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Two nights to remember at Wilpattu National Park

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by Lal Anthonis

It was December 1983 when my friend Lakshman Siriwardhana, known as Lucky, and I arrived at the Talawila lodge in Wilpattu National Park just past noon and found the Park Warden, his deputy and a few other officers having lunch on the verandah of the lodge.

A chat with them revealed that they were returning after investigating an attack by a leopard on a boy along the Marichchkaddi-Puttalam road. The boy had been admitted to Puttalam hospital with injuries to his throat. He succumbed to his injuries the next day.

Marichchakaddi is a Moslem village where one of the main livelihoods is cattle breeding. Every now and then, one or two of the village lads used to herd a group of buffaloes to be sold in Puttalam. They took an old jungle road that goes through Wilpattu National Park for almost half the distance. They passed Pomparippu within the park, and having waded through Kala Oya, they went past the villages of Vanathavillu and Karadipuval, and then reached Puttalam.

In the park another road branches eastwards from this road, and a mile away on it lie Talawila and the lodge.

Killer leopard

About three months previously, along the Puttalam road, a leopard had suddenly pounced on one of the buffalo calves in a herd, but before any harm could come to it the two boys, together with the rest of the herd, had managed to chase the big cat off. This was repeated about a month later with similar results.

However the current attack, which had taken place the previous day at a point where the road branches off to Talawila, had a disastrous difference. The leopard had deliberately waited until the buffaloes had passed and went for one of the two boys. The leopard was chased off again, but the boy was badly hurt.

The Park Warden told me that he had informed his headquarters in Colombo about the first two attacks. He requested me to speak to the Director of Wildlife on my return to Colombo and acquaint him of the situation.

Leopard’s visit

Lucky and I went to sleep about 9 pm that night. I went into a deep slumber straight away till I suddenly woke up. I looked at my watch, which indicated 2.10 am. We were sleeping in the open verandah, and I was about to light a cigarette, when I heard a leopard calling. I thought it was about a mile to our left. The second call was about 20 seconds later, and the sound was closer.

I woke my friend, and we felt more than we saw something moving outside the lodge in the pitch-black night. Sitting up on my bed, I saw it was Gunadasa, our tracker.

He now joined us in the verandah, and the leopard kept calling at regular intervals, while getting closer all the time.

This would have been a thrilling episode under normal circumstances, but not when we were aware that a leopard had deliberately attacked a boy only the previous day, just a mile away. I judged, from the calls that were now very close, that the leopard was taking a route that would take him about 50 yards behind the lodge.

I was correct, for he called very close to the lodge but still to the left. The next call about 15 seconds later was right behind the lodge. Then came a silence that was absolute and complete when not even a cricket chirped. It seemed as if everything had suddenly gone into a silent mode. The night was pitch dark and we could not see even our own hands. It was then that I realized the little lamp, which we had kept lit on the edge of the verandah had gone out.

As long as the leopard was calling we could locate his whereabouts, but now he could be only 10 feet away and we would be completely unaware of his presence. Suddenly the whole atmosphere became very oppressive and unbelievably tense. I was straining my ears to hear the slightest noise, and started on hearing Lucky’s voice.

He suggested that we should move into one of the rooms and sleep there. He added that there was no way that Gunadasa could go back to the staff quarters, and consequently he should use the other room, to which he agreed. Then the leopard called, far away to our right. The next call was even further away. I sat down and let out a long breath. A single cricket chirped, followed by another till the whole atmosphere was filled with their music.

We decided to remain in the verandah and Gunadasa returned to the staff quarters. On impulse I looked at my watch, and it was 2.50 am. It was the longest 40 minutes of my life.

Talawila lodge

Talawila was the venue of yet another experience Lucky and I had in March 1983. Talawila is reached by traveling from Panikkar Villu lodge along the road to Makalanmaduwa, which passes through bush country with sandy tracts in between. Suddenly the bush opens out and Talawila is on the right.

On the left, on a man-made ledge, is a single-storied lodge with a large verandah, which is completely unprotected except for a foot and a half high ornamental type of fence made of polished twigs. Talawila has been one of my favourite places, not only in this island, but elsewhere in other countries as well where I have been.

Wilpattu National Park has been now closed for 15 years, and as I write these words I yearn to go there once again.

That day in March 1983, we had arrived at the lodge in time for lunch and enjoyed an interesting drive in the park. Later on, in the evening we had the usual sundowner, followed by dinner. We retired to bed around 9.30 pm. I still remember that it was a bright moonlit night with the sky filled with stars.

While we were seated outside the lodge and enjoying a drink, the mild breeze every now and then brought a delightful fragrance to our nostrils. Obviously a forest, night-blooming flower, perhaps “born to blush unseen”, but its sweetness definitely not wasted in the air at Wilpattu that night, for two of her great admirers were there to share it.

We slept in our camp beds placed on the verandah. Around 11 pm both of us woke up feeling rather stuffy. The moonlight was brilliant and we could see the far side of the villu as if it was daylight. It was a grand sight with the water in it sparkling like diamonds. We decided to pull up our beds to the front of the verandah next to the low fence of twigs. Our heads were almost touching this fence, and with the breeze playing on us, we fell into a deep slumber.

A leopard’s footmarks

The next thing I remember was waking up early morning about 6.30 Lucky was already up and smoking a cigarette while admiring the villu. When Ratnayake, our tracker saw me getting up, he came up to me and said in Sinhala, “Sir, the leopard had been very close to your head last night”. I looked at him quizzically and asked him how he knew. He then said, “Come and have a look”.

Still rather unconcerned, I stood up and tucking up my sarong, I followed Ratnayake outside the verandah. He pointed to the ground, and a chill ran through me as I saw those pug marks. I walked down the road that came from Panikkar Villu and reconstructed what had happened the night before. The leopard had come along this road, and when he came up to our lodge, he would have seen the little lamp we had kept lighted on a low flame at the edge of the verandah.

Curiosity getting the better of him, he jumped up the ledge and came right up to the fence, where he had stopped. I could decipher this as the pug marks were deep and clear in the sand. At this point, the head of the leopard and ours could not have been separated by more than a foot. Having satisfied his curiosity, he continued along the edge of the verandah, then jumped down the ledge on to the road once again and continued towards Makalanmaduwa. Stuffy or not, for the next five nights we kept our camp beds in the back of the verandah.

(Concluded)

(Excerpted from Jungle Journeys in Sri Lanka edited by C.G. Uragoda)



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BRICS emerging as strong rival to G7

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It was in the fitness of things for Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi to hold a special telephonic conversation with Russian President Vladimir Putin recently for the purpose of enlightening the latter on the need for a peaceful, diplomatic end to the Russian-initiated blood-letting in Ukraine. Hopefully, wise counsel and humanity would prevail and the world would soon witness the initial steps at least to a complete withdrawal of invading Russian troops from Ukraine.

The urgency for an early end to the Russian invasion of Ukraine which revoltingly testifies afresh to the barbaric cruelty man could inflict on his fellows, is underscored, among other things, by the declaration which came at the end of the 14th BRICS Summit, which was held virtually in Beijing recently. Among other things, the declaration said: ‘BRICS reaffirms commitment to ensuring the promotion and protection of democracy, human rights and fundamental freedoms for all with the aim to build a brighter shared future for the international community based on mutually beneficial cooperation.’

It is anybody’s guess as to what meanings President Putin read into pledges of the above kind, but it does not require exceptional brilliance to perceive that the barbaric actions being carried out by his regime against Ukrainian civilians make a shocking mockery of these enlightened pronouncements. It is plain to see that the Russian President is being brazenly cynical by affixing his signature to the declaration. The credibility of BRICS is at risk on account of such perplexing contradictory conduct on the part of its members. BRICS is obliged to rectify these glaring irregularities sooner rather than later.

At this juncture the important clarification must be made that it is the conduct of the Putin regime, and the Putin regime only, that is being subjected to censure here. Such strictures are in no way intended to project in a negative light, the Russian people, who are heirs to a rich, humanistic civilization that produced the likes of Dostoevsky and Tolstoy, among a host of other eminent spirits, who have done humanity proud and over the decades guided humans in the direction of purposeful living. May their priceless heritage live long, is this columnist’s wish.

However, the invaluable civilization which the Russian people have inherited makes it obligatory on their part to bring constant pressure on the Putin regime to end its barbarism against the Ukrainian civilians who are not at all party to the big power politics of Eastern Europe. They need to point out to their rulers that in this day and age there are civilized, diplomatic and cost-effective means of resolving a state’s perceived differences with its neighbours. The spilling of civilian blood, on the scale witnessed in Ukraine, is a phenomenon of the hoary past.

The BRICS grouping, which encompasses some of the world’s predominant economic and political powers, if not for the irregular conduct of the Putin regime, could be said to have struck on a policy framework that is farsighted and proactive on the issue of global equity.

There is the following extract from a report on its recent summit declaration that needs to be focused on. It reads: BRICS notes the need to ensure “Meaningful participation of developing and least developed countries, especially in Africa, in global decision-making processes and structures and make it better attuned to contemporary realities.”

The above are worthy goals that need to be pursued vigorously by global actors that have taken upon themselves the challenge of easing the lot of the world’s powerless countries. The urgency of resuming the North-South Dialogue, among other questions of importance to the South, has time and again been mentioned in this column. This is on account of the fact that the most underdeveloped regions of the South have been today orphaned in the world system.

Given that the Non-aligned Movement and like organizations, that have espoused the resolution of Southern problems over the decades, are today seemingly ineffective and lacking in political and economic clout, indications that the BRICS grouping is in an effort to fill this breach is heartening news for the powerless of the world. Indeed, the crying need is for the poor and powerless to be brought into international decision-making processes that affect their wellbeing and it is hoped that BRICS’s efforts in this regard would bear fruit.

What could help in increasing the confidence of the underdeveloped countries in BRICS, is the latter’s rising economic and political power. While in terms of economic strength, the US remains foremost in the world with a GDP of $ 20.89 trillion, China is not very far behind with a GDP of $ 14.72 trillion. The relevant readings for some other key BRICS countries are as follows: India – $ 2.66 trillion, Russia – $ 1.48 trillion and Brazil $ 1.44 trillion. Of note is also the fact that except for South Africa, the rest of the BRICS are among the first 15 predominant economies, assessed in GDP terms. In a global situation where economics drives politics, these figures speak volumes for the growing power of the BRICS countries.

In other words, the BRICS are very much abreast of the G7 countries in terms of a number of power indices. The fact that many of the BRICS possess a nuclear capability indicates that in military terms too they are almost on par with the G7.

However, what is crucial is that the BRICS, besides helping in modifying the world economic order to serve the best interests of the powerless as well, contribute towards changing the power balances within the vital organs of the UN system, such as the UN Security Council, to render them more widely representative of changing global power realities.

Thus, India and Brazil, for example, need to be in the UNSC because they are major economic powers in their own right. Since they are of a democratic orientation, besides pushing for a further democratization of the UN’s vital organs, they would be in a position to consistently work towards the wellbeing of the underprivileged in their respective regions, which have tremendous development potential.

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Queen of Hearts

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She has certainly won the hearts of many with the charity work she is engaged in, on a regular basis, helping the poor, and the needy.

Pushpika de Silva was crowned Mrs. Sri Lanka for Mrs. World 2021 and she immediately went into action, with her very own charity project – ‘Lend a Helping Hand.’

When launching this project, she said: “Lend a Helping Hand is dear to me. With the very meaning of the title, I am extending my helping hand to my fellow brothers and sisters in need; in a time where our very existence has become a huge question and people battling for daily survival.”

Since ‘Lend a Helping Hand’ became a reality, last year, Pushpika has embarked on many major charity projects, including building a home for a family, and renovating homes of the poor, as well.

The month of June (2022) saw Pushpika very much in action with ‘Lend a Helping Hand.’

She made International Father’s Day a very special occasion by distributing food items to 100 poor families.

“Many are going without a proper meal, so I was very keen, in my own way, to see that these people had something to keep the hunger pangs away.”

A few days later, the Queen of Hearts made sure that 50 more people enjoyed a delicious and nutritious meal.

“In these trying times, we need to help those who are in dire straits and, I believe, if each one of us could satisfy the hunger, and thirst, of at least one person, per day, that would be a blessing from above.”

Pushpika is also concerned about the mothers, with kids, she sees on the roads, begging.

“How helpless is a mother, carrying a small child, to come to the street and ask for something.

“I see this often and I made a special effort to help some of them out, with food and other necessities.”

What makes Pushpika extra special is her love for animals, as well, and she never forgets the street dogs that are having a tough time, these days, scavenging for food.

“These animals, too, need food, and are voiceless, so we need to think of them, as well. Let’s have mercy on them, too. Let’s love them, as well.”

The former beauty queen served a delicious meal for the poor animals, just recently, and will continue with all her charity projects, on a regular basis, she said.

Through her charity project, ‘Lend a Helping Hand,” she believes she can make a change, though small.

And, she says, she plans to be even more active, with her charity work, during these troubled times.

We wish Pushpika de Silva all the very best, and look forward to seeing more of her great deeds, through her ‘Lend a Helping Hand’ campaign.

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Hope and political change:No more Appachis to the rescue

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KUPPI on the current economic and political crisis: intervention 1

by Harshana Rambukwella

In Buddhist literature, there is the Parable of the Burning House where the children of a wealthy man, trapped inside a burning house, refuse to leave it, fearful of leaving its comfort – because the flames are yet to reach them. Ultimately, they do leave because the father promises them wonderful gifts and are saved from the fire. Sri Lankans have long awaited such father figures – in fact, our political culture is built on the belief that such ‘fathers’ will rescue us. But this time around no fathers are coming. As Sri Lankans stare into an uncertain future, and a multitude of daily sufferings, and indignities continue to pile upon us, there is possibly one political and emotional currency that we all need – hope. Hope is a slippery term. One can hope ‘in-vain’ or place one’s faith in some unachievable goal and be lulled into a sense of complacency. But, at the same time, hope can be critically empowering – when insurmountable obstacles threaten to engulf you, it is the one thing that can carry you forward. We have innumerable examples of such ‘hope’ from history – both religious and secular. When Moses led the Israelites to the promised land, ‘hope’ of a new beginning sustained them, as did faith in God. When Queen Viharamahadevi set off on a perilous voyage, she carried hope, within her, along with the hope of an entire people. When Martin Luther King Jr made his iconic ‘I have a dream’ speech, hope of an America where Black people could live in dignity, struck a resonant chord and this historical sense of hope also provided inspiration for the anti-Apartheid struggle in South Africa.

This particular moment, in Sri Lanka, feels a moment of ‘hopelessness’. In March and April, this year, before the cowardly attack on the Gota Go Gama site, in Galle Face, there was a palpable sense of hope in the aragalaya movement as it spread across the country. While people were struggling with many privations, the aragalaya channeled this collective frustration into a form of political and social action, we have rarely seen in this country. There were moments when the aragalaya managed to transcend many divisions – ethnic, religious and class – that had long defined Sri Lanka. It was also largely a youth led movement which probably added to the ‘hope’ that characterized the aragalaya. However, following the May 09th attack something of this ‘hope’ was lost. People began to resign themselves to the fact that the literally and metaphorically ‘old’ politics, and the corrupt culture it represents had returned. A Prime Minister with no electoral base, and a President in hiding, cobbled together a shaky and illegitimate alliance to stay in power. The fuel lines became longer, the gas queues grew, food prices soared and Sri Lanka began to run out of medicines. But, despite sporadic protests and the untiring commitment of a few committed activists, it appeared that the aragalaya was fizzling out and hope was stagnant and dying, like vehicles virtually abandoned on kilometers-long fuel queues.

However, we now have a moment where ‘hope’ is being rekindled. A national movement is gathering pace. As the prospect of the next shipment of fuel appears to recede into the ever-distant future, people’s anger and frustration are once again being channeled towards political change. This is a do-or-die moment for all Sri Lankans. Regardless of our political beliefs, our ideological orientation, our religion or class, the need for political change has never been clearer. Whether you believe that an IMF bailout will save us, or whether you believe that we need a fundamental change in our economic system, and a socially and economically more just society, neither of these scenarios will come to pass without an immediate political change. The political class that now clings to power, in this country, is like a cancer – poisoning and corrupting the entire body politic, even as it destroys itself. The Prime Minister who was supposed to be the messiah channeling international goodwill and finances to the country has failed miserably and we have a President who seems to be in love with the idea of ‘playing president’. The Sri Lankan people have a single existential choice to make in this moment – to rise as one to expel this rotten political order. In Sri Lanka, we are now in that burning house that the Buddha spoke of and we all seem to be waiting for that father to appear and save us. But now we need to change the plot of this parable. No father will come for us. Our fathers (or appachis) have led us to this sorry state. They have lied, deceived and abandoned us. It is now up to us to rediscover the ‘hope’ that will deliver us from the misery of this economic and political crisis. If we do not act now the house will burn down and we will be consumed in its flames.

Initiated by the Kuppi Collective, a group of academics and activists attached to the university system and other educational institutes and actions.

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