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The Fulbright Scholar – Taking wing to the U.S.

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Hawaii and then Michigan

Excerpted from the memoirs of Senior DIG Edward Gunawardena

Sometime in 1967 when I was the Assistant Director of Police Training I came across a notice in the newspapers advertising Fulbright grants for post-graduate studies in the United States. The basic requirements were specified as a first or upper second class degree and age below 35-years. I decided to apply and visited the United States Education Foundation in Ceylon to obtain further details and also to obtain an application form.

During this visit I met a charming, cultured and soft-spoken gentleman who was the Director. He was Mr. S.E.R. Perimpanayagam who had retired as the Headmaster of St. Thomas’ Prep School, Kollupitiya. During the course of a long and pleasant chat he made it a point to emphasize that the selection process criteria were extremely stringent and canvassing of any sort would be reason for disqualification.

To finalize the application I had to attach two vital documents: (1) A letter of recommendation from my supervisor of studies in the University and (2) a letter from the IGP consenting to the granting of one year’s leave. Prof. K. Kularatnam without any hesitation gave me an excellent recommendation. However, as the Fulbright grant had nothing to do with the government, the IGP refused to give me the required letter. Apparently he was unaware of the prestige of a Fulbright Scholarship. Furthermore, the Police Department of the time did not attach much importance to academic excellence. However, I was determined to get over this initial obstacle.

My classmate at St. Joseph’s and University contemporary A.R.M. Jayawardena was the Senior Asst. Secretary, Ministry of Defence & External Affairs. When I explained my plight to him, without any hesitation he gave me a letter to the effect that, ‘leave will be considered if selected’. This letter satisfied Mr. Perimpanayagam.

The Curriculum Vitae to be attached to the application had to be in essay form in my own handwriting. Apparently this was a test of English too. The file I prepared with all the documents filed in order with the pages numbered and an index of contents was highly appreciated by Mr. Perimpanayagam. After browsing through he smiled and remarked, “Mr. Gunawardena, this is a perfect file. You should be selected on this alone.”

A few weeks after I handed over the application. I was called up for the TOEFL examination — Test of English as a foreign language. This test was held in a room in the US Embassy. The examiner was Mrs. Paul an American, the wife of Crown Counsel Wakely Paul. The main components of this test were an essay and comprehension of a recorded reading of a passage from the Time Magazine. I received 99/100 marks. The final hurdle to be cleared was the interview.

There were about six or seven on the board. As I write this nearly 45 years later I have forgotten the names of most of them. One thing I remember with certainty was the absence of any government officials. It was presided by the American Ambassador. Others that I can recall were the Chairman of Dunlop Tyres, Dr. Walter Simon, the Cultural Affairs Officer of the American Embassy, Professor C.C. de Silva of the Medical Faculty of the University of Ceylon and Mr. S.E.R. Perimpanayagam.

Not many questions were asked from me. However, I was prepared to answer any. Browsing through my application Dr. Simon said that my preferred discipline ‘Police Administration’, was not offered by any American University. I then showed him a book on Police Administration by Prof. O.W. Wilson of the University of California who had also been the Police Chief of Chicago. I drew his attention to an appendix in this book which gave a list of American Universities that offered Masters Degrees In Police Administration, Criminology and Criminal Justice. Dr. Simon apologized to me and thanked me for updating his knowledge of the subject. The next thing I remember was receiving a letter intimating that I had been selected to be admitted to Michigan State University and inviting me to a reception at the Embassy.

The selection process had taken over six months and I had only about three months time to make preparations to leave in June 1968. Gerry Geile and his wife, Evelyn, an American couple were the happiest about my selection. They were from Michigan and only two minutes away from the Michigan State University Campus. Gerry was on a World Bank assignment conducting a traffic survey for Wilbur Smith Associates. Shirani and I had barely gone through seven months of married life at the time. However she and her parents valued the Fulbright Scholarship. She also believed that Gerry and Evelyn Geile will make me feel at home. This friendly, understanding and charming American couple together with their three young children had already visited us at our home in the heart of the city and had dinner with us.

The IGP who had not sanctioned the leave required by me or even congratulated me was a conspicuous guest at the Ambassador’s reception. After attending this function, probably realizing the prestige of the award, he decided to grant me an year’s ‘No pay leave’. My friend Annesley Jayawardena came to my rescue again. He spoke to a Senior Treasury Official and got the no pay leave converted to half pay leave’. However, soon after I had left the country, the IGP, perhaps being informed that I had become Asia’s first Fulbright Scholar in the field of Police Administration, had decided to grant me full pay leave for one year! No wonder, there has since, not been a single police officer to be awarded a full Fulbright Scholarship. It is tragic indeed that no officer has obtained even a Fulbright travel grant after the seventies. Regrettably, this is a sad reflection on not only the Police Department but also the standard of the Degrees of the Sri Lankan Universities.

 

I take wing for the first time

After a few familiarization meetings at which the Cultural Affairs Division of the US Embassy that introduced the awardees to the ‘American way of life’ the group took flight in a TWA Boeing 707 from the new Canada Friendship runway of the Katunayake Airport to our first destination, Honolulu. With stringent foreign exchange regulations in force each of us was allowed only eight dollars. This was not sufficient even for a few drinks and a couple of packs of cigarettes. At that time smoking was fashionable. Even the prime minister smoked freely in public. I too had got addicted.

Doing the farewell rounds at the airport, my brother Irwin slipped a few dollar notes into my pocket. A US Embassy official who arrived minutes prior to embarkation gave each of the group (11 if I remember right) a cheque for US $ 250/=. I regret indeed that I have forgotten the names of many of this Fulbright batch today. Maxi Prelis and Christopher Nanayakkara cannot be forgotten. They both reached the highest level in their professions. Lalith Weeratunga of Brooke Bonds, I remember, because he was made a Director in recognition of his winning a Fulbright Scholarship. Chits Malwanne reached the top in the Education Directorate.

 

Hawaii – the first stop

On arrival at the Honolulu Airport what I remember best was the shock of an explosion as soon as the aircraft landed. But the Captain himself came into the cabin to explain to the excited passengers that it was the breaking of the sound barrier by six Phantom fighter jets that were performing routine drills. Pleasant greetings were to follow. The disembarking Fulbright grantees were all garlanded with leis of orchids by scantily dressed, beautiful ‘Hula’ girls. These girls as a group were to entertain us with songs and dances for nearly an hour until a coach arrived for us to be taken to the University of Hawaii which was then also known as the East-West Centre. Minutes before we boarded the coach a young and spritely American who introduced himself as Tim from the Fulbright Commission made all of us smile doling out a cheque for US $ 500/= each. Tim was our friend and guide on the way to our destination.

 

(More next week)



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Ramazan spirit endures amid pandemic

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This will be a sombre Ramazan, indeed, with the country under a lockdown. But the spirit of Ramazan lives on in all Muslims. Ramadan, also referred to as Ramazan, Ramzan, or Ramadhan, in some countries, is the ninth month of the Islamic calendar, and Muslims the world over dedicate this holy month for fasting, prayer, reflection and community.

Although most non-Muslims associate Ramazan, solely with fasting, it is believed to bring Muslims closer to God and inculcate in them qualities such as patience, spirituality, and humility. Those of the Islamic faith believe that fasting redirects one away from worldly activities, cleanses the inner soul and free it from harm. It also teaches self-discipline, self-control, sacrifice, and empathy for those who are less fortunate and encourage actions of generosity and charity. It is a time of self-examination and increased religious devotion.

Ramazan is a commemoration of Prophet Muhammad’s first revelation, and the annual observance of Ramazan is regarded as one of the Five Pillars of Islam. The Five Pillars are basic acts, considered mandatory by Muslims, namely Muslim life, prayer, concern for the needy, self-purification, and the pilgrimage. Prophet Muhammad’s first revelation is believed to have taken place in 610 AD, in a cave called Hira, located near Mecca, where Muhammad was visited by the angel Jibrīl, who revealed to him the beginnings of what would later become the Qur’an. The visitation occurred on Ramazan.

Ramazan lasts from one sighting of the crescent moon to the next and the local religious authority is tasked with announcing the date. The Colombo Grand Mosque announced on Wednesday (12) that Sri Lankan Muslims will celebrate Ramazan on Friday (14). Because the Muslims follow a lunar calendar, the start of Ramazan moves backwards by about 11 days, each year, in the Gregorian calendar. Fasting from dawn to sunset is considered fard (obligatory) for all adult Muslims who are not acutely, or chronically, ill, travelling, elderly, breastfeeding, diabetic, or menstruating.

During this month, Muslims refrain not only from partaking of meals, but also tobacco products, sexual relations, and sinful behaviour, devoting themselves to prayer or salat and recitation of the Quran. The pre-dawn meal is referred to as suhur, and the nightly feast that breaks fast is referred to as iftar. During Ramazan, Muslims wake up well before dawn to eat the pre-dawn meal. This is considered the most important meal, during Ramazan, since it has to sustain one until sunset. This means eating lots of high-protein food and drinking as much water as possible, right up until dawn, after which one cannot eat or drink anything. The day of fasting ends at sunset, the exact minute of which is signalled by the fourth call to prayer, at dusk.

It is believed that spiritual rewards, or thawab, of fasting multiply during Ramazan. Muslims do not Fast on Eid, but Sri Lankan Muslims believe that observing the six days of optional fasting, that follows Eid, multiplies spiritual rewards.

Eid-Ul-Fitr is the Festival of Breaking the Fast, also simply referred to as Eid, and marks the end of the month-long dawn-to-sunset fasting of Ramadan, as well as the return to a more natural disposition of eating, drinking, and marital intimacy. In Sri Lanka, this Festival of Breaking the Fast is also referred to, colloquially, as Ramazan. Eid begins at sunset, on the night of the first sighting of the crescent moon. Muslims hand out money, to the poor and needy, as an obligatory act of charity, before performing the Eid prayer.

Globally, the Eid prayer is generally performed in open areas, like fields, community centres, or mosques in congregation. In Sri Lanka, the prayer is performed annually in Galle Face Green and mosques. The Eid prayer is followed by the sermon and then a supplication asking for Allah’s forgiveness, mercy, peace and blessings for all living beings across the world. The sermon encourages Muslims to engage in the rituals of Eid, such as zakat, almsgiving to other fellow Muslims. After the prayers, Muslims visit relatives, friends, and acquaintances, or hold large communal celebrations.

After prayer, Muslims celebrate Eid, with food being the central theme. Sri Lankans celebrate Ramazan with watalappam, falooda, samosa, gulab jamun and other national and regional dishes. The festivals were said to have initiated in Medina, after the migration of Muhammad from Mecca.

This year, as well as last year, Sri Lankan Muslims will have to forgo the custom of communal prayers, and celebrations, due to the ongoing pandemic, and will have to settle for private prayers and celebrations of Ramazan during this period of curfew. While these preventive measures are in place, during this year’s Ramazan, the principles of this holy month remain the same. Devout Muslims all over the world, will still be honouring this pillar of Islam, albeit from the security of their homes.

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Dip Corps Plum Job? I don’t think so!

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I was reading an article in the papers the other day saying that the Attorney General (soon to retire) had turned down a “plum job” (interesting and archaic term) by refusing to go as the High commissioner to Canada. In the days when terminology such as “plum job” was used indeed any member of the Diplomatic Corps was considered elite. They usually came from people who had got degrees with a class and preferably a 1st class, and I believe they had to get through a tough civil service exam as well. Before they reached the top post of High Commissioner (if they came from the service) they had to spend many years learning the ropes. A few High Commissioners were appointed from among civil service retirees in other fields and if so, their role was largely ceremonial with the other staff in the embassy handling the actual policy matters.

Ever since the advent of “Kukul Charlie” to Scandinavia as H/C, during the R. Premadasa regime, this worthy actually had a mini chicken farm in the premises of the embassy, and slightly before that the actions of A.C.S. Hameed as the minister of foreign affairs during the J.R.J. regime.The Dip: Co: has degenerated into a mess. Most of the staffers are political appointees and even the progeny of Ministers and MP draw salaries from the embassy, to fund their overseas studies. Everybody seems to be running his or her own little racket to supplement his or her foreign currency incomes. Many of them don’t even come back when their terms are over. The Ambassador’s main role seems to be a taxi driver or to use modern terminology Uber driver for vising VIP’s and their assorted relatives.

Is it a wonder that the incumbent Attorney General chose to decline an offer of this sort? An offer that would have consigned him to oblivion (as seems to be what happens to all able-bodied, intelligent, and capable people in the Pearl) and to top it off, dealing with the freezing conditions of the Canadian winter. This is a blatant attempt to sideline a capable professional who is perceived as a threat to the government as he seems a bit of a maverick and his penchant to toe the line cannot be guaranteed. Now, instead of appreciating constructive criticism and the actions of a professional guided by his knowledge and ethics, the increasingly military regime wants order followers. Extensions of terms come very easily to those characterless wimps who fill and overflow the ranks of government employees! In this case, a “kick upstairs” seems to be what the powers that be require. I guess the inherent and ever-present guiding light of jealousy among his peers, keeps organisations such as the bar association from protesting these actions? I am sure they will find an excuse all covered in legalize. I fear Mr. Livera will have to carve his own path through the morass of muck that is the Pearl at present.

What demoralises me further is that editors of newspapers and even so-called “journalists” write and publish such articles when they are well aware of the true reasons and facts. Then again, I have read articles quoting government financial “geniuses” saying that printing money will not be detrimental to the economy and even some ministers saying that devaluation of the rupee simply means more money coming in from Middle Eastern remittances and a better lifestyle for the beneficiaries! I was even sent a link by a friend to a published article saying Sri Lanka has done a better job than New Zealand to maintain a low Covid death rate. Of course, the link came with the words “Ammata Siri” from a friend of mine!

On the subject of Covid, I am told the predictions for the Pearl based on statistics put out by American Universities, are dire. Now, I know that those ruling the country firmly believe that Sri Lanka is the centre of the universe and anything said by anyone other than themselves is utter rubbish. BUT I see an opportunity here … this is the time to form a “war cabinet” to overcome this catastrophe. Kick out all the idiots who are simply drawing huge salaries, and gadding about in flash new duty-free vehicles. Send them to their electorates and tell them to stay there, travel by bus, mix with the populace, and do their JOBS. Cut their salaries by 75% and use that money to give benefits to those affected by the virus and resultant recession. Form a Cabinet of 20 (maximum) and concentrate on saving our country and her people so that we can live to fight another day.

I have heard rumblings of discontent among the ruling clan. The big cheese is apparently being hampered by the blue cheese (old cheese) and his direct decedents. Be that as it may there certainly are around 70% of those currently in government who can be sent home to their electorates. There are a handful of those in Opposition who may be able to do a good job in these circumstances if included in this war cabinet. There certainly is a foreign minister in waiting, who doesn’t even have a parliamentary seat at present. The current sitting of parliament is said to cost an astronomical figure per sitting. Close it down and have cabinet meetings at Temple trees or TT as is the current local parlance. Another huge saving that can be distributed among those daily paid labourers who have no way to feed their families at present. Use the Parliamentary cooking facilities to make lunch packets for the needy.

There are opportunities even among this present and perceived chaos. All it takes is the will of a strong leader who is prepared to think outside the box. The current president certainly has the powers, but does he have the will? The country certainly thought he had done when they gave him that massive majority!

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Vaccine need and experts vs political power

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Manna from the skies and the drop of water to a man dying of thirst is for most now a jab in the upper arm which will hopefully keep at bay the dreaded omnipotent, omnipresent Covid 19 virus. It seems to be getting more virulent especially in poorer countries. But countries with massive daily numbers of those ill with C19 and large numbers dead, are fast returning to near normal e.g. USA. A young man who hibernated for the last fourteen months is away on holiday in the Big Apple – a separate State from his. And take it from Cassandra whose age, experience and potent gut feeling qualify her to judge situations, the improvement is due to President Biden’s leadership against that of Trump. Kudos go to Biden mostly for his selection of experts in relevant fields heading various government departments; selected solely on merit and matching the need; not considering relatives, sycophants, ethnic origin of the selected Americans. And he is totally receptive to expert advice. Judge his Secretary of State – Antony Blinken – a polar difference from big brash Mike Pompeo, in the mould of Trump. See how Dr Antony Fauci speaks now to the American media as shown us by CNN. He is confident; knows he is respected and trusted as Chief Medical Advisor to the President and also Director of the National Institute of Infectious Diseases while with Trump he nearly had his head cut off for making statements about the pandemic contrary to what Trump wanted to hear. In this context why Dr Anil Jasinha was transferred as Secretary, Environmental Ministry, is still a mystery, since we Ordinaries do not believe it was a promotion. He did magnificently well, with the Army Commander and others in minimising the damage of the first C19 wave.

Many in Colombo are due for the second dose of AstraZeneca vaccine. When will it be given? We were lulled to complacency being told some time ago that the second dose was safely stored in time for vaccination three months after the first. Now we find the medical department’s cupboards are as bare as Mother Hubbard’s as regards the A-Z vaccine and there’s begging going on for the WHO to shower enough of this vaccine on poor Siri Lanka. Threatened is a cocktail of merrily mixed AstraZeneca with Sputnik or the Chinese vaccine. We all shout: No thank you!

We do sympathize with the government battered on all sides and reduced to begging. We appreciate what is being done, but go mad when we hear statements like “Development must go on” when development is a speedway to Ratnapura and purchase of helicopters.

Many approve of the move to lockdown regions and Grama Sevaka divisions and now even provinces since locking down the entire country is really too drastic a measure even though it will reduce mass infection.

Wise experts give of their expertise all the time.

The major issue that confronts the government at present is imminently losing the battle of the Covid 19 pandemic. Next, of course, is the mess of the second vaccine for which blame lies on the government. Then the fast-declining economy and solutions thereof, one solution being import of tourists and asylum given to those fleeing India. For this obvious blunder, blame is squarely on offshoots of the government like hoteliers, travel agents and leading the lot, Udayanga W with his Covid barrier-breaking influx of ‘ballooned’ tourists from Ukraine, one of the worst affected countries. The ‘balloons’ burst no sooner they landed in Paradise and were taken traipsing around Resplendent Sri Lanka.

Another disturbing situ inaugurated by the Prez himself is the fertiliser issue – his overnight banning of chemical fertilisers, to save farming community from kidney disease and win laurels as first country to ban such. Misfiring. Tests have shown the use of these fertilisers is not the cause of KDC. More damning: the sudden ban with no substitute organic fertiliser in large quantity will badly affect our primary cash crop and from the next Yala harvest itself our stomachs will rumble with hunger pangs and the poorer will surely starve. Nothing must be done with the sweep of the pen or the gush of words of command.

And here is Cassandra’s bone which she picks with the government. Experts abound in this country of intelligent people. They are not, apparently, consulted before decisions are made. As Prof, Rohan Rajapakse writes in his article Ban on agrochemical: where are we heading? in The Island of 11 May: “Three eminent scientists, namely Dr Parakrama Waidyanatha, Prof O A Ileyperuma and Prof C S Weeraratne have effectively dealt with the repercussions of the ban on chemical fertilizers.” (He gives their credentials in full). Prof Rajapakse goes on in his article to the sphere of pesticides and warns about that too.

No politician or army high-up nor even the Prez knows it all. So experts must be hearkened to, to serve the country and save its people.

Ubiquitous

Have you noticed as Cass has that the Minister of Sports and Youth is seen at very many meetings and exhibits involvement in fisheries, the environment, even the economy; far extended from his sphere of sports and youth. Latest sighting (Tuesday May 11) was him on TV news inspecting the marvelous hospital constructed in a couple of days by hard working, skilled young men. It will be manned mostly by young girls, nursing Covid 19 patients, at risk to themselves. So, Cass praises this young minister for being so interested in the welfare and well-being of the Ordinaries – we the people of Free Sri Lanka. A sports writer in the gossipy column on the last page of The Island of 12 May, gave him a paragraph, not complimentary like Cass’ paragraph (this). Also, we do not approve at all of exercise equipment being set up in villages. The villager has enough exercise in his farming and his spouse in house and garden work. Such centres, said to be open air, will only attract gawkers in their numbers, and laughter. Of course, someone will make money.

Dire danger of military in power

The youth of Myanmar are demonstrating to the entire world what the consequences are of military men ruling countries. Pro-democracy leader Daw Suu Kyi was given one term of half governing the country as Counsellor; the second time she and her National League for Democracy won a landslide victory. She worked with the army leaders and going along with them – a la the Rohingya – was derided as a Nobel Peace Laureate.

The November 8, 2020 elections gave her Party a bigger majority. Then power was snatched off her and she was held hostage god knows where. (She suffered long years of strict house confinement after her first victory.)

The youth of the country rose up for democracy and for Suu Kyi being released. Listening to excerpts of conversations with two fighters for democracy – male and female – on BBC, Cass was overwhelmed with a fifty-fifty, long lasting spurt of emotion: sorrow and admiration for these young uns. Bless them and may they win the battle for a right of every human being – freedom from oppression and dictatorship. But these kids are being shot at with live bullets and more than fifty (if remembered correctly) are dead. Why-oh-why are base men so greedy for power?

The young of Hong Kong also fought unrelentingly but they were imprisoned and not killed deliberately. Their battle is against the growing power of China where a dictator resembling a military man rules supreme.

A bright spot

In media, whether print or visual, we long for news with optimistic effect to drive away, even temporarily, the doom and gloom that envelops us. Cass had her descending-to-depression spirits uplifted by watching a video clip of the Queen declaring the new Parliamentary sessions ‘open’.

Here was the mid-90s Sovereign walking steadily with her eldest son beside her and reading her speech about what ‘her government’ and ‘her ministers’ would do for the country in a steady voice with steady hands holding the script.

Top on this list was fast recovery from the pandemic followed by environmental, health and educational betterment. She hid signs of emotion that would have battered her because for almost seven decades she came in with her beloved Philip by her side at this ceremony.

Cass took courage from this marvelous woman.

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