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Some incomprehensible lapses in Easter Attack Commission Report

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By Kalyananda Tiranagama

The Presidential Commission of Inquiry on Easter Sunday Attack (PCoI) had the difficult and challenging task of going through a vast amount of evidence, both oral and documentary, of several hundred witnesses, identifying the persons and organizations involved in the attack and the circumstances that brought about the situation culminating in the attack, and the political leaders and state officials whose dereliction of duty and responsibility resulting in the failure to take necessary action to prevent the attack in time and making necessary recommendations for taking legal action against them and for preventing recurrence of such situations.

In its Final Report submitted to the government, the PCoI had made a large number of relevant, important, useful and implementable recommendations, some of which the government has already taken steps to implement such as arresting some of the persons and proscribing some organizations mentioned therein. The Commission has done a commendable job by presenting this report.

While the Commission was conducting its inquiries summoning witnesses and recording their evidence at length giving wide publicity through the media, the people of the country expected that the Commission would identify all the culprits responsible for the attack, not only those who carried out the terrorist acts, but all those who were involved in or contributed to it directly or indirectly in various ways by facilitating, aiding and abetting, providing financial, material or moral support, within the country and from outside, to the terrorist group that carried out the attack; the links they had with communalist Muslim political parties and their leaders; and the foreign involvements in the attack. The people also expected it to identify the political leaders and public officials accountable for this attack by their failure to take necessary action to prevent it even after having received information in advance and deal with them according to law.

However, when a person with some legal background reads this report with an analytical mind, one finds that there are several incomprehensible lapses, omissions and lacunae in it. The purpose of this article is to point out some of the lapses that one would come across while going through this report.

 

Persons directly connected to terrorist attacks

In its Final Report the Commission has identified 14 persons as persons directly connected with the terrorist acts that took place on Easter Sunday. Out of them 11 persons are dead:

 

Zaharan and Ilham Ibrahim – suicide bombers in Shangrila attack;

Inshaf Ibrahim – Cinnamon Grand bomber; Mubarak – Kingsbury bomber;

Jameel – Dehiwala Tropical Inn bomber; Muath – Kochchikade bomber;

Hasthun – Katuwapitiya bomber;

Azad – Batticaloa Zion Church bomber;

Rilwan, Shaini and Niyas – died in Saindumarudu explosion.

 

Only three persons remain in custody to be prosecuted:”

(i)

Mohammed Ibrahim Mohammed Naufer – who has lectured on IS ideology and its activities in all the training camps conducted by Zaharan group;

(ii) (ii) Hayathu Mohammadu Ahamadu Milhan – who has acted as the weapons trainer in about 12 training camps conducted by Zaharan, played a key role in establishing the training camp at Wanathavilluwa and preparing explososives and procuring chemicals for the manufacture of bombs and taken part in the killing of two Police officers at Vavunativu in November 2018.

(iii) (iii) Mohomed Ibrahim Sadeeq Abdulla – an active member of Jamaath Islamia Students Movement (SLJISM), who had gone to Syria via Turkey in 2014 and undergone arms training; and participated in two training camps conducted by Zaharan and conducted some more camps in 2017 and 2018 on his own.

 

Persons and Organisations that contributed to terrorist acts

The PCoI has identified

the following as organizations and persons that contributed to the terrorist attacks by aiding and abetting actions which caused racial and religious disturbances or by giving support to such acts within the country and created public unrest and disturbed social order:

(i) Sri Lanka Jamaat-e-Islami (SLJI)

SLJI is an organization working on the same ideology as Muslim Brotherhood, a terrorist organization banned in Egypt, and having close connections with persons and organizations having the same ideology in Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Qatar, India and Pakistan. The final goal of the SLJI is establishment of an Islam state in Sri Lanka. The official publication of SLJI, Al Hassanat has over the years carried articles glorifying jihad. In February 1990 it has published an article stating that the establishment of an Islamic state cannot be done without waging jihad. In November 1999 it has carried an editorial criticizing the worshipping of statues and praising those who break them. In February 2001 it has published an article extolling people who sacrifice their lives for Islam and stating that they will be given 72 virgins in heaven. In June 2008 it has stated quoting Egyptian terrorist Al Qardawi that a suicide attack is a great act of jihad. It has established Arabic Schools in Madampe, Mawanella and Kalkudah. At the Arabic School in Madampe students were taught about the establishment of an Islamic state and it was compulsory to learn to fight with weapons – P. 227 – 228.

 

(ii) Sri Lanka Jamaat-e-Islami Students Movement (SLJISM)

SLJISM is the students’ wing of the SLJI. Many of the participants in training programmes conducted by Zaharan and several of the suspects in custody over the Easter Sunday attacks are members of the SLJI. About 15 members of the SLJISM are in custody over the Easter attack, some of them have gone to Syria for arms training and Mufees, the person who provided the land at Wanathavilluwa where explosives and weapons found was a member of SLJISM. – P. 238

The COI has recommended proscription of SLJI and SLJISM.

Persons:

(i) Ahamed Talib Lukman Thalib (father);

(ii) (ii) Lukman Thalib Ahamed (son) – 2 persons of Sri Lankan origin domiciled in Australia –who have facilitated several members of SLJISM to proceed to Syria via Turkey for arms training;

(iii) (iii) one Rimsan, a Sri Lankan connected to Al Qaida. The COI has recommended in the on-going criminal investigations to examine their role, if any, in the Easter Sunday attacks.

(iv) Rasheed Hajjul Akbar – the leader of SLJI from 1994 till August 2018. He was a member of the Shura Council of the SLJI. Hajjul Akbar is one of the main ideologists of Islamic extremism in Sri Lanka, promoting religious hatred and intolerance, application of Sharia law and establishing an Islamic state in Sri Lanka. Under his leadership, the official journal of SLJI Al Hassanat has published articles promoting extremism and terrorism. He had been arrested by the CCD on August 25, 2019 and released on September 27, 2019. His younger brother is Moulavi Rasheed Mohamed Ibrahim. Moulavi Ibrahim and his two sons Sadeek Abdulla and Shahid Abdulla are in custody for damaging Buddha statues in Mawanella in December 2018. The COI has recommended the AG to consider instituting criminal action against Rasheed Hajjul Akbar for conspiring to establish an Islamic state in Sri Lanka.

(v) Dr. Muhamad Zufyan Muhamad Zafras – working at the National Hospital, Colombo who has helped Zaharan’s brother Rilwan to get admitted to Colombo National Hospital for treatment as a person injured in a gas cylinder blast, hiding the fact that he was injured in a blast while experimenting with explosives. The COI has recommended the AG to consider instituting criminal action against Dr. Zafras under S. 5 of the PTA for withholding information.

 

Accountability of Authorities for Failure to Prevent Attacks

Political Authorities

As for the political authorities in government accountable for the failure to prevent the terrorist attacks, the PCoI has found only President Maithripala Sirisena accountable: President Maithripala Sirisena – failed in his duties and responsibilities, transcending beyond mere civil negligence – P 263. There is criminal liability on his part for the acts or omissions mentioned therein and the COI recommends the Attorney General instituting criminal action under the Penal Code against him. -P 265

 

Senior Public Officers

The COI has recommended the AG to consider instituting criminal action under any suitable Penal Code provision against three senior public officers:

(i)

Secretary Defence Hemasiri Fernando – P. 284;

(ii)

DIG Sisira Mendis, Chief of National Intelligence – P. 285;

(iii)

SDIG Nilantha Jayawardane, Director, State Intelligence Service – P, 288.

 

Law Enforcement Officers

Out of the Law Enforcement Officers held accountable by the PCoI for their failure to take necessary steps to prevent the attacks in their respective areas, recommendation has been made only against the Inspector General of Police Pujitha Jayasundara for the AG to consider instituting criminal action under any suitable Penal Code provision. – P. 308

In respect of 6 other Police Officers recommendation has been made for the AG to consider instituting criminal action under any suitable Penal Code provision or S. 82 of the Police Ordinance. The following Police Officers belong to this category:

(i)

SDIG Nandana Munasinghe – Western Province – P. 312;

(ii)

SP Sanjeewa Bandara – Superintendant of Police, Colombo North – P. 314;

(iii)

SSP Negombo – Chandana Athukorala – P. 315;

(iv)

SP B. E. I. Prasanna, Western Province Intelligence Division – P. 315;

(v)

Chief Inspector Sarath Kumarasinghe, Acting OIC, Fort Police Station – P.320;

(vi)

Chief Inspector Sagara Wilegoda Liyanage, OIC, Fort

 

The AG has the option of instituting criminal action under any suitable Penal Code provision or under S. 82 of the Police Ordinance. If the AG decides to institute action under S. 82 of the Police Ordinance, they will not be indicted and there will be no criminal proceedings against them. They will be charged in the Magistrate’s Court for breach of duty under S. 82 of the Police Ordinance:

S. 82 :– Every Police officer (a) guilty of any violation of duty or wilful breach or neglect of any regulations and lawful orders of other competent authority – shall be liable to a penalty not exceeding three month’s pay, or to imprisonment with or without hard labour, for period not exceeding three months, or both.

 

Against three other Police Officers only disciplinary inquiry has been recommended:

(i)

DIG Deshbandu Tennekone, Colombo North;

(ii)

Negombo ASP Sisila Kumara;

(iii)

Chaminda Nawaratne, OIC, Katana

 

Accountability of Prime Minister Ranil Wickremasinghe and the Cabinet of Ministers

 

As for the responsibility and failures of the Prime Minister Ranil Wickremasinghe no such recommendation, as made against the President, has been made.

It appears from the following observations of the PCoI that it has shown a very lenient attitude towards the failures of the Prime Minister. The report states: ‘The reasons for the Prime Minister Ranil Wickremasinghe’s inability to attend meetings of the National Security Council when fixed at short notice due to other commitments – acceptable; Though he did not explain why he did not stay on for some of full meetings, this taken in isolation is insufficient to make any adverse findings against him – P. 268; There are other instances reflecting lenient approach on his part to national security issues: No positive action taken to prevent Wahabi violence against traditional Sufi Muslim community though he was aware of it; Did not accept army intelligence presentations about the rising Islam extremism in the country, particularly in the East – P. 270; He opposed the issue of banning nikab and burkha raised by the Army Commander at the National Security Council without consulting Muslim parties – P. 271; Govt. did not ban IS organization in Sri Lanka as there were no reports stating IS propaganda taking place in Sri Lanka, only reports of individuals spreading IS ideology; It was corroborated by several witnesses that the Govt was reluctant to take strong action against rising Islamic extremism due to its dependence on support of Muslim political parties.’

 

However, the Report states: ‘The lax approach of the Prime Minister towards Islam extremism was one of the primary reasons for the failure on the part of the government to take proactive steps towards Islam extremism. This facilitated the build-up of Islam extremism to the point of Easter Sunday attacks.’ – P. 277

If it is so, why no action is recommended against Prime Minister Ranil?

It has totally ignored the fact that, though Maithripala Sirisena was the President, the Prime Minister Ranil Wickremasinghe had the effective control of the entire government in his hands under the 19th Amendment, controlling the Cabinet and the Parliament.

Sagala Ratnayake, a close confidante of the Prime Minister in the UNP, was the Minister of Law and Order in charge of the Police.

 

The Accountability of the Cabinet of Ministers

The PCoI has not given its mind as to whether the Cabinet of Ministers has contributed in any manner to the terrorist attack by its failure to discharge its Constitutional responsibility. When it examined the accountability of the President and the Prime Minister, one finds it difficult to understand why it did not examine the accountability of the governemtn headed by the Cabinet of Ministers, especially in view of the relevant provisions in Article 42 of the Constitution and the evidence placed before it.

Article 42 (1) There shall be a Cabinet of Ministers charged with the direction and control of the government of the Republic;

(2) The Cabinet of Ministers shall be collectively responsible and answerable to Parliament;

(3) The President shall be a member the Cabinet of Ministers and shall be the Head of the Cabinet of Ministers.

IGP Pujitha Jayasundara sent the communication received from Senior DIG Nilantha Jayawardana, Head of the State Intelligence Services and from Sisira Mendis, the Chief of National Intelligence containing detailed information warning about a threat of possible terrorist attack by ISIS terrorists in Sri Lanka received from Indian Intelligence sources with a note stating ‘FNA’ on 09. 04. 2019 itself to four Senior Police Officers: i. SDIG Western Province – Nandana Munasinghe; ii. SDIG Crimes, Organized Crimes and STF – M. Latheef; iii. SDIG Special Protection Range – Priyalal Dasanayake; iv. Director – Counter Terrorism Investigation Division – Waruna Jayasundara – P. 303.

Special Protection Range is the Ministerial Security Division (MSD) which provides security to Ministers of the Cabinet. It was reported in the media that SDIG Priyalal Dasanayake, giving evidence before the Commission, stated that he had conveyed the information received of the threat of possible terrorist attack to all the officers of the Ministerial Security Division on April 9, 2019 itself.

Of the four Senior Officers who received the said communication from the IGP, the PCoI has recommended to the AG to consider instituting criminal action under any suitable Penal Code provision or S. 82 of the Police Ordinance against SDIG Western Province – Nandana Munasinghe;. – P. 312. As for the conduct of SDIG Crimes, Organized Crimes and Commander STF – M. Latheef, the Report contains the following comment: ‘When the COI queried the steps taken with regard to it (the IGP’s communication) the response was that he got in touch with the Indian High Commission and provided security to it. However, it is surprising as to why he did not instruct his intelligence units to work on the intelligence received.’ – P. 309. No recommendation made against him.

However, the final report does not mention anything about the steps taken by SDIG Priyalal Dasanayake on the information conveyed to him. It does not show whether COI made any query as to whether the officers of the Ministerial Security Division conveyed the information received by them to the Ministers to whom they provide security and the reaction of the Ministers concerned. This is highly relevant and a serious lacuna in the report. One cannot expect or believe that none of the officers of the Ministerial Security Division conveyed this information received by them to any of the Ministers. At least we know that Minister Harin Fernando’s father had got this information from a Police officer, and that he conveyed it to his son preventing him from going to church on that fateful day.

The entire Cabinet of Ministers cannot evade responsibility for their failure in their Constitutional duty. Though they may not be legally accountable, their conduct is highly irresponsible, immoral and blameworthy.

However, the Cabinet Sub-Committee appointed by the present government to study the Report of the COI and identify recommendations for implementation has also expressed its view that the entire government then in power was accountable for the failure to prevent the Easter Attack.

(To be concluded tomorrow)



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Foreign policy dilemmas increase for the big and small

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‘No responsible American President can remain silent when basic human rights are violated.’ This pronouncement by US President Joe Biden should be interpreted as meaning that the supporting of human rights everywhere will be a fundamental focus of US foreign policy. Accordingly, not only the cause of the Armenians of old but the situation of the Muslim Uyghurs of China will be principal concerns for the Biden administration.

However, the challenge before the US would be take this policy stance to its logical conclusion. For example, the murder of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi was one of the most heinous crimes to be committed by a state in recent times but what does the Biden administration intend to do by way of ensuring that the criminals and collaborators of the crime are brought to justice? In other words, how tough will the US get with the Saudi rulers?

Likewise, what course of action would the US take to alleviate the alleged repression being meted out to the Uyghurs of China? How does it intend to take the Chinese state to task? Equally importantly, what will the US do to make light the lot of Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny? These are among the most urgent posers facing the US in the global human rights context.

Worse dilemmas await the US in Africa. Reports indicate that that the IS and the Taliban have begun to infiltrate West Africa in a major way, since they have been compelled to vacate the Middle East, specially Syria and Iraq. West African countries, such as, Mali, Burkina Faso, Nigeria and Mauritania are already facing the IS/Taliban blight. The latter or their proxies are in the process heaping horrendous suffering on the civilian populations concerned. How is the US intending to alleviate the cruelties being visited on these population groups. Their rights are of the first importance. If the US intends to project itself as a defender of rights everywhere, what policy program does it have in store for Africa in this connection?

It does not follow from the foregoing that issues of a kindred kind would not be confronting the US in other continents. For example, not all is well in Asia in the rights context. With the possible exception of India, very serious problems relating to democratic development bedevil most Asian states, including, of course, Sri Lanka. The task before any country laying claims to democratic credentials is to further the rights of its citizens while ensuring that they are recipients of equitable growth. As a foremost champion of fundamental rights globally, it would be up to the US to help foster democratic development in the countries concerned. And it would need to do so with an even hand. It cannot be selective in this undertaking of the first importance.

The US would also from now on need to think long and deep before involving itself militarily in a conflict-ridden Southern country. Right now it is up against a policy dilemma in Afghanistan. It is in the process of pulling out of the country after 20 years but it is leaving behind a country with veritably no future. It is leaving Afghanistan at the mercy of the Taliban once again and the commentator is right in saying that the US did not achieve much by way of bringing relief to the Afghan people.

However, the Biden administration has done somewhat well in other areas of state concern by launching a $1.9 trillion national economic and social resuscitation program, which, if effectively implemented could help the US people in a major way. The administration is also living up to the people’s hopes by getting under way an anti-Covid-19 vaccination program for senior US citizens. These ventures smack of social democracy to a degree.

The smaller countries of South Asia in particular ought to be facing their fair share of foreign policy quandaries in the wake of some of these developments. India, the number one power of the region, is in the throes of a major health crisis deriving from the pandemic but it is expected to rebound economically in an exceptional way and dominate the regional economic landscape sooner rather than later.

For example, the ADB predicts India will recover from an 8% contraction in fiscal 2020 and grow by 11% and 7% this year and next year. South Asia is expected to experience a 9.5% overall economic expansion this year but it is India that will be the chief contributor to this growth. A major factor in India’s economic fortunes will be the US’ stimulus package that will make available to India a major export market.

For the smaller states of South Asia, such as Sri Lanka, the above situation poses major foreign policy implications. While conducting cordial and fruitful relations with China is of major importance for them, they would need to ensure that their relations with India remain unruffled. This is on account of their dependence on India in a number of areas of national importance. Since India is the predominant economic power in the region, these smaller states would do well to ensure that their economic links with India continue without interruption. In fact, they may need to upgrade their economic ties with India, considering the huge economic presence of the latter. A pragmatic foreign policy is called for since our biggest neighbour’s presence just cannot be ignored.

The Sri Lankan state has reiterated its commitment to an ‘independent foreign policy’ and this is the way to go but Sri Lanka would be committing a major policy mistake by tying itself to China too closely in the military field. This would send ‘the wrong signal’ to India which is likely to be highly sensitive to the goings-on in its neighbourhood which, for it, have major security implications. A pragmatic course is best.

In terms of pragmatism, the Maldives are forging ahead, may be, in a more exceptional manner than her neighbours. Recently, she forged closer security cooperation with the US and for the Maldives this was the right way to go because the move served her national interest. And for any state, the national interest ought to be of supreme importance.

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A Sri Lankan centre for infective disease control and prevention

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The need of the hour:

BY Dr B. J. C. Perera

MBBS(Cey), DCH(Cey), DCH(Eng), MD(Paed), MRCP(UK), FRCP(Edin), FRCP(Lon), FRCPCH(UK), FSLCPaed, FCCP, Hony FRCPCH(UK), Hony. FCGP(SL)

Specialist Consultant Paediatrician and Honorary Senior Fellow, Postgraduate Institute of Medicine, University of Colombo, Sri Lanka.

On 01st July 1946, the Communicable Disease Center (CDC) of the United States of America opened its doors and occupied one floor of a small building in Atlanta, Georgia. Its primary mission was simple, yet highly challenging. It was to prevent malaria from spreading across the nation. Armed with a budget of only 10 million US dollars, and fewer than 400 employees, the agency’s early tasks included obtaining enough trucks, sprayers, and shovels necessary to wage war on mosquitoes.

It later advanced, slightly changed its name, and transformed itself into the much-acclaimed and reputed Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). It became a unique agency with an exceptional mission. They work 24/7 to protect the safety, health and security of America from threats there and around the world. Highest standards of science are maintained in this institution. CDC is the nation’s leading science-based, data-driven, service organization that protects the public’s health. For more than 70 years, they have put science into action to help children stay healthy so they can grow and learn, to help families, businesses, and communities fight disease and stay strong and to protect the health of the general public. Their are a bold promise to the nation, and even the world. With this strategic framework, CDC commits to save American lives by securing global health and America’s preparedness, eliminating disease, and ending epidemics. In a landmark move, the CDC even established a Central Asia regional office at the U.S. Consulate in Kazakhstan in 1995 and have been involved in public health initiatives in that region.

More recently, the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC), was established. It is an agency of the European Union, aimed at strengthening Europe’s defences against infectious diseases. The core functions cover a wide spectrum of activities such as surveillance, epidemic intelligence, response, scientific advice, microbiology, preparedness, public health training, international relations, health communication, and the scientific journal Eurosurveillance.

Still later on, the African CDC (ACDC) was born. It strengthens the capacity and capability of Africa’s public health institutions, as well as partnerships, to detect and respond quickly and effectively to disease threats and outbreaks, based on data-driven interventions and programmes.

All these organisations are autonomous, independent, and are confidently dedicated to hold science to be sacred. They play a major role in advocacy and work in a committed advisory capacity. With the cataclysmic effects of the current coronavirus pandemic COVID-19, the contributions made by these institutions are priceless. What is quite important is that they are able to provide specific recommendations based on the latest scientific information available for countries and nations in their regions, even taking into account the many considerations that are explicit and even unique to their regions. All these organisations have been provided with optimal facilities and human resources. The real value of their contribution is related to just one phenomenon: AUTONOMY.

Well…, isn’t it the time for us to start a Sri Lankan Centre for Infective Disease Control and Prevention (SLCIDC)? It should be formulated as an agency constantly striving, day in and day out, to safeguard the health of the public. Science and unbending commitment to evaluation of research on a given topic should be their operating mantra. It would work as a completely apolitical organisation and what we can recommend is that it would be directly under the President of the Democratic Socialist Republic of Sri Lanka, unswervingly reporting to and accountable to the President. It would consist of medical doctors, scientists and researchers but no politicians of any sort, no non-medical or non-scientist persons, no hangers on and no business persons. All appointments to the SLCIDC will be made by the President of the country, perhaps in consultation with medical professional organisations.

The prime duty of the SLCIDC would be to assess the on-going situation of any infective issue that has any effect on the health of the public. The organisation will undertake in-depth examination and assessment of a given situation caused by an infective organism. They need to have all relevant data from within the country as well as from outside the country. There will not be any vacillation of the opinions expressed by them and their considered views should not be coloured by any consideration apart from science and research done locally and worldwide. Their considered opinion would be conveyed directly to the President of the country. They are free to issue statements to keep the public informed about the results of their deliberations.

We believe that it would be a step in the right direction; perhaps even a giant step for our nation, not only during the current coronavirus pandemic but also on any major problems of an infective nature that might occur in the future.

 

This writer wishes to acknowledge a colleague, a Consultant Physician, who first mooted this idea during a friendly conversation.

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Kudurai Madiri Pona

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The big jumbo has come from the French land and as the French themselves say it is ‘annus mirabillis’ the miracle year, finally, and finally the wait is over. The world will now see the Big- Bus that we all waited for so long to see. As the years roll by, none would talk of delays regarding the delays on delivery dates and how late the bird flew in. These would be like words written on a blackboard, erased forever. But the aeroplane will grace the sky and, perhaps rewrite all the records of commercial aviation when the mega-miracle A380 dominates the international air-routes.

Singapore Airlines went into the record books as the launch customer. Some of my old friends from SIA would fly the A380. Perhaps, Luke would, too, and this story is about him. Luke of yesteryear and how he first flew as a cadet and how young Luke and I went romping the skies in our own special way, writing a few new lines in the flight training manual.

Luke was from Johor Baru, in Malaysia. His roots were in South India where years ago his grandfather had done a Robinson Crusoe and ended up in the Malayan Peninsula. Luke was named after one of the four Gospel scribes. Luke really isn’t his name. It is a pseudonym, I use just to give him some anonymity. Not much protection, but one is to three are playable odds. Like in Rumple stiltskin the manikin, you are welcome to guess the name.

We first flew to Seoul. He, straight out of flying College, and yours truly, as old as the hills, driving the ‘Jumbo’ classic, the lovable 747. The first thing I noticed about him was his socks, black and white diamond shapes, a mini version of the flags they swing at Grand Prix finals – if Luke swung his feet, a Ferrari would pass underneath. That we sorted out the first day itself. In Seoul,he went shopping and the next day he was Zorro, waist to toe, black as a crow.

His flying credentials were all there, somewhat mixed up between what they teach in modern flying schools and how to apply the ‘ivory tower’ jargon to cope with the big 747. As for raw handling of the aeroplane, all his skills were intact, only they were in bits and pieces and spread in places like an Irida Pola (Sunday Fair). They had to be streamlined, the wet market needed to be modified to a ‘Seven-Eleven’ – that was my job.

The next round we went flying to Europe, his first run to the unknown, like Gagarin in his Sputnik, young Luke flew to Rome. The flying was same as before, a bit mixed up amidst the hundreds of aero dynamical paraphernalia that spelled out from the encyclopaedic collection of books that he had to study.

That’s when I decided to change the tide.

‘Luke my friend,” I said to him in a fatherly fashion.

‘You and I are from similar fields, you from Kerala and me from Sri Lanka. These Min Drag Curves and VFEs and WAT limits and VLEs are too much for us. Just remember when you pull the stick back, the houses will become smaller and when you push the stick down, the houses will become bigger, that’s climbing and descending this monster,” I explained the simple theory of flight.

“As for landing my friend, Kudurai Madiri Pona, just ride it like a horse.”

That was it. We flew, over Europe and he flew like a Trojan, bravely battling the weather and the overcrowded skies. Every time he came in to land it was pure and simple Kudurai Madiri Pona and the big jumbo responded and touched down on the concrete as smooth as a honeymoon lover.

On the way back, we flew via Colombo, that’s my home ground. I requested the radar controller to give Luke a very short ‘four-mile’ final. They know me well here and the controller said “No problem, Captain.”

I was depicting what we did in the Old Hong Kong Airport or what we do in the Canarsi Approach in New York; both, most demanding. A ‘four-mile’ final is a challenge for anyone. I was throwing him in at the deep end and I had no doubt Luke could manage. He came in tight and right, like Hopalong Cassidy and rode the horse straight and beautiful to do a perfect landing. Gone was the Kampong kid and his ‘Irida Pola’ flying, this was Takashimaya and Robinsons rolled into one, everything was in place, nice and shining and professional to the tee.

That was our little story, Luke the ‘jockey’ and me. Sometimes in the field of training, the script needs a little changing. New acts to be introduced to suit the stage. That is the essence of teaching, different hurdles for different horses. It wasn’t for Luke to learn what I knew, more so, it was for me to know who he was and what he could cope with. That part was difficult to find in the flying training manual, and so was Kudurai Madiri Pona.

The world has gotten older and young Luke now wears four stripes and flies in command of Boeing Triple Sevens, fly-by-wire and multiple computers. I met him a few times, flew as his passenger, too, with great pride. “Captain Luke is in command,” the stewardess announced, and silently and gratefully I said, ‘Amen’.

I saw him walking down the aisle, looking for me. Same old Luke in his flat and uncombed Julius Ceaser hairstyle. He came to my seat and grinned and shook my hand and lightly lifted his trouser leg and said,

“Captain, the socks are black and it is still Kudurai Madiri Pona.

I am sure Luke will fly in command of the gigantic A380 one day. That’s a certainty. It would be the zenith for any pilot. Luke is ready, that I know. He is competent, polished and professional and will wear socks as black as midnight. It’s nice that he remembers his beginnings. That’s what flying is all about, that’s what life is all about.

Kudurai Madiri Pona

– ride it like a horse. Some flying lesson.

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