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Taste of wife’s tears in food

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Prison Diary – II

Extracts from the book
“Read Between the Lines”
By Admiral Ravindra C Wijegunaratne
(Retired from Sri Lanka Navy)
Former Chief of Defence Staff

(Prison diary Part 01 (Day One in Prison) was published in The Island last week)

Prison Diary – Day Two
(29th Nov 2018)

The usually very calm and quiet Welikada Prison, where most of the long-serving prisoners are kept, became very busy on 29th Nov., 2018. The reason was my presence. Mr. C. Pallegama came to visit me early in the morning. I met him at the Chief Jailer’s office. Mr. Pallegama, a dear friend of mine and respected public administrator, worked as the Director General of Prisons. When I was the Commander of the Navy, Mr. Pallegama was the Director General of the Civil Defence Force. Our wives are also very close friends, and children, too, know each other well. He was very sad to see me in jail. He requested all prison personnel to look after me well. The time was around 8.00 a.m.

Prison officials made arrangements for my meals to be brought from home. It is a fine arrangement. There had to be two tiffin carriers with padlock provision. One key was kept with me and the other with the person who brought food from home. The guards at the gate would open the tiffin carrier in front of the person who brought it, check it, then lock it and take it over. Then they would detail a special duty prisoner to take it to my cell, escorted by a prison guard. He would take away the other tiffin carrier and hand it over to the person who brought me food. That arrangement was in place to prevent my food from being tampered. Prison officials were very concerned about my security. They took extra precautions to ensure my safety. I was fortunate to eat food cooked by Yamuna. I thought her tears had been mixed with the food. She has suffered so much during the war years, fearing for my safety. She brought up our son singlehandedly as I was away, and now she was suffering agony, again.

I fed the kitty, my cellmate. I found a metal plate in the cell and cleaned it well. The kitty would have brown rice string hoppers, Linna fish curry, dhal curry and a little pol sambol. “Eat kitty, you are very lucky to eat food prepared by the First Lady of the Sri Lankan Military!” I muttered to myself.

While I was having breakfast, a message came for me to come to the Chief Jailer’s office as my wife and son had come to see me. It was difficult! Yamuna was crying, my son was looking very sad, and my sister-in-law was trying to calm her down. Mr. Pallegama and his wife had accompanied them. “A friend in need is a friend indeed”.

Yamuna narrated all what had happened following my arrest. She has gone with our son to meet the President, who knew me well. I used to call the President in the morning to brief him on the security situation. However, when I called him to say I was going to courts, the President had been busy at a meeting, and, therefore, I could not contact him.

My friends, Ana and Nirmala De Silva, Naeem, my Navy friends Shemal, Piyal, Jagath and Niraja visited my home. Ana and Nirmala remained until late night giving moral support to Yamuna. Shemal’s wife Carmel had been a tower of strength to Yamuna. I thank all of you for having been with us during the trouble!

Defence Secretary Hemasiri Fernando has been a close friend of mine for a long time. He was a Volunteer Lieutenant Commander in the Navy, much senior to us and three-time National Shooting Champion in the 1980s. In fact, he is the one who taught me the basics of sharp shooting at the Welisara Navy firing range when I was a Midshipman in 1981/82. He faced the enemy with us in the Naval Detachment Kuchchaveli in 1985. Mr. Fernando also visited my home to reassure my family.

The prison became a hive of activity again, when it was announced that the Prime Minister would visit me shortly. Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa arrived gracefully with his charming smile. He tapped my shoulder and said, “How are you Ravi?” I said I was fine. I knew even though I said I was fine, the President and the PM were very angry and upset about what had happened. Judge Advocate of the Navy, Shavendra Fernando, PC, accompanied the PM. Yamuna was sobbing in the back.

In our country, the judiciary is independent. That’s why even the CDS could be remanded. The independence of the judiciary is very important in a democracy.

Prime Minister Rajapaksa has a very high regard for me not because of any political affiliations—our military had never got involved in politics—but because I had trained his second son Yoshitha in the Navy.

Air Force Commander Kapila Jayampahty, also visited me and boosted my morale.

I had to be strong during difficult times! Usually, it is visitor who console prisoners, but in my case, it was the other way around. Some of them burst into tears on seeing me. So, I said Yamuna not to come again to see me, and I told my son to look after her. I told her I would refuse to see any visitors until 5th December. I am sure the prison officials were very happy with my decision as more than 10 people had already visited me during the last two hours.

The kitty had finished his breakfast and was waiting for me in my cell when I returned after saying goodbye to Yamuna and son. It must have been wondering where on earth I had vanished in the middle of my breakfast. He had now become my friend. He sat close to me and allowed me to touch him. My mind remembered Rexy, the lovely German Shepherd who had died six months back after being with us for more than 12 years.

Even though I had decided to receive no visitors, I could not refuse to see the religious leaders who wanted to see me. Chief Incumbent of the Nagadeepa Temple, Jaffna, was the first religious leader to see me. He must have left Jaffna at night to be at Welikada by 11.00 am. Our relationship goes back to 1984, when he was ‘Podi Hamuduruwo’ to us. I was a young Sub Lieutenant who was appointed as Officer-in-Charge of the Naval Detachment Nainativu when I first met Podi Hamuduruwo. Our primary task was to protect the Nagadeepa Raja Maha Viharaya and the two priests who were living there. We had an Army platoon also stationed with us to help us with land security. Living in Nainativu was very difficult, at the time. There was only one well, providing drinking water. We had to bath in salt water. Soap or shampoo could not be used as a result. There was no power. A small generator helped light up the perimeter fence. An old Patrol Craft (P110) from Karainagar brought our victuals every other day. Podi Hamudiruwo used to joke that when the P 110 engines were started in Karainagar, it could be heard in Nagadeepa! It was such an old Patrol Craft with very noisy engines.

However, we did our duty with utmost dedication and commitment. I took my own decisions as OIC, including giving dana and gilanpasa to the two priests daily from our rations—a meritorious deed the Navy performs even today. The Naval Base, Karainagar, is far away. I had to train and keep my boys, combat ready, to face any eventuality. I knew that I would get reinforcements only after 24 hours in case of an enemy attack. We took our duties very seriously. I went on leave after being on duty for two months at a stretch. That, too, only for a short period. Nagadeepa was my life.

After the LTTE carried out an attack near the Sri Maha Bodhi on 14 May 1985, in Anuradhapura, killing 146 innocent men, women and children, the entire country knew that the next LTTE target would be the Nagadeepa Temple. The terrorists who carried out the massacre was led by the Mannar LTTE leader Victor Fiyuslas. We were determined to protect the temple and priests at any cost. We patrolled the island day and night and slept only a few hours during day time. Podi Hamuduruwo was always with us. He was fluent in Tamil, having studied in the island school. He knew everyone there and the islanders respected him. Whenever they saw him on the road, they would run towards him and worship him. He was respectfully known as ‘Podi Swami’ to the islanders.

According to the Mahawamsa, Nagadeepa was visited by the Buddha during his second visit to Sri Lanka, five years after attaining Enlightenment. to settle a dispute between two Naga-tribe kings, Chulodhara and Mahodara. So, this temple is one of the most sacred places in Sri Lanka. I consider protecting Nagadeepa as the most important mission during my 39 years in uniform.

So, the Chief Incumbent of the Nagadeepa Temple and Chief Sanga Nayaka of the Northern Province, Ven Nawadagala Paddumakitti Tissa Thera, visited me in Prison with his junior priest. I saw tears on his eyes! Our bond is unique. He had seen me rise from Sub Lieutenant to Admiral. He was always there to bless me and my family whenever I reached a turning point in my career. He may not have expected to see me in prison, especially during my last year in uniform.

To be continued …

 

 



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Features

Investigative Journalism?

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I usually end up totally exhausted when I finish reading the local newspapers from the Pearl. There are so many burning questions and so much is written about them but there are no conclusions and definitely no answers. For example, we seem to have three burning issues right now and this is not in order of importance.

We have a lengthy report that has been published on the Easter Sunday carnage. Everybody knows what I am talking about. However, no one, be it an editor, a paid journalist or a single one of the many amateurs who write to the papers, has reached a conclusion or even expressed an opinion as to who was responsible. At least not a believable one! Surely there are energetic and committed young people in the field of journalism today who, if asked, or directed properly will go out and find a source that would give them at least a credible hypothesis? Or do conclusions exist and has no one the courage to publish them?

At least interview the authors or should I use the word perpetrators of that report. If they refuse to be interviewed ask them why and publish an item every day asking them why! Once you get a hold of them, cross-examine them, trap them into admissions and have no mercy. It is usually geriatrics who write these reports in the Pearl and surely a bright young journalist can catch them out with a smart question or two, or at least show us that they tried? The future of the country depends on it!

We have allegations of contaminated coconut oil been imported. These are very serious allegations and could lead to much harm to the general populace. Do you really believe that no one can find out who the importers are and what brands they sell their products under? In this the Pearl, where everyone has a price, you mean to say that if a keen young journalist was given the correct ammunition (and I don’t mean 45 calibres) and sent out on a specific message, he or she couldn’t get the information required?

We are told that a massive amount of money has been printed over the last few months. There is only speculation as to the sums involved and even more speculation as to what this means to the people of the Pearl. Surely, there are records, probably guarded by extremely lowly paid government servants. I am not condoning bribery but there is nothing left to condone, is there? There are peons in government ministries who will gladly slip you the details if you are committed enough and if you are sent there to get it by a boss who will stand by you and refuse to disclose his sources.

I put it to you, dear readers, that we do not have enough professional, committed and adequately funded news organisations in the country. We can straightaway discount the government-owned joints. We can also largely discount those being run by magnates for personal gain and on personal agendas. As far as the Internet goes, we can forget about those that specialise in speculative and sensationalist untruths, what are we left with O denizens of the Pearl? Are there enough sources of news that you would consider willing to investigate a matter and risk of life and limb and expose the culprits for the greater good of society? Can they be counted even on the fingers of one hand?

In this era when we have useless political leaders, when law and order are non-existent when the police force is a joke, it is time the fourth estate stepped up to the mark! I am sure we have the personnel; it is the commitment from the top and by this, I mean funding and the willingness to risk life and limb, that we lack. Governments over the last few decades have done their best to intimidate the press and systematically destroy any news outlet that tried to buck the usual sycophantic behaviour that is expected from them by those holding absolute power.

Do you think Richard Nixon would ever have been impeached if not for the Watergate reporting? Donald Trump partially owes his defeat to the unrelenting campaign carried out against him by the “fake news” outlets that he tried to denigrate. Trump took on too much. The fourth estate of America is too strong and too powerful to destroy in a head-to-head battle and even the most powerful man in the world, lost. Let’s not go into the merits and demerits of the victor as this is open to debate.

Now, do we have anything like that in the Pearl? Surely, with 20 million-plus “literate” people, we should? We should have over 70 years of independence built up the Fourth Estate to be proud of. One that would, if it stood strong and didn’t waver and collapse under pressure from the rulers, have ensured a better situation for our land. Here is Aotearoa with just five million people, we have journalists who keep holding the government to account. They are well-funded by newspapers and TV networks with audiences that are only a fraction of what is available in the Pearl. Some of the matters they highlight often bring a smirk of derision to my face for such matters wouldn’t even warrant one single line of newsprint, should they happen in the Pearl.

Talking of intimidation from the rulers, most of us are familiar with the nationalisation of the press, the murder and torture of journalists, the burning of presses to insidious laws been passed to curtail the activities of Journalism. These things have happened in other countries, too, but the people and press have been stronger, and they have prevailed. We are at a watershed, an absolutely crucial time. It is now that our last few credible news sources should lift their game. Give us carefully researched and accurate reports with specific conclusions, not generalisations. Refuse to disclose your sources as is your right, especially now that the myopic eye of the UNHCR is turned in our direction.

All other ways and means of saving our beloved motherland, be it government, religion, sources of law and order and even civil society leadership seems to have lapsed into the realm of theory and rhetoric. Our last chance lies with the Fourth Esate and all it stands for. I call for, nay BEG for, a favourable reaction from those decision-makers in that field, who have enough credibility left in society, DON’T LET US DOWN NOW!

 

 

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Features

The world sees ugly side of our beauty pageants

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Yes, it’s still the talk-of-the-town…not only here, but the world over – the fracas that took place at a recently held beauty pageant, in Colombo.

It’s not surprising that the local beauty scene has hit a new low because, in the past, there have been many unpleasant happenings taking place at these so-called beauty pageants.

On several occasions I have, in my articles, mentioned that the state, or some responsible authority, should step in and monitor these events – lay down rules and guidelines, and make sure that everything is above board.

My suggestions, obviously, have fallen on deaf ears, and this is the end result – our beauty pageants have become the laughing stock the world over; talk show hosts are creating scenes, connected with the recent incidents, to amuse their audience.

Australians had the opportunity of enjoying this scenario, so did folks in Canada – via talk show hosts, discussing our issue, and bringing a lot of fun, and laughter, into their discussions!

Many believe that some of these pageants are put together, by individuals…solely to project their image, or to make money, or to have fun with the participants.

And, there are also pageants, I’m told, where the winner is picked in advance…for various reasons, and the finals are just a camouflage. Yes, and rigging, too, takes place.

I was witnessed to one such incident where I was invited to be a judge for the Talent section of a beauty contest.

There were three judges, including me, and while we were engrossed in what we were assigned to do, I suddenly realised that one of the contestants was known to me…as a good dancer.

But, here’s the catch! Her number didn’t tally with the name on the scoresheet, given to the judges.

When I brought this to the notice of the organiser, her sheepish reply was that these contestants would have switched numbers in the dressing room.

Come on, they are no babes!

On another occasion, an organiser collected money from the mother of a contestant, promising to send her daughter for the finals, in the Philippines.

It never happened and she had lots of excuses not to return the money, until a police entry was made.

Still another episode occurred, at one of these so-called pageants, where the organiser promised to make a certain contestant the winner…for obvious reasons.

The judges smelt something fishy and made certain that their scoresheets were not tampered with, and their choice was crowned the winner.

The contestant, who was promised the crown, went onto a frenzy, with the organiser being manhandled.

I’m also told there are organisers who promise contestants the crown if they could part with a very high fee (Rs.500,000 and above!), and also pay for their air ticket.

Some even ask would-be contestants to check out sponsors, on behalf of the organisers. One wonders what that would entail!

Right now, in spite of the pandemic, that is crippling the whole world, we are going ahead with beauty pageants…for whose benefit!

Are the organisers adhering to the Covid-19 health guidelines? No way. Every rule is disregarded.

The recently-held contest saw the contestants, on the move, for workshops, etc., with no face masks, and no social distancing.

They were even seen in an open double-decker bus, checking out the city of Colombo…with NO FACE MASKS.

Perhaps, the instructions given by Police Spokesman DIG Ajith Rohana, and Army Commander, General Shavendra Silva, mean nothing to the organisers of these beauty pageants…in this pandemic setting.

My sincere advice to those who are keen to participate in such events is to check, and double check. Or else, you will end up being deceived…wasting your money, time, and energy.

For the record, when it comes to international beauty pageants for women, Miss World, Miss Universe, Miss Earth and Miss International are the four titles which reign supreme.

In pageantry, these competitions are referred to as the ‘Big Four.’

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Better use of vanity projects; Cass apologises, and New Year graciousness

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A wise one, with the interests of the country at heart, calling himself ‘A Member of the Silent Majority’, wrote in The Island of Friday, April 9, offering an excellent solution for the better and genuine use of the Mattala Mahinda Rajapaksa International Airport which was built at a stupendous cost to both the Treasury, and wildlife abundant in the area, to satisfy an ego and sycophants’ cries of Hail to the King. Even sans Covid and lockdowns and shut downs of airports, the Mattala Airport was a white elephant, endangering and displacing the black elephants, roaming along their familiar corridors; receiving such few airplanes. Thus, as the writer Cass mentions says, convert the airport to a super hotel with excellent and sure-fire access to wildlife watching, like referred to hotels in Kenya and elsewhere. Yes, it will definitely be a bigger money earner than an airport waiting for a plane to land. Expensive equipment going rusty could be transferred to smaller airports being developed all over the island. There was such a hue and cry when storerooms, within the deserted airport, were used for paddy storage, but not even a whimper of concerted protest when the vanity projects were being built. We also heard that on the rare occasions a plane was to land/take off, peacocks in the area were shot at to prevent them flying into the planes. Aney, what a sin, just to have a name on a nameboard! Use the Suriyawewa Cricket Stadium too for a better purpose and less costly to water and maintain green in near desert climate conditions. What about a residential training institute for youth, perhaps in small industries? If the king-sized ego demands the name be present, OK, leave it. What’s in a name?

Any matter, financial or economic, with benefit to country buttressing it – refer to Dr Harsha de Silva and Eran Wickremaratne. Likewise, anything pertaining to fauna, flora and preservation of natural habitats ask Devani Jayathilake. Cassandra would give two years of her life (she does not have 10 left, she suspects) to know what the answers of the three wise and sincere ones mentioned would be to the proposal to convert the Mattala Airport, oops sorry – Mattala Mahinda Rajapaksa International Airport – to a 7 star hotel for wildlife watching and then tourists proceeding to Yala and other places that were touted to be reached easier if planes brimful of tourists, landed in Mattala. Pipe dream even sans Covid-19.

The thought of the millions, nay billions, our country was indebted to China to construct these vanity projects aka white elephants of the Rajapaksa fiefdom sends Cass’s blood racing in her contracting veins. And now another hair-brained scheme is being exposed, not new but re-exposed: that of the stupendous amount sent direct from the Central Bank with no nod, as reported, from the then Cabinet or Parliament, to an American-resident con-man to improve our appearance on the world stage or at least American stage. My word!! Cosmetics of creams and colours and such like can improve the face of an already beautiful woman. But a country that was once beautiful, glorified, accepted internationally and then politician-spoilt, cannot be redeemed by PR work, however expensively. Nivard Cabraal was the then Govenor of the CB. Of course, as every Banda, Singho and their women say, nothing will come of this. Powerful political sweeping under the carpet in the presence of cardboard administrators and sycophantic hosanna singers, makes the matter disappear and not merely hides it. Unless of course there are enough intrepid outers-of-truths and persistent protestors, brave and national minded enough to continuously tease the matter like a cat its caught rat. Ranjan is locked away in hard labour for four solid years, losing his Parliamentary seat for misusing the gift of his gab, while convicted murderers of the right colour attend Parliament, escorted and all.

Cass apologises

To the reigning Mrs World, Mrs Caroline Jurie, for crowning, uncrowning and recrowning of the winner of the recent Mrs Sri Lanka contest. Caroline Jurie took this stride because the winning contestant was four years on the way to being a divorcee, which status forbids a woman from attempting to wear the crown of Mrs…. (country) with a view to becoming Mrs World. This title and honour is bestowed on a woman who promotes, holds sacred the institution of marriage and is a married woman. Cass castigated Caroline Jurie without knowing then the fact that Jurie had protested about this candidate being considered due to her impending divorce; and allowed to contest. She said she withdrew from the panel of judges since her point was not taken by the others. WHY is the Q. Easy to answer. The new beauty queen of shaky married status was a loud speaker in favour of Presidential Candidate Gotabaya R in Polonnaruwa (captured on social media) and probably spoke on stages for SLPP Parliamentary candidates. So of course she was slated to win; vision impaired over rules and future probabilities, She has her height – one advantage. Beauty can always be dexterously rubbed and painted in. But honesty is important and cannot be cloned or grafted in.

Cass now definitely faults the new Mrs Sri Lanka. She should not have contested, having her papers sent in for divorce and not retracted. What happens when she wins the divorce (or her husband wins it, however the divorce was first mooted). Another local contest? And if the divorce was still pending and she went overseas at great expense and won THE crown or a lesser one. To be returned forthwith when she has to remove the present gold band from her third finger, which probably she has already removed but hastily wore for the contest and when preparing for it? This is why Cass avows that many young women particularly, are so very selfish and forward and uppity and even dishonest now. In Cass’ time and even a decade or two later, a girl would never do what this new beauty has done, flipped aside a core rule and necessity of the contest, just to win by honest means or foul. Way the country’s going, my friend.

Post – Aluth Avurudhu

Cassandra is stuffed gill-high with kavun, aluwa and crunchy kokis, preceded by kiributh and lunumiris. She is fending for herself because a dip in Covid numbers and having had the jab, her domestic wished to enjoy a family new year having missed the last one, locked down as we were. Cass made her own kiributh – tasting somewhat like it should, but the sweets were all gifted her. So, also the offers of help, sleep-ins at others’ homes and solicitous frequent inquiries of ‘how are you?’ Kind and gracious relatives and friends, acquaintances too are thanked; and the most appreciated being neighbouring kitchen helps and care givers. Three-wheeler drivers who spin Cass around on errands too make enquiries. And thus her thoughts when resuming work at the nekath time and word processing this article. Sri Lankans are such good people: kind, caring, willing to share and genuine. And then specters themselves on this very sunny landscape: the dishonest, selfish, revengeful and disgraceful. Shrug them off, clear the mental picture and pronounce thank goodness for goodness around.

May all of us (decent people) have a very good year to follow today –Subha Aluth Avuruddhak!

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