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What we wear pollutes the planet

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It’s not just what you eat that is killing the earth and all its inhabitants. It is also what you wear.

Every time you buy an article of clothing you make a choice between the biosphere and the lithosphere. The biosphere is an agricultural field where cotton, linen (made from flax), hemp – even silk (mulberry trees) – are grown. Wool, though cruel in another way, is also grown. The lithosphere is the protective crust of the earth. Fossil fuels are extracted from this and turned into synthetic fabrics like polyester.

Clearly, a sensible human being would choose a renewable resource; something that can be grown again and again. But 70% of all clothing comes from nonrenewable fuels – we humans are wearing plastic, nylon, acrylic, polyester. Even the wonderful sarees from Benaras, which were heirlooms for all brides, are now mixed with polyester.

Fashion is as much an agricultural choice as food. It is common for us to pay attention to vegetables and grain and interrogate the farming community, but we pay no attention to the fashion industry. Think about cloth as emerging from the ground and then concern yourself about the practices required to grow and harvest it.

The beef industry is responsible for the cutting of thousands of forests – but the fashion industry is no less. Tree based fabrics, such as bamboo and eucalyptus, cause forests to be cut and turned into plantations and these trees are turned into clothes.

If we choose cotton, as I have done my whole life, I am guilty of ignoring the massive pesticides used and how they impact all life. Cotton in India uses Neonicotinoid pesticides – which are responsible for the destruction of billions of bees, putting our food supplies at major risk. But polyester/nylon is responsible for the massive mining, destroying forests, leaving gaping holes in the ground and contaminating water sources for miles around.

However, even if you make the choice to wear a sustainable agricultural produce, the next problem is dyes. The cloth may be organic cotton but its colour comes from synthetic dyes. First the cotton is bleached – and bleach kills all sea life. Then it is dyed. Synthetic dyes colour most of the textiles we wear.

It’s estimated that 25% of chemicals produced globally are used to produce clothing, and many of these go toward dyeing. Heavy metals, such as cadmium, mercury, tin, cobalt, lead, and chrome, are needed to bind the dyes to the fabric, and are present in 60-70% of dyes. Vast amounts of water are needed in the dyeing industry as well and the surplus chemical dyes are rinsed out and thrown into rivers as effluent. Some years ago, I was in Udaipur and I came across the most terrible rivers: blood red waters with so many animal corpses around – animals that had been forced to drink, as there was no other water. All this was the downstream of the cloth dyeing industry.

The effect of working with chemical dyes is apparent in communities employed in this work (they suffer the effects of exposure to endocrine disruptors contained in the dyes. Endocrine disrupting chemicals can interfere with hormones, causing cancerous tumours and birth defects). Who knows the effect of synthetic dyes on human bodies through the clothing. Dyes are not the only problem: There are far more chemicals contained in our clothing than we may realize. A range of finishing treatments, such as wrinkle preventers and stain guards, as well as screen-printed designs, contain chemicals such as bisphenol A, formaldehyde, and phthalates. And all these go into the river when you wash your clothes.

The textile industry is the most polluting of all industries in India. Worldwide, clothes are the second largest source of pollution after oil. This industry is responsible for 10% of global carbon emission and becomes the word’s fifth biggest emitter of carbon dioxide. It is also one of the top three water wasting industries and pollutes fresh water resources badly. Some 2600 litres of water are required to produce a single t-shirt.

Every time you wash synthetic materials they shed millions of plastic microfibres, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Marine Debris Programme. Microfibres are a type of microplastic, which is a plastic-based thread that is thinner than a human hair, below 5mm in size. The threads are so small, they pass straight through wastewater treatment plants into the sea. Lots are caught up in sludge at the treatment plants – which is then sprayed over the soils as fertilizer. Sea organisms, like plankton, mistake these tiny plastics for food. Smaller animals and fish depend on plankton as their main food. And humans eat fish. So the fibres get off your clothes and into your stomach.

According to the Florida Microplastic Awareness Project (FMAP), citizen scientists collected coastal water samples, filtered them and analyzed them to check for microplastics. Eighty-nine percent of the samples collected contained at least one piece of plastic.

What else do synthetic fibres do to the earth ? Their production releases nitrous oxide and acidic gases, such as hydrogen chloride. In a study in Science News, it was shown that nitrous oxide is increasing in the atmosphere by 0.2% annually and a portion of this comes from the production of nylon and polyesters. Nitrous oxide is a powerful greenhouse gas and has 300 times more potentiality than carbon dioxide. Polyester production, for textiles, released about 706 billion kg (1.5 trillion pounds) of greenhouse gases in 2015; the equivalent of 185 coal-fired power plants’ annual emissions.

What do they do to you ? Plastic clothing has an effect on the skin and respiratory tract. It has also been found to cause infertility in men. Nylon, used in swimsuits, tights and stockings, requires chemicals to reduce the electric static. Formaldehyde in fabrics causes skin allergies, eye watering, and is also a known potent carcinogen. Titanium oxide, barium sulphate, an antistatic substance, cause hyper skin pigmentation, dermatitis and functioning of central nervous system as disorientation, dizziness, headache and spine pain.

How does one get out of this mess?

There are only a few solutions at the moment, but they are important ones ;

Do not buy any artificial cloth: no nylon, polyester, lycra, acrylic, no “upcycled plastic” which many fashion brands say are green. Using shredded plastic in clothing is the worst way to use it, because it creates plastic lint faster than any other material on Earth and forty percent of this lint goes directly into rivers, lakes, and oceans. If you stop using man made synthetic, artificial cloth, the mining will reduce and you might save some forests. You will certainly save a great deal of petroleum. And none of these artificial materials are biodegradable. There’s also something that is often referred to as semi-synthetic, like rayon, which is made from natural materials like cellulose from trees, but the fibres are made artificially. Rayon causes massive deforestation because trees have to be stripped, and this includes protected forests. Some animals are on the endangered species list specifically due to rayon. Bamboo is also not to be encouraged. Its stiffness is converted to softness by using toxic chemicals such as carbon disulfide, sodium hydroxide, and sulphuric acid.

Don’t buy so many clothes and don’t throw away clothes because they are out of ” fashion”. A recent study by the Ellen McArthur Foundation found that one garbage truck of textiles is wasted every second. The Copenhagen Fashion Summit reported that fashion is responsible for 92 million tons of solid waste dumped in landfills each year. Synthetic fibres can take up to 200 years to decompose. More than one million tonnes of textiles are thrown away every year. An estimated 150 billion garments are produced annually- about 20 new garments to every individual. From 1999 and 2009 the discarding of clothes has grown by 40%.

Try out fibres like pineapple leather. Plant or fruit leather, made from waste materials, is gaining attention. Pinatex, for example, is a material made from the leaves of pineapples grown in the Philippines. Its production is much more sustainable than traditional leather. It requires less water and no harmful chemicals that are ecologically toxic to wildlife. The leftover leaf waste is recycled and used for fertiliser or biomass. Soy fabric is an eco-friendly fabric made from the hull of soybeans, leftover from food production; a cruelty-free and sustainable option. They are biodegradable, and the material is renewable.

Keep it simple:

Just buy organic cotton with organic dyes and you will save the world.

(To join the animal welfare movement contact gandhim@nic.in, www.peopleforanimalsindia.org)



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Sat Mag

HIDDEN FACTS ABOUT OUR SOLAR FESTIVAL

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Geographical factors prepare the agrobase while astrological factors determine the time-frame of our annual Solar Festival.

As prominence given to more mundane things has held sway over our annual solar festival, popularly known as ‘aluth avurudda’, (and loosely referred to as the Sinhala-Tamil New Year), most of us little know or have not given sufficient thought to how this unique phenomenon has evolved over the years. Hence, although several weeks have elapsed since the dawn of the solar festival in mid-April this year, ruminating on its evolution and development thus far cannot be confined to a particular month or a few days of the year, although it is the culmination that reaches in mid-April. Even a cursory glance through its occurrence (recurrence!) shows that the dawning and waning of this nostalgic-event are spread over the whole year, and that it’s not a spontaneous activity. Even a rudimentary glance through the cyclic nature of this event shows that it’s the outcome of the interplay of several repetitive happenings basically influenced by geographical and astrological determinants.

Geographical Determinants

(i) Solar Festival Coinciding with the Vernal Equinox

When discussing the geographical determinants of our solar festival, the two events that we need to lay emphasis are the two major events coinciding with the (virtual) movement of the sun. The sun crosses the celestial equator twice a year. When the sun crosses the celestial equator in its northward journey up to the tropic of Cancer, it is referred to as the vernal equinox. Its timing is March 20/21. This is the commencement of the astronomical spring and summer for the northern hemisphere. It takes three months to reach the northern limit, that is, the tropic of Cancer (23.5 degrees from the equator), and its timing is June 20/21. In the sun’s return journey southwards it again crosses the celestial equator on September 20/2, referred to as the autumnal equinox. This event heralds the dawn of summer for the southern hemisphere. Thereupon, the sun journeys up to the tropic of Capricorn , that is, to its southern limit, on December 20/21. This limit too is 23.5 degrees away from the celestial equator.

(ii) Positioning of Sri Lanka vis-à-vis the sun’s upward – downward journeys

Against this backdrop what is relevant to our discussion on the solar festival is the positioning of Sri Lanka vis-à-vis the aforesaid journey of the sun. Sri Lanka is

approximately 7/8 degrees north of the celestial equator. Therefore, when the sun is over Sri Lanka in its northward journey it will be 23/24 days after the vernal equinox.

90 days – 23 days = 67 x 2 (up & down) = 134 days = Approx. 4 ½ months (Yala)

Its timing, therefore, coincides with April 14/15, on which date we celebrate the solar festival. From there onwards the sun takes approx.. 66/67 days to reach the tropic of Cancer, and for the sun to be over Sri Lanka again, in its southward journey, it takes another 66/67 days. So the sun’s movement from being over the island and back again to be over the island will take approximately 134/135 days or 4 ½ months.

(iii) The Yala – Maha Seasons and their impact on the Solar Festival

Due to Sri Lanka’s positioning nearly 8 degrees north of the equator, we saw that the sun in its northward journey, would be over the island on April 14/15. Again in its southward journey to the autumnal equinox the sun would be over Sri Lanka on August 26/27. The sun’s journey to the tropic of Cancer, from being over Sri Lanka and to be back to be on Sri Lanka would take 133/134 days or nearly 4 ½ months; that is, on the basis of 67 days of the sun’s upward journey from Sri Lanka to the tropic of Cancer and again it be over Sri Lanka in its backward journey. This shorter period of 4 ½ months is the Yala season or the ‘lesser harvest period. Invariably, therefore, the Maha season is the longer period of 7 ½ months, which is considered the principal or the main harvesting period.

(iv) Why the Solar Festival cooinconicides with the end of the Maha Seasons –

Lexilogical Evidence

This determination would drive home the fact that while the Yala season in the island is shorter, the Maha season enjoys a wider spread of about 7 ½ months, vis-à-vis the total period of 12 months. Our Solar Festival is at the end of the Maha season, which provides a bountiful harvest during the month of Medin. The word Maha comes from Mas which is a combination of Maha+As (large+harvest). The month of Medin is what you get by combining Maha+Din. Maha is great/large or bountiful, and Din is reaping / cutting or harvesting. The oldest reference to the word din is in the Dhampiya Atuwa Getapadaya, inferred to have been written by king Kassapa V (Aba Salamevan Kasub) of the Anuradhapura period, that is, inor around the 10th century AD. Din also appears in the same context in several other subsequent literary works, namely, Amavatura and Ruwan Mal Niganduwa (a lexicon of the Kotte period).

The month coinciding with the Solar Festival is known as Bak Maha (month of Bak). It follows the month of medin. Hence, it needs no explanation that with the advent of the month of bak the country will be richer with a bountiful harvest gathered in the month of medin. The month of Bak (bhagya in Sanskrit for fortunate) thus becomes a propsperous – bountiful month as a result of the long period of agricultural pursuits under the Maha season, and the bountiful harvests gathered thereof in the month of Medin.

Astrological Determinants

While geographical determinants set the groundwork for the staging of our solar festival, astrological determinants help fine-tuning the exactitudes as to what, how and when the gamut of related activites has to be performed. As to when the application of astrology to our routine and special activities commenced remains in obscurity. But the fact remains that timing is everything in our society, and shows how pervasive astrology has been in the Sri Lankan society. The success of something is often related

to when it happens. The astrological chart linked to the solar festival, therefore, plays a major role in determining the numerous activities linked to the Solar Festival, ranging from the waning of the Old-Year to the dawning of the New Year. There are three important phases in the sun’s transit from the old year to the new year. These are (i) The tail end of the old year referred to as ‘parana-avurudda’, (ii) The period of transition, referred to as ‘sankranthi’ (a Sanskrit word) or ‘nonagathaya’ (the period yet to arrive or the period un-arrived), and (iii) aluth avurudda (dawn of the new year).

‘Nonagathaya’ (the period not arrived/un-arrived) is an interesting word that gives a clue in an attempt to trace the history of the traditions of the solar festival. This word is derived from the combination of na + agatha. agatha is a past participle that appears commonly in many rock inscriptions including that of Vessagiri, belonging to the 6th century A.D. (of the early Anuradhapura period). One of its inscriptions says:

“dhamarakitha thera Agatha anagatha chathudisha shagasha dine.

anikata sona pithaha bariya upasika thisaya lene”.

(could be translated as “The rock cave donated to Dhammarakkhitha thero and sangha or fraternity who came from the four directions. This is the rock cave of female devotee Tissa, wife of Anekatta Sona’s father.)

 

Entry of Religious Observances, Customs, Rituals and Festivities

It is pretty obvious that, with the passage of time any human activity would grow in size

with the entry of beliefs, rituals, customs and festivities. They also provide a fertile springboard for the sprouting of faith-related activities. With the phasing out of the of

the total event into old year, interim phase and the new year a whole hog of things found their way into the system. Leaving aside the avurudu sports, festivities and community-activities, this is how such observances and customs as listed herein came in: (i) Bathing for the passing year, (ii) Cleaning and kindling the hearth, (iii) Boiling the milk-pot, (iv) Preparing the first meal, (v) Waring a particular coloured costume, (vi) Exchanging pleasantries, (vii) Partaking the first meal, (viii) Transacting with the well and with family members, including planting of a tree (ix) Visiting relatives and friends (x) Bathing (purification) for the newly dawned year, and (xi) Leaving home for diurnal activities. Each of the more important rituals and observances was guided by an astrologically determined auspicious time.

 

Nonagathaya (un-arrived time) and Religious Activities

Among the different phases of the solar festival much importance was give to

‘nonagathaya’ or the un-arrived time. During this time, according to tradition the Sri

Lankans have been encouraged to refrain from material pursuits, and engage solely in

religious activities. This is the period the sun is said to be transiting from rewathi nekata of the Meena rashi (Pisces) to aswida nekatha of the Mesha rashi (Aries). Astrologically this span of about 6 ½ hours isn’t result bearing period, and therefore, the people have been, for ages, bent on religious practices. Some have dared to refer to nonagathaya as an inauspicious time.

 

Commonality of Our Solar Festival with those of Our neighbours

Probing into the festivals of our neighbouring countries reveals that their national festivals also coincide with our solar festival. This revelation enables reaching the obvious conclusion that wherever agricultural pursuits had been their main stay, the sun played a decisive role in determining their activities. The national holidays referred to as Songkran in Thailand also falls on April 13, and goes on for three days up to April 15. Songkran is derived from the Sanskrit word sankranthi. They also believe in the sun’s transiting, which is specifically referred to as meṣha saṅkrānti. In Thailand event has lately been transformed as the National Water Festival, highlighting the impact of water on their daily pursuits. The geographical spread of the solar festival also establishes the impact of the Hindu calendar and the influence of the Sanskrit language on their civilizations. It also reveals that the traditional solar-based New Year is celebrated in Laos, Cambodia, Myanmar, Bangladesh, Nepal, Mauritius, some parts of northeast India, parts of Vietnam and China as well. The timing of these festivals is almost similar. All these countries including Sri Lanka had been following the Solar Calendar until the advent of the Gregorian Calendar. The Silappadikaram of the 5th century, an elaborate poetic interpretation of Tamil culture mentions the 12 Raasis or zodiac signs that correspond to the Tamil months starting with Mesha/Chitterai (Aries) in mid-April.

 

Conclusion – The Sun, the First Time-keeper to the Nation

Hence, the above revelations compel us to conclude that our solar festival is more than just a solar experience. As it is intensively interwoven with the habits of the people, it is a festival that celebrates Sri Lankan culture, history, and science. In fact, the sun has been our first time-keeper to the nation. Greek culture was referred to as the Hellenistic culture as they were worshippers of the sun. Helio is the sun. Our ancestors were also worshippers of the sun, and they were also referred to as Helas. It is the four Hela clans (Yak, Na, Dev, Rakus) that later became siv+hela and ultimately Sinhala. Heli helei heleyya… a song that continues to be sung by our fisher-folk is a strong indication of our closeness with the sun. There’s hardly any doubt, therefore, that our solar festival goes back to unrecorded prehistoric times.

Note:

It needs to extend a word of appreciation to Prof. Ajantha S. Dharmasiri for providing the writer an opportunity to research and make a presentation on our Solar Festival to the Institute’s staff.

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Sat Mag

Professor Ashley Halpe, the great humanitarian I knew – I

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By Rohana R. Wasala

I do not know
the thin reek of blood, the stench
of seared flesh, the
cracked irreducible bone; I know
only the thinner reek of pity,
the harsh edge of self-contempt,
the ashy guilt of being too old,
salaried, safe, and comfortable.
I would know their reasons,
the rigour of their hot hate, their
terrifying faith. But
they have said everything
in dying, a communication
beyond all speech….
        Ashley Halpe, ‘”April” 1971’

In the incantatory rhythm of the short meditative lyric contained in Professor Ashley Halpe’s collection of his poems entitled “Silent arbiters have camped in my skull” from which the above lines are quoted, we sense the ebb and flow of the self-assumed guilt (note the play on the word ‘ashy’ that echoes the sound of his first name) and the attendant self-contempt of a socially well ensconced and physically secure but conscience-stricken senior don; he imagined that he was so circumstanced as to be a helpless onlooker while the young students, for whose safety and wellbeing he held himself at least indirectly responsible, were getting slaughtered during the April 1971 JVP rebellion. The young people he empathised with were engaged in a violent struggle in the name of a cause that they fiercely believed in. Professor Halpe had the deepest concern for the education and wellbeing of the youth of the country. On its publication by the Tisara Prakasakayo, Dehiwala, in June 1976, Professor Halpe gifted me an autographed copy of the volume: He wrote “What about writing, too?” in the inner title page before signing it for me. I still have it with me.

He had great sympathy towards the young people who took part in the first JVP insurrection, that took place in April 1971; but he didn’t show any interest in the politics that drove their activism. He had a number of poems in that selection which were implicitly dedicated to the many young boys and girls, including university students, who had perished in that ill-prepared, ill-timed and ill-fated adventure, attempted though it was by a group of selflessly committed and genuinely patriotic young Marxists.

 

Tribute

This present piece of mine, reluctantly autobiographical and discursive, is a memorial tribute to the late Professor Ashley Halpe of the University of Peradeniya, who breathed his last, aged 83, on May 15, 2016. It is five years overdue, though, (the reason for which is explained below). I was prompted to write it after reading three recent write-ups published in honour of the late professor: Tissa Jayatilake’s commemorative essay “Remembering Professor Ashley Halpe”, Aparna Halpe’s filial appreciation “Learning from My Father, Five Years after His Passing” (Aparna was no more than a little chatterbox of a toddler when I first saw her in her father’s light blue Datsun stationwagon, looking through the open shutters and commenting on the passing scenes on the way in her charming baby-prattle during a drive from the campus to Kandy) and George Braine’s “Shakespeare in a takarang shed”, befitting a pupil, published in The Island issues of May 17, 23 and 26, 2021, respectively. To date, Tissa Jayatilake has written quite a number of articles in appreciation of his beloved teacher and respected senior colleague in the academia over a long period of time. I still remember how Tissa, as a novice assistant lecturer, wrote a well-argued defence of Professor Halpe, the foremost Shakespearean scholar of the time in the country as he described him, countering an attack on the latter by some biased critic; it was published in a national newspaper, probably in the Daily News or the Sunday Observer. It was in the second half of the ‘70s decade. I find many laudatory assertions Tissa makes about Professor Halpe in his deeply felt latest eulogy (which is devoid of any hint of hagiography, nevertheless), that I can endorse through my own experience as one of the late professor’s close companions (at a particular time). The only reason for my inordinate delay in writing a commemoration article in honour of Professor Halpe was my own persistent diffidence and hesitation to do so caused by the feeling that the attempt might involve telling too much about myself in the process (instead of the person remembered) that would not be of any interest to my readers. However, I have now realized that that potential danger cannot be avoided by any of his grateful students in celebrating the memory of Professor Halpe simply because of his self- effacing humble nature. While alive he played a distinguished multifaceted role in the national educational and cultural sphere as the doyen of Sri Lanka’s English literature academics.

 

Opportunity

I enjoyed the opportunity to closely associate with Professor Ashley Halpe, the English scholar, poet, dramatist, translator, and painter, initially as my teacher and mentor, and eventually as ‘friend and colleague’ (as he had us identify him) during the 10 years from 1972 to 1982. He treated all his junior associates in the same unassuming manner. At times a rare vainglorious person among them would pretend to be extra pally with him by addressing him by his first name, something that our then colleague, the late Aubrey Kuruppu, well known cricket columnist, commentator, umpire, administrator, and coach – in fact, cricket filled his life – used to ridicule as trying to be ‘on Ashley terms’ with the professor! Professor Halpe was above all a great human being as Tissa Jayatilake has stated more than once in his writings about the late professor.

To me, Professor Halpe was an immensely knowledgeable teacher and a kindhearted guide with a philosophical bent, at a familiar personal level, rather than at a routine official level, due to the uniqueness of the circumstances on my side that caused me to seek his help at a time I had no direct connection or communication with him; but to him, in his own generous estimation, I was one of his ‘young colleagues’, an honour I let myself accept with a keen awareness of my own inadequacy beside him. The latter phase of our relationship (‘friends and colleagues’ stage) was during 1976-82 when I served as an English instructor in what was then known as the sub-department of English (which at a later time became the English Language Teaching Unit/ELTU), whose function was to teach English to the new entrants of all the faculties of the university who lacked the proficiency in the language that they needed to acquire in order to complete their academic studies at the high level of excellence that the university traditionally maintained.

 

Peradeniya

The Peradeniya University’s department of English, even then, more than two decades after its heyday, harked back to its classical fame under its legendary gurus, such brilliant English scholars of the ‘40s and ‘50s as professors EFC Ludowyk, HA Passe, and Doric de Souza. They together bequeathed to the later generations of students the likes of Professor Ashley Halpe and Associate Professor Thiru Kandiah {the latter later moved to the Department of English Language and Literature of the National University of Singapore}.) The Trotskyite English don Doric de Souza (a prominent member of the Lanka Sama Samaja Party) played a significant part in the formation of the sub-department and was responsible for the compilation of a prodigious amount of appropriately chosen practice materials which were designed to meet the advanced linguistic needs of the general mass of students who had little or no English on admission.

I believe I was lucky enough, under the volatile circumstances later reflected in this personal account, to have the chance to subject myself to something of the lasting influence of the first two stalwarts mentioned above, in my attitude to, and grasp of, English literature from and through Professor Halpe, while drawing similar inspiration from the astonishingly creative and productive ideas independently incubated by Doric de Souza about teaching English for academic purposes (which our work as instructors was all about) through Dr Thiru Kandiah. I didn’t personally know Dr Kandiah before my appointment as instructor in 1976, but from then on, my friendly as well as productive interactions with him became as close as those with Professor Halpe.

At this point I feel that a quick flashback to my senior secondary school days is necessary to put my relationship with Professor Halpe in perspective. (By the way, I’d like to alert my readers to the fact that the account given here is not going to be linear; it will have a number of duly indicated flashbacks and flash-forwards, which, I hope, you will not find to be too much of a disjunction in the narrative.) My particular family circumstances caused me to interrupt my GCE AL studies and find a job. While still attending school at Poramadulla Central, I appeared for a competitive examination for admission as a ‘non-teacher’ to the Government Teachers’ Training College at Maharagama, the country’s premier secondary teacher training institution of the day (The National Institute of Education stands at the same venue today) for following a secondary English teacher training course. In those days (the latter ‘60s), Maharagama specialist trained teachers (in any of the specialized fields of science, maths, English, etc) enjoyed special recognition and were paid on a higher salary scale than those from general teacher training colleges. This salary disparity was removed under the UF government of the ‘70s. Our English teacher at the GCE OL in the mid-60s was an alumnus of G.T.C Maharagama.

 

Ambition

It was at the G.T.C. that I started entertaining an English Honours degree ambition, thanks to two scholarly lecturers there: Mr A.M.G.Sumanapala Akmeemana who held a BA English Hons (London) degree, and was also a postgraduate TEFL (UK) diplomate, whose thought-provoking lectures delivered in flawless (but not stilted) English left a lasting impression on my young mind. It was from him that I learned what the ‘Socratic method’ of teaching was: for a considerable part of the lecture time, he didn’t ‘teach’; he asked questions and made us think. Tissa remembers the same stimulating approach used by Professor Halpe, and I agree with him. (Incidentally, the senior English lecturer at Vidyalankara University, Mr A.M.G. Sirimanne, that George Braine mentions in his piece was Mr Akmeemana’s older brother, but I never saw him; I had only heard about him as a first-class English scholar.) The other lecturer who similarly inspired me when I was training at Maharagama was the late Ms Chitra Fernando, linguist, academic and author, and eminent English fiction writer. She was a Peradeniya English Hons graduate, who had been tutored by Professor Passe and other stalwarts in the later ‘50s; she was perhaps a little junior to Professor Halpe at Peradeniya. On my first day at Maharagama, she called me to her after a lecture, and asked me from where I was and how old I was. I told her. When I said I was 19 plus, she said to me: “You are still too much of a kid. You should be in a university, not here. Don’t stop your studies after training”. Her words made a seminal impact on me. The training gave a foretaste of my Peradeniya experience, which I went through in unusual circumstances.

Before being enrolled as students of the Teachers’ College, the successful candidates were appointed as assistant teachers so they could be paid while in training.

They were made to sign a bond committing themselves to mandatory unbroken government service for a specified period after training, failing which they were required to pay back the cost of the training in full. On completion of the two year course, they were appointed to secondary schools. As luck would have it, I was appointed to a secondary school close to my home town, which suited me in view of my family responsibilities and my postponed university education prospects. This was a year or two before the first JVP rebellion of 1971.

Now, still in my early twenties, while teaching in that school, I successfully appeared for my delayed GCE AL exam as a private candidate offering English as one of the standard four subjects to be offered at the time in the arts stream instead of the science stream which I had followed at school, and qualified to apply for enrolment in a university. However, I couldn’t legally find admission to a university or leave the state school system which employed me without losing my job because of the training college bond that I had signed with the government. So I decided to achieve my ambition as an autodidact, and got enrolled for the external degree programme of the Peradeniya university as a special English trained teacher.

Following this, I wanted to make contact with an internal student in the English department. I did that through a former schoolmate of mine who was just finishing his studies in another department of the Peradeniya university. He said he had a friend doing English, who, he was sure, would gladly help me with his notes and other materials as he was a ‘kaddek’ with revolutionary leftist ideas in politics ‘like us’, and offered to take me to him. (The slang word ‘kaddaa’ in university parlance meant a (male) person who was already competent in English or was pursuing studies in the English medium; ‘kaddee’ would have been the feminine form, which I never heard, though.)

By the way, it may be said that the campus colloquialism ‘kaduwa’ for English (from which base the above forms were derived) originated among university students, about or just before the time covered in this narrative; they, having mostly come from the non-English speaking (or exclusively swabhasha speaking) rural peasant and generally subaltern sections of the society with negligible English, recognized the alien language (English) for what it had been in the past: a symbol of colonial power and privilege and an instrument of oppression and exploitation; a perception that they expressed by calling it ‘kaduwa’ (sword). I owe this analysis of ‘kaduwa’ to Dr Thiru Kandiah mentioned above, internationally known Sri Lankan linguist, who both spoke and wrote about it occasionally in his normal research related contexts. He drew upon his research experiences among Black and other non-white subjects from dispossessed backgrounds in America in this respect. I remember him describing “kaduwa” used in that sense as a remarkably expressive poetic construction. Being a senior lecturer in English, he happened to be the coordinator of the subsidiary division of the English department at the time I got appointed to the permanent cadre of instructors in1976 after facing a highly competitive recruitment test (By that time, I had completed my English Hons degree, while working in a government school as a teacher.)

To go back in my narrative again, the ‘kaddaa’ that my school friend took me to was none other than the same Tissa Jayatilake I mentioned at the beginning of this essay, then a student of both Halpe and Kandiah. This was around 1970 to early 1972, i.e., well before I came into any close contact with the latter two. Today he is well known as English academic, political analyst and director of the Fulbright Commission of Sri Lanka, among other things. When Tissa was appointed as the director of the American Center (called the American Corner at present?) in Kandy in those early days that I am talking about, he was given a big official vehicle by the embassy that employed him. I still remember (hope my memory is not erroneous) him telling us how embarrassed he felt to be driven about in that ‘limousine’ among the poverty stricken fellow citizens of the place. I also remember attending a public lecture on the prominent ‘metaphysical poet’ John Donne (of the late 16th- and early 17th century) that he delivered as a fresh lecturer (no doubt on being recommended by Professor Halpe) at the British Council library, then located in a building adjacent to where the current supergrade branch of the Bank of Ceylon in Kandy was built decades later. In passing, it must be remembered with gratitude, that the British Council and the American Center libraries in Kandy, which were well stocked with books, offered the local readers (mostly students) free library facilities, that I made the best use of as additional resources in my scholastic endeavours.

Going a few years further back from this point, the past scene of my first meeting with Tissa is clearly etched in my mind. This was in the early ‘70s, during the months that the April ‘71 insurgency was gradually fomented, got suddenly ignited and was quenched with considerable violence. The security situation in the country was still tense consequent to the JVP revolt, which I had survived miraculously unscathed. The untimely death of my father due to sudden illness a few years previously left my family without its anchor. The responsibilities that my father shouldered largely devolved on me. This left me neither the opportunity nor the inclination to take part in the revolutionary political movement, which had been initiated by the ‘Peking Wing’ (of the Communist Party) led by N. Shanmugathasan. The activities of the ‘Peking Wing’ led to the formation of Rohana Wijeweera’s Janatha Vimukti Peramuna.

We – my school friend and I – , to resume the episode of my first meeting with Tissa, called on him in his room in a hall of residence whose name has now slipped out of my memory. He was reclining in his bed against some pillows, chatting with some friends of his (from the adjoining rooms, as was obvious). He immediately sat up, and welcomed us with warmth, while his friends left, letting him talk with us. Tissa showed great empathy with my situation. He proceeded to give me some very useful hints. He named books that he thought I had to read in addition to the prescribed texts for the first year exam or the General Arts Qualifying (GAQ) examination, which he had already been through. Later, Tissa introduced me to an assistant lecturer named Wimal Weerakkody for help with Western Classics. The latter’s brilliance in spite of his visually handicapped situation was amazing, and he was very generous in helping me. This Wimal Weerakkody was none other than the late Prof Emeritus of Western Classical Languages D.P.M. Weerakkody (familiarly known as Wimal Weerakkody), then an assistant lecturer in that subject, who was residing in either Jayatilake or Arunachalam Hall of Residence – I can’t clearly remember which – close to the Arts Theatre and the central library of the university. Meanwhile, my schoolmate friend borrowed the books that I needed from the university library using his student library tickets.

Subsequently, I passed the GAQ examination, earning eligibility to read for a Special (or ‘Honours’ as it had been known until not long before that) degree in any of the three subjects that I had offered for the GAQ (namely, English, Western Classical Culture and Economics). I opted to major in English, which had been my lifelong dream. I chose Western Classical Culture as the subsidiary subject to go with my principal subject English. This happened about a year after the first Che Guevarist uprising (1971) of the JVP was brutally put down by the government security forces, as shown above.

I thought it appropriate to go and see Ms Chitra Fernando and Mr Akmeemana at Maharagama and express my gratitude to them for invigorating me with their kind advice and guidance. Unfortunately, the former was not there. But I was able to meet Mr Akmeemana. He seemed more pleased to see me alive than to hear about my exam success (not that he underrated the second). “My family circumstances and my passion for English saved me, sir”, I told him. Like Professor Halpe (whom I came to know a year or two later), Mr Akmeemana, it was evident, wept in his heart over the ‘tragic destruction of young lives’. “Those innocent boys and girls were on the threshold of life. But their idealism killed them”, he mused, “They were just waiting to be slaughtered in the jungle!”

(To be continued)

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Cattle slaughter in India

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This is a controversial subject and I know it will attract allegations of communal bias. What puzzles me is: a Muslim urging his community members to stop killing and eating cows is lauded everywhere. If a non Muslim writes, they are immediately accused of inciting hatred.

But it is not meant in that spirit. Last month my team has raided markets all over Assam and found hundreds of cows and calves being killed in the open and sold by shops, like chickens in wayside shops. The police used the excuse of communal law and order to do almost nothing. Cow killing is banned in Assam and it is a BJP state, but no one takes action because of a fear of riots, and Assam kills as many cows as Kerala.
 
So does Bihar. One “cold storage” in Siwan, next to the slaughterhouse, had 50 tonnes of cow meat, dozens of cows tied up outside, blood and dead bodies all over the place – but the SP and the local SHO “could not find anything”.

There is no doubt in my mind that the police allow this because of the extra income they make. In Bihar cow killers work under the protection of the police, and the slaughterhouses are in ghettoes. In districts like Aurangabad, trucks full of cows go for slaughter to West Bengal every day – stopping to pay their police dues at the chungis. Any attempt to stop them is always interpreted as an “attempt to create communal disharmony”. But a law is a law. If it is illegal to cut cows, why is the law not being followed? Yogi Adityanath inherited a state where there were over 20,000 illegal slaughterhouses. Within three months he shut them down. The same police, that allowed them to operate, moved in speedily. There are almost none now.

There is no doubt that Hindus own slaughterhouses as well – in Kerala and Andhra Pradesh especially. These are exceptions. But the beef-eating Muslim has become a stereotype. And it has become the reason for tension between the communities.

And it has allowed the more rabid of all communities to come out on top. The crazies on the social media are enough to make anyone afraid. To give you one example: a man who looked like a Muslim was filmed beating a calf almost to death. There was a social media outcry. It turned out to be a drunken Hindu farmer wearing a rural Maharashtrian cap. Immediately everyone lost interest, and the calf was not confiscated by the police. It was irrelevant that this baby is being beaten every day.

Why don’t the Muslims take a decision to stop killing and eating cow meat ? The reasons are always the same: right to eat what you want in a democracy (then why is elephant meat banned?), caste divisions, vegetables are also live, it will destroy the fabric of India, etc. It is considered intellectually honest to organize a “beef festival” and its counter a “pork festival” at Osmania University in Hyderabad – using the dead bodies of animals in order to have a fight.

This is not about democracy. In a democracy, I can swing my hand as high as I want as long as it does not hit your nose. Mutual understanding and tolerance are the only two routes that can make India progress.

You will say : if that is so, then why don’t the Hindus tolerate the meat-eating habits of Muslims. Because gauseva is the basic tenet of this religion. The Hindus are not going to change century-old religious beliefs.

But where in the Quran, or in any Hadith of the Holy Prophet, does it say that Muslims have to kill cows or eat their meat ? There were no cows in the deserts of Saudi Arabia and camel milk was occasionally drunk. There is absolutely no record of the Holy Prophet even eating meat.

Ghulam Rasool Dehlvi, a classical Islamic scholar in Qur’anic sciences and Uloom ul Hadith from Al-Azhar Institute of Islamic Studies, M. A. in Comparative Religions & Civilisations and a double M.A. in Islamic Studies from Jamia Millia Islamia, New Delhi, writes :

“The reality is that it is neither obligatory (wajib) nor mandatory (fard) in Qur’an to consume meat. The Holy Prophet Muhammad exhorted his followers to abstain from eating the cow’s meat. He is reported to have said in a Hadith, “There is value in cow’s milk, a healing quality in its ghee, and a disease in its meat”.

This article is not about Muslims not eating meat. It is about not eating cow meat. Muslims’ self-imposition of the beef ban could go a long way to bring about a peaceful religious coexistence.
If Kashmir is considered the heart of Muslim India and Sufism its deepest soul, here is what the author of a book on Sufism, Sadia Dehlvi, writes “I am not for bans on eating one’s preferred form of meat, but let us understand that in the syncretic culture of the Kashmir valley, there has traditionally always been an understanding that beef and pork are not served on the table. The Kashmir cuisine enjoyed by both Kashmiri Pandits and Muslims uses sheep mutton and not beef…a voluntary decision based on mutual respect by the Kashmiris.”

Heads of the prime Sufi shrines in India have urged Muslims to give up beef. On the conclusion of the annual Urs of Khwaja Moinuddin Hasan Chisty in Ajmer Sharif, the spiritual head of the shrine, Syed Zainul Abedin and descendant of Sufi mystic Khwaja Moinuddin Chishti stated: “On the occasion of the 805th Urs of Khwaja Moinuddin Hasan Chisty, who all through his life strived for peaceful coexistence of Hindus and Muslims, we Muslims should give up eating beef to honour the religious sentiments of our Hindu brethren,” (reported in HT).

He is reported to have taken a pledge that he and his family ‘would never have beef for the rest of their lives’ . “I have always believed that the cause of an issue that is creating a conflict among communities should be dealt with at the roots. Hence we used this platform on such an occasion to convey the message”.
“Muslims should set an example by resolving to not consume beef in the interest of communal harmony in India” read the joint declaration by the heads of Sufi shrines who were part of the congregation at the Ajmer Dargah.

Bovine meat has never been part of the Islamic identity. I quote from an article on the Islamic history in India: “From Fatwa-e-Humayuni to Durr al-Mukhtar to Maulana Hassan Nizami and Hakim Ajmal Khan, the message has been reiterated time and again that cow slaughter is not mandated in Islam, that sacrifice of sheep and goat are considered superior to cow slaughter, that poor Muslims are not obliged to offer sacrifice and that neither the Holy Quran or Arab traditions support cow sacrifice.

The Mughal emperor Bahadur Shah Zafar, who led the first war of independence in 1857, had issued a decree declaring as his enemy any person who sacrificed a cow, bull or calf, and making such an act punishable by death. This was similar to a farman issued by Emperor Akbar, whose love for cows finds elaborate mention in the Ain-i-Akbari written by Abul Fazal. French Traveller Francois Bernier, who closely studied the Mughal courts, also writes that cow slaughter was akin to man slaughter under the law.

All of us dream of an India where there is no communal tension. Cow and pig meat have been a trigger since 1857. Is it not time for both communities to let these go?

To join the animal welfare movement contact gandhim@nic.in, www.peopleforanimalsindia.org

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