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Reminiscences of Peradeniya: The Ramanathan Oath

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By S. A. Karunaratne

Some of us who are now spending the evening of our lives like to recall memories of our younger days and, share them with the present generation. There is one such event and a piece of writing related to the so called ‘Rag Week’ at Peradeniya which I thought would be of interest to the readers of The Island . I have not seen or read this in any publication so far, and my main motivation for writing this is the thought that since many of the people concerned have already left this world, the story needs to be placed on record before those of us who know it also join them soon. This piece of writing (the Ramanathan Oath) was not intended to be a serious oath. It was actually a part of a joke, befitting the occasion and therefore, the author loaded it with amazing wit and humour. I see a certain magical quality in it so much so that even after reading it for the hundredth time during the past 60 I still find it fresh and funny enough to make me smile for a while.

The event surrounding the Oath Taking has to be described first.

The year was 1957 and the new entrants to the University of Peradeniya moved into the respective Halls of Residence assigned to them sometime in July. I happened to be one of the ‘freshers’. The Hall assigned to me was Ramanthan Hall which was a men’s hostel at that time.

Borrowing a phrase from Dickens, “It was the the best of times and it was the worst of times.” Dr Sarachchandra staged ‘Maname’ about one year back in the same sorroundings, where its pleasant memories were still lingering on. The charm of Lester James Peiris’s innovative film: ‘Rekhawa’, which gave a completely new direction to the Sinhala cinema, breaking away from the Indian tradition, was still fresh in the minds Sinhala cinema lovers. SWRD Bandaranika had won the General Election ushering in a wholly new awakening in the cultural ethos in the country. Sri Lanka had not yet begun to feel the bite of scarcities created by declining foreign exchange reserves and increasing unemployment. Although every prospect appeared pleasing at the time, certain undercurrents of communal discord were nevertheless brewing below the surface. The rest, leading upto “Emergency 58” is well known history.

However, during those good old days,the ‘Rag’ conducted by the senior students was supposed to be an initiation for the new entrants. It lasted only one week, unlike the torture sessions extended over several months conducted in its name now. What happened during the Rag those days was not entirely unpleasant to those at the receiving end. In fact we still remember many amusing incidents over which we had hearty laughs afterwards. While writing this note, I happened to read the article on the Peradeniya campus life, written by Nissanka Warakulla (The Island Sat Mag; June 15, 2019). Since it describes fairly faithfully, the relevant scenario, my task has been made easier. For that I am thankful to him. However, I cannot remember meeting Nissanka who was a contemporary of mine though two years junior from his own account). His reference to the practice of announcing the results of the University Entrance Examination via a list published in the leading English daily newspaper is relevant to understanding a particular statement in the Ramanathan Oath. The older generation to which I belong probably has no difficulty in recalling some of the personalities and events mentioned in the Oath. Where necessary a few end notes explaining them are included.

What I wish to relate now is the event to which I referred earlier. It marked the conclusion of the Rag Week at the Ramanathan Hall. During the dinner hour the “Honourable Seniors” made an announcement to command all the freshers to form a line along the main ground floor corridor leading to the back door exit. Everyone was given a lighted candle and asked to sit on the floor. Then several seniors came and compulsorily administered a spoonful of foul tasting liquid to each of the freshers. No, fortunately it was not the kind of nasty mixture that we hear of now. Some of the freshers recognized it as Quinine- the bitter medicine used in treatment of Malaria. Most of us managed to gulp it down. This was immediately followed by a more unpleasant test of endurance: kissing the bad end of an ordinary choir broom held to each nose. Immediately after this ritual, all the corridor lights went out and the freshers were marching slowly and silently (no talking was allowed) in an orderly line in candlelight towards the back of the building and up one or two staircases (I do not remember how many now) and then herded into a room which looked like a small common room or a study area. We had to sit on the floor against the wall (some of us were standing due to lack of space.) and facing what looked like a speaker’s lectern. Someone who looked like a judge or a priest in a long black cloak and wearing a dignified and grave look on his painted face stood against this desk ready to address the crowd. Two of our fresher colleagues stood on either side of the ‘Judge’ holding two candles to enable him to read a document kept on the desk. The two assistants were attired to suit the occasion (My memory is not clear on this). It would have been dark shirts and funny caps and or coloured ribbons on their hair. The whole room was dark except for the two candles. We could not escape the feeling that we all were suddenly become a part of a mystery filled drama.

Then the (Judge) Oath Giver commanded attention and began to read .

 

STAND

“This oath shall hereafter be cited as the Oath of Allegiance to Ramanathan Hall”

 

Silence !

 

(Kneel and repeat after me)

 

I —(Your name)…a squint-eyed, lock-jawd, yellow-livered, bow-legged, hare-lipped, dog -eared, chicken-chested, pot-bellied, pigeon-toed and cork-screwed fresher, who so lately arrived before this holy citadel through a process of clerical errors and misprints in the newspapers, so freshly torn asunder from the navel string of my mother, the purse strings of my father, and the apron strings of my ayah

 

“Because of the Law that no man can conjoin what the Honourable Seniors have disjoined, do hereby beg and pray, worship and neigh, kneel and bray, in the humblest manner to gain entrance to this Varsity Olympus, this Seat of Learning, this Demi-Paradise, this other Eden (without Anthony Eden) ;Ramanathan Hall.

 

STAND

 

I do hereby stand erect or bent (as the case may be) and purify myself by drinking deep of this drought Wada Kaha, the local Hemlock which is more powerful than the Hemlock that killed Socratese or Tony Lock who bowled against the West Indies

 

KNEEL, AND DRINK

 

I kneel again at the feet of my Honourable Seniors, feeling now like an appendix – useless when quiet, but in danger of being removed when troublesome, I entreat that the Right Honourable Seniors may give me the will to live, or the way to die, cure me of the gray sickness and procure me some gray matter. I give them all the power to make or break me, make me take one step forward, and two steps backward, educate and civilize me, specially in such days as these, when philisophers declare that the earth is flat, walk about in clogs and talk through their hats, and scientists say that we were born tomorrow in a relative way.

 

I kneel here penitent but thankful on the threshhold of life, with a pledge which comes from the deepest depths of my non-existent bowels, that I shall adopt the Monroe Doctrine on the fair sex, for in the modern wedlock, too many cooks lose the key, as the marriage is a dinner where the soup tastes better than the dessert.

 

I shall not bolt on seeing Bolton and I shall keep strictly away from from the Upper Hantana, the Switzerland Peradeniya and steer clear of the shade under the Bam, under the Boo, under the

Bamboo on the Mahaveli Banks for the fear being chased by man eaters and Pie Cutters, and other such atomic blunders and anatomic wonders.

 

STAND, KNEEL

 

I, Humpty Dumpty fresher shall not cast lustful looks and Kolynose smiles at the countless females of the species, infesting and infecting the campus, some virgins ans some otherwise, until such time as I have passed the General Arts Qualifying Examination. Amen.

 

STAND !

 

Once the administration of the Oath ended, all lights were switched on. The Honourable Seniors present declared the Rag Week had come to and end that we were all friends. They came smiling and shook hands put their hands on our shoulders. No more the stern advice: “Don t try to be familiar”. The freshers were all much relieved and delighted, but not for long! A few minutes later, there was an unexpected onslaught of bucketing. However, there was nothing to worry. That was the thank you for the cooperation and parting gift of the seniors, some of whom also got drenched. it was all clean water from the tap. “Sorry about that men. Go and get a bath for a change”

Some of the seniors who engaged in the ragging operation at the Hall of Residence eventually became our good friends. The idea that ragging was an essential element of university life is probably a myth. This is why the majority of the senior students stayed away from this unsavoury practice. I would not like to classify the Oath Taking event described above as a form of ragging. It was probably an experiment in drama art, conducted during the Rag Week because, in the set of entrants, the organizer/organizers of the show found a set of docile and obedient group. The minor torture elements were added to make it look like ragging, to satisfy some of ragging enthusiasts.

For some time, we were wondering whose idea it was to plan and arrange such an interesting and unique event as the Oath Taking which we witnessed, nobody owned up. However, over time, everybody agreed that it was none other than G. K. Hattotuwegama, who in later life became a well known drama personality responsible, among other things, for pioneering work in Street Drama and for being a much respected Guru to a number of well known actors and actresses adorning the Stage and Screen today. The oath taking was probably an experiment in drama which GK conducted – we could recall some other instances when he pulled some surprises on his fellow residents and walked away as if nothing happened. I am therefore sure that it was GK himself who composed the most of the Oath, if not the entire piece and played the role of the Oath Administrator on that never-to-be-forgotten night in July 1957.

(The hand written version of the R- Oath document which I acquired probably contained some errors and omissions which were carried over to the above typed version. I offer my apologies for that ,and kindly request those readers who may have the correct version to contact me at my email) karunaratnesa@yahoo.com> )

 

End Notes

:

(1)

Para 1 of the R. Oath: ‘Clerical errors and misprints in the newspapers’ : In those days before the advent of the Mobile phone and the Internet, the University of Ceylon informed the candidates of the results of the Entrance Examination via advertisements in the daily newspapers..

(2) Para 2

Anthony Eden: The name of the British Prime Minister during 1955-57

(3) Para 3– Wada Kaha:

A home-made herbal mixture taken by a large number of misguided women in Sri Lanka, who believed that when taken during the Total Solar Eclipse of July 1950 it would make them more beautiful. However, it turned out that the medicine produced unexpected and embarrassing results requiring treatment in hospital. The event made amusing newspaper headlines for several days.

(4) Para 3: Tony Lock and West Indies:

Cricket enthusiasts of the older generation will probably recall these events and personalities.

(5) Para 4:

The ‘Flat Earth Theory’ This was apparently a subject of serious academic discussion among some students and teachers in the Philosophy Department at that time.

Para 6

: Bolton: The reference here is to Mr Bolton – the Chief Marshall who apparently was responsible for student decipline and security within the Peradeniya campus. A person with smart and athletic appearance, he also functioned as the Boxing Coach at Peradeniya. – all the more reason to avoid unpleasant encounters with him!

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Sat Mag

Health benefits of veganism

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That a vegan diet helps in reducing, and even removing diabetes and heart disease, is fairly well known. While generally higher in carbs, vegan diets are up to 2.4 times more effective at improving blood sugar management in people with diabetes. Vegan diets are also more effective at reducing total and LDL (bad) cholesterol, compared to omnivorous diets

But what effect does it have on other problems of the human body.

In a study done by C. M. Clinton et al. in 2015, 40 people with osteoarthritis followed either a whole-food, plant-based vegan diet, or their regular omnivorous diet for six weeks. The vegan group reported greater improvements in symptoms, energy levels, vitality, and physical functioning, compared to the regular diet group.

Since I have had rheumatoid arthritis for the last 20 years, I was particularly interested in this study done by R. Peltonen et al printed in the British Journal of Rheumatology, 1997. This study took 43 people with rheumatoid arthritis. Participants consumed either a raw, vegan diet rich in lactobacilli, or their habitual omnivorous diet for one month. Participants in the vegan group also experienced significant improvements in disease symptoms, such as swollen and tender joints, much less pain, joint swelling, and morning stiffness, than those continuing with their existing diet. A return to their omnivorous diet, after the study was over, again aggravated their symptoms.

A raw vegan diet is actually the answer to almost everything. But it is the most difficult thing to do. When I binge on rice and curries over several weeks, I give myself two days of just “green juice”- a mixture of whatever green vegetables/leaves we have in the kitchen, a few neem and coriander leaves, ginger, tomato, haldi, celery, beetroot, and a fruit, four times a day. This brings me back to good health immediately and makes me lose weight! In fact, every study done, on the effects of a vegan diet on weight loss, shows it to be far more effective than any other diet. I tried a vegan diet during the Covid lockdown and lost 11 kg in three months – without feeling hungry at all. In fact, now I eat only once a day and my feeling of fullness could be due to the higher intake of dietary fibre which can help people feel full. But it could also be because studies show that a vegan meal reduces the hunger hormone, ghrelin, less than a meat-containing meal, in healthy participants.

What effect does a vegan diet have on the brain? Scientists Medawar, Huhn, Villringer and Witte, reviewed 32 studies done on the effects of plant-based diets on cognition, and printed the results in Translational Psychiatry.

This is what they write, “We found robust evidence for beneficial effects of plant-based diets versus conventional diets on weight status, energy metabolism and systemic inflammation in healthy participants, obese and type-2 diabetes patients. Considering neurological or psychiatric diseases and brain functions, the systematic review yielded in six clinical trials of diverse clinical groups, i.e. migraine, multiple sclerosis, fibromyalgia and rheumatoid arthritis. Here, mild to moderate improvement, e.g. measured by antibody levels, symptom improvement or pain frequency, was reported in five out of six studies, sometimes accompanied by weight loss”

The most important thing they found was that the body’s inflammation was much less in plant-based eaters. “The reason could be due to the abundance of anti-inflammatory molecules in plants and/or their avoidance of pro inflammatory animal-derived molecules.” This is important because inflammation leads to obesity, cardiovascular disease and a higher risk of dementia.

A study by Song et al. estimated that statistically replacing 3% of animal protein, especially from red meat or eggs, with plant protein would significantly improve mortality rates. “This beneficial effect might however not be explained by the protein source itself, but possibly by detrimental components found in meat/eggs and milk (e.g. heme-iron, opioid-peptides, nitrosamines, antibiotics, dioxins).”

In a study done by Winston Craig on the “Health effects of vegan diets”, printed in The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, 2009, he writes :

 “A vegan diet appears to be useful for increasing the intake of protective nutrients and phytochemicals and for minimizing the intake of dietary factors implicated in several chronic diseases.” In a recent report by World Health Organization and Food and Agriculture Organization (WHO/FAO), different plant food groups were rated with respect to their ability to influence chronic disease reduction. Cancer risk reduction, associated with a high intake of fruit and vegetables, was assessed as probable/ possible risk of heart disease reduction as convincing, and lower risk of osteoporosis was assessed as probable.

Data from the Adventist Health Study showed that non vegetarians had a substantially increased risk of both colorectal and prostate cancer than did vegetarians. A vegetarian diet provides a variety of cancer-protective dietary factors. In addition, obesity is a significant factor, increasing the risk of cancer. Because the mean BMI of vegans is considerably lower than that of non-vegetarians, it may be an important protective factor for lowering cancer risk.

Fruit and vegetables are described as protective against cancer of the lung, mouth, oesophagus, and stomach, and to a lesser degree at some other sites, whereas the regular use of legumes provides a measure of protection against stomach and prostate cancer. In addition, fibre, vitamin C, carotenoids, flavonoids, and other phytochemicals in the diet, are shown to exhibit protection against various cancers, whereas allium vegetables provide protection against stomach cancer, and garlic against colorectal cancer. Foods rich in lycopene, such as tomatoes, are known to protect against prostate cancer.

Red meat and processed meat consumption are consistently associated with an increased risk of colorectal cancer. Those with the highest intake of red meat had elevated risks, ranging from 20% to 60%, of oesophageal, liver, colorectal, and lung cancers than did those who ate the least. The use of eggs was recently shown to be associated with a higher risk of pancreatic cancer. Data suggest that legume intake is also associated with a moderate reduction in the risk of prostate cancer. Consumption of isoflavone-containing soy products during childhood, and adolescence, protects women against the risk of breast cancer later in life, whereas a high childhood dairy intake has been associated with an elevated risk of colorectal cancer in adulthood. Data from the Adventist Health Study showed that consumption of soy milk by vegetarians protected them against prostate cancer, whereas in other studies the use of dairy was associated with an increased risk of prostate cancer.

Bone health depends on more than just protein and calcium intakes. Research has shown that bone health is also influenced by nutrients such as vitamin D, vitamin K, potassium, and magnesium, and by foods such as soy and fruit and vegetables. Vegan diets do well in providing a number of those important substances. Results from 2 large cohort studies support an association between vitamin K intake and the risk of hip fracture. In the Nurses’ Health Study, middle-aged women consuming the most vitamin K, green leafy vegetables, had a 45% less risk of hip fracture. In the Framingham Heart Study, elderly men and women, who ate the largest amount of leafy vegetables, had a 65% decreased risk of hip fracture than did those who ate the least.”

Fruits and vegetables provide phytochemicals and vitamin C that boost immune function and prevent certain types of cancer. A meta-analysis on the effect of a plant-based diet concludes a beneficial effect on heart disease, cancer, overweight, body composition, glucose tolerance, digestion and mental health. You have only one body. Why don’t you take care of it ?

( To join the animal welfare

movement contact gandhim@nic.in, www.peopleforanimalsindia.org)

 

 

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Sat Mag

Sugar is the villain, not fat

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By Dr Parakrama Waidyanatha

After the Second World War, with increasing affluence, the consumption of fat, sugar and fast foods increased notably, and concurrently the incidence of coronary heart disease stroke and metabolic syndrome (blood pressure, diabetes and obesity), in the U.S and Europe. It is reported that fast food outlets in the U.S doubled from 1972 to 1999 whereas obesity jumped by 113% and currently remains at 18.5%! Worldwide, obesity has tripled since 1975 and is now 9% whereas childhood obesity is even higher, being 10.9%, having increased more than tenfold across the world over the past four decades! Obesity is now a serious worldwide malady, especially of young ones for which diet is key, sugar being the main culprit!

However, since the 1950s the blame on heart disease and strokes has been laid squarely on saturated fat (SFA) consumption and elevation of blood serum cholesterol (BSC), and in the early 1970s the lipid hypothesis came into being and was globally accepted. It states that SFA consumption increases serum lipids and BSC which clogs arteries leading to heart attacks and strokes. Of the three types of cholesterol, HDL, LDL and VLDL the latter two, also called the bad cholesterol are believed to clog arteries via the formation of plaques inside blood vessels whereas HDL, the so called good cholesterol, scavenges the excess serum cholesterol and transports it back to the liver. The lipid hypothesis was based on the exhaustive research findings; but despite substantial evidence contradicting the findings, the medical authorities of the U.S, supported by the American Heart Association, stood by its decision. It was reported then that in the U.S, the people feared saturated fat more than ghosts!

However, despite substantial reduction in the consumption of fat and cholesterol, over the last five decades, the incidence of heart disease hardly decreased.

Overwhelming evidence

contradicting the saturated

fat- heart disease hypothesis

A major study relating to the lipid hypothesis was the Framingham study, a longitudinal cohort study, a type of epidemiological study, that followed a group of individuals over time to determine the natural history of coronary heart disease and strokes. However, the study failed to demonstrate the expected relationship of SFA and BSC. Interestingly, William P. Castele, M D, the Director of the Study, writing an editorial in the journal ‘Archives of Internal Medicine’ in July 1992 states that “in Framingham, Massachusetts, the more saturated fat one ate, the more calories one ate, lower the persons BSC, …. they weighed the least and were the most physically active”

Similarly, the Framingham Ischemic stroke study reported in the article titled ‘Inverse association of dietary fat with development of ischemic stroke in men’ published in the Journal of American Medical Association, by Gilman, M.W et al (1997), the authors reported an inverse association of dietary fat with the development of ischemic stroke in men; and the lowest incidence of strokes was with the highest saturated fat consumers. The duration of the study was 20 years and included 832 men.

A much publicised study by the anti-SFA lobby was the Seven Countries study of Ancel Keys, considered the leader of the ‘diet-heart hypothesis. He claimed establishing a correlation between SFA consumption and CHD . His demeanour was most confident and convincing, and many nutritionist of the day believed him and fell in line. However, this study was also subjected to a critical evaluation by a famous biometrician of the period, Wood W D P. In a publication in Statistician in 1981, he questioned how Ancel Keys selected the seven countries out of the 21 OECD countries. He pointed out that, statistically, there were 116,280 ways of selecting seven samples out of 21, and fewer than 10% of the samples gave a correlation coefficient equal to or more than 0.84, and his correlation varied from +0.9 to – 0.9 !

Then in 1990, a famous cardiologist at the time, Sir Walter Willet writing an eeditorial in the American Journal of Public Health’stated that ‘even though the focus of dietary recommendation is usually a reduction of saturated fat intake, no relation between saturated fat intake and risk of coronary heart disease was observed in the most informative prospective study to date’.

 

A landmark happening of the epoch was the diametrically opposite stand taken by Paul Dudley White, M.D, famous cardiologist in the 1970 s to support Keys from what he did in 1956! He was the President then of the American Heart Association and later cardiologist of President Eisenhower. On invitation to a television programme to support the SFA- CHD in hypothesis in 1956, he said: “See here, I began my practice as a cardiologist in 1921, and I never saw an MI (myocardial infarction) patient until 1928. Back in the MI-free days before 1920, the fats were butter and lard, and I think that we would all benefit from the kind of diet that we had at a time when no one had ever heard the word corn oil” In 1961, Eisenhower suffered a heart attack and Keys diet heart hypothesis was the belief of the day. Eisenhower too was convinced by it; and apparently Dudley White changed his thinking through conviction or otherwise!

In regard to association of SFA and CHD then, the following conclusions can be drawn:

1. International epidemiology is flawed by confounding factors and selection biases;

2. Within countries, epidemiology gives little support for diet and heart disease;

3. Risk factors have largely been established by epidemiological studies, and only provide evidence of associations not of cause and effect;

4. Trends in CHD mortality not consistent with changes in amount and type of fat in the diet;

5. Less than 50% of CHD risk is accounted by known risk factors; and

no research has proved high BSC or High SFA intakes cause CHD

Villain remains at large

Concurrently with the evolution of the lipid hypothesis, Professor John Yudkin, the highly reputed British Physiologist claimed that sugar was a hazard to public health. In fact, reviewing the Ancel Keys’ data relating to the lipid hypothesis, he was astounded by the correlation of heart disease not with fat consumption but sugar. His research established that sugar processed in the liver is converted to fat before entering the blood stream. Ancel Keys was intensely aware of Yudkin’s research but called it ‘mountain of nonsense’, and accused of producing ‘propaganda’ in support of the meat and dairy industry. Sadly, the mild character Yudkin, did not positively respond to Keys. He was also vulnerable to attack by the British Sugar Bureau which dismissed his claims as ‘emotional assertions’!

Although Keys had shown a correlation between saturated fat and heart disease, he failed to exclude the possibility that the disease could also be caused by something else; but his Italian partner in the Seven Country Study Allesandro Menotti, re-analyzing the data showed that sugar was the food that correlated the most with heart disease deaths, and not saturated fat! It was too late as in most countries saturated fat hypothesis was already the official position!

John Yudkin retired from his post at Queens Elizabeth College in 1971 to write his book ‘Pure, White and Deadly’ which the current day nutritionists consider a masterpiece. The College, however, reneged on a promise for him to continue to use the facilities, as it had hired a fully committed supporter of the fat hypothesis to replace him, the man who built the nutrition department of the College from scratch!

Villain convicted

There is now overwhelming evidence that excessive sugar, in fact fructose, consumption in the key cause of the metabolic syndrome: hypertension, diabetes, obesity and heart disease, Alzeimer’s disease and cancer. Sucrose breaks down in the liver into 50% each of fructose and glucose.

In the US for example, the per capita sugar consumption has doubled in the last 50 years from 32kg to 63kg, and that is why despite the majority opting for a low fat diet with the advent of the lipid hypothesis, CHD rate increased. The global consumption of sugar is 23 kg per capita per year whereas, that of Sri Lanka and India, for example, are 23 and 19. The highest sugar consumer is UAE at an unbelievable 214 kg per capita per year!

Robert Lustig, M.D, a pediatric endocrinologist and a leading campaigner against excessive sugar consumption claims that fructose is a poison! Much of it is consumed via high fructose corn syrup, which is a major component in many of the sugary drinks such as coke; and 12.1% of the daily caloric intake of an adult American is via fructose. He states that hepatic fructose metabolism leads to visceral adiposity (abdominal fat accumulation) leading to all manifestations of the metabolic syndrome. Thirty percent of the fructose is said to be converted to very low density lipoproteins (VLDL) which block the blood vessels through synthesis of plaques. The LDL cholesterol, he claims is not as bad as we think.

Lustig in his much quoted 90 minute lecture titled Sugar: the bitter truth, uncompromisingly claims that sugar is the main cause of the global obesity syndrome. He argues that governments catering to the sugar mafia have overlooked the facts. It is sad that the world overlooked John Yudkin’s warning for half a century with catastrophic consequences! The American Heart Association now recommends only 9 teaspoonfuls of sugar per capita per day as against the average US consumption of 26!

In conclusion, whilst sugar is the main culprit, saturated fat cannot probably be totally absolved. Sadly the global food industry cabal too should be blamed for overlooking the health warnings. They have been hell bent on fighting one another for grocery shop space rather than heeding public health: and it is up to the governments now to be more resolute in controlling the food quality from the health perspective.

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Sat Mag

Ranjith Rubasinghe’s journey into television (Part II)

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By Uditha Devapriya

Continued from last Saturday

Never one to abandon his education, Ruba proceeded to obtain diplomas and qualifications in journalism from the University of Colombo (where he was taught by Edwin Ariyadasa), the Open University, and the Sri Lanka Press Council. How he balanced these pursuits with what one can only describe as a hectic, rigorous schedule is probably grist for another biography; suffice it to say that, among other important lessons, he learnt that “filmmaking is no nine-to-five business.” 20-hour shoots with short breaks were very much the norm then. “Basically, if you were planning to enter the industry, you had to be prepared to work on time, overtime, all the time. Shoddiness was never tolerated. Not once.”

But these are the same values that seem to be deteriorating in the industry today. That, Ruba tells me, is attributable to the race for popularity actors and directors are enmeshed in. “They are only interested in what they can buy with what they earn. They are not interested, at least not as much as their forbearers were in my time, in sustaining the industry that fed them.” In other words, consumerism and advertising, which by no means were lacking on film and TV back in the day, have come to monopolise popular culture now.

Unfortunately for Ruba, this has a personal bearing on him also: in the early 2000s, he made the decision to jump from the assistant’s to the director’s chair.

His first television directorial venture, Ruwan Sakmana, came out in 2002. Helped by the late H. D. Premaratne and scripted by K. B. Herath, it was telecast on Swarnavahini, featuring the likes of Deepani Silva and Janak Premalal. Five years later, in 2007, his second TV venture, Mosam Rella, got a slot on Rupavahini; again scripted by Herath, it featured a stellar cast: Tony Ranasinghe, Daya Tennakoon, and Grace Ariyawimal all took part in it. Like Ruwan Sakmana, it was half morality tale, half thriller, and it ends, again as with his first serial, with redemption for the protagonist and comeuppance for the villain. Sumitra Peries liked both: “they are good,” she told me, “not only because they are technically proficient, but because, seeing them, you can discern the director’s love for storytelling.”

Rubasinghe’s latest television miniseries, Yathrakaya, has a frustratingly long history. Shot in every conceivable location, from Anuradhapura to Nuwara-Eliya, and spanning 30 episodes, Ruba spared no expense to instil authenticity to the narrative, “which is basically about a man who, thought dead, is caught up in an investigation.” I’m surprised to hear that it’s based on a series of incidents which took place “a long, long time back.” Indeed, the minute he heard of the story, he had collected almost every newspaper article on it.

I put to Ranjith that he must have taken some effort to scout for locations. He agrees. “We went almost everywhere to be honest, from Anuradhapura to Dankotuwa to Negombo and to Gampaha and Nuwara-Eliya. We even shot a character’s death from a train accident ‘live’, taking advantage of a slow moving train coming from the Awariwatta Station in Katunayake. The driver didn’t know what we were doing. We heard the train sounding its horn frantically, but we waited until the last minute.”

Yathrakaya

, as with his previous ventures, was written by K. B. Herath, and it starred, among a galaxy of other names, the late Tony Ranasinghe; apparently the crew were putting together the final cut when he passed away in 2015. Having edited and reedited it, Ruba lobbied for sponsors for the finished product; that he hasn’t received word from them even today is cause for concern, especially since Rupavahini granted a slot for the show. Frustrated as he is by the patronage lavished on “mega-series”, he is nevertheless still hopeful.

For me, however, this is tragic. It is especially tragic since, given Rubasinghe’s enthusiastic ramblings about his hopes and dreams, Yathrakaya appears to be unlike Ruwan Sakmana and Mosam Rella. This one isn’t just a morality tale cum thriller; it’s more an epic thriller in the vein of The Fugitive or No Country for Old Men. God knows we’re missing that kind of film or miniseries these days. To have come up with such a production a decade and a half ago is laudable, and to not have scored points with sponsors yet is regrettable. “I still have hope,” he wistfully repeats. But hope can last only for so long. Where will we get the serials we deserve on our TV screens, if we don’t pay attention to getting their directors the money?

Rubasinghe has made his case there. It is up to us to listen, and up to sponsors to act. Perhaps we should listen harder, and they should act faster. We’re missing out on a lot.

 

The writer can be reached at udakdev1@gmail.com

 

 

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