and a touch of kindness
a Past Pupil
It is in the fitness of things that gratitude be expressed
to the truly deserving. Such is a person with a great mind, a rare
attribute. Equally rare is a large heart, but still rarer is a meeting
of the two. It is the embodiment of this extraodinary union in the
person of Dr. Quintus Fernando that was celebrated recently in Tucson,
Arizona. Sri Lankans gathered in his home to pay him tribute on
his long and distinguished career, spanning over 40 years as a Research
Professor in the United States.
his education at S. Thomas' College, Mount Lavinia, Quintus Fernando
entered the University of Ceylon (as it was then known) on a Mathematics
scholarship but soon turned his attention to Chemistry. After successfully
completing his undergraduate career, he proceeded to the US to pursue
post-graduate studies and subsequently took up a faculty position
at the University of Arizona where he worked until his retirement.
At the University
of Arizona, he made his mark in his chosen field, Analytical Chemistry,
publishing several hundred research papers, authoring or co-authoring
books and chapters in authoritative texts. Together with Professor
Henry Freiser, Dr. Fernando is credited with founding the Analytical
Chemistry Division of the University of Arizona that was for a long
time regarded by the US National Science Foundation as one of the
premier centres for Analytical Chemistry in the country. There is
no senior researcher in this field either in the US or abroad who
has not heard of Dr. Fernando. If you ask a respected researcher
in Analytical Chemistry anywhere in the world, "Do you know
Quintus Fernando?", the prompt reply would be, "Yes, I
do" or "I do not know him personally but I have heard
service to his motherland was made much greater by his having lived
abroad than could have been possible had he continued to live in
the land of his birth. This contribution takes the form of a long
list of students that he has helped and mentored. He sponsored some
students to the US, but many came on their own and later sought
his help and counsel. Some returned home after completion of their
education, some remained abroad; but everyone of them is doing well.
Among his students
and contemporaries are a world-class X-ray crystallographer, one
of the world's foremost authorities on Electrochemistry (who passed
away) and a quantum mechanics specialist of equally great renown,
to mention but three. Through their achievements in their chosen
fields, unbeknown to many Sri Lankans, they have put the country
on the map in a manner more enduring than could have been done by
an ambassador of any political hue.
to the appreciation of his service was forthcoming that evening
from past and present Sri Lankan students themselves. Glowing and
heartfelt were the tributes paid to him.
A man of many
faces, Dr. Fernando did not confine himself to science alone. He
is a well-known stamp-collector who has won several coveted awards
at philatelic expositions, violinist, photographer, voracious reader
of English Literature and was once a boxer.
of the boxer inside the ring also carried over into his steely adherence
to principle. He expected the highest standards of professionalism
from his students and colleagues and whenever one fell short of
his expectations he would put his foot down. Beneath that tough
exterior, however, resides a gentle and compassionate heart that
no student failed to recognize. Adapting an epigram of Oliver Goldsmith,
any student who "came to scoff, remained to pray"! The
care and attention that he paid his students have earned him their
enduring respect and regard.
With a ready
wit, an infectious and inoffensive sense of humour, and a vast repertoire
of tales and anecdotes he can charm any audience. But most of all
he manifests an extraordinary sense of humility that is well worth
emulating. A typical comment by one American to another would be:
"He is a delightful man, go, meet him". Many a foreign
student who visited the Fernandos' home for those innumerable social
gatherings remarked when leaving, "Dr. Fernando is like a child".
Yes. Greatness sits ever so lightly on the truly great!
They are living
reminders that we can live together as human beings only if we truly
desire to do so. Their breed is rare indeed! Having fulfilled his
obligations to his family and students, Dr. Fernando now begins
his richly deserved retirement. To him all we can do is to say in
unison, "Thank you. Thank you, Sir, for all you have done.
We Sri Lankans are truly proud of you."
and flowers made simple
By Alfreda de Silva
Anna Joshua, our matric ulation teacher of Botany at Girton,
captivated us with her simplicity and radiant smile, the day she
was introduced to us, her six students, by Mrs. Blacker in the mid1930s
She and her
sister, Susan Pulimood who became one of the eminent Principals
of Visakha Vidyalaya had written the Botany text for senior classes.
It was with pride and pleasure that we looked upon this guru and
her valuable contribution to our missed insights in the natural
world around us. Anna, Susan Pulimood and their sister Mary John
were the daughters of a District Judge in Nagercoil, south India.
They came to Ceylon in the mid 1930s. Mary, who arrived with her
family was a teacher at St. John's School, Nugegoda. They lived
in a large attractive house in Kynsey Road, Colombo. Ms. Joshua
was a friend, counsellor and teacher all rolled into one for us
uncertain, confused teenagers; a gentle understanding human being.
All three sisters
had had their tertiary education in England. We shared the overseas
learning experiences of Anna Joshua, the botanist through pictures
and specimens that she brought to the classroom, both from here
and abroad. For the splendour of Kew Gardens for instance, she urged
us to read the poem "Kew in Lilac Time" by Alfred Noyes.
It was read aloud and enjoyed in class. Every day's lesson was a
glimpse into an unknown world of nature in an unforgettable way.
More often than not, our Botany class was out of doors. Sometimes,
in the Girton Garden where we picked up runner grasses that yielded
to the mildest touch or sprigs of the abundantly flowering lantana,
so delicately put together in tiny florets of pink, yellow, orange
and white. Red hibiscus displayed its fan of stamens on a long pistil.
of the subject made us realize that we had been walking blind-folded
through our natural environment.
We learnt for
the first time that we had been mistaken when we used the word 'branch'
to describe the enormous leaf of the coconut palm, with its own
sturdy long mid-rib, and its leaflets with their ekels.
gardens in the village around us. Once there was a great to do about
a strange flower that had bloomed in a small back garden off the
High Level Road in Nugegoda. Photographs and descriptions of it
were in the morning papers.
in single file on the road to enter the place.
took us there, of course it was not too long a walk from the school.
The owners of the premises had put up a barrier with cadjans to
conceal the object from instant view. People paid five cents each
for a quick look and exit through the barrier.
What we saw
was indeed strange and unusual but also unsightly - an outsize single
bract which resembled the colour of liver, enclosing a large pistil.
It certainly was a botanical oddity. Ms. Joshua identified it as
a freak of the large family of lilies, like the arum. Years later,
it reminded me of a enlarged and over-coloured anthurium.
nidikumba stung us and their leaves went into an instant sleep at
our touch as we took specimens of their tiny pink puffs of flowers.
enjoyable and unconventional lessons created a sense of wonder in
what we saw around us and, in a sense enhanced our perceptions and
vocabulary for writing poetry.
a carpet of trifoliate leaves of undupiyali, we picked up net veined
leaves like lace for identification and pressing-jak, breadfruit,
mango, kottang and many others. The many-fingered leaves of breadfruit,
papaw and manioc each with its name and identification, fascinated
by the sea brought us mangrove and sea-weed for sketching. We picked
up large round stones covered with moss or beaten smooth by the
waves. The rocks on the shore served as seats for us to sketch,
and one rare morning, two small cotyledons - the first leaf or pair
of leaves developed in a seed plant came floating in shoreward.
notice boards 'Keep off the grass' we walked along the park lanes
and stopped under a gigantic banyan tree with its profusion of aerial
roots contrasting with its soaring branches. We sat on the benches
and sketched them before moving on to a sal tree with its arresting
large pink waxen flowers.
by a pitcher plant. This is deceptively innocent-looking and interesting
to look at but all set to trap insects inside it with the closing
of a lid.
At the end
of it all Miss Joshua sprang a surprise on us. "If you girls
are not too tired let's walk down to my home for tea."
Mary John and
Susan Pulimood received us warmly, and the tea of Indian sweets
and savouries was delectable.
I had the pleasure
of seeing Susan's collection of poetry several well-known Indian
poets, before we accepted Mrs. John's gracious offer of a car-ride
back to school. Thanks and goodbyes said the six of us crowded into
the car and headed for home.
those who dared be forgotten ?
By Dr. Narme F. Wickremesinghe
Ran Menika's son Ukku Banda had returned home on 10 days
rest after three months duty in the North. Even though the last
year in the North was without any major hostilities, the combatants
in the Armed Forces had been instructed to be vigilant and to be
ready to engage any rebels who break the truce. Their numbers remain
as before the MOU.
In Ran Menika's
mind, deep in a rural area in Nikaweratiya, the disaster that befell
her neighbour five years ago still exists, one son disabled in a
wheel chair and the elder son 'missing in action' i.e., although
legally declared dead after one year, they never saw the body.
life had come to a standstill; she was constantly in tears, neglecting
the rest of the family, not participating in any village celebrations,
isolating herself, feeling guilty that she was responsible. Her
one wail was that she could not even have an almsgiving (dhane)
for her missing son though grateful that at least her other heroic
son had life though disabled. On the day that Ukku Banda was to
return to his Unit, Ran Menika hid his uniform - to keep him from
going back to the Army, but undeterred, he went in his civvies,
to the wailing of the mother, father, three sisters and a younger
brother - the average number in a rural family.
This is the
anxiety of most families in rural areas who for patriotism or poverty
have sent a son, husband, father, or brother to the Armed Forces
or Police. The day of return is painful to the family due to fear
that they will not see him again, even though the danger is much
For the missing, killed, and disabled in action, inspite of
the cessation of hostilities, the numbers remain the same and the
psychological problems continue. Officially 17,000 were killed and
identified and the bodies returned to their families for funeral
rites etc. Although grief stricken and shocked initially for the
loss of a young life, within a year most are able to overcome depression
and come to terms with the loss and get on with life.
Yet there are
3,500 'missing'! These families go through the same stages of grief
- numbness ( denial), irritability (anger), bargaining (why me),
depression, but move from hope to grief constantly in a yo-yo or
roller coaster like effect. There was much hope that the missing
will return after the signing of the MOU, but when Mr. Prabhakaran
said that he had only 07 POWs, hope immediately turned to grief
again. Hope sprang up again when the seven were to be released,
and when the LTTE said that there were no more prisoners, it was
grief once more. This up and down movement leads to severe stress,
and homes get disrupted and there is no coming to terms with the
In a sense,
the wives and mothers of the missing are themselves captives. They
are also bound by the whims of the captor, feeling totally helpless,
unable to do anything to help their loved ones, enmeshed in a hopeless,
powerless, and captive situation. Like the captives themselves they
find it impossible to go forward with life. There is much rumination
and recrimination in their minds asking many questions as to the
'why' and 'wherefores'. Victor Frank referred to this type of coping
as a 'search for meaning'. These families are lonely, restless,
and even humiliated and subject to envy (due to the compensation)
by the husband's family and in certain instances abused, insulted
and harassed. The blame for a missing husband is put on the wife's
grief in the wives of the missing reflect on the children as well,
who too are in a state of limbo, not knowing whether the father
will return someday or whether they are fatherless.
They are also
made the butt end of jokes in school, and do not join in school
activities. The ability to cope with stress is a reflection of their
mother's ability to cope effectively - and there are few who can.
An attempt is being made to train and occupy these families in vocational
skills, and for them to meet regularly in small groups to derive
strength in coping from one another.
abled and families
Many of the medically retired, disabled personnel and their
families go through the same stages of loss and have prolonged stress.
In addition to similar symptoms of the families of those missing,
these heroes have actually seen the bloody rigours of war, of friends
dying before their very eyes - and years later develop psychiatric
symptoms of post traumatic stress disorders.
It is said
that there are 16,000 disabled and the Armed Services does much
to give vocational training to most of them, to lead as near normal
lives as possible. Unfortunately society itself does not cater to
their needs inspite of a disability rights law introduced in 1996
and the personal appeal of President Chandrika Bandaranaike Kumaratunga
to the Ministries concerned, to provide a proper and friendly environment
to the differently abled especially to those who were disabled in
action. Ran Banda still has to stand on one leg in buses, Gunasekera
(without both legs) is still fighting the Registrar of Motor Vehicles
to have his invalid carriage licence legally recognized, most have
to wait in queues at hospitals, and the blind and paraplegics are
discriminated in employment interviews (they are dismissed even
before the interview).
Although we as a nation need to be prepared for many psychological
problems of these direct victims of war in the South, it was found
that many of these problems are aggravated by the social problems
that the families have to face in rural areas, far from towns, to
whom the Governmental regulations/procedures/bureaucracies are meaningless.
Hence the Ranaviru Seva Authority was established by the President
to mediate in the psycho-social problems of these families. Though
civilian but still under the flag, most NGOs till recently, would
do nothing for them because these civilians had a military connection.
The fact that this connection was patriotic, of so few doing so
much for so many in the nation was immaterial!
Remembrance Park (NRP)
The Rana Viru Seva Authority in association with the public
and private sectors (led by the Ceylon Tobacco Co.) has now set
up the National Remembrance Park, a place of scenic beauty 16km.
from Kandy on Raja Mawatha (Randenigala Road), where each of the
21,000 lost in the line of duty for Mother Lanka are remembered.
Whilst it is a place for all patriotic citizens to honour the heroes
who have paid the supreme sacrifice, hopefully it may help to mitigate
the unresolved grief of the families of the missing, in having a
place of remembrance.
The theme of
the NRP is "Peace and life arises from death and strife"
- a place that shows the atrocities of strife to future generations
of our land. It is hoped to set up a Trust Fund for the maintenance
of the NRP. The Sri Lanka Insurance Corporation, the National Lotteries
Board, the Development Lotteries Board and the Ceylon Tobacco Co.,
have promised massive donations for the maintenance and development
of the NRP.
Moragoda has been quietly encouraging large donations to the Trust
Fund. Prime Minister,Ranil Wickremesinghe too has said, " Contributions
by all public spirited citizens will encourage the organizers."
a month of remembrance of patriots who laid down their lives so
that others may live in peace. It was on November 11, 1918 at 11.00
a.m. that the guns were stilled after the First World War and ever
since, the Sunday closest to that day is observed throughout the
world as Remembrance Sunday - this year on November 10. Hopefully
the nation will remember our heroes on that day and aspire for peace
by observing two minutes silence at 1l.00 a.m.
The Rana Viru
Seva Authority (RVSA)
The Rana Viru Seva Authority was established in 2000 by the President
under a Parliamentary Act supported by all political parties, to
attend to the psycho-social needs and welfare of the disabled at
war, the families of those missing or killed in action, and those
maintaining the peace and sovereignty of Sri Lanka. Whilst the cessation
of hostilities is welcome we must not forget the soldiers, sailors,
airmen, and police personnel who died are lost, Others still vigilant,
in the defence of unity and sovereignty for mother Lanka and her
The RVSA does
its psycho-social and welfare functions only through private donations
and that too by specific projects. With the dawn of peace these
donations are now few, but it is necessary to continue this work
for those who have done so much for so many. Donations can be sent
to the Rana Viru Seva Authority, No. 410/34, Baudhaloka Mawatha.
Colombo 07 (Telephone: 01-662331/5, Fax: 01-696236, email@example.com).
The writer is a consultant in occupational medicine.
our high dams
By A. Denis N. Fernando
Irrigated technology in Sri Lanka existed here before the
advent of Vijaya when the country was occupied by indigenous Veddhas
as well as seafearers and traders namely the Yakkhas. The Nagas
meanwhile had a Red Sea Erythrean connection and were great builders.
The oldest city of Vijithapura was indicated in the Mahavamsa as
having three moats, the remains of which are clearly indicated in
the aerial photographs. It was located between Kaduruwela and the
new town of Polonnaruwa.
The map showing
the distribution of the different types of ancient irrigation structures
indicates ancient canals from Yakabendi elas that provided irrigation
from the Mahaweli Ganga like Kalinga and Gomathi elas.
Then we have
the ancient Maduru Oya sluice which I discovered in 1981. This had
two sluices and was built in three stages starting from the BC period.
According to the Mahavamsa, the Yakkhas has their annual new year(sun
festival) at the Dolapabbatha even in the time of King Pandukabhaya
which lies between the Maduru Oya and the Mahaweli Ganga indicating
the antiquity of this region in the BC period. This area was occupied
by the pioneers of irrigation technology in Sri Lanka.
of the major reservoirs were in the Intermediate and Dry Zones and
there were no major reservoirs on the main Mahaweli Ganga as the
ancients used the profuse base flow of the river to divert water
using diversion canals to major reservoirs located elsewhere. In
the time of Parakramabahu I in the twelfth century they had cultivated
more land than is now done under the present Mahaweli project. Today
the base flow is small because of the deforestation of the Upper
of high density minor irrigation reservoirs is concentrated in the
Intermediate Zone, while low density minor irrigation reservoirs
are located in the Dry Zone. As the water resources available in
these catchments are small, only about half of these tanks could
be in operation at any one time. The ancients in their wisdom used
them in cyclic rotation to recuperate their fertility by allowing
the paddy fields under them to lie fallow alternatively.
to rehabilitate all these minor irrigation reservoirs by solving
the problem of fertility using inorganic fertilizer would fail because
of the shortage of water resources.
The fall of
the ancient hydraulic civilization of Sri Lanka in the Thirteenth
Century was due to a sudden natural cataclysmic change of the river
course of the Mahaweli Ganga and was not due to foreign invasions
as historians would want us to believe. The scientific evidence
is clearly seen in the aerial photographs of the old course of the
Mahaweli ganga and its new river course. The ancient Mahaweli with
its ancient chaityas which were beside the old river like a string
of pearls now lay stranded beside it, while the present river flows
elsewhere with no chaityas besides it.
geological cataclysm that changed the river course that sustained
our ancient hydraulic civilization, that took place in circa 1220
AD led to disease and famine. This resulted in the major part of
the population abandoning these areas and moving to the Wet and
Intermediate Zones where the king also established himself at Dambadeniya,
Kurunegala, Gampola, Kotte and Kandy.
the revival of our ancient tradition of constructing large irrigation
reservoirs began with Gal Oya, Walawe and finally Mahaweli Ganga.
This meant rehabilitating our ancient canals and reservoirs while
also building new large dams built across the Mahaweli for the first
time to capture the flood waters and resettle our people in the
land of their forefathers. We must be warned that if the bureaucracy
does not take the advice of our scientists, and does not provide
the necessary funds to purchase and replace dysfunctioning monitoring
scientific instruments for the high dams so as to maintain their
monitoring as done in our neighbouring countries,the safety of our
large high dams cannot be ensured. If not, we would in the near
future without any warning have to face a manmade national disaster
which could be worse than the one that took place in the Thirteenth
Century due to natural causes.
If any of our
high dams in the higher elevation fail without warning, it would
result in the reservoirs below them falling like a pack of cards
which would end our Mahaweli civilization, built at great cost.