the government wanted to harm me only doubled his resolve to invite me to work for him at the Capital Maharaja Organization.

He was unfailingly loyal to his friends and employees. Throughout my professional career, I have closely associated with those in the highest echelons of the Sri Lankan business world. Having done so, I can count on one hand our “titans of industry” who shared Killi’s loyalty and devotion. Even on one hand I would still have three fingers to spare. The sad truth is I know only of a single person other than Killi who would put his friends and colleagues above political pressure, intimidation or expediency and fearlessly stand by you.

Many business people inherited their empires or built them through political cronyism. Killi did not inherit, build and run a successful business empire despite his unique blend of courage and generosity. He succeeded because of it, as a cardinal rule never putting profit before people.

It was not long after I started working for him that I realized he had a remarkable attitude towards life. Here was a man who had had his businesses bombed and burned down several times. Several close friends, from Gamini Dissanayake to Lasantha Wickrematunge to Neelan Tiruchelvam had been assassinated. He was forced to send his children abroad to ensure their safety while he stood by his employees and stood up to the gale force headwinds of running a non-state media network in Sri Lanka. No matter what hardship came his way, or how often he was betrayed by those he groomed, he picked himself up and moved on, helping those around him to do the same. However hard life was, however, cruel or unfair it was to him, he responded with love and embraced it without a hint of regret or a shred of remorse.

But sadly, when I remember Killi and everything he did for me, there is no escaping my own burden of regrets and remorse. As we worked together over the years, our friendship was tested. Our differences of opinion started to emerge. Tensions rose. As two people equally defined by our stubbornness, Killi and I often found ourselves diametrically opposed to each other. In the four years that I worked for him our relationship changed. As an employee, my disagreeing with Killi on political issues was no longer just a matter of opinion but one of insubordination.

When I decided in 2013 to leave the Maharaja group over one of the most serious differences we had, Killi refused to accept my resignation. When he realized I had already made up my mind he insisted that I meet him. I went to his office and we had a candid heart-to-heart. We decided to part ways professionally. When I got up to leave, Killi, ever the gentleman, re-enacted our first meeting from 2005. He got up, walked me down to the car, and told me that I should never hesitate to call him anytime. For the first time since I’d known him, his voice was grave, without even a hint of humour. There was no “adey” or “you bugger”. Our relationship was never the same again.

In hindsight, I regret not making enough effort to reconcile with someone who had done so much for me at a time when many were afraid to even speak my name in public for fear of political persecution. On matters close to his heart, Killi often succumbed to an “either you are with me or against me” approach to people. Rather than be open and reason with him, I unfortunately mirrored that same attitude.

Whatever our differences were, I could have found a way to reconcile us. Perhaps I made the mistake of taking for granted that one day soon, we would all be fighting the same battle together and would be on the same side again.

Today, I can find some solace in the fact that my brother Priyantha became very close to Killi in his final years and was a better friend to him. My brother also admired him and appreciated him for who he was, what he had achieved, and what he had done for the country especially the poor and the helpless.

Many fear that losing Killi would mark a death blow to the electronic media similar to that suffered by the print media with the loss of Lasantha Wickrematunge in 2009. After Lasantha died, the print media very quickly learned to “behave” and avoid the wrath of those whose swords had proved mightier than their pens. I don’t share that fear.

Killi didn’t just build companies. He built institutions. He groomed people. I have known and worked with most of the leadership of NewsFirst. Whatever their individual strengths or talents, the one thing Killi cultivated in them all was courage. He built a team whose only fear was letting him down. That fear alone will motivate them now more than ever.

There will never be another Killi. There is no doubt about that. However, Killi has laid the groundwork to cultivate a generation of talented leaders, empowered with the skills and support they need to chart their own course. He gave them a chance to demonstrate their potential and to make an impact on the world.

The job of ensuring that Killi’s passing does not mark the end of an era falls to everyone who benefited from his courage, optimism, wisdom and generosity. It will not be an easy task. But few things that Killi ever did were easy. Given the vast sea of talent and social capital that Killi left in his wake, I have no doubt that he will loom even larger in death than he did in life. Over the last several decades, he planted enough seeds of human potential to dwarf any forest. In the decades to come, these human investments will bear fruit and leave a lasting impact on the country he loved.



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PLANES OF EXISTENCE

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(from THE BUDDHA AND HIS TEACHINGS by Venerable Narada Mahathera)

“Not to be reached by going is world’s end.” ANGUTTARA NIKAYA

According to Buddhism the earth, an almost insignificant speck in the universe, is not the only habitable world, and humans are not the only living beings. Indefinite are world systems and so are living beings. Nor is “the impregnated ovum the only route to rebirth.” By traversing one cannot reach the end of the world, says the Buddha.

Births may take place in different spheres of existence. There are altogether thirty-one places in which beings manifest themselves according to their moral or immoral Kamma.

There are four states of unhappiness (Apaya) which are viewed both as mental states and as places.

They are:

1. Niraya (ni + aya = devoid of happiness) woeful states where beings atone for their evil Kamma. They are not eternal hells where beings are subject to endless suffering. Upon the exhaustion of the evil Kamma there is a possibility for beings born in such states to be reborn in blissful states as the result of their past good actions.

2. Tiracchana-yoni (tiro = across; acchana = going), the animal kingdom. Buddhist belief is that beings are born as animals on account of evil Kamma. There is, however, the possibility for animals to be born as human beings as a result of the good Kamma accumulated in the past. Strictly speaking, it should be more correct to state that Kamma which manifested itself in the form of a human being, may manifest itself in the form of an animal or vice versa, just as an electric current can be manifested in the forms of light, heat and motion successively — one not necessarily being evolved from the other.

It may be remarked that at times certain animals particularly dogs and cats, live a more comfortable life than even some human beings due to their past good Kamma.

It is one’s Kamma that determines the nature or one’s material form which varies according to the skilfulness or unskilfulness of one’s actions.

3. Peta-yoni (pa + ita) lit., departed beings, or those absolutely devoid of happiness. They are not disembodied spirits of ghosts. They possess deformed physical forms of varying magnitude, generally invisible to the naked eye. They have no planes of their own, but live in forests, dirty surroundings, etc. There is a special book, called Petavatthu, which exclusively deals with the stories of these unfortunate beings. Samyutta Nikaya also relates some interesting accounts of these Petas.

Describing the pathetic state of a Peta, the Venerable Moggallana says:

“Just now as I was descending Vultures’ Peak Hill, I saw a skeleton going through the air, and vultures, crows, and falcons kept flying after it, pecking at its ribs, pulling apart while it uttered cries of pain. To me, friend, came this thought: O but this is wonderful! O but this is marvellous that a person will come to have such a shape, that the individuality acquired will come to have such a shape.”

“This being,” the Buddha remarked, “was a cattle-butcher in his previous birth, and as the result of his past Kamma he was born in such a state. “

According to the Questions of Milinda there are four kinds of Petas — namely, the Vantasikas who feed on vomit, the Khuppipāsino who hunger and thirst, the Nijjhamatanhikaā, who are consumed by thirst, and the Paradattapajavino who live on the gifts of others.

As stated in the Tirokudda Sutta these last mentioned Petas share the merit performed by their living relatives in their names, and could thereby pass on to better states of happiness.

4. Asura-yoni — the place of the Asura-demons. Asura, literally, means those who do not shine or those who do not sport. They are also another class of unhappy beings similar to the Petas. They should be distinguished from the Asuras who are opposed to the Devas.

Next to these four unhappy states (Duggati) are the seven happy states (Sugati). They are:

1. Manussa The Realm of human beings.

The human realm is a mixture of both pain and happiness. Bodhisattas prefer the human realm as it is the best field to serve the world and perfect the requisites of Buddhahood. Buddhas are always born as human beings.

2. Catummaharajika — the lowest of the heavenly realms where the Guardian Deities of the four quarters of the firmament reside with their followers.

3. Tavatimsa — lit., thirty-three — the Celestial Realm of the thirty-three Devas where Deva Sakka is the King. The origin of the name is attributed to a story which states that thirty-three selfless volunteers led by Magha (another name for Sakka), having performed charitable deeds, were born in this heavenly realm. It was in this heaven that the Buddha taught the Abhidhamma to the Devas for three months.

4. Yama — “The Realm of the Yama Devas.” That which destroys pain is Yāma.

5. Tusita — lit., happy dwellers, is “The Realm of Delight.”

The Bodhisattas who have perfected the requisites of Buddhahood reside in this Plane until the opportune moment comes for them to appear in the human realm to attain Buddhahood. The Bodhisatta Metteyya, the future Buddha, is at present residing in this realm awaiting the right opportunity to be born as a human being and become a Buddha. The Bodhisatta’s mother, after death, was born in this realm as a Deva (god). From here he repaired to Tavatimsa Heaven to listen to the Abhidhamma taught by the Buddha.

6. Nimmanarati — “The Realm of the Devas who delight in the created mansions.”

7. Paranimmitavasavatti — “The Realm of the Devas who make others’ creation serve their own ends.”

The last six are the realms of the Devas whose physical forms are more subtle and refined than those of human beings and are imperceptible to the naked eye. These celestial beings too are subject to death as all mortals are. In some respects, such as their constitution, habitat, and food they excel humans, but do not as a rule transcend them in wisdom. They have spontaneous births, appearing like youths and maidens of fifteen or sixteen years of age.

These six Celestial Planes are temporary blissful abodes where beings are supposed to live enjoying fleeting pleasures of sense.

The four unhappy states (Duggati) and the seven happy states (Sugati) are collectively termed Kamaloka — Sentient Sphere.

Superior to these Sensuous Planes are the Brahma Realms or Rupaloka (Realms of Form) where beings delight in jhanic bliss, achieved by renouncing sense-desires.

Rupaloka

consists of sixteen realms according to the jhānas or ecstasies cultivated. They are as follows:

(a) T’he Plane of the First Jhana;

1. Brahma Parisajja –– The Realm of the Brahma‘s Retinue.

2. Brahma Purohita — The Realm of the Brahma’s Ministers.

3. Mahaā Brahma — The Realm of the Great Brahmas.

The highest of the first three is Mahaā Brahma. It is so called because the dwellers in this Realm excel others in happiness, beauty, and age-limit owing to the intrinsic merit of their mental development.

(b) The Plane of the Second Jhāna:

4. Parittābhā — The Realm of Minor Lustre,

5. Appamānābhā — The Realm of Infinite Lustre,

6. Ābhassarā —

The Realm of the Radiant Brahmas.

(c) The Plane of the Third Jhāna:

7. Parittasubha — The Realm of the Brahmas of Minor Aura.

8. Appamānasubha — The Realm of the Brahmas of Infinite Aura.

9. Subhakinhaā — The Realm of the Brahmas of Steady Aura.

(d) The Plane of the Fourth Jhana:

10. Vehapphala — The Realm of the Brahmas of Great Reward.

11. Asaatta — The Realm of Mindless Beings,

12. Suddhavasa — The Pure Abodes which are further subdivided into five, viz:

i. Aviha — The Durable Realm,
ii. Atappa — The Serene Realm,
iii. Sudassa — The Beautiful Realm,
iv. Sudassi — The Clear-Sighted Realm.
v. Akanittha — the Highest Realm.

Only those who have cultivated the Jhanas or Ecstasies are born on these higher planes. Those who have developed the First Jhana are born in the first Plane; those who have developed the Second and Third Jhanas are born in the second Plane; those who have developed the Fourth and Fifth Jhanas are born in the third and fourth Planes respectively.

The first grade of each plane is assigned to those who have developed the Jhanas to an ordinary degree, the second to those who have developed the Jhanas to a greater extent, and the third to those who have gained a complete mastery over the Jhanas.

In the eleventh plane, called the Asaatta, beings are born without a consciousness.

Here only a material flux exists. Mind is temporarily suspended while the force of the Jhāna lasts. Normally both mind and matter are inseparable. By the power of meditation, it is possible, at times, to separate matter from mind as in this particular case. When an Arahant attains the Nirodha Samāpatti, too, his consciousness ceases to exist temporarily. Such a state is almost inconceivable to us. But there may be inconceivable things which are actual facts.

The Suddhavasas or Pure Abodes are the exclusive Planes of Anagamis or Never-Returners. Ordinary beings are not born in these states. Those who attain Anāgāmi in other planes are reborn in these Pure Abodes. Later, they attain Arahantship and live in those planes until their life-term ends.

There are four other planes called Arupaloka which are totally devoid of matter or bodies. Buddhists maintain that there are realms where mind alone exists without matter. “Just as it is possible for an iron bar to be suspended in the air because it has been flung there, and it remains as long as it retains any unexpended momentum, even so the Formless being appears through being flung into that state by powerful mind-force, there it remains till that momentum is expended. This is a temporary separation of mind and matter, which normally co-exist. “

It should be mentioned that there is no sex distinction in the Rupaloka and the Arupaloka.

The Arupaloka is divided into four planes according to the four Arupa Jhanas.

They are:

1. The Sphere of the Conception of Infinite Space.

2. The Sphere of the Conception of Infinite Consciousness.

3. The Sphere of the Conception of Nothingness.

4. The Sphere of Neither Perception nor Non-Perception.

It should be remarked that the Buddha did not attempt to expound any cosmological theory.

The essence of the Buddha’s teaching is not affected by the existence or non-existence of these planes. No one is bound to believe anything if it does not appeal to his reason. Nor is it proper to reject anything because it cannot be conceived by one’s limited knowledge.

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Sins of Fathers and Comrades

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“The sins of the father will be laid upon the children.”

Exodus 20:5 (5th of Ten Commandments)

The Merchant of Venice (Act 3, Scene 5)

by Kumar David

It is a terrible, a terrifying curse that the sins of one generation will be visited upon successors. Some Christian sects, to this day, hold the Jews responsible for the murder of Jesus Christ though a learned Christian scholar, Lay-Preacher and friend assures me that this is perverse – Pontius Pilate must carry full responsibility he declares. But another with lesser ecclesiastical credentials (he never would have made it to Lay-Preacher though lay was not the obstacle) assures me that unlike JR in 1983, Pilate had good reason to fear that he had no choice and that the mob threatened governance. Actually, JR never made that lame-duck excuse – I think he rather enjoyed watching it. (Aside: Ranil was JR’s nephew in whose Cabinet he loyally served throughout the treachery and slaughter – Bahu please note).

Two organisations are paying a high price for their past, the blame for which is laid on their heads. The example in the headlines this month is the Taliban. The curses of centuries of faith-based relics have submerged it, though internal conflicts may still reverse the worst of the dark age. The other, always in the rear-view mirror of Lankan politics are the 1971 and 1989 events. I promised in a previous piece that I would stop bugging the JVP for long ago follies for which present leaders bear no responsibility. I intend to keep that promise. The misfortune is that that we the NPP still face “Didn’t your people do that?”, “Can we trust them again?” and such flak. A giant blunder by one generation of comrades hangs over the heads of their successors. This piece however is about the Taliban, a theme to which I seem to be getting addicted.

That Chairman fellow said “Women hold up half the sky”, but the Taliban by imposing cruel dress codes and obsolete conduct on unwilling women who have tasted personal freedom for two decades have created an implacable foe. (If some prefer to adhere of their own volition, that’s fine). Opposition to gender oppression and the Pashtun power grab will ignite conflict. There were sporadic protests by small groups of women earlier, but on September 7 a large one, thousands strong marched for miles through the streets of Kabul and was finally dispersed by shots in the air. There are videos of beating and detention of well-disciplined women protesters by bloody fool machismo in the lower ranks of the Taliban who will have to be crushed. It remains to be seen if the leadership has the guts to do this or whether it will go the way of all Lankan regimes on inter-racial and religious injustice. I am not holding my breath. On September 8 the regime impose a ban on demonstrations; this will be defied. If the Taliban mows down Afghan women with grapeshot what is left of its Islamic credentials?

So far, I have written in support of the expulsion of NATO. This has been done and now Act 2 of the drama has commenced. It is time to hold the Taliban to acceptable standards of human and democratic rights but instead it has formed an all-male mainly Pashtun government of aged hard-line dotards and given the lie to promises of ethnic inclusivity and recognition of women. It has slipped back to primeval faiths and primitive customs. The Taliban Education Minister who has never been to school, when challenged about his fitness for the job responded: “Education is irrelevant so long as you are pious.” There will be a push back by younger Taliban cadres as the economy goes into free fall and conflict with women and non-Pashtun ethnic-minorities swells. I am of the view that we are passing through a period in which nothing is settled and foresee changes within the Taliban and in the nature of the state.

Foreign occupation has had contradictory effects. On the one hand liberal values and a liber-democratic state were the proclaimed objectives. On the other hand, drones and artillery killed thousands of civilians, the Afghan army murdered and plundered, and billions of dollars unloaded on foreign contactors spread a plague of corruption from the President down. In sum the occupation was a disaster and a failure.

Confessional slavery

Saudi Arabia, the Gulf States, Iran, the Taliban regime and some others impose dress codes, curtail commonplace democratic rights, deny education and horse whip or stone to death women who defy primitive religious injunctions imposed on all whether these practices are egregious to other genders, faiths or ethnic collectives. (I avoid the term Islamic as I am not schooled in whether Islam actually sanctions such incongruity and cruelty). In the best-case, the Taliban will see the writing on the wall and retreat, give or take a few tactical adjustments. If it is deaf to half its population it will engender a women’s uprising; these women have nothing to lose but their chains and a world to gain. It will take time for a clandestine but identifiable leadership to mature and resistance organise itself. The Taliban does not want to give any rights to women and it will concede only what it is compelled to by domestic and international pressure.

The best Sri Lankans of all faiths, ages, communities and genders can do is to extend moral and if possible practical support to women enslaved by confessional states. Did you know that Afghans were making creative and aesthetically sensitive films from well before Taliban-I? Muslim women in open societies have shone in the professions, academia and public service. Their fathers, brothers and husbands now have a duty to help this process everywhere. It is a shame that Islamic clerics and Muslim laymen and scholars across the world have failed to denounce the Taliban’s behaviour. Many, not only in the thuggish lower ranks, who obstruct progress gun in one hand and whiplashing women on the streets, are alarmed by their own limited educational and intellectual horizons and nativist ignorance. That’s the long and the short of it.

The New Taliban Government: a formula for strife

The Taliban proclaimed an Islamic Emirate, but a Republic is emerging on the streets of Kabul and Herat. Two weeks ago I wrote about the internal dynamics in political movements in watershed periods. It is necessary now to admit that in Afghanistan and in the Taliban the first round has been won by the reactionaries. Nevertheless, professed pieties and hermetic decision making notwithstanding, the conflict within Taliban driven by anger on the streets and dissent in the countryside, is only beginning. Yes true, the Taliban did not fight for 20 years in the mountains to win power and then create a liberal state. Nor do the hardliners care a whit about the hardships people suffer without medical services and food. What will forces change within the movement is if these deficits provoke challenges to its power in the country at large, and if internal cracks within the Taliban widen under stress. The real world will in the end win over the imagined world of faith, ideology and ignorance.

You would be justified to reckon that the government was formed in a home-for-the-aged. Aging Mohammad Hassan Akhund, an aide of the Taliban founder Omar, is PM and Abdul Ghani Baradar his deputy. Omar’s son Yaqoob is defence minister. Two senior Haqqani network members, leader Sirajuddin Haqqani and his aging uncle Khalil Haqqani are interior minister and minister for refugees respectively. Akund, Siarjuddin and Khalil are on UN sanctions lists for terrorism. It’s as if after victory in the Panjshir Valley they cocked their thumb at the world, especially the West and said “Bugger off! We won the war. We will do as we please”. That in broad terms is the government though described as “Interim”. Unsurprisingly, Beijing welcomed the new government. It is playing at global foreign policy and currying favour with the Taliban not to interfere with its repression of Uighur Muslims. China will be of no help in the democratisation of Afghanistan (or Sri Lanka or Burma or anywhere).

The leaders professed that women will play a prominent role and have access to education, but they were excluded from talks when forming a government and there is no longer any mention of a ministry of women’s affairs. About 40% of school children are girls and 30% sitting the university entrance exams are women; unrepentant religious aboriginals in the leadership will attempt to roll all this back. I keep returning to the women’s issue because my sense is that repressing women who have tasted education and employment and then oppressing them socially is not sustainable and will engender conflict. Attempts to impose a Pashtun state on other ethnicities by an aged ideologically primitive leadership in the context of an economic meltdown will aggravate conflict and create splits and realignments within the movement. This may bring younger leaders to the helm and then modify the state itself. The signals as yet are mixed. If the leaders refuse to budge, conflict between the people and the Taliban will break into the open. This is not a desirable scenario; a compromise is better.

This essay has continuity in views and content with my column of September 5, “A perspective on conflicts in the Taliban” which readers may wish to consult.

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My personal experience and perspective of Astrology and Palmistry

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by Dr Nihal D Amerasekera

I was simply fascinated by the stories about his experience with palmistry revealed by my erstwhile colleague Prof Sanath Lamabadusuriya in a recent article to the Sunday Island Newspaper.

Palmistry or Cheiromancy originated in ancient India more than 5,000 years ago and spread to China, Greece and Rome. Now palmistry as an art is practiced worldwide. At present there are three types of palmistry, Indian, Western and Chinese. The Western and Chinese palmistry now show a significant divergence from the original Indian palmistry. The Indian Vedic astrology is closely linked to the notions of karma. Palmists believe Palmistry is both a science and an art. Astrology originated in Babylon far back in antiquity around 2,400 years ago.

I spent much of my childhood with my grandparents both of whom were measured and well-mannered health care professionals. Bringing up their children in the aftermath of the first World War they endured the nomadic life of government transfers every four years serving in some of the most inhospitable places. Those were troubled times of malaria, dysentery and typhoid epidemics. In those days without TV and radio they developed a hobby which was all consuming. They were excellent and adept palmists and astrologers.

I still recall the many books on the subject that filled the bookshelves of our house in Nugegoda. Friends and family got my grandparents to cast horoscopes and got their palms read. For them it was a hobby for which no money changed hands. According to family folklore, when I was born at the Kandy hospital my grandma, was there with her watch recording the time of birth with accuracy. The local time in Ceylon was changed during World War II to what was called ‘War Time’. This caused enormous upheaval in the astrology community in getting the time correct for casting horoscopes.

I grew up in a milieu with great belief in the ability to predict the future. We all had our astrological charts on rolled up ola leaves. My grandparents were well aware of its difficulties and shortcomings and also how, when and what information to divulge. My grandfather was a fine palmist. He never lost his sense of playfulness or the ability to find humour in his predictions. When I was a young kid I was told that I will be a doctor and my future lies in another country. In retrospect I am amazed how accurately he summed up my future.

He was always discreet in his predictions and did so with great sensitivity. In the fullness of years, I can acknowledge now, the predictions were remarkably accurate. I had a cousin who was my age and attended the local school with me. When I asked my grandpa about her future he was reluctant to discuss it. It brought us great sadness when she died tragically age 35. There were times he did get things wrong. His clientele was family and friends. These errors came to light many years later and no one came to any serious harm.

My grandfather did tell me that I had the perfect chart to be a good palmist. I did learn the basics from him and loved it. He often said “practice makes perfect” and that I should read palms regularly. The idea did appeal to me. It is wonderful to be able to predict the future. As a teenager there were too many other interests and distractions. Although my interest receded it never died. I took it up again briefly after retirement, just as a hobby. On a Mediterranean cruise I discovered palmistry was a good ‘party trick’. The mere mention at the dinner table that I could read the palm generated great interest. Despite my disclaimer of being a novice the ladies lined up for their futures to be revealed.

When I was a first year medical student we visited a family friend in Kollupitiya. There was a large gathering. Amongst the crowd was a professional palm reader. They asked me if I want my palm read. Without much thought I agreed and realised later that was a huge mistake. As there was an audience the palmist played to the gallery. Some very personal events of my future life were bared for all to hear causing me great embarrassment and distress. Much of the past was incorrect and in retrospect the future predictions were a load of rubbish. In those days I wasn’t vocal enough and suffered in silence. I still blush when I think about it. This is an excellent example of how NOT to read the palm. There are many such unscrupulous quacks and rogues that hoodwink the people to earn a living.

All palmists should learn the trade as an apprentice to a true professional who should pass on their wisdom, teach the obligations and the refinements we call “bedside manner”. Like in the Hippocratic oath they should be taught “primum non nocere” ( first, do no harm). In my childhood I recall the village astrologers and palmists who frightened the people with impending doom and gloom and extracted money to counteract the forces of evil. Perhaps with increased literacy and learning these practices have now largely disappeared. It is my belief that like in every profession, for astrology and palmistry too, well beyond the aptitude, some have the special gift of instinct or intuition that set them apart from the rest. I have met a few such brilliant professional astrologers and palmists who have made a name for themselves and make an honourable living.

The art of predicting the future has always fascinated people all over the world. For a young person with all his/her life before them there is that inevitable desire to know what is in store. Even In the 21st century that desire still exist. There are some who would say “why know the future, just get on with life”. As a septuagenarian, knowing the fragility of life, I agree with that sentiment completely. Que sera sera – whatever will be will be.

On a personal level, my future has been predicted with great accuracy and I have good reason to believe in both palmistry and astrology. The accurate time of birth and proper casting of the horoscope is the key to its reliability. Even with all that the predictions are neither fool-proof nor flawless. Finding a genuine bona-fide palmist or astrologer is like searching for a needle in a haystack.

There is a conflict between my scientific background and those imprecise and unregulated business of astrology and palmistry. As a medical professional I am trained only to trust evidence-based information and have some scepticism and even some cynicism about matters I cannot deduce logically.

I never allowed my decisions to be guided by astrology or palmistry. Those predictions have no guarantee of accuracy although it gave me a fairly clear picture of what the future held for me. I have lived my life as I wanted making much of the decisions on the hoof. In the main I have no regrets. I have always believed that although my future lay in my own hands much what happens to us in life is governed and influenced by the awesome forces of destiny.

As old age came to my grandparents, they had the respect and love of the extended family. I will always remember grandma’s diligence, energy and enthusiasm, and grandpa’s calm reflective kindness. Their demise to me was an end of an era. The memory of my grandparents still remains with me as a dear and precious possession.

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