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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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Breathtaking new paintings found at ancient city of Pompeii

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The frescoes depict Greek mythology: Paris kidnaps Helen which triggers the Trojan War (BBC)

Stunning artworks have been uncovered in a new excavation at Pompeii, the ancient Roman city buried in an eruption from Mount Vesuvius in AD79.

Archaeologists say the frescoes are among the finest to be found in the ruins of the ancient site.

Mythical Greek figures such as Helen of Troy are depicted on the high black walls of a large banqueting hall.

The room’s near-complete mosaic floor incorporates more than a million individual white tiles.

BBC/Tony Jolliffe The Black Room

The black room has only emerged in the last few weeks. Its white mosaic floor is almost complete (BBC)

A third of the lost city has still to be cleared of volcanic debris. The current dig, the biggest in a generation, is underlining Pompeii’s position as the world’s premier window on the people and culture of the Roman empire.

Park director Dr Gabriel Zuchtriegel presented the “black room” exclusively to the BBC on Thursday.

It was likely the walls’ stark colour was chosen to hide the smoke deposits from lamps used during entertaining after sunset. “In the shimmering light, the paintings would have almost come to life,” he said.

Two set-piece frescoes dominate. In one, the god Apollo is seen trying to seduce the priestess Cassandra. Her rejection of him, according to legend, resulted in her prophecies being ignored.The tragic consequence is told in the second painting, in which Prince Paris meets the beautiful Helen – a union Cassandra knows will doom them all in the resulting Trojan War.

BBC/Tony Jolliffe One of the "black room" frescos discovered in Pompeii, showing Apollo trying to seduce the priestess Cassandra

The god Apollo is depicted on one of the frescos trying to seduce the Trojan priestess Cassandra (BBC)

The black room is the latest treasure to emerge from the excavation, which started 12 months ago – an investigation that will feature in a documentary series from the BBC and Lion TV to be broadcast later in April.

A wide residential and commercial block, known as “Region 9”, is being cleared of several metres of overlying pumice and ash thrown out by Vesuvius almost 2,000 years ago.

Staff are having to move quickly to protect new finds, removing what they can to a storeroom.

For the frescoes that must stay in position, a plaster glue is injected to their rear to prevent them coming away from the walls. Masonry is being shored up with scaffolding and temporary roofing is going over the top.

BBC/Tony Jolliffe Fresco protection

A plaster glue must be injected behind a fresco or it is likely to come away from the wall (BBC)

Chief restorer Dr Roberta Prisco spent Tuesday this week trying to stop an arch from collapsing. “The responsibility is enormous; look at me,” she said, as if to suggest the stress was taking a visible toll on her. “We have a passion and a deep love for what we’re doing, because what we’re uncovering and protecting is for the joy also of the generations that come after us.”

BBC Map showing excavations in Pompeii

Region 9 has thrown up a detective story for archaeologists.

Excavations in the late 19th Century uncovered a laundry in one corner. The latest work has now revealed a wholesale bakery next door, as well as the grand residence with its black room.

BBC/Tony Jolliffe Reception Hall

In the reception hall, rubble in the far right corner is from renovation at the time of the eruption (BBC)

The team is confident the three areas can be connected, physically via the plumbing and by particular passageways, but also in terms of their ownership.

The identity of this individual is hinted at in numerous inscriptions with the initials “ARV”. The letters appear on walls and even on the bakery’s millstones.

Dr Sophie Hay explained how a rich politician left his mark on the buildings

“We know who ARV is: he’s Aulus Rustius Verus,” explained park archaeologist Dr Sophie Hay. “We know him from other political propaganda in Pompeii. He’s a politician. He’s super-rich. We think he may be the one who owns the posh house behind the bakery and the laundry.” What’s clear, however, is that all the properties were undergoing renovation at the time of the eruption. Escaping workers left roof tiles neatly stacked; their pots of lime mortar are still filled, waiting to be used; their trowels and pickaxes remain, although the wooden handles have long since rotted away.

Dr Lia Trapani catalogues everything from the dig. She reaches for one of the thousand or more boxes of artefacts in her storeroom and pulls out a squat, turquoise cone. “It’s the lead weight from a plumb line.” Just like today’s builders, the Roman workers would have used it to align vertical surfaces.

She holds the cone between her fingers: “If you look closely you can see a little piece of Roman string is still attached.”

BBC/Tony Jolliffe Plumb line

It’s possible to see a remnant piece of string around the neck of the plumb line (BBC)

Dr Alessandro Russo has been the other co-lead archaeologist on the dig. He wants to show us a ceiling fresco recovered from one room. Smashed during the eruption, its recovered pieces have been laid out, jigsaw-style, on a large table.

He’s sprayed the chunks of plaster with a mist of water, which makes the detail and vivid colours jump out.

You can see landscapes with Egyptian characters; foods and flowers; and some imposing theatrical masks.

“This is my favourite discovery in this excavation because it is complex and rare. It is high-quality for a high-status individual,” he explained.

BBC/Jonathan Amos Ceiling fresco

The archaeologists have had to piece together a ceiling fresco that was shattered during the volcanic eruption (BBC)

But if the grand property’s ceiling fresco can be described as exquisite, some of what’s being learned about the bakery speaks to an altogether more brutal aspect of Roman life – slavery.

It’s obvious the people who worked in the business were kept locked away in appalling conditions, living side by side with the donkeys that turned the millstones. It seems there was one window and it had iron bars to prevent escape.

It’s in the bakery also that the only skeletons from the dig have been discovered. Two adults and a child were crushed by falling stones. The suggestion is they may have been slaves who were trapped and could not flee the eruption. But it’s guesswork.

“When we excavate, we wonder what we’re looking at,” explained co-lead archaeologist Dr Gennaro Iovino.

“Much like a theatre stage, you have the scenery, the backdrop, and the culprit, which is Mount Vesuvius. The archaeologist has to be good at filling in the gaps – telling the story of the missing cast, the families and children, the people who are not there anymore.”

BBC/Tony Jolliffe Mosaic floor
There are certainly more than a million tiles in the mosaic floor, possibly up to three million (BBC)
BBC/Tony Jolliffe Roman lamp
Boxes full of artefacts: One of the many oil lamps recovered during the excavation (BBC)
BBC/Tony Jolliffe Fresco showing Leda and the Swan
Another fresco depicts Leda and Zeus in the form of a swan, whose union would lead to Helen’s birth (BBC)
BBC/Tony Jolliffe A piece of moulded cornicing painted in bright colours
Brilliant colours: Ornate cornicing was also preserved under the volcanic debris (BBC)
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Democracy continuing to be derailed in South Asia

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A scene from Sri Lanka’s ‘Aragalaya’ of 2022.

Sections of progressive opinion in Sri Lanka are currently commemorating the second anniversary of the country’s epochal ‘Aragalaya’, which brought down the dictatorial and racist Gotabhaya Rajapaksa regime. April 9th 2022 needs to be remembered especially as the date on which Sri Lankans in their tens of thousands, irrespective of ethnic, religious and language differences rose as one to impress on the country’s political class and rulers that their fundamental rights cannot be compromised or tampered with for whatever reason and that these rights should be realized henceforth.

During the ‘Aragalaya’, Sri Lanka attained nationhood, since the totality of the country’s social groups, standing shoulder-to-shoulder, spoke out for equity and equality among them, from the same platform. Thus was Sri Lankan nationhood born, which is quite different from statehood. It is left to progressives to ensure that Sri Lankan nationhood, thus born out of the ‘Aragalaya’, does not prove to be stillborn.

To express it briefly, political ‘Independence’ or statehood is believed by most Sri Lankans to have been attained in 1948 but this is not tantamount to achieving nationhood. The latter is realized when equity and equality are established among a country’s communities.

Of course, we are a long way from achieving these aims but the historic significance of the ‘Aragalaya’ consists in the fact that the ideals central to nationhood were articulated assertively and collectively in Sri Lanka as never before. The opinion climate conducive to nation-building, it could be said, was created by the ‘Aragalaya’.

It is left to the progressives of Sri Lanka to forge ahead with the process of realizing the ideals and central aims of the ‘Aragalaya’, without resorting to violence and allied undemocratic approaches, which are really not necessary to bring about genuine democratic development.

The ‘Aragalaya’ was a historic ‘wake-up’ call to the country’s political elite in particular, which, over the years could be said to have been engaged more in power aggrandizement, rather than nation-building, which is integral to democratic development. Given this bleak backdrop, it amounts to a huge joke for any prominent member of the country’s ruling class to make out that he has been ‘presiding over the only country in Asia where democracy is completely safeguarded.’

To begin with, a huge question mark looms over Sri Lanka’s true constitutional identity. It is not a fully-fledged parliamentary democracy in view of the substantive and sweeping powers wielded by the Executive Presidency and this issue has been discussed exhaustively in this country.

On the other hand, Sri Lanka is not free of strong theocratic tendencies either because there is no clear ‘separation wall’, so to speak, between religion and politics. The fact is that Sri Lanka’s rulers are constitutionally obliged to defer to the opinion of religious leaders. Therefore, Sri Lanka lacks a secular foundation to its political system. This columnist is inclined to the view that in terms of constitutional identity, Sri Lanka is ‘neither fish, flesh nor fowl.’

Moreover, the postponement of local and Provincial Council polls in Sri Lanka by governments alone proves that what one has in Sri Lanka is at best a ‘façade democracy’.

derailing democracy in Sri Lanka goes Religious and ethnic identities in particular continue to be exploited and manipulated by power aspirants and political entrepreneurs to the huge detriment of the countries concerned.

Needless to say, such factors are coming into play in the lead-up to India’s Lok Sabha polls. They are prominent in Pakistan, Sri Lanka and Bangladesh as well. Statesmanship is a crying need in these societies but nurturing such leaders into existence will prove a prolonged, long term project, which also requires the interplay of a number of vital factors, many of which are not present to the desired degree in the countries concerned.

However, of the ‘South Asian Eight’, India is by far the most advanced democracy. It has a Constitution that explicitly enshrines the cardinal rights of the people, for example, including the very vital Right to Life. Such a right is non-existent in the Sri Lankan Constitution, for instance, and this is a huge drawback from the viewpoint of democratic development. Among other things, what this means is that the Sri Lankan state exercises substantive coercive power over its citizens.

On the other hand, the Indian Supreme Court has time and again creatively interpreted the Right to Life, so much so life-threatening conditions faced by Indian citizens, for instance, have been eliminated through the caring and timely intervention of the country’s judiciary. Sri Lanka needs to think on these things if it intends to entrench democratic development in the country. Thus far, the country’s track record on this score leaves much to be desired.

A predominant challenge facing progressives of South Asia, such as the ‘Aragalaists’ of Sri Lanka, is how to forge ahead with the task of keeping democratization of the state on track. A negative lesson in this connection could be taken from Bangladesh where the ideals of the 1971 liberation war under Shiekh Mujibhur Rahman were eroded by subsequent regimes which exploited divisive religious sentiments to come to power. In the process, religious minorities came to be harassed, persecuted and savaged by extremists in the centre.

Whereas, the founding fathers of Bangladesh had aimed to create a secular socialist state, this was not allowed to come to pass by some governments which came to power after the Sheikh, which sought to convert Bangladesh into a theocracy. A harrowing account of how the ideals of 1971 came to be betrayed is graphically provided in the international best seller, ‘Lajja’ by Taslima Nasrin, the exiled human and women’s right activist of Bangladesh.

At page 60 of the 20th anniversary edition of ‘Lajja’, published by Penguin Books, Nasrin quotes some persons in authority in Bangladesh as telling the country’s Hindus during the religious riots of 1979; ‘The government has declared that Islam is the state religion. If you want to stay in an Islamic country all of you must become Muslims. If you don’t become Muslims you will have to run away from this country.’

Not all the post-liberation governments of Bangladesh have turned against the ideals of 1971 and the present government is certainly not to be counted as one such administration. But the lesson to be derived from Bangladesh is that unless progressive opinion in a secular democracy is eternally vigilant and proactively involved in advancing democratic development, a country aiming to tread the path of secularism and democracy could easily be preyed upon by the forces of religious extremism.

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Homemade…to beat the heat

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With lots of holidays cropping up, we are going to be on the move. Ok, that’s fine, but what about the scorching heat! With temperatures soaring sky high, skin issues are bound to surface.

Well, here are some beauty tips that will give your skin some relief:

Aloe Vera: Apply fresh aloe vera gel to the skin. It helps to soothe and heal sunburn. Aloe vera contains zinc, which is actually anti-inflammatory.

Papaya: Papaya pulp can be applied on the skin like a mask, washing it off after 20 minutes. Papaya contains enzymes and helps to remove dead skin cells. Add curd or lemon juice to the pulp to remove tan. Fruits like banana, apple, papaya and orange can be mixed together and applied on the face. Keep it on for 20 to 30 minutes. Papaya helps to cleanse dead skin cells. Banana tightens the skin. Apple contains pectin and also tones the skin. Orange is rich in Vitamin C. It restores the normal acid-alkaline balance.

 Lemon Juice: Lemon is a wonderful home remedy for sun tan because of its bleaching properties. You can apply lemon juice by mixing it with honey on the tanned skin and leave it for 10 to 15 minutes before washing it off .

Coconut Water and Sandalwood Pack: Sandalwood has great cleansing properties, whereas, coconut water is widely known for a glowing skin. Mix coconut water with one tablespoon of sandalwood powder to make a thick mixture and apply it all over the face. Wash it off after 20 minutes. This is a perfect cure for tanned skin.

Cucumber, Rose Water and Lemon Juice:The cucumber juice and rose water work as a cooling means for soothing the brown and red-spotted skin. To use these effectively, take one tablespoon of cucumber juice, lemon juice, and rose water and stir it well in a bowl. Use this solution on all over the face and wash it off with cold water after 10 minutes. This helps to turn your skin hale and healthy.

Milk Masks: Yes, milk masks do give glowing effect to tired skin. Just apply milk mixed with glycerin all over the face. Relax for 15 minutes and rinse with water. The treatment softens, rejuvenates and restores a natural PH balance, thus protecting the skin from the negative effects of the sun. You can also take half cup of milk and add a pinch of turmeric in it. Apply the mixture on your face and wait till it gets dry. Use this solution on a daily basis for exceptional results.

(Yes, time to take care of your skin and beat the heat!)

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