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Canine war veterans go the way of all flesh

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Extracts from the book “Read Between the Lines”

By Admiral Ravindra C Wijegunaratne

(Retired from Sri Lanka Navy)

Former Chief of Defence Staff

(The first part of this article was published in The Island on 21 Sept. 2020)

I was selected to go to New Delhi, India, for my National Defence College Course, in 2010. It was a one-year programme and I was entitled to family accommodation. Yamuna and our son were delighted because we would get an opportunity to meet our old friends in New Delhi. We had spent four years in New Delhi when I was Defence Advisor at the Sri Lanka High Commission, New Delhi, India, from 2001 to 2005. But, later, Yamuna and son decided not to come with me to New Delhi. The reason? Rexy!

We could not bring ourselves to leave her alone in Sri Lanka. She never had her meals until my son came home after school. She travelled with my son and Yamuna wherever they went. She was never left alone at home. She would wait near the front door until my son’s arrival after his sports practices. She slept in our bed. She travelled with us during holidays. She would not survive without us.

So, we decided to take her with us to New Delhi.

Taking a pet abroad is much more difficult than obtaining a visa to a Western country. There is a strict quarantine procedure. Blood samples were taken from Rexy and reports sent to India. A light-weight cage was prepared to fit her size. Senior Veterinary Surgeon Dr (Mrs) Chintha Weerakkody Liyanagamage, wife of Group Captain (then) Ravindra Liyanagamage, helped us with the quarantine procedure.

Pets are carried in cargo holds. Only a few aircraft have pressurised cargo holds. So, we had to fly Jet Airways, which had the required facility. We had to transit through Channai as Jet Airways did not fly directly to New Delhi at that time.

SSP Dehideniya of the Sri Lanka Police, a dog lover, was working in our Deputy High Commission in Chennai and attended to all quarantine matters once we landed in Chennai.

So, Rexy ended up in New Delhi at No 34, ‘Raksha Bawan’, our house for the next one year.

She was the only foreign participant in our programme; I mean the only foreign pet. There are 70 houses in Raksha Bawan and more than 50 houses had dogs at that time. Rexy’s best friend was ‘Honey’, a chubby Labrador of Air Commodore (then) Hari Kumar (Indian Air Force) and Dewika. After her morning walk with me along Raj Path (Kings Road) from the India Gate to foot of Rasina hill or to the gate of Rashtrapathi Bawan, Rexy would come back to Raksha Bawan. Then she went near Honey’s house and said ‘Hello’ to her newfound friend.

Fresh milk was freely available in India, and Rexy got a litre each in the morning and evening. With good food, milk and frequent exercise, she grew strong with very healthy and lovely coat and strong teeth. She was fortunate enough to appear in the ‘50th National Defence College magazine’. She was a very photogenic canine.

When we returned to Sri Lanka, after one year, Rexy had a better cage to travel in. The one we carried her in to India was a wooden one. I bought a better, lighter and bigger one made out of fiberglass, at Khan Market in New Delhi. We had a Jet Airways direct flight from New Delhi to Colombo, and Rexy entered the Jet Airways records as the first pet to fly direct from New Delhi to Colombo.

In fact, it was announced onboard!

Whenever I visited Trincomalee, I used to see Chappela at Chapel Hill. When he heard my voice, he came running and started barking at me as if to protest against my prolonged absence. Then he walked closer and started licking my legs. The sailors who were new to Chapel Hill Radar Station must have been wondering how Chappela knew me so well. The same was true of Rexy. When she heard my voice, she would charge down from upstairs, jump on me and start licking my face. Then she would run around in the sitting room and break a few things by her wagging her beautiful tail playfully. She was so happy to see me back at home. Yamuna would shout at her, “Rexy! Stop that! Now, sit like a lady!” She would stop running and sit next to me, one leg over the other (like a lady) and start licking my hand. She was such a lovely dog. While Rexy was doing all that to celebrate my arrival, my son would just lift his head from his computer and say, “Hi Thatti!” and resume his work! See the difference between my son and my dog! That is why I said at the beginning of this article that if you did not have a dog, you did not understand what love and affection were.

Rexy saw me become the Chief of Staff of the Navy, the Commander of the Navy and then the Chief of Defence Staff. She visited all three offices. She was a very lucky girl.

As the wife of the Commander of the Navy and later as the CDS’s wife, Yamuna never accompanied me on foreign tours even though she was entitled to official travel. She could not leave Rexy. Such was the bond between the two!

Whenever Yamuna accompanied my son for Golf training abroad, I had to look after Rexy full-time, even taking her to my office. Yamuna would not be away from Rexy for more than five days.

Whenever I went abroad, I picked up gifts for Yamuna and son. I always bought a gift for Rexy too. She had a large number of gifts, mostly soft toys. A macaw from Rio De Janeiro, a kangaroo from Canberra, a baby Elephant from Cochin, India, a brown bear from Victoria, Canada, a camel from Dubai and a cockatoo from Indonesia. All her gifts were kept next to her bed.

Love and happiness Rexy brought to our family was unthinkable.

Time flew fast.

Chappela went the way of all flesh on 8th April 2016. It was a sad day for me and the Chapel Hill personnel. The dog who had rendered yeoman service for ten years at the Chapel Hill Radar Station during the most difficult time of our country and at the Naval Base Trincomalee was buried with headstone marked ‘Chappela’.

Rexy also became sick frequently, making everyone around her sad. Yamuna and son ensured best medical care for her and looked after her very well. However, sad news came our way that Rexy’s Indian friend, Honey, had passed away in December 2017.

I knew the sad day was approaching, for us, as well, a fact both Yamuna and son refused to accept.

I remember the last look of Rexy. She looked at me and then at Yamuna and son. I knew, she asked me with her eyes to look after Yamuna and son well.

A Buddhist monk performed the last rites. We buried Rexy at the Admiral House garden. Her headstone says ‘Rexy – born 12th March 2006 – died on 31st May 2018’ – May she attain Nibbana!”

As Buddhists, we believe in rebirth. Rexy had a happy and very comfortable life. We believe she has been reborn in a good place. My wife and son decided not to have a pet again. They still mourn Rexy, our daughter.

 

End note;

Rexy and Chappela are not the only dogs who have headstones where they are buried. If you happen to visit Trincomalee, please visit the Navy House, the official Residence of Commander of the Navy.

This historical building was first occupied, in 1744, by Commodore Curtis Barnett of the Royal Navy. The first Admiral to live there was Admiral Samuel Hoods (1811). The boards hanging at the entrance to the House show all the occupants of this Navy House from 1744 to date.

The two dogs of Commodore G R Lambert died in Trincomalee Navy House in 1852. They had a long voyage from England to Ceylon and were sick and weak when they arrived in Trincomalee. Fan died on 21st September 1852 and Squa on 3rd December 1852. They were buried under the large Banyan tree in the Trincomalee Navy House Garden. The staff there made a headstone for the two dogs and it is still there. It is perhaps the oldest ‘Pet Headstone’ in Sri Lanka.


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Islamophobia and the threat to democratic development

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There’s an ill more dangerous and pervasive than the Coronavirus that’s currently sweeping Sri Lanka. That is the fear to express one’s convictions. Across the public sector of the country in particular many persons holding high office are stringently regulating and controlling the voices of their consciences and this bodes ill for all and the country.

The corrupting impact of fear was discussed in this column a couple of weeks ago when dealing with the military coup in Myanmar. It stands to the enduring credit of ousted Myanmarese Head of Government Aung San Suu Kyi that she, perhaps for the first time in the history of modern political thought, singled out fear, and not power, as the principal cause of corruption within the individual; powerful or otherwise.

To be sure, power corrupts but the corrupting impact of fear is graver and more devastating. For instance, the fear in a person holding ministerial office or in a senior public sector official, that he would lose position and power as a result of speaking out his convictions and sincere beliefs on matters of the first importance, would lead to a country’s ills going unaddressed and uncorrected.

Besides, the individual concerned would be devaluing himself in the eyes of all irrevocably and revealing himself to be a person who would be willing to compromise his moral integrity for petty worldly gain or a ‘mess of pottage’. This happens all the while in Lankan public life. Some of those who have wielded and are wielding immense power in Sri Lanka leave very much to be desired from these standards.

It could be said that fear has prevented Sri Lanka from growing in every vital respect over the decades and has earned for itself the notoriety of being a directionless country.

All these ills and more are contained in the current controversy in Sri Lanka over the disposal of the bodies of Covid victims, for example. The Sri Lankan polity has no choice but to abide by scientific advice on this question. Since authorities of the standing of even the WHO have declared that the burial of the bodies of those dying of Covid could not prove to be injurious to the wider public, the Sri Lankan health authorities could go ahead and sanction the burying of the bodies concerned. What’s preventing the local authorities from taking this course since they claim to be on the side of science? Who or what are they fearing? This is the issue that’s crying out to be probed and answered.

Considering the need for absolute truthfulness and honesty on the part of all relevant persons and quarters in matters such as these, the latter have no choice but to resign from their positions if they are prevented from following the dictates of their consciences. If they are firmly convinced that burials could bring no harm, they are obliged to take up the position that burials should be allowed.

If any ‘higher authority’ is preventing them from allowing burials, our ministers and officials are conscience-bound to renounce their positions in protest, rather than behave compromisingly and engage in ‘double think’ and ‘double talk’. By adopting the latter course they are helping none but keeping the country in a state of chronic uncertainty, which is a handy recipe for social instabiliy and division.

In the Sri Lankan context, the failure on the part of the quarters that matter to follow scientific advice on the burials question could result in the aggravation of Islamophobia, or hatred of the practitioners of Islam, in the country. Sri Lanka could do without this latter phobia and hatred on account of its implications for national stability and development. The 30 year war against separatist forces was all about the prevention by military means of ‘nation-breaking’. The disastrous results for Sri Lanka from this war are continuing to weigh it down and are part of the international offensive against Sri Lanka in the UNHCR.

However, Islamophobia is an almost world wide phenomenon. It was greatly strengthened during Donald Trump’s presidential tenure in the US. While in office Trump resorted to the divisive ruling strategy of quite a few populist authoritarian rulers of the South. Essentially, the manoeuvre is to divide and rule by pandering to the racial prejudices of majority communities.

It has happened continually in Sri Lanka. In the initial post-independence years and for several decades after, it was a case of some populist politicians of the South whipping-up anti-Tamil sentiments. Some Tamil politicians did likewise in respect of the majority community. No doubt, both such quarters have done Sri Lanka immeasurable harm. By failing to follow scientific advice on the burial question and by not doing what is right, Sri Lanka’s current authorities are opening themselves to the charge that they are pandering to religious extremists among the majority community.

The murderous, destructive course of action adopted by some extremist sections among Muslim communities world wide, including of course Sri Lanka, has not earned the condemnation it deserves from moderate Muslims who make-up the preponderant majority in the Muslim community. It is up to moderate opinion in the latter collectivity to come out more strongly and persuasively against religious extremists in their midst. It will prove to have a cementing and unifying impact among communities.

It is not sufficiently appreciated by governments in the global South in particular that by voicing for religious and racial unity and by working consistently towards it, they would be strengthening democratic development, which is an essential condition for a country’s growth in all senses.

A ‘divided house’ is doomed to fall; this is the lesson of history. ‘National security’ cannot be had without human security and peaceful living among communities is central to the latter. There cannot be any ‘double talk’ or ‘politically correct’ opinions on this question. Truth and falsehood are the only valid categories of thought and speech.

Those in authority everywhere claiming to be democratic need to adopt a scientific outlook on this issue as well. Studies conducted on plural societies in South Asia, for example, reveal that the promotion of friendly, cordial ties among communities invariably brings about healing among estranged groups and produces social peace. This is the truth that is waiting to be acted upon.

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Pakistan’s love of Sri Lanka

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By Sanjeewa Jayaweera

It was on 3rd January 1972 that our family arrived in Karachi from Moscow. Our departure from Moscow had been delayed for a few weeks due to the military confrontation between Pakistan and India. It ended on 16th December 1971. After that, international flights were not permitted for some time.

The contrast between Moscow and Karachi was unbelievable. First and foremost, Moscow’s temperature was near minus 40 degrees centigrade, while in Karachi, it was sunny and a warm 28 degrees centigrade. However, what struck us most was the extreme warmth with which the airport authorities greeted our family. As my father was a diplomat, we were quickly ushered to the airport’s VIP Lounge. We were in transit on our way to Rawalpindi, the airport serving the capital of Islamabad.

We quickly realized that the word “we are from Sri Lanka” opened all doors just as saying “open sesame” gained entry to Aladdin’s cave! The broad smile, extreme courtesy, and genuine warmth we received from the Pakistani people were unbelievable.

This was all to do with Mrs Sirima Bandaranaike’s decision to allow Pakistani aircraft to land in Colombo to refuel on the way to Dhaka in East Pakistan during the military confrontation between Pakistan and India. It was a brave decision by Mrs Bandaranaike (Mrs B), and the successive governments and Sri Lanka people are still enjoying the fruits of it. Pakistan has been a steadfast and loyal supporter of our country. They have come to our assistance time and again in times of great need when many have turned their back on us. They have indeed been an “all-weather” friend of our country.

Getting back to 1972, I was an early beneficiary of Pakistani people’s love for Sri Lankans. I failed the entrance exam to gain entry to the only English medium school in Islamabad! However, when I met the Principal, along with my father, he said, “Sanjeewa, although you failed the entrance exam, I will this time make an exception as Sri Lankans are our dear friends.” After that, the joke around the family dinner table was that I owed my education in Pakistan to Mrs B!

At school, my brother and I were extended a warm welcome and always greeted “our good friends from Sri Lanka.” I felt when playing cricket for our college; our runs were cheered more loudly than of others.

One particular incident that I remember well was when the Embassy received a telex from the Foreign inistry. It requested that our High Commissioner seek an immediate meeting with the Prime Minister of Pakistan, Mr Zulifikar Ali Bhutto (ZB), and convey a message from Mrs B. The message requested that an urgent shipment of rice be dispatched to Sri Lanka as there would be an imminent rice shortage. As the Ambassador was not in the station, the responsibility devolved on my father.

It usually takes about a week or more to get an audience with the Prime Minister (PM) of a foreign country due to their busy schedule. However, given the urgency, my father spoke to the Foreign Ministry’s Permanent Sectary, who fortunately was our neighbour and sought an urgent appointment. My father received a call from the PM’s secretary around 10 P.M asking him to come over to the PM’s residence. My father met ZB around midnight. ZB was about to retire to bed and, as such, was in his pyjamas and gown enjoying a cigar! He had greeted my father and had asked, “Mr Jayaweera, what can we do for great friend Madam Bandaranaike?. My father conveyed the message from Colombo and quietly mentioned that there would be riots in the country if there is no rice!

ZB had immediately got the Food Commissioner of Pakistan on the line and said, “I want a shipload of rice to be in Colombo within the next 72 hours!” The Food Commissioner reverted within a few minutes, saying that nothing was available and the last export shipment had left the port only a few hours ago to another country. ZB had instructed to turn the ship around and send it to Colombo. This despite protests from the Food Commissioner about terms and conditions of the Letter of Credit prohibiting non-delivery. Sri Lanka got its delivery of rice!

The next was the visit of Mrs B to Pakistan. On arrival in Rawalpindi airport, she was given a hero’s welcome, which Pakistan had previously only offered to President Gaddafi of Libya, who financially backed Pakistan with his oil money. That day, I missed school and accompanied my parents to the airport. On our way, we witnessed thousands of people had gathered by the roadside to welcome Mrs B.

When we walked to the airport’s tarmac, thousands of people were standing in temporary stands waving Sri Lanka and Pakistan flags and chanting “Sri Lanka Pakistan Zindabad.” The noise emanating from the crowd was as loud and passionate as the cheering that the Pakistani cricket team received during a test match. It was electric!

I believe she was only the second head of state given the privilege of addressing both assemblies of Parliament. The other being Gaddafi. There was genuine affection from Mrs B amongst the people of Pakistan.

I always remember the indefatigable efforts of Mr Abdul Haffez Kardar, a cabinet minister and the President of the Pakistan Cricket Board. From around 1973 onwards, he passionately championed Sri Lanka’s cause to be admitted as a full member of the International Cricket Council (ICC) and granted test status. Every year, he would propose at the ICC’s annual meeting, but England and Australia’s veto kept us out until 1981.

I always felt that our Cricket Board made a mistake by not inviting Pakistan to play our inaugural test match. We should have appreciated Mr Kardar and Pakistan’s efforts. In 1974 the Pakistan board invited our team for a tour involving three test matches and a few first-class games. Most of those who played in our first test match was part of that tour, and no doubt gained significant exposure playing against a highly talented Pakistani team.

Several Pakistani greats were part of the Pakistan and India team that played a match soon after the Central Bank bomb in Colombo to prove that it was safe to play cricket in Colombo. It was a magnificent gesture by both Pakistan and India. Our greatest cricket triumph was in Pakistan when we won the World Cup in 1996. I am sure the players and those who watched the match on TV will remember the passionate support our team received that night from the Pakistani crowd. It was like playing at home!

I also recall reading about how the Pakistani government air freighted several Multi Barrell artillery guns and ammunition to Sri Lanka when the A rmy camp in Jaffna was under severe threat from the LTTE. This was even more important than the shipload of rice that ZB sent. This was crucial as most other countries refused to sell arms to our country during the war.

Time and again, Pakistan has steadfastly supported our country’s cause at the UNHCR. No doubt this year, too, their diplomats will work tirelessly to assist our country.

We extend a warm welcome to Mr Imran Khan, the Prime Minister of Pakistan. He is a truly inspirational individual who was undoubtedly an excellent cricketer. Since retirement from cricket, he has decided to get involved in politics, and after several years of patiently building up his support base, he won the last parliamentary elections. I hope that just as much as he galvanized Sri Lankan cricketers, his political journey would act as a catalyst for people like Kumar Sangakkara and Mahela Jayawardene to get involved in politics. Cricket has been called a “gentleman’s game.” Whilst politics is far from it!.

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Covid-19 health rules disregarded at entertainment venues?

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Believe me, seeing certain videos, on social media, depicting action, on the dance floor, at some of these entertainment venues, got me wondering whether this Coronavirus pandemic is REAL!

To those having a good time, at these particular venues, and, I guess, the management, as well, what the world is experiencing now doesn’t seem to be their concerned.

Obviously, such irresponsible behaviour could create more problems for those who are battling to halt the spread of Covid-19, and the new viriant of Covid, in our part of the world.

The videos, on display, on social media, show certain venues, packed to capacity – with hardly anyone wearing a mask, and social distancing…only a dream..

How can one think of social distancing while gyrating, on a dance floor, that is over crowded!

If this trend continues, it wouldn’t be a surprise if Coronavirus makes its presence felt…at such venues.

And, then, what happens to the entertainment scene, and those involved in this field, especially the musicians? No work, whatsoever!

Lots of countries have closed nightclubs, and venues, where people gather, in order to curtail the spread of this deadly virus that has already claimed the lives of thousands.

Thailand did it and the country is still having lots of restrictions, where entertainment is concerned, and that is probably the reason why Thailand has been able to control the spread of the Coronavirus.

With a population of over 69 million, they have had (so far), a little over 25,000 cases, and 83 deaths, while we, with a population of around 21 million, have over 80,000 cases, and more than 450 deaths.

I’m not saying we should do away with entertainment – totally – but we need to follow a format, connected with the ‘new normal,’ where masks and social distancing are mandatory requirements at these venues. And, dancing, I believe, should be banned, at least temporarily, as one can’t maintain the required social distance, while on the dance floor, especially after drinks.

Police spokesman DIG Ajith Rohana keeps emphasising, on TV, radio, and in the newspapers, the need to adhere to the health regulations, now in force, and that those who fail to do so would be penalised.

He has also stated that plainclothes officers would move around to apprehend such offenders.

Perhaps, he should instruct his officers to pay surprise visits to some of these entertainment venues.

He would certainly have more than a bus load of offenders to be whisked off for PCR/Rapid Antigen tests!

I need to quote what Dr. H.T. Wickremasinghe said in his article, published in The Island of Tuesday, February 16th, 2021:

“…let me conclude, while emphasising the need to continue our general public health measures, such as wearing masks, social distancing, and avoiding crowded gatherings, to reduce the risk of contact with an infected person.

“There is no science to beat common sense.”

But…do some of our folks have this thing called COMMON SENSE!

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