Gami Seva Sevana, an NGO promoting organic agriculture
islandwide, recently held a 10-day workshop on "Bio-Dynamic
Agriculture". I was there as an "organic" farmer
interested in the concept. The other 26 participants were mainly
agriculturalists from organizations working in the agricultural
What is biodynamic
agriculture? Perhaps a simplistic explanation would be that, "Biodynamics
is all about nature's rhythms - man and nature working together,
in the biosphere, to bring about a harmonious balance in order to
sustain life on planet earth". But biodynamics is much more
than that; it "recognizes that the idea has an originator.
That in th e living body there exists a cause that governs the chemical
and physical forces, and gathers them into forms that are never
perceived outside the organism".
began with eight lectures given by Rudolf Steiner at Koberwitsz,
in 1924. Now published as a book, it is an essential read for those
craving more information on the subject. Steiner in his introduction
said: "The course of lectures will show how intimately the
interests of agriculture are bound in all directions with the widest
spheres of life. Indeed there is scarcely a realm of human life
that lies outside our subject. From one aspect or another, all interest
in human life belongs to agriculture".
gift to the world was anthroposophy or spiritual science. This is
the path of inner development that aims to guide the spiritual in
the human being and the spiritual in the universe. "Nature
forms a living structure of mutual interaction that under the guiding
hand of man produces food and fodder..."
movement developed with the aid of practical workers and the Natural
Science Branch of the Goetheanum. The agricultural market too gained
another brand name in Europe - "Demeter". The produce
bearing this name is supposed to be higher in nutrition value and
tastes better than that grown under conventional methods, and once
established gives a yield no less than those obtained by conventional
Smith (University of Leeds & Emerson College U.K.) who conducted
the workshop stressed that biodynamics did not provide answers -
it stimulated thought. It made the farmer innovative. A farmer had
to think of his own eco-system - what did he want to create? What
was the end result he was looking for? Yield optimization and sustainability
rather than maximization does not depend on fertilizing but on weed
concept is not alien to our land. Our indigenous farmers believed
in the cosmic influences on nature. The old homesteads did boast
of the total farming concept. In the past, most homesteads had their
own fields, and livestock to nourish their families and even share
with those who did not have the capacity to do so. Increasing population,
urbanization, politics, and our own indolence and apathy led to
the misuse of our land and made us slaves to western influences.
This was evident
on a field visit to Nuwara Eliya - the long-term misuse of land
for short-term gain. The once clean air is now heavily saturated
with the odour of chemical sprays. The soil is leached of its nutrients
and only the heavy top dressing given by the farmers to the soil
beds helps mask the reality from the eyes of the beholder. It is
a tragedy, but there is hope!
taking steps to arrest this decline. Companies and organizations
are creating non-toxic zones. Here no chemicals are allowed. All
is at peace with nature. Of course this is a very brave and commendable
effort. Mainly because the conversion from conventional to even
organic, let alone biodynamic, is not an easy one. The initial cost
in time and labour is high. Commitment is needed as the learning
process has to develop its own environment in order to sustain a
healthy plant life aided by the esoteric. But given time, yields
are known to match those of conventional farming, and are more economically
sustainable especially for third world nations like us.
colossus in our midst
Canon R. S. De Saram, Warden of S. Thomas' College, Mount
Lavinia from 1932-1958 was truly a colossus who was in our midst.
Besides being Warden of S. Thomas' for over quarter of a century,
he was an educationist par excellence whose fame spread well beyond
the portals of his Alma Mater, which he loved so dearly.
He was venerated
not only by the students of S. Thomas' College but also by those
of Royal College. Definitive proof of that was when his earthly
life was slowly but surely ebbing away in 1986. A distinguished
delegation from the Royal College Old Boys Union approached his
family and sought the honour of carrying the casket at his funeral.
His daughter, Wendy, was so touched that she said her father was
slipping in and out of consciousness and to please wait till he
regained consciousness. When he did, our delegation obtained such
permission from the Warden himself. In the annals of the history
of Royal College never have we honoured anybody from another school
in this manner.
De Saram was born in 1898 and was admitted to S. Thomas' College,
Mutwal in 1904. At S. Thomas' he epitomised the concept of mens
sana in corpora sano (a healthy mind in a healthy body). He was
a good student, played in the Royal-Thomian cricket matches from
1915 to 1917, captained the football team, won his colours in boxing
and had a natural flair for leadership. Besides, he was a devout
Christian who at a young age showed an inclination towards the priesthood.
All these attributes resulted in his admission to Keble College
in Oxford University, a time-honoured nursery for priests. There
he read for a degree in Classics, earned his Blue in boxing and
indicated his desire to take the holy orders. He was duly ordained
a deacon at Cuddesdon Theological College in Oxford in 1924 and
ordained a priest in 1925. Thereafter he returned to the land of
his birth with his bride. In 1926 he was appointed Sub-Warden of
his Alma Mater, Acting Warden in 1930 and Warden in 1932. He was
the first Ceylonese to be so honoured in all those appointments.
features of Warden R. S. De Saram were strong leadership and an
even stronger concept of discipline which cannot conceivably be
enforced in this day and age. His leadership was a one-man rule,
the exact opposite of what Royal College was during that period
of time. As a Christian priest he perceived that any talent a mortal
had was endowed by The Maker. As Warden he looked upon it as his
sacred duty to develop such talent to its full potential. However,
such development had to be done within specific parameters. According
to us at Royal, the hallmark of a Thomian is firstly being a gentleman
in the true sense of the word. Indeed S. Thomas' has produced such
refined gentlemen year in and year out since 1851. Warden De Saram
ensured that in a fast changing world, those cherished concepts
remained intact at S. Thomas'. Warden De Saram also ensured that
S. Thomas' retained its identity as a Christian school but simultaneously
welcomed boys who were Buddhists, Muslims and Hindus. The Warden
showed the highest respect to those great religions and ensured
that none of those boys were induced to become Christians. If anybody
did become a Christian, it was during adult life and that too due
to personal conviction.
us at Royal, being humble in victory and gracious in defeat is part
and parcel of being a Thomian. That characteristic feature of S.
Thomas' was enhanced in the era of Warden De Saram. To quote just
one example, at the Royal-Thomian cricket match of 1946, Royal was
winning easily but it was a matter of opinion whether a victory
for Royal or the rain would come first. The light was fading fast
and the lights in the pavilion at the SSC were at full intensity.
In the meantime with the drinks, and with new gloves which were
mysteriously sent periodically, the Warden himself sent instructions
to the batsmen not to appeal for bad light. According to Ronnie
Weerakoon, now Chairman of the Tea Board and earlier Ambassador
to Egypt, he could barely see the bowler let alone the ball while
he was batting. Royal won by 84 runs. It was basically an example
of well done Royal, well played S. Thomas'.
The De Saram
era produced so many star sportsmen in the Ceylon teams. They included
W.W. Tambimuttu (athletics), Donald Fairweather (cricket), R.B.
Wijesinha (cricket), H.M.P Perera (athletics), V.G. Prins (cricket),
Oscar Wijesinghe (athletics), Douglas Arndt (swimming), C.T.A. Schafter
(cricket and hockey), P.I. Peiris (cricket), Ranjit Sri Nissanka
(swimming, water polo and rugby), Rupert Ferdinands (tennis), Michael
Tissera (cricket), D.D.N. Selvadurai (tennis) B.G. Reid (cricket
and table tennis and Neil Chanmugam (cricket). They excelled in
their respective sports. They excelled even more as sportsmen both
on and off the field.
Warden De Saram the biggest difference between Royal and S. Thomas'
was that in any given year over 50% of those leaving Royal after
completion of their studies gained admission to Universities, whereas
at S. Thomas' the corresponding figure was never in excess of 25%.
Nevertheless the De Saram era produced scholars in every conceivable
discipline. In the traditional disciplines such as the Classics,
English History, Mathematics and the Sciences, Thomian scholars
excelled periodically. However, few know that S. Thomas' also produced
scholars in the Oriental languages. For example, Professor Ediriweera
Sarathchandra, Professor of Sinhala at the University of Ceylon
and the producer of the famed ballet Maname, was a distinguished
product of the De Saram era. He was at S. Thomas' under the name
E. R. S. De Silva. Bernard Tilakaratna, later a Foreign Secretary,
was also a scholar in Sinhala. Once Sinhala became a popular subject
at S. Thomas', Warden De Saram introduced classical Sinhala, known
as hela bhasa, into the curriculum.
natural inclination towards a one-man rule, Warden De Saram had
the wisdom to realise that he needed good staff to support him.
He regularly sought the advice of Dr. R.L. Hayman, his Sub-Warden,
and through the good offices of the Church Missionary Society (CMS)
in London he obtained the services of dedicated British teachers.
They included the Reverend (later Canon) A.J. Foster, J.G. Elliot
(later the Reverend) and W.T. Keble, all fresh from Oxford. Simultaneously
he exhorted his Ceylonese staff to treat teaching not merely as
a livelihood but as a calling. He himself was a supreme example
of such dedication. Accordingly, the Roll of Honour at S. Thomas'
for those who taught for more than twenty five years has a record
number from the De Saram era. In alphabetical order they were S.J.
Anandanayagam (later a Warden), Mrs. Ruth Anthonisz, Mrs. C.M. Bandaratilleke,
Miss. A.E. Bay, the Revd. A.J Barnabus, V.P. Cooke, D.F. David,
C.H. Davidson (later a Warden), B.C D'Silva, O.P. Gunaratne, Mrs.
Dora Jansz, Harold Jansz, H.P. Jansz, B.E.W. Jehoratnam, J.H.S.
Peiris, E.L. Perera, C.B. Paulickpulle, J.P. Manickasingham (a classmate
of the Warden), W.I. Muttiah, A.J. Schafter, C.S. Weerasinghe and
C.R. Wise. The parable of the lost sheep, as enunciated by Jesus
Christ Himself, was part and parcel of the thinking of Warden De
Saram. As such he was horrfied by the tradition of Royal College
of rigorously implementing our motto Disce And Discede (Learn or
Warden De Saram
placed much importance on the concept of mens sana in corpora sano
but he was too humble a man to give the impression that he personified
that concept both at S. Thomas' and at Oxford. He was delighted
when W. A. Wijesinha who had a match bag of ten wickets in the Royal-Thomian
cricket match of 1933, scored a century in the match of 1934, entered
the Colombo University College on an exhibition, when S. J. Thambiah
who captained the cricket team in 1948 and was also the Head Prefect
went on to take a First in Sociology and P.T. Shantikumar who captained
the same team in 1949 came first in the Ceylon Civil Service examination.
Bradman Weerakoon who played cricket under them also joined the
then prestigious Ceylon Civil Service and of him it is now said
Prime Ministers come and Prime Ministers go but Bradman Weerakoon
goes on forever! However Warden De Saram publicly acknowledged at
the Centenary celebrations of 1951 that Manickam Saravanamuttu of
the Stone era was the finest all round product of S. Thomas' in
her first hundred years.
Warden De Saram
was indeed a courageous man who stood up for what he thought was
right. He thought poorly of a famous demagogue from S. Thomas' College
and thought likewise of a famous demagogue from Royal College, both
of whom advocated Sinhala Only and consequently reached the pinnacle
of power in our nation He publicly opposed their disastrous policy
of Sinhala Only. In death Warden De Saram has been vindicated in
that the Sinhala Only policy is now accepted as being one of the
root causes of our civil war. Indeed Warden De Saram showed that
same courage, during the ugly racial riots of 1958, when he saw
a mob of hooligans down Hotel Road, Mount Lavinia about to lynch
a victim who was calling for help in Tamil. The Warden stopped his
car, exhibited his skill in boxing and rescued the poor victim at
great peril to himself. He was bleeding and his cassock was torn
asunder when he left the scene escorting the helpless victim to
safety. Such was the measure of this great man.
Warden De Saram
never sought honours; instead honours sought him. In 1947 when Bishop
Douglas Horsley, Bishop of Colombo in the Church of Ceylon, retired
prematurely the Church offered the vacancy to The Reverend Canon
De Saram. He declined that honour to serve his beloved Alma Mater.
In 1949 Prime Minister D.S. Senanayake appointed him to the National
Education Commission. In 1950 he was awarded the OBE for his service
to education. In 1955 Professor Nicholas Attygalle, Vice Chancellor
of the University of Ceylon, invited him to join the Board of Residence
and Disipline, of that seat of learning. In that capacity he was
a frequent visitor to the University of Ceylon. Those visits could
be looked upon with a mixture of amazement and amusement. Undergraduates
from S. Thomas' were amazed that we undergraduates from Royal indulged
in animated conversation with their Warden. We from Royal were amused
that undergraduates from S. Thomas' trembled with fear at the sight
of their Warden! Some even burnt their palms in hiding the cigarettes
they were smoking!!
now arises, who produced this great and good man Warden Reginald
Steuart De Saram? The answer is simple, it was S. Thomas' itself.
For having produced such a distinguished son of Lanka, we at Royal
can honestly say: Well done S. Thomas'
is a member of the Royal College Class of 1949
drug to lifesaver: Are we sure this time around?
In the 1950s and '60s, it killed or deformed thousands
of babies around the world. Now thalidomide is being hailed as a
potential new wonder drug in the treatment of lung cancer.
up some unlikely helpmates at times. For instance, who would have
believed that the painkiller aspirin might reduce the risk of heart
disease? Or that anti-inflammatories designed to treat headaches
could ease dysmenorrhoea?
Now comes the improbable news that thalidomide - the notorious drug
that caused horrendous birth defects in the late 1950s - is being
used to treat leprosy and AIDS-related conditions, and that it may
even offer hope to sufferers of some aggressive lung cancers.
in Germany in 1954, thalidomide was originally developed as part
of a barrage of drugs intended to treat allergies. Although it proved
ineffective in this regard, it did work noticeably well as a sedative
and was therefore deemed useful for pregnant women suffering from
the dire effects of morning sickness.
later, the German company Chemie Grunenthal launched thalidomide
into the public domain, marketing it as the drug of choice for morning
were prescribing it in Europe, Asia, Africa, Australasia, and the
Americas. And, by the end of the decade, 14 pharmaceutical companies
were selling it in 46 countries around the world.
blithely swallowed the drug, persuaded by the promise that it was
completely safe and non-toxic. What they didn't know was that the
testing procedures had been sloppy at best, and negligible at worst.
Extensive testing would have revealed that patients complained of
numbness in their hands and feet (later shown to be linked to permanent
nerve damage). More significantly, despite the fact that it was
being targeted at pregnant women, the drug had never been tested
on pregnant animals or studied for its effects on a developing foetus.
By 1961, the
alarm bells were beginning to ring. In February that year, the British
Medical Journal reported that a British physician had found that
long-term use of thalidomide caused tingling, numbness, and burning
pain in the fingers and toes. Later that year, an Australian doctor
called William McBride suggested that thalidomide had caused the
limb and bowel malformations of three children he had seen at Crown
Street Women's Hospital. And, around the same time, German doctor
Widulind Lenz reported that the drug was linked to the escalating
numbers of cases of limb deformities and other congenital abnormalities.
In the United
States, where the drug was waiting for approval from the Federal
Drugs Administration, the medical reviewer in charge of the case,
Frances Kelsey, was growing more and more concerned. As a graduate
student, she had studied the effects of tetragens - drugs that harm
the foetus - and suspected that thalidomide might well be a new
one. Despite pressure from the manufacturers to push through FDA
approval, she stood her ground and refused to grant a licence for
In doing so,
Kelsey may have saved hundreds or even thousands of lives. For the
United States did not witness the thousands of thalidomide babies
delivered around the rest of the world until the drug was finally
taken off the market in 1962. (President Kennedy later awarded her
with the USA's highest civilian honour, while the Washington Post
newspaper declared that she was a "heroine" whose "skepticism
and stubbornness had prevented what could have been an appalling
the United States women who had taken the drug in good faith during
the crucial first three months of pregnancy (when the limb buds
of the foetus are formed) were devastated to learn that they had
harmed their own children. Thousands miscarried their babies or
delivered them stillborn.
infants with defects that included cleft palate, deafness, blindness,
malformed internal organs and malformed limbs.
No one knows
just how many babies were born with defects. Estimates range from
5,000 to more than 10,000. Sadly, many thalidomide babies died before
their first birthday.
the drug responsible for years of pain and suffering is being rehabilitated.
In the United
States, thalidomide has been approved for the treatment of leprosy,
a new approach that has its roots in 1965, when an Israeli doctor
prescribed thalidomide as a sedative to a leprosy patient who was
having trouble sleeping and noticed that it brought the inflammation
under control. The drug is also being tested as a treatment for
other diseases and ailments such as macular degeneration, AIDS and
cancer. It has already proved useful in soothing the deep lesions
that can form in the mouth and oesophagus of AIDS patients, making
eating painful and leading to malnutrition and weight loss.
the United Kingdom's Cancer Research Fund announced in January,
2003, that it was funding a thalidomide trial led by Siow Ming Lee
of University College London and Middlesex Hospital. The trial comes
after promising results using the drug to treat small-cell lung
cancer, a particularly aggressive form of the disease.
that the drug may curb the spread of the disease and also stimulate
the immune system, improving the effectiveness of chemotherapy.
In preliminary trials, 10 out of 25 volunteer patients survived
more than a year taking thalidomide tablets daily - nearly twice
the 21 percent survival rate among those patients treated only with
chemotherapy. A further 400 patients are now being recruited to
participate in the study.
still has its dangers. Despite its official ban in 1962, women in
some countries can still buy it on the black market to rid themselves
of morning sickness. Indeed, there is evidence that thalidomide
babies are still being born in some countries of the developing
It is a salutary
lesson for those who believe that the tragedy surrounding thalidomide
forever changed the development, testing, and marketing of prescription
drugs. A wonder drug may be all very well - but only if there are
guidelines that work and people who respect them.