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Two centuries tick by on Dockyard clock



The Belfry Gate of the Trincomalee Naval Dockyard, a national architectural monument, is unknown to many. The once twin-towered belfry is now a single tower with its twin long gone. It has served as loyal timekeeper for sailors in the dockyard for 200 years and continues to do so

by Randima Attygalle

The strategically located natural deep water harbour in Trincomalee has been coveted by traders and colonists since ancient times. The earliest reference to this port of call once known as ‘Gokanna’ is found in Mahavamsa – the great chronicle of Sri Lanka. During the colonial days, Trincomalee or Trinco as it’s commonly called, was occupied by the Portuguese, Dutch, French and the British. The fort which was built by the Portuguese to keep rival sea faring nations at bay was expanded by the Dutch.

The British captured Trincomalee from the Dutch in 1795 during the Napoleonic Wars. Under the Treaty of Amiens of 1802, the Dutch ceded Ceylon to the British. H.A Colgate in his, The Royal Navy and Trincomalee- the history of their connection (The Ceylon Journal of Historical and Social Studies, Volume 1, Issue 1) documents that ‘in the days of sail, Trincomalee owed its importance to the variations of the monsoon, the prevailing winds in the Indian Ocean. A squadron defending India had to lie to the windward of the continent. It also required a safe harbour in which to shelter during the violent weather occasioned by the change of the monsoons in October and to a less extent in April. Only Trincomalee could fulfill these conditions. Thus its use was the key to the defence of India and the inestimably valuable British trade with India and China, which passed through the adjacent seas.’

The British used Trinco as an anchorage for Royal Navy ships in the Indian Ocean and when the steam powered ships were launched, the Royal Navy erected a coaling station to support bases throughout the British empire. Lieutenant Commander (Rtd) Somasiri Devendra, an authority on maritime archaeology, says that the Royal Navy constructed all its dockyard-related buildings along the coastline at the entrance to the port.

“The buildings were completed by 1812 and soon after this, the conclusion of the Napoleonic wars ended the threat to the Royal Navy from the French and the Dutch and the expansion of the dockyard was halted. Trincomalee became a backwater for most of the 19th Century with its major role being that of a coaling station. Coal was stored in bulk on old ships at anchor known as coaling hulks.”

Devendra explains that all buildings within the dockyard premises were accessed through the gates popularly known as Belfry Gates. These with their twin towers were built by the British in 1821. Only one tower remains today. The exact reason for the demolition of the twin and when it was done is not established. It is presumed that one of the towers was demolished when roads were being widened for heavier traffic. “This must have been somewhere between the first and the second World Wars,” says Devendra.

Most of the civilian labour working for the Navy lived outside the dockyard and the bell possibly would have been rung to mark the time of opening and closing of the gate, he said.

“The large house near the dockyard gate known as as Belfry House in which I once lived is now two houses,” he recollects. The belfry gate stands where three roads meet, marked by a traffic light believed to be the first in the country. The lights that still work well were probably needed to manage and ensure the safety of numerous vehicles carrying building material, ammunition, artillery, spare parts, and sailors and soldiers who were busy fortifying the naval dockyard and attending to the needs of ships and craft anchored in the harbour.

“When I got my driving license, there was only one set of traffic lights in Colombo – at the Kollupitiya junction. So the Trinco traffic light is probably the first in the country,” says Devendra. He adds that one of the roads controlled by these lights goes uphill to the Dutch Fort Ostenburg where the Dockyard Signal Station was situated. “It’s a steep road through forest and made of concrete, supposedly the first such road built here.”

Those who served in the Dockyard remember the belfry very well. “Traditionally, when naval officers who long served there are transferred they’re presented a replica of this landmark for display in their homes to remember their time at the dockyard,” says Rear Admiral (Rtd) Niraja Attygalle who had served many years there during his naval career.

“Two hundred years is certainly a long period for a clock to tick giving the accurate time for men in white and men in overalls in workshops as well as for naval civilian workers in the dockyard. Also, the gear mechanism and electrical circuits of the traffic lights still work perfectly.”

The responsibility of maintaining both the belfry clock and traffic lights lie with the technical staff of the dockyard and their work needs to be appreciated, says Attygalle. “Even though the original bell has not rung for years to ensure its conservation, a smaller version has taken over that duty. The quartermaster of today’s Navy Dock, standing in the shadow of the belfry, announces the time by ringing the bell as done onboard on a man-o’-war,” he says.

Although unknown to many, the Naval Dockyard Belfry which marks its bicentennial this year (its exact date of unveiling is unknown) is an iconic landmark. “This unique structure reflecting British architecture during the occupation of the Dockyard by the Royal Navy must be acknowledged for its 200-year history as part and parcel of the Dockyard fraternity,” reflects Deputy Area Commander (East), Rear Admiral Anura Danapala. “Every single Naval Officer and sailor serving today and those who have retired will undoubtedly recall with sentimental pride, the unique service the belfry has rendered over two centuries.”

“The belfy had been the timekeeper for the naval fraternity in the dockyard and may it continue to serve for several more centuries,” says the officer.

(Pic credit: Somasiri Devendra, Niraja Attygalle)

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COVID-19: You might be depressed now, but don’t underestimate your resilience



The mental health toll of COVID-19 pandemic is real. But many will recover.

Trauma does not reliably produce illness, which is important to remember when looking at how people are responding to the pandemic as it unfolds. Picture used for illustrative purposes only. Image Credit: Supplied

The emerging data on mental health during the pandemic suggests a troubling future. Surveys show that Americans have become more depressed and anxious, and experts in a variety of fields have argued that COVID-19 has changed society forever.

While the pandemic has undeniably caused extraordinary stress and sadness, research on human resilience suggests that people will recover from the trauma of the pandemic faster than many believe. And while certain groups may need mental health care for the longer term, it’s also true that humans’ ability to overcome adversity is often underestimated and that an overwhelming majority of people who suffer trauma will not develop mental illness but eventually feel better.

As a psychiatrist, I see this firsthand with patients and colleagues. Most of my patients who had clinical depression and anxiety before the pandemic did not deteriorate during the pandemic. Yes, they were stressed and worried, but I was struck by how this group remained pretty stable.

Earlier in the pandemic I also ran a support group for the anesthesiologists at the hospital where I work. Every day this group of men and women would intubate people with severe COVID-19, exposing themselves to the virus and immense patient suffering. But eventually, the support group disbanded because the members felt they could cope without my help.

This is not to suggest that the impact of COVID-19 on mental health isn’t real, nor that it won’t be long-lasting in some cases. It is real, and it will linger for many. But it’s also important to underscore that most people who are exposed to stress and trauma do not necessarily develop clinical depression or post-traumatic stress disorder. Sure, they experience anxiety and sadness, but these mental health states can lift soon after stress abates.

Studies suggest that up to about 90 percent of Americans have experienced a traumatic event, yet the prevalence of PTSD is estimated to be 6.8 percent. So while exposure to traumatic events is common, only a small minority of people develop PTSD as a result. Follow-up studies of trauma victims with PTSD in the general population show that the symptoms decrease significantly within three months after trauma and that about 66 percent of those with PTSD eventually recover.

Trauma does not reliably produce illness, which is important to remember when looking at how people are responding to the pandemic as it unfolds. A recent study conducted by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found that from August 2020 to February 2021, the percentage of adults with recent symptoms of anxiety and depression increased to 41.5 percent from 36.4 percent.

Transient and unreliable

But most surveys like this assess symptoms at a given point in time, which could turn out to be transient. These surveys are also conducted online, using rating scales that don’t reliably establish a clinical diagnosis. Other research tracking people with diagnosed mental health conditions haven’t found an increase in symptom severity during the pandemic.

I’ve found that many patients find comfort in learning that most people who are traumatized do not develop psychopathology. The ability to cope with adversity is the essence of resilience – but it doesn’t mean there is no psychological distress. To the contrary, anxiety and sadness are common reactions, but these responses are typically manageable and temporary.

It’s why many people who experience intense stress or trauma go on to live healthy, productive lives. Not all stress is harmful to the brain, and many people cooped up at home during the pandemic largely faced a kind of manageable stress. Once normal life can resume, many people will begin to feel much better.

Chronic unremitting stress that isn’t easily resolved, however, leads to sustained increase of adrenaline and cortisol and can be harmful. Frontline workers were exposed to this type of chronic stress during the pandemic and thus are at much higher risk of developing clinical depression and anxiety. The pandemic also took a disproportionate toll on people of color, who experienced increases in suicide rates in 2020 while overall suicide rates in the country dropped. Making sure these groups have access to care will be critical for their mental and physical health.

Experts have long been interested in why some people are more resilient than others in the face of stress, including after events like wars and natural disasters. Some of it is genetic, and some of it is a person’s life circumstances. Things like having a steady income, family support and access to health care can affect how people handle traumatic events.

Foster emotional and physical resilience

But there are things that people can do to foster emotional and physical resilience, including maintaining social bonds, getting regular exercise and finding ways to reduce stress, among other things. Social support, for example, has been shown to strengthen resilience by increasing self-esteem and the sense of control. Social connectedness also inhibits activation of fear and anxiety circuits in the brain.

There is no question that this has been a stressful and brutal year marked by untold loss and grief. I lost my splendid 94-year-old mother to COVID-19, and I’m still sad. But people should feel a measure of relief at having navigated COVID to this point, and not forget the fact that humans are more resilient than we realize. We can bounce back.( Independent)

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Paradigam shift in fashion



‘The joy of dressing is an art said John Galliano’

With the coronavirus pandemic leading to events being post-poned or cancelled, people in the fashion world have been finding ways and means to use technology. The recently concluded fashion shows, forums have pointed out directions that set to become key factors in the future. These include locality, digitlisaton, culture, sustainability, visual art, communication and experiments. In the past year and this year we see a a massive shift within the fashion industry with physical to digital formats taking the lead, Sustainability coming to the fore and visual fashion here to stay

by Zanita Careem

Not since the Second World War has the fashion industry ground to such a sudden halt due to the Covid-19 pandemic. Almost overnight retail stores have closed across Europe, North America, and most of Asia, and with these parts of the world being both the primary fashion producing and consuming regions, the industry has been brought to its knees.

Will things slowly get back to normal, or has this pandemic changed the industry forever?

Fashion shows in most of Europe and Asia were cancelled.

The virus started spreading from China right at the start of the fashion season, and it was there we saw the first cancellations with the Beijing and Shanghai fashion weeks.

Europe was hit next with giants of the industry such as Prada, Armani, and Versace all cancelling their shows.

Both the Paris Fashion Week and Milan Fashion Week organisers have cancelled the physical events, but they were replaced with a virtual show online.

Other names are forgoing the traditional fashion calendar and doing their own thing, like Saint Laurent launching its collections following a plan in conjunction with up-to-date news and advice.

The massive change to the industry has led some to declare that fashion shows are no longer even necessary.

Jordana Guimarães, founder of Fashinnovation, thinks “with runway shows, you just end up having all these samples that are never worn again. There are other ways to do the collections where you’re not using all this fabric and creating waste.”

On top of that, with so many retailers being forced to close, there are hundreds of tonnes of this season’s clothing just sitting in warehouses, wasting away.

And with the average industry turn-around of production-to-market taking five months, it’s probably going to be late 2021 before anything new even arrives, and that’s assuming nothing else goes wrong.

Online shopping has changed the playing field of shoppers and buyers.

Online shopping has already beginning to overtake retail shopping before the Coronavirus hit, but now the playing field has changed completely.

Many experts are predicting social distancing might last for years, with the psychological impact of the virus never going away.

A good percentage of people will choose to shop from the safety of their home rather than head out to a busy high-street store, so it’s expected online shopping will become the new norm after the pandemic.

Stores with a good eCommerce platform, effective online marketing, and a strong social media presence will be better equipped to deal with the new paradigm shift designers say.

Sustainability and the future

If there’s one good thing to come out of this disaster, it’s that the pandemic might help push the industry into a more sustainable and technologically innovative future.

We’ve already seen the effects of the lockdown on the environment.

There have been many reports of wild animals increasing in numbers and turning up in places they haven’t been seen in a long time.

Air pollution is visibly down and people in India now able to see the Himalayas for the first time in decades.

It is said the amount of damage the industry is doing to the environment, with high concentrations of dyes and chemicals like chromium, arsenic, copper, and zinc being dumped into rivers and lakes on a daily basis.

Some argue all those pollution figures will drop sharply this year thanks to the shutdown, and people will hopefully notice the difference that’s been made to the environment and refuse to go back to previous ways.

Fashion labels will create fewer collections over the coming years, and having seen the risks of depending on China for most of their supplies, many countries will perhaps reinvest in local manufacturing, furnishing new jobs and skills.

Winners and losers

As the world starts to get back to normal over the coming months/years, (it might take time)we will see the brands emerge which were able to ride out the storm and other brands who folded under the pressure.

The bigger, luxury brands will be the first to bounce back, and unfortunately, this means they will also capture even more of the market share.

High-end brands will probably be alright, but might have to change their entire way of doing business if they want to keep going in this new, online world.

Smaller brands, unfortunately, probably won’t survive, and department stores will continue to close their doors and disappear.

For the independent designer, the virus might be a blessing in disguise.

The pandemic has almost reset the clock, putting everyone back in starting position, and if that’s where you were before the virus, then you’ve nothing to lose and everything to gain!

Join in a post-Covid world

It’s estimated by some that at least 20% of the shops which closed due to Covid-19 will never reopen.

Not only has this virus destroyed the economy, it has also had a massive impact on many people who now can’t afford to buy items due to the loss of income during lockdown.

But while there are uncertain times ahead, the future of fashion isn’t all doom and gloom.

With many years of experience we had many disruptions but still we serve our customers said many of the local shop owners like Aslam Hussein of Geebees Designer Boutique. There were many designers and shop owners who echoed that they were positve, this corona virus will definetely be destroyed in the near future.

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When it was known as the Harley Street of Ceylon



The Homes in Ward Place in its early days,

by Hugh Karunanayake, Dr Srilal Fernando, and Avinder Paul

Ward Place in the heart of Cinnamon Gardens is a roadway linking the epi centre of the Colombo Municipality with the eastern area of metropolitan Colombo. Two centuries ago, there was no roadway in the area, which was part of cinnamon plantations established during the Dutch period of occupation of the maritime areas of Ceylon. When a road to the area was first built in the nineteenth century it was named Borella Road, later to be named Ward Place.

Arunachalam Ponnambalam was a man of foresight and great acumen. Originating from the village of Manipay in the north of the island, he sought opportunities for work in Colombo during early British times and won the confidence of British Governors who appointed him the Chief cashier of the Colombo Kachcheri which was the key government instrument in the administration of the dominion of Ceylon. The Kachcheri together with the early Legislative Councils were the local institutions that set the pace for the administration of the colony. Land throughout the country was made available by the new rulers of the island at ome to five shillings per acre to pioneer British settlers, and also to a few natives who had won the favour of the Government.

Arunachalam Ponnambalam was one of the latter, and by the mid 1850s the owner of two cinnamon estates, Rajagiriya, and Borella. While Rajagiriya Estate was sold after some years, to Mrs Cornelia Obeyesekera whose son Donald established a township still known as Obeyesekera Town, Borella Estate disintegrated into building blocks for residential housing. Ward Place of today represents a part of the original Borella Estate.

Ward Place, named after British Governor Sir Henry Ward, became an elite residential area not long after the Ceylon Medical College was established in the adjoining Regent Street in 1870 with Dr Edwin Lawson Koch as its first Principal. This was followed two decades later by the Victoria Memorial Eye Hospital built through the munificence of the legendary 19 Century philanthropist Sir Charles Henry de Soysa. Another landmark event in the progress towards enhanced healthcare was the establishment of the De Soysa Lying-in-Home (the LIH) on December 13th, 1879. The hospital owes its beginning to a philanthropic gesture by Sir Charles Henry de Soysa.. He was deeply touched by the plight of women of poor socio-economic status who were deprived of the facility for safe care in a hospital during childbirth. He proceeded to establish a hospital by personal donation of property and funds for their care, the De Soysa Lying-in-Home which is the second oldest maternity home in Asia.

Since then it has played the lead role in providing for all aspects of healthcare for women and in the training of staff in all grades for this field of work. During the initial years, maternity services was the main thrust of activities at De Soysa Lying-in-Home. At its commencement it consisted of 22 beds and provided for 52 births during its first year. A decade later the hospital was providing for 425 births annually then on to 1051 in 1909 and 2000 in 1921. The bed strength had now increased to 100. In later years it provided care for over 14,000 maternity cases annually, most of which are of a high-risk nature. Today it is a Teaching Hospital.

The Victoria Memorial Eye Hospital stands on a property formerly named Mango Lodge which was said to have been a hunting cabin during the time of the Dutch occupation. The two institutions viz the General Hospital and the Eye Hospital served as the pioneer medical institutions of the country, and attracted most of the country’s medical specialists for service there. Consequently, Ward Place became the most sought after location for residence for medical specialists and by the beginning of the 20th Century was the most popular residential location for leading medical specialists., and regarded as the Harley Street of Colombo.

The General Hospital (as it was then known) was established during Sir Henry Ward’s governorship (1855-1860), with 3,000 pounds sterling being earmarked for the project. Until then, government policy had been to contribute to locally operated charitable health organisations. However, after the establishment of the General Hospital, this policy was abandoned. Furthermore, the General Hospital also succeeded the Pettah Hospital, since the latter’s capacity to treat patients was very low.

Accordingly, the General Hospital was opened in Longden Place in 1864, under the inaugural administration of Civil Medical Officer Dr Parsley .It was later moved to Kynsey Road. named after its first Medical Superintendent, Dr WR Kynsey. The location of the General Hospital added to the demand for specialist medical services, which in turn created a soaring demand for residential accommodation to which Ward Place was considered the prime locale.

Perhaps the best known resident of Ward Place was Former President JR Jayewardene, who lived in a house named “Braemar” at 66, Ward Place. The property was originally owned by his father-in-law, Leonard Rupesinghe whose only child, Elina, was married to JR. It is on record that he bought the property from a previous owner, most probably a Scotsman, who had bestowed the name Braemar on it. C Brooke Elliott the lawyer lived there as a tenant, when he published his book “Real Ceylon ” in 1938. Since then the original house had been demolished by Rupesinghe, and by the Jayewardenes who built a modern residence for themselves, retaining the old name Braemar. The house has since been ascribed to the Inland Revenue Department to offset income taxes, but is being managed by the JR Jayewardene Cultural Centre.

Another famous resident of Ward Place was Sir Ponnambalam Ramanathan, the national leader of the early Twentieth Century. His stately home named Sukasthan was demolished several decades ago to give way to the construction of many large homes on the property which now have the address Sukasthan Gardens. It could be speculated that Sir Ponnambalam built his home on land inherited from his father Arunachalam Ponnambalam from the Borella Estate.

The list of names of residents of Ward Place in the early 20th century would read as a list of the most eminent personae of the medical profession in Ceylon of the time. Names such as Dr Simon de Melho Aserappah, his son-in-law, Dr SC Paul, the latter’s son Dr Milroy Paul, possibly the only holder of the Master of Surgery qualification from Ceylon. There was the reputed eye surgeon Sir Arthur M de Silva, gynaecologist Dr PR Thiagarajah, Dr Percy Kulasinghe, Dr SL Navaratnam, Dr Jackie de Silva, Dr DP Billimoria, Dr W Balendra, Dr AC Arulpragasam, Dr A Sinnatamby, and Dr LAP Britto Babapulle are names that readily come to mind, and were household names of mid Twentieth Century Ceylon. There would of course be many others.

The residents of Ward Place were the elite of Colombo’s society and the medical practitioners living there commanded the biggest practices and were considered as the crème de la crème of medical specialists in the country, with a few exceptions of course.

At the intersection of Ward Place with Alexandra Place stood the two storied home of Dr Alles on a 120 perch block of land. It was for many years subsequently leased by the government of the day as the head office of the Department for the Registration of Motor Vehicles. The Alles property was next to the original home of Cargills Pharmacy which later moved to the opposite end of the De Soysa Circus .For the past few decades It was operating as a retail fashion centre named ODEL , a concept new to the country and successfully owned and managed by Ms Otara Chandiram, herself a granddaughter of two eminent medical personalities of the past, ENT surgeon Dr HCP Gunawardene, and Cardiologist/Radiologist Dr HO Gunawardene. Having disposed of this successful venture, Otara is now preoccupied with animal welfare (in an honorary capacity), a subject close to her heart.

(This originally appeared in the Ceylankan)

To be continued next week

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