Connect with us

Features

‘Sri Lankan geology allows hydro and solar power to be used in conjunction

Published

on

Interview with CBE awardee Prof Ravi Silva

By Sajitha Prematunge

Every hour the Earth’s atmosphere receives enough solar radiation to meet electricity needs of every human being on Earth for a year. Consequently, the world’s greatest problem can be fixed with just one percent of solar radiation the earth receives. The catch? It’s exorbitant. Fulfilling energy needs has remained an insurmountable challenge for centuries as this huge influx of solar energy is wasted for want of a cost effective way of harnessing solar energy, at least until researchers, the likes of Prof Ravi Silva can fix it. Imagine a technology that would enable printing of solar cells using a process similar to that of printing a newspaper. It would enable production of square kilometres of organic solar cells at a fraction of the current cost, theoretically. This is the kind of cutting-edge technology Silva and his ilk are involved in. Following is an exclusive interview with recent CBE awardee Prof Ravi Silva.

 

 

UK-based scientist of Sri Lankan origin and Surrey University Advanced Technology Institute (ATI) Director, Professor Ravi Silva was recently awarded a CBE or Commander of the Order of the British Empire, one of the highest ranking Orders of the British Empire award, for his services to Science, Education and Research over the last three decades.

Silva joined the Cambridge University Engineering Department for his undergraduate and postgraduate work, immediately after his secondary education in Sri Lanka. He joined Surrey in 1995. He was one of the key investigators for the £10m ATI, established in 2002 with the hopes of bringing all solid state electronics and photonics research at Surrey into a dedicated institute. Silva has been its director of since 2005 and also heads the Nano-Electronics Centre (NEC), an interdisciplinary research activity. He helped set up one of the largest carbon nanotechnology laboratories at Surrey.

In 2013 he was elected a Distinguished Professor at Chonbuk National University and in 2016 a Visiting Professorship at Dalian Technology University, China. In April 2017 he was appointed Honarary Director to the Zengzhou Materials Genome Institute (ZMGI), China. In March 2018, he was elected joint Editor-in-Chief of Wiley’s Energy and Environmental Materials. More recently, he has set up the £4m industry-academia Nano-Manufacturing Centre and in 2019 the £1m Marcus Lee Printable Solar Cell Facility.

His research has resulted in over 620 presentations at international conferences, and over 600 journal papers, with circa 21,000 citations and won grants of over £30m over the last two decades. In 2002 he was awarded the Charles Vernon Boys Medal by the Institute of Physics, and in 2003 the IEE Achievement Award. The same year he was awarded the Albert Einstein Silver Medal and Javed Husain Prize by UNESCO for contributions to electronic devices. In 2003 the largest EPSRC Portfolio of £6.68M was awarded to Silva and his team on Integrated Electronics which examined nanoscale design features on the optical and photonic device properties. In 2004, SRIF award for £4M, to set up a Nano-Electronics Centre for multidisciplinary research, was awarded to Silva.

He was awarded the Royal Society Clifford Patterson Award for 2011. In 2014, he was awarded a premium medal by the Institute of Engineering and Technology (IET), the JJ Thompson Medal for contributions to Electrical and Electronic Engineering. In 2015, he won the Institute of Materials, Minerals & Mining (IOM3) premium award, the Platinum Medal for contributing to materials science, technology and industry. In 2016 he won the Government of Sri Lanka Presidential Award in recognition for many contributions in the field of nanotechnology.

Since 2005 he has worked with the National Science Foundation (NSF), Sri Lanka to develop nanotechnology as a vehicle to generate wealth and alleviate poverty in the country. Silva was on the advisory board of Imprimatur Ltd and the National Nanotechnology Initiative (NNI) of Sri Lanka. He was an Advisor to the Minister of Science and Technology in Sri Lanka, and helped set up the Sri Lanka Institute of NanoTechnology (SLINTec) and the Nano-Science Park NANCO (private) Ltd in 2008. He currently acts as an advisor to both these entities and sits on the director board. He has acted as advisor to many national and international organisations, including US, Korean, Japanese, Chinese, Indian, Sri Lankan, Singaporean, Saudi Arabian, Israeli, Hong Kong, Portuguese, Canadian, Brazilian and European governments.

His research interests encompass a wide range of activities with a focus in nanotechnology and renewables. Other fields of interest include electronic devices, sensors and X-ray detectors. “The area that is most significant at present is how to keep our planet safe for the next generation,” said Silva. He explained that climate change is an existential threat for humans, and we must reduce our carbon emissions. He pointed out that the best route to do so is with replacing fossil fuels with renewable energy. Much of his research at present looks at the fabrication and manufacture of new and cheap solar cells, together with battery storage that can act as an integrated solution to green energy provision.

Q:

Which of your research has been put to best practical use, in your opinion?

A:

There are a number of areas in which research conducted within my group has been put to good use. In the field of electronics, it is very difficult to pinpoint precisely where your devices are used as there are many thousands of devices and inventions in even basic consumer electronic systems. For example, patents from our group have been licensed to companies such as Philips, BAE systems, Airbus, Bombardier, Surrey Nano Systems and Silver Ray and they form components of a bigger system or application. The most obvious example of Nanotechnology developed in the group was in the winter Olympics at PyeongChang where the Hyundai Pavilion was covered with Vanta Black, the blackest man-made material in the world. This was also demonstrated through the paint on the BMW X6 model, ‘VBX6’ at the Frankfurt Motor show. These materials originated from research in my labs at Surrey.

Q: What are the contributions solar energy can make to drive the world to a carbon net zero position?

A:

Solar energy is crucial if the world is to go to a net carbon zero position. Typically, the Earth gets enough energy from the sun in one hour to power the entire population of earth for one year. Therefore, the current 80 percent use of fossil fuels to power the world must be decreased significantly in the next 50 years, to be replaced by green energy. In developed countries such as Germany there are predictions which show solar energy would make up 80 percent of the total energy use in 2100. This is simply due to the overwhelming evidence that points to these sources as the most appropriate green energy provider.

Q: Why are governments reluctant to commit fully to solar power?

A:

At present the cost of solar and the inbuilt infrastructure available for fossil fuels makes governments reluctant to examine other sources. The local energy generation and transmission system will need to be overhauled and new investments made in energy, supply, transmission, storage and distribution.

Q: What can Sri Lanka do to popularise renewable energy?

A:

Sri Lanka’s renewable energy efforts are mostly ad-hoc and requires coherent policy and planning. Education on the advantages of renewable energy and how it can be implemented can help. At present, should a full cost analysis be performed on solar energy, it will come up as the most cost-efficient energy provision available in countries such as Sri Lanka.

Q: How do you manage higher efficiency solar energy technology, while maintaining lower cost?

A:

The cost of solar energy provision has been coming down exponentially. If we take one of the measures to judge the cost of solar electricity, cost per Watt, in 1970 this was an eye watering US$74 per Watt. This dropped to below US$ 10 in 1990 and today this is below US$ 20 cents per Watt. The Obama regime ran the Sun Shot Challenge to push the cost of solar electricity below US$ 1 per Watt, as this was when it became competitive with fossils. We are well below that now, and the cost keeps getting lower. Current 450W solar modules can be obtained highly competitively below US 150 if it is bought in bulk.

Q: Yet you have admitted that energy is one thing that has defied all economic models, including the axiom of Supply and Demand. Why have solar energy expenses kept rising rather than coming down, with technological development?

A:

Adam Smith said supply and demand should dictate cost. In solar there is 10,000 times over supply of energy. The problem is the cost of solar cells. We are looking to reduce this with sprayable solar cells. But even today the cost of solar for large solar farms can be well below 10 cents US$, if the infrastructure is provided for the investment to take place. For example in India large solar farms have been set up with costs as low as US$ 4 cents per kilowatt hour with the number below US$ 2cents in Mexico. There is no reason to believe we cannot have similar low-cost solar electricity in Sri Lanka.

Q: What are energy cost drivers, and do they apply to the World Energy provision and by extension to Sri Lanka?

A:

Ease of production of energy, raw material provision and the infrastructure dictates the final costs. There is no reason to believe we cannot provide the raw materials needed, when this happens to be sun light. Furthermore, with the enviable hill country with hydroelectricity provision we have a ready-made battery to store energy with pumped hydro.

Q: Do you mean hydropower can be used in conjunction as a storage technology, to store solar energy during off peak hours or during the day and discharge it by night?

A:

Absolutely. Nature has blessed Sri Lanka with some wonderful geology to allow for this to be done at scale. The NSF and universities should be looking to build on this to provide the country with the ideal solutions to their energy needs. Pumped hydro can be used to store hydro-energy when there is too much electricity produced by solar energy, so it can be used in the nights. The 40 percent hydro-provision is near ideal to ensure base load needs are met, for the rest of the energy to come from solar and wind. I am also sure there will be large scale battery provisions coming soon, with companies such as Tesla and 8minutes already demonstrating this.

Q: What are smart grids and its benefits?

A:

If renewable energies are to contribute to nations energy provision, they need to be able to interface well with the current energy provision and transmission. In particular for solar and wind-based energy to feed-into the national grid, a robust energy network with smart grid provision will help. Smart grids also allow for smaller local networks to provide renewable energy in an efficient manner, having appropriate interfacing with the on-grid supply and often back-up energy storage provision.

Q: What obstacles delay power generation sectors from adopting smart grids?

A:

The singular obstacle is inertia and sticking to old infrastructure, without looking to plan ahead for future energy provision.

Q:

What are polymer cells or organic photovoltaics, and their benefits.

A: In the future, using polymer technology, we can produce solar cells with 15 percent efficiency at a fraction the cost of silicon solar cells. This is driven primarily by the very much lower material cost, together with the thousand-fold decrease in active materials used to make solar cells. By adding nanoparticles into the polymer solar cells you can improve the efficiency even further and thereby give better energy per cost. Under these circumstances the energy payback time is below six months.

Q: What is carbon electronics? And what are its applications for a developing country like Sri Lanka?

A:

Carbon electronics uses the element C for the fabrication of electronic devices. Nano-carbons such as graphene, carbon nanotubes and polymers are becoming more important on a daily basis to provide solutions in electronics, energy and structural materials.

For Sri Lanka, it can make a huge difference. Particularly when some of the highest quality graphene can be produced with the vein graphite available in the country. This can not only be used for next generation electronic devices, but also for lighting and even electrodes for batteries. Companies such as Ceylon Graphene Ltd. have been established in the Sri Lanka Institute of Nanotechnology (SLINTEC) to provide just this impetus to the national innovation eco-system.

Q: Where does carbon electronics factor in, solar energy generation?

A:

Polymer based carbons, particularly if mixed with nanomaterials can be used for next generation solar cells. Only a fraction of the material needed in Silicon solar cells, to produce high quality modules, is required when polymer based carbons are used as active materials.

Q: What are carbon electronics’ other benefits?

A:

We can also use the nano-carbon materials to make major components of the battery, such as its electrodes. So, not only energy scavenging, carbon electronics can also help in energy storage.

Q: What are the benefits of unlimited energy?

A:

Some say there is a significant correlation between national development and energy use per capita. The worlds most developed countries also have the highest per capita use of energy.

If we had unlimited energy, the world would be a very different place. With unlimited energy we can wipe out the poverty gaps between the nations; there will be enough energy to provide clean water to all using desalination technologies; we can wipe out famine with food crops grown under ideal conditions; we can ensure maximum energy is focussed on new drugs, vaccines and highly nutritious foods.

Q: What is your opinion on research culture in Sri Lanka Universities?

A:

Sri Lanka universities have high quality researchers, but less provision for them to be able to fully exploit their prowess to help the nation or have an enterprise culture to contribute to society. A step change is needed to motivate researchers to help elevate the country’s science and technology base with their efforts. High quality research should also be given fast track promotion within the sector.

Q:

In a technological perspective which areas are viable for expansion and which are not, for a country like Sri Lanka?

A:

Sri Lanka needs to motivate and energise the younger generation to contribute fully to the nation. Training in enterprise and spinouts should be made available with suitable grants for technologists to develop their inventions and products. The eco-system for entrepreneurship should be developed, with the universities taking a lead by example, on how they can value add to Sri Lankan raw materials and technologies. In the fields of nanotechnology, energy, materials, AI and new technologies they have much to offer.

 

 

Continue Reading
Click to comment

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Features

2019 Easter Sunday Carnage: An Intelligence Perspective

Published

on

By Merril Gunaratne

Retired Senior DIG

The predicament of those in the highest echelons of defence and police bring to my mind past serious failures, not entirely dissimilar to the massacre on “Easter Sunday” in 2019. Somewhere in the mid 1980s, an LTTE group, led by their Mannar leader Victor Fulgencius ,entered the Anuradhapura sacred city and brutally mowed down a large number of Buddhist pilgrims in broad daylight. The Coordinating Officer of Anuradhapura, SSP of the area and those below them, must have been “deaf and blind”, for they could not have been oblivious to the bursts of gunfire, and the plea of countless witnesses who naturally would have looked upto them for intervention. No positive efforts were made even to stall the retreat of the terrorists after the carnage to Mannar. Nor were inquiries instituted to hold senior army and police officers accountable for their shocking inertia. Likewise in broad daylight, a terror group, the TELO, stormed Chavakachcheri police station and razed it to the ground, killing all police officers in the station. The Coordinating Officer of Palaly, when questioned by the President at the National Security Council meeting following the disaster, stated that in such situations, “each service should look after itself”. The question raised was whether the Army should have engaged in an immediate and timely intervention. Here too no inquiry was initiated to identify accountability for the shocking failures. The “PLOTE” group of Uma Maheswaran came untrammelled up to the Nikaweratiya police station, in the Kurunegala district, attacked it and caused mayhem. No inquiries were held: none were held accountable. In the 1990s, the Katunayake Air Force base was attacked by the LTTE and the JVP, separately, causing death and destruction. None were called upon to shoulder the blame. Again, in the early 90’s, the LTTE ruthlessly killed over 600 police officers in the Ampara sector, because the IGP at the time ordered the fighting officers to surrender on an assurance from political leaders that the LTTE would release them. No Commissions nor inquiries were held in this regard.

There is however an essential difference between these instances and the 2019 Easter Sunday carnage. Ample intelligence from India, backed by a plethora of evidence and reports of dangers from the National Thowheed Jamath [NTJ] stored with the State Intelligence Services [SIS], the CID, and the Terrorist investigation Division [TID], had been in the possession of SIS, well before the disaster took place. Therefore the credibility of intelligence received from India was not in doubt, as also time and space available to adopt schemes to plan arrests and flood the country with optimum security. In such a context, the failure of defence and police officers to evolve plans to nip terror in the bud, differ sharply with previous instances. In previous cases, the security forces were taken by surprise. In the case of the “Easter Sunday” carnage, intelligence was available well in advance, so that ample opportunity was available to forestall terror plans.

THE STATUS OF THE STATE INTELLIGENCE SERVICE (SIS) IN DEFENCE

An aspect that came under scrutiny was whether the Director of the SIS had informed the President about the information received from the Indian counterparts. It may not be inappropriate to deal with two matters which find relevance in seeking to understand what ideally should have been done.

First, the SIS is the premier “Intelligence” service in the country, since it is expected to collect and collate intelligence of the police special branch, the CID and the TID, in addition to their own efforts. It is also responsible to monitor political targets, in addition to those connected with subversion, terrorism and espionage. It also enjoys wiretapping apparatus to enhance its capability.

Second, the Director of the SIS is virtually “primus inter pares” amongst members of the national security council [NSC], when it comes to access to the head of state, and in relation to his vital role of leading deliberations at meetings of the NSC with suitable briefs. Each and every director of the national intelligence service in its long history, will vouch for the veracity of this arrangement. From as far back as 1950’s, even superintendents of police in- charge of national intelligence had far more access to the head of state than the IGP; and the IGP did not often know what the Intelligence head had discussed with the President. The authority of the Director of the SIS therefore at times exceeded that of not only the IGP, but many others in the NSC as well. At the time I was Director of the National Intelligence Bureau, President Jayewardene would see only me before 8.00 am, prior to leaving for Cabinet meetings.

Though in pecking order, the Chief of National Intelligence (CNI) is superior to the Director of the SIS, in actual fact, the latter wields far more authority since all agents and informers are controlled by the SIS. In addition, CNI only plays a supervisory role, while the Director of the SIS is the actual operational head of the intelligence agency.

SUBMISSION OF “SPECIAL”OR “SERIAL” REPORTS BY DIRECTOR SIS TO THE PRESIDENT

Being in a position of such privilege, whenever credible intelligence is received, the Director of the SIS has to take two immediate steps. First, he should immediately, through the shortest possible route, despatch a written, classified report to the President, with copies to the Secretary of Defence and Chief of National Intelligence [CNI]. Traditionally, a special ‘Box’ has been used for such despatch to the President, keys available at both ends to unlock and retrieve reports. The ‘Box’ would impress the president that the document inside was of an urgent nature. Depending on the gravity, nature and the urgency of such intelligence, as with the NTJ of Zahran, the Director may even decide to despatch copies to Secretary to President, IGP and Service Commanders as well. He has to concurrently speak on the telephone to each of the recipients of his report, emphasise the credibility and the grave nature of such intelligence, and also propose that the NSC be convened for discussion without delay. Such a standard arrangement of despatch of reports and telephone calls wherever the intelligence is of a grave and urgent nature, is a precedent in vogue from as far back as 1950s. The role of the SIS is to help the NSC to proact, rather than react. The prototypes of the SIS in the service and the police will play a supportive, rather than a leading role. The Director of SIS therefore can galvanise the National Security Council to act, or “put it to sleep”. There has been no indication from the Easter Sunday Commission findings reported in the media that the Director of SIS had despatched a written, classified report to the President.

 

FLAWED “INFORMATION” REPORT SENT TO IGP.

The ‘Information report” which the IGP received from the CNI, enclosed a note from the Director of SIS. It referred to the plans of Zahran and the NTJ to commit terror attacks, and suggested that further inquiries should be carried out. This report is “flawed” because it is not an Intelligence report. If the Intelligence received was credible (in this instance it obviously was), the report should have been in two parts. In the first part, the piece of information should have been reflected. The second part titled “Assessment or Analysis” is the far more important one, where the Director , harnessing his knowledge of the reliability of the source of information, along with his acquaintance of the background and history of the NTJ available in the subject and personal files stored in the SIS registry, should have stated with conviction that the information was not only reliable, but should be discussed as early as possible, and plans evolved to nip the threat in the bud without delay. A question that arises is whether the report of the Director sans an assessment was adequate to galvanise his superiors to ponder about the gravity of the piece of intelligence received. Even though flawed, the recipients yet had material in the report to discuss and plan on an urgent basis. Of course, a proper intelligence report may possibly have woken them up from slumber. In short, the report or note of the director of the SIS was not exactly an Intelligence report in the classic context. Adrian Weale in his book, “The Army of Evil” said, “Broadly speaking, intelligence is information that is gathered and analysed before informing decisions. Without the crucial analysis step …it is of no-value”

 

DEFENCE AND POLICE OFFICIALS TREATING THE INFORMATION WITH LEVITY

It had been unfortunate that senior officials such as the Defence Secretary, Chief of National Intelligence, Director of the SIS, the IGP and his deputies had acted in an amateurish fashion. They were not minions who should have been inactive, amidst such serious information, simply because the President was out of the country. If Defence Secretary , goaded and galvanised by Director of National Intelligence, summoned members of the NSC for discussion, many salutary proposals leading to an effective security plan may have emerged. The Defence Secretary was empowered on his own to summon members of the N.S.C. for discussion at any time. His “inertia” baffles imagination. In an overall context, none of those who received the somewhat “flawed” information in their enclaves considered it prudent to at least ‘put their heads together’ and discuss what should have been done.

 

ACCESS TO SENSITIVE RECORDS IN THE REGISTRY OF THE SIS.

The SIS, by virtue of being the national intelligence agency, is responsible, apart from ferreting intelligence through it’s own network of agents and informers, to collect and collate all overt and covert information from the CID, the Terrorist Investigation Division (TID), and even from intelligence channels in the armed forces. The comprehensive records that they thereby accumulate, are stored in “subject” and “personal” files in respect of each subversive or terrorist target they monitor. These records are suitably classified ‘secret’ or ‘confidential’ so that only those authorised to see them can have access to such records.

The Director of the SIS, apart from the submission of ‘single piece’ intelligence reports to the Head of State, the Defence Secretary and possibly some other members of the National Security Council, also had to periodically compile periodic reports, based on the comprehensive records stored in respect of a particular target in the registry. Each such report will make a mature analysis of the activities and growth of the target, alert the government to their ramifications and sinister designs, and offer salutary proposals to nip or stall their activities. Such periodic reports are described as ‘special’ or ‘basic’ reports, and are invariably classified secret. This discipline too has been in vogue for a very long time. Such reports help the government to monitor, review and proact against terror threats periodically.

In view of the fact that omissions and lapses of the SIS leading to the massacre of innocents were under scrutiny by the presidential Commission the records in the Registry of the SIS could have been made available to the Commission to assist the probe. Terror groups like the National Thowheed Jamat (NTJ) are extremely clandestine when they plant their underground network in the silent, ‘preparatory’ phase. This is a phase where terrorists are extremely elusive because of their obsession with stealth and secrecy. The activities of this preparatory phase can be discerned only through agents and informers, so that the SIS alone will have records which police, the CID and TID would not possess. The latter are predominantly investigators’ of acts after their occurrence. It is the SIS which should have good intelligence about external and internal links of the NTJ, their financiers, safe houses, military or weapons training etc. This is the kind of intelligence which helps the SIS to submit comprehensive, periodic “special” reports to the government.

Perhaps, the Commission could have been authorised access to the periodic reports and files of the SIS in respect of the NTJ. Such classified material would have been valuable in the quest for the roots and ramifications of the NTJ. Most of the witnesses who appeared before the Commission for evidence may not have possessed the type knowledge of the NTJ and its ramifications which only SIS officers would have possessed.

The SIS usually seeks to protect the identity of their officers as well as their records, for risk of exposure. Such safeguards may be necessary in normal circumstances. However, the carnage and massacre on Easter Sunday in 2019 due mainly to inadequacies of those in Defence and Police echelons, had led to a high level probe by a Presidential Commission, and evoked considerable public concern and interest. The entire tragedy has been in the public domain. It may therefore have been unreasonable if the records of the SIS had been withheld from the probe.

Continue Reading

Features

Steeped in realism, rich in poignant themes and metaphors

Published

on

By Sajitha Prematunge

Asexual relationships are getting considerable limelight in the Sri Lankan cinema, what with Gehan Cooray’s The Billionaire and the recently released film, Ayu portraying such relationships, albeit in the vantage of different sexual orientation. Ayu was screened to a limited audience in celebration of the 74th anniversary of Sri Lankan cinema at Savoy Cinema, Wellawatta, on January 22. It is the maiden movie production of General (retired) Daya Rathnayake and the second film directed by Chathra Weeraman after Aloko Udapadi.

Presented by Weeraman Brothers, based on a story by Saman Weeraman, Ayu stars Sandra Mack, Jagath Manuwarna, Malani Fonseka, Ashan Dias, Kenara Wiratunga, Samanalee Fonseka, Sampath Jayaweera, Priyantha Sirikumara, Thumindu Dodantenna, Nalin Lusena, Udara Abeysundara, Kasuni Kavindi Fernando, Akalanka Prabashwara, Dinushika Senevirathne, Thiwanka Ranasinghe, Prasanna Dekumpitiya and Dasun Pathirana in a guest appearance. The crew includes cinematographer Kalinga Deshapriya, Chamara Selara as Assistant Director, Bimal Dushmantha in production designing, Saman Alvitigala in film editing, Milinda Tennakone in music, Harsha Manjula and Haroon Shaideen in makeup department, Sasika Marasinghe in sound department, Dinindu Jagoda and Lahiru Madhushanka in editorial department, Kumara Karawdeniya in costume designing, Shehan Obeysekara in production photography, Iresh Karunarathne, Primal Ranasinghe and Sashika Ganegodage in Production Management and Anuradha Weeraman as the Associate Producer.

The psychoanalytical film wastes no time documenting stressful therapy sessions or treatment. It is a journey towards the healing of the mind. Nishmi, a female pediatrician, didn’t only lose her baby in the almost fatal car accident that required the blood transfusion that sealed her fate, she’s maimed for life, with no hope of ever having a family of her own. Ravi, her husband’s elated revelation, “It’s negative,” comes as a surprise not to only Nish, but also the audience who was thus far convinced that the sole cause of her predicament was Ravi’s promiscuity.

Much is insinuated and less said in the film. Hardly anywhere is the acronym AIDS mentioned and only in one instance is HIV mentioned. This in itself is symbolic of the stigma HIV AIDS entails. We are given a first hand account of the kind of stigmatization AIDS patients undergo when Nishmi’s coworkers shun her as if they could contract the disease by brushing against her. A mother pulls her child away from Nish with an uneasy smile, while nurses and attendants avoid her. The stigma is so ingrained that Nish cannot expect to be accepted by her family. For example, Nish’s mother, played by Malini Fonseka, profusely washes her hands after dressing Nish’s wound. This is the last straw for Nish, who contemplates suicide.

There is no doubt that excellent casting choices contributed to the success of the film. The anguish of a mother in Fonseka’s words “I am your mother, I am your mother…” uttered to assuage her HIV positive daughter after she slighted by washing her hands, does not fail to evoke empathy in the audience. The film also marks screen queen Malini Fonseka’s 150th performance in an acting career spanning four decades.

Weeraman has commendably captured the anguish of the characters. Specially noteworthy is the performance by Sandra Mack as Nishmi, whether it is to her own credit or Weeraman’s ability to get a novitiate to strike the right emotional chords is irrelevant, because the end product is realistic. The fresh face of Mack helps to heighten the realism. We have never previously seen her acting and this makes it that much easier to identify with her role. Although her dialogue seems a bit contrived at the onset, which could be attributed to a shortcoming in dubbing, she grows on you.

Manuwarna’s ruggedness contrasts sharply with the seeming fragility of Mack’s Nishmi and the repelling magnate-like chemistry between the lead actors adds a novel flavour to the film. Make no mistake, it’s not your typical rich woman falls for poor guy kind of soppy. The film is abound with underlying deep socio-political and economic themes presented in the dichotomy of the upper middle class represented by Nishi and lower class by beach boy Sachin. It is certainly a thought-provoking movie peppered with allusions to Buddhist teachings, from the metaphoric boat that is life, to allusions of rituals such Bodhi Pooja conducted in hopes of being impregnated. Though Nishmi contemplated suicide earlier in the film, at the end, she just wants to row the boat. True to the Buddhist doctrine Nishmi comes to realise that we are but mere cogs in the samsaric machinery and that there is no other way out but to ‘row your boat’.

Inspired by true events, from plot, dialogue, acting to cinematography, Ayu religiously sticks to realism. The fight scenes are commendably choreographed with excellent cinematography helping to enhance realism. Even the songs are well placed, sans the melodrama, typical of Sinhala films.

However the tempo of the 116 minute film is somewhat slow, unnecessarily stretched to create the movie-length feature. The audience does not know where in time a certain scene is set. It is somewhat akin to memento or arrival, in that fragmented scenes are scattered throughout the film going back and forth in time. For example, images of passing lights from the vantage of a trolley being pushed through a hospital corridor, at the beginning of the movie, foreshadows a catastrophe waiting to strike. Although the trope makes it difficult to establish a footing, it adds to the arthouse flavour of the film. Things eventually fall into place when the film comes full circle, reconciling the past and present.

The genre, and by extension the target audience of the movie is ill-defined. Whether it a commercial or art house movie would depend on audience interpretation. The character of ‘Ayu’ is a case in point. Does the kid really exist? After all nothing is revealed about her. Her grandmother is MIA, the audience is in the dark about where she lives and when she is uprooted from her life in the village, whisked away by two strangers no one bats an eyelid. Uncannily similar to the character of child psychologist Malcolm Crowe in ‘Sixth Sense’, who turns out to be a ghost oblivious to his own ghostly existence, Ayu, who’s name literally means ‘life’, has little interaction with the characters other than Nishmi and Sachin, who are both, ironically dying. This life/death juxtaposition forms the crux of the film. Ayu may very well be a figment of one’s imagination, a metaphor for ‘life’. Is she a mere symbol for life or ‘ayu’ in Sinhala? If so, what better symbol for life than a child. If not, then the script is fatally flawed, in that it failed to develop an essential character. It is unrealistic that as a doctor Nish would have no qualms about exposing the child to a life threatening illness.

All things considered, Ayu is welcome respite from the mundane Sinhala movie that only offers unrealistic love stories that involve a lot of running around bushes, obviously phony fight scenes and ill-timed sorry excuses for songs. It is to be released in theatres soon and is not to me missed.

Continue Reading

Features

St. Antony feast Katchatheevu

Published

on

The Jaffna Divisional Secretary informed the public, well in advance, that St. Anthony’s Feast in the Kachchativu island had been cancelled this year due to the Covid- 19 pandemic. The decision was well understood by devotees of both Sri Lanka and India.

This annual feast on a tiny island closer to the India-Sri Lanka International boundary line (IMBL) was an annual meeting place, especially for fishermen of both countries. Last year (2020) the feast was attended by more than 10,000 devotees. For the first time, Sri Lankan devotees out-numbered the Indians. Anticipating such a situation, the Bishop of Jaffna, Rt. Rev. Justin Bernard Ganapragasam had invited Bishop of Diocese of Galle, Rt. Rev Raymond Wickramasinghe as well. The mass last year was conducted in all three languages – Sinhala, Tamil and English.

As a devotee of St. Anthony, the Saint who looks after seafarers, like me, even though I am a Buddhist, I was sad that I might miss this year’s feast.

However, some good news came from the Commander of the Navy, Vice Admiral Nishantha Ulugetenna a few days ago. He said Jaffna Bishop had requested to have a mass at Kachchativu island without the presence of the public and only with a few priests on 27 February 2021, and if I was keen, I could join them. I was delighted to go there.

Kachchativu is located half a nautical mile from the Indo-Sri Lanka IMBL which was ratified by UN Law of the Sea conference in 1976, when maritime boundaries and Exclusive Economic Zones of India, Sri Lanka and Maldives were demarcated and agreed to by all three countries and ratified at the United Nations.

It is mistakenly thought both in India and in Sri Lanka that Indian fishermen can come to this island to dry their nets. That was in the 1974 agreement, where even Sri Lanka fishermen had the right to fish in “Wedge bank”, in the Indian waters closer to Kanyakumari. When the 1976 agreement was ratified, those privileges were done away with and now Kachchativu is part of Sri Lanka’s territory and well within our waters. Please read the famous book on Kachchativu by late Mr WT Jayasinghe, who was our Defence and External Affairs Secretary in the 1970s (father of late Romesh Jayasinghe, our former Foreign Secretary in the 2000s) to learn more about how our beloved Prime Minister Sirimavo Bandaranaike’s diplomatic skills and close personal relationship with the then Indian PM Indira Gandhi won us the Kachchativu island back.

Those who championed in Tamilnadu and in the Indian Central government on taking back Kachchativu from Sri Lanka should refer to what Indian Attorney General Mukul Rohargi told a bench, headed by Chief Justice of India R M Lodha on 26th August 2014: “Kachchativu was gone to Sri Lanka by an agreement in 1974. It was ceded and now act as a boundary. How can it be taken back today? If you want Kachchativu back, you will have to go to war to get it back.”

I stayed at Fort Hammenniel, a beautiful fort built by the Dutch at the entrance of Karainagar channel, entrance to the old Jaffna port of Kayts, now part of our Naval Base, SLNS Karainagar. This tiny Dutch fort has its own history in our country, the place where the late JVP leader Rohana Wijeweera was kept in captivity in 1971 with more than one hundred other JVPers. I could not imagine how it would be with 100 prisoners in this small fort.

I was not accommodated in any of these cells; I stayed in one of the four super Luxury rooms on the top deck of the fort.

My dear friend, Rear Admiral Senarath Wijesooriya, the Commander Northern Naval Area, joined me to travel to Kachchativu on the 26th evening (February). We travelled in an indigenously built Inshore Patrol Craft (IPC), which can move at 38 knots (approx 50 mph). During the final stages of our conflict with the LTTE, under the guidance of then Commander of the Navy, today our Admiral of the Fleet, Wasantha Karannagoda, Navy Engineers built more than 100 IPCs which brought LTTE Sea Tigers to their knees on asymmetric naval warfare as per “Lanchester theory” and helped destroy all their “ultimate weapons at sea” – suicide boats. Visionary leader, Admiral of the Fleet Karannagoda, always told us, “You cannot buy a Navy – you have to build one” ! How true ! We built it for you, Sir. Bravo Zulu to our Engineers !

IPC moved at 38 knots in the mirror-calm sea, and took only one hour and 40 minutes to reach Kachchativu from Karainagar. I was so impressed with Petty Officer in-charge of the IPC, for his boat handling, and beaching the boat at Kachchativu and professional competence. With such junior leaders, our Navy’s future is bright.

With the full moon, calm seas and light breeze from the North East direction, it was a beautiful night. Few scores of sailors were preparing the church and surroundings for next morning.

One thing missing this year was the crowd. Camping in small groups and singing hymns praising St Anthony was not heard this year. The small “street” in Kachchativu, which was full of makeshift Indian shops with sarees, clothes and sweetmeats and Sri Lankan shops with soap, coconut oil and cinnamon were not there this time around.

The new church built by the Navy five years ago on the request from the Bishop of Jaffna was looking beautiful. This was a hundred percent donation by officers and sailors of the Navy. It cost us Rs. 7.7 million, total contribution by the Navy personnel, majority of them were Buddhists like yours truly. This church is a symbol of reconciliation.

The following day (27) by at 9.30 a.m. mass was, led by Very Rev Father Pathinathar Joshopthas Jebarathnam, the Vicar General of the Diocese of Jaffna. 

The Mass was attended by 50 officers and sailors following strict quarantine laws. Vicar General , Very Rev Father Jebarathnam blessed all those present and others who had not been able to get there due to the pandemic. I missed Sri Lankan and Indian fishers. Their request to St Anthony is always very simple; that is for them to have a good catch of fish next year so that they could look after their families and come back to St Anthony’s feast again.

I also kept my request simple. “Thank you St Anthony’s, for allowing me to come to Kachchativu this year and give me strength to come back next year as well !”

Continue Reading

Trending