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Welsh through Sri Lankans’ eyes

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By Sunil Dharmabandhu

Life in a town called Moratuwa, Ceylon, as it used to be called in the mid-1940’s was simple and austere. It succeeded when, on February 4, 1948, Ceylon was granted independence as the Dominion of Ceylon. Dominion status, within the British Commonwealth, was retained for the next 24 years, until May 22, 1972, when it became a republic and was renamed the Republic of Sri Lanka. Predominantly Sinhala Buddhists, other ethnic minorities such as Tamils, Muslims and Burghers, of Dutch ancestry, with a population of around 6.6 million, lived in harmony. A typical family had about five children supported by a sole breadwinner, the father. Mother was the matriarch bringing up the children within the limited budget. Children of the day were contented, smiling and happy with their meagre and more often than not, contrived toys of sorts to play with, in the abundant open spaces even in urban areas. Only a privileged few could afford a motor vehicle, children playing cricket, with improvised bats and wickets on pieces of bare land traversed by a quiet road, was commonplace. The majority commuted to work by state-run train or bus which would fill up only during rush hour morning and evening.

With no TV, nor Internet, families would gather around a sought-after British made Cossor radio when it was working or a bland rental Rediffusion box to spend time listening to mandatory Sunday Buddhist sermons or drama series. Attendance at Sunday school for Buddhists and Christians was the order of the day. Graffiti did not exist; tattoos were seen only amongst the riff-raff! It was far from being fashionable. Smoking and chewing betel with arecanut were amongst the bad habits some parents indulged in most homes and public transport and how uneducated spat through windows was unbelievable! Women smokers were rare, especially in public. Our generation had the privilege of being educated in the English medium, albeit pronunciation was wayward unless one’s parents could afford private elocution classes! However, grammar was drummed into our heads unlike the younger generations all over the world today, not least in the seat of English language, over here in the UK!

Meanwhile, Wales was a little-known part of Britain unless one was a keen student and an avid reader, frequenting public libraries, surprisingly though under British rule. The answer probably lay in the socioeconomics and geopolitical histories as Westminster ruled with an iron fist. Major employers were in the state-run mining and transportation industries.

Just two years after I was born, on July 6, 1946, a historic moment in British history followed on July 5, 1948, a culmination of a bold and pioneering plan to make healthcare no longer exclusive to those who could afford it but to make it accessible to everyone. The National Health Service (NHS) was born and it was to become the envy of the world! One could argue it still is despite a massive increase in population and inevitable cutbacks.

However, life in Wales, in the 1950’s was far from being a bed of roses. The economy was still reeling from the ravages and austerities of the Second World War. Ordinary families had to economise in every possible way to make ends meet. Most people couldn’t afford even a black and white television. In many ways, it mirrored life back home in Ceylon which centred on Colombo, similar to Cardiff. Back home, peasantry who lived well away from the coastal belt had never ventured to admire the beautiful Indian Ocean, only calling it the “Big Pond with crashing waves.” In Wales too much of the economic progress and development centred on Cardiff, the capital and Swansea, the second-largest city. Mains gas and sewage were rare and remain limited to Cardiff, Swansea and other big towns, leaving vast swathes of Wales to depend on oil, LPG or coal for heating and hot water. A slow process of tapping into renewable energy sources like solar and wind turbines is on the horizon.

The Welsh language is seeing something of a renaissance as some schools have become Category A to make teaching in Welsh compulsory. Yet, only some 30 percent of the population speak Welsh. Like Fernando’s, Perera’s, Mendis’s, if one were to toss a coin in a crowd, it’s bound to land on the head of a Jones, Williams or Davies in Wales. It stretches further in the Welsh National Anthem ‘the Land of my Fathers’ in its beautiful and patriotic lyrics, so emotional and powerful to our own!

The old land of my fathers is dear to me, Mae hen wladfynhadauynannwyli mi,

A land of poets and singers, famous celebrities;Gwladbeirdd a chantorion, enwogion o fri;

Her brave warriors, ardent patriots,Eigwrolryfelwyr, gwladgarwyrtramâd,

For freedom they lost their blood.
Trosryddidgollasanteugwaed.Country, Country, I’m party to my country,Gwlad, Gwlad, pleidiolwyfi’mgwlad,

While a sea wall to the pure favorite land,Tramôryn fur i’r bur hoffbau,

O may the old language continue.
O byddedi’rheniaithbarhau.
Old mountainous Wales, the poet’s paradise,
Hen Gymrufynyddig, paradwys y bardd,

Every valley, every cliff, to my eyes is beautiful;
Pobdyffryn, pob clogwyn, i’mgolwgsyddhardd;

Through a patriotic feel, how charming it is
Trwydeimladgwladgarol, mor swynolywsi

Its streams, rivers, to me.
Einentydd, afonydd, i mi.
Country, Country, I’m party to my country,
Gwlad, Gwlad, pleidiolwyfi’mgwlad,

While a sea wall to the pure favorite land,
Tramôryn fur i’r bur hoffbau,

O may the old language continue.
O byddedi’rheniaithbarhau.
If the enemy raided my country under his foot,
Ostreisiodd y gelynfyngwlad dan eidroed,

The old Welsh language is as alive as ever,
Mae hen iaith y Cymry mor fyw ag erioed,

The force was not diminished by the horrors of treacherous rain,Ni luddiwydyrawenganerchyll law brad,

Than the peculiar harp of my country.
Na thelynberseiniolfyngwlad.
Country, Country, I’m party to my country,
Gwlad, Gwlad, pleidiolwyfi’mgwlad,

While a sea wall to the pure favorite land,Tramôryn fur i’r bur hoffbau,

O may the old language continue.

O byddedi’rheniaithbarhau.

So, how do they manage to refer to someone in particular and avoid confusion? It’s no problem in Wales, just give a nickname corresponding to his or her job, trade or physiognomy like Davies the school (teacher) from Davies the saer (carpenter) or even John sandwich (he brings homemade sandwiches to work). The Welsh too are very friendly, sociable; even strangers wouldn’t drive past without a smile and a wave. Equally, rub them on the wrong shoulder, they can be nasty, trust me, similar to Sri Lankans.

It’s not uncommon to come across many in the rest of the UK who had visited the USA, Australia, New Zealand, Europe, Asia, and Africa but had not set foot in Wales to appreciate and admire its natural beauty and culture! Bardsey Island, for instance, known as the legendary ‘Island of 20,000 Saints’, is located 1.9 miles off the Llŷn Peninsula in the Welsh county of Gwynedd. The Welsh name means ‘The Island in the Currents’, while its English name refers to the ‘Island of the Bards’,

or possibly the Viking chieftain, ‘Barda’. It has no hot water, electricity, showers or Wi-Fi, but the chair of the island’s trust says that is exactly what gives it its appeal. “More people are opting for a digital detox,” Siân Stacey believes. She said the island, YnysEnlli in Welsh, offers a sense of security that has become more important in the past year. “People travel to Bardsey for a reset. I guess they want to get away from it all and it is such a calming experience.

“In recent years more people have been seeking the simple way of living – life on Bardsey is peaceful and here you can see nature at its best.” It’s fair to say there are many amongst the Welsh who had travelled overseas but had not crossed the Severn Bridge, gateway to England!

Wasn’t it how it used to be back home in Sri Lanka especially in rural areas? People knew each other, were friendly and helpful.

I grew up in Moratuwa, attending a local school of repute, strict discipline, Moratu Vidyalaya under one of its most revered Principals, late A.M de Silva before gaining admission to Royal College to study for my Advanced Levels. It turned out to be a culture shock! Many of my contemporaries came from Colombo 7 and were highly connected in the social class. There was a distinct air of superiority amongst them. They were mostly chauffeur-driven to College.

Financial difficulties to pursue a university education forced me into seeking employment in banking at Bank of Ceylon and later at Grindlays Bank in Colombo before embarking on a new life in Wales and met my future wife, Delyth. We then moved to Surrey in search of greener pastures, leaving behind the greenest one could ever find!

Talk about long names which only the local people could pronounce both in Sri Lanka and here in Wales. How about this which got into the Guinness Book of Records for being the longest place name!



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Features

Why Small Farms will be the backbone of food security

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The ecological axiom that: ‘Energy flow through a system tends to organise and simplify that system’, is abundantly clear in agriculture. As farms moved from small interdependent units, bounded by fences and hedgerows, to large cropping fields to accommodate machine management, we lose the biodiversity that once existed on that landscape and the biomass that provided the Ecosystem Services. This sacrifice was rationalised through the invocation of economic profit. The economic ‘profit’ gained by subsidies on fossil fuel and uncontrolled extraction from the Global Commons. The ‘development’ of agriculture has become a race to control the commodity market. The farmer ceased to be a feature of the farm. In a telling statement, the farmers of Sri Lanka sent the following statement to the CGIAR in 1998 :

‘We, the farmers of Sri Lanka would like to further thank the CGIAR, for taking an interest in us. We believe that we speak for all of our brothers and sisters the world over when we identify ourselves as a community who are integrally tied to the success of ensuring global food security. In fact it is our community who have contributed to the possibility of food security in every country since mankind evolved from a hunter-gather existence. We have watched for many years, as the progression of experts, scientists and development agents passed through our communities with some or another facet of the modern scientific world. We confess that at the start we were unsophisticated in matters of the outside world and welcomed this input. We followed advice and we planted as we were instructed. The result was a loss of the varieties of seeds that we carried with us through history, often spanning three or more millennia. The result was the complete dependence of high input crops that robbed us of crop independence. In addition, we farmers producers of food, respected for our ability to feed populations, were turned into the poisoners of land and living things, including fellow human beings. The result in Sri Lanka is that we suffer from social and cultural dislocation and suffer the highest pesticide- related death toll on the planet. Was this the legacy that you the agricultural scientists wanted to bring to us ? We think not. We think that you had good motives and intentions, but left things in the hands of narrowly educated, insensitive people.’

The diverse farm had to yield to production monoculture, which was made possible through the burning of fossil fuels. Ironically the burning of fossil fuels is the major reason for the current destabilised climate and threat to agriculture. One consequence of climate change is the predicted rise in global temperatures. If ambient temperatures exceed 40 degrees , which has become the reality in many places even today, food production will be compromised. All the food we eat originates with plants and plants produce using photosynthesis. Photosynthesis, or the capture of solar energy by plants, is done with chlorophyll, the thing that makes plants green and chlorophyll begins to break down after 40 degrees. Landscapes whose summer temperatures go beyond this limit will have smaller and smaller crops as the temperatures increase. The only solution to this oncoming crisis, is to begin introducing trees at strategic points on the landscape.

Trees and all other forms of vegetation cool the environment around them through the transpiration process, which takes place in the leaves. The water absorbed by the roots is sent up to the leaves which release it as vapor, cooling the air around it. Measurements on trees done by research institutions worldwide, indicate that an average large tree produces the cooling equivalent of eight room sized air conditioners running for 10 hours, a cooling yield 0f 1,250,000 Bthu per day. Plantations of trees have been recoded to have daytime temperatures at least 3 degrees below the ambient. This is an important aspect of Ecosystem Services that needs to be considered for adaptive agriculture.

Small farms which produce food with low external energy and maintain high biomass and biodiversity, are the models of food production that can face the climate compromised future before us. Capital, resource and energy expensive agricultural systems could fail in a high temperature future and threaten global food security, we need options. One would be to encourage a consumption and distribution system that facilitates small farmers to enter the market. Another would be to realise the value of the ecosystem services of a farm and develop systems to measure and reward. We are all aware of the future before us. Now is not the time to stand blinking like a deer facing the headlights.

But placing trees in and around cropping areas becomes a problem in large cropping fields designed to accommodate machine management. The management of such trees and hedgerows requires needs that cannot be provided without human management. Agricultural landscapes will need management that will be adaptive to the changing climate. An example would be; small interdependent units bounded by fences and that increase biodiversity and the biomass while providing Ecosystem Services.

Investment in food security, should take climate change seriously. All new agricultural projects should address the heat thresholds of the planned crops. The Sri Lankan country statement at COP 21 stated that :

“We are aware that the optimum operating temperature of chlorophyll is at 37 deg C. In a warming world where temperatures will soar well above that, food production will be severely impacted.”

And that :

“We are aware that the critical Ecosystem services such as; production of Oxygen, sequestering of Carbon, water cycling and ambient cooling is carried out by the photosynthetic component of biomass. This is being lost at an exponential rate, due to the fact that these Ecosystem Services have not been valued, nor economically recognised.”

These statements cry out for the recognition of the role that small farms will have to play in the future. In a temperature compromised future, small farms with high standing biomass, through their cooler temperatures will continue to produce food in heat stressed periods. If such Ecosystem Services can be given a value, it will strengthen the economy of small farms and ensure local, sustainable food production into the future.

Small farms which produce food with low external energy and maintain high biomass and biodiversity, are the models of food production that can face the climate compromised future before us. Capital, resource and energy expensive agricultural systems could fail in a high temperature future and threaten global food security, we need options. One would be to encourage a consumption and distribution system that facilitates small farmers to enter the market. Another would be to realize the value of the ecosystem services of a farm and develop systems to measure and reward. We are all aware of the future before us. Now is not the time to stand blinking like a deer in sheadlights.

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Encouraging signs, indeed!

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Derek and Manilal

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

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

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

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

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

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Constructive dialogue beyond international community

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by Jehan Perera

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

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

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

INTERNAL FRAGMENTATION

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

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

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

EARLY WARNING

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

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

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

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