Being a Buddhist by birth, with only a basic understanding of Buddhist teachings, one might question my competence to say what follows. However, as a keen observer of what goes on around me, I feel confident and justified in what I say. Although I am nowhere near perfect, I feel there is an obligation on my part to highlight the glaring problems in the Buddha Sasana at present.
The Buddha Sasana is nourished and sustained by four-fold groups; Bhikkhu, Bhikkhuni, Upasaka, Upasika. The first two groups are supposed to have renounced all worldly pleasures, embarking on a path, leading eventually to Nirvana. The other groups, while following the Buddhist way of life for their own salvation, have the added responsibility of looking after the interests of the former, who by the very nature of their undertaking cannot sustain themselves, for their basic worldly needs for survival and emancipation. The bhikkhus and bhikkhunis, while fulfilling their aims by abiding by the vows pledged, have a supreme obligation to preserve and perpetuate the pristine teachings of the Enlightened One, and to guide the laymen on the correct path. These interdependent components are essential for the survival of the Buddha Sasana.
Vast majority leading exemplary lives
It should be emphasised at the very outset that the vast majority of the Buddhist monks follow the edicts of the Buddha Sasana and lead exemplary lives. They play a vital role in preserving the Dhamma in its original form. The Dhamma sermons, delivered in public and via electronic media by erudite monks, go a long way in guiding the lay disciples on the correct path. The service they render by conducting Sunday schools for the children, in almost every temple in the country, is admirable. Training the laymen in meditation, an essential practice for disciplining the mind, is spearheaded by the monks. Almost all, without exception, study the Pali language, purely for the purpose of learning in-depth the Buddhist scriptures like the abhidhamma. Many have subsequently written extensively in Sinhala, which can be easily understood by the laymen, although owing to the complexity of the subject, there are variable interpretations. In addition, their literary exploits over the years have been remarkable.
The monks engage in much needed social service as well. They are in the forefront in providing basic necessities for the needy, as well as looking after the monks and other services in the impoverished temples all over the land.
A few, however, tend to deviate from the accepted and expected norms. It is necessary to guide the few errant monks on the right path, as it is they who attract the headlines in news media, bringing the Buddha Sasana to disrepute. Such collective action will ensure a secure future of the Sasana, avoiding ridicule by all and sundry. As is usual in every sphere, news headlines highlight the evil, not the virtuous.
If the monks are to strictly follow the path to Nirvana, they probably are better off in isolation, in a monastery, attending only to their own religious needs, with minimum interaction with the laymen. However, the monks in the community, like those in the village temple, have to attend to the various spiritual needs of the laymen. They are supposed to depend on the latter for their basic needs, the sivupasaya. If not for the selfless service rendered by the monks in the community, one wonders where the Buddha Sasana would be today. Essential Buddhist rituals like pansakula and Pirith ceremonies would have been a thing of the past. But, at the same time, monks may be found at fault, for misleading the laymen in conducting extravagant rituals with hundreds of thousands of flowers or oil lamps, and wrapping dagobas with cheevaras or Buddhist flags. It should be the duty of the monks to impress upon laymen that such expensive and time consuming ahmisa poojas have little merit in achieving the goals of a Buddhist way of life.
Despite the close interaction with lay people, monks are expected to maintain their discipline strictly, so that they are beyond reproach. It is unfortunate that in many instances the monks are found often to surpass the laymen in extolling the comforts of worldly pleasures. They insist on mentioning many titles and honours bestowed on them, every time their names are mentioned. There are many Mahanayakes and Nayakas as there are as many sects and subsects of the three Nikayas. No doubt these divisions are against the principles expounded in the Dhamma. The titles are followed by a list of several temples each monk is in charge of or “owns”. The robes some wear are much more expensive than the clothes worn by laymen. The vehicles they own, or travel in, are often of the highest standard of luxury. I am aware of a monk who received a “nayake” title recently purchasing a more expensive vehicle, declaring openly that such is essential to maintain the dignity of his new position! Many monks are rumoured to personally possess much wealth in the form of real estate. This is bound to be true, as quite a few of them end up in courts of law to settle property disputes. The current debate going on in the open between two groups of monks for the post of viharadhipathi of the Seruwila Raja Maha Vihara is most despicable.
Many monks have become virtual managers of building projects. There is hardly any temple where some building project is not ongoing, often for superfluous decorative effect. In some instances, they appear to be in a competition to look better than a temple in the neighbourhood. Many wealthy laymen make lavish contributions out of respect on requests incessantly made by the monks for donations. This is even more questionable as there are a large number of temples all over the country, lacking basic infrastructure or daily needs of the resident monks. I have come across several laymen who regretted ever undertaking Katina pinkamas, as the eventual cost turned out to be much more than they ever envisaged or could afford. This was to a great extent due to the unreasonable demands made by the temple monks during the period of three months.
Ever since the watershed in politics in 1956, where the Buddhist monks played a pivotal role in the “Pancha Maha Balavegaya”, petty politicians have been instrumental in bringing Bhikkhus into active politics. The utterances and other acts of these monks in politics are totally against all vinaya edicts prescribed for them. The chaotic and most disgraceful scenes that ensued when they entered Parliament, a decade ago, are still fresh in our memory. They are also guilty of promoting hatred and divisions between various diverse groups of people, causing much racial and religious disharmony, in total contradiction to peaceful coexistence, enshrined in the Dhamma. The prolonged ethnic conflict has been an impetus for Buddhist monks to engage in virtually open warfare in the pretext of saving the Sasana. Politicians continue to exploit the monks for divisive activity. One cannot justify the monks appearing on political platforms and behaving like any other laymen. The sight of young monks leading the demonstrations and processions of trade unions and political rallies, and getting assaulted and arrested by the police, is most depressing. It is sad to see a few weeks ago two monks openly battling it out shamelessly for the right to a seat in Parliament. The monks should avoid all these confrontations, making them the laughing stock of the people and causing much dismay to the Buddhists in general. In contrast, we are yet to see priests of other religions ever behaving in such a derogatory manner.
How a Buddhist monk has been the leader of a government service nurses union for many years is beyond belief. The ease with which he organises nurses’ work stoppages, harming patients under their care, can never be reconciled with the teachings of the Enlightened One, who espoused by example the merits of caring for the sick. This monk, enjoying much political patronage, is tarnishing the image ofthe Buddha Sasana.
A few years ago, several well-known monks indulged in fasts unto death, an act very much against the Buddhist edicts, to protest disputed governmental action. More recently, some were making public speeches on the merits of organic fertilisers and the harm done by various chemicals. They seem to be acting as mouthpieces of the various politicians, with no real understanding of the complexity of the issues involved. The violent behaviour of the young monks at various protests and marches, and invariably getting assaulted or apprehended by the law enforcement authorities, makes one wonder what the future holds for the Buddha Sasana. Same is true of a few monks recently seen with disgraceful behaviour in the open under the influence of alcohol.
The wisdom of elevating the two leading Pirivenas in the country, Vidyodaya and Vidyalankara, to university status has been questioned ever since. Both have now been reverted to status quo and the two universities given separate names. I believe the two respected centres of Buddhist learning lost their glamour and lustre as a result of that ill-conceived project. Allowing monks to indulge in the study of mundane subjects, of no relevance to the Buddhist teachings, is another point of contention. Their demands for employment and some getting employed as clerks in offices or teaching a variety of subjects at schools, deserve much rethinking. It is unfortunate that university education, supposed to enlighten one’s thinking, seems to have a deleterious effect on the behaviour of Buddhist monks. The pros and cons of very young prepubertal children getting ordained should receive urgent attention. A significant proportion of all these categories are said to leave the robes sooner or later. These ideas may sound old fashioned and regressive, but these are issues which are intricately bound to the future wellbeing of the Buddha Sasana.
The claim is made that Buddhist monks have played a part in statecraft from the times of ancient kingdoms. This I consider is a total misrepresentation of facts. Such involvement with rulers was mostly in an advisory capacity behind the scenes, and not by waging verbal battles in the open, spreading hatred. Their provocative revolting, at times taking a violent turn, against the invading armies and colonial masters were patriotic acts, to preserve the Buddha Sasana and its disciples and followers from annihilation by the invaders, a dire necessity of the times. (The contemporary happenings in Thailand and Myanmar show how Buddhist monks are revolting to ensure that the formidable armed forces do not harm the religion.)
Although at present many politicians are seen regularly paying homage to prelates in Kandy, Anuradhapura and elsewhere, as if to show remorse and seek forgiveness for all their misdeeds, it does not appear that the monks give any constructive advice to the rulers.
The President has given a forum for the Buddhist monks to express themselves in his monthly meetings of the Buddhist Advisory Council. Although we have not seen any detailed reports of this engagement, from brief news items we see on TV, there does not seem to be any constructive criticism or suggestions given. Such silence, followed by the valedictory statement made by a senior prelate at the end of the meetings, probably makes the President to erroneously believe that everything he said has been favourably approved by the participants.
Buddhist monks undertake a whole series of vows at their initiation that impose strict discipline on their worldly life. Yet there are many who openly violate even the basic five precepts. The apparent incapacity of the Mahanayakes and hundreds of other Nayake theros to discipline errant monks is inexplicable. It is said that there is no provision for an errant monk to be disrobed, in the way it is done in other religions. As a result, the robe is being abused as a cover for all nefarious and even anti-social activities. The whole concept of the title Adhikarana Sanganayake appears to be meaningless. Just calling them cheevaradariya instead of hamuduruwo once they are exposed and apprehended, will not erase the damage done or restore the tarnished image. Any organisation unable to instill discipline among their members or followers, even by punitive action or expulsion if necessary, cannot flourish or survive for long.
There is a general misplaced impression among some that laymen should mind their own business without interfering with the affairs of the monks, as we all are fallible human beings, pruthagjanas. Disciplining the body and mind is paramount. If there is no mechanism to bring the wrongdoers, disobeying the vinaya edicts to the right path, there will be the eventual degeneration of the Buddha Sasana, and the society in general. The Buddhists are perpetually worried about the possibility of various outside, non-Buddhist forces, destroying the Buddha Sasana. However, the Buddha himself has preached that the Buddha Sasana will decline and perish due to the activities of his own disciples, meaning from within, rather than by outside influences. The happenings of today make that possibility very likely.
Many important events, in relation to the life of the Buddha happened on Esala Poya day. It also marks the beginning of the Vas season, when the monks are supposed to restrict travel, and spend time strengthening within themselves the vinaya edicts. Hence this could well be the most opportune period for all concerned to address the issue of bringing back the errant monks to the mainstream.
The leaders among the monks and laymen have a historical responsibility to take urgent corrective action. It is high time even a Dhamma Sangayana was held to ensure that all the glaring shortcomings described above are addressed and rectified before it is too late. No doubt taking decisive and perhaps drastic action in this regard could be a step into a socio-political minefield. The Buddha Sasana Ministry could work with the leading monks to formulate a legal framework for maintaining the discipline. This is much more urgent than the current somewhat controversial steps being taken to preserve the Buddhist scriptures, Tripitaka, as a National Heritage. The Buddhist monks, as well as the right-thinking laymen, should not remain deaf and blind to what happens all around us that will eventually lead to the decline of the Buddha Sasana.
I started by asking the question “Whither the Buddha Sasana?”. Let me conclude by stating that we all have a great responsibility to see that it does not wither away!
S. M. SUMANADASA
Red Alert: Need to quarantine imported organic fertilisers
By CHANDRE DHARMAWARDANA
When the government suddenly banned the import of fertilisers and pesticides in April 2021 and went ‘100 percent organic’, many scientists warned of dire danger ahead.
The hubris of becoming the world’s first to be free of alleged agricultural toxins made the government stand firm. Its rag-tag of ideologically motivated advisors pointed to roadside mounds of leaves, or Salvinia on rivers, and claimed that enough organic fertiliser can be produced, locally, to meet all needs. It was claimed falsely that Lanka’s ancients had even made it the ‘granary of the East’.
A decades-old ‘good food for health’ movement, among elite circles and fashionable eco-activists, gained a foothold among Sri Lankan nationalists as well. They falsely claimed that even the Chronic Kidney disease of Rajarata is caused by agrochemicals and that Lankans die of cancer due to the use of agrochemicals. According to one politicised doctor, the ancients ate toxin-free food and lived to 140 years, while modern Lankans have eaten poisoned food since 1970 (see https://dh-web.org/green/cdw-Padeniya18May2021.pdf, or Pethiyagoda: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qnmRk3BRtQc).
According to news reports, Sri Lanka is to import organic fertilisers costing Rs 3.8 billion, to cultivate 1.1 million hectares. This is alarming news. Organic fertilisers should not cross borders, as microbes, viruses and other components in them, benign in the local biosphere, may become harmful in a different biosphere.
More alarmingly, the organic fertilizer is from China! China is the country using the MOST amount of the harshest types of agrochemicals and industrial toxins. Its ‘organic fertiliser’ is made of urban waste, raw ‘night soil’, seaweeds or whatever, and processed for local use according to standards satisfactory for those ecosystems; but certainly ‘not’ for Sri Lankan ecosystems. Sri Lanka uses very low amounts per hectare of agrochemicals, even in the tea estates, as compared to most countries (see: The Island, 2021/05/6 ‘Political rhetoric, or sounding death knell for Sri Lanka’s agriculture?’ https://island.lk/political-rhetoric-or-sounding-death-knell-for-sri-lankas-agriculture/).
So, importing Chinese ‘organic fertilizer’ is like exporting bags of ‘processed’ Meethotamulla garbage to some country foolish enough to pay 3.8 billion rupees for it! While such humus is useful to the soil, the universally valid chemistry of proteins shows that such ‘organic fertiliser’ cannot contain significant amounts of nitrogen or phosphorus needed for plant growth. Claims of organic fertiliser, with unusually high nitrogen, content are pure propaganda.
Viruses, bacteria and other organisms in any imported product mutate and infect the host country rapidly. This danger is well understood and reflected in Sri Lanka’s import control standards.
Dr. Chris Panabokke, Director General of Agriculture some decades ago, strongly opposed suggestions to even ‘test’ the use of imported nitrogen-fixing bacteria, to enhance Sri Lanka’s relatively poor soils. A ‘good’ bacterium of a foreign ecosystem may become dangerous in a new ecosystem. Even an accidental release is a catastrophe. So the so-called ‘precautionary principle’ becomes relevant.
If a traveller had even visited a farm in a foreign country, or brought a mere twig of a plant, strict rules are applied at immigration, even though invasive pathogens and pests hitching a ride on imports is inevitable. Such invasions, including the invasion of the COVID-19 virus, are processes that countries have learnt to control as much as possible.
Importation of fertilisers and other agrochemicals, be they inorganic or organic, requires that the product be sterile, which means free of living organisms, and free of soils. Impurities like heavy metals and chemical residues should only occur at levels below the maximum allowed limits (MALs).
No country willingly imports potentially dangerous materials that can irreversibly implode a country’s food system and the health of its citizens. The organic fertiliser needed to cultivate 1.1 million hectares may be anywhere from 50-500 million metric tonnes, depending on the planted crops and soil conditions. No exporter of organic fertiliser, anywhere in the world, is set up to sterilise such large quantities of organic fertiliser or remove any residual soils from such fertilizer. So it is safe to distrust any large export.
Facing danger when much is at stake
No country can properly sample a huge amount, 30 to 500 million metric tonnes of a non-uniform material like organic fertiliser. Elementary statistical theory shows that for such non-uniform materials a fraction 1/e of the total, where “e=2.718” (the base of the Napierian logarithm) must be sampled. Even all the analytical chemistry labs of the whole world working for the President of Sri Lanka, cannot do the job!
However, a non-uniform material contaminated with pathogens has billions of pathogens. So even a few samples may show SOME pathogens, though not all types of pathogens, and that is the red alert.
News reports say that two advanced samples were found to be contaminated with Erwinia and Bacillus bacteria dangerous to crops, and also other pathogens harmful to humans. This is extremely alarming news. The food security of the country, the health of its residents, and prospects for generations are at stake. When so much is at stake, the precautionary principle must be applied.
Steps to take in facing the ‘Red Alert’
These so-called organic fertilizers are likely to arrive in Sri Lanka anytime soon. Drastic steps are needed to avert an irreversible tragedy. Humpty Dumpty cannot be put back on the wall, and his splinters should not spew havoc all over the island. Hence, here are the steps to take:
Leading agricultural and health scientists should file a fundamental rights petition, based on the intrinsic impossibility of fulfilling the plant and biohazard quarantine rules at the scale of the planned imports.
Require that the imported material on arrival be quarantined in an off-shore facility (an army-controlled island, for example) and sterilised to free it of pathogens.
Once sterilised, the heavy metals content must be reduced below the Maximum Allowed Limits, as discussed below.
The only technically viable option for the mass sterilisation of millions of tonnes of a metrical is via gamma-ray irradiation. An off-shore facility must be built where the foreign organic material is slowly and repeatedly rolled over a battery of gamma-ray sources (see, for example, N. Halis, Med Device Technol. 1992 Aug-Sep; 3(6):37-45.)
5. The sterilized organic fertiliser must then be freed of heavy metals such as Arsenic, Cadmium, Lead, Mercury that are extremely harmful to human and animal health.
Considering Cadmium (Cd) as an example, and the European average of 50 mg of Cd per kilogram of inorganic fertiliser as the MAL, the safe amount in organic fertiliser (applied in tonnes and not kilos) should be hundreds of times less. In fact, almost all the heavy metals have to be removed. Chemically removing all the heavy metals from millions of tonnes of fertiliser is impossible, and creates the bigger problem of disposing of the impurity. The only option is to render the heavy metals inert and ineffective using a cheap, non-poisonous but powerful chemical chelating agent that is also available in commercial quantities.
The only substance that fits the bill is glyphosate. It is known to promote the growth of earthworms and increase useful microorganisms when applied to contaminated soils (see: Environmental Toxicology, 2014 https://doi.org/10.1002/etc.2683). The imported sterilised organic fertiliser must be mixed with the appropriate amount of glyphosate, in mixing vessels similar to cement mixers at each farming site.
Alternatively, the import should be returned to China and Lanka suffers its loss, but avoids steps 1 to 5.
The recent ambiguous gazette notification on limiting the import of agrochemicals should be challenged by importing a few kilos of urea and TPS as legal tests.
Once the first batch of organic fertilizer is handled according to the steps indicated above, no more organic fertiliser should be imported to avert irreversible tragedy.
Only locally made organic fertiliser must be used to provide ‘organic food’ for those who want it. Local composting must be technically controlled, to sequester dangerous greenhouse gases like methane and CO2 that should not be released into the atmosphere (see: R. Lal, https://royalsocietypublishing.org/doi/abs/10.1098/rstb.2007.2185). The major part of the market can be supplied via conventional agriculture, which is much safer from an environmental and human-health point of view than organic agriculture.
(The author was a professor of chemistry and a Vice-Chancellor of the Sri Jayewardenepura University in the 1970s, then known as the Vidyodaya University. Currently, he is affiliated with the National Research Council of Canada and the University of Montreal)
Disciplined society: Bridge too far?
By Dr. Upul Wijayawardhana
Discipline, by definition, is the practice of training people to obey rules and orders and punishing them if they do not. But there is more to it. The government of the day can lay down the rules as well as the mechanisms for punishment if they are broken, but society has even a greater part to play, as disciplined behaviour is mutually beneficial. The behaviour of the majority of the public, rather the misbehaviour, contributing to the difficulty of controlling the present COVID-19 pandemic, is a case in point.
True, the Pohottuwa government has distinguished itself by scoring many own goals, but it has to be appreciated that the President and the government have done much to control the pandemic, under very difficult circumstances. For an under-resourced country, facing a severe foreign exchange crisis, due to the pandemic, to have vaccinated more than half of the adult population, in a relatively short period, is a remarkable achievement, as it surpasses some developed countries. True, mistakes were made but no country got things correct as this was an unprecedented situation. Had there been more cooperation from the public, including the Opposition, things could have been even better. Having seen how Britain, which was hit very much harder, controlled the pandemic, I wrote an article ‘Learning to live with Covid-19’ (The Island, 26 August) wherein I stated:
“Limitations in force in Sri Lanka, before the imposition of the curfew, were similar to the strictest lockdown measures in countries like the UK. Why is that Sri Lanka needs to go a step further and introduce a curfew? The simple answer is discipline; whereas in the UK the majority show disciplined behaviour, unfortunately, the opposite is true in Sri Lanka.”
Though many appreciated my article written in good faith, to offer scientific facts to convince the public that they have a greater part to play than the government, to overcome the epidemic and learn to live with it, most unexpectedly, the only rebuff I got was from a former colleague of mine. He lambasted:
“I was quite amazed and disappointed about your comments about the vaccination programme here. Every medical professional here, except the ever-diminishing number of those slavishly loyal to the Rajapksas, are extremely critical of the way it is done. This vaccination programme has totally ruined the reputation we had as a country with an exemplary immunisation programme for a long time. When the Army, politicians and other businessmen make decisions, overriding medical opinion, the outcome is obvious.
The vaccination queues are the latest super-spreaders. Many have got the infection few days after attending a mass vaccination site. The latter have become carnivals with the army band providing music and the President making a supervisory visit every now and then.
“You have suddenly found Sri Lankans to be very undisciplined. With such a set of power-wielding uneducated, undisciplined set of leaders, what did you expect the people to be? Living thousands of miles away, your extreme ignorance about the ground situation here, coloured by your unwavering loyalty to some politicians, is not surprising.”
I was shocked that a member of my profession sought to politicise a serious public health issue. Whilst pointing out that routine vaccination programmes are not comparable to a programme conducted during an extreme emergency and that many, including Dr. N.S. Jayasinghe, a much-respected physician, has written to newspapers praising the programme, I addressed the issue of indiscipline with the following response:
“I know from personal experience how undisciplined Sri Lankans are and it is not a new discovery! I left the GMOA because I was against strikes, a sign of lack of discipline among the members of the so-called noble profession. If you think Sri Lankans are disciplined, you are living in cloud-cuckoo land! Your statement that the vaccination programme acted as a spreader proves my point. If it did occur, it is because people do not know how to queue. They think if you push, things would be done quicker! If the Army had stood outside ordering people to queue properly, the Opposition would have claimed Gota was using the Army to tame the public!”
The last thing I wish to do is to criticize my brethren unfairly, from a distant land, but I am not left with much choice. It is pretty obvious that indiscipline has grown, as much as each successive government in Sri Lanka, since independence, becoming more corrupt than the previous.
We are supposed to be a Buddhist country and we expect the disciples of the Buddha to be the most disciplined. A Buddhist priest trying to assault a vaccinator, because the stock of vaccines runs out, may be interpreted as an isolated incident, but it is not. Utterances by some Buddhist priests in public are cringeworthy. A Buddhist priest leads a nurse’s trade union; much against the code of conduct laid down by the Buddha and adds insult to injury by getting them to take trade union action during a grave medical emergency, endangering lives. Buddhist priests are seen joining the teacher’s strike, too.
What about the noble profession of mine and my friend’s? Even before the pandemic, their trade union did not care two hoots about patients’ lives; going on strike being their first response to any problem! Unashamedly, they risked innocent patients’ lives during a pandemic to get their demands.
Not that there are no disciplined professionals. Much was made, in the media, of Dr. Ananda Wijewickrema’s resignation and a few others from the expert committee. One of their colleagues has written to this newspaper that they owe it to the public to declare why they resigned. The resignation itself says it all and that is the way decent professionals protest.
Now teachers have joined the strike bandwagon to settle a dispute that had been lingering on for over two decades. They do not care a tuppence about the future of our youth and in the process have lost all the esteem the public held them in. My friend, very conveniently, has failed to notice that the virus spread due to demonstrations held by teachers breaching COVID-19 regulations, despite it resulting in the unfortunate deaths of some teachers.
Leaving politicians aside, most of whom are undisciplined, irrespective of their complexions, when respected segments of the society, like the clergy, medical professionals and teachers, display gross indiscipline during an unprecedented period like this, can there be any hope? I wonder! I do hope the next generation ‘rebels’ against these, as generations do, so that a disciplined society may not be a bridge too far; I can only hope!
Coming back to the political accusations my colleague made, my reply was:
“I am not ashamed to admit that, any day, I would prefer Mahinda, Gota and Basil to Ranil or Sajith.”
Just a few days after my comment, Sajith made his declaration that there should be a snap-election. My assessment was confirmed by the leader of the JVP who responded by saying that Sajith should have his head examined!
Perhaps, there is more to it than that. Considering the number of protests and trade union actions that have taken place in spite of the continuing national emergency, one cannot be blamed for suspecting that there is a hidden hand behind all this. Maybe, Sajith let the cat out of the bag by his unguarded comment.
On top of the inherent tendency, it looks as if there is planned indiscipline too!
When Susanthika did Lanka proud
As in certain offices, in banks too there are restricted areas for outsiders and staff members who are not attached to the relevant divisions. The Treasury Department of any bank consists of three different sections; the front office, middle office and back office. The front office is commonly known as the Dealing (Trading) Room, with strict limitations to those present. It can also be used as a television viewing place, with the availability of all channels, both local and foreign.
The day, September 28, 2000, was an exceptional day as a few breathtaking moments were witnessed within our dealing room at HNB, as history was made by a courageous and determined, petite Lankan damsel in a faraway country. That was the day our Athletic Heroin, Susanthika Jayasinghe, competed in the Sydney Olympics in the 200 meters finals. Knowing the enthusiasm and fervour, that other staff members too share, to witness the event live, with the consent of my boss, Senior DGM Treasury, Gamini Karunaratne, I kept the doors of the Dealing Room wide open for others too to watch the event. As the ‘auspicious’ time approached the dealing room started getting packed. Finally, it was not only ‘house full’ but ‘overflowing’.
Maintaining the tradition, the ‘visitors’ were silent except for a slight murmur. Gradually, the murmuring diminished as the time approached. The track was quite visible to all of us. For the women’s 200 meters sprint event, there were eight competitors with Marion Jones of the USA as the hot favourite, and Cathy Freeman of Australia, the two athletes many of us knew.
As the much-anticipated event commenced, there was dead silence for about 20+ seconds and then the uproar of ecstasy erupted, along with tears of joy in all gathered, as our Golden Girl became the bronze medal winner, just a mere 0.01 seconds behind the second-placed Pauline Davis of Bahamas.
That was a monumental day for all sports loving Sri Lankans, after Duncan White’s 400 meters silver medal in the 1948 London Olympics, M. J. M. Lafir becoming the World Amateur Billiards Champion in 1973, and Arjuna’s golden boys bringing home the Cricket World Cup in 1996, beating the much-fancied Aussies.
As treasury dealers, while at work, we have witnessed all-important local and world events as and when they happened, thanks to the advanced media paraphernalia in dealing rooms of the banks.
Coming back to Olympics, for seven years everything was rosy for Marian Jones (MJ), but when she pleaded guilty to using steroids, she received international opprobrium and was stripped of all five Olympic medals she won in Sydney, Australia. After the belated disqualification of MJ, our heroine Susanthika was adjudged the Olympic silver medallist of the 200 meters event in the 2000 Sydney Olympics, with Pauline Davis as the gold medallist.
So it is after 52 years that Sri Lanka was lucky enough to have won another Olympic medal. Thanks to the sheer determination of our golden girl Susanthika and her numerous supporters, she was able to achieve this spectacular honour, amidst many obstacles. She was the first Asian to have won an Olympic or a world championship medal in a sprint event. The 21st anniversary of her tremendous feat falls on September 28.
Thank you, Madam Susie, for bringing honour to the country, and being an inspiration to the younger generations of budding athletes.
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