There are so many ways to be brave in this world. Sometimes bravery involves laying down your life for something bigger than yourself, or for something worthy. Sometimes it involves giving up everything you have ever known, or everyone you have ever loved, for the sake of something greater – freedom and unity of one’s country – nation’.
That is the sort of bravery we saw in ‘pint-sized’ Bala’ as we, his batch mates used to call Prasanga, the shortest of the two Balasuriyas, and quickest among a group of young but masculine sportsmen chosen for the 19th Intake of officer cadets to serve Mother Lanka back in 1988. We chose the Military in the backdrop of two simultaneous guerrilla wars that turned into insurrection, in the Southern and Northern parts of the country.
This month when we remember fallen war veterans all over the world, I’ve chosen to speak about late Squadron Leader Prasanga Balasuriya, among many others who sacrificed their lives in the defence of Sri Lanka’s national security and the territorial integrity for our past, our present, and our future.
Bala, my batchmate and roommate for a shorter stint at Air Base Ratmalana, was a character full of humour and laughter – but when he is serious, he means business. An Avionics maintenance engineer and a qualified air crew communicator for the Chinese built transport fleet by profession. He was very well accepted and a sought after communicator by all fixed wing aircraft pilots in the Air Force, during the flying days at the height of missile threatened skies in the mid-1990s. I wish to outline here that our teams were ready for the future of our fight against terrorism – the threats we face, and the way in which we met them. However, on the morning of 18th November 1995, my vivid memory recollects, on that Saturday morning, I saw this Chinese built cargo plane – Yankee 8, taking off into somewhat gloomy skies, with this extraordinary young crew on board conveying military cargo for the fighting troops and medicine for the masses in the Northern Peninsula. This crew comprised some who not only led that fight, but who could have led our country for decades to come. Bala was a few months into his marriage to a pretty young lady, where I had the privilege to be chosen as his bestman in September 1994. Bala was dreaming to become the proud father to their unborn first child. Still, he opted to volunteer to be part of these routine flights, instead of spending some quality time with his family and friends. He set aside these family obligations to honour and support all the men who have given their time in service to this country we love. They are heroes, each and every one. They gave Sri Lanka, the most precious thing they had – “the last full measure of devotion.” And because they did, we are who we are today – a free nation, dreaming to be the greatest in the world.
At a time when only very few of our people remember, the service and sacrifice of our men in uniform isn’t always readily apparent. That’s partly because our soldiers, sailors, and airmen are so skilled at what they do. It’s also because those who served tend to do so quietly. They didn’t seek the limelight. They didn’t serve for our admiration, or even our gratitude. They risked their lives, and many gave their lives, for something larger than themselves or any of us: the ideals of liberty and justice that make our country a beacon of hope for the world.
The purpose of Memorial Day. To remember with gratitude the countless men and women, who gave their lives so we could now live-in peace and freedom. And we must do more than remember them.
An enemy missile hit this routine flight that Bala was part of the crew, over the Northern seas, while approaching the landing at Air Base Palaly. My dear friend Bala and his smiling face were not lucky enough to recover from that crash landing of the Yankee 8 into the seas of the Indian Ocean. His son was only an infant of six weeks old when Bala left this world. On that same fateful and unforgettable day, I had to represent his family to identify his silent remains when it was brought to Ratmalana air base – this memory still keeps vibrating in my mind.
What is left with us today, we must care for the loved ones that our fallen service members have left behind. And every day, let us work together to preserve what Prasanga and all our valiant heroes laid their lives for and their sacrifices – to make our country even stronger, even more fair, even more free. That is our mission. It is our obligation. And it is our privilege, as citizens of Sri Lanka.
“Thank you for putting yourself in the way of danger to save others, to save our motherland. This is what it means to be a hero. This is what it means to build a beautiful legacy, Thank you for everything”
My Dear Prasanga, May You Attain the Supreme Bliss of Nirvana!
Wing Commander SANJAYA FERNANDO (Retd),
19th Intake Sri Lanka Air Force.
Registrar of Companies, a mere filing cabinet?
The main objective of the Department of the Registrar of Companies is the efficient and effective implementation, administration and enforcement of several legislative enactments assigned to it, mainly the provisions of the Companies Act, according to its website.
A grand pronouncement, indeed!.
In fact, it serve as a ‘filing cabinet’ for the annual returns of various companies, which are duly filed each year, thereby, keeping the company secretaries, (invariably ‘another company’), “in business.
But does the Registrar actually enforce anything, or protect the rights of the minority shareholders of PUBLIC companies (let alone ‘Private’ ones) , registered under this Act?
A hotels company, of which I have been a minority shareholder has suddenly stopped providing either the annual report or accounts since 2017 or thereabouts. More disturbingly, the last received accounts indicated a prima facie irregular issue of company shares, apparently in settlement of a loan. All complaints (and requests for enquiry) made by registered post to the Registrar of Companies and/or the Company Secretaries (asking for the latest accounts) have gone unheeded.
As far back as the annual report 2012, (page 8), the auditors stated, “We are unable to satisfy ourselves as to the recoverability of investment Rs 33,810, 000 (33 million) and CURRENT ACCOUNT Receivable balance 307,329,335 (307 million)”. Later, accounts continued these trends.
Although the Registrar receives both the reports and shareholder complaints, no action is taken.
Various interested parties are encouraging the general public to ‘invest’ their savings in the local stock market and in companies in which they have controlling interests. Let the public beware!
Tough Conversations: Don’t be afraid to have them
By Yukthi K.Gunasekera
“When you avoid tough conversations, you trade short-term discomfort for long-term dysfunction”, said leader, speaker, and coach Peter Bromberg.
The purpose of this article is to help you have tough conversations (TCs) with ease, confidence, and comfort, so that you not only avoid dysfunction but build robust and successful organisations and teams.
I believe that TCs help organisations and relationships develop and thrive. In my coaching practice where TC role plays are a staple, I come across many leaders who are uncomfortable, shy, nervous, or embarrassed when confronted with a TC, like giving negative feedback to one of their subordinates. This should not be the case, because having TCs unlocks pent up potential and possibilities for you and your organisation. If you are still doubtful about the value of having TCs, try to maintain a relationship or run a team at optimum efficiency when you have deep-seated concerns or negative thoughts about the other person. It just doesn’t work.
So, here is a road map you can follow to have tough conversations (TCs).
First, you have to decide whether to have a TC or not. Are you happy to live with the status quo or do you want to change it?
Second, if you want to change the status quo and go ahead with the TC, then you have to examine your current emotional state. If you cannot bring a calm, balanced, neutral, and helpful emotional state to the TC, then you are not yet prepared to have the TC. Because the aim of having a TC is not to belittle, demoralise, insult, or hurt the other person. The aim of a TC is to bring about positive behavioural change, or get buy-in from the other party to your point of view.
Third, the TC must be held in a private setting that allows for undisturbed, two-way communication. TCs can be held via online platforms like zoom where you can see each other face-to-face virtually, but you must never have TCs via email or any other written communication.
Fourth, you and the other person must have sufficient time for the TC – this means you should not schedule a TC in the midst of an unusually hectic day, where you have to run off to another meeting, say in 15 minutes. A good time to have a TC is at the end of the day, when things are calmer and quieter in office.
Fifth, you should start the conversation by putting the other person at ease (get her something to drink, or ask “How are things?”), emphasise her value to your team or organisation in one (1) sentence, and then describe the facts. Note the word “facts” here. This is not about your judgment on the facts. For example, if your TC is about correcting an employee who is coming habitually late to work, your opening question should not be, “Why the heck can’t you come to work on time? Don’t you know we start work here at 8:30?” Rather, your line of questioning can be: “In the past couple of weeks, I’ve noticed you getting into office around 9/9:30. Is everything ok with you?” You would have noticed that the first two questions are accusatory and judgmental, whereas the third question is curious, supportive, and looks for a cause for the behaviour. Therefore, the third type of question will help you resolve the issue – and not make the matter worse.
Although your questions may be neutral, non-judgmental, and non-threatening, you must be mentally prepared for emotional reactions from the other person. In fact, you should prepare in advance how to handle such emotional outbursts.
Sixth, once you and the other person have discussed the issue and come up with a solution or put an action plan in place, then you should set up dates and times for the follow-up meetings. A common drawback in TCs is the failure to set up follow-up meeting dates and times. Follow-up meetings help you to hold the other person accountable for his or her course corrections. This also shows the other person that you are very serious about the TC and its outcomes.
Seventh, you should document your TC, deliverables, and follow-up meeting dates and times in an email (not a text or WhatsApp), and send to the other person. This is to ensure that both of you are on the same page – and to show your serious intent.
Eighth, you should hold the follow-up meetings with the other party until the problem is solved or the behaviour is changed. Never forget former IBM Chairman Lou Gerstner’s advice: “People don’t do what you expect but what you inspect.”
Ninth, if the issue cannot be resolved, then it might be time to let the other person go. As legendary business leader Jack Welch put it, “My main job was developing talent. I was a gardener providing water and other nourishment to our top 750 people. Of course, I had to pull out some weeds too.” You too may have to pull out some weeds – that’s your job as a leader. Don’t shy away from it – you are doing yourself, the other person, and your organisation a favour by doing so.
Tenth, do a post-mortem on your TC. How did you handle it? What went well? What can you improve for next time? Use the learnings from your post mortem to hold a better TC next time.
In closing, I want to leave you with an inspirational thought from poet, writer, and philosopher Johann Kaspar Lavater, “He who, when called upon to speak a disagreeable truth, tells it boldly and has done, is both bolder and milder than he who nibbles in a low voice and never ceases nibbling.“
I wish you successful Tough Conversations!
University of Peradeniya conferring Honorary Doctor of Literature degree on Dr. Amarasekera
Dr. Gunadasa Amarasekera spent his university life at the Peradeniya campus, which, no doubt, had contributed to the development of his career in literature and profession. Therefore, it is only right that the University of Peradeniya confer an honorary Doctor of Literature upon Dr. Amarasekera in recognition of his very substantial contribution to Sinhala literature and his many achievements in other fields. He had been awarded a similar degree previously by the University of Sri Jayewardenepura.
Early life and education
Dr. Gunadasa Amarasekera was born in 1929 at Yatalamatta, a village in the interior of Galle District. He had his primary education in the village school and later at Nalanda College, Colombo. He had shown his literary ability before he entered the university, winning a prize in an international contest, for a short story titled ‘Rathu Rosa Mala’. A collection of short stories of the same name was published by M.D. Gunasena. He entered a dental school in 1954 and qualified as a dental surgeon in 1958. He excelled in the field of dentistry and literature.
Contribution to Sinhala Literature
Dr. Amarasekera’s literary career started very early; his first collection of short stories under the title ‘Rathu Rosa Mala’ was published before he entered the university, and while studying dentistry as an undergraduate in the Peradeniya Campus, he published several collections of free verse, ‘Bhava Geetha’, ‘Amal Biso’, ‘Guruluwatha’, ‘Avarjana’ and also a short story collection, ‘Jeevana Suvanda’.
‘Karumakkarayo’ was his first novel, which created a stir in the literary arena as he ventured into new grounds, probably influenced by the writings of D.H. Lawrence. He wrote ‘Yali Upannemi’ and ‘Depa Noladdo’, continuing in the same genre. Later he realised that his style was imitative. He agreed with Martin Wickramasinghe’s views that the Peradeniya School of writers looked at our society through foreign lenses which took man out of his cultural context. He came to believe that there are no universal values that literature could make its eternal subject. His response was to write ‘Gandhabba Apadanaya’ which was published before he left for England to follow post graduate education and this work attempted to place the characters of the novel in their cultural milieu.
In England, he realised how radically different their culture was from ours. He wrote some of his excellent short stories following the ‘culture shock’; ‘Ektamin Polowata’, ‘Katha Pahak’ and also novels, ‘Asathya Kathavak’ and ‘Premaye Sathya Kathava’.
Dr. Amarasekera has always believed that literature has a social function and he discusses this idea in his book on literary criticism ‘Nosevuna Kedapatha’. He wrote several books on literary criticism in an attempt to develop a system relevant to our society; ‘Vinodaya saha Vicharaya’, ‘Abuddassa Yugayak’, ‘Aliya saha Andayo’ and ‘Sinhala Kavya Sampradaya’.
If literature has a social function it has to take into account the socio-political underpinnings of the times and this Dr. Amarasekera does in some of his novels like ‘Gal Pilimaya Saha Bol Pilimaya’, ‘Pilima Loven Piyavi Lovata’ and ‘Vil Thera Maranaya’.
He undertook the ambitious task of writing about the development of the middle class in Sri Lanka with the semi-autobiographical series of novels starting with ‘Gamanaka Mula’. It consists of seven beautifully written novels that analyse the predicament of the village intelligentsia who struggled to climb the social ladder oblivious of the value of their own culture.
He has published several collections of poetry and four long poems, ‘Amal Biso’, ‘Gurulu Vatha’, ‘Asakda Kava’ and ‘Mathaka Vatha’. In poetry he had developed a new poetic form called ‘Pasmath Viritha’ derived from folk poetry. He attempted to trace the link that modern poetry must have with folk poetry in his work ‘Sinhala Kavya Sampradaya’, which was critically acclaimed as an ‘insightful analysis’.
Professor Wimal Dissanayake in his book ‘Enabling Tradition’ considers Dr. Amarasekera as ‘the leading cultural intellectual of present times’. Several of his novels, short story collections and poetry have won national awards. His short stories are considered as comparable to the best in the world.
Dr. Amarasekera is 90 years old but he has not stopped writing. He published three books recently; ‘Sabyathva Rajya Kara’, a socio-political analysis which proposes an alternative to Neo-liberalism and Marxism based on civilization, ‘Dathusena’, a historical novel based on King Dathusena’s life story, which attempts to exonerate Kashyapa from the grave crime of patricide and ‘Sankranti Samayaka’ a novel that explores communal relations in Sri Lanka.
These three publications display the versatility of Dr. Gunadasa Amarasekera. As a writer of novels, short stories, poetry, socio-political essays and philosophical theories, he is the foremost “cultural intellectual of the present times”.
During the last three decades, Dr. Amarasekera has assumed the role of the public intellectual. This may have been prompted by the realisation that addressing socio-political and cultural issues directly may have a greater impact than through fiction.
His first work in this genre was ‘Anagarika Dharmapala Marxwadeeda?’. In this work Dr. Amarasekera attempts to rehabilitate Anagarika as an intellectual with a vision, taking away that dubious label of ‘a Sinhala Buddhist Chauvinist’ that had been pinned on him. This work has prompted others to rethink Anagarika as a man with a vision, deeply concerned for the country.
The outcome of this controversy regarding the Marxist interpretation was the publication of ‘Ganaduru Mediyama’ at the height of the JVP insurrection of 1987. It was in this work that he presented the concept of Jathika Chinthanaya. What Dr. Amarasekera seems to mean by the term Jathika Chintahnaya was the existence of a civilisational consciousness instilled into the psyche of a people by its civilisation. This notion doesn’t imply racial bias. It is considered to be an emotion that is ingrained in a people who had built, nurtured and protected a civilization on their land and it is protective and defensive and not racist, oppressive or chauvinist. Social scientists like Erich Fromm seem to share this viewpoint regarding civilisational consciousness.
‘Sabyathva Rajya Kara’ published in 2016 is considered the natural outcome of the line of thinking followed by Dr. Amarasekera. It is presented by the author as an alternative to the Marxist and Neo-liberal ideologies. Professor G.L. Pieris, reviewing this book says, “The central aim of this book is an assiduous search for the roots of a culture which needs to be rediscovered and revived as the only meaningful way forward.”
His next publication, ‘Danawadayata Wikalpayak’ (An alternative to Capitalism), is an extension of the same concept, a corollary. The central idea contained in this work has been summed up by Dr. Kamal Wickramasinghe in his review of the book: “He points to the need for awakening ‘social consciousness’ of a broader society that is common to all religion-based civilisations that share humane values.”
Contribution to dental profession
It may not be out of place to mention the services Dr. Gunadasa Amarasekera has rendered, as a professional, to the dental services and dental education in the country. He was the first government scholar to be sent to UK to obtain the Fellowship of the Royal College of Surgery (FDS, RCS). On his return he was appointed a Consultant Dental Surgeon and the Head of the Dental institute and served that institution for over 15 years. He was the first Chairman of the Board of Study in Dental Surgery at the Post Graduate Institute of Medicine. He has also served as the external examiner for the Final BDS and the Post Graduate MS in Dental Surgery examinations.
Prof. N.A. de S. Amaratunga DSc
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