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Midweek Review

COVID-19: Some more discerning reflections



By Dr. B. J. C. Perera
Specialist Consultant Paediatrician

In the setting of a major contagion COVID-19, caused by an entirely new organism which is causing absolute havoc all over the planet, there are many things that gradually come to light as the world staggers its way through the pandemic. It is true to say that the scenario is in a state of flux with many still unanswered questions. As things develop our knowledge base too gets extended, sometimes in considerable amounts and occasionally in leaps and bounds as well. Quite a few of the original thoughts on the subject have had to be either withdrawn, modified and even completely revised in the light of newer knowledge. This is something to be expected as it is the very nature of progress in science. When more information is available and some things have had to be revised, it is not a reason to cause aspersions to be levelled against the original pronouncements or the people who propagated those. The basic content which have then had to be revised had to be undertaken through necessity. It has to be acknowledged that, from a medical point of view, all necessary steps have indeed been taken in good faith.

Not all that long ago, the thinking was that this disease was primarily transmitted through droplet infections following sneezing, coughing and even talking by those affected by the virus and that it was the primary route for human to human spread of the disease. The aerosol droplets so created generally had a possible transmission distance of perhaps around one metre. The need for physical distancing of people for a separation of at least one metre originated from this argument. Additionally, in the face of that same contention, the wearing of face masks by those affected by the virus and good cough etiquette of the same group were also promoted as a means of controlling the spread of the disease.

However, one of the more recent developments that has made it necessary to change some of our practices is the accumulation of more and more evidence for the possibility of air-borne transmission of the disease. This means that very fine droplets containing the virus may be carried through the air, perhaps for distances greater than one metre, and worse still, they may remain suspended in air and be floating about for quite some time. Added to this is the information that the virus could survive on surfaces on which it is deposited for considerable periods of time, which per se increases the potential infectivity of the virus. All these bits of data that have come to light makes the proper wearing of face masks by everybody becoming quite a lot more significant and all that much more important. Although some of the face masks do not provide a fool-proof one hundred per cent guarantee of defence against infection by the virus, properly worn masks will be able to provide a certain degree of protection. For an enhanced degree of safety, one needs to resort to the wearing of specialised masks which are specifically designed to protect against even the viruses. It is pertinent to point out that in the light of the latest information, if and when the schools reopen, the wearing of face masks by students within the school, and for that matter even from the time they leave home, becomes a really necessary measure. The current stipulations by the health authorities regarding this, where they imply that wearing of masks in school is not all that necessary, will need to be changed accordingly and perhaps sooner rather than later. These newer bits of information also make, physical separation of individuals everywhere and stringent hand-washing wherever possible, as well as the use of hand sanitizers and antiseptic cleaning of surfaces, even more important than ever before.

It is well-known by now that the major brunt of the damage caused by the virus in COVID-19 is borne by the respiratory system, especially the lungs. Initially it was just thought to cause a severe pneumonia which is mainly an inflammation of the gas-exchanging components of the lungs. In very simple terms, the air exchanging components of the lung become solid due to the inflammation. However, there is emerging evidence, at least in some cases, of a major involvement of the blood vessels that supply the lungs as well. Of course, there are reports of many other organs being involved in a multi-system attack by the virus and the degree to which they are involved would be reflected by the general severity of the disease. Although a significant proportion of people who are infected by this coronavirus may remain without symptoms, extensive investigations such as special scanning techniques, have shown that even in some of them, there is evidence of lung involvement although they do not show any major symptoms. These newer findings have obvious implications for the management of even symptomless COVID-19 infected persons, who are prime candidates for dissemination of the virus as well.

Cough, breathlessness and reduction in the oxygen content of the blood are the important manifestations of lung involvement. When the blood oxygen levels fall, the increase in the rate of breathing, difficulty in breathing and increased work of breathing are the signs that are seen. Some compensatory mechanisms employed by the respiratory system lead to an increase in the rate and depth of breathing. External oxygen for breathing has to be provided for these patients and those who are severely affected may need mechanical ventilation where the entire process of inflation and deflation of the lungs to facilitate gas exchange is taken over by a machine. Some severely affected patients have needed mechanical ventilation for prolonged periods of time even extending on to several weeks. Early chest physiotherapy to facilitate breathing, maintenance of the patency of the airway tubes and lung expansion in the acute phase, are invaluable for recovery. These are the initial steps in the process of lung recuperation, pulmonary rehabilitation and restoration of the functional capacity of the respiratory system, which will be a prolonged process extending on to the times even after discharge from hospital. There is some suspicion that even after apparent recovery, some patients may show evidence of residual persistent lung damage and that they would really need protracted efforts to improve their lung functions. Many of those who recover would need training on specific breathing patterns and tailor-made physiotherapy manoeuvres. In addition to physiotherapy aimed at the respiratory system, they may have extreme muscle weakness and profound tiredness as well as several psychological disturbances. They would benefit from aerobic exercises, muscle strength improving resistance training and general physical training procedures.

There are some recent concerns regarding the ability of humans to mount a sustained level of immunity to the virus even following recovery from the situations where persons have been infected by the virus. The affected persons may be with or without symptoms but the degree to which their bodies can resist a second infection and protect them against a subsequent infection is the important component for immunological considerations. There is some evidence, at least from several recent studies, to suggest that the immunity acquired as a result of infection may wane off in a matter of a few weeks or months.

Even if the antibody levels go down, whether the already sensitised immune cells of the body would be able to mount an enhanced protective response when exposed to the virus again is the crucial matter for consideration and contemplation. What we do not know is whether these people who have recovered are either resistant to reinfection, or are even a little more susceptible to reinfection by any chance or are likely to develop a more severe illness if re-infected; the latter being reminiscent of what happens in some cases of dengue. Uncertainty regarding these aspects would cast doubts on the postulations on ‘herd immunity’ being a useful element in our efforts towards keeping the virus at bay. That type of general immunity in the population is the prospect of a sufficient proportion of the populace gaining a degree of immunity which prevents the virus from getting into the herd and producing an epidemic or a pandemic.

The immune profile of the virus also has some implications for the development of vaccines against SARS-CoV-2 bug that causes COVID-19 as well. There is a keenly contested race on at the moment as several countries and a whole host of pharmaceutical companies are engaged in many endeavours to produce a successful vaccine against COVID-19. Any useful vaccine would need to maintain a high level of neutralising antibodies against the virus for a significant length of time. If, just like in the case of natural infection, the antibody response following vaccination is short lived, then one may need to administer several doses of the vaccine or it may need to be given repeatedly at pre-determined time intervals. An ideal vaccine would be one that will provide long-term protection following the administration of just one or two doses. Extensive clinical trials on volunteers of different age groups, with repeated measurement of antibodies would be required to determine the efficacy and cost-effectiveness of any future vaccines. It will be an expensive and labour-intensive protocol to test out such a vaccine in the forthcoming months and years. Yet for all that, it would be an absolutely essential undertaking before the usefulness of a future vaccine could be unequivocally established. It must also be clearly stated that an effective vaccine is a dire necessity and the companies or institutions that could produce such a vaccine is in line for absolutely massive financial benefits as a result of the discovery of an effective vaccine.

The next few months would be crucial in a quest towards improving and fine-tuning our knowledge about this little virus that has been able to induce even powerful nations to keel over and even be at the mercy of the bug without any respite in sight. This tiny bug has shown in no uncertain terms how much the human race is vulnerable, in spite of the degree to which nations and technology have advanced. We would need to keep on learning on very many different facets of the virus and of COVID-19 disease caused by the virus. Scientific collaboration among the best brains across all areas of the planet would be the need of the hour in a determined mission towards winning the war against this coronavirus. It will not be a venture beyond us if only we decide to put aside petty differences and concentrate on the matter at hand, as a committed global humanitarian initiative.


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Midweek Review

‘Professor of English Language Teaching’



It is a pleasure to be here today, when the University resumes postgraduate work in English and Education which we first embarked on over 20 years ago. The presence of a Professor on English Language Teaching from Kelaniya makes clear that the concept has now been mainstreamed, which is a cause for great satisfaction.

Twenty years ago, this was not the case. Our initiative was looked at askance, as indeed was the initiative which Prof. Arjuna Aluwihare engaged in as UGC Chairman to make degrees in English more widely available. Those were the days in which the three established Departments of English in the University system, at Peradeniya and Kelaniya and Colombo, were unbelievably conservative. Their contempt for his efforts made him turn to Sri Jayewardenepura, which did not even have a Department of English then and only offered it as one amongst three subjects for a General Degree.

Ironically, the most dogmatic defence of this exclusivity came from Colombo, where the pioneer in English teaching had been Prof. Chitra Wickramasuriya, whose expertise was, in fact, in English teaching. But her successor, when I tried to suggest reforms, told me proudly that their graduates could go on to do postgraduate degrees at Cambridge. I suppose that, for generations brought up on idolization of E. F. C. Ludowyke, that was the acme of intellectual achievement.

I should note that the sort of idealization of Ludowyke, the then academic establishment engaged in was unfair to a very broadminded man. It was the Kelaniya establishment that claimed that he ‘maintained high standards, but was rarefied and Eurocentric and had an inhibiting effect on creative writing’. This was quite preposterous coming from someone who removed all Sri Lankan and other post-colonial writing from an Advanced Level English syllabus. That syllabus, I should mention, began with Jacobean poetry about the cherry-cheeked charms of Englishwomen. And such a characterization of Ludowyke totally ignored his roots in Sri Lanka, his work in drama which helped Sarachchandra so much, and his writing including ‘Those Long Afternoons’, which I am delighted that a former Sabaragamuwa student, C K Jayanetti, hopes to resurrect.

I have gone at some length into the situation in the nineties because I notice that your syllabus includes in the very first semester study of ‘Paradigms in Sri Lankan English Education’. This is an excellent idea, something which we did not have in our long-ago syllabus. But that was perhaps understandable since there was little to study then except a history of increasing exclusivity, and a betrayal of the excuse for getting the additional funding those English Departments received. They claimed to be developing teachers of English for the nation; complete nonsense, since those who were knowledgeable about cherries ripening in a face were not likely to move to rural areas in Sri Lanka to teach English. It was left to the products of Aluwihare’s initiative to undertake that task.

Another absurdity of that period, which seems so far away now, was resistance to training for teaching within the university system. When I restarted English medium education in the state system in Sri Lanka, in 2001, and realized what an uphill struggle it was to find competent teachers, I wrote to all the universities asking that they introduce modules in teacher training. I met condign refusal from all except, I should note with continuing gratitude, from the University of Sri Jayewardenepura, where Paru Nagasunderam introduced it for the external degree. When I started that degree, I had taken a leaf out of Kelaniya’s book and, in addition to English Literature and English Language, taught as two separate subjects given the language development needs of students, made the third subject Classics. But in time I realized that was not at all useful. Thankfully, that left a hole which ELT filled admirably at the turn of the century.

The title of your keynote speaker today, Professor of English Language Teaching, is clear evidence of how far we have come from those distant days, and how thankful we should be that a new generation of practical academics such as her and Dinali Fernando at Kelaniya, Chitra Jayatilleke and Madhubhashini Ratnayake at USJP and the lively lot at the Postgraduate Institute of English at the Open University are now making the running. I hope Sabaragamuwa under its current team will once again take its former place at the forefront of innovation.

To get back to your curriculum, I have been asked to teach for the paper on Advanced Reading and Writing in English. I worried about this at first since it is a very long time since I have taught, and I feel the old energy and enthusiasm are rapidly fading. But having seen the care with which the syllabus has been designed, I thought I should try to revive my flagging capabilities.

However, I have suggested that the university prescribe a textbook for this course since I think it is essential, if the rounded reading prescribed is to be done, that students should have ready access to a range of material. One of the reasons I began while at the British Council an intensive programme of publications was that students did not read round their texts. If a novel was prescribed, they read that novel and nothing more. If particular poems were prescribed, they read those poems and nothing more. This was especially damaging in the latter case since the more one read of any poet the more one understood what he was expressing.

Though given the short notice I could not prepare anything, I remembered a series of school textbooks I had been asked to prepare about 15 years ago by International Book House for what were termed international schools offering the local syllabus in the English medium. Obviously, the appalling textbooks produced by the Ministry of Education in those days for the rather primitive English syllabus were unsuitable for students with more advanced English. So, I put together more sophisticated readers which proved popular. I was heartened too by a very positive review of these by Dinali Fernando, now at Kelaniya, whose approach to students has always been both sympathetic and practical.

I hope then that, in addition to the texts from the book that I will discuss, students will read other texts in the book. In addition to poetry and fiction the book has texts on politics and history and law and international relations, about which one would hope postgraduate students would want some basic understanding.

Similarly, I do hope whoever teaches about Paradigms in English Education will prescribe a textbook so that students will understand more about what has been going on. Unfortunately, there has been little published about this but at least some students will I think benefit from my book on English and Education: In Search of Equity and Excellence? which Godage & Bros brought out in 2016. And then there was Lakmahal Justified: Taking English to the People, which came out in 2018, though that covers other topics too and only particular chapters will be relevant.

The former book is bulky but I believe it is entertaining as well. So, to conclude I will quote from it, to show what should not be done in Education and English. For instance, it is heartening that you are concerned with ‘social integration, co-existence and intercultural harmony’ and that you want to encourage ‘sensitivity towards different cultural and linguistic identities’. But for heaven’s sake do not do it as the NIE did several years ago in exaggerating differences. In those dark days, they produced textbooks which declared that ‘Muslims are better known as heavy eaters and have introduced many tasty dishes to the country. Watalappam and Buriani are some of these dishes. A distinguished feature of the Muslims is that they sit on the floor and eat food from a single plate to show their brotherhood. They eat string hoppers and hoppers for breakfast. They have rice and curry for lunch and dinner.’ The Sinhalese have ‘three hearty meals a day’ and ‘The ladies wear the saree with a difference and it is called the Kandyan saree’. Conversely, the Tamils ‘who live mainly in the northern and eastern provinces … speak the Tamil language with a heavy accent’ and ‘are a close-knit group with a heavy cultural background’’.

And for heaven’s sake do not train teachers by telling them that ‘Still the traditional ‘Transmission’ and the ‘Transaction’ roles are prevalent in the classroom. Due to the adverse standard of the school leavers, it has become necessary to develop the learning-teaching process. In the ‘Transmission’ role, the student is considered as someone who does not know anything and the teacher transmits knowledge to him or her. This inhibits the development of the student.

In the ‘Transaction’ role, the dialogue that the teacher starts with the students is the initial stage of this (whatever this might be). Thereafter, from the teacher to the class and from the class to the teacher, ideas flow and interaction between student-student too starts afterwards and turns into a dialogue. From known to unknown, simple to complex are initiated and for this to happen, the teacher starts questioning.

And while avoiding such tedious jargon, please make sure their command of the language is better than to produce sentences such as these, or what was seen in an English text, again thankfully several years ago:

Read the story …

Hello! We are going to the zoo. “Do you like to join us” asked Sylvia. “Sorry, I can’t I’m going to the library now. Anyway, have a nice time” bye.

So Syliva went to the zoo with her parents. At the entrance her father bought tickets. First, they went to see the monkeys

She looked at a monkey. It made a funny face and started swinging Sylvia shouted: “He is swinging look now it is hanging from its tail its marvellous”

“Monkey usually do that’

I do hope your students will not hang from their tails as these monkeys do.

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Midweek Review

Little known composers of classical super-hits



By Satyajith Andradi


Quite understandably, the world of classical music is dominated by the brand images of great composers. It is their compositions that we very often hear. Further, it is their life histories that we get to know. In fact, loads of information associated with great names starting with Beethoven, Bach and Mozart has become second nature to classical music aficionados. The classical music industry, comprising impresarios, music publishers, record companies, broadcasters, critics, and scholars, not to mention composers and performers, is largely responsible for this. However, it so happens that classical music lovers are from time to time pleasantly struck by the irresistible charm and beauty of classical pieces, the origins of which are little known, if not through and through obscure. Intriguingly, most of these musical gems happen to be classical super – hits. This article attempts to present some of these famous pieces and their little-known composers.


Pachelbel’s Canon in D

The highly popular piece known as Pachelbel’s Canon in D constitutes the first part of Johann Pachelbel’s ‘Canon and Gigue in D major for three violins and basso continuo’. The second part of the work, namely the gigue, is rarely performed. Pachelbel was a German organist and composer. He was born in Nuremburg in 1653, and was held in high esteem during his life time. He held many important musical posts including that of organist of the famed St Stephen’s Cathedral in Vienna. He was the teacher of Bach’s elder brother Johann Christoph. Bach held Pachelbel in high regard, and used his compositions as models during his formative years as a composer. Pachelbel died in Nuremburg in 1706.

Pachelbel’s Canon in D is an intricate piece of contrapuntal music. The melodic phrases played by one voice are strictly imitated by the other voices. Whilst the basso continuo constitutes a basso ostinato, the other three voices subject the original tune to tasteful variation. Although the canon was written for three violins and continuo, its immense popularity has resulted in the adoption of the piece to numerous other combinations of instruments. The music is intensely soothing and uplifting. Understandingly, it is widely played at joyous functions such as weddings.


Jeremiah Clarke’s Trumpet Voluntary

The hugely popular piece known as ‘Jeremiah Clarke’s Trumpet Voluntary’ appeared originally as ‘ The Prince of Denmark’s March’ in Jeremiah Clarke’s book ‘ Choice lessons for the Harpsichord and Spinet’, which was published in 1700 ( Michael Kennedy; Oxford Dictionary of Music ). Sometimes, it has also been erroneously attributed to England’s greatest composer Henry Purcell (1659 – 1695 ) and called ‘Purcell’s Trumpet Voluntary (Percy A. Scholes ; Oxford Companion to Music). This brilliant composition is often played at joyous occasions such as weddings and graduation ceremonies. Needless to say, it is a piece of processional music, par excellence. As its name suggests, it is probably best suited for solo trumpet and organ. However, it is often played for different combinations of instruments, with or without solo trumpet. It was composed by the English composer and organist Jeremiah Clarke.

Jeremiah Clarke was born in London in 1670. He was, like his elder contemporary Pachelbel, a musician of great repute during his time, and held important musical posts. He was the organist of London’s St. Paul’s Cathedral and the composer of the Theatre Royal. He died in London in 1707 due to self – inflicted gun – shot injuries, supposedly resulting from a failed love affair.


Albinoni’s Adagio

The full title of the hugely famous piece known as ‘Albinoni’s Adagio’ is ‘Adagio for organ and strings in G minor’. However, due to its enormous popularity, the piece has been arranged for numerous combinations of instruments. It is also rendered as an organ solo. The composition, which epitomizes pathos, is structured as a chaconne with a brooding bass, which reminds of the inevitability and ever presence of death. Nonetheless, there is no trace of despondency in this ethereal music. On the contrary, its intense euphony transcends the feeling of death and calms the soul. The composition has been attributed to the Italian composer Tomaso Albinoni (1671 – 1750), who was a contemporary of Bach and Handel. However, the authorship of the work is shrouded in mystery. Michael Kennedy notes: “The popular Adagio for organ and strings in G minor owes very little to Albinoni, having been constructed from a MS fragment by the twentieth century Italian musicologist Remo Giazotto, whose copyright it is” (Michael Kennedy; Oxford Dictionary of Music).


Boccherini’s Minuet

The classical super-hit known as ‘Boccherini’s Minuet’ is quite different from ‘Albinoni’s Adagio’. It is a short piece of absolutely delightful music. It was composed by the Italian cellist and composer Luigi Boccherini. It belongs to his string quintet in E major, Op. 13, No. 5. However, due to its immense popularity, the minuet is performed on different combinations of instruments.

Boccherini was born in Lucca in 1743. He was a contemporary of Haydn and Mozart, and an elder contemporary of Beethoven. He was a prolific composer. His music shows considerable affinity to that of Haydn. He lived in Madrid for a considerable part of his life, and was attached to the royal court of Spain as a chamber composer. Boccherini died in poverty in Madrid in 1805.

Like numerous other souls, I have found immense joy by listening to popular classical pieces like Pachelbel’s Canon in D, Jeremiah Clarke’s Trumpet Voluntary, Albinoni’s Adagio and Boccherini’s Minuet. They have often helped me to unwind and get over the stresses of daily life. Intriguingly, such music has also made me wonder how our world would have been if the likes of Bach, Handel, Haydn, Mozart, Beethoven, and Schubert had never lived. Surely, the world would have been immeasurably poorer without them. However, in all probability, we would have still had Pachelbel’s Canon in D, Jeremiah Clarke’s Trumpet Voluntary, Albinoni’s Adagio, and Boccherini’s Minuet, to cheer us up and uplift our spirits.

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Midweek Review

The Tax Payer and the Tough



By Lynn Ockersz

The tax owed by him to Caesar,

Leaves our retiree aghast…

How is he to foot this bill,

With the few rupees,

He has scraped together over the months,

In a shrinking savings account,

While the fires in his crumbling hearth,

Come to a sputtering halt?

But in the suave villa next door,

Stands a hulk in shiny black and white,

Over a Member of the August House,

Keeping an eagle eye,

Lest the Rep of great renown,

Be besieged by petitioners,

Crying out for respite,

From worries in a hand-to-mouth life,

But this thought our retiree horrifies:

Aren’t his hard-earned rupees,

Merely fattening Caesar and his cohorts?

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