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The inseparables in white



Navy and Custom officers wear white uniforms. The relationship between the two old services are also unique. When we seize contraband smuggled by sea routes, we hand it to the Customs for public auction. We get a part of the revenue to government earns, as ‘catch money’ in appreciation of our good work.

Sometimes, in bigger raids conducted on intelligence/information received by the Customs, we help the Customs officers happily as we know our names are also included in ‘catch money list’.

Most of the senior Customs officers have sweet memories of their first posting at Talaimannar. Even though defunct today, Talaimannar was a busy landing point when the India- Sri Lanka railway connection was there through the ferry named Ramnujam.

Young Customs officers, especially new cadets had to serve in Talaimannar obviously because of rough living conditions there. However, I am yet to meet a Customs officer who complains of harsh conditions there. They all had happy and an enjoyable posting at Talaimannar, and their stay there stood them in good stead where promotions were concerned.

An interesting chapter on the Naval Detachment at Talaimannar is found in ‘Spit and Polish’ by Kalakeerthi Carl Muller, our own award-winning writer and poet—he was in the Royal Ceylon and Sri Lanka Navy for very long time serving in our Communications branch.

By the time we joined the Navy in 1980, the naval detachment had been withdrawn from Talaimannar; the Ramnujam ferry had stopped operating. The SL Customs locked their properties and moved its officers to Colombo.


Surprise message

On 19 March 1985, while I was serving as the OIC of Naval Detachment Nagadeepa, I received a message asking me to report to CO of our main base SLNS Elara, in Karainagar. I was a young Sub Lieutenant. I wondered what wrong I had committed. As far as I knew the Chief Incumbent of Nagadeepa Purana Raja Maha Viharaya, Most Ven. Rajakeeya Panditha Brhammanawatte Dhammaketti Tissa Thera had highly recommended me. If so, why was that call?

When I met CO Elara, he explained, “Ravi, as you have established the Nagadeepa detachment so well, I can run it with some other officer. Further, I can always visit there at short time. I want to give you a bigger task.

“The Navy Headquarters wants us to set up a detachment at Talaimannar at the request of the army. It is a different terrain with different living conditions. I want you to be the OIC of this new Naval Detachment in Talaimannar. The Army will provide you with food, etc. I will give you 16 sailors and one senior sailor. The gunboat of Lt Commander S G Weerasinghe is ready to take you to Talaimannar.”


That’s how the Navy re-established its detachment at Talaimannar !

Thanks to the Army, I received two brand new boats fitted with two 40 HP outboard mortars. I shifted to the Customs housing Complex in Talaimannar

The Customs Headquarters had been kind enough to hand over it properties to us on a temporary basis. We got five fully-furnished houses belonging to the Customs, and one very big house owned by Immigration Department as my office/Chalet cum Gymnasium. What a luxury!

We settled down to work immediately. Anticipating the next Rugby football season and with the intention of playing a full season for the Navy team without any injuries, I started long beach runs early in the morning and weight training at my personal gym in the evening. Fresh fish, shell fish and dry fish were plenty, thanks to the Army, we dined well. On Sunday, we had two glasses of thal toddy. The area was full of wild pigs.


Nightly ambushes

At nights we laid our ambushes at sand banks, discreetly reaching in our boats like fishermen and awaited for boats loaded with smuggling goods to pass by. Soon our stores were filled with sarees, sarongs, bundles of other clothes, zippers, etc., all smuggled from India. There were also video decks, television sets, other electronic goods, toilet soap and laundry soap caught while being smuggled to India. The more sleepless nights you spent on the sand banks of Talaimannar/Danuskodi area, the more smugglers you caught. The contraband, the boats used to smuggle them, outboard engines, etc., were confiscated and sold in public auction in Colombo by the Customs.

Catch money? Yes, the Customs were very efficient in getting us the catch money which we were entitled to as per Customs Ordinance. I thanked my CO SLNS Elara profusely for that enjoyable and well-paid job of catching smugglers.

Smugglers, however, were smart and did their best to avoid us, but we had our informants, who got their share of our catch money. So, the smuggler had their work cut out.


How much I earned as catch money

(Please, do not ask me the amounts I received. I don’t want to make you green with envy. All I can say is that the amount was huge.)

As the OIC of Naval Detachment Talaimannar during this eventful 15 months of my junior naval career, I became very rich! However, money was not that important for us at that age. What really mattered to us was the pleasure of catching smugglers. It was not only with informants that shared my money; I was the only one with a job among my classmates at the time. So, I incurred heavy expenses while on leave, especially during the rugby season, in Colombo.

This small detachment which Navy restarted in 1985, became a Commissioned Naval base (SLNS Thammena) in 1996. I was fortunate enough to Command it in 1997/8 as a Commander, and today it’s the Headquarters of North Central Naval Command Commanded by a senior officer of rank of Rear Admiral. I firmly believe in SBS motto, Fortune favours the brave.


Oldest Customs Ordinance in the world

You may be aware that the first Customs Ordinance in the world was established by a Sri Lankan King. It is the stone tablet inscription by King Gajabahu (114 to 136 AD) at the ancient Godawaya harbour near the Walawe estuary close to Hambantota; it carries an order that all dues from ships be donated to the Godawaya temple for its maintenance.

This ancient harbour functioned from 2nd Century AD to 12th Century AD on the ancient maritime Silk Route. A replica of this historical stone tablet is on display at the new SL Customs Museum in their Headquarters, Colombo.


Locating Godawaya shipwreck

In 2008, when I was the Commander Southern Naval Area, with a view to helping the newly formed Maritime Archeology unit of Archaeological department, I loaned to the Maritime Archaeology Unit in Galle, one of the Navy’s most qualified diving officers––Lt. Commander (then) H N S Perera, who received training in the US and China in salvage diving and served at the Royal Malaysian Diving School as a diving and salvage instructor. One of his missions was to find a wreck of very old (Anuradhapura Period) ship two miles off the Godawaya ancient port at a depth of 100 feet. The divers used SCUBA sets, which carry normal air. It is always advisable to use Helium-Oxygen mixture diving sets as SCUBA sets can be used only up to a depth of 90 metres.

HNS with two civilian Marine Archaeologists went in a civilian fishing boat on 21 October 2008 afternoon. The boat stopped where the wreck was supposed to be 100 feet below, and into the water they jumped without a lifeline from the boat or a surface supervisor, who is supposed to hold the boat at end of life line. Our divers traced the wreck. It was a invaluable finding for our Nation’s Maritime Archaeology!


Boat missing!

The divers found an ancient pot. When they surfaced after proper decompression stops in various depths to avoid ‘bends’, the boat was missing.

The boat had drifted away due to rough seas as the operator was an untrained civilian; he had not dropped the anchor, and therefore could not trace the divers.

HNS took command over two other divers. They ditched their diving equipment and started floating with the help of their inflated emergency life vests.

The emergency SOS was sent out. We deployed all available boats to rescue the divers. The Air Force helped us by sending a Bell 212 from Ratmalana.

Luckily, we were able to detect HNS and two other divers few minutes before Sunset and brought them safely ashore. They had held on to the priceless artifact (clay pot), knowing its archaeological value. Later, we found with the help of carbon dating (C- 14 dating test) that the pot belonged to 2nd Century AD.

HNS was very lucky. We would have lost him and others on that day. Whenever we meet, he always mentions this incident and thank me for the prompt SOS operation. So, our Customs have long history and been on the ancient Silk Route and later international shipping network hub; they have earned the major potion of the state revenue.

Today, we hear much about shipping laws and compensations for ship wrecks. Some of the ‘experts’ who take part in television interviews on the subject do not know what they are talking about, much less our maritime history.

We are a maritime nation. Our forefathers came by sea. But, sadly, we do not know our sea well.

King Parakramabahu I, (1123 to 1186 AD) wrote on a stone tablet how ships that got wrecked should pay dues to ancient port, Urattuturi (port of Kyts), as per their cargo. This tablet is now at the Nayanativu Naga Poosan Amman Koviil Museum. Thousands of years ago we had laws pertaining to compensation from those who owned the ships that sank near our ports. Today, we hire foreign legal consultants over such matters!

As per Annual Performance Report of Sri Lanka Customs 2018, former SL Customs Director General, Mrs P. S. M. Charles has said in her message, “During the year under review, (2018) SL Customs were able to secure tax revenue of Rs. 919.05 billion. This is 53.7% of total tax revenue of the government.

I will be failing in my duty if I do not mentioned Ravi junior for his diligent research work in to historical details.

Well done! Bravo Zulu to SL Customs !

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English in Mathematics



By R.N.A. de Silva


“Which subject did you have most difficulties with, having switched the medium of instruction from Sinhala to English?” I posed this question to a Sri Lankan student who was following a pre-University course in an educational institution in Hong Kong, having completed studies up to the GCE Ordinary Level programme in the Sinhala medium in a leading girls’ school in Colombo. “It is definitely mathematics,” she replied. Having served as a teacher for a long period of time at this educational institution with students from over 80 countries, I realised the above-mentioned view was shared by other students, too, who had to change the medium of instruction to English. This does not seem to make sense as one would have expected mathematics to be the easiest subject to follow as it has its own symbolic language. Why then has this situation arisen?

I would like to separate these difficulties into two categories:

1. Hastiness due to mindset

2. Vocabulary issues

Sometimes hastiness can automatically occur due to the mindset that mathematics should be easy to follow even if you change the medium of instruction as you are dealing with symbols. This attitude can cause enormous problems as students may skip instructions or avoid reading the question fully and concentrate only on the symbolic part of the problem

As an example, consider the following question.

The graphs of lines 3y = 5x + 1 and 2y = 7 – 3x intersect at point P. Find the coordinates of P.

Seeing the word ‘graphs’ and the two equations, a student maybe tempted to draw the graphs of the two lines and thereby find the point of intersection, which is a time-consuming affair. If it was read properly, the student could have noticed that the solution can be obtained by solving the two equations algebraically, which is much more efficient.

To a fast reader, obtaining the correct answer to the following question can be a problem as it may end up with just finding the value of x.

If 2x+3 = 5x-3, find the value of 2x+3.

The students need to be trained to read the question fully and understand what is required to be done, before attempting it.

The time spent to grasp the aim of the question is not wasted time.

Many children consider mathematics as an alien language consisting of symbols and expressions. Most of the difficulties that students encounter is related to vocabulary. The mathematical interpretation of the meaning of a word may differ from the meaning given to it in the English language. The word ‘find’ in mathematics means to obtain an answer showing the working while in the English language, it refers to discover or search. The following sketch shows the funny side of this difference.

Two of the words that has caused much confusion are ‘or’ and ‘and’.

In general usage, A or B is considered as either A or B but not both, as shown in picture.

However, in mathematics ‘A or B’ means ‘it can belong to A or B including intersection’. This is shown in picture.

The above, in normal usage is interpreted as ‘A and B’. However, in mathematics A and B refers to only what is common to A and B as shown in picture.

Here are the mathematical meanings of some of the other words which can have a different meaning with the English language definitions.


– Obtain the only possible answer


– Mark the position of points on a diagram

Write down

– Obtain the answer (Working need not be shown)


– A number that does not change


– Having the same shape but not the same size


– To show a result using known information


– A procedure such as addition, subtraction, multiplication, etc.


– A member of a set


– The extent of space occupied by a solid

The following illustrate some of the difficulties that the difference of meanings brings:

How odd these odd numbers are? The even numbers are even stranger.

Don’t be mean and help me to find the mean of these numbers.

Is right angle the right answer? Let me write it on the board.

The polysemous nature of some of the mathematical terms make it confusing for the students in the understanding of mathematical concepts. Mathematical terms have precise definitions to describe numerical relationships. At times these definitions resemble the everyday usage meaning but there are instances where the definitions notably differ. Consider ‘in general’ as an example. In mathematics there can be no exceptions to a result if it is considered to hold in general. However, in everyday usage, if a claim is said to be true in general, it would mean that it is true most of the time, but exceptions are possible.

To add to the problem, there are some terms such as ‘degree’ that can have many different meanings within mathematics while having a different meaning in everyday use. In mathematics, degree can refer to the measurement of an angle, the complexity of an algebraic equation and a unit of temperature.

Although mathematics deals essentially with symbols, it is taught through the medium of language which is the major means of communication. Students build understanding as they process ideas through language. It is important for students to give emphasis to the familiarisation with the mathematical vocabulary and at the same time understand the difference of meanings of terms mathematically and everyday usage. Teachers have an important role to play here in highlighting such terms and using them in different contexts for comfortable acclimatization. As Marcus Quintilianus quoted, “One should not aim at being possible to understand, but at being impossible to misunderstand.”

(The author is a senior mathematics examiner of the International Baccalaureate Organization and a member of the faculty of the Overseas School of Colombo.)



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Success with debut single



Fred-James Koch: Lots of airplay for ‘I’m Runnin’


Fred-James Koch seems to be more in the news, these days, than his illustrious father, Alston Koch.

The turning point in Fred-James career is, undoubtedly, the Hollywood film ‘Night Walk.’

His role in the film is two-fold – actor and singer.

It’s, in fact, his singing of the theme song, ‘I’m Runnin,’ that has generated quite a lot of excitement, among music lovers.

The song is now being heard, world-wide, over radio (in Sri Lanka, on Sun FM), while the video, too, has been seen by many, on social media.

An Australian magazine, ‘Music Injection,’ had this to say about Fred- James:

“Fred- James Koch has written an incredible theme song for the movie ‘Night Walk,’ called ‘I’m Runnin.’ Just released, this song is engaging and gives us a sense of urgency, as the song builds. Fred-James vocals have a unique tinge to them and with the video having scenes from ‘Night Walk,’ it encourages me to watch the movie. ‘I’m Runnin’ features AZ Sheriff.” – Jen.

Following the debut spin for ‘I’m Runnin,’ on The Music Director programme, on 88.3 Southern FM Melbourne, the track was also played on the All New Saturday Ausmosis programme.

And, guess what! It’s now No. 3 on the Australian Top 20 Download chart. and No. 2 on the Australian Top 20 Stream chart.



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Inklings of change in national reconciliation policy



By Jehan Perera


The government comfortably overcame a vote of no-confidence in one of its key ministers over the rise in the price of fuel.  Those who expected to have greater numbers supporting the no-confidence motion miscalculated that the apparent differences and rivalries within the government would be uppermost.  Any government, or institution for that matter, would have its internal differences.  The current government is better secured against these differences that might otherwise split it into different competing parts on account of the familial bonds that bind the leadership together.  The President, Prime Minister, newly appointed Finance Minister, as well as the former Speaker who is now Irrigation and Internal Security Minister, are closely knit brothers who have gone through trials and tribulations together. 

An iconic photograph of recent times would be the joy on (then) President Mahinda Rajapaksa’s face when he embraced his brother (then) Defence Secretary Gotabaya Rajapaksa shortly after the latter survived a suicide bomb attack at the height of the war.  The brothers, however, have different strengths and constituencies.  They have different groups who follow and advise them, and each of these groups would prefer if their leader was the first among equals.  President Gotabaya Rajapaksa’s comment that he has another eight years in which to achieve his goals has been widely discussed.  It would send a signal to others in the polity that it would be premature to gather around another member of the family at this time in anticipation that the baton would be passed on at the conclusion of the President’s current term in 2024.

On his part, the President has been promoting the institution he once served and to which most of his confidantes belonged or continue to belong.  The institution of the military is one where the closest of human bonds can be forged, because on the battlefield each depends on the other for their lives.  In his early period in office, the President has been promoting the military, both serving and retired, wherever he can, as ambassadors to foreign nations, as Covid health guideline monitors and as a supra grade of administrators in government departments.  It is often the case that those appointed to these positions are not the best suited to the tasks they have been set to do.  But the President evidently trusts them and they are his support base.  Unlike any other president in the past, President Gotabaya Rajapaksa is not a member of a political party.  Civil society organisations have periodically called for a non-party presidency who is non-partisan in decision making. 



However, there is a need to challenge the excesses.  The president’s pardoning of a soldier who was held by several courts, including the Supreme Court, to have deliberately killed children and (adults, eight in all), outside of the battlefield may be due to his conviction that loyalty to the military counts most.  However, the President is expected to uphold the system of checks and balances, and if he favours one institution at the expense of the others, it leads to a weakening of the entire structure of governance.  Another looming challenge is that posed to the autonomy of institutions of higher education and specifically the universities.  The government decision to vest the Kotelawala Defence University with powers to accredit other institutions of higher education is a threat to the freedom of thought and expression.  The military hierarchy who will head the KDU can be expected to have values that are important to the military, but not to democracy which is based on human rights.

The KDU law needs to be opposed as indeed the Federation of University Teachers Associations (FUTA) has urged along with opposition political parties.  At the same time there are other issues on which civil society can consider giving constructive support to governmental initiatives.  For instance, they do not engage with NGOs who provide a variety of services complementing the work of the government. The most important of these is the national reconciliation process.  There are indications that the government is shifting its stance on the issues of post-war reconciliation.  President Gotabaya Rajapaksa’s election victory on a highly nationalist platform won him a big majority of votes of the Sinhalese ethnic majority.  The government felt empowered to publicly declare its intention to withdraw from the post-war reconciliation process initiated by its predecessor government with support from the international community.  This was followed by withdrawal from UNHRC resolution 30/1 of 2015 co-sponsored by the previous government. 

However, the four subsequent internationally driven resolutions against Sri Lanka, emanating from Geneva (UNHRC), Ottawa (Ontario Parliament), Washington DC (US Congress) and Brussels (EU Parliament) seem to have led to a serious rethink within the government about its policy towards post-war reconciliation.  All four make human rights and the ethnic conflict their centerpiece.  Though not yet publicly commented upon, the signs of change are two-fold.  The first is the increased visibility of the US Embassy in meeting with the leaders of the Tamil and Muslim parties.  The media has reported that US Embassy officials discussed issues of post-war reconciliation efforts, devolution of power, rule of law and the Prevention of Terrorism Act with SLMC leader Rauff Hakeem. Recently, a US Embassy delegation, led by Ambassador Alaina B. Teplitz, held similar discussions with TNA leader R. Sampanthan where the focus was on the proposed new Constitution.



The second sign of a change is the statement from the Presidential Secretariat announcing a recommendation, emanating from the President Commission of Inquiry for Appraisal of the Findings of Previous Commissions and Committees on Human Rights and the Way Forward headed by Justice AHMD Nawaz.  This is with regard to the EU call for the abolishing of the Prevention of Terrorism Act long seen by those promoting national security as part of the country’s first line of defence.  The Commission said that it cannot agree with calls for repealing the PTA but Sri Lanka’s anti-terrorism law should be reformed in line with similar laws in other countries, including the UK.  This would be aimed at affirming Sri Lankan sovereignty and national security interests, which are important to the government’s voter base, while complying with the requirements of the EU parliament which has called for the repeal of the PTA on the grounds that it violated human rights. 

The Presidential Secretariat statement also contains a significant section in which it mentioned that “It is the policy of the Government to work with the United Nations and its agencies to ensure accountability and human resource development in order to achieve lasting peace and reconciliation. The Government is committed to providing solutions for the issues to be resolved within the democratic and legal process and to ensure justice and reconciliation by implementing necessary institutional reforms.”  This is the first official indication that the Government is reconsidering its earlier position that it would blaze is own path with an indigenously generated reconciliation model which would not require international assistance. In this context it would be useful if the government focused closer attention to the achievement of the UN Sustainable Goals.

Veteran Tamil political leader V Anandasangaree, who has championed Tamil rights for a long time, and whose son is a Canadian parliamentarian, has referred to these recent developments and said that the President who holds the defence portfolio, Prime Minister and Finance Minister being members of Rajapaksa family could ensure genuine post-war reconciliation.  He also urged President Gotabaya Rajapaksa’s government not to leave the problem for a future administration to resolve, but address it now.  If the President is to successfully address the problem that has eluded a solution since independence, and been the biggest disaster to Sri Lanka’s development, he will need to broad base his support at multiple levels.  He will not only need the support of the ruling party, led by his brothers, as well as civil society, but also that of the ethnic minority parties and the opposition political parties.  This will require patience, dialogue and self-sacrifice, and the need to break from past and chart a reconciliatory course of action.

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