3rd November  2002, Volume 9, Issue 16

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Lucky for Sri Lanka

By Ranee Mohamed

She is happy-go-lucky, and walks  with an unmistakably feminine  gusto. Her slender form emanates a kind of success that few of us are able to sport. Lucky Alagoda who put the ‘shuttle’ up in 1965 has bagged many a title since then. She  prefers to stay away from the limelight today. But sometimes she cannot help it if she wins. And early this year she  brought Sri Lanka the  badminton women’s singles division I gold medal in the world masters games in Melbourne. Over 25,000 competitors from 97 countries took part in 28 sports  at the games held in Australia every four years.

Not only did she bring us the gold medal, but the women’s doubles division I silver medal (partnered by Hilde Kreulitch of Austria) and the silver medal for the mixed doubles division I partnered by Dammika Guneratne.

But Dammika to Lucky is merely a partner, not someone to win over. “He helped me so much by doing all the paperwork at the games. He was so good to me,” recalls Lucky goodheartedly.

She also speaks of the thrill of victory and her first thoughts the moment she won. “I thought of my son Priyantha and my daughter in law and her family who has always cheered for me in life,” said Lucky. And not leaving any detail out, she said that her victory was made possible by her friends in Australia, especially Lal and Thilani Karunanayake. “People were so good to me, especially Lal and Thilani. They woke up at 5 a.m. and made sandwiches. They took me to the stadium and brought me back. People like them gave me the encouragement and as a result I was able to do my country proud,” said Lucky.

Lucky has been lucky over her badminton partners many times. But there is a partner in Lucky’s life who has brought her tremendous luck and that is her husband, Daya.

He walks around the house carrying newspaper articles and pictures of his winning wife. “I truly believe that to succeed in life, one has to find the correct partner,” said Lucky. “And Daya has always been by my side, always helped me and guided me,” she added.

“When I first saw Lucky, she was out-of-court. She was the sister of a good friend of mine and I fell in love with her and later her achievements never ceased to amaze me,” said Daya speaking of their courting days

Their partnership is a long one. Daya Alagoda has seen his wife bringing home the medals so often that it has become a routine thing for him.

Lucky was Sri Lanka’s national singles champion in 1964,1965, 1966,1967, 1968 and 1970. She was Sri Lanka’s national doubles champion in 1965,1967,1968 and 1970 and was Sri Lanka’s  national triple crown winner in 1965, 1967, 1968 and 1970.

She has represented Sri Lanka at the Ganefo games in  Cambodia in 1966 and coached Sri Lanka’s national team from 1982 to 1985. She has also served in the national sports  council. 

Lucky Alagoda’s only son Priyantha who now resides in England,has also captained  S. Thomas’ College, Mount Lavinia’s badminton team and also the University of Essex badminton team.

“I used to coach the students of  S. Thomas’ College Prep School and my son was one of my students. I could see that he was very good,” said Lucky.

“When he went to S. Thomas’  Mount Lavinia they made him the captain,” said a modest Lucky. Lucky who had seen her sporting talent in her son was not able to throw him higher in his sporting career for fear of  being accused of preferential treatment. But those around Priyantha recognised his talent when he went to the senior school.

Lucky speaks of the great talent in Sri Lanka. “We need a national coach, possibly one who has been trained in a country where there has been a lot of opportunity. We have many young sportsmen and women who show signs of promise,” observed Lucky.

“I am so happy in life. I believe that one ought to be determined and my success is because of my own determination. I made it on my own…..” continues Lucky. Looking at the hundreds of old newspaper cuttings on Lucky Alagoda it is plain to see that Lucky has always been a smashing success.

Lucky Alagoda recalls how her father wanted her to concentrate on her studies. “When I was selected to play netball in the 1964 world tournament, my father refused to let me go. It was my brother in law who made all the arrangments. He did everything to help me,” said Lucky in gratitude.

The success of this sporting champion is not limited to a courtyard. It has been rolled all over her life. Today, Lucky Alagoda enjoys good health and an active lifestyle. “I have no medical problems or weight problems. I have my life in control,” said Lucky who is an active gardener.

Lucky and Daya Alagoda who have resided in England for 30 years have finally come home. “And we want to enjoy our motherland in retirement,” said Daya Alagoda.

They want to enjoy the sunshine and the weather in general and the quiet lifestyle. But Lucky Alagoda cannot be trusted with a slow lifestyle – come next time and Lucky shows signs of bringing us a medal again – from somewhere, somehow.


The hybrid factor

By Asgar Hussein

Ten years before becoming dictator of Nazi Germany, Adolf Hitler wrote a book titled Mein Kampf (My Struggle). In it he propounded his political philosophy including the superiority of the Aryan race over other peoples. "All those who are not racially pure are mere chaff," he stated.

Hitler strongly believed that intermarriage with other ethnic groups such as the Jews would corrupt the Aryan stock. He was sadly mistaken.

The fact is that intermixture between different races may actually be beneficial. In his work titled Principles Of Human Genetics, Carl Stern showed that the vigour of offspring is enhanced by hybridisation between different peoples. This process is called heterosis (or hybrid vigour).

Thus, those of mixed parentage clearly enjoy an advantage - they are likely to possess better physical and mental traits. This is enhanced by a positive mind-set arising from having parents of two different cultural backgrounds.

Inmarriage over a long period of time is unhealthy. An infusion of new blood is necessary to revive human vigour. Life must be in a state of flux - otherwise it stagnates.

All this has far-reaching implications for us in Sri Lanka. The island's strategic geographical location has meant that it has been continuously settled by different peoples from ancient to modern times. This has created a melting-pot of various ethnic groups. So although we live in a relatively small country, we can draw from a large gene pool.

Adventurers, invaders, merchants, mercenaries and labourers hailing from various regions have settled in the island, enticed by its beauty. Many arrived in this country - located in the midst of the Indian Ocean trading routes - for purposes of commerce. Strong was the lure of spices, gems, pearls, ivory and other natural resources. When their travels were over, some returned to their homelands. Others stayed back.

A description of how Sri Lanka was settled by different peoples at various periods would reveal the diversity of its gene pool.

The settlers

In prehistoric times, the island was connected to India by a land bridge. It was probably crossed by the ancestors of the Veddahs to enter Sri Lanka from India. According to anthropologists, these aboriginal people were of Austro-Asiatic stock, and were dark-skinned, long-headed and broad-nosed.

Later came settlers and invaders who claimed to be Aryans and Dravidians. A significant number of the ancestors of the present-day Sinhalese population were Aryan-speaking settlers from Bengal. These fair-skinned, broad-headed and narrow-nosed people were initially hostile towards the inhabitants who had settled earlier. However, improved social relations later led to intermarriage or cohabitation, and the Veddahs were gradually absorbed into the Sinhalese fold. This racial fusion probably gave rise to a notable portion of the Sinhalese population - in particular the Govikula. It is claimed by some researchers that physical anthropology suggests significant intermixture between the Sinhalese and Veddahs.

It is pertinent to mention here that some of the Sinhalese castes are of ethnic origins different to that of the Govikula. For example, historians believe that the Karava, Salagama and Durawa (KSD) arrived from South India in successive migratory waves at various periods between the 13th and 18th centuries. These groups occupied the coastal areas and their adoption of Sinhala speech facilitated their assimilation into Sinhalese society. The KSD castes today comprise about 20% of the Sinhalese population, and are quite powerful.

The local gypsies (ahinkuntakas) are probably descended from the wandering South Indian tribe known as Kuravar. The Rodi caste - regarded as 'untouchables' in traditional Sinhalese society - may have descended from an Austro-Asiatic tribe of Eastern India that arrived in the island around 2300 years ago. There has since been a heavy infusion of Sinhalese blood into this group, according to researchers.

The ancestors of the northern and eastern Tamils arrived in ancient times. These settlers, merchants and mercenaries from South India were largely of Dravidian stock.

Many Sri Lanka Moors can trace their ancestry to Arabian merchants and settlers, who were of Semitic stock. They engaged in trade, but a large number stayed back and espoused local women. The ancestors of another group of Moors arrived from South India.

Colonial rule

The ethnic composition of the country underwent another transformation during the European colonial expansion. The Portuguese who arrived in 1505 and ruled parts of the island until 1658 sought to control the spice trade and convert the local population to Catholicism. During this period, intermarriage with locals was encouraged, giving rise to the so-called Portuguese Burghers.

The Portuguese also introduced Negroid stock into Sri Lanka by bringing Kaffirs (from Mozambique and other regions of East Africa) as slaves and mercenaries.

The Dutch who took over the portuguese possessions in the island in 1658 were keen on expanding their commercial interests. Many settled here, and their descendents form the Dutch Burgher community.

It was the Dutch who were largely responsible for introducing the Malays to the country. The Malays are descended from the inhabitants of the Indonesian archipelago and the Malayan peninsula. Those who arrived here included soldiers, political exiles (nobles and chiefs), convicts and freed slaves. The Malays too intermarried with local Moors and Sinhalese.

The British who took over from the Dutch and later ruled the entire island left few descendents. However, during their rule a large number of emigrant workers from South India arrived to work in the tea and rubber plantations. Their descendents today form a significant community in the central highlands. According to authropological evidence, these people are distinct from the Tamils in the north and east as they can trace their ethnic origins to an Austro-Asiatic stock.

The country is also home to some small communities who arrived for purposes of business. They include the Chetties from South India who came here as money lenders and pawnbrokers, the Parsis of India who are of Persian descent, and the business communities of Sindhis, Borahs and Memons.

All this shows that different peoples had settled in Sri Lanka until relatively recent times. The island has been populated by successive waves of groups from India, the Middle East, Africa, South East Asia and Europe.

Intermarriage widespread

Intermarriage has been so widespread that most of these peoples have lost their original features. Today, one often cannot identify a person's ethnicity merely by his or her physical characteristics. Interestingly, when the famous playwright George Bernard Shaw visited Sri Lanka, he is said to have remarked that here "every face is an original." Even the complexions range from the very dark to the very fair.

The various ethnic groups in Sri Lanka have also created a rich cultural mosaic - it includes dress, food, music, dance, games, arts, crafts, architecture, literature and rituals. For a relatively small nation such diversity is astonishing. This cultural heritage may also explain why Sri Lankans are versatile, easily adapting themselves to different circumstances and situations. The fact is that the nation has enormous potential but certain factors have prevented it from shining through. These include ethnic disharmony, myopic political interests, petty bickering and negative cultural attitudes. The long-drawn ethnic conflict has not only led to death and destruction, but also slowed down the process of intermixture. If peace is maintained, it will facilitate ethnic fusion in the great melting-pot that is Sri Lanka.

However, mixed marriages are yet to gain wide acceptance here. A glance at the marriage proposal columns in newspapers will reveal the great emphasis still placed on ethnicity and even caste. Some people would even go so far as to say that hybrids acquire the vices of both parents, and the virtues of neither.

Since a large number of marriages here are arranged, mixed marriages are considered exotic because of the romantic overtones. It is however important to bear in mind that cultural differences - ranging from the subtle to the irreconcilable - can break such relationships.

Even more dangerous are the social pressures applied against such couples. Those who break the rules of the community are likely to receive less support from family and friends. They even risk being isolated and ostracised.

So powerful are these social pressures that many are discouraged from even initiating such affairs.

An arranged marriage - which is nearly always with someone from the same community - faces no such problems. Many believe this tends to work better not only due to support from family and friends, but also because it is easier to get along with someone who shares a similar background.

If a mixed marriage is to work out, both partners need to have a mature and liberal outlook. They must also realise that rebelling against social dictates means the relationship is fraught with risk. Yet, it may be a risk worth taking.

Life becomes more meaningful only when we have challenges to overcome. The world, after all, belongs to the brave. Although mixed marriages are generally discouraged, they will increase with the passage of time. This would be facilitated when the sexes intermingle more freely, particularly in their workplaces and during social events.

The inexorable process of globalisation that is fast enveloping the world is also conducive to intermixture between different peoples. The numbers of those claiming racial purity will gradually diminish over time. The age of the hybrid has dawned!


The health giving benefits of seaweed

The term seaweeds (also called sea vegetables) refers to marine algae that grow almost exclusively in the shallow waters at the edge of the world’s oceans. They provide home and food for many different sea animals, lend beauty to the underwater landscape and are directly valuable to man as a food and as industrial raw material.

Three groups of seaweeds are recognised according to their pigments that absorb light of particular wave lengths and give them the characteristic colours of green, brown or red. Because they need light to survive, seaweeds are found only in relatively shallow parts of the shores. Here they occur in a variety of shapes and sizes, from the large kelps (certain brown seaweeds) that form forests on tempreature coasts to hard “encrusting corallines” that are important in building and cementing coral reefs in the tropics. Some seaweeds especially the larger reds are attractive while others may be small and inconspicuous.

Of the five to six thousand seaweed species that occur worldwide, about 720 have been recorded on the coast of South Africa.

Chemical compostition of seaweeds

Oceanic herbs or sea vegetables contain more of the essential elements of life required for the normal body processes of animals including humans than any other plant or herb that grows on land. Therefore the sea vegetable dulse and lrish moss when taken as part of a macrobiotic diet are extremely nutrtious food stuff essential for healthy  metabolism. Irish moss contains vitamins A, C, E, B1, B2 and one of the few vegetarian sources of vitamin B12. Irish moss also contains a high content of iodine, calcium, manganese, zinc, bromine, iron and protein and appreciable amounts of magnesium and sodium phosphates. Irish moss is low in fat with few calories and therefore ideal for body builders or those who are dieting

To call these marine plants ‘weeds’ is incorrect because they are essential in nature and directly valuable to man. Seaweeds form the basis of the food chain in the sea. The myriad small animals that feed on seaweeds are in turn eaten by larger animals and so on through to fish.

For thousands of years, Chinese have realised that sea-vegetables contribute to overall general health. Sea vegetables or marine algae growing in all the oceans of the world have exsisted for hundreds of millions of years.

Sea vegetables absorb and concentrate the rich minerals and nutrients of the ocean into their cells. The enzyme content  of sea vegetables assist the body’s ability to eliminate the chemical wastes we absorb daily as a consequence of the environment we inhabit in this modern world.

Irish moss has long been recognised for its ability to cure and abate the symptoms of colds and flu. Thus eating of Irish moss forms an effective barrier to the ills of winter. Irish moss contains potassium chloride which help to dissolve catarrhs which are responsible for congestion associated with chesty coughs. Therefore Irish moss provides a healthy natural alternative to the ‘man-made’ ‘over-the-counter’ pharmaceutical cough and flu remedies.

Irish moss contains several anti-microbial and anti-viral agents which not only prevent colds and flu but Irish moss is reported to eradicate a wide range of infections on sufferers reducing valuable time lost to the ills we all encounter every day. Irish moss has been reported to alleviate sore throats, bronchitis and pneumonia. Irish moss contains significant amounts of iodine. The thyroid gland needs iodine for its proper function. Iodine plays an important role in our ability to fight disease. Due to the strong alkaline nature of Irish moss, this sea vegetable has been used in the relief and cure of bunions.

Calcium phosphate and the phosphates of sodium and magnesium are required by the cells of the brain, liver, muscles and bones. Calcium phosphate salts form a major insoluble inorganic component of the bone. Good intake of this salt can aid bone intergrity and keep teeth strong and healthy.

Other ailments Irish moss is reported to be effective in are cancer, and radiation poisoning. It is effective against halitosis, the formation of varicose veins, against dysentery and Irish moss has been applied as an emollient.

As a gelatinous substance Irish moss has been used to treat people with duodenal ulcers and to inhibit arteriosclerosis and therfore hypertension. It protects against fat and cholesterol build up. Irish moss has a well documented anti-coagulant effect on the blood. Irish  moss is truly a treasure of the sea and is commonly used for the preparation of vegetarian gelatin. It is common knowledge that the majority of gelatin preparations in the market contain beef products unlike gelatin prepared using sea weeds which is 100%  vegetarian.

Dr. D.P. Athukorale


Getting over his father’s death...

 By Risidra Mendis

The sound of gunshots in the jungle and his father lying dead on the ground is all that Roshan Manjula Kumara Handapangoda remembers of that fateful day many years ago. A boy of 10 at the time of his father’s death, Manjula Kumara could never have predicted what his future had in store for him.

Geetha Handapangoda’s (Manjula’s mother) husband, Tudor Jayatilleke was a corporal serving in the Sinha Regiment of the Sri Lanka Army. In 1989 due to Corporal Jayatilleke’s transfer to Morawewa in the Trincomalee District, Geetha and her children moved into the army headquarters in Morawewa with him.

However, despite their simple lifestyle and joy at being close to Jayatilleke while he served his motherland, death was soon to strike this innocent family. April 18, 1989 was just another day for the Handapangodas.

Corporal Jayatilleke having returned home after a hard day’s work was getting ready for a good night’s sleep. However the good night’s sleep for the Handapangodas was shattered by a knock on the door in the middle of the night.

The Handapang- odas’ visitors that night were some LTTE cadres. Having threatened the inmates, the cadres dragged Corporal Jayatilleke into the nearby jungle and shot him at point blank range.

“My husband was dragged out of the house and we were told to close the door, switch off the lamps and be quiet. I hid in the jungle with the two children. But my elder son Manjula Kumara unknown to me had followed the LTTE cadres,” Geetha said.

According to Geetha, Manjula Kumara had hidden in the jungle and witnessed the killing of his father. From that day onwards Manjula Kumara’s life took a dramatic turn. With that horrific picture of his father dying in front of him always in his mind, Manjula Kumara gradually developed brain damage.

But despite this Manjula Kumara talks of the day he saw his father being shot. “I followed the LTTE cadres and my father. While I was watching they (LTTE) put a gun close to my father’s face and shot him. My father fell to the ground. I was afraid and ran home”, Manjula Kumara said.

When he got home he found their house burnt to the ground and his mother, sister and brothers standing by their once happy house and crying. “The only remains of our belongings were the clothes we were wearing. So in 1992 we came to Soysapura in Moratuwa,” Geetha said.

Manjula Kumara was enrolled at Prince of Wales College, Moratuwa and Geetha started work at a garmet factory to support her family. But gradually Manjula Kumara began to talk about the death of his father once again. As the situation got worse Geetha was forced to give up her job to take care of her elder son whose brain was deteriorating.

“My son stopped going to school and I was told to put him in Angoda Hospital as he started behaving like a mentally disturbed person. From time to time he was in and out of Angoda Hospital,” Geetha said.

Geetha then took her son to the Nawaloka Hospital where Dr. Geethanjan Mendis having examined  him said his disease could be cured if he undergoes an operation at the Apollo Hospital in India.

“This was the best news I heard in a long time. But I was told the operation costs Rs. 6 lakhs. With the greatest difficulty I managed to collect Rs. 2 lakhs. But since the operation needed to be performed in mid October, I have to find the balance money very soon,” Geetha said.

Geetha who has to support her three children has to spend Rs 4000.00 per month on Manjula Kumara’s medication alone. Even though Corporal Jayatilleke sacrificed his life on behalf of his motherland, today Geetha walks the streets trying to find some kind donors who will help her with the money needed for her son’s operation as time is running out. “If there is any kind soul out there who can help me at this time I will be very grateful,” Geetha said.


He admired discipline

Initially after the exhibition the site was abandoned, apart from giving some of the buildings to a school. That was a waste. Then one of the commissioners of local government came up with an idea – instead of building stalls, build houses; then after the exhibition the site can be converted to a village. Since the site had all the necessary infrastructure facilities (electricity, water, roads) the village can be a complete one. Mr. Premadasa was very happy with the idea and I think it was carried out for the first time in Dambulla. Then we kept on improving this concept. The Mihintale Gam Udawa site was built with the objective of turning it into a center for the promotion of agricultural exports under BOI cover.

Much of the agricultural produce in that area used to go waste because of the lack of adequate marketing and storage facilities. Mr. Premadasa planned to address this problem through the construction of a complete complex that would provide the farmers in the area with all the facilities they needed from storage to know-how. Unfortunately his death prevented this plan from being carried out.

Mr. Premadasa abhorred postponement and

Gam Udawa was held even during the height of the JVP insurgency. The Mahiyangana Gam Udawa was bombed by the JVP. The next one was scheduled to be held in Pallekale which was close to Menikhinna, one of the most affected areas. As soon as the Mahiyangana Gam Udawa was over, we started working on the Pallekale Gam Udawa. But the security situation in the area was so bad that the police refused to provide us with protection. That was when Upali Ranjith (Soththi Upali) stepped in to help us. I remember one day when I was in the area co-ordinating the work, the Menikhinna police station was attacked. We could hear over the radio the call for assistance by a WPC. It was a frightening time but the work had to continue because in Mr. Premadasa’s book what should be done today had to be done today, come what may.

I think Mr. Premadasa’s housing programme was his most lasting achievement. He took a lot of pride in what he created. He also effected an important change in the way people regarded the housing issue traditionally. Those days we used to either build houses to be rented or to rent houses. Mr. Premadasa gave everyone the confidence that you could build your own house. He got the greatest sense of satisfaction from this achievement.

The mid day meal programme was another way in which Mr. Premadasa tried to mitigate some of the negative consequences of the imbalanced development during the 1977-1989 period. He was thinking of the poor people all the time. He knew that children used to come to school without breakfast; and often would not have any lunch waiting for them when they got back. Malnutrition was a major problem. Giving all school children a meal at school would go some distance in alleviating this problem. Mr. Premadasa came up with the idea, prepared the programme and presented it to cabinet. The cabinet however turned it down on the grounds of not having the necessary funds. I remember how very angry and disappointed he was. Then I came up with the idea of implementing the programme in the city of Colombo, through the municipal council, since I was the mayor. He was very happy.

The CMC was already implementing a number of social welfare schemes by that time. But when we worked out the budget I found out that the cost was enormous. I then came up with the idea of limiting the programme to under-privileged schools in the city. He was not happy with that. He said: “If we are giving we must give to everyone.” His argument was that many children in privileged government schools came from poor families. Then I made another suggestion – that we limit the programme to students of Grade 5 and below (primary school). He opposed that suggestion as well. He said: “if you are doing it you must do it the way it should be done.” He never liked half measures.

Now I was in a quandary because I had to find this enormous amount of money. Then I came up with an idea. Usually the municipality revises rates every five years. The combined increase used to be fairly large. I came up with the idea of increasing rates annually, but in much smaller amounts. That way the people will not feel too burdened. That was how money was found for the first ‘mid day meal’ programme.

Another project we undertook during this period was the construction of the Khettarama Stadium. At that time this area was marshland. The CMC planned to reclaim a small section of it for a municipal playground. By this time we had completed the rebuilding of the Sugathadasa Stadium. That was for soccer. One day I asked Mr. Premadasa why we have not built something for cricket. Initially we did not think of building an international stadium. That came later.

No foreign funds

Every year we used to have various sports activities in the 30 municipal playgrounds. The culminating event was held that year in the newly constructed Khettarama grounds. Mr. Premadasa was the chief guest at this event and he made an announcement saying that we were going to develop this into an international stadium. So the work started. I used some money from the mayor’s fund. Mr. Premadasa gave money for the flashlights. We also used the CMC workers for labour. Since they were paid anyway there was no labour cost. And they worked overtime for free, for they were very keen about the whole thing. We did not use a cent of foreign funds or any foreign advisors. Both the money and the expertise were obtained locally. The enthusiasm of all the participants of this great endeavour, from the engineers to the humblest worker was so tremendous that we were able to complete the work in just six months.

* * *

I remember that Mr. Premadasa had a good deal of admiration for Lee Kuan Yew because of what he did for his country. I remember a story he told me. Once when Lee Kuan Yew was invited for a function, instead of taking the lift he climbed the stairs. While doing so he held a white handkerchief to the banister. When he went to the hall he held up the handkerchief and it was dirty. The function was cancelled. Mr. Premadasa admired that kind of behaviour. In fact he was also like that. People knew it and made sure everything was clean and in place during his visits. But what they did not know was that he would not look at the obvious places. He would look at some corner, which would have been forgotten by everyone. And there would be trouble. Only I knew that and I took particular care to keep all such places in perfect order!

I should also say that there was an important difference in his attitude to Singapore and the attitude of other UNP leaders. They wanted to turn Sri Lanka into a Singapore. Mr. Premadasa knew that could not be done because Singapore is only a city-state. What he admired about Singapore was not the economic model but the sense of discipline that prevailed there. He wanted a similar sense of discipline for our country. When I see what is happening today, the total absence of any sense of discipline from top to bottom, I think he was right.


Obnoxious in Oxford?

By Shehara Samarasinghe

Could you please pidge me your gobbets before the next tute?" is a rather cryptic instruction. Is `pidging' the act of imitating a pigeon? Is `tute' a code for day, week, month, leap year or religious holiday? If so, how does this link to the pigeons? And what exactly is a `gobbet'? It sounds rather nasty and moist! I received this message last week and it is not a secret code but a request from one of my tutors at Oxford University formulated in `Oxspeak' at its best: the verb `pidge' stems from the pigeon holes that everybody uses - if I put an essay in my tutor's pigeon hole I have 'pidged' her my work; 'gobbets' are commentaries on selected passages from texts and 'tute' is an abbreviation of 'tutorial.'

Unique atmosphere

In recent years, considerable effort has been expended by the university to revamp its image. Especially after the rejection of straight 'A' student Laura Spence, who attended a state school, the colleges have bent over backwards to shed the stereotype of elitist institutions that are run by and for the old boy network. In fact, about half of the students at Oxford come from state schools, about half of the students are female and there are more foreign students (i.e. students who have not lived most of their lives in Britain) than I have seen at any other university.

However, the claims that Oxford is a normal university that simply has a high standard of achievement are ludicrous. Many universities provide a similar level of education, indeed, Oxford and Cambridge are not ranked first for all subjects - the science courses at Imperial College, for instance, are arguably better and just as prestigious. It is the unique atmosphere at Oxford, linked to the method of teaching, the facilities, the traditions and the city itself that make it such a special place. Oxford is not normal by any stretch of the imagination.

I am always surprised at the reactions I get when I say that I study at Oxford University, ranging from admiration to incredulity to scorn. Despite a number of high profile alumni - both of the past, like Albert Einstein, John Locke, Jonathan Swift, Oscar Wilde and C.S. Lewis and the present, such as Tony Blair, Benazir Bhutto, Bill Clinton, Rowan Atkinson, Hugh Grant and Rupert Murdoch - the thought of studying alongside future Nobel prize winners is not really that exciting or even that feasible. One cannot feel the superiority often associated with Oxford students when one is constantly surrounded by them, when one is in a position to note their often inane behaviour (it is not comforting to see the bright young generation of the future dressed up as goblins gyrating to cheesy 80s music) and when one is supposed to be one of those 'bright young things.'

One also experiences discrimination as an Oxbridge student so much so that I have pretended to be a 'normal' student on several occasions. The media appears to be hell bent on criticising Oxford, especially comparing Oxford Brookes University (referred to as 'the other university' in Oxford) favourably with it. And the dictum that a third class degree from Oxbridge is still held in higher acclaim than a first from another university simply is not true.

The average Oxford student no longer fits in with C.S. Lewis' description of "jolly, untidy, lazy, good-for-nothing humourous old men" or the common preconception. Most of my friends did not attend public schools; they are not fantastically rich or well-connected. The idea that anyone can weasel one's way into Oxford via generous donations to a college is outrageous, as are the allegations that the selection of students by interviews creates bias in favour of the kind of people that one expects to find at Oxford. The interview system is the only means to distinguish between applicants who are all academically successful.

The stereotype of the intellectual, upper class and horribly obnoxious Oxford student is also ridiculous. Of course there are exceptions - I had almost convinced some of my friends at 'normal universities' that we were not all that bad when we encountered a bearded and beret'd youth, sitting under a tree smoking a pipe and drinking a glass of sherry engrossed in a book entitled The Philosophy Being Utterly Pretentious or something to that effect. Yet, none of my flatmates last year enjoyed reading, for example: they did not own a single book unrelated to their course and looked upon my passion for the written word with disdain.

Many people here are afraid of under performing and feel intellectually inferior to their fellow students, who are just as insecure. Everybody takes a while to get used to the city, everybody is stunned by the workload and everybody is baffled by the eccentricities of certain tutors - I had one who only looked at me by peering through his legs and I have heard countless stories of tutors who set fire to bad essays, drink several pints of lager during tutorials and one particularly strange man who absent-mindedly sticks stamps on his face in class.

Snug feel

My first weeks at Wadham College were bewildering. Even now I find myself marvelling at how surreal the city is. As a town, Oxford revolves around the universities; I can go for weeks without seeing children or old people. Before I moved out of my room in college my only transactions with people not connected to the university were confined to short exchanges in shops, giving tourists directions or brief conversations with homeless people. I still refer to Oxford as a 'town' when it is officially a city. The fact that most people one sees are inevitably students contributes to the snug feel of Oxford, which is quite small anyway.

That said I discover new restaurants and pubs all the time. The hordes of tourists also contribute to the strange atmosphere. They delight in taking pictures of 'real, live students' so much so that one of Oxford's longest-running urban myths concerns two students who made it a Sunday afternoon pastime to dress up in sub fusc and invite tourists up to their rooms for a "genuine" Oxford moment, all for a handy fee of 10 pounds a go.

Famous 'Wadhamites'

Oxford is also incredibly beautiful. The streets are clean and the houses and shops are quaint and charming. If the city had only a tenth of the fine buildings such as the Radcliffe Camera, part of the Bodleian library, the Sheldonian Theatre or the Ashmolean museum, then these handsome structures would appear out of place. As it is, almost every college is just as breathtaking. The scenes in the Great Hall in the film Harry Potter And The Philosopher's Stone were filmed in Christ Church college - the hall where I have dinner, though smaller, is just as imposing. With its long tables, high chairs and paintings of famous 'Wadhamites' lining the walls, one can picture a medieval banquet with rows of roasted pigs and goblets of wine being held in it.

Oxford also boasts fabulous parks, several picturesque spots with benches to sit on and the rivers Thames and Cherwell run through it. What makes Oxford so surreal is this incredibly beautiful backdrop, enhanced by the abnormal experience of life confined to the universities - it is like a little bubble of safety, cleanliness and beauty in England and definitely the first place, after London, I would take any visitor to the country, despite its unique condition.

It is this that makes it impossible not to become attached to Oxford.  While most people spend their time gently or less gently ridiculing the many traditions that the university has acquired over the centuries, these traditions make studying here a genuinely special experience. Many have been in existence since time immemorial and so the reasons why they were begun in the first place have been lost, modified, or in some cases made up completely.

The image of Oxford students running around in sub fusc and attending endless 'black tie' events may be exaggerated, but dressing up, whether it is in formal gowns or silly costumes is a feature of Oxford life that sets it apart and makes every occasion a memorable one. The enthusiasm of the university is also a rarity. Perhaps it is because students here want to appear just as fun-loving as 'normal' students that they make such an effort. At Wadham's "Queer Bop" almost every male appears in drag; on Valentine's Day you would be lucky to find a cheap bunch of roses and the college balls are lifetime experiences. Every college has its own rituals that define it; members of Balliol College, for example, don grass skirts and perform a rain dance to ward off rain for their summer event.

Something for everyone

The most positive aspect about studying in Oxford is that one can truly be oneself. Due to the number of organisations and societies, one can always find one's niche. Every day there is a large and diverse number of events, ranging from classical to rock concerts, from clubbings to karaoke nights, from plays to guest speakers at the Oxford Union. Most importantly, it is the one place where one can either explore all areas of interests or simply get a degree and get out.

The magnificent resources, flexible courses and vast array of drama, music, sports etc. societies and events promote the former cause. The latter cause is supported by the fact that one cannot get away with doing nothing work wise, as in so many other universities and that equally, one can step back from the at times claustrophobic college environment. 'Oxspeak' bears witness to this almost utopian world: in Oxford 'battels' are college accommodation fees and not a feature of war.


Children of Rio who tell us a story

By Dilrukshi Handunnetti

Eager eyes, eager to live. Full of expectations. That's what struck me as I watched their story. These are the inheritors of the future, the children born at a time when the world's focus fell on them in Rio de Janeiro, 10 years ago.

The six children have a story to tell us adults - about the plethora of problems which is their common inheritance. As the fragile Earth has begun to crack up at the continuous exploitation of her resources by abusive human hands, these children, born during great optimism, tell the world a disappointing tale.

The one-hour film The Children Of Rio is based on the life's travails and expectations of seven children born in 1992, during the World Summit in Rio de Janeiro. Ten years later as the World Summit on Sustainable Development was held in Johannesburg, the children had a message to convey - have things actually improved for the world's poor since Rio?

In this effort, Italian filmmaker Bruno Sorrentino, in his own words has attempted to  'illustrate environmental and developmental issues through the eyes of children.'

Punjivaram, the Indian 'heroine,' hails from an impoverished family in Chennai, India. It is the common tale of poverty, with a South Asian angle attached to it. Little Panjivaram and her family have no running water, good roads, food, buses, and not even proper gutters.

Lofty pledges

As Panjy grapples with daily life, it makes the lofty Rio pledges to uplift the poor and secure the rights of children ring in our ears. She is part of the world's daunting statistics on child labour. India has the world's highest child labour rate, with 10 % of its labour force being children, pretty Panjivaram included.

It's rice festival time in rural India and Panji is busy reading books.

" I want to become a doctor and treat patients free of charge." Rich dreams indeed for a girl compelled to support her family economy - an economic order that makes a travesty of her rights as a child.

Her life is a tapestry of suffering. Her oldest brother suffered chemical poisoning and driven by poverty, her mother continues to work there still.  Her sister was married at 15 years, and her second brother has already left school. It is the typical story of the 21st century poverty circus.

The lack of expectations is common elsewhere in the world as well. Take Visumzi, a black South African boy born in 1992, born at a time when world leaders gathered in Brazil to pledge a better tomorrow for them - to change the destiny of the Earth and make this planet a better place.

Born in black township in Eastern Cape when apartheid was beginning to wane, Visumzi does not have electricity or running water.

But take Justin, the white South African boy from a dairy farming family. His life is a complete contrast to Visumzi's. It is the story of disparity between the rich and the poor. Of a political transition that took place in South Africa as apartheid began to fade. These kids are also the common inheritors, as the city of Johannesburg was chosen for the second World Summit, 10 years after the Rio meeting.

The contrast is almost tangible as they express their desires. Justin wants the birds and the bees to live freely, and Visumzi's need is simple: " Drinking water for my mother."

The film has poignantly captured the life of Erdo, the Kenyan youngster which is in complete contrast from all that we have seen so far. He belongs to a nomadic family, and impoverished and hungry, his first wish is for food aid.

With 100 million guns in circulation within the African continent, it is a primitive life that he leads. Guns also meant insecurity and conflict to the young minds. Naturally, war and hunger were Erdo's pet hates.

" I hate bandits, I could even shoot them" he says, perhaps a reaction picked up from his own adult society. Like most mothers, Esther, his mom does not crave the nomadic life but a settled one, at least for her son. And she desires education for Erdo, and a separation from the clutches of a nomadic lifestyle.

Children Of Rio manages to touch the deep recesses of a being, and brings to light the many unfulfilled dreams from the time of the Rio summit. It deals with the complexities of the lives of children in 1992, and sheds light on the intensification of environmental and development issues through their young eyes.

There are too many clich‚s about not making the World Summit on Sustainable Development (WSSD) a Rio - 10.  But should lack of expectations be the foundation of the future generation? Children of Rio desire an answer.


Depression that threatens to take mothers away.

By Hemamala Wickramage

Senarath and Indrani spent eight long years of married life deprived of the joy of a child. Both in their early 40s, they longed to hear the patter of little feet in their newly built home and to make their wish come true tried all avenues from fertility clinics to religious poojas.

Finally in January this year, ending their long wait and bringing happiness not just to the two of them but to their parent's families as well, a baby girl was born. Friends, relatives and neighbours visited the couple with gifts for the little one, sharing their joy. Time went by with Indrani, busy with the baby just as all first time mums are. However, last week after 10 months of happiness, Indrani's neighbourhood received the shocking news of her attempting to take her life by jumping in to a lake nearby. Residents in the neighbourhood were dumbfounded as to why out of all people Indrani, who seemed to have it all with her earnest wish of having a baby come true only a few months back, would let alone try but even dream of orphaning her new born. When rushed to the doctor Indrani was diagnosed with Post Natal Depression (PND).

What is Post Natal Depression? In search of answers we visited Prof. Nalaka Mendis, one of the leading psychiatrists in the country.

"This is a term used to describe a range of behavioral and mental problems developed by women after child birth," said Prof. Mendis. After having a baby most mothers may develop a condition known as 'baby blues.' This feeling passes in a day or two and is different to post natal depression. PND is a condition that comes within 12 months of having a baby, usually this would start around the first few weeks. PND can range from very mild and transient to severe and lingering. "For most women it passes quickly but there are others for whom professional help is needed," said Prof. Mendis.

Asked whether it is only first time mothers that go through PND, Mendis said it could happen to women who have earlier had children as well. "There's no typical PND sufferer. Any woman can develop it after having a baby. It is a mental condition," he explained.

Speaking of symptoms of PND, Prof. Mendis said they could have a slow or sudden onset. Amongst the symptoms are low self-esteem and lack of confidence, feeling of inadequacy and irritability. "PND sufferers constantly tend to dwell in negative thoughts," said Mendis.

Contibuting factors to this illness may vary from physical, emotional and social changes even though the exact cause of PND is still not known. Apart from physical changes in the female body after a birth, a new mother has to go through certain emotional changes as well. These might include having to deal with the constant demands of a baby. There is also a the feeling of losing independence.

Social changes too that might take place around a woman with a new born child may contribute to PND. Living up to society's demands and expectations too can be a difficult task.

According to Mendis PND is a perfectly curable condition and there are dozens he has treated who lead normal lives and go on to have other children after treatment. "Once the depression lifts the mother is able to start bonding with the baby. Until then it is the duty of the loved ones to lend her that little bit of extra support and help," said Mendis.

 

 

 

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