By Dr Nihal D Amerasekera
In 1958 my father moved to Kolonnawa. We could see the Government Factory from our verandah. The factory chimneys spewed smoke all day and all night. We lived constantly under this cloud of pollutants. At the edge of our property was a tall perimeter fence of the Kolonnawa Oil Installation. For three years we lived next to this ‘time bomb’ which could ignite any minute with devastating consequences. In those days we believed the Government was trustworthy and worked for the benefit of the people. We’ve been let down so many times.
After 10 long years at Wesley College I had reached the top of the pile. Now I was a sixth former and a prefect with all its trappings of prestige and privileges. The science laboratories were my domain for a formidable and forbidding two years.
The time between 1960 and 1962 was a crucial period in my life when I was engulfed by darkness and despair. It is a weird experience to allow those years to flash before my eyes once again. Then I was a pimple faced, self-conscious teenager with raging hormones chasing my dream to become a doctor. Soon after I had overcome the challenges of a plethora of subjects at the GCE O-levels, I was thrust into the sixth form to sit for the most competitive exam of my life. During those two years all I saw were the laboratories, classrooms and the fragile landscape of the four walls of my bedroom which was also my study. I have often worked deep into the night going on until I heard a lone cockerel heralding the dawn.
I grew up in a loving family. In the best traditions of good parenthood, they made me eminently aware of the struggles of life. They also impressed on me that my future lay in my own hands. There was no huge inheritance to receive. I recall their advice with genuine and touching affection. I embarked on my perilous journey with the acquired stoicism of my father’s tough upbringing and the inherited steely competitiveness of my mother’s Kandyan ancestry. The great and the good persuaded me that the hardships endured to pursue a career in medicine was a worthwhile goal with rich rewards.
I began my journey mindful of the tough times ahead. On looking back I couldn’t describe my feelings better than Charles Dickens in his epic ‘A Tale of Two Cities’:
“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of light, it was the season of darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair.”
I offered Botany, Zoology, Physics and Chemistry for the examination. The syllabuses were huge and the task just monumental. Each of the subjects had a theory paper and a practical examination conducted by the University of Ceylon. The examination was held at the end of the year with the results posted to the candidates around April the following year. The successful candidates were called for a Viva Voce examination held at the University at Reid Avenue. There was a Medical School in Colombo and another at Peradeniya. The total intake was 300 students per year. To say the entry into the medical schools was fiercely competitive is a gross understatement.
The examination papers were the same for all the students. The practical exam however was a lottery when some had an easier time than others. The teaching and the facilities provided by the schools varied immensely. Hence the examination was not on a level playing field. This resulted in a thriving private tuition industry. Tuition soon became regarded as a vital prerequisite for a successful outcome. Teaching students at weekends and evenings, the tutors became widely known, respected and revered. They earned a small fortune on tuition.
Although I would have benefited enormously from private tuition, with my demanding and strenuous regime of study I just couldn’t find the hours in the day to fit them in. This indeed dented my confidence somewhat. I took every opportunity to speak with those who were successful in previous years to learn the shrewd tricks and the essential do’s and don’ts.
My bedroom had a large window. As I pored over my books this was my only contact with the outside world. I could hear the birds sing all day. In the evening the sun came streaming through. The noise of the children playing at the bottom of the road brought some life into my soul. Buxom ladies gossiped and sang while having a bath at the communal well. I was loathed to shut the window even as the monsoon rains lashed the glass pane, not wanting to lose my world beyond.
Meanwhile, outside my bubble, there was a vibrant world of teenage fun. It was indeed the swinging sixties. There were parties at weekends with the luxury of drinks and dancing. Mini-skirts were the craze and we all craved for the company of the opposite sex. Some went on trips to the beach and visited the cinema. The fun continued at a furious pace by those studying the arts and sciences and also by a few bold aspiring medics.
I’ve always been an avid follower of school cricket but sadly this wasn’t possible now. I loved music and listened to the radio in short bursts while my collection of 45 RPM vinyl records gathered dust. These pleasures were sacrificed hoping for better times ahead. I was eminently aware of the wisdom of the age-old proverb “There is many a slip between the cup and the lip”.
I worked tremendously hard in those two years to give it my best shot. The examination came and went like a tornado. I was never one to be satisfied of my performance at examinations, but was delighted that it was all over at least for now. I slowly slipped back in to the calm and lazy life I was used to enjoying school cricket at weekends, visiting family and friends and going to the cinema. Once again loud music filled our home.
Time soon passed. I was pleasantly surprised to receive a letter from the University asking me to present myself for the Viva Voce examination. This was held at the Senate Room of the University at Reid Avenue. It was a nerve-wracking experience. Seated around a polished wooden table in a poorly lit room were half a dozen grumpy elderly academics. As I walked in they observed me intently and fired a barrage of questions. They were polite but poker faced all through my ordeal. I was so pleased to be released into the afternoon sun.
My debut performance was a success. By the end of the challenge I was physically and mentally exhausted. I found this a most remarkable achievement against all the odds. I thank my parents for their encouragement, love and wise counsel. This wouldn’t have been ever possible without the dedication of my teachers and the inclusive all-round education at Wesley College, Colombo.I recall most vividly the euphoria on being a doctor in 1967. I dreamed it was a passport to fame and fortune. There was such a great sense of myopic optimism, I lost myself in the adulation. Life always has ways to bring us back to reality!!
Tempus fugit. Time passed swiftly and relentlessly. I spent a marathon of 40 years in medicine. Then, I looked forward to retirement with the same excitement and euphoria as to the beginning of my career. It is devastating to give up the profession knowing how hard I’ve worked to achieve my youthful aspirations. I left the medical profession with a heavy heart but also happy to be free again. Life is better without the night calls and the onerous routines of a hospital doctor. The long years of toil has taken its toll, but I have emerged more philosophical, having witnessed the spectrum of human life from cradle to grave.
In the calm of my retirement, I continue to embrace all that life has to offer: family, my passion for sport, music and support for my burgeoning interest in technology. Still there is a part of me that harks back to the times passed. Despite the good life I’ve enjoyed thus far, there is a vague sense of yearning for those two teenage years lost when I was in solitary confinement. I became a prisoner of conscience to those grandiose and extravagant ambitions of my youth. As I convey my sense of disillusion of those years, I now wonder how on earth I coped with it all so young. It also gives me a tremendous sense of achievement and accomplishment.
Credibility in governance through elections and not security forces
By Jehan Perera
President Ranil Wickremesinghe’s warning that he is prepared to declare a state of national emergency and use the military to suppress any public protests for change of government would reflect the pressures he is under. The manner in which he has used the security forces to deal with the protest movement has been unexpected. His words and deeds are contradictory to what he has previously stood for as a five-time former prime minister. This is especially true in the case of the ethnic and religious minorities who have consistently voted for him and his party at elections. They have felt safer and more secure under his governments which always sought to reduce the heavy hand of state oppression in which national security is given pride of place. He has always promised them much though he has been unable to deliver on much of what he promised.
Notwithstanding the unfortunate rhetoric and actions of the present time the belief still persists that President Wickremesinghe is the best of the available options. Recent pronouncements of the president have reignited hope that he will address the problems of the religious and ethnic minorities. He has stated that he does not want to leave this problem to the next generation. He has said that he wants to resolve this intractable national problem by the country’s 75th independence anniversary on February 4 next year. The hope that the president will make a fresh effort to resolve their problems has led the main Tamil party, the TNA, to desist from voting against the budget which passed with a relatively small majority. Their spokesperson, M A Sumanthiran said in Parliament that due to the president reaching out to them, stretching out his hand, they did not vote against the budget although they disagreed with it.
It is not only in words that the president has reached out to the ethnic and religious minorities. Reports from the north and east indicate that the Maveer (Heroes) Day commemorations this year took place without incident. During the past two years scores of people were arrested and a massive presence of security forces blocked the people from participating in public events. On this occasion the security forces did not get involved in any attempt to stop the commemorations. University students distributed sweets and even cut a birthday cake to celebrate slain LTTE leader Velupillai Prabhakaran’s birthday. The analogy that the president drew to himself being seen as a Hitler who exterminated ethnic and religious minorities is misplaced. The release of those held under the Prevention of Terrorism Act for engaging in similar acts in the past would further contribute to the reconciliation process.
In this context, the president’s use of militaristic rhetoric can only be understood in relation to the growing economic crisis that shows no sign of abating. The anticipated IMF bailout package is at risk of getting indefinitely delayed. It was initially anticipated to come in September then in November but now January is being targeted. Japan’s top brokerage and investment bank, Nomura Holdings Inc, has warned that seven countries – Egypt, Romania, Sri Lanka, Turkey, Czech Republic, Pakistan and Hungary – are now at a high risk of currency crises. Sri Lanka is in third place on the table of risk. The next devaluation of the rupee could see another spike in inflation that will make the cost of living even more unbearable to the masses of people.
The president is on record as having said that the economic crisis will get worse before it improves. Both anecdotal and statistical evidence indicates that it is indeed worsening. University teachers at the University of Sabaragamuwa reported that attendance in their classes was down by at least a quarter. Students who come from other parts of the country are unable to afford the cost of meals and so they stay at home. A study by the Institute of Policy Studies has shown that about four percent of primary, 20 percent of secondary and 26 percent of collegiate students had dropped out of school in the estate sector, which is the worst affected. The future costs to the country of a less well educated population is incalculable and inhumane.
As it is the situation is a dire one for large swathes of the population. Research from the University of Peradeniya has revealed that close to half of Sri Lanka’s population, 42 percent (up from 14 percent in 2019) are living under the poverty line. Professor of Economics Wasantha Athukorala has said there is a dramatic increase in the poverty level of over three-hold across the past three years. In 2019, nearly 3 million people lived below the poverty line, but that number has increased to 9.6 million in October 2022. In these adverse circumstances stability in a polity can be ensured either through legitimacy or through force. It would be tragic if the latter is the choice that is made.
President Wickremesinghe has been stressing the importance of political stability to achieve economic development. His recent statement that the security forces will be used to negate any unauthorised protest is a sign that the government expects the conditions of economic hardship to escalate. The general public who are experiencing extreme economic hardship are appalled at the manner in which those who committed acts of corruption and violence in the past are being overlooked because they belong to the ruling party and its cliques. The IMF has made anti-corruption a prerequisite to qualify for a bailout, calling for “Reducing corruption vulnerabilities through improving fiscal transparency and public financial management, introducing a stronger anti-corruption legal framework, and conducting an in-depth governance diagnostic, supported by IMF technical assistance.”
It is morally unacceptable even if politically pragmatic that the president is failing to take action against the wrongdoers because he needs their votes in parliament. As a start, the president needs to appoint a credible and independent national procurement committee to ensure that major economic contracts are undertaken without corruption. Second, the president needs to bite the bullet on elections. The country’s burning issues would be better accepted by the country and world at large if they are being dealt with by a statesman than by a dictator. Government that is based on the people’s consent constitutes the sum and substance of democracy. This consent is manifested through free and fair elections that are regularly held. Local government elections have been postponed for a year and are reaching their legal maximum in terms of postponement. These elections need to be held before March next year.
Elections will enable the people to express their views in a democratic manner to elect their representatives for the present. This would provide the government with guidance in terms of the decisions it is being called to take to revive the economy and place the burden in a manner that will be acceptable to the people. The provincial council elections have been postponed since 2018. Democratically elected provincial councils share in the burdens of governance. The devolution of power that took place under the 13th Amendment was meant to promote ethnic harmony in the country. The president who has taken the position that he is for a solution to the ethnic conflict should seriously consider conducting the provincial council elections together with the local government elections se their financial costs. By doing so he will also gain legitimacy as a democratic statesman and not a dictator.
WEDNESDAY – Movie Review
The Addams Family is back with a new tale to tell! Originally created by Charles Addams as a comic strip published in The New Yorker, it offered readers a sarcastic take on the ‘typical nuclear family’ by substituting it with a more macabre bunch of strange and eerie individuals. Since then the titular family has been adapted on to the big screen many times, from live action movies to animated versions, the Addams Family has gained many fans throughout the years. Created by Alfred Gough and Miles Millar, with Tim Burton working on four episodes of the eight-part series, Wednesday is a welcoming tale for young fans, but unfortunately fails to think outside the box and remains anchored to the floor with a messy storyline.
Dead-eyed Wednesday Addams (Jenna Ortega) is a stubborn, independent and intelligent teenager in this new series. Her penchant for attracting trouble wherever she goes alarms her parents, Morticia (Catherine Zeta-Jones) and Gomez (Luis Guzmán). With an already strained relationship with her parents (specifically her mother), Wednesday is enrolled at Nevermore, an academy for outcasts like herself. Having attended the academy themselves, Morticia and Gomez are hopeful that their daughter will ‘fit right in’. Caught between trying to build her own identity and other teenage complexities, Wednesday soon finds herself in the middle of a twisted mystery.
This is the first time audiences are introduced to a teenage Wednesday, which allowed the creators to build a new world on their own terms, but while keeping true to the original nature of the character. The creators do a fair amount of world building by introducing other outcasts like the Fangs (vampires), Stoners (Gorgons), Scales (sirens) and Furs (werewolves), among others. Nevermore Academy itself is beautiful and comes with the classic package of creepy crypts, hidden rooms and secret societies. The series also offers a decent amount of gore, although they could have added more given Wednesday’s proclivity for gore-related activities. The series deals with classic young-adult tropes which includes teenage crushes, bullies, relationships and even prom, among other things. The series navigates through Wednesday’s journey of self-discovery, which is a new avenue for both the character and the fans. From understanding and displaying her emotions to discovering her identity and understanding her peers, the series takes a deep dive into heavy material.
Ortega’s performance as the titular character plays a major role in keeping audiences glued to the screen. This is also the first time viewers are shown a teenage Wednesday Addams, which works to Ortega’s benefit as she depicts more dimensions to the ghoulish, morose character many are associated with based on previous renditions. Her facial expressions and ability to deliver on seriously emotional moments strengthens her role as the lead. The rest of the Addams Family, even with limited screen time, lack the eccentricities their characters should have. Hopeless romantics Morticia and Gomez seem incompatible in this version and Uncle Fester is far less crazy than he ought to be. The only member worth mentioning is the Thing—a severed hand— who brought more character and spirit to the series acting alongside Ortega. With barely any room to develop a majority of the characters are prosaic and tedious, even though they remain vital to the plot.
Apart from Ortega, Gwendoline Christie and Emma Myers deserve honorable mentions for their roles as Nevermore’s head teacher, Larissa Weems and the peppy Enid Sinclair respectively. Enid quickly became a fan favorite as the character was the polar opposite to Wednesday. Her character is vital to Wednesday’s character development and their journey to find common ground as mismatched individuals is amusing.
Christina Ricci who played Wednesday in the 90s returns as ‘normie’ teacher, Miss Thornhill and unfortunately barely stands out and this in large part due to the messy storyline. The series is bogged down with numerous subplots and overlapping tropes and the characters with potential for growth are completely overlooked. With love triangles, bullies and killer monsters on the loose, the series self-destructs and the climax sinks into disappointment.
At the end of the day, Wednesday plays to the beat of the new generation and touches on new themes, which is welcoming seeing as the character should grow up at some point. While not everyone may relate to Wednesday’s teenage perils, it is interesting to witness her growth and her journey as an ‘outcast’ or ‘weirdo’. And while Wednesday doesn’t exactly offer a distinctly unique story, it gives audiences a small taste of what Jenna Ortega’s Wednesday is capable of. Creating a story around a well-established franchise is a difficult task, and in this case the creators fail to add value to their visions. If the series continues, the creators will have the opportunity to think further outside the box and push the limits to Wednesday’s character and give audiences a bone-chilling experience. Wednesday is currently streaming on Netflix.
Stage set for… AWESOME FRIDAY
The past few weeks have been a very busy period for the new-look Mirage outfit…preparing themselves for their big night – Friday, December 2nd – when they would perform, on stage, for the very first time, as Donald Pieries (leader/vocals/drums), Benjy (bass), Niro Wattaladeniya (guitar), Viraj Cooray (guitar/vocals), Asangi Wickramasinghe (keyboard/vocals), along with their two frontline female vocalist, Sharon (Lulu) and Christine.
They have thoroughly immersed themselves in their practice sessions as they are very keen to surprise their fans, music lovers, and well-wishers, on opening night…at the Peacock, Berjaya Hotel, in Mount Lavinia.
Action starts at 8.00 pm and, thereafter, it will be five hours of great music, along with EFFEX DJs Widhara and Damien, interspersed with fun and excitement…for the whole family!
Yes, opening night is for the whole family, so you don’t need to keep some of your family members at home – kids, especially.
Working on their repertoire for Friday, bassist Benjy says “what we will dish out will be extra special, with lots of action on stage.”
It would be interesting to see Sharon (Lulu) doing her thing with Mirage, after her early days with the Gypsies, and, I’m told, a dynamic performance from Sharon is what is in store for all those who make it to the Peacock this Friday
While the band was at one of their practice sessions, last week, they had a surprise visitor – Edward (Eddy) Joseph, a former member of the group Steelers, who is now based in Germany.
Eddy is here on a short visit and is scheduled to return to Germany, tomorrow (30).
He spent an hour with Mirage, at their practice session, and says he is disappointed that he would not be around for the group’s opening night.
However, there is a possibility of several well-known personalities, in the showbiz scene, turning up, on Friday night, to experience the sounds of the new-look Mirage, including Sohan Weerasinghe and Joey Lewis (from London).
Rajiv Sebastian, too, says he is keen to be a part of the fun-filled evening.
You could contact Benjy, on 0777356356, if you need to double check…their plans for AWESOME FRIDAY!
Embassy officer arrested at BIA remanded
Easter Sunday terror attack suspect hacked to death
Rail service between Mahawa and Jaffna to be suspended for five months
‘Dates have the highest sugar content to fight Coronavirus’
Sunday Island 27 December – Headlines
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