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The inevitable condition of ageing

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The best answer to the moan/groan/complaint/resigned sigh of getting old is to quote the fundamental truth of life as pronounced by the Buddha – jaati, jara, marana translated to: birth, decay, and death; or birth, aging, and death. There is absolutely no turning back the clock of aging, so we might as well accept the fact with equanimity.

The Britannica article on old age and its social consequences starts thus:

“Old age, also called senescence, in human beings, is the final stage of the normal life span. Definitions of old age are not consistent from the standpoints of biology, demography (conditions of mortality and morbidity) employment and retirement and sociology. For statistical and public administrative purposes, however, old age is frequently defined as 60 or 65 years of age and older.”

Why I write this Sunday on ageing is because of a new naming practice in Japan which I gathered from a Wall Street Journal article titled In Aging Japan, under 75 is the New

‘Pre-old’. That’s good news, isn’t it, to the oldies who read me?

Japan hikes its term ‘old’

‘Pre-old’ and ‘late-stage elderly’ is the terminology suggested by both the Japan Gerontological Society and the Japan Geriatrics Society, which say the 65 to74-year range now should be called “pre-old age.” The government says the idea is worth looking into and has modified its annual White Paper on the Elderly to make clear it isn’t necessarily calling people in their 60s elderly.

“Japan is by far the world’s oldest nation, with more than 29% of the population 65 or older, compared with 17% in the US and 21% in Europe… The birthrate is still falling and immigration has nearly ground to a halt with Covid-19. Linguistically, however, Japan is at the forefront of change. Millions of people have learned they no longer are old, but merely ‘pre-old.’” The writer goes on to cite examples. “Isao Oshima, 82, of Nagano would be considered elderly even under the revised definitions or perhaps ‘late-stage elderly’, a term used currently for those 75 and older.”

Nagano, site of the 1998 Winter Olympics, used the new definition to reduce the proportion of its population classified as elderly to just 16%, from 30% under the old definition, making it one of the youngest cities in Japan. And thus the article quotes persons like a woman of 64 – Ms. Kobayashi – who makes crafts and prepares lunch boxes, getting up at 3.00 a m to get to her workplace. Her husband, Yuichi, 67, retired from a factory job, is far less energetic than his wife but works part-time in a department store and says that he is determined to outlive his grandfather who died at 67 but looked a frail 80 years.

Referring to Ms Kobayashi, “The good news is that so long as she stays in Nagano, she won’t be elderly next year, or even in 2030. The city, eager to keep its older residents active, has redefined the word so that only those 75 and older qualify to be labeled ‘elderly.’ ‘I think it’s a natural move, because people in their 60s are much younger than I had imagined before,’ Ms. Kobayashi said.”

As in the U.S. and other developed nations, Japan has been nudging up the age at which pensioners can receive full benefits. In April, a revised employment law took effect, telling large employers they should offer workers a place until they turn 70, up from the previous government-sanctioned retirement age of 65. The government says that this is meant to protect the right of people to keep working and isn’t a stealth way of making everyone work full time until their 70s.

A part-time farmer 38, also in Nagano says he plans to work through his 70s as many Japanese farmers do. “We say here that a person in his 40s or 50s is still a child with a runny nose, and people in their 60s and 70s are in the prime of their careers.”

The situation in Sri Lanka

“In between 1981 and 2012, the proportion of population aged 60 years and above has increased from 6.6% to 12.4%. The median age of the Sri Lankan population has also increased from 21.4 years to 31.0 years for the same period, which is much higher than other countries in the South Asian region.” (from Internet)

Some contend that our grandfathers and great grandfathers lived much healthier and longer lives, proposing the stress of the present rat-race was absent and they ate better and healthier food – less or no flesh and fowl; more home grown vegetables and fruit. Yes, pandemics were also absent and nature did not step in as now with disturbance to monsoons, sudden droughts and floods. But those long lived persons were rare cases, while the norm is that people now stay healthy to around the 70s and many pass their 90th year, able and active.

Personally I disagree with the above contention that modern change and advancement have been detrimental to people’s health as long as they know the dangers and take precautionary or corrective measures. As regards health, medicines and advances in surgery and investigation make for prolongation of the life span.

Retirement in Sri Lanka

The retirement age varies in public and private sectors, and many now work after official retirement on temporary or consultancy basis. The age of retirement as recognized by the EPF was 50 for women and 55 for men. In November 2020, the then Finance Minister, PM Mahinda Rajapaksa, proposed doing away with different ages and making it 60 years for all. (Life expectancy for men is 72 and women 77).

A strong argument of mine is that retirement at 60 years is an absurd cut off point. Speaking for women, I am certain, we are able to give of ourselves more to jobs and careers from 55 to 75, for some even longer. Child bearing, menopause, emotional stresses due to marriage and children are mostly done with and over, leaving the woman better adjusted and less a victim to debilitating emotions. Hence her increase in wisdom through experience and commitment to her work outside of home makes her a better worker.

We too should adjust nomenclature like Nagano has done. Women definitely show signs of age earlier than men. Very unfortunate but true. Apart from biology, even perceptions are prejudiced against women. A man is usually said to grow mature, statelier, even more handsome as hair turns salt and pepper, and face lines are identified as those of greater personality. Absurd! The middle of most Sri Lankan men is overlooked in these prejudiced judgments. The moment a woman’s hair begins silvering and she is averse to colouring it, she is labeled old and very soon she is ancient, even senile. These last two terms should be banned.

I end with three quotes I consider apt. Ingrid Bergman, that wonderful woman of passion and ability said: “Getting old is like climbing a mountain; you get a little out of breath, but the view is much better!” So true since a woman is now more on her own – widowed earlier or out from under the wing of husband /brother/son and more independent and so, much more herself. Jimmy Buffet (not the philanthropist but an American singer-writer, actor and businessman; 1946 -) declares “Wrinkles will always go where smiles have been” meaning, I suppose, that smiles convert themselves to wrinkles so why worry, as smiling was a good habit. John Lennon said “Count your age by friends, not years. Count your life by smiles, not tears.” Plenty of philosophy in that, especially because friends and happy association keeps one young. The times to remember and reflect over are the good times enjoyed and not the bad suffered; in short optimism, good thoughts and fellow feeling keep one young though advancing in years. An encouraging remark dished out is: You are as old as you feel. Never mind your biological age. So true!



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Features

Encouraging signs, indeed!

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Derek and Manilal

Local entertainers can now breathe a sigh of relief…as the showbiz scene is showing signs of improving

Yes, it’s good to see Manilal Perera, the legendary singer, and Derek Wikramanayake, teaming up, as a duo, to oblige music lovers…during this pandemic era.

They will be seen in action, every Friday, at the Irish Pub, and on Sundays at the Cinnamon Grand Lobby.

The Irish Pub scene will be from 7.00 pm onwards, while at the Cinnamon Grand Lobby, action will also be from 7.00 pm onwards.

On November 1st, they are scheduled to do the roof top (25th floor) of the Movenpik hotel, in Colpetty, and, thereafter, at the same venue, every Saturday evening.

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Constructive dialogue beyond international community

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by Jehan Perera

Even as the country appears to be getting embroiled in more and more conflict, internally, where dialogue has broken down or not taken place at all, there has been the appearance of success, internationally. President Gotabaya Rajapaksa will be leading a delegation this week to Scotland to attend the UN Climate Change Conference (COP26). Both the President, at the UN General Assembly in New York, and Foreign Minister Prof G L Peiris, at the UN Human Rights Council, in Geneva seem to have made positive impacts on their audiences and, especially amongst the diplomatic community, with speeches that gave importance to national reconciliation, based on dialogue and international norms.

In a recent interview to the media Prof Peiris affirmed the value of dialogue in rebuilding international relations that have soured. He said, “The core message is that we believe in engagement at all times. There may be areas of disagreement from time to time. That is natural in bilateral relations, but our effort should always be to ascertain the areas of consensus and agreement. There are always areas where we could collaborate to the mutual advantage of both countries. And even if there are reservations with regard to particular methods, there are still abundant opportunities that are available for the enhancement of trade relations for investment opportunities, tourism, all of this. And I think this is succeeding because we are establishing a rapport and there is reciprocity. Countries are reaching out to us.”

Prof Peiris also said that upon his return from London, the President would engage in talks locally with opposition parties, the TNA and NGOs. He spoke positively about this dialogue, saying “The NGOs can certainly make a contribution. We like to benefit from their ideas. We will speak to opposition political parties. President Gotabaya Rajapaksa is going to meet the Tamil National Alliance on his return from COP26, which we will attend at the invitation of the British Prime Minister. So be it the NGO community or the foreign diaspora or the parliamentary opposition in Sri Lanka. We want to engage with all of them and that is very much the way forward”

INTERNAL FRAGMENTATION

The concept of a whole-of-government approach is indicative of a more cohesive approach to governance by government ministries, the public administration and state apparatus in general to deal with problems. It suggests that the government should not be acting in one way with the international community and another way with the national community when it seeks to resolve problems. It is consistency that builds trust and the international community will trust the government to the extent that the national community trusts it. Dialogue may slow down decision making at a time when the country is facing major problems and is in a hurry to overcome them. However, the failure to engage in dialogue can cause further delays due to misunderstanding and a refusal to cooperate by those who are being sidelined.

There are signs of fragmentation within the government as a result of failure to dialogue within it. A senior minister, Susil Premajayantha, has been openly critical of the ongoing constitutional reform process. He has compared it to the past process undertaken by the previous government in which there was consultations at multiple levels. There is a need to change the present constitutional framework which is overly centralised and unsuitable to a multi ethnic, multi religious and plural society. More than four decades have passed since the present constitution was enacted. But the two major attempts that were made in the period 1997-2000 and again in 2016-2019 failed.

President Rajapaksa, who has confidence in his ability to stick to his goals despite all obstacles, has announced that a new constitution will be in place next year. The President is well situated to obtain success in his endeavours but he needs to be take the rest of his government along with him. Apart from being determined to achieve his goals, the President has won the trust of most people, and continues to have it, though it is getting eroded by the multiple problems that are facing the country and not seeing a resolution. The teachers’ strike, which is affecting hundreds of thousands of schoolchildren, is now in its fourth month, with no sign of resolution. The crisis over the halting of the import of chemical fertiliser is undermining the position of farmers and consumers at the present time.

EARLY WARNING

An immediate cause for the complaints against the government is the lack of dialogue and consultation on all the burning issues that confront the country. This problem is accentuated by the appointment of persons with military experience to decision-making positions. The ethos of the military is to take decisions fast and to issue orders which have to be carried out by subordinates. The President’s early assertion that his spoken words should be taken as written circulars reflects this ethos. However, democratic governance is about getting the views of the people who are not subordinates but equals. When Minister Premajayantha lamented that he did not know about the direction of constitutional change, he was not alone as neither does the general public or academicians which is evidenced by the complete absence of discussion on the subject in the mass media.

The past two attempts at constitutional reform focused on the resolution of the ethnic conflict and assuaging the discontent of the ethnic and religious minorities. The constitutional change of 1997-2000 was for the purpose of providing a political solution that could end the war. The constitutional change of 2016-19 was to ensure that a war should not happen again. Constitutional reform is important to people as they believe that it will impact on how they are governed, their place within society and their equality as citizens. The ethnic and religious minorities will tend to prefer decentralised government as it will give them more power in those parts of the country in which they are predominant. On the other hand, that very fact can cause apprehension in the minds of the ethnic and religious majority that their place in the country will be undermined.

Unless the general public is brought aboard on the issue of constitutional change, it is unlikely they will support it. We all need to know what the main purpose of the proposed constitutional reform is. If the confidence of the different ethnic and religious communities is not obtained, the political support for constitutional change will also not be forthcoming as politicians tend to stand for causes that win them votes. Minister Premajayantha has usefully lit an early warning light when he said that politicians are not like lamp posts to agree to anything that the government puts before them. Even though the government has a 2/3 majority, this cannot be taken for granted. There needs to be buy in for constitutional reform from elected politicians and the general public, both from the majority community and minorities, if President Rajapaksa is to succeed where previous leaders failed.

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JAYASRI twins…in action in Europe

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The world over, the music scene has been pretty quiet, and we all know why. This pandemic has created untold hardships for, practically, everyone, and, the disturbing news is that, this kind of scene has been predicted for a good part of 2022, as well,

 

The band JAYASRI, however, based in Europe, and fronted by the brothers Rohitha and Rohan, say they are fortunate to find work coming their way.

Over the past few months, they have been performing at some of the festivals, held in Europe, during the summer season.

Says Rohitha: “As usual, we did one of the biggest African festivals in Europe, AfrikaTage, and some other summer events, from July up to now. Some were not that big, as they used to be, due to the pandemic, health precautions, etc.”

For the month of October, JAYASRI did some concerts in Italy, with shows in the city of Verona, Napoli, Rome, Padova and Milano.

The twins with the
late Sunil Perera

On November, 12th, the JAYASRI twins, Rohitha and Rohan, will be at EXPO Dubai 2020 and will be performing live in Dubai.

Rohitha also indicated that they have released their new single ‘SARANGANA,’ describing it as a Roots Reggae song, in audio form, to all download platforms, and as a music video to their YouTube channel – www.youtube.com/user/jayasri

According to Rohitha, this song will be featured in an action drama.

The lyrics for ‘SARANGANA,’ were created by Thushani Bulumulle, music by JAYASRI, and video direction by Chamara Janaraj Pieris.

There will be two audio versions, says Rohitha – a Radio Mix and a DUB Mix by Parvez.

The JAYASRI twins Rohitha and Rohan

After their Italian tour, Rohitha and Rohan are planning to come to Sri Lanka, to oblige their many fans, and they are hoping that the showbiz scene would keep on improving so that music lovers could experience a whole lot of entertainment, during the forthcoming festive season.

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