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The Apples of My Eye



Having a laugh at home in the Jawatte Road house in 1980

Through riots and insurgencies, business and politics, Susil and I made sure our girls lived their lives with as little upheaval as possible. Home was always well grounded, with their safety being paramount at all times. We both took immense interest In their school work, being present at their extracurricular activities and making sure our Sinhala Buddhist culture remained centric to everything we did as a family.

They both schooled first at Ladies’ College but after the ’83 rilots, I moved them to Colombo International School (CIS), which had by then been founded as a pioneering international school by Elizabeth Moir, an educationist par excellence. The reason we didn’t move them back to Ladies’ College was because, like all national schools, albeit even the private ones, classes were segregated by language, limiting interaction between cultures, religions and ethnicity. Susil and I even met the Principal, Sirancee Gunawardana, with a request to change the segregation. But she explained that she was simply following the national education policy which she was mandated to do and nothing could be changed.

I don’t regret the decision we made by enrolling our girls at CIS, which was co-educational and where segregation didn’t exist. They excelled at CIS, blending comfortably with Sri Lankan and foreign children alike, which gave them a full dose of interacting with multiple nationalities, ethnicities and cultures – a life lesson that held them in good stead as they grew into adulthood.

The house always ran like clockwork. Susil and I ensured that no matter what happened, the children’s lives and routines would not be disrupted. Stability was important as I was working full time, and Susil too was in politics full time. This clockwork routine and stability was brilliantly executed by our domestics who have always been part of our family and a crucial part of our lives. They were super-efficient, ensuring the girls were ferried to and from their various activities, and rustling up meals at the drop of a hat for the hordes of people who would always be at home due to Susil’s political work. Over the years, we have had Ranmenike, who was fondly called Ammananna by Aushi, Asilyn, Daya, Soma, Joslyn, Sena, Sugathapala, Padma, Selvarajah and my right-hand man, Kumar, who is my major-domo even now.

While the LTTE was creating havoc across the country in their quest for Tamil Eelam, the Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna (JVP), a Communist Marxist-Leninist party, had launched their second armed uprising against the government of Sri Lanka. Their crusade was the establishment of a socialist state. Mrs. Bandaranaike brutally quelled the first uprising in 1971 but this second uprising in 1987 (which was to last two years), turned out to be very ruthless and vicious. The JVP began targeting government officials and administrators, slaying them in broad daylight. Susil’s involvement in politics meant he faced a double-edged sword, with the LTTE on one side and the JVP on the other. I feared for my girls’ safety and moved them to Singapore. They were 13 and nine.

My sister Roni moved with them as did their nanny Daya. Our close friends in Singapore, Primus and Helen, pitched in to help as well. I enrolled them at United World College so their education wouldn’t be disrupted, settled them in and returned to Sri Lanka with the intention of traveling each weekend to be with them. I would take the Red Eye flight from Colombo on Friday and return on the midnight flight on Sunday, just in time to get ready for work.

We brought them back to Sri Lanka in 1989 once Ranasinghe Premadasa, who by then was the President, had killed the JVP leader Rohana Wijeweera, and thus removed the wind from the sails of the JVP. But the LTTE was continuing its indiscriminate bombings across the country and we returned to an uneasy calm with the assurance that at least one problem was over.

Both children went to England for their higher studies. Anarkali, the eldest, to Christ Church College Oxford, obtaining her degree in Politics, Philosophy and Economics, and Aushi to Bristol University, getting a Second Upper in History. Anarkali then went on to join the Mergers & Acquisitions Department at Merrill Lynch as an investment banker and Aushi got her first job at Unilever London.

From her childhood, Anarkali was totally focused on whatever she set her mind to. She grew up in a country riddled with turmoil and every possible political disaster imaginable unfolding around her. There were assassinations, bombs and threats to life. Our home was a hive of activity with political big-wigs, activists and supporters in constant discussion. But nothing fazed her. She sat her examinations, engaged in her extracurricular activities and excelled. She would think deeply before making decisions.

University was one of these deeply-thought out choices, with lots of research done before she made up her mind to go to the University of Oxford.

There would be no compromise. She is independent, strong willed and never compromised in her choices. Everything she did had a plan.

While Anarkali had her life well planned and went off to university to explore new worlds, Aushi on the other hand was adamant she didn’t want to go to Bristol – it had not been her first choice (having had an offer from the University of Cambridge). She was determined to re-sit her exams. Just like Anarkali, she is strong willed too, which I can smilingly say comes directly from my genes. I have also given her my inherent stubbornness which I realized most intensely when it was time for her to go to university.

There was no dissuading Aushi and her determined stance. She was not going to Bristol and that was that! She also made it clear that if I didn’t allow her to re-sit her exams, she would rather opt for the University of Nottingham, where several of her friends were studying. It was after much coercing that I had managed to convince Aushi to apply to Bristol University because of Bristol’s strong leaning towards honing the arts, which would be ideal for Aushi’s creative persona.

It is a highly prestigious and highly ranked university, with a history going back to 1595 when it was founded as the Merchant Venturers’ School. The School changed to University College in 1876 and a royal charter was conferred in 1909. I was very happy when she was accepted but then convincing Aushi to pack her bags and leave was another matter. Throughout the lead up to leaving Colombo, I spent hours trying to persuade her, even mentioning the various alumni who had their names up in lights.

Aushi however, was not to be swayed. This was not what she wanted to do but I managed to placate her sufficiently to leave for London with me. Finally, we were on our way to the university and once we boarded the plane, I heaved a sigh of relief. I assumed the battle was over. However, the relief was short-lived. The one-sided conversations continued and I had come to the end of my tether.

As a last resort, I sat her down and narrated my story of how I came to England, having never traveled anywhere at all and having to navigate new things at every turn and, most importantly, having no friends or family. I was completely alone and had to do everything myself. I also stressed quite emphatically that it was due to this opportunity that I had achieved what I had in my life. I talked and talked and talked and she finally relented. I dropped her off at university with a sense of triumph. I had negotiated some of the most complex and difficult business deals in my career but this by far, was one of the toughest.

Aushi is the more artistic of the two and the creative person in our family. She completed her foundation years at M&C Saatchi and later Leo Burnett Sri Lanka and then had the opportunity to move into the arena of fashion marketing and sales in London. Here she began working at Club 21, joining the commercial development team handling a portfolio of brands that included Giorgio Armani, Luella and Mulberry.

Club 21 was owned by the famous Christina Ong, known as the Queen of Bond Street, who had the agency for Giorgio Armani in the UK. As a result of working for Christina, Aushi amassed an expansive network of buyer contacts from an impressive portfolio of leading department stores, including Harvey Nichols, Selfridges, John Lewis and Harrods.

When she eventually returned to Sri Lanka, Aushi launched a company manufacturing slippers under the brand Urban Thongs. Because of the network of contacts she had built up, she had no problem exporting her slippers to these buyers, who gave the product shelf prominence in their stores. After marriage however, Aushi gave up this business.

However busy I was, my girls always came first and if ever the opportunity arose for me to be with them, I wouldn’t hesitate to Join them. On one occasion, during her university days, Anarkali asked me to meet her in Florence, where she was spending some months studying Italian. By nature Anarkali is quite frugal, and even though I gave them an allowance and a credit card to use in an emergency, which made things quite comfortable for them, Anarkali would never spend money unnecessarily.

She always budgeted and remained well within that budget. When I got to her apartment in Florence, I realized I had to walk up seven floors. When I panted upstairs and asked her why she couldn’t have got somewhere more accessible, she said, “This is all I can afford on my budget.” Secretly, I was very proud that my daughter was thrifty and sensible when it came to money matters, traits I knew would augur well as she traveled forth in life.

By this time we had moved to our home in Albert Crescent which we bought in 1984 immediately after the riots. Land prices in Colombo had dropped to unimaginable levels due to the troubles, and it seemed to be the right time to purchase a home that would suit our future plans. Susil was very actively pursuing his political career and our house in Jawatte Road couldn’t accommodate the large numbers of people who would come to meet him.

Along the grapevine, Susil heard of a house that was for sale at Albert Crescent and took me with him to see it. However, although it was for sale, the current occupant, who was the Yugoslav Ambassador was yet in occupation and given that Albert Crescent was a High Security Zone, we could only view the property over the boundary wall. But even with our first glimpse, it had a good vibe and Susil and I both instinctively said, “Let’s buy it!” Throughout life, I’ve trusted my gut instinct and known what I wanted. This was one of them!

However, it would be four years before we could even taken a look inside that boundary wall, as we had to wait until the completion of the tenancy. No sooner the house was available, my good friend and architect Navin Gooneratne arrived, casting his expert eye on the property and began designing our dream home. Knowing our careers and our lifestyle, he designed a long wraparound veranda to accommodate the visitors who would drop in to see Susil, a granny flat and a separate house on the side of the main house. This was eventually occupied by my sister’s three children and husband who stayed with us.

Having worked with the Singaporeans for many years, I was influenced quite significantly by Chinese numerology. Number eight is considered the luckiest of numbers and the more eights there are, the better. In fact the Chinese word for eight is pronounced `bad’ which sounds similar to wealth and prosperity. Therefore, it was no coincidence that I picked the number eight when it was time for us to move into our new home at Albert Crescent – we moved on August 8, 1988 –8.8.88, boiling milk for prosperity at 8.08 am.

‘However, that day was marred with sadness later on in the evening. My father, who was 78 at the time, had been staying ‘With us as he was being treated for a brief illness. A few days before August 8, he was admitted to Nawaloka Hospital. As soon as the ‘moving in’ rituals were over, we ,made our way to the hospital to be with him.

We knew he was in his last stages and Susil prepared me for the inevitable. He passed away that evening. The excitement of moving to our new home took a backseat as funeral arrangements took precedence. His body was transported by A F Raymonds to his home in Kegalle, where the funeral was held.

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Glimmers of hope?



The newly appointed Cabinet Ministers leaves Cass un-uplifted. She need not elaborate. She wishes fervently that Dr Harsha de Silva will leave party loyalty aside and consider the country. Usually, it’s asking politicians to cast aside self-interest, which very rarely is done in the political culture that came to be after the 1970s. Thus, it is very unusual, completely out of the ordinary to appeal to Dr Harsha to forego party loyalty and do the very needful for the country by accepting the still vacant post of Minister of Finance. We are very sorry Eran W too has kept himself away.

Some of Cassandra’s readers may ask whether she is out of her right mind to see glimmers of hope for the country. She assures them she is as sane as can be; she does cling onto these straws like the dying man does. How else exist? How else get through these dire times?

What are the straws she clings to? News items in The Island of Tuesday 24 May.

‘Sirisena leaves Paget Road mansion in accordance with SC interim injunction.’ And who was instrumental in righting this wrong? The CPA and its Executive Director Dr Pakiasothy Saravanamuttu. It is hoped that revisions to the system will come in such as giving luxury housing and other extravagant perks to ex-presidents and their widows. Sri Lanka has always lived far beyond its means in the golden handshakes to its ex- prezs and also perks given its MPs. At least luxury vehicles should not be given them. Pensions after five years in Parliament should be scrapped forthwith.

‘Letter of demand sent to IGP seeking legal action against DIG Nilantha Jayawardena.’ Here the mover is The Centre for Society and Religion and it is with regard to the Easter Sunday massacre which could have been prevented if DIG Jayawardena as Head of State Intelligence had taken necessary action once intelligence messages warned of attack on churches.

‘CIABOC to indict Johnston, Keheliya and Rohitha’. It is fervently hoped that this will not be another charge that blows away with the wind. They do not have their strongest supporter – Mahinda R to save them. We so fervently hope the two in power now will let things happened justly, according to the law of the land.

‘Foreign Secy Admiral Colombage replaced’. And by whom? A career diplomat who has every right and qualification for the post; namely Aruni Wijewardane. If this indicates a fading of the prominence given to retired armed forces personnel in public life and administration, it is an excellent sign. Admiral Colombage had tendered his resignation, noted Wednesday’s newspaper.

‘Crisis caused by decades of misuse public resources, corruption, kleptocracy – TISL’.

Everyone knew this, even the despicable thieves and kleptocrats. The glaring question is why no concerted effort was made to stop the thieving from a country drawn to bankruptcy by politicians and admin officers. There are many answers to that question. It was groups, mostly of the middle class who came out first in candle lit vigils and then at the Gotagogama Village. The aragalaya has to go down in history as the savior of our nation from a curse worse than war. The civil war was won against many odds. But trying to defeat deceit power-hunger and thieving was near impossible. These protestors stuck their necks out and managed to rid from power most of the Rajapaksa family. That was achievement enough.

Heartfelt hope of the many

The newly appointed Cabinet Ministers leaves Cass un-uplifted. She need not elaborate. She wishes fervently that Dr Harsha de Silva will leave party loyalty aside and consider the country. Usually, it’s asking politicians to cast aside self interest, which very rarely is done in the political culture that came to be after the 1970s. Thus, it is very unusual, completely out of the ordinary to appeal to Dr Harsha to forego party loyalty and do the very needful for the country by accepting the still vacant post of Minister of Finance. We are very sorry Eran W too has kept himself away. As Shamindra Ferdinando writes in the newspaper mentioned, “Well informed sources said that Premier Wickremesinghe was still making efforts to win over some more Opposition members. Sources speculated that vital finance portfolio remained vacant as the government still believed (hoped Cass says) Dr Harsha de Silva could somehow be convinced to accept that portfolio.”

Still utterly hopeless

Gas is still unavailable for people like Cass who cannot stand in queues, first to get a token and then a cylinder. Will life never return to no queues for bare essentials? A woman friend was in a petrol queue for a solid twelve hours – from 4 am to 4 pm. This is just one of million people all over the country in queues. Even a common pressure pill was not available in 20 mg per.

Cassandra considers a hope. We saw hundreds of Sri Lankans all across the globe peacefully protesting for departure of thieves from the government. The ex-PM, Mahinda Rajapaksa’s answer to this was to unleash absolute terror on all of the island. It seems to be that with Johnson a younger MP stood commandingly.

Returning from that horror thought to the protesters overseas, Cass wondered if each of them contributed one hundred dollars to their mother country, it would go a long way to soften the blows we are battered with. Of course, the absolute imperative is that of the money, not a cent goes into personal pockets. The donors must be assured it goes to safety. Is that still not possible: assuring that donations are used for the purpose they are sent for: to alleviate the situation of Sri Lankans? I suppose the memory of tsunami funds going into the Helping Hambantota Fund is still fresh in memory. So much for our beloved country.

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Ban on agrochemicals and fertilisers: Post-scenario analysis



By Prof. Rohan Rajapakse

(Emeritus Professor of Agriculture Biology UNIVERSITY OF RUHUNA and Former Executive Director Sri Lanka Council of Agriculture Research Policy)

There are two aspects of the ban on agrochemicals. The first is the ban on chemical fertilisers, and the second is the ban on the use of pesticides. Several eminent scientists, Dr Parakrama Waidyanatha (formerly the Soil Scientist of RRI), Prof OA Ileperuma (Former Professor of Chemistry University of Peradeniya), Prof C. S. Weeraratne (former Professor of Agronomy University of Ruhuna), Prof D. M. de Costa University of Peradeniya, Prof. Buddhi Marambe (Professor in Weed Science University of Peradeniya) have effectively dealt with the repercussion of the ban on chemical fertilisers which appeared in The Island newspaper on recently.

The major points summarised by these authors are listed below.


1. These scientists, including the author, are of the view that the President’s decision to totally shift to organic agriculture from conventional could lead to widespread hunger and starvation in future, which has become a reality. Organic farming is a small phenomenon in global agriculture, comprising a mere 1.5% of total farmlands, of which 66% are pasture.

2. Conventional farming (CF) is blamed for environmental pollution; however, in organic farming, heavy metal pollution and the release of carbon dioxide and methane, two greenhouse gases from farmyard manure, are serious pollution issues with organic farming that have been identified.

3. On the other hand, the greatest benefit of organic fertilisers as against chemical fertilisers is the improvement of soil’s physical, chemical and biological properties by the former, which is important for sustained crop productivity. The best option is to use appropriate combinations of organic and chemical fertilisers, which can also provide exacting nutrient demands of crops and still is the best option!

4. Sri Lanka has achieved self-sufficiency in rice due to the efforts of the Research Officers of the Department of Agriculture, and all these efforts will be in vain if we abruptly ban the import of fertiliser. These varieties are bred primarily on their fertiliser response. While compost has some positive effects such as improving soil texture and providing some micronutrients, it cannot be used as a substitute for fertiliser needed by high yielding varieties of rice. Applying organic fertilisers alone will not help replenish the nutrients absorbed by a crop. Organic fertilisers have relatively small amounts of the nutrients that plants need. For example, compost has only 2% nitrogen (N), whereas urea has 46% N. Banning the import of inorganic fertilisers will be disastrous, as not applying adequate amounts of nutrients will cause yields to drop, making it essential to increase food imports. Sri Lankan farmers at present are at the mercy of five organizations, namely the Central Department of Agriculture, the Provincial Ministry of Agriculture, the Private sector Pesticide Companies, the Non-Government organizations and the leading farmers who are advising them. Instead, improved agricultural extension services to promote alternative non-chemical methods of pest control and especially the use of Integrated Pest Management.

Locally, pest control depends mostly on the use of synthetic pesticides; ready to use products that can be easily procured from local vendors are applied when and where required Abuse and misapplication of pesticides is a common phenomenon in Sri Lanka. Even though many farmers are aware of the detrimental aspects of pesticides they often use them due to economic gains

We will look at the post scenario of
what has happened

1. The importation of Chemical fertilisers and Pesticides was banned at the beginning of Maha season 1 on the advice of several organic manure (OM) promoters by the Ministry of agriculture.

2. The Ministry of Agriculture encouraged the farmers to use organic manure, and an island-wide programme of producing Organic manure were initiated. IT took some time for the government to realize that Sri Lanka does not have the capacity to produce such a massive amount of OM, running into 10 tons per hectare for 500000 hectares ear marked in ma ha season.

3. Hence the government approved the importation of OM from abroad, and a Company in China was given an initial contract to produce OM produced from Seaweed. However, the scientists from University of Peradeniya detected harmful microorganisms in this initial consignment, and the ship was forced to leave Sri Lankan waters at a cost of US dollar 6.7 million without unloading its poisonous cargo. No substitute fertiliser consignment was available.

4. A committee in the Ministry hastily recommended to import NANO RAJA an artificial compound from India to increase the yield by spraying on to leaves. Sri Lanka lost Rs 863 million as farmers threw all these Nano Raja bottles and can as it attracts dogs and wild boar.

Since there is no other option the Ministry promised to pay Rs 50000 per hectare for all the farmers who lost their livelihood. It is not known how much the country lost due to this illogical decision of banning fertilisers and pesticides.


1. Judicious use of pesticides is recommended.

2. The promotion and the use of integrated pest management techniques whenever possible

3. To minimize the usage of pesticides:

Pesticide traders would be permitted to sell pesticides only through specially trained Technical Assistants.

Issuing pesticides to the farmers for which they have to produce some kind of a written recommendation by a local authority.

Introduction of new mechanism to dispose or recycle empty pesticide and weedicide bottles in collaboration with the Environment Ministry.

Laboratory-testing of imported pesticides by the Registrar of Pesticides at the entry-point to ensure that banned chemicals were not brought into the country.

Implementation of trained core of people who can apply pesticides.

Education campaigns to train farmers, retailers, distributors, and public with the adverse effects of pesticides.

Maximum Residue Level (MRL) to reduce the consumer’s risk of exposure to unsafe levels.

Integrated pest Management and organic agriculture to be promoted.

1. To ensure the proper usage of agrochemicals by farmers

All those who advised the Minister of Agriculture and the President to shift to OM still wield authority in national food production effort. The genuine scientists who predicted the outcome are still harassed sacked from positions they held in MA and were labelled as private sector goons. The danger lies if the farmers decide not to cultivate in this Maha season due to non-availability of fertilisers and pesticides the result will be an imminent famine.

The country also should have a professional body like the Planning Commission of

India, with high calibre professionals in the Universities and the Departments and

There should be institutions and experts to advise the government on national policy matters.

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Thomians triumph in Sydney 



Nothing is happening for us, at this end, other than queues, queues, and more queues! There’s very little to shout about were the sports and entertainment scenes are concerned. However, Down Under, the going seems good.

Sri Lankans, especially in Melbourne, Australia, have quite a lot of happenings to check out, and they all seem to be having a jolly good time!

Trevine Rodrigo,

who puts pen to paper to keep Sri Lankans informed of the events in Melbourne, was in Sydney, to taken in the scene at the Sri Lanka Schools Sevens Touch Rugby competition. And, this is Trevine’s report:

The weather Gods and S.Thomas aligned, in Sydney, to provide the unexpected at the Sri Lanka Schools Sevens Touch Rugby competition, graced by an appreciative crowd.

Inclement weather was forecast for the day, and a well drilled Dharmaraja College was expected to go back-to-back at this now emerging competition in Sydney’s Sri Lanka expatriate sporting calendar.

But the unforeseen was delivered, with sunny conditions throughout, and the Thomians provided the upset of the competition when they stunned the favourites, Dharmaraja, in the final, to grab the Peninsula Motor Group Trophy.

Still in its infancy, the Sevens Touch Competition, drawn on the lines of Rugby League rules, found new flair and more enthusiasm among its growing number of fans, through the injection of players from around Australia, opposed to the initial tournament which was restricted to mainly Sydneysiders.

A carnival like atmosphere prevailed throughout the day’s competition.

Ten teams pitted themselves in a round robin system, in two groups, and the top four sides then progressed to the semi-finals, on a knock out basis, to find the winner.

A food stall gave fans the opportunity to keep themselves fed and hydrated while the teams provided the thrills of a highly competitive and skilled tournament.

The rugby dished out was fiercely contested, with teams such as Trinity, Royal and St. Peter’s very much in the fray but failing to qualify after narrow losses on a day of unpredictability.

Issipathana and Wesley were the other semi-finalists with the Pathanians grabbing third place in the play-off before the final.

The final was a tense encounter between last year’s finalists Dharmaraja College and S.Thomas. Form suggested that the Rajans were on track for successive wins in as many attempts.  But the Thomians had other ideas.

The fluent Rajans, with deft handling skills and evasive running, looked the goods, but found the Thomian defence impregnable.  Things were tied until the final minutes when the Thomians sealed the result with an intercept try and hung on to claim the unthinkable.

It was perhaps the price for complacency on the Rajans part that cost them the game and a lesson that it is never over until the final whistle.

Peninsula Motor Group, headed by successful businessman Dilip Kumar, was the main sponsor of the event, providing playing gear to all the teams, and prize money to the winners and runners-up.

The plan for the future is to make this event more attractive and better structured, according to the organisers, headed by Deeptha Perera, whose vision was behind the success of this episode.

In a bid to increase interest, an over 40’s tournament, preceded the main event, and it was as interesting as the younger version.

Ceylon Touch Rugby, a mixed team from Melbourne, won the over 40 competition, beating Royal College in the final.

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