11th June 2000
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Not to break any records

By Laila Nasry
Taking it out of its cover, he held the long-playing record with loving care as if it was a newborn baby. Stroking it with a damp cloth, he set it down on the turntable. With careful precision he lifted the needle and placed it nimbly on the record. Slowly it began to turn and his eyes closed instinctively as the beautiful music of Neil Diamond, incidentally his favourite artiste wafted through. His face said sheer bliss...ultimate satisfaction.

Turned on by music at a very young age John Bastiansz was an avid collector of songbooks, cards and lyrics. Having listened to numerous records he always wanted to be the proud owner of a record collection. In 1986, fate presented him with an opportunity in the form of a walk along the Nugegoda pavement. There he spotted the Neil Diamond Gold record, which he bought immediately. Then on there was no turning back. In the process he befriended a record player at Lake House bookshop who not only introduced him to other places of purchase but also gave him a few records free of charge. This triggered off an obsessive and expensive hobby.

John's obsession grew in record numbers and soon bookshelves were transformed into record shelves and the furniture was moved to accommodate amplifiers, speakers and a turntable. His wife did not take kindly to this and also the time he spent in the company of Elvis Presley, Cliff Richard, Frank Sinatra, Rolling Stones, et al.

"Most of the time when I buy records I don't tell my wife, because at times it's with her marketing money," John who lives in Dehiwela laughs. The price of a record varies from Rs. 50 to 150 and a secondhand turntable is around Rs. 1500. Nevertheless John is part of a record club an almost extinct group of 'old mode' listeners, where they supplement each other's collection through exchange, thereby relieving the pressure on the purse. 

Today, John has an amazing collection of 1,200 Long Playing records and 150 singles, which include instrumentals, country, pop, folk and rock. 

However old fashioned it maybe, John insists that records are good and of better quality. The only drawback being that they could break or if left in the sun, warp. As a result John lends his collection to a precious few. One of them is Radio Sri Lanka, for their programme 'Melodies that linger'. They've borrowed many records, one of which is his Jim Reeves' 'Kimberly Jim'. The originals of most of the present-day re-makes are part of John's collection, which also includes some of the recent albums like Michael Jackson's 'BAD'. This he attributes to the fact that for collectors' purposes some albums are also released on L.Ps.

"I don't smoke or take liquor. This is what gives me happy and keeps me going," he says. Pondering on what might come of it once he's no more he says, "God knows my wife might even give it away to a bottle shop." 

"However, he is trying to get his little daughter interested in the records, in the hope that she will take on his collection and add to it. 

But for now, it is coming home after a hard day's work, stretching out in his favourite chair and listening to the turntable spinning the best of Elvis..."Are you lonesome tonight?"

Thoughts from London

Commonwealth turns tough

Spare a thought for New Zealand's former foreign minister Don McKinnon. He should have consulted an astrologer and got himself an auspicious time to take up his new job as Commonwealth Secretary-General.

His country may not have a multitude of astrologers as Sri Lanka does where every city junction seems to boast of one or two. But surely there should be one or two in Wellington who forecast the future- or pretend to- and tell you what to do and what to eat.

Maybe Mr.McKinnon does not believe in astrology as a science one should pursue. Or maybe he has no time for any of those people who purport to know what the future holds for you even more than you know yourself.

But who can really tell what politicians will do and I don't mean Don McKinnon. Politicians are so unpredictable-some will even say thoroughly unreliable-that their actions probably defy the greatest feats of astrological prediction, especially when one is dealing with politicians and people of a different culture, different historical experiences and perspectives.

So even had Mr. McKinnon consulted his favourite fortune- teller and sought a second opinion from the closest necromancer, I bet you all the tea in Sri Lanka to a high-priced Shell Company gas cylinder that no one would have told him unequivocally he was walking into a sheaf of problems from Day One.

There is this old belief, and it doubtless persists even now, that the 54-nation Commonwealth is like some good old Colombo club where people have a jolly good time, often on corporate expense account.

Except that Commonwealth leaders meet only every two years, while all those Colombo arms dealers and others who have cashed in on the free trade bonanzas meet several days each week, if not daily, at their favourite wateringholes which charge you a pretty packet for membership just so that you can come and spend the rest of your money.

Don't ask your next door astrologer for he would not know the difference between the Commonwealth Secretariat and the Commonwealth Jewellery Store. But the reality is that the Commonwealth- which in the old days was called the British Commonwealth- has changed perceptibly over the last 50 years.

It is this sea-change in the Commonwealth that is giving poor Don McKinnon unexpected headaches. So instead of sitting back comfortably and enjoying the job as Commonwealth heads used to do in the old days, the Secretary -General of today is playing the role of visiting fireman or passing postman.

If the Commonwealth was once perceived as an old man with dentures, today, through some political Viagra, the organisation has been transformed into a vigorous institution determined to spread the gospel of democracy and democratic principles among its membership.

But it is not a brash young man flexing his muscles at every deviation or aberration. Those who stepped out of line have been rapped on their knuckles and reminded of their international obligations. If they veered too far they were shown the backdoor.

It is this new Commonwealth that Mr. McKinnon inherited when he first entered Marlborough House, its headquarters. From Day One he found troubles of one kind or another. Zimbabwe was already beginning to boil over when Don McKinnon stepped into office. In the old days Commonwealth countries would have looked the other way and left President Robert Mugabe to his own devices. This would have been considered an internal matter and nobody intervenes in internal affairs except perhaps the United Nations.

Those who peddle national sovereignty as inviolate have had to think again and think carefully. Since the Commonwealth now believes that its members should accept democratic principles and march toward that goal, any act that spells retrogressive is frowned upon.

When Pakistan's military last year ousted the popularly elected government-however corrupt it might have been- the Commonwealth suspended Islamabad from its councils. Only a return to civilian rule will see Pakistan's full return to the Commonwealth fold.

Zimbabwe was a different kettle of fish. There is no military take-over. But democratic practices such as political pluralism, rule of law and free speech are under severe threat.

Can the Commonwealth act in such circumstances? Yes, though there are certain grey areas. The Commonwealth Ministerial Action Group called C-mag met in London, found Zimbabwe seriously wanting and sent Mr. McKinnon to Harare with a message to President Mugabe which told him quite unequivocally what the Commonwealth thought of his deplorable and thuggish behaviour.

Hardly had the Commonwealth looked at President Mugabe's doings when the festering problems of Sierra Leone burst open. Britain rushed troops and weapons to help UN peacekeepers. But it was also a Commonwealth problem and therefore Don McKinnon's baby too.

I met him at a reception the day after he returned from Zimbabwe delivering a tough message to Mr. Mugabe. He was looking forward to going back to his part of the world where he was due to attend a youth conference in the Solomon Islands.

He was just packing his bags when some failed businessman with a gun in his hand took the Fijian Prime Minister and several ministers hostage. So what does the New Zealander who for six months secretly negotiated over the Bougainville crisis in Papua New Guinea a few years back, do? He packs an extra suit and flies out to Suva to see whether he can have the legitimate government returned to power.

But the situation has got more complicated by the military take-over and the continuing hostage crisis there. As though the Secretary-General did not have enough on his plate, the Solomon Islands tried to emulate Fiji by taking its Prime Minister hostage.

So C-mag met again in London this week and suspended Fiji from its councils and showed the yellow card to those seeking to grab power in the Solomon Islands. If Fiji does not set a date for a return to civilian rule, then when the ministers meet again later this year sanctions might follow.

It is something the Commonwealth would wish to avoid. But it is not going to shirk from it, if it has to be done, as a lesson to all who would want violate democratic norms.

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