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Rexy and Chappela:

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View of the Trincomalee harbour entrance from Chapel Hill Radar station

Canine war veterans

An extract from the book ‘Read Between the Lines’

by Admiral Ravindra
C Wijegunaratne
(Retired from Sri Lanka Navy)
Former Chief of Defence Staff

PART I

Are you a dog lover? If not, you do not know what love is. This story is about two dogs, Rexy, a beautiful female German shepherd and Chappela a ‘Pariah dog’, (Pye-dog), a male, whose parents were not known.

Twelve years ago, my son was very keen to have a puppy. I discouraged him as I knew that looking after the dog would be my responsibility sooner or later. My wife Yamuna remained noncommittal whenever the ‘dog talk’ came up during dinner.

Someone had advised Yamuna that as our son was the only child at home it was good to have a pet for him. So, she purchased this puppy. The owners had about five puppies for sale and asked Yamuna to select one. She had said she would choose the one who came towards her first. One puppy left her mother and came towards Yamuna wagging her tiny tail. So, she was selected and named Rexy.

I was serving in Trincomalee as the Commandant of Naval and Maritime Academy (NMA) and Flag Officer Commanding Naval Fleet (FOCNF) at that time. Our Naval Base Trincomalee was under constant threats from LTTE long range weapons and suicide boat attacks from terrorists at that time (2006). The attacks came from the Southern side of the Trincomalee harbour from Sampoor and Sudaikudah. We were always alert and a bright idea was floated by then Commander Fast Attack Craft Squadron, Captain (then) Nandana Jayaratne to fix a Radar and day-night thermal camera at the top of Chapel Hill, the highest positioned the Naval Base, so that we could watch Sampoor area and Trincomalee harbour-mouth well. I volunteered to implement the project, and we fixed the required equipment at Chapel Hill. Several tumbledown buildings which had housed the First World War time Naval Signal station were renovated in double-quick time to use as accommodation for naval personnel detailed for duty, both for Radar and security of the place.

Chapel Hill is far away from main base, and to reach there, you have to trail through a jungle patch. This trail was widened and tarred.

Chapel Hill Radar Station became “my kingdom”. I ensured that very high standards and professionalism were maintained with the help of NMA Navigation School. I used to sleep there at night so in a contingency, I had the complete picture of the Trincomalee harbour, the approaches and Sampoor on radar, thermal camera and visually. It was great a observation position for safety of ships/craft entering and leaving the Trincomalee harbour, which we called as ‘Choke Point’ in our strategic terms. I very well knew that young Commanding Officers of our ships/craft had a lot of confidence and motivation when they heard my voice on their communication sets, directing them and giving details of possible threats at the harbour approaches. So, Chapel Hill became my “Chalet” in Trincomalee.

I saw a black and white puppy by the side of the road leading to Chapel Hill. It was a male left behind by a pack of dogs in jungle area. He was weak and full of ticks and fleas. I took him in my vehicle and gave him a new home at Chapel Hill. After a shampoo bath and powdering he looked very nice and healthy. He was a lovely puppy with no fear of the jungle, barked very loud. It was an ideal outdoor dog. My sailors at Chapel Hill Detachment became very fond of this puppy and they named him “Chappela”.

All our Detachments were given extra food and tea rations. So, Chappela had enough and more food. Chappela was looked after very well by my sailors.

After one month of pampering by Yamuna and our son, Rexy became very naughty. She sometimes peed on my son’s bed. At other times she would tear my son’s socks. The final warning came when she chewed the best squash shoes of Ravi junior. When I went home on leave, Yamuna allowed me to take Rexy to Trincomalee. My son was upset but Yamuna thought Rexy required some training and discipline. So, Rexy’s first transfer came to the Naval and Maritime Academy under the Commandant to be trained and disciplined.

Rexy adapted to the new environment quickly. She would join me in my morning beach run at Coral Cove. She loved roaming around on the beach. She was fed well with fresh fish by my cook, Gunawardena. Her best friend was my steward Rathnayake. She had another friend, a huge Sambar which visited my garden. She was very fond of Cadets (44th Intake) whom I trained in swimming. She accompanied me to the swimming pool and kept on barking at the cadets. In the evening, she travelled with me in my double cab. (I was driving with her in the front seat) to my Chapel Hill Chalet to spend the night. So, two puppies, Rexy and Chappela became thick pals there.

On 1st August 2006, the LTTE fired its big guns at the Naval Base in Trincomalee. Some of those artillery rounds targeted the SLN passenger ship (Jetliner) carrying 1,700 troops from Jaffna to the Trincomalee harbour. Other rounds fired at Naval and Maritime Academy killed one instructor and four trainees. It was lunch time at NMA (1230hrs). Some sailors were mustered in front of Quartermaster Lobby, and a few shells fell there killing and injuring naval personnel. I rushed to Chapel Hill in my double cab with Rexy. The competent senior sailors there, Chief Petty Officer Jayaweera and Petty Officer Ruwansiri were already on day camera and trying to locate enemy artillery guns. FACs led by Lieutenant Commander (then) Samaranayake were on escort duties of Jetliner and they ensured that Jetliner entered the Trincomalee harbour safely with troops on board. We directed our Multi Barrel Rocket Launchers (MBRLs) at enemy positions. Rexy and Chappela were at my feet, frightened by the deafening sound of artillery and MBRLs. Air support was called and Kafirs were scrambled from the Katunayaka airport. The LTTE pulled their guns back to safe locations. We lost a golden opportunity to destroy their heavy weapons.

That night we shifted our MBRLs from dockyard grounds to a better location at the Oxford Circus (where the present-day car park of our Naval Museum is located). Army Artillery Corps MBRL Gun crews led by Captain Madugalla were briefed by me and we planned our coordination where Chapel Hill Radar station would play the role of Forward Observer.

We were not fully ready to face the LTTE artillery barrage on 1st August. Our unpreparedness cost us dear. When the LTTE fired again their artillery guns on 12th August 2006 night, we were ready with MBRLs. The MBRL firing was directed on enemy gun positions clearly visible with our thermal camera with temperature difference at night. The red-hot artillery gun barrels were clearly visible 8 km away from Chapel Hill at Sudaikudah beach. We were able to destroy enemy guns, ammo and gun crews. Our thermal camera screen blackened out due to large thermal emissions of burning guns and ammunition. Very loud explosions were heard from the Sampoor area. That was the last time the LTTE fired their artillery guns in the Eastern Province. This was the first time in Sri Lanka the thermal cameras were used to direct our MBRLs on enemy gun positions. Later, Chapel Hill Radar station played a major role in saving Naval Detachment at Muthur from enemy attacks and became an invaluable addition to our Naval Base Trincomalee.

 

Fall of Shots of LTTE Arty Fire

 

Amidst threats of another LTTE artillery barrage, Rexy got another immediate transfer to my home in Colombo. From that day she became most loved one at home. After all, she went back to Colombo as a war veteran who had faced enemy artillery attacks!

Chappela remained in Chapel Hill, guarding the location and giving support to naval personnel protecting Trincomalee harbour. He missed his friend.

Shampoo, powder and vitamins Rexy was getting were delivered to Chappela as well. Chappela always enjoyed a sea bath on Sundays at Chapel beach, one of the most beautiful beaches in the world. (Rexy got her Sunday bath in a shower cubical at our home!) I had two responsibilities on Sundays when I was at home. The first was to clean the toilets and shower cubicles. I am a very good toilet cleaner thanks to my basic training at the Naval and Maritime Academy Trincomalee and Britannia Royal Naval College Dartmouth UK. We clean our toilets on board ships. When we live on board ships in an air conditioned environment, keeping toilets very clean is important. I know that I am a very good toilet cleaner.

After I finished my work, I cleaned sinks and toilet bowls, polished toilet seats and bidets, mopped floor tiles, polished showers, taps and rails, and replaced, towels and air fresheners. My son gave me the “Best toilet cleaner” award a long time ago. Yamuna hates my toilet cleaning habit, but I enjoy it.

The other job I was assigned to do on Sunday was to give Rexy a shampoo bath. Rexy loved water. If I was late, she would go and sit in the bathroom until I came. When the bath was over, it was up to Yamuna to dry her and cut her nails, apply various types of powders, clean her ears/teeth and brush her beautiful coat. Rexy loved pampering and sometimes “demanded” our love.

When my job was over, I also had a bath, and obviously I was wet after bathing Rexy.

After my bath, I sat down in my easy chair with Sunday newspapers and my steward Dissanayake would bring my glass of Cognac with ginger ale and a plate of fish fingers. Rexy would sit near my feet knowing that she would get her share of fish fingers before her healthy Sunday lunch. I would have my afternoon nap after lunch; Rexy would jump into my bed and sleep.

Yamuna treated Rexy like a child. The Navy cooks prepared our meals, but Yamuna always prepared Rexy’s meals by herself and fed her with her hand, like feeding a baby. My late father-in-law used to say we had two children. Ravi Junior was our son and Rexy our daughter. She was a such a lovely daughter.

To be continued …



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Features

Investigative Journalism?

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I usually end up totally exhausted when I finish reading the local newspapers from the Pearl. There are so many burning questions and so much is written about them but there are no conclusions and definitely no answers. For example, we seem to have three burning issues right now and this is not in order of importance.

We have a lengthy report that has been published on the Easter Sunday carnage. Everybody knows what I am talking about. However, no one, be it an editor, a paid journalist or a single one of the many amateurs who write to the papers, has reached a conclusion or even expressed an opinion as to who was responsible. At least not a believable one! Surely there are energetic and committed young people in the field of journalism today who, if asked, or directed properly will go out and find a source that would give them at least a credible hypothesis? Or do conclusions exist and has no one the courage to publish them?

At least interview the authors or should I use the word perpetrators of that report. If they refuse to be interviewed ask them why and publish an item every day asking them why! Once you get a hold of them, cross-examine them, trap them into admissions and have no mercy. It is usually geriatrics who write these reports in the Pearl and surely a bright young journalist can catch them out with a smart question or two, or at least show us that they tried? The future of the country depends on it!

We have allegations of contaminated coconut oil been imported. These are very serious allegations and could lead to much harm to the general populace. Do you really believe that no one can find out who the importers are and what brands they sell their products under? In this the Pearl, where everyone has a price, you mean to say that if a keen young journalist was given the correct ammunition (and I don’t mean 45 calibres) and sent out on a specific message, he or she couldn’t get the information required?

We are told that a massive amount of money has been printed over the last few months. There is only speculation as to the sums involved and even more speculation as to what this means to the people of the Pearl. Surely, there are records, probably guarded by extremely lowly paid government servants. I am not condoning bribery but there is nothing left to condone, is there? There are peons in government ministries who will gladly slip you the details if you are committed enough and if you are sent there to get it by a boss who will stand by you and refuse to disclose his sources.

I put it to you, dear readers, that we do not have enough professional, committed and adequately funded news organisations in the country. We can straightaway discount the government-owned joints. We can also largely discount those being run by magnates for personal gain and on personal agendas. As far as the Internet goes, we can forget about those that specialise in speculative and sensationalist untruths, what are we left with O denizens of the Pearl? Are there enough sources of news that you would consider willing to investigate a matter and risk of life and limb and expose the culprits for the greater good of society? Can they be counted even on the fingers of one hand?

In this era when we have useless political leaders, when law and order are non-existent when the police force is a joke, it is time the fourth estate stepped up to the mark! I am sure we have the personnel; it is the commitment from the top and by this, I mean funding and the willingness to risk life and limb, that we lack. Governments over the last few decades have done their best to intimidate the press and systematically destroy any news outlet that tried to buck the usual sycophantic behaviour that is expected from them by those holding absolute power.

Do you think Richard Nixon would ever have been impeached if not for the Watergate reporting? Donald Trump partially owes his defeat to the unrelenting campaign carried out against him by the “fake news” outlets that he tried to denigrate. Trump took on too much. The fourth estate of America is too strong and too powerful to destroy in a head-to-head battle and even the most powerful man in the world, lost. Let’s not go into the merits and demerits of the victor as this is open to debate.

Now, do we have anything like that in the Pearl? Surely, with 20 million-plus “literate” people, we should? We should have over 70 years of independence built up the Fourth Estate to be proud of. One that would, if it stood strong and didn’t waver and collapse under pressure from the rulers, have ensured a better situation for our land. Here is Aotearoa with just five million people, we have journalists who keep holding the government to account. They are well-funded by newspapers and TV networks with audiences that are only a fraction of what is available in the Pearl. Some of the matters they highlight often bring a smirk of derision to my face for such matters wouldn’t even warrant one single line of newsprint, should they happen in the Pearl.

Talking of intimidation from the rulers, most of us are familiar with the nationalisation of the press, the murder and torture of journalists, the burning of presses to insidious laws been passed to curtail the activities of Journalism. These things have happened in other countries, too, but the people and press have been stronger, and they have prevailed. We are at a watershed, an absolutely crucial time. It is now that our last few credible news sources should lift their game. Give us carefully researched and accurate reports with specific conclusions, not generalisations. Refuse to disclose your sources as is your right, especially now that the myopic eye of the UNHCR is turned in our direction.

All other ways and means of saving our beloved motherland, be it government, religion, sources of law and order and even civil society leadership seems to have lapsed into the realm of theory and rhetoric. Our last chance lies with the Fourth Esate and all it stands for. I call for, nay BEG for, a favourable reaction from those decision-makers in that field, who have enough credibility left in society, DON’T LET US DOWN NOW!

 

 

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The world sees ugly side of our beauty pageants

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Yes, it’s still the talk-of-the-town…not only here, but the world over – the fracas that took place at a recently held beauty pageant, in Colombo.

It’s not surprising that the local beauty scene has hit a new low because, in the past, there have been many unpleasant happenings taking place at these so-called beauty pageants.

On several occasions I have, in my articles, mentioned that the state, or some responsible authority, should step in and monitor these events – lay down rules and guidelines, and make sure that everything is above board.

My suggestions, obviously, have fallen on deaf ears, and this is the end result – our beauty pageants have become the laughing stock the world over; talk show hosts are creating scenes, connected with the recent incidents, to amuse their audience.

Australians had the opportunity of enjoying this scenario, so did folks in Canada – via talk show hosts, discussing our issue, and bringing a lot of fun, and laughter, into their discussions!

Many believe that some of these pageants are put together, by individuals…solely to project their image, or to make money, or to have fun with the participants.

And, there are also pageants, I’m told, where the winner is picked in advance…for various reasons, and the finals are just a camouflage. Yes, and rigging, too, takes place.

I was witnessed to one such incident where I was invited to be a judge for the Talent section of a beauty contest.

There were three judges, including me, and while we were engrossed in what we were assigned to do, I suddenly realised that one of the contestants was known to me…as a good dancer.

But, here’s the catch! Her number didn’t tally with the name on the scoresheet, given to the judges.

When I brought this to the notice of the organiser, her sheepish reply was that these contestants would have switched numbers in the dressing room.

Come on, they are no babes!

On another occasion, an organiser collected money from the mother of a contestant, promising to send her daughter for the finals, in the Philippines.

It never happened and she had lots of excuses not to return the money, until a police entry was made.

Still another episode occurred, at one of these so-called pageants, where the organiser promised to make a certain contestant the winner…for obvious reasons.

The judges smelt something fishy and made certain that their scoresheets were not tampered with, and their choice was crowned the winner.

The contestant, who was promised the crown, went onto a frenzy, with the organiser being manhandled.

I’m also told there are organisers who promise contestants the crown if they could part with a very high fee (Rs.500,000 and above!), and also pay for their air ticket.

Some even ask would-be contestants to check out sponsors, on behalf of the organisers. One wonders what that would entail!

Right now, in spite of the pandemic, that is crippling the whole world, we are going ahead with beauty pageants…for whose benefit!

Are the organisers adhering to the Covid-19 health guidelines? No way. Every rule is disregarded.

The recently-held contest saw the contestants, on the move, for workshops, etc., with no face masks, and no social distancing.

They were even seen in an open double-decker bus, checking out the city of Colombo…with NO FACE MASKS.

Perhaps, the instructions given by Police Spokesman DIG Ajith Rohana, and Army Commander, General Shavendra Silva, mean nothing to the organisers of these beauty pageants…in this pandemic setting.

My sincere advice to those who are keen to participate in such events is to check, and double check. Or else, you will end up being deceived…wasting your money, time, and energy.

For the record, when it comes to international beauty pageants for women, Miss World, Miss Universe, Miss Earth and Miss International are the four titles which reign supreme.

In pageantry, these competitions are referred to as the ‘Big Four.’

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Better use of vanity projects; Cass apologises, and New Year graciousness

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A wise one, with the interests of the country at heart, calling himself ‘A Member of the Silent Majority’, wrote in The Island of Friday, April 9, offering an excellent solution for the better and genuine use of the Mattala Mahinda Rajapaksa International Airport which was built at a stupendous cost to both the Treasury, and wildlife abundant in the area, to satisfy an ego and sycophants’ cries of Hail to the King. Even sans Covid and lockdowns and shut downs of airports, the Mattala Airport was a white elephant, endangering and displacing the black elephants, roaming along their familiar corridors; receiving such few airplanes. Thus, as the writer Cass mentions says, convert the airport to a super hotel with excellent and sure-fire access to wildlife watching, like referred to hotels in Kenya and elsewhere. Yes, it will definitely be a bigger money earner than an airport waiting for a plane to land. Expensive equipment going rusty could be transferred to smaller airports being developed all over the island. There was such a hue and cry when storerooms, within the deserted airport, were used for paddy storage, but not even a whimper of concerted protest when the vanity projects were being built. We also heard that on the rare occasions a plane was to land/take off, peacocks in the area were shot at to prevent them flying into the planes. Aney, what a sin, just to have a name on a nameboard! Use the Suriyawewa Cricket Stadium too for a better purpose and less costly to water and maintain green in near desert climate conditions. What about a residential training institute for youth, perhaps in small industries? If the king-sized ego demands the name be present, OK, leave it. What’s in a name?

Any matter, financial or economic, with benefit to country buttressing it – refer to Dr Harsha de Silva and Eran Wickremaratne. Likewise, anything pertaining to fauna, flora and preservation of natural habitats ask Devani Jayathilake. Cassandra would give two years of her life (she does not have 10 left, she suspects) to know what the answers of the three wise and sincere ones mentioned would be to the proposal to convert the Mattala Airport, oops sorry – Mattala Mahinda Rajapaksa International Airport – to a 7 star hotel for wildlife watching and then tourists proceeding to Yala and other places that were touted to be reached easier if planes brimful of tourists, landed in Mattala. Pipe dream even sans Covid-19.

The thought of the millions, nay billions, our country was indebted to China to construct these vanity projects aka white elephants of the Rajapaksa fiefdom sends Cass’s blood racing in her contracting veins. And now another hair-brained scheme is being exposed, not new but re-exposed: that of the stupendous amount sent direct from the Central Bank with no nod, as reported, from the then Cabinet or Parliament, to an American-resident con-man to improve our appearance on the world stage or at least American stage. My word!! Cosmetics of creams and colours and such like can improve the face of an already beautiful woman. But a country that was once beautiful, glorified, accepted internationally and then politician-spoilt, cannot be redeemed by PR work, however expensively. Nivard Cabraal was the then Govenor of the CB. Of course, as every Banda, Singho and their women say, nothing will come of this. Powerful political sweeping under the carpet in the presence of cardboard administrators and sycophantic hosanna singers, makes the matter disappear and not merely hides it. Unless of course there are enough intrepid outers-of-truths and persistent protestors, brave and national minded enough to continuously tease the matter like a cat its caught rat. Ranjan is locked away in hard labour for four solid years, losing his Parliamentary seat for misusing the gift of his gab, while convicted murderers of the right colour attend Parliament, escorted and all.

Cass apologises

To the reigning Mrs World, Mrs Caroline Jurie, for crowning, uncrowning and recrowning of the winner of the recent Mrs Sri Lanka contest. Caroline Jurie took this stride because the winning contestant was four years on the way to being a divorcee, which status forbids a woman from attempting to wear the crown of Mrs…. (country) with a view to becoming Mrs World. This title and honour is bestowed on a woman who promotes, holds sacred the institution of marriage and is a married woman. Cass castigated Caroline Jurie without knowing then the fact that Jurie had protested about this candidate being considered due to her impending divorce; and allowed to contest. She said she withdrew from the panel of judges since her point was not taken by the others. WHY is the Q. Easy to answer. The new beauty queen of shaky married status was a loud speaker in favour of Presidential Candidate Gotabaya R in Polonnaruwa (captured on social media) and probably spoke on stages for SLPP Parliamentary candidates. So of course she was slated to win; vision impaired over rules and future probabilities, She has her height – one advantage. Beauty can always be dexterously rubbed and painted in. But honesty is important and cannot be cloned or grafted in.

Cass now definitely faults the new Mrs Sri Lanka. She should not have contested, having her papers sent in for divorce and not retracted. What happens when she wins the divorce (or her husband wins it, however the divorce was first mooted). Another local contest? And if the divorce was still pending and she went overseas at great expense and won THE crown or a lesser one. To be returned forthwith when she has to remove the present gold band from her third finger, which probably she has already removed but hastily wore for the contest and when preparing for it? This is why Cass avows that many young women particularly, are so very selfish and forward and uppity and even dishonest now. In Cass’ time and even a decade or two later, a girl would never do what this new beauty has done, flipped aside a core rule and necessity of the contest, just to win by honest means or foul. Way the country’s going, my friend.

Post – Aluth Avurudhu

Cassandra is stuffed gill-high with kavun, aluwa and crunchy kokis, preceded by kiributh and lunumiris. She is fending for herself because a dip in Covid numbers and having had the jab, her domestic wished to enjoy a family new year having missed the last one, locked down as we were. Cass made her own kiributh – tasting somewhat like it should, but the sweets were all gifted her. So, also the offers of help, sleep-ins at others’ homes and solicitous frequent inquiries of ‘how are you?’ Kind and gracious relatives and friends, acquaintances too are thanked; and the most appreciated being neighbouring kitchen helps and care givers. Three-wheeler drivers who spin Cass around on errands too make enquiries. And thus her thoughts when resuming work at the nekath time and word processing this article. Sri Lankans are such good people: kind, caring, willing to share and genuine. And then specters themselves on this very sunny landscape: the dishonest, selfish, revengeful and disgraceful. Shrug them off, clear the mental picture and pronounce thank goodness for goodness around.

May all of us (decent people) have a very good year to follow today –Subha Aluth Avuruddhak!

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