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SUSIL SIRIVARDANA: A JOURNEY WITH THE HAVE NOTS

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by MERRIL GUNARATNE

Many articles extolling the virtues, integrity, erudition, intellectual brilliance and simplicity of Susil have flooded the print media upon his demise. We have to laud those who wrote in such a vein, and yet express sorrow that this country and many political establishments had abjectly failed to fully tap the unique talents of such a man for the benefit of Sri Lanka.

Susil’s reputation was well known in professional circles. His precious worth described in the eulogies, stand testimony to his repute. Perhaps the reluctance to offer recognition, except by President Premadasa, who utilized his talents to the maximum, to a public servant of such calibre is both a malaise and a malignancy with us.

Success to many in the public service depends on their acquisition of influential and powerful patrons to back their greed for positions, promotions and recognition. This sad syndrome has had iniquitous implications, for not only has it provided a conducive environment for mediocrity to flourish over merit, but has also placed those seeking undeserved recognition, under obligation to patrons who helped them.

Susil Sirivardana, humble and fiercely independent, was cast in a different mould. He abhorred, like a mere handful of retired state officers who are yet among us, such a pernicious practice; and this perhaps explains why his inestimable services had not been sought by many political establishments. Most of those who refused to canvas influence and interference to acquire positions, often found recognition elusive.

I consider it a privilege to have been closely associated with Susil from 1989 to 2012, and am sad that the same proximity of contact could not be maintained subsequently. But meeting him regularly in those halcyon days not only made me appreciate his inestimable qualities, but also provided an insight into his competence and familiarity with a wide range of fields and subjects.

He was a genuine and thorough professional. He was quick to capture the essence of a problem, and for such reason, was also blessed with the capacity to offer simple yet lasting solutions to seemingly intractable issues. He had versatility, being at home with subjects such as national security, policing, defence, finance, foreign relations, economics, industry, agriculture, reconciliation and diverse cultures. He therefore had an extremely wide reach.

His sheer brilliance and creativity were patently visible. Such limitless capacity was born out of experience, close communication with the depressed and the downtrodden, commitment, reading, pursuit of academic interests, and most of all, an innate affection for justice, righteousness, virtue and ethics. When his views and advice were sought, he was totally objective at all times, looking endlessly for the right solutions. In such pursuit, he treated expedience, opportunism, bias and exploitation with total disdain. His discipline and commitment were of a unique kind, not commonly seen in the public service.

Meeting him frequently as I did in better times was a continuous learning experience. I had embodied some of his suggestions in novelties and innovations practised by me in the police. The establishment of a ‘Task Force’ of government and non government organizations to contend with vice and violence in Negombo in 1990 which paid rich dividends was just one instance where I benefited from his advice. I also recall how Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe once asked me for names of persons of eminence who could be considered to engage in analysis in the field of national security, when I served as an Advisor in the ministry of defence in 2012. I responded with three names: Dharmasiri Peiris, Susil Sirivardana, and Jayanath Rajepakse. Their names came easily to mind. They were undoubtedly eminent administrators and intellectuals.

Susil did not fuss over frills and trappings. He was born to considerable wealth, but shunned extravagance and publicity. He did not crave a “place in the sun”. Genuinely modest and simple, he dressed in the simplest national attire, and was always seen with his “malla”. He carried these habits into the SLAS where he topped his batch, and imbued with idealism, showed great empathy and sincerity for the poor and the downtrodden. He placed his skills and talents at the feet of the have nots. His vision, exemplified by his writings, speeches, and his work as a state officer, was to bring the state administration and establishment as close as possible to the people, for he considered such a prerequisite necessary to foster mutual trust and confidence across the great divide.

Transparency was always a cornerstone of his character. He always cared for those who suffered discrimination and persecution. We have to shower limitless admiration for a person born to wealth, but chose to sacrifice comforts and luxury in order to share the plight of the poor and the persecuted. He was a solace to them. His commitment to the needy and his sacrifices for them were laced with intense idealism and altruism. His consistency with such convictions characterized not only his career in the public service, but also his relations with society outside it. His candour was not cosmetic. Susil was a synonym for simplicity.

Except for a relatively short period of recognition, Susil went to his demise unsung. He was blessed with the potential to have had a perpetual niche in the top administrative caucus in the country. Those who have been eulogistic about him in death have been persons of stature in the country. They have in unison voiced the view that Susil possessed unique and remarkable skills, amply supplemented by moral courage, ethics, values and sincerity. We have to ponder why and how political establishments time and again failed to recognize and exploit his skills for the service of the country.

He was a visionary and sage, not easily matched by many. President Premadasa alone recognized his talents and virtues, and Susil responded to such recognition by leaving his imprint on the Janasaviya programme, a poverty alleviation concept which acquired permanence. He also contributed substantially to the Housing Projects of the time. These contributions reflected his commitment to the poor.

Susil Sirivardana wrote the ‘Foreword’ for my book ‘Cop in the Crossfire’. He offered words of wisdom for my first book as well. When this book was launched in 2011, I expressed the view that Susil should have had a permanent niche in the inner sanctum of the Presidential Secretariat at all times. He was amply equipped to assist governments in formulating policy at the highest level in diverse fields, and would therefore have excelled in contributing to national policy making bodies. If called upon to play roles in policy planning, he would never have betrayed the interests of the people. A man of strong convictions, he always believed that the establishment should be told the truth at all times.

Being extremely innovative, mere mundane roles may also have restricted scope and space for Susil to give full expression to his vision, energy and enormous creativity. Sadly he had too often been been ignored and overlooked, like a small coterie of retired officers from the CCS, the Foreign Service and the SLAS who are yet around, and did not have to masquerade to make claims for competence. Susil’s name deserves to be etched as one of the best in the pantheon of administrators and visionaries who have done Sri Lanka proud from the time of independence. If only his services could have been harnessed to make this country a better place to live in, this incomparable son of the soil would have left the world in the consciousness that he had fulfilled his mission.



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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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