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Students in London – 1950s

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by Vijaya Chandrasoma

Sri Lankan (Ceylonese in those days) students aspiring to continue their higher education in England in the 1950s and 1960s usually had to spend some time in England before they were accepted (or not) by the university of their choice.

Some students had already gained admittance to a university, and were able to time their arrival to move straight into the college that had accepted them. Others were lucky enough to have their parents or elders accompany and stay with them until they were settled enough to embark on their careers without help. Still others not so lucky were forced into the deep end of an unfamiliar environment. They invariably had some family contacts and the Ceylon High Commission and the Ceylon Students Centre in London to guide them through those difficult initial stages.

Accommodation was the first hurdle. Digs, as living quarters for students and young professionals were called, were not easy to find, especially for us “coloureds” in post war England, when colour bar was rampant in the big cities. I had a number of friends from Colombo, mainly schoolmates, who also were faced with this problem.

Advertisements for available rooms were pinned on notice-boards, usually in little convenience stores that sold newspapers and tobacco. Many of these advertisements specified “No Coloureds”. We soon identified “colour friendly” areas like Earls Court, Paddington, Notting Hill Gate and Holland Park, and managed to get roofs over our heads.

We either shared rooms or lived very close to each other, sometimes in the same building. Our rented rooms had the most basic cooking facilities, often just a gas ring. The shorter the period between arrival in England and entry into the safe haven of the university of their choice, the better for these young Sri Lankans who had been coddled in their homes with domestics to cater to their every whim. Even the task of boiling water was a mystery to most. We learned, some better and quicker than others. Our staple diet consisted of bacon and eggs, baked beans, potatoes, bread, butter and milk. And those little plastic packets of gastronomical delight like Irish Stew, Toad in the Hole and Shepherd’s Pie. Irish Stew was my personal favourite. All you had to do was to insert the packet in boiling water for a few minutes, and, voila, you had a dish that evoked the delicious aromas of the Emerald Isle.

We did treat ourselves to the occasional meal at one of the many Indian restaurants, which were as popular in London in those days as they are now. I used to indulge my healthy appetite by eating three parathas (mere mortals were satisfied with just one) and a full portion of Mutton Roghan Josh, cooked extra spicy.

The waiting period, for me, of over one year in London, with nothing to do, proved to be fateful. Our similarly unemployed little group of Sri Lankan friends met on a daily basis. We indulged in the many deleterious pastimes of studying the form of the runners in the day’s horseracing meetings; playing billiards at the University of London Union; Thursday and Saturday evenings at the White City dog racing stadium. And of course, regular visits to our neighbourhood pub, the Mitre, at the top of Ladbroke Grove on Holland Park.

England’s minimum age for consumption of alcohol was, if memory serves, 18, and that too was more honoured in the breach. We were regulars at this popular watering hole, and the barkeeper used to greet me with the “honorific” of Ding Dong on arrival, because my drink of choice was a double shot of Bell’s scotch whisky!

Of course, had I been a sensible student, impervious to the pleasures of the company of friends and the many lures of city life, I could easily have spent my days in the library, boning up on the subjects I had chosen for further study at the university which had accepted me the following October. I wasn’t, and I didn’t. I was a regular fun loving teenager, who had failed to approach maturity until my late 60s. I believe I have now, at 80 years of age, finally achieved the sober qualities of maturity and adulthood. Many ladies who continue to remain married to men who never seem to grow up are well aware of this particularly masculine phenomenon.

We had endless discussions as to our future, dreaming of ending our brilliant careers at the top of our chosen professions. As I recall, only one of us achieved such excellence in his stated ambition, that of being a playboy. Needless to say, these friendships forged six decades ago have endured, and a couple of them remain my best friends today. Except for the aforementioned playboy, who achieved his dream. He lived fast, died young and left a good looking corpse, a demise precipitated by alcohol, slow horses and fast women. Not a bad way to go.

I secured employment at the Royal Automobile Club in the City, where I had the task of arranging European holidays for English tourists, a mind numbing job involving drivers’ licences and passports. I was paid the weekly minimum wage of eight pounds and 10 shillings, which, believe it or not, was then a living wage in London. Added to the allowance of 45 pounds my parents sent me, I felt like a veritable millionaire! And provided the bookie at Notting Hill Gate with a regular source of income on Saturdays.

The job didn’t last. I found it extremely difficult to wake up in the freezing cold of an English Winter, dress up and take the tube to the City, day in and blustery day out. I called in sick one particularly cold day in March 1960, a sickness which continued indefinitely. I followed up with a letter from a Sri Lankan doctor, to the effect that I suffered from a lung condition which made it necessary for me to return to the warmer climes of my homeland.

A lie, which made me feel even more guilty when the RAC continued to mail me my weekly wages for two weeks, with a note from my supervisor wishing me a speedy recovery.

A Night in Jail

I spent my first, and only (so far), night in jail at the holding cell of Ladbroke Grove Police Station in London. I was 18-years old, and did not have a driver’s licence. One evening, I needed to hire a car for a reason that escapes my mind, though it probably involved a German girl I was dating at the time. My Sri Lankan friend and neighbour, who did possess a driver’s licence, offered to hire a car for me, in a rare exhibition of generosity drenched in foolhardiness.

Having dropped my girlfriend at home, I was driving home in the early hours, when I was pulled over. It was customary for the police in London to pull over any youngster driving alone at that time of the night. No alcohol was involved but I had no licence and didn’t know where the car’s registration and insurance papers were. I was taken to Ladbroke Grove Police Station, where I was placed in the holding cell. I had told the policeman that the car I was driving had been rented for me by a friend, whose address I gave them. They went to my friend’s digs, woke him up and he joined me in the cell, having confirmed my story. The cops treated us extremely well. We were booked and produced before a judge the following morning, who, with a twinkle in his eyes, warned and discharged us with a fine of five pounds each.

The whole matter was treated with understanding and compassion. Both the cops and the judge saw us for what we were, two teenagers having a good time on a Sunday night. Well, at least one of them was. Those were gentler, simpler days.

The friend who had foolishly agreed to rent a car for me that night is one of the most honourable gentlemen it has been my privilege to know. We still remain good friends, a testament to his forgiving nature. This was probably the only indiscretion he has committed in his entire life, one I have no doubt he regrets today, even after six decades.

And then October came along and we went our separate ways. We had many adventures, many enjoyable, a few not, during those few months. Suffice to say, we all survived. And we carried on with our education, with varying degrees of success and failure.



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Dangerous rail travel by tourists: Why not create an opportunity?

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Coiling Dragon Cliff skywalk, Zhangjiajie, China

Before the Covid Pandemic hit Sri Lanka, there was some debate and concern voiced about tourists standing at the door ways of trains and even hanging out, while the train is moving. Some pictures of a young couple hanging out of an upcountry train, while clutching on to the side rails, went viral, on social media, with debates of the ‘pros’ and ‘cons’ reaching fever pitch. While certainly this is a dangerous practice, not to be condoned, If we ‘think out of the box’ could there be a way to make this seemingly popular, though dangerous pastime among some tourists, into an opportunity to be exploited. This paper aims to explore these options pragmatically.

By Srilal Miththapala

Social media, and even some of the more conventional media, were all a-buzz before the CoVid crisis, when some pictures of a young tourist couple appeared, hanging out of a Sri Lankan upcountry train in gay abandon, savouring the exciting moment. There were hot debates about this form of ‘promotion of Sri Lanka’, with many people talking about the dangers of such a practice, and that it would bring negative publicity for Sri Lanka if something dangerous were to happen. This part of the train ride, along the upcountry route, is arguably one of the most scenic train routes in the world.

And quite rightly so, I guess. I myself was one who joined the chorus who vehemently spoke against this.

However thinking out of the box, I got thinking – Can we create an opportunity here ?

The ‘new’, experience and thrill seeking tourist of today

There is no doubt that there is a new segment of discerning, younger, experience and adventure seeking tourists, emerging and travelling all over the world. They are very internet and social media savvy, seeking more adventurous and exciting experiences, and are usually very environmentally conscious. They are most often seen exploring ‘off-the-beaten-track’ holidays, planned out individually according to their needs and wants.

Through the ages, mankind has been pushing the limits of exploration: We have conquered land, sea and space. We have discovered many hitherto unknown wonders of our planet with our unabated thirst for knowledge.

Tourists are no different. To get away from their daily stressful life, they seek something different, even venturing into hostile or dangerous places to experience the excitement of discovery and the feeling of adventure. No longer is a clean hotel room with a range of facilities, good food and some sunshine good enough to a tourist.

According to booking.com, the yearning for experiences, over material possessions, continues to drive travellers’ desire for more incredible and memorable trips: 45% of travellers have a bucket list in mind. Most likely to appear on a bucket list are thrill seekers wanting to visit a world famous theme park, travellers looking to go on an epic rail journey or visiting a remote or challenging location. ()

Drive-reduction theory in psychology postulates that one is never in a state of complete fulfilment, and thus, there are always drives that need to be satisfied. Humans and other animals voluntarily increase tension by exploring their unknown environments, self-inducing stress and moving out of their comfort zones. This gives them a sense of achievement and self-satisfaction. ()

Therefore, unknown thrills, adventures and the ‘adrenaline rush’ does attract travellers.

What have other countries done ?

As mentioned many countries are developing unique , memorable and thrilling experiences into their product offering.

A few are described below

Walk along Sydney Harbour Bridge

Walk along Sydney Harbour Bridge

Small groups are taken on a walk along the massive, arched steel structured Sydney Harbour Bridge . The dramatic 360 deg. view from the bridge, 135 meters above ground, of the harbour, and the nearby Sydney Opera house, while being completely exposed to the elements, is, indeed, a rare and thrilling experience.

Coiling Dragon Cliff skywalk, Zhangjiajie, China

In the northwest of China’s Hunan province, visitors can take a leisurely stroll along the walkway attached to Tianmen Mountain — 4,700 feet above the ground.

The glass-bottomed walkway is more than 300 feet long and only about five feet wide, providing an experience that is said to be exhilarating and frightening .

The CN tower Edge walk, Canada

The tallest attraction in Toronto lets people stand right at the edge of the CN tower and lean over. It is the world’s highest full circle, hands-free walk on a 1.5 m wide ledge encircling the top of the Tower’s main pod, 356m , 116 storeys above the ground. EdgeWalk is a Canadian Signature Experience and an Ontario Signature Experience.

A variety of unique trekking opportunities, in Rwanda and Uganda, allow you trek into the jungle to gaze into the eyes of the Gorillas in their natural habitat. It’s a completely unique African safari experience. This moment leaves a lasting and unforgettable impression, coming so close to this majestic wild animal.

These are just a few. So there are already a range of unique, visitor attractions that thrill tourists the world over.

The CN tower Edge walk, Canada

Safety – the one overriding condition

All these thrill seeking, and seemingly dangerous tourist attractions have one common denominator that is never ever compromised – Safety.

Safety is of paramount importance in all these activities and are subject to stringent checks and review, periodically. All personnel who guide and instruct these thrill seeking tourists are well trained and disciplined.

Any equipment that is used for safety, such as harnesses and safety belts, are designed to the highest standards and are periodically tested. Nothing is left to chance and if there is the slightest semblance of danger, due to any unforeseen environmental conditions, the attraction is closed down temporarily. ( e.g when there are strong winds the Sydney Harbour bridge walk is suspended).

Such safety measures are an imperative necessity, because any unforeseen accident can lead to serious and grave consequences of litigation and even closing down of the attraction.

Suggested railings

So what about our train ride ?

The attraction of the Sri Lankan upcountry train ride (most often between Nanu Oya and Ella – the most scenic section) is the fact that a tourist can stand ‘on the footboard’ of the open train carriageway door, and feel the cool breeze against their faces while absorbing the beautiful hill country and tea plantations. This is something most western tourists cannot do back home, where all train carriageway doors are automatically shut when the train starts moving.

In fact I am told that some Tour Agents in Australia are specifically asked by tourists to arrange this ‘experience’ for them, when booking their tour.

So why not be creative and make a proper attraction out of this ?

Cannot we modify one carriage to have an open ‘balcony’ along the side where a person can stand ‘outside’ and ‘feel the open environment’? It could be fitted with proper safety rails and each person can be anchored to the carriage with a harness (like what is used in other attractions where the interaction is open to the elements). A special charge can be levied for this experience.

One factor that favours the safety aspect is that during traversing this stretch, due to the steep gradient, the train travels at a ‘snail’s pace’, unlike in foreign countries where speeds could reach 80-100 kms per hour.

This attraction could be used as an income generator for the Railway Department as tourists wanting to experience this ‘thrill’ can be charged a fee, for a specific time period that they could use the facility.

Conclusion

Although this may seem simplistic, in reality there may be several logistical issues that need to be addressed.

But, if there is a will, and the different departments involved can all see the opportunity, and get on to the same ‘wavelength’, cutting through the inordinate bureaucracy that usually prevails, then surely it would not be at all difficult.

But the overall point in this entire treatise, is that we have to ‘think out of the box’ and grasp at all possible opportunities that are available, especially as we gradually open up for tourists after the pandemic. We are quite used to ranting and raving about all the shortfalls that prevail.. But there’s so much that still can be done if there are a few motivated and dedicated people who can get together.

Tourism after all is really ‘show businesses’ and without creativity, panache, actors and showmanship, what is show business?

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Remebering Prophet Muhammad’s legacy – ECOLOGICAL WELFARE

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By Dr M Haris Deen

COVID-19 came and as yet remains, at the same time the world is plagued with another serious issue, that of global warming and other ecological disturbances. While remembering the birth of Prophet Muhammad (Peace and Blessings of Allah be upon him) let us recall the contributions he made towards the applying Islamic principles of Islamic welfare towards protection of the environment.

The Prophet of Islam (May peace be upon him) advocated during his lifetime the stringent application of Islamic principles in respect of ecological welfare. Prophet Muhammad (Peace be upon him) taught his followers to live on less, neither to be extravagant nor to be miserly and to protect animal and plant life and to worship the Creator by being merciful to His creations. He forbade the killing of any animal unless out of necessity to feed the people. Al Albani reports that the Prophet (on whom be peace) said “If the Hou r (meaning the day of Resurrection) is about to be established and one of you was holding a palm shoot, let him take advantage of even one second before the Hour is established to plant it”. Imam Bukhari reported the Prophet (Peace be on him) as having said that “if a Muslim plants a tree or sows seeds, and then a bird, or a person or an animal eats from it, it is regarded as a charitable gift (sadaqah) for him”. It is also reported in Ibn Majah that once the Prophet (peace be upon him) happened to pass by his companion Sa’ad (May God be pleased with him) and found him performing ablution (wudu) next to a river and questioned him “Sa;ad what is this squandering? And when Sa’ad asked in return “can there be an idea if squandering (israf) in ablution?’ the Prophet replied “yes, even if you are by the side of a flowing river”.

In another Hadith narrated by Ibn Majah, the Prophet (on whom be peace) said “Beware of the three acts that cause you to be cursed: (1) relieving yourself in shaded places (that people utilise), in a walkway or in a watering place”.

The Qur’an in chapter 56 verses 68 to 70 states “consider the water which you drink. Was it you that brought it down from the rain cloud or We? If We had pleased, We could make it bitter”.

Prophet’s companion Abu Dhar Al Ghaffari (May Allah be pleased with him) reported the Prophet (on whom be peace) said “Removing harmful things from the road is an act of charity” and in another Hadith authenticated by Albani, the Prophet (on whom be peace) said “the believer is not he who eats his fill while his neighbour is hungry”. The Prophet further cautioned as reported by Tirmadhi and Ibn Majah that “Nothing is worst than a person who fills his stomach. It should be enough for the son of Adam to have a few bites to satisfy his hunger. If he wishes more, it should be : one third for his food, one third for his liquids and one third for his breath”.

Imam Bukhari reported an amazing story narrated by the Prophet (on whom be peace) that “A man felt very thirsty while he was on the way, there he came across a well. He went down the well, quenched his thirst and came out. Meanwhile, he saw a dog panting and licking mud because of excessive thirst. He said to himself. “This dog is suffering from thirst as I did, “So, he went down the well again, filled his shoe with water, held it in his mouth and watered the dog. Allah appreciated him for that deed and forgave him”. The companions inquired, “O Allah’s Messenger, is there a reward for us in serving the animals?” He replied: “There is a reward for saving any living being”.

Animals have a huge role in the ecological welfare system. The tenets of the Shariah Law towards animal rights make it obligatory for any individual to take care of crippled animals, to rescue strays and to guard birds’ nests of eggs’.

Sal Allahu Ala Muhammad Sal Allahu Alaihi wa Sallam. May Allah Shower His Choicest Blessings on the Soul of Prophet Muhammad.

Email: deenmohamed835@gmail.com

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Gypsies…to continue

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The original Gypsies, with Sunil (centre)

Of course, I know for sure fans of the Gypsies, and music lovers, in general, not only in Sri Lanka but around the world, as well, would be thrilled to know that this awesome outfit hasn’t called it a day.

After the demise of the legendary Sunil Perera, everyone thought that the Gypsies would disband.

Perhaps that would have been in the minds of even the members, themselves, as Sunil was not only their leader, and frontline vocalist, but also an icon in the music scene – he was special in every way.

Many, if not all, thought that the Gypsies, without Sunil, would find the going tough and that is because they all associated the Gypsies with Sunil Perera.

Sunil receiving The Island Music Award for ‘Showbiz Personality of the Year’ 1990

It generally happens, with certain outfits, where the rest of the members go unnoticed and the spotlight is only on one particular member – the leader of the group.

Some of the names that come to mind are Gabo and The Breakaways (Gabo) Misty (Rajitha), Darktan (Alston Koch), Upekkha (Manilal), Jetliners (Mignonne), Sohan & The X-Periments (Sohan), and the list is quite lengthy….

Yes, the Gypsies will continue, says Piyal Perera, and he mapped out to us what he has in mind.

They will take on a new look, he said, adding that in no way would they try to recreate the era of the Gypsies with Sunil Perera..

“That era is completely gone and we will never ever look to bringing that era into our scene again.

“My brother was a very special individual and his place in the band can never ever be replaced.”

Will Sunil join this scene…at Madame Tussauds!

Piyal went to say that the Gypsies will return to the showbiz scene, in a different setting.

“In all probability, we may have a female vocalist, in the vocal spotlight, and our repertoire will not be the songs generally associated with Sunil and the Gypsies.

“It will be a totally new approach by the new look Gypsies,” said Piyal.

In the meanwhile, Piyal also mentioned that they are working on the possibility of having an image of the late Sunil Perera at the Madame Tussauds wax museum, in London.

He says they have been asked, by the authorities concerned, to submit a PowerPoint presentation of Sunil’s achievements, and that they are working on it.

It’s, indeed, a wonderful way to keep Sunil’s image alive.

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