Chemistry and a touch of kindness
By 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.

Having received 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 of him".

Dr. Fernando's 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.

Ample testimony 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.

The toughness 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."

Plants 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.

The wonders 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.

We explored 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.

Crowds stood in single file on the road to enter the place.

Ms. Joshua 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.

Sometimes prickly 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.

Anna Joshua's 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.

Walking on 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 us.

Our morning 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.

Heeding the 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.

We stopped 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.

Should 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 the same 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.

The neighbour's 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 less now.

Stress of loss
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 loss.

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 bad luck.

This unresolved 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.

The differently 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).

Social problems
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!

The National 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.

Minister Milinda 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."

November is 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 families.

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,
The writer is a consultant in occupational medicine.

Protect 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.

The distribution 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 Catchment areas.

The distribution 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.

Today attempts 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.

This sudden 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.

With independence, 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.

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