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The end of our marriage and Susil’s death

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by Sumi Moonesinghe narrated to Savithri Rodrigo

Anarkali who was in London, hadn’t yet arrived in Colombo for the Christmas holidays. I telephoned her saying Susil was safe and Susil too, spoke with her, assuring her that all was well. We then drove to Nawaloka Hospital where Chandrika was in surgery. Our architect and good friend Navin Gooneratne was also at the hospital keeping vigil, when at about 2 am, the doctor appeared and told us that Chandrika was alive and pulled through, but had sight only in one eye.

Our millennium party was held and true to her word, Aushi prepared a magnificent Christmas dinner with each of our 75 guests having the time of their lives. Anarkali had also arrived in Sri Lanka for the festivities. Aushi transformed our home and garden into a winter wonderland with the most beautiful, table and garden decor, making the evening most memorable. It was also good to see my credit card having been put to good use.

The war had now been continuing for nearly two decades and the populace seemed to be taking the exploding bombs and assassination of leaders as par for the course. Cultural and I religious festivities continued, students went to school and sat for their regular examinations and the wheels of commerce turned, albeit slowly. We knew there was a chance of a bomb exploding anywhere, anytime, but there was no point in worrying about it. Resilience eventually became a Sri Lankan hallmark. Life went on.

In January 2000, I asked both girls to return to London. While life was as normal as we could imagine, there was always danger and as I mentioned, Susil was also a target and by default, so were we.

After the girls left and we were back to our empty nest, Susil mentioned he was undertaking a pilgrimage to India. This was nothing unusual as we both had various charities that we supported and one or the other would go periodically to check on these.

Two of my projects were in Bodh Gaya – a school for disadvantaged children in the vicinity of the Mahabodhi Temple and a pilgrim’s rest. As was my habit, I sat on the bed and chatted with him while he packed. I remember asking him to check on the school construction as it was in the process of being completed.

I happened to glance at the clothes he had laid out. They were his best clothes, which I found rather unusual, since he was going on pilgrimage and didn’t need a fancy wardrobe. When I pointed this out, he said his cousin Mangala who was High Commissioner in New Delhi might be having a party. “It’s best I am prepared for these things,” he said. The explanation was good enough, although I reiterated that I wanted him to check on my school.

A few days after Susil returned from the pilgrimage and while having our usual chats, I asked him about the progress of the construction. “I couldn’t go to Bodh Gaya,” he said and refused to answer any more questions. I was a little angry but let it slide. These were small molehills that we must not build into mountains, I thought and let it be.

Life moved on and all seemed well. I was fully involved in the various charity projects that had fuelled my interest and Susil went about his work, being driven off in the car each morning. But the smooth passage of our lives were not to be and I learned of some incriminating telephone calls made in the car. Always used to tackling a problem head-on, I confronted Susil, who in turn did not lie but admitted he was having an affair. However, while I expected remorse or even some fault finding on his part, all he did was downplay the affair as normal behaviour. “This is what politicians do,” he said. “It’s typical behaviour. Look back at history or even now. This is common and not to be taken seriously.”

The initial shock was too much. I couldn’t quite believe this was happening. He was 70 years old! What was he thinking? But there was an inner strength that embraced my whole being at that point. I was not going to fight, argue or shout. I simply said, “I am leaving the country; but when I return on the first of June, I would like you to be gone from this house.” I booked a ticket to Hong Kong, packed my things and left the next morning. My sister Rohini joined me at the Shangri-La. I couldn’t bring myself to talk to anyone, not even to my two girls. It was the most painful day in my life.

However, when I did return, Susil had not moved out and was yet living at home. I was annoyed. I got his things packed and moved him to our Jawatte Road house. It didn’t hit me until then that the picture of our perfect family had just been shattered, just as that niggling premonition had alluded. Susil and I were now officially separated and a beautiful love story had just ended.

But remaining at home was an impossibility for me. I was raw, broken and the memories were too many. I had to escape. I took off to London deciding to spend a month with my girls. Anarkali was working at Merrill Lynch and Aushi was sitting for her university finals. I stayed with Aushi. I was in robot mode but being with them was therapeutic. They rallied round me, giving me lots of strength. I went car shopping and as a graduation gift, gave Aushi a soft top Mercedes Benz 180 C Class.

On the day of the graduation, I sat watching my daughter walk the stage to get her certificate, like any proud mum. The moment the ceremony was over, Aushi came running to me and presented me with the certificate, saying, “Ammi, I did it for you!” I was overwhelmed with happiness at that point, because after many days of feeling emotionally drained and wretched, I felt a cloud had lifted. I was capable of facing life again. My girls had made it so.

The graduation party was at Duke’s beautiful manor home in Somerset. Fifty of Aushi’s friends joined her in the celebrations. Although Susil didn’t come for the graduation, he did join the party but left the UK the same day as he was preparing for the general elections to be held in Sri Lanka. I returned to Sri Lanka with renewed strength. I had various charity projects in the pipeline and I was also on the board of National Development Bank which meant I was kept busy.

On November 14, 2001, my mother passed away at the age of 92. Susil had been appointed Sri Lanka’s Ambassador to Iran but flew down as soon as he heard the news. To my surprise, he took complete control of the funeral arrangements. However, he took his return flight out of Sri Lanka no sooner the funeral was over. Anarkali, who had also flown down from London for Amma’s funeral, happened to be on that same flight when she returned to London.

While I had regained some of my inner strength, when I separated from Susil, there was a feeling of numbness that remained ingrained in me for a long time. The deadness I felt inside of me continued, even when many years later, I heard that Susil was gravely ill in Kandy. I made arrangements to ensure he was comfortable and had the best medical care possible, but I chose not to communicate with him at all.

Susil passed away on November 30, 2012 at the age of 82. I had the funeral at our home in Albert Crescent because I wanted my girls to have proper closure and bid goodbye to their father from the family home. My major-domo Kumar, whose efficiency is truly amazing, stepped up and made sure the mourners who came in large numbers were well looked after with the hospitality we were always known for.

The day after the funeral, I took a flight out to the Turks and Caicos Islands with my sister Roni, to attend a friend’s son’s wedding. It was Anarkali who handled the seventh day almsgiving.

It took quite some time but eventually I came to terms with my pain and my sorrow, somehow letting the witches fly away and retaining the sweet memories of our good times. Two ecades on from our separation and eight years after Susil has passed, as I recount this memoir, I am very much at peace with him and with myself.



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Features

Glimmers of hope?

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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

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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.

FERTILISER ISSUE

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.

Recommendations

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 

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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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