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By Dr. Chandana (Chandi) Jayawardena DPhil
President – Chandi J. Associates Inc. Consulting, Canada
Founder & Administrator – Global Hospitality Forum
chandij@sympatico.ca

… Continuing from last week’s column: ‘Judo Fighting in India’.

When I travelled to India as a member of the National Judo Team of Sri Lanka in 1982, I enjoyed different experiences of train travel and fun interactions in Madras, Sonipat, Ghaziabad and Delhi. After the main tournament in Ghaziabad, the 10-member first-ever national Judo team of Sri Lanka, assumed that the fighting portion of the trip was over. We were happily planning to spend a few days sightseeing in Delhi and its suburbs before returning home.
Brief Connections with Taj and Oberoi
In 1982, the largest hotel in Sri Lanka was managed by an Indian company – Oberoi. Taj hotels owned by India’s largest conglomerate – Tata Group, was building a five-star hotel in Colombo. After the Judo tournament in Ghaziabad, I planned to visit the famous Taj Palace Hotel and The Oberoi in New Delhi, as well as the Oberoi School of Hotel Management. Unfortunately, due to a last-minute change in the team’s travel plans, I did not get an opportunity to see these Iconic hotels managed by the two best-known Indian hotel companies.
In later years, I worked for both of these Indian hotel companies. From 1983 to 1985, I worked part-time at two Taj properties in London – Baily’s Hotel and Bombay Brasserie, which was ranked as the best Indian restaurant in the UK when it was opened in 1982. It paved the way for Indian and Bombay cuisine in London.
In 1989, I was recruited for the post of Food & Beverage Manager of the Hotel Babylon Oberoi in Iraq. In that position, I did my second trip to India. I managed 10 food and beverage outlets in the heart of Baghdad. My team of Indian managers and chefs also opened and operated an Indian restaurant. Most of my team of restaurant managers were graduates of the Oberoi School of Hotel Management. My experiences in India during the Judo trip in 1982, provided me with a good understanding of the Indian culture, which was beneficial to me when I worked for Taj and Oberoi.
Additional Fights and Fun in Hyderabad
Soon after the tournament in Ghaziabad, the Judo Association of Hyderabad invited us to a special Judo meet in their regional, army headquarters. When our team manager asked, “How many hours will it take for us to travel from Delhi to Hyderabad?”, the Indian judoka who was initiating the additional meet said, “It is very close… only 26 hours, by train!”. After a quick chat among our team, we decided to accept the invitation to go to Hyderabad to compete and explore.
We were disappointed to hear from an angry looking railway cashier at a train station in Delhi that the next train to Hyderabad was full. Our new Indian friend from Hyderabad told Upali, “No problem. Let me speak with this angry cashier and resolve this issue, amicably.” After a brief chat he had with the cashier, he returned with 11 train tickets with confirmed seat numbers. We were surprised and happy. “How did you do it? Upali asked. “Just a small bribe of 15 rupees, only!” our friend said. When we were getting into our compartment in the train, that cashier, now with a big smile said, “Enjoy your trip!”

The train ride was in many aspects similar to our previous marathon train ride of 52 hours from Madras to New Delhi. We passed some beautiful, lush mountainous locations, in between mostly hot and dry areas. Hyderabad is a unique city. It is the capital and the largest city of the Indian state of Telangana, as well as, the capital of Andhra Pradesh. It occupies a large area on the Deccan Plateau along the banks of the Musi River, in the upper part of South India.
Much of Hyderabad is situated on hilly terrain around artificial lakes. Hyderabad is the sixth most populous city in India. In 1982 it had a population of over three million (in 2022 grown to over ten million). We were accommodated in an army camp in Hyderabad. They organized a good Judo meet. Due to injuries, our team manager, Upali Sahabandu decided to compete in the team category. He fought hard in a prolong bout, and our hosts were impressed. During the awards ceremony Upali was given a special award for his fighting spirit! We all lined up to receive our medals, which followed with a ceremony of tea service with excellent team from nearby estates.
We also loved the food in Hyderabad. From the time Hyderabad was conquered by the Mughals in the 1630s, Mughlai culinary traditions blended with the local traditions to create a unique Hyderabadi cuisine. This included Biriyani dishes highly popular in Sri Lanka. The day after the Judo meet, when we went on a sightseeing tour, we took part in another type of ceremony. It was a saree buying ceremony in the city. Some members of our team wanted to buy sarees for their mothers, sisters, and wives. While Upali and a few in the team showed some expertise about sarees, most of us were bored with shopping.
Tiruchirappalli, our last stop in India
After another long (over 21 hour) train ride we reached our last station – Tiruchirappalli (also called Trichy), which is an ancient city in India’s southern Tamil Nadu State. It was a relatively smaller city with a population of 600,000 in 1982 (doubled by the year 2022). It is known for the sacred Hindu sites, Sri Ranganathaswamy Temple with intricately carved gopurams (towering gateways) and the Jambukeswarar-Akilandeswari Temple, dedicated to the God Shiva.
In Trichy, we visited a few historic sites. The most impressive was Tiruchirappalli Rockfort, which towers over the city centre. It is a historic fortification and temple complex built on an ancient rock. The name ‘Rockfort’ comes from frequent, military fortification built there over the centuries by the Indian kings, and later by the British Colonisers. The oldest structure in the fort is an ancient cave temple.
After a quick flight from Trichy to Colombo, we arrived at the Katunayake International Airport to receive a hero’s welcome with garlands. As the first-ever tournament tour in another country by the national Judo team of Sri Lanka, those two weeks in 1982, that we spent in India, were truly memorable.
Members of the first National Judo Team, 40 years later
Recently, I checked where they are now and was saddened to discover that three members of Sri Lanka national Judo team in 1982 have passed away. I am happy to note that four of the team are still very much active in the sport of Judo. Four of the team also served the Sri Lanka Judo Association as the President.
= Upali Sahabandu (Team Manager) – 5th Dan Black Belt. Passed away during active service as a Deputy Inspector General of Sri Lanka Police.
= Kithsiri De Zoysa (Captain) – Now a 4th Dan Black Belt. President of the Jujitsu Federation Lanka. A leading referee for different martial art sports.
= Raja Fernando – Now a 6th Dan Red and White Belt, and the highest-ranking Sri Lankan Judoka. Instructs Judo in Sweden.
= Hemakumar Jinadasa – Now a 5th Dan Black Belt, and the highest-ranking Judoka in Sri Lanka. Instructs Judo at Colombo YMCA and many other Judo clubs.
= W. K. Godwin – Now a 4th Dan Black Belt. Retired an Assistant Superintendent of Police, but continues as the Head Judo Coach of the Sri Lanka Police Force.
= Gamini Nanayakkara – 5th Dan Black Belt. Passed away during active service as a Lieutenant Colonel of the Sri Lankan Army.
= Gamini Rupasinghe – Now a 3rd Dan Black Belt. Lives in Australia.
= K. Navarathnam – Now a 3rd Dan Black Belt.
= D. H. Ranjith – Now a 2nd Dan Black Belt.
= M. F. M. Izamudeen – Now a 2nd Dan Black Belt.
= T. B. Koswatte – 1st Dan Black Belt. Passed away.
= Chandana Jayawardena – Retired from Judo in 1983 as a 1st Kyu Brown Belt, to focus on his global career in hospitality.

More Success on the Judo Mat
When I returned to Sri Lanka, I focused on passing Judo grade tests. Usually, Judokas faced one promotion test at a time. In my case, as I had a long lapse of ten years since the last grade promotion test, I was allowed to face three grading tests on one day in 1983. Having represented Sri Lanka was an advantage. I was awarded the brown belt first Kyu. Based on the syllabus prepared by Kodokan in Japan, a first kyu Judoka should have mastered 45 different aspects such as hand throws, hip throws, foot throws, holds, locks and chokes. The most difficult part was to remember Japanese terms for all 45 items (covered in five grade promotion tests).
My aim after that was to face the grading test for first dan black belt, as soon as possible. Due to my moving to the UK in 1983, for graduate studies in international hotel management, I placed that goal on a back burner. Unfortunately, I failed to find time to face anymore Judo grading tests. In the late 1980, when I worked in Colombo for three years as the Director of Food & Beverage of a five-star Le Meridien hotel, I was able to find time only for an occasional practice session at the Colombo YMCA.
My Final Judo Fight in 1993
One of the songs I wrote in 1993 with an Indian Bangaram tune – ‘Fitness Fever’ became very popular. I was able to arrange twenty top western musicians of Sri Lanka to sing this song. It topped The Island pop charts for three weeks. Encouraged with the success of the song, I decided to direct a music video for it, which was filmed at the Ramada Renaissance hotel in Colombo. I included a Judo fighting scene in this video. I was one of the fighters for several takes of the Judo fighting scene. That was my last Judo fight.
I didn’t have any more Judo fights after that. However, I practised Karate for a short period of time in the mid-1990s in Jamaica. My aim then was to motivate my elder son, Marlon, who commenced Karate when he was ten years old. I was so proud of Marlon when he earned his Karate Black Belt in Sri Lanka when he was only 15 years old.
A Tribute to the Pioneers of Judo in Ceylon/Sri Lanka
To conclude my series of three articles on Judo, I wish to pay tribute to a few pioneers of Judo, a sport that was introduced to Ceylon around 1953. A well-known Ceylonese palaeontologist, zoologist, educator and artist, Paulus Edward Pieris Deraniyagala became the founding President of the Amateur Judo Association of Ceylon in 1953. He held that position for 19 years. Having studied in three of the best universities in the world (Cambridge, Oxford and Harvard) he became the Director of the National Museum of Ceylon. He was passionate about Judo.
Until the mid-1960s, there was no formal grading system for Judo in Ceylon. When I commenced Judo in 1970, in addition to P. E. P. Deraniyagala, there were three other leaders of the sport in Ceylon. They were, Lincoln Wijesinghe – the first Ceylonese to earn a Judo Black belt from Kodokan in Japan, Master Malcolm Atapattu – YMCA Judo Instructor and Master M. N. Tennakoon – YMBA Judo Instructor. Due to their commitment for Judo and hard work, Kodokan in Japan, chose Ceylon as a destination with a good potential for the sport.

These pioneers, with the help from young Judokas such as Peter Dharmaratne, Nihal Gooneratne and Asoka Jayawardana, developed strategies in promoting Judo in schools and carnivals. Japanese Judo teachers who were stationed in Sri Lanka – Sensei Yoda and Sensei Sato, helped by setting a high standard for Judo in Sri Lanka.Leadership of the Amateur Judo Association of Ceylon (re-named as the Sri Lanka Judo Association in 1974) during the first 50+ years was provided by nine Judokas with diverse backgrounds, including a zoologist, a chief justice, two senior police officers, a senior army officer and a hotelier.
I was fortunate to be included as a member of the national Judo team of Sri Lanka in 1982. At that time, there were only about 150 Judokas in the country belonging to just eight Judo clubs. Those clubs were, Colombo YMBA, Colombo YMCA, Dehiwela YMBA, Dehiwela YMCA Gampola Judo Club, Army, Navy and Police. In that context, the growth of Judo in Sri Lanka during the last four decades has been phenomenal.

Today there are around 15,000 Judokas (one third of this in the Army) in around 70 Judo clubs in Sri Lanka. Today, there are around 300 Kodokan black belts and another 70 locally graded, black belts in Sri Lanka. Growth by 100 times within 40 years, is indeed a great success story for any sport. I am proud of my former Judo colleagues, for their amazing commitment and their love for this sport. Well done!




Oh Frabjous Day! Callooh Callay!

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by Kumar David
Thus, we may all “Chortle in our joy” on July 13 or 20 if everything goes as promised. The first step in the Sri Lankan Colour Revolution seems to have inched forward like a golden dream but I will remain on guard till both Gotabaya (GR) and Wickremesinghe (RW) have been seen off. The worst tricks are not beyond the former, the latter is untrustworthy and hungry for the presidency. If all goes well after July 20 new phases open but there are still no guarantees. The Arab Spring was followed by the Cairo Winter because an intransigent Muslim Brotherhood attempted to impose Islam on the whole nation.
There are four stages into which the social-political-economic catastrophe can be factored. An Emergency Room (ER) period followed by a very short-term VST phase of about a month, thereafter a short-term (ST) phase up to elections and thereafter a medium five to ten-year (MT) recovery period. In any case ST and MT are about whistling in the dark if we get through ER and VST. I have emphasised many times in my column that unless the fuel crisis is resolved quickly there will be havoc. The country is already in virtual lockdown and violence will erupt first at petrol stations and then everywhere as strikes, boycotts and mass opposition grows. Other media commentators, probably due limited technical savvy did not get the point for a long time but are now waking up; fuel is the lifeblood of a modern economy – transport, production, jobs, education, exports, electricity – without it life and the economy grind to a halt.
What RW and his imbeciles ignored was that without fuel social and economic life is paralysed, a virtual lockdown. He was and is angling to hang on for another year or more, that was his game all along. The anger in the petrol queues has reached boiling point, civilians and the military clash, police officers are alleged to fill up their tanks and sell on the side, hundreds of thousands of three-wheeler chaps are in black-market business. If 200,000 metric tons (MT) of fuel do not arrive within a week there will be civil commotion. People already ask “What’s the point of our revolution? Nothing has changed”.
Assuming that we get past ER (that is up to about now, and fuel arrives before rioting breaks out), the next say month leading to formation of some form of all-party government and the finalisation of the IMF protocol is the VST or very short-term phase. The statement made by the visiting IMF team was significant and unprecedented. It remarked that overcoming corruption was basic. Everybody knows what that means; GR must go! It is not that he is the most corrupt of the Clan, that dishonour goes to BR, MR and Namal R, it is that his presence as head of state sets markers which make it impossible to root out the extreme dishonesty that has made Lankas’s body septic. It is being said that when Gota goes the IMF and other lenders will feel reassured about corruption and short-term foreign funding may be made available; good if this expectation comes true.
Ranil (RW) being pushed out should be a matter of little relevance. He has served his purpose in conducting the initial rounds of negotiations with the IMF visiting teams (thank you) and is now dispensable. He was never the font and source of state-power, Gota was. GR was needed by and therefore supported by the government parliamentary group members to retain their perks and privileges. Public support for this most hated of all Sri Lankan regimes (President, parliamentary group and PM) stands at about 15% according to polling agencies. The back scratching of the two principal actors, their body language and public perception was that this was not a Gota-led Ranil administered game, it had evolved into a Gotabaya-Wickremesinghe regime. The people were right therefore in advancing their ‘Gota Go!’ demand to the next stage of a ‘Gota and Ranil both Go!’ Ranil is a low life-form and clings to a Prime Ministership, that he has done nothing to earn, in the hope that he may be able to wangle his way to the presidency. He must be forced out as soon as possible. I hope at least 113 MPs have already written to the Speaker stating that they have no confidence in him and that he is no longer PM, meaning he has suffered a de fact vote of no-confidence.
It is unsafe to allow Ranil to be President even for a day; it must be prevented even if rules have to be bent. He could have resigned and ended the uncertainty but that he did not is ominous. It must be deemed that President and PM perished simultaneously in an earthquake and now Parliament in consultation with party leaders must make simultaneous appointments. Such a turn was unforeseen in the constitution and the response has to be equally bold and unconventional. This is what the people demand unanimously and the courts will have no choice but to go along.
Gota-Ranil are finished and a caretaker government to plan an election comes next after a 30-day period when the Speaker functions as temporary president (unless Ranil’s’ shenanigans bear fruit). But there will still be skirmishes. Resurgence of Aragalaya, trade union agitation, joint opposition marches and mobilisation, rejection of the treacherous 22A Constitutional Amendment, student revolts and confrontation with the security establishment are potential flash points. Right now (mid-July) is the starting period of new turmoil since the interim government has no clue how to address the fuel shortage.
The opposition, or joint opposition of the pre-election phase will have little more to offer the pending IMF protocol which will impose significant belt tightening, fiscal drip line and a tough debt restructuring regimen. The opposition can demurr but has no option but swallow some of it. A continuing deficit-budget is madness, printing money will drive inflation to hyperinflation, declining production will reduce exports. A dual currency system is on its way since imports can no longer be financed by diving ever deeper into the hell-hole of dollar debts. These realities will confront any government (all-party, multi-party, or mad hatter’s tea-party) which has the misfortune to take office from now till the election. Having given thought to all possibilities I am of view that the JVP should participate in this all-party government with the SJB, TNA, SLFP, the nine-party gang and a rump of pro-SLPP MPs, to run the show till elections.
This brings us to the prospects facing the next elected government. I concede that this line of thought makes two assumptions. It assumes that the turmoil I spoke of two paras ago does not end in social instability, chaos and anarchy. If that were to occur all bets are off the table. The second assumption is that a deal can be struck between actors in government and opposition to pass a resolution by simple majority calling for dissolution of parliament and fresh elections. If parliament is to be dissolved within
two and a half years of August 2020, this is the only way it can be done legitimately. Both assumptions are fraught. If the first is falsified it’s a bloody mess, if the second assumption is falsified the next president marches on till mid-2025. If both these dangers are averted then we have to consider the five-year programme of the next elected government. You have your draft programme and I have mine. Sajith, Anura Kumara and the SLPP each have their own. I wish to put down mine.
I believe that medium- and long-term economic strategies for Sri Lanka should be double track: (a) a strong state-led interventionist strategy, and (b) market forces to guide effective and efficient decision making in investment and production and to encourage entrepreneurship. Sound contradictory? No! Let me explain with the leading example we are familiar with, best summarised in the most interesting book that I have read this year: “The Other Side of Globalisation” by SR (a.k.a. Sriyan) de Silva published by the Employers’ Federation of Ceylon.
The portion of the book that I am making use of is a discussion of the much-publicised East Asian Economic Miracle. The countries in this group are Singapore, Hong Kong, Taiwan, South Korea, Malaysia and Thailand. Japan the leading ‘goose’ flew away much ahead. The point is that East Asia did NOT follow the then-IMF neo-liberal prescription (the IMF is better now). These countries did not exclude the state from economic policy, quite the contrary the state played a key role in picking winners and losers and in choosing emergent sectors and industries. The state did not leave it to market forces to set the menu initially; only gradually was a freer role opened to the market. The approach was a grand success. An opposite example is the ghastly failure of Yeltsin’s Russia where powerful Western business interests, the US Government and Treasury and neo-con and neo-liberal intellectuals made all the crucial decisions ending in the corrupt, oligarchic power structure that runs Russia today.
I take pause to distinguish between neo-conservative (neo-con) and neo-liberal. Neo-con is a political ideology of global American leadership, it seeks to remould the world in an American image, believes in the primacy of American military power and is aggressively anti-communist (Soviet Bloc) and now devoted to containing China. Although East Asia rejected the then-IMF neo-liberal economic strategy it did line up with an American-led political ideology. The purpose of this digression is to strengthen my case for a strong state-led economic growth strategy side by side with market rationality. This dichotomous approach is indeed possible; it worked splendidly in East Asia, loyalty to American political leadership notwithstanding.
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by Anura Gunasekera
I never knew a man who had better motives for all the trouble he caused- Graham Greene in the Quiet American.Surveying the wreckage of the nation in the moment of the departure of its President, Gotabaya Rajapaksa, the above simple sentence is seen as a fitting epitaph for the most disastrous custodianship of this country. It would be equally fitting if the words are inscribed one day on his tombstone, wherever that may lie.
Sri Lanka today is a country in which nothing of importance functions normally; public and private transport are, literally, at a standstill; schools are closed; offices, banks, hotels, eating houses – from the top end to the bottom – shops large and small, have become dysfunctional along with many major government hospitals. Life-saving drugs are off the market and what is available is so expensive that they are out of the reach of the average earner. The majority of single entrepreneurs who, together, probably contribute as much or more to the national economy than all the large corporates, have been bankrupted. There is both the scarcity and ungovernable price increase of staple food items. The daily wage-income earner has become indigent. Farmers are unable to cultivate their land and fishermen are unable to go to sea. Export production is declining daily and the Gross Domestic Product is shrinking visibly.
In total, the above was a tragedy waiting to occur but, unarguably, Gotabaya, with his irrationality, obduracy, ignorance of the ways of governance and an inborn witlessness, catalyzed a gradual process and caused the sudden implosion of both the society and economy. Sri Lanka today is a totally failed state, hopelessly indebted to both friendly and unfriendly lenders and in the grip of anarchy. Systems have failed and the mobs rule. Political analysts and other pundits may clothe the situation in romantically attractive analogies – the storming of the Bastille, the French student uprising of 1968, the more recent Arab Spring and other such events elsewhere – but the reality is that there is a total systems breakdown, and the erosion of legitimate rule. It is close to becoming terminally ungovernable unless the lawmakers, immediately, within the next few hours, formulate strategies for systems and governance correction.
GR, when the end seemed nigh, got for himself a short-lived, temporary reprieve by appointing RW as prime minister. Welcomed by some as the redeemer, from the time of his appointment he has done little more than make a series of predictions, each more dire than the other. The irony of a man, rejected by electors, being reincarnated as the saviour of the nation in its darkest hour, is also a reflection of the desperation of Sri Lanka, and the inability, or reluctance, of our parliamentarians, to set aside parochial and individual interests and, instead, to arrive at a consensus based on national need.
At a time when the country had come to a standstill, with millions baying for his blood, GR decided to appear in Parliament. The outcome was that for the first time in history, a leader of our country was drummed out of the House to the accompaniment of hoots and jeers from a combined opposition. Minutes before his precipitate departure he was seen, quite relaxed and exchanging pleasantries with his PM, despite the agony of the citizens on the streets outside. Not long after the PM’s personal residence was torched by protesters. Later he made a televised statement, informing the nation of the damage to his only residence, the destruction of statuary, artifacts, paintings and books, all of great personal and intrinsic value.
As the owner of a library, accumulated lovingly over six decades, I can empathize, unreservedly, with his sense of loss. There can be no condoning of violence and arson, though they are inevitable features of civic unrest the world over. But, regrettably, the insensitivity of the man is such that he does not understand that he was projecting the image of a rich, entitled man, bemoaning the loss of expensive personal belongings, before a nation which has lost all hope and in full view of citizens who have been deprived of both the means and the right to live, by an incompetent, corrupt regime. When a dozen people die in fuel queues, a pregnant mother gives birth after waiting in line for days for a passport, and parents are unable to feed hungry children, a rich man’s loss of personal goods does not warrant a public lament; it is especially imprudent when the man concerned is a much disliked and repeatedly-rejected politician.
The protesters- “Aragalists” in general- are gearing up for what seems to be the final phase of the struggle, their unchanged aim being a complete dismantling of the existing system and the creation of a new, utopian model of governance. Not being a historian I am open to correction but, as far as I am aware, there is no such parallel in recent history which has also stood the test of time. Finally, though they claim to be non-political, in a struggle for control of a society or a nation, there is no such creature as a non-political movement. Any crusade which aims to change the socio-political environment will not succeed without a clear political thrust.
Another question which asks itself is whether the “Aragalaya” has a defined leadership, with whom elected political leaders can engage in meaningful discussion, in order to obtain greater clarity regarding their objectives and, where possible and practical, the integration of such objectives in to future governance. Whilst several political parties have expressed solidarity with the movement, and the more radical claim to represent its interests, it is clear that they do not control its actions. If such parties do insist on their championship of the protest, they must also accept joint responsibility for all the acts of destruction of both public and private property committed by the protestors.

Despite the disorder and disruption that the “Aragalaya” and its sister movements have created, it has stopped a fascist regime in its tracks, and relieved the country of leaders who have not only outlived their usefulness, but also become despised for a variety of reasons. To that extent the “Aragalaya” has achieved a historically significant objective. It is a movement of young men and women who have literally put their lives at risk, and possibly lost regular livelihoods in the process as well, in articulating and giving life to a nation-wide wish. They have liberated a new cultural and political consciousness, for the present invested with morality, inclusiveness and a great honesty of purpose; and long may that last.
As this is being written there is confirmation of GR’s flight from the country and of Ranil Wickremesinghe being sworn in as Acting President, accompanied by television footage of total mayhem in many locations in Colombo; Rupavahini, the State TV channel, has been taken over by protesters and broadcasts have ceased, whilst the defences around the Prime Minister’s office are about to be breached by thousands of protesters. Emergency has been declared and a curfew imposed in the western province. It is a convulsion of a nation in its death throes.
Ranil Wickremesinghe, despite the total illegitimacy of his position as Prime Minister and the country-wide demand for his resignation, has gone one step further and accepted the position of Acting President. With Gota gone he has provided the protest movement with a single focal point for renewed struggle and intensified protest. It is a constitutionally valid step for RW but what is the validity of an action which clearly flies in face of the need and call of the citizen? Does the constitution supersede the cry of the citizens? Given the nature and intensity of the island-wide agitation, which commenced with the farmers’ protest against the inorganic fertilizer ban, thereafter developing in to the “Galle Face Aragalaya” and its subsequent expansion, no formal referendum is necessary to gauge public opinion as to its preferences for government. Leaving aside constitutional and legal arguments as to what is possible – or not possible – within the constitution, what is the validity of a constitution which can override the irresistible wish, and the wrath, of the people? What is happening in Parliament is no longer relevant to the tragic reality of a nation in agony.
What is the possible future scenario? Has Gota actually resigned or is his flight a temporary dislocation, till RW evolves a new strategy to save the Rajapaksa bacon once again? Does Wickremesinghe continue as president for the rest of the existing term? As acting president will he appoint a man of his choice to the vacant post of prime minister, overriding the wish of the parliament, following the process which catapulted him from obscurity, to the position of prime minister, in a matter of hours? With RW as acting president and an individual of his choice as prime minister, will it be possible to form a government representative of all parties? Will there be an early general election, so that protesters and ordinary people can exercise their preference through the ballot?
In the immediate aftermath of the announcement of Wickremesinghe’s appointment, the statements made by Sajith Premadasa, Anura Kumara Dissanayake and Maithripala Sirisena, confirm beyond doubt that the parties that they represent are completely opposed to RW. What the nation desperately needs from its lawmakers is not conflict in parliament but consensus. The divisive RW is not going to achieve that. His latest move is certain to escalate the ongoing agitation to a level, which may result in a militarized retaliation against unarmed protesters. His first act as acting president of Sri Lanka, the declaration of an island-wide emergency and a curfew in the Western province may be the preliminaries to a fascist regime to rival that of the deposed president, Gotabaya Rajapaksa.
Published
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Dr. Harold Gunatillake
In 1969, I returned to the island with my fellowship degree and intensive training with one of the famous surgeons in London, Mr Norman Tanner, having served as Senior Registrar at Queen Mary’s Hospital Orthopaedics. I still recollect the interview for the selection for this post, sitting in front of a panel of professionals and administrators and over 50 applicants sitting in the waiting room waiting for their interview for a single position. Many of them were locally qualified Britons. I was asked, “Mr Gun, what are your plans coming from Ceylon seeking positions in hospitals in the UK?”
My prompt reply was that I have been sent to the UK for specialized training to obtain the fellowship degree, return to Ceylon, and spread the ‘Gospel of the training obtained’ to serve my people. Further, I have been sent on a government scholarship to do so. Among many other eligible candidates, mainly Britons, I was selected for the position.
My dream then was to return and serve my people and aspire to be a top surgeon, hopefully following my gurus’ footsteps like Dr Anthonis and Dr Gunewardene, visiting Surgeons at Colombo Hospitals. After returning from the UK, I served as Resident Surgeon in the Accident Service, Colombo, followed by a short period as locum in Kandy and then transferred to Badulla Provincial Hospital as General Surgeon in 1970.
Something unique at the time I served as a Surgeon in Kandy was that when you are on call, the hospital sends the ambulance to your residence and drops you back at your home after attending to the surgical emergency. That system does not exist today after the invention of mobile telephones.
I recollect the 1971 Revolt (insurrection) when the Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna (JVP) insurrection against the Socialist United Front Government of Sri Lanka (then Ceylon) under Prime Minister Sirimavo Bandaranaike. The decision to revolt was taken by nine senior members of the JVP when they met at the Sangaramaya Temple of the Vidyodaya University on April 2, 1971, seeking to capture State power by attacking all the police stations in the country on the night of April 5, 1971.(Rohan Gunaratna: Sri Lanka: A Lost Revolution? The Inside Story of the JVP)
One Sunday morning, people with many gunshot injuries were brought to Badulla General Hospital (where I was stationed), and I spent a whole day in the operating theatre attending to the casualties. It was like a war zone. Some seriously head-injured patients were dispatched to General Hospital in Colombo.
During this grey period, the hospitals were short of most disposable items, including antibiotics like penicillin and saline transfusions among other essentials. Our wives had to queue up to purchase clothes from the CWE cooperative shops. Even for the essential provisions, there were long queues at the CWE. There were even bread queues at a later period. Private practice after hours was banned, and we were given Rs 500 per month as a non-pensionable allowance in lieu.
Life became hard and I was gloomy about the future; then the decision was made to leave the country for greener pastures. During this period I was offered a Senior Surgical Registrar’s position in the main General Hospital in Singapore. Dr N.M.Perera was the Minister of Finance during at the time. He stopped giving foreign exchange to anyone leaving the country to stop the ‘brain drain’ during that grey period. I resigned from government service and left for Singapore with my family with no money in my pocket. Still, we were lucky that Prof Kanaks, Anatomy Professor in the Teaching Hospital in Singapore, our one-time senior lecturer in Anatomy in Colombo Medical Faculty, was there to receive us at the airport and welcome us.
After serving for three years as Senior Surgical Registrar in Outram Road General Hospital, we decided to settle down in Australia. One incident there must be mentioned here, a most unique and exciting episode. As Senior Registrars, we got a date monthly to perform minor surgery under local anesthesia on outdoor patients. On one of my days on that duty, there was a shortage of ‘trolley boys’ – young boys coming from Malaysia to earn some pocket money.
As there were very few trolley boys on duty, I walked to the outpatient department, placed the patient on the trolley, wheeled him to the operating theatre and wheeled him back after the minor surgery to the OPD and wished him good luck. The next day this was highlighted in the Straits Times newspaper with the story that an Indian trolley boy had operated on a Chinese patient!
The high-ups in the department of health in Singapore were shocked and disturbed. After making inquiries, the hospital’s medical superintendent reported to the authorities that I had done the operation on this patient. I was summoned to the office where many officials from the department of health were present and I feared I was in trouble. I explained what happened and the circumstances and their faces changed and they thanked me.
Our migration to the ‘Lucky Country’
We were passed to come to Australia and in February 1975, we settled in the suburb Jannali in New South Wales. How we settled in Jannali, then mainly a white Australian suburb, was interesting. Through an Act of 1901, a White Australia policy effectively stopped all non-European immigration into the country contributing to the development of a racially insulated white society.
Mr Bates, the ex-Mayor of the Sutherland shire, was holidaying in Singapore with his partner. His travel guide was known to me; and when his partner had a medical emergency, the guide contacted me and I promptly attended to the need. Then, we hosted them to lunch in a nearby restaurant, the normal tradition in Singapore for entertaining visitors.
Mr Bates was very happy and asked me what he could do for me. I said we had been passed to come to Australia and were preparing ourselves for the change. He said, “please let me know if you are coming to Sydney.” He was waiting for us in his limousine when we landed at Sydney. We were taken to Jannali where he owned the ‘Bates Arcade,’ a commercial and residential block.
He introduced me to the bank manager and other important officials in Jannali, and our settling in was smooth and comfortable. I then had to find a surgical job in a hospital. The same week, I made an appointment with the Medical Superintendent of Sutherland hospital, three railway stations from Jannali. I was interviewed and was lucky to start work the following week as the Surgical Registrar to two surgeons. It was easy then to find a position with a British qualification without further local training.
The United Kingdom provides the largest source of overseas doctors or International Medical Graduates (IMGs) working in Australia. Of course, no doctor coming from another country, including Sri Lanka, is guaranteed work in Australia. I was privileged to get jobs in this hospital for Sri Lankan surgeons visiting Australia for extended holidays. At that time, we were registered as specialist surgeons with the right to private practice. Sutherland Hospital staff was friendly, and my working there was most pleasant. My two bosses loved me.

I must now relate a story of an experience working in that hospital. An affluent lady was admitted for surgery with a popliteal aneurysm. Popliteal means the back of the knee and the aneurysm is a bulge arising from the main artery there. This appears as a pulsating bulge and needs early surgery. In the seventies, we had no vascular surgeons and general surgeons did such specialized work.
One of my bosses got the retired Professor of Surgery from Sydney Hospital in the CBD to perform the surgery on this lady. It was fixed for a Sunday morning. My boss requested I assist this professor, and I was introduced to the professor as the best registrar to help in the operation. The professor did not look at me when my boss paid me that compliment; I realized he might not like ‘Indian-looking’ assistants. We scrubbed together before the procedure, but no word from him. I confidently assisted him in the surgical procedure without his saying anything during the operation.
At the end of the procedure, I wondered whether he would take an essential step in the last bite of the stitching in the closure of the incision in the opened blood vessel. In vascular surgery, before you take the last bite to close the cut, the distal clamp must be removed for the blood to gush through the wound to prevent air from getting into the vessel. Such air bubbles entering a blood vessel can travel towards the lungs and lead to an imminent death from air embolism.
I waited for that moment when he was attempting to close the last stitch without releasing the distal clamp in the vessel. I got my chance and shouted, “Sir, may I release this clamp”. He looked at me for the first time and nodded. After the operation, while leaving the operating theatre, this racist professor put his arm around my shoulder and politely asked, “tell me who you are?”
We sat in the lounge and became the best of friends. One piece of advice the professor gave me was not to waste time as a registrar and get into the private practice and “make your money.” I accepted his advice and got a position in a private practice group in the suburb of Cabramatta, occupied by primarily European migrants.
I did my surgery in Fairfield Heights Private Hospital. Everything was smooth, and the staff was most cooperative. Three months later, one of the staff nurses in that private hospital came to consult me professionally. She said while conversing that she was sent by the hospital matron on my first day in the operating theater there to check my competence.A great opportunity I enjoyed in Australia was that we could go for conferences overseas and claim a tax deduction for ourselves and our partners. In Sri Lanka, that is once in a lifetime event. I used that opportunity by attending cosmetic surgery conferences in various parts of the world and workshops on cosmetic procedures in Paris, Rome, and London.
I developed my technique of operative procedure for an operation called ‘Abdominoplasty’ to remove excess fat and skin from the flap that hangs like an apron in your abdominal wall. This technique was named after my name, “Gunatillake technique of abdominoplasty”, and I had the opportunity of describing this procedure at many conferences in cities like Paris, Rome, Florida, Los Angeles, Japan, Peru and Bangkok.I was the first cosmetic surgeon who performed liposuction- a procedure to suck fat out from redundant areas of your body. My first patient was a Mrs Elliot, and I remember my anaesthetist asking me whether I was performing “jungle surgery.”
During the past 20 years, I have engaged in writing health articles and publishing a health newsletter named “Health & Views”. I have produced over 75 YouTube videos on various topics, such as health, Sri Lankan historical events, and the present crisis in Sri Lanka, among others. I have written over 400 health articles which you can view most of them on my website: www.Doctorharold.com. I have written health articles for the now defunct Sunday Leader and the Sunday Island.
I have engaged in community activities among the expat Sri Lankan community in Australia, mainly in New, South Wales (NSW). I was the president of the Sri Lankan Association of NSW for two consecutive years-1997 and 1998. I was the first treasurer of the Sinhalese Cultural Forum. I have been engaged in giving public talks to our community on health topics and showing my videos on the LTTE war and the historical sites of Sri Lanka.
I am happy that I migrated to Australia as the healthcare system is high quality, timely and affordable. It is a very safe and stable country to live in, with a friendly, relaxed culture that makes it easier to achieve a comfortable lifestyle. It is a multicultural society and no more a whites-only country. Aboriginal people are well recognized and honored as the country’s first people. Their cultures, religions, and traditions are respected and they now participate in the celebrations of Australia Day on the January 26 each year.
I received an ‘Order of Australia’ medal last May. The award for medicine and community services to the Sri Lankan people is an excellent example of how foreign people are recognized for their achievements in this country. Australia is a country of opportunities for young people, whether locals or migrant youth with an open government with an ever-growing economy.I want to tell those young people who wish to leave Sri Lanka for a better life and higher education that they must think of Australia as a destination for achieving their dreams of improving their future.
About the author: Dr Harold Gunatillake, Health Editor, is a Member of the Academy of Medicine, Singapore. Member of the Australian Association of Cosmetic Surgery. Fellow of the Royal College of Surgeons (UK), Corresponding Fellow of the American Academy of Cosmetic Surgery. Member of the International Societies of Cosmetic Surgery, Fellow of the International College of Surgery (US). Australian diplomat for the International Society of Plastic, Aesthetic & Reconstructive Surgery. Board Member of the International Society of Aesthetic Surgery. Member of the American Academy of Aesthetic & Restorative Surgery. Life Member of the College of Surgeons, Sri Lanka. Bachelor of Medicine & Bachelor of Surgery (Cey). Government scholar for higher studies in the UK.
(This article is prepared as requested for the 75th Annual Celebration magazine of the Sri Lanka High Commission in Canberra, Australia)

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