Remembering Dr. Tissa Wickremasuriya
It is just over an year since the sad departure of our very dear friend Dr. Tissa Wickremasuriya. On August 21, 2020, just a few weeks before his 80th birthday, he moved on leaving his family and friends forlorn that he is no more. Tissa, to all who knew him and more endearingly ‘Tissa Baby’ to his mother and his siblings, was born at “Carlton”, Tangalle , the ancestral home of the Wickremasuriyas, until it changed hands a few years back. He was the youngest of the seven Wickremasuriya siblings, the versatile progeny of leading lawyer of Tangalle Charles Wickremasuriya and Riseena, sister of the legendary Sri Lankan cricketer, ‘Sargo’ Jayawickrema. An elder sibling, Carl , after whom the ancestral home had been named, “Carlton”, had died early. Tissa was the last of the rest of the brood of six siblings and was also the last to move on. Tissa used to proudly tell this writer that he was the ‘Bada Pissa’, a traditional description of the last born, hinting that he was his mother’s pet.
Tissa Visaka Abeysingha Weera Wickremasuriya, to give his full name, was also called ,in his young days, as Colin, because he, young as he was , loved to imitate that famous Australian spinner, Colin McCool. He was treated as the mascot of the KKK ( Kollupitiya Catchers’ Klub) formed by his elder brothers and their friends to play cricket and have fun. That was in the early forties when his mother set up home at Pendennis Avenue (now Abdul Cafoor Mawatha) to enable her to educate her children at Royal. According to legendary sportsman , Summa Navaratnam, a close friend of the family and schoolmate of Tissa’s elder brothers, the KKK was formed by such contemporaries as Tissa’s elder brothers, Nihal, Sunil, Wimal, V.T.Dickman , Selva Nagendra, M.Kasipillai et al of similar ilk and, of course, Summa himself. Tissa more actively belonged to another KKK (Kolombo Katchers’ Klub) in the early sixties, a club formed by Tissa and a few others like his classmate and former Royal cricket captain Sarath Samarasinghe (SS) , Sidath Jayannetti et al with Tissa’s prospective father in law, ‘Uncle’ L.C. Perera as the jolly patron. The club was formed to play fun-cricket at the then Brownrigg Park as the base. According to SS, they once travelled all the way to Bandarawela to play a team of planters led by former Royal captain Ubhaya de Silva.
Tissa attended Royal from his Royal Prep days, where he was also known by his classmates as ‘Wickarey’, a shortened version of his surname. The nickname also appeared to aptly fit the funny and outlandish things Tissa was always fond of doing and saying! Once his mother wound up the Pendennis Avenue home Tissa moved on to Queen’s Avenue, the residence of his maternal uncle Cyril Rodrigo, of Green Cabin fame. It is at this residence that Tissa first encountered two of the famous three legendary West Indian Ws, Everton Weeks and Clyde Walcott, when they were hosted by the Rodrigo family way back in 1949. There is a photograph showing little Tissa in the centre hanging onto the two Ws. An interesting sequel to this is another photograph taken on Tissa’s 50th birthday in Barbados. Shanthini, his dear wife, pleasantly surprised him by inviting the same two Ws for the party. The historic photograph shows Tissa flanked by Walcott and Weeks to form another set of three Ws: Walcott, Wickremasuriya and Weeks!
Tissa entered Royal College in 1952, and apart from regaling his friends with his splendid company, he made a useful contribution to the general life of the school by participating in many school activities. The challenge before him was clear. All his brothers were achievers in professional life. The eldest George was one of the early Ceylonese planters to enter that profession , two brothers, Nihal and Wimal were practicing lawyers at Tangalle while another, Dr Sunil, was running his own clinic at Carlton itself. The one just above him, Dr. Rony, was a renowned petroleum scientist.
One remembers, while holidaying at “Carlton” in the early 60s, and enjoying the endearing hospitality of his mother, how a challenge was thrown to Tissa by his brothers to match their performances. Two brothers, Dr. Sunil and Wimal, resident at Carlton at the time joined by Nihal the other lawyer also resident at Tangalle and Tissa’s cousin, Dr.Sena (son of the famous gynecologist Dr. George Wickreamasuriya) threw that challenge at him. His brothers Nihal, Sunil and Wimal played cricket for Royal, while Sunil represented Royal at rugby as well. Tissa had to prove himself and prove himself he did. He represented Royal at Rugby in 1959 and 1960 playing in the third-row as a flanker and scoring a memorable try in the Bradby Return of 1959. He finally went onto captain the All University rugby team in 1967. He did play cricket, too, opening batting for Royal with SS in a match against St. Anthony’s College in 1959 under Royal skipper Michael Dias. He was also a very able debater and led the Senior English debating team in 1959. In the same year he was the secretary of the Senior English Literary Association and also won the Senior Best Speaker’s prize competing amidst very stiff competition; a competition judged by eminent lawyer, George Chitty Q.C. His smooth style coupled with subtle humour won the day for him. It is this same humour that rocked the audience much later at an Old Royalists’ Rugby Dinner (ORRD) when he was proposing a toast to the Game. He was describing how the Royal rugby team, when travelling to Kandy by bus, always paid homage to Dawson’s erection at Kadugannawa! In the same mode we heard him at a concert where he posed as a villager and declared that in his village the population was always constant because every time a woman got pregnant a man ran away!
After passing out as a doctor Tissa served in his own home town Tangalle, while also having a voluntary stint as a medical officer in the Navy before leaving our shores with his family to Jamaica to join the University of West Indies (UWI) as a lecturer. While there he also crossed over to UK and obtained his MCH and DTM &H from the University of Liverpool and later a Diploma in Mgt. Studies from the UWI. In his capacity as a lecturer in community medicine at the UWI he then moved over to Barbados. His final stint in the Caribbean was in St Kitts’ on a commonwealth assignment before returning to Sri Lanka to eventually join Asiri Surgical as its Medical Director.
Music was second nature to Tissa. He was an accomplished pianist , who could also lead the singing at the same time. His repertoire was as wide as it was varied ranging from perennial English favourites to popular Sinhala songs of yesteryear. He was quite adept at playing and singing rugby songs with gusto whenever rugby types foregathered around the piano. Whenever our University team played, our hosts were always eagerly awaiting the post-match Sing-a-Along led by Tissa on the piano. But such jollity was not confined to post-match fun only. One particular enjoyable evening, when dear friends Ken and Swyrie Balendra were hosting a group of Canadian tourists who were also rugby enthusiasts, Tissa rocked the place with some of the juiciest of rugby songs to the surprise and utter delight of the guests.
His talent also extended to composing lyrics in both English and Sinhala . His song “Hang Down Your Head, Somarama” describing the tragic murder of the prime minister of the day ,S.W.R.D. Bandaranaike, in 1959 to the tune of Tom Dooley was a popular song of the day. Yet another favourite in our day composed by him in the early 60s was ‘ Apey Aanduwa, Mahajanayage’ Anduwa…’ which was his way of describing the Govt. of the day.
Latterly for reasons best known to him Tissa was shunning the piano. However, after a long lapse he did get on the piano one evening especially to give his grandson Noah and his friends a taste of the musical stuff of our times. His fingers moved so easily on the key-board that no one would ever have suspected that he had not touched the piano for quite sometime. This writer was thrilled to see him back in form bringing back memories in a gush of the wonderful times we had together on and off the field.
With all his talent and achievements, Tissa never forsook the bucolic touch of that guy from Tangalle, often chewing betel as if to show that he had not lost his roots, occasionally interspersing his chats with a typically southern dialect.
Though death is the most certain thing in life, it is sad to reflect on the manner he had to depart, silently going through a terrible trauma from which, he knew as a doctor, that there was no return. With his departure we lost a very dear friend, a well-rounded, deeply concerned, human being, full of wit and humour. Had he been given half a chance at departure time, he would surely have sung to us one of his old favourites:
“We’ll meet again, Don’t know where, Don’t know when , But we know we’ll meet again some sunny day….”
We will always keep him close and dear to our heart! –ULK
Enduring nexus between poverty and violent identity politics
The enduring nexus between poverty or economic deprivation and violent identity politics could not be stressed enough. The lingering identity-based violence in some parts of India’s North-East, to consider one example, graphically bears out this causative link.
At first blush the continuing violence in India’s Manipur state is traceable to inter-tribal hostilities but when the observer penetrates below surface appearances she would find that the root causes of the violence are economic in nature. On the face of it, plans by the state authorities to go ahead with extended economic quotas for the majority Meitei tribal group, for instance, who are considered the economic underdogs in Manipur, have intensified hostilities between the rest of the tribal groups and the Meitei.
It is plain that perceptions among the rest of the tribal communities that they are being unfairly treated by the state are accounting in considerable measure for the continuing ethnic tensions in Manipur. That is, the fear of being deprived of their life-chances on the part of the rest of the communities as a consequence of the new economic empowerment measures being initiated for the Meitei is to a considerable degree driving the ethnic violence in Manipur. It would be reasonable to take the position that economics, in the main, are driving politics in the state.
Sri Lanka, of course, is no exception to the rule. There is no doubt that identity issues propelled to some extent the LTTE’s war against the Sri Lankan state and its armed forces over three long decades.
However, it was perceived economic deprivation on the part of sections of the Tamil community, particularly among its youthful sections, that prompted the relevant disaffected sections to interpret the conflict in ethnic identity terms. In the final analysis, economic issues drove the conflict. If Lankan governments had, from the inception, ensured economic equity and justice in all parts of the country the possibility of ethnic tensions taking root in Sri Lanka could have been guarded against.
Even in contemporary Sudan, the seeming power struggle between two army generals, which has sowed destruction in the country, is showing signs of taking on an ethnic complexion. Reports indicate that the years-long confrontation between the Arab and black African communities over land and water rights is resurfacing amid the main power contest. Economic issues, that is, are coming to the fore. Equitable resource-sharing among the main communities could have perhaps minimized the destructive nature of the current crisis in the Sudan.
Sections of the international community have, over years, seen the majority of conflicts and wars in the post-Cold War decades as being triggered in the main by identity questions. Identity politics are also seen as bound up with an upswing in terrorism. In order to understand the totality of the reasons behind this substantive change one may need to factor in the destabilizing consequences of economic globalization.
The gradual dissolving of barriers to international economic interactions that came in the wake of globalization in the eighties and nineties brought numerous material benefits to countries but in the case of the more traditional societies of the South, there were deeply destabilizing and disorienting results. This was particularly so in those societies where the clergy of particularly theistic religions, such as Islam, held sway over communities.
In these comparatively insulated societies of the South, unprecedented exposure to Western culture, which came in the wake of globalization, was seen as mainly inimical. Besides, perceived alien Western cultural and religious influences were seen by the more conservative Southern clergy as undermining their influence among their communities.
A Southern country that reacted quite early against the above forces of perceived decadence was Iran. Iran’s problems were compounded by the fact that the Shah of the times was following a staunchly pro-US foreign policy. It was only a matter of time before there was an eruption of militant religious fervour in the country, which ultimately helped in ushering an Islamic theocracy in the country. Needless to say, this revolutionary change in Iran impacted drastically the politics of the Middle East and beyond.
Militant Islam was showing signs of spreading in Central Asia when the Soviet military intervention in Afghanistan occurred in 1979. This military incursion could have been seen as an attempt by the Soviet authorities to prevent the spread of militant Islam to Afghanistan, a state which was seen as playing a principal role in the USSR’s security.
However, radical Islamic opposition to the Soviet presence in Afghanistan came in the form of the Mujahedin, who eventually morphed into the present day Taliban. However, as could be seen, the Taliban presence has led to the spread militant religious sentiment in South and South-West Asia.
Fortunately, there is substantive political science scholarship in South Asia currently which helps the observer to understand better the role poverty and material backwardness play in sowing the seeds of religious fundamentalism, or identity politics, among the youth of the region in particular. A collection of papers which would prove helpful in this regard is titled, ‘Civil Wars in South Asia – State, Sovereignty, Development’, edited by Aparna Sundar and Nandini Sundar, (SAGE Publications India Pvt. Ltd.) In some of its papers are outlined, among other things, the role religious institutions of the region play in enticing impoverished youth to radical identity-based violent politics.
While there is no questioning the lead role domestic poverty plays in the heightening and spread of identity politics and the violence that goes hand-in-hand with it, one’s analysis of these questions would not be complete without factoring into the situation external military interventions, such as those of the US in Afghanistan and Iraq, which have aggravated the economic miseries of the ordinary people of those countries. There is an urgent need for in-depth impartial studies of this kind, going forward.
Russian ambassador’s comments
The Russian ambassador to Sri Lanka in a response to my column of May 18th , 2023 titled, ‘Containment Theory returns to West’s ties with East’, takes up the position that the Soviet military presence in Afghanistan, beginning 1979, was not an invasion but an operation that was undertaken by the Soviets on the invitation of the then government of Afghanistan. This amounts to contradicting the well-founded position of the majority of international authorities on the subject that the Soviet push into Afghanistan was indeed a military invasion of the country. This is the position that I have taken over the years and I do not have any reason to back down from it.
The subsequent comments made by the ambassador on my column are quite irrelevant to its thematic substance and do not warrant any replies by me.
Man of the Globe International …branching out
Kalum Samarathunga came into the spotlight when he won the title Man of the Globe International (Charity Ambassador) 2022, held in Malaysia, last year, and also Mr. Sri Lanka 2022.
A former sales and marketing co-coordinator, in Kuwait, Kalum is now into modelling (stepping into the local modelling world in 2021, when he returned to Sri Lanka), and is also focusing on becoming a professional presenter, and an actor, as well.
Kalum made his debut, as a presenter, at the ‘Ramp Comes’ Alive’ fashion show, held in April.
He also mentioned that he has been involved in music, since he was a kid…and this is how our chit-chat went:
1. How would you describe yourself?
I’m just an ordinary guy on the road to achieve my humongous dreams.
2. If you could change one thing about yourself, what would it be?
There was a time where I was very insecure about myself, but everything is fine with me now, so I wouldn’t consider making any changes.
3. If you could change one thing about your family, what would it be?
Nothing at all, because I’m blessed with an amazing family.
Indian Public School, in Kuwait, where I was the leader of the school band, playing the keyboards, and a member of the school dance team, as well. In sports – under 19 long distance runner (800m, 1500m and 5000m), and came second in the inter-school Kuwait clusters, in 2012,
5. Happiest moment?
My happiest moment is that moment when my parents teared up with joy after I called them, from Malaysia, after winning Man Of The Globe International Charity 2022. Seeing my parents crying out of joy was the happiest moment, more than winning the title.
6. What is your idea of perfect happiness?
It doesn’t matter what you do in life as long as it makes you happy. For example, I was born in Kuwait, living a lavish life, a great job and an awesome salary, but I was still unhappy and that’s because I wasn’t doing what I wanted to.
7. Are you religious?
Let’s just say that I’m a God loving person and I live my life according to that. I believe that I’m nothing without God and I have experienced God’s blessings in my life
8. Are you superstitious?
No, because I have never experienced luck in my life. All that I have achieved, in my life, is purely out of hard work.
9. Your ideal girl?
There no points looking beautiful if you can’t keep up a conversation, so “communication” comes first for me; a woman who respects and loves my parents; loyalty and understanding; her voice should be attractive, and she doesn’t have to be someone in the same field I’m in, as long as she trusts me and respects the work I do.
10. Which living person do you most admire?
My mom and dad are my role models, because the man I’m today is because of them. They went through a lot in life to raise me and my siblings.
11. Which is your most treasured possession?
My piano, my first and only friend that was there for me, to make my day. I was a bullied kid in school, until Grade 10, so playing the piano was the only thing that kept me going, and made me happy.
12. If you were marooned on a desert island, who would you like as your companion?
Sri Lankan actress Rashiprabha Sandeepani. I admire her qualities and principles. And, most of all, she was unknowingly there for me during a bad storm in my life.
13. Your most embarrassing moment?
My ex-girlfriend’s mother catching us kissing, and I also got slapped.
14. Done anything daring?
Taking a major risk, during Covid (2021), by leaving everything behind, in Kuwait, and travelling to Sri Lanka, for good, to finally follow my dreams .
15. Your ideal vacation?
I’ve actually forgotten what a vacation feels like because I’ve been so focused on my goals, back-to-back, since 2020.
16. What kind of music are you into?
I don’t stick to a single genre…it depends on my mood.
17. Favourite radio station?
No special liking for any station in particular.
18. Favourite TV station?
I do not watch TV but I do watch TV series, and movies, on my laptop, whenever I can. And, thanks to Sinhala teledramas, on YouTube, I’m able to brush up my Sinhala.
19 What would you like to be born as in your next life?
If this ‘next life’ is actually true, I wouldn’t mind being born as anything, but, most importantly, with “Luck” on my side.
20. Any major plans for the future?
I am planning to invade and destroy Earth…just kidding! I don’t want a top seat in my industry – just the seat I deserve, would be fine.
Anti-ageing foods for younger-looking skin
It is a rich source of quercetin, a powerful antioxidant, which helps in the removal of harmful free radicals from your system. Broccoli is also a natural anti-inflammatory agent, and hence, it prevents your skin from looking tired and dull. So, do not forget to pick some broccolis the next time you go grocery shopping.
Rich in vitamins A and C, spinach keeps your skin healthy and also helps to repair damaged skin cells. It is also rich in lutein, a biomolecule that improves the hydration, as well as elasticity of the skin. So, add this super-food in your diet for a healthy and soft skin.
It is rich source of omega-3 fatty acids that help in improving the elasticity of the skin and in providing wrinkle-free skin. It also add natural glow to your skin and make you look vibrant.
This super-food is loaded with an age-defying ingredient called lycopene. Lycopene shields your skin from environmental damage, prevents wrinkle formation by neutralising free radicals, and also improves its texture. So, consume tomatoes in the form of salad, juice, soup, or anything else. Just do not forget to make them an essential part of your diet.
These tiny powerhouses are rich source of selenium, which protects newly-formed skin cells from damage, caused by pollutants, as well as harsh UV radiation. Selenium is also believed to be helpful in preventing skin cancer. Furthermore, mushrooms are also packed with vitamins B1, B2, B3, B5, and B6. All these vitamins facilitate the growth of new skin cells. Also, our body requires copper to produce collagen and elastin, which are important for maintaining the strength of skin. And, mushrooms are one of the best sources of it. So, to have a youthful skin, make sure you add this plain-looking food in your colourful diet.
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