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28th November,  2004  Volume 11, Issue 20

First with the news and free with its views                                     First with the news and free with its views                             First with the news and free with its views                                    

Review

December 1 is AIDS Day

Face to face with AIDS at De Saram Place

By Ranee Mohamed 

In De Saram Place, Colombo 10 is a building to which  HIV positive and AIDS patients from Sri Lanka walk in every day. Consultant Dr. Kulasiri Buddhakorala, MBBS, MSc.,...... 

More......


Review more articles

> Waiting on the road for compensation

> Magic cubes for your children?

> He travelled on a difficult path

> Down the winding Devale Road

> Rambling notes of an idle sailor


 December 1 is AIDS Day

Face to face with AIDS at De Saram Place

Dr. Kulasiri Buddhakorala

By Ranee Mohamed 

In De Saram Place, Colombo 10 is a building to which  HIV positive and AIDS patients from Sri Lanka walk in every day. Consultant Dr. Kulasiri Buddhakorala, MBBS, MSc., MD is the  consultant who works in there and meets with AIDS patients everyday.

'There are men and there are women, but all of them cry and are depressed for a long time after they are told that they have been found to be HIV positive. Their immediate fear is about death, " said Dr. Buddhakorala. 

In his very basic office, this doctor who has been dealing with HIV and AIDS since 1987 when the first case of AIDS was discovered in Sri Lanka, says that the threat is greater today. He says that people ought to be aware of the threat that is HIV and AIDS and abstain from casual sexual encounters. But the doctor went on to say that those who have unprotected sex are at greater risk.

Confidentiality assured

Dr. Kulasiri Buddhakorala said that the patients who walk into this building housing the National STD/AIDS control programme are assured of confidentiality. "We do not tell anyone about their condition - not even to their spouses. However with counselling we try to tell them to get their spouses to come and talk to us. Once a person is identified as HIV positive we want to counsel his or her spouse too," said the doctor. "A few of them have already brought their spouses," he said.

The building has no sign board and it is not easy to find out why a person is walking into this place. This perhaps is a way of further making people comfortable - to walk in and find out whether they have contacted a sexually transmitted disease or the HIV virus.

Dr. Kularasiri Buddhakorala meets with AIDS patients everyday. "They are people in distress and I comfort them whey they cry. I touch their arm and try to console them. This is a great source of consolation to them because they think no one would even want to touch them hereafter. But AIDS as we know is not spread through touching," explained Buddhakorala.

"There is well documented information to say that HIV is transmitted not by mere touch but through sex. It is also found to be transmitted rarely through oral sex," he said.

He went on to say that HIV in Sri Lanka is not limited to a particular section of society. The poor may have acquired it through poor knowledge. It must be mentioned however that a greater number of patients are found to be   from the lower social economic group

He said that when men and women are told at this clinic that they are HIV positive, they fear for their spouse. Then they worry about who will find out - whether their employers or their colleagues will find out. But the doctor said that there is no law to report the HIV patient to any authority, that is because HIV does not spread through casual everyday contact - only through sex and blood transfusion.

The doctor said that 600 people have been identified with HIV so far in Sri Lanka. People we do not know may be carrying the virus. This is why the threat of HIV and AIDS hangs over us all.

'Testing is free and anyone is free to walk in here for STD or HIV tests,' pointed out Dr. Buddhakorala. The doctor also said that HIV takes 10 to 15 years to develop into AIDS.

Warning

The consultant warned of the need to be aware, to be educated and to take care. The warning goes to the sexually active people and  especially to those  in the forces.

"We care about the patients. We do not try to pressurise them into bringing in their family and their sexual contacts here. We do try to tell them to bring them, but if there is no response we concentrate on the patient and his well being," said the doctor.

Dr. Buddhakorala went on to say that those who lead promiscuous lives and who have had casual, unprotected sex ought to undergo the HIV test. "Some people have unprotected sex because he or she may be known to them. They think of  that person being faithful," said the doctor.

Citing important advice, Dr. Buddhakorala quoted President George Bush who referred to the subject of AIDS and HIV with  ABC - Abstinence, Be Faithful or Condoms.

Dr. Kulasiri Buddhakorala said that the strange thing about HIV and AIDS is that in the very early stages one does not have many symptoms and the only way of finding out is through a test.

"Think about your behaviour, evaluate yourself and this is the way you can find out whether you do need a test," he said. The doctor went on to say that women are at a greater risk of  contracting AIDS/HIV because they have a larger anatomical area in the region.

He however referred to the initial symptoms as a non productive cough or skin rashes, mouth thrust and with time - severe infections of the brain.

Dr. Buddhakorala said that times have changed and today HIV/AIDS drugs are available in Sri Lanka. "Drugs are great source of consolation to these people and we give these drugs free of charge," he said.

AIDS drugs cost from Rs.5000 to Rs.10,000 a month. Dr. Buddhakorala said that the World Bank has given funds through the STD/AIDS control programme for these drugs for four years.

If you think HIV/AIDS is only a subject to read about in books printed overseas, you ought to walk into this place down De Saram Place, Colombo 10.


Waiting on the road for compensation

Road to desperation, The former toilet is tyhe kitchen and Children trying to understand

By Shezna Shums 

Bandula Alwis is certainly a poor man; nevertheless he is lucky enough to have a roof over his head and a home of his own. However his roof is falling to pieces, while the walls supporting his home have huge cracks, and look as if they will collapse at any moment.

This is certainly disturbing Alwis, as it would any family man. He lives in this dilapidated house with his wife and seven children

Two years ago Alwis lived on a four perch land and in a relatively comfortable house. However, when W.A.Silva Mawatha at Colombo 6 was being widened a large part of his home was broken down to make way for the road. Part of the land his house was in, was reclaimed by the government.

Alwis said that he did not mind them breaking part of his house for the road widening. But what irks him is that the government has turned a blind eye to his plight, and not a cent has been paid as compensation.

"The occupants in the opposite houses as well as the buildings next door have all received compensation except ours", he complained.

Alwis is not a well to do man. He does plumbing and welding work as well as other odd jobs for his daily bread and butter. Of his seven children,  only two attend school, his younger son and daughter - the other children do odd jobs for the households in their area.

But with whatever he earns and whatever condition his house may be in, his only concern is for the safety of his children.

"The government must give us the promised compensation or even if someone can help us with making the house better for living, we will be so grateful," he said.

With the help of neighbours, Alwis wrote several letters to the Prime Minister and the Ministry of Highways, but he has not received any positive reply from them.

"I may not have the land deeds for the house but my national ID card and some tax receipts I have, state this address," he noted.

He went on to say that he had read in newspapers people living in unauthorised houses too had received compensation, when other roads have been widened and the land cleared for a highway. "Why are they not giving the due compensation to us then, specially after agreeing that the land can be claimed only if they are given compensation?" he questions.

Alwis and his family have been living in this house at W.A.de Silva Mawatha for the last 28 years and if this house collapses, they will have no choice but to live on the street.

"When the road was being widened, our hall, two rooms and the kitchen had to be broken, now we sleep in what was earlier the store room and cook in the former toilet, now made into a kitchen," he explained.

The small area to enter their house, serves as the family's hall and this is the place where the children study and sleep as well.

He said that the authorities want to break the front wall of this house to make the drain and that they will pay Rs.30, 000 for this, but he is not letting them do so because he asks, "What will we do if they do not pay the compensation?"

Furthermore, this is the main wall that is holding the house together and even this wall has huge cracks in it.

"Everyday we worry as to when the roof or the wall will collapse, and when it rains there is no place in the house that is dry, everything gets soaked, but what can we do, this is the only home we have," complained his wife Chandrika Podimanike.

"Our children are aged from six years to 27 years and they all live with us at this house," he added.

The family may be poor and live in a dilapidated house but they care for each other and look after each other.

When The Sunday Leader visited their house it was clearly visible that what the family wants is for their house to be safe.  Safe so that the family can live in peace and continue with their existence. Although poor, they are united and want to be able to do up their house so that they can live in their home free of worry.

Isn't it the duty of the authorities to ensure that families are not thrown onto the streets due to development projects?

If there are delays due to red tape and children have to suffer, then at what price is this type of development?

If their home is taken-they have to be given another.

Isn't that the human thing to do?


Magic cubes for your children?

Continued from last week 

Granted, there are a percentage of people who cook and eat natural foods and I salute them. The problem is, obtaining these eating habits takes effort and time. Best of all it saves money but many of us do not believe so.

When we buy the ready made food and plonk ourselves down to eat it in front of the TV we become couch potatoes instantly. As home-makers, parents have to ensure that the family is in the best of health and if they do fall ill it's probably because of the trash we have been giving them to eat out of love - this love can kill. For those of you who would like to follow my recipe here's how:

            Make the children help whenever they can - do not force them into it - just coax them. Even as small as three years, children love grating carrots. Older children can help cut up for salads. They will not give you perfect results - were you perfect at that age ? By the age of six they can make themselves a salad, as well as a variety of sandwiches. By the age of eight they can actually cook a tasty dhal curry and 'do' a kang-kung fry with bits of chicken or meat. Teach them to operate the rice-cooker at about the age of 11. If you teach the kids safety in the kitchen you have nothing to fear. You can also be sure that they will never bug you for food at odd times. Holidays are great for them to try out new things - not fancy food - hunger appeasing stuff like uppuma, sago pudding and savoury roti/pittu are great for starters.

            Set the alarm - stay in bed for five minutes after it rings and meditate on what your tasks are for the day. Deep breathe as you do this. Set a separate alarm for the kids.

            Cut up veggies and greens the night before-only what you need for the day.

            Scrape coconuts and freeze in small containers.

            Cook chicken and other meats/fish in bulk and pack for freezing. Teach the kids and your spouse to use up all the contents and never put back anything after it has been re-heated.

            Set aside tasks your spouse thinks you're too weak for - this helps in boosting his ego. Do not overdo it !

            Always forward plan breakfast foods. Pulses are great and it doesn't take long to boil if you add a pinch of soda-bicarb to the soaking water.

            Use left over godamba roti for a koththu - kids and their friends love this ! Add finely chopped gotukola and raisins. You can do the same with left-over string hoppers. Contrary to belief red strings taste delicious.

            Get the family used to eating soups before dinner - around 7pm. This helps older children fill up and younger ones can even skip their dinner if they are too sleepy to eat. Mushroom soup is the easiest. Second comes pumpkin and spinach soup and if you are ambitious try a combination of left over veggies with an egg added for good measure.

Children have to be nurtured to liking natural food flavours which is why doctors tell us to refrain from adding salt and sugar to their baby food. They grow to actually liking natural foods and reject the artificial taste of processed foods. Therefore, we must discipline ourselves, and avoid taking the easy way out. This is the only way we can show our love in the long run. Do not join in the rat-race. Stand apart from it. Enlighten those that need it and dare to make a difference.

Drawing conclusions from statistics, the world has become enthralled in what is easiest. According to the conference on obesity held in Bejing in 2002, ".the total population of overweight people in the world has reached an unprecedented 1.2 billion, almost equal to the whole population of China." This can be largely credited to bad eating habits, consisting mostly of processed foods.  We were not created to consume processed foods. The sooner we realise this the better. In 10 years time you will reap the rewards when the friends of your children are warded in hospitals and their parents are running hither and thither not knowing what ails their child and facing the burden of paying soaring hospital bills.

Then you can thank me. By then, I might not be around.
- Shanthi Wijesinghe,
Early Childhood Educator and President AMDE, Sri Lanka


He travelled on a difficult path

Stanley Jayawardena

Leonard Stanley Jayawardena is an out- standing personality whose accomplish-ments cannot all be listed here for want of space. He was the first and only Sri Lankan to hold the position of chairman, Unilever in our country.

Q: Readers I am sure would like to know a little bit about your family background.

My father, George Peter Tikiri Banda Jayawardena of Basawakkulama Walauwe, Anuradhapura received his education at Christian College, Kotte. A born Buddhist, he was later converted to Christianity while in school. After completing his education he chose to go back to his village at Diganegama and joined the kachcheri as a clerk, which was a respected job then.

He married a Miss Aluvihare from Matale, who was educated at Hillwood College, Kandy and excelled in her studies. The favourite in school, she chose to be converted to Christianity and my father and mother got married at St. Paul's Church, Kandy. Being Christians they soon emerged to be popular socialites who played a dominant part in social activities in Anuradhapura.

They had four children - Margantha, Stanley, Iranganie and Asoka. People from all walks of life flocked to our home to consult my father on various matters and he was looked up to as a very knowledgeable gentleman whose advice was invaluable. After a few years, he was promoted to the position of rural court judge who sat in judgement at the village tribunal. My father, being a landed proprietor holding a responsible position and earning an attractive salary, was able to give us a comfortable life and we were considered an affluent, leading family in Anuradhapura.

Everything was going well until tragedy hit us. My father who was suffering from acute diabetes passed away leaving behind a young widow of 31 years to shoulder the responsibility of looking after four young children. I was seven years and schooling at Trinity College. We were devastated and felt the roof crashing down on our heads at a time when we needed our father most. The parental love I needed was not there and I felt lost without it. Young, as I was I had nothing to look forward to.

Q:Any particular reason why your father chose to educate you at Trinity College?

We had quite a few Trinitians in the neighbourhood and that probably influenced my father to give preference to Trinity over S. Thomas'

Q:What were the repercussions of this unexpected tragedy?

Our family fortunes sank and I came to realise that I was a poor boy in a rich school. My mother was faced with a huge crisis. Even though many relatives advised my mother to remove me from Trinity and send me to a school in Matale my mother had a vision and vowed to somehow see me through Trinity. Unable to carry on, she sold the furniture, rented the house and went to live with her parents. Although the boarding and school fees were paid I received no pocket money and I did not have the necessary sports gear to try for a place in the college team despite representing Alison House in rugby, boxing and athletics. I was nicknamed "Galba the Farmer" since I showed no interest whatsoever in sports.

Q:With all these drawbacks, did you enjoy your stay at Trinity?

Yes, immensely. Trinity was my second home. The boys all came from decent family backgrounds and were groomed to adhere to the rules and regulations that were strictly enforced. No one was permitted to walk on the lawns but along the pathways. The Christian way of life was enforced to the letter..

Q:Is there anything in particular that you cannot forget?

Yes, soon after I joined the boarding a boy was given  a public caning in my dormitory for breaking a bird's nest. I was terrified and developed an allergy for bird's nests after I had an insight into Trinity's capital punishment!

Q: Anything that fascinated you?

Yes! the College Chapel... with its imposing architecture and impressive features. At the age of 12, I decided to revert to Buddhism and when I expressed this desire to the chaplain and the staff there were no objections whatsoever and I was allowed to exercise my fundamental rights. That, in essence, showed the spirit of Trinity College!

Q: How was it during the war years?

A part of the school was occupied by the British Army and that's how the boys got hold of the best brands of imported cigarettes!

Q: What caused you to revert to Buddhism?

I came under the strong influence of my relatives who were all devout Buddhists. To cap it all, we were also living in the midst of temples, dagobas and vihares and visited these places of reverence all the time in the company of our relatives.

Q: How did you end up at Trinity?

I got through the university entrance and my mother in particular was extremely happy. She got me a place in Brodie, Ward Place and though the fees were paid she still did not give me any pocket money and that really upset me.

Q:I bet you must be having some memorable episodes to relate about your varsity days? Let's talk about how you met your life's partner.

Sujatha was one year ahead of me and although I noticed her striking good looks there was no occasion for us to meet. One day however, Sujatha walked up to me and said that a girl in my batch was interested in me and wanted to have a love affair. My reply was that she will never ever make an acceptable wife for me and dismissed the idea. We then went into having a little chat. I told Sujatha that my search for love and happiness will be pursued all the time until I found the right person. My views were strong and my thinking, very conservative.

I was poor and to that extent my search for a partner was way down in my list of priorities. I explained to her all what I had gone through and she listened attentively believing every word I uttered. She left saying that she would like to meet me the next day. She came as promised and the first thing she did was to hand me a little photograph of herself behind which she had autographed with some endearing words. That was the beginning of a romance that culminated in our marriage.

We got married on May 14, 1950 with the "poruwa" ceremony, at the YMBA followed by a reception held at the GOH. Prime Minister, D. S. Senanayake tied the thread with the witnesses being Sir John Kotelawala and Sir Richard Aluvihare. Their children are Ramani, Prasanna, Ruvani, Priya and Sanjeeva.

Q:What plans did you have in finding employment?

Pending results, I began teaching at Ananda Sastralaya, Kotte while Sujatha having graduated, was teaching at Presbyterian Girls School, Dehiwela. After I graduated, I joined the Department of Inland Revenue and had just completed a little over five years when a close friend of ours, S. B. Senanayake (civil servant) told us that he had turned down the post of sales manager offered to him by a multi-national company for personal reasons. Jokingly I said, "Why don't you give my name?" The next thing I knew was that Alan Griffiths, the marketing manager of Lever Brothers (Ceylon) Limited called me and asked me whether I would meet him. I did, and at the end of our chat he took me to the chairman. When the job was offered to me, I consulted Clarence Amerasinghe for his advice and bang came the response that I should take it.

I joined Levers as sales manager on May 1, 1955 with no knowledge or experience in sales. Thereafter, I served in a number of jobs in marketing and received intensive overseas training in Australia, United Kingdom and India where I worked with Lintas, Bombay for one year, taking the family with me. I returned in 1966 to take over the post of marketing director, the first ever Sri Lankan to hold this position.

I'd like to wind up this interview with my personal comments on the couple I knew so well. Stanley Jayawardena, one-time marketing director at Levers Brothers and later, personnel director has played a dominant role in shaping both divisions with a brand of leadership that was rarely seen in the business sector. He was a stickler for discipline but yet kind and understanding. He was never prepared to compromise on the principles he resolutely believed in. Those who worked under him knew him to be a human being with sterling qualities. He always had the welfare of the employees at heart.

Sujatha, was a gracious and charming lady. At any company event she would mingle with the crowd and her presence was eagerly looked forward to. Laughter, warmth and friendliness accompanied her wherever she went. She was like a breath of fresh air! She once got me to spearhead a fund-raising project in aid of handicapped children and I was amazed by her commitment to the cause! Behind every successful man there is a woman and Stanley Jayawardena was spontaneous in admitting that Sujatha stood solidly behind him at all times. It is a pleasure and a privilege to have known the Jayawardenas, Stanley and Sujatha, a couple  very special!

- Siri Sangabo Corea


Down the winding Devale Road

The ancient devale in Depanama

By Risidra Mendis 

When driving down the long and winding Devale Road in Pannipitiya the last thing one would expect to see is ancient stone pillars by the side of the road. But unknown to many of us these ancient stone pillars, over a thousand years old, are the only indication of what is left of an ancient devale in Depanama, Pannipitiya.

A few feet away from the stone pillars is the unmistakable sight of a 60 year old Nuga tree that provides shade and comfort for all those who wish to find out more about this place of great historical significance.

A closer look at the stone pillars and one cannot help but notice the unusual carvings in a language yet unknown. But despite the mystery that surrounds the Depanama Sri Ganegoda Devale, people from seven villages continue to pay homage to the gods here.

People from Depanama, Pannipitiya, Polwatte, Kottawa, Hokandara, Kalalgoda and Thalangama still believe in the powers of the gods. It is the powers of the many gods that have saved the lives of the people in these seven villages.

Situated on approximately 25 acres of land during historical times, the Depanama Sri Ganegoda Devale boasts of the tallest statue of the Katharagama God. The statue was completed in 29 days and is 10 feet tall.

The present Kapu Mahaththaya of the devale is Devagathi D Lasantha. Devagathi Lasantha took over the role of Kapu Mahaththaya in 1984 from his father D Somapala. Prior to Somapala the former Kapu Mahaththaya of the devale was Somapala's father and Devagathi Lasantha's grandfather.

Speaking to The Sunday Leader Devagathi Lasantha said according to tradition and customs practiced by his ancestors the kapu mahaththayas of the Sri Ganegoda Devale have always been confined to his family members. "I belong to the seventh generation of kapu mahaththayas" says Devagathi Lasantha.

Beliefs

Devagathi Lasantha went on to say that it was in the Kotte Era (800 BC) and during King Perakumba VI, rule that the devale was built. "We can prove the historical significance by the ancient artifacts that were found on the premises of the devale. While digging to expand the devale we found some ancient bangles made out of damba raththaran (a type of gold) which is far more valuable than gold, believed to be worn by the Paththini God. People in the area had found a piece of a tile with unusual carvings believed to have been used thousands of years ago" says Devagathi Lasantha.

According to Devagathi Lasantha while digging to build a wall around their house which is situated close to the devale, residents had found a tiny gold coin with carvings on both sides.

Explaining the historical significance of the name Depanama, Devagathi Lasantha said King Perakumba VI having built the devale had lighted two lamps and bent his feet to worship the gods. "The Sinhalese meaning of bending his feet (depa namala) was used to name the Devale Depanama" explained Devagathi Lasantha. 

The Depanama Sri Ganegoda Devale has a snake living in one room of the devale. "We do not harm this snake. Many years ago a drunken man walking past the devale saw the thumbaha where the snake lives. In his drunken state villagers heard the man shouting that snakes and humans cannot live together. He then took a mammoty and broke down part of the thumbaha. The man went home but never recovered from the mistake he made. He gradually went mad and finally died. But even after his death his family suffered the same fate" says Devagathi Lasantha.

But despite the strong feelings and religious beliefs these villagers have for the devale the government has taken no interest in protecting this place of religious significance. "This ancient devale continues to exist due to the devotion and hard work of the villagers who feel it is their duty to protect this for future generations.

The annual pooja of the devale will be held on December 17, 18 and 19, where a large number of people from the seven villages participate in religious activities.

According to Devagathi Lasantha if the religious pooja is not held annually the villagers fall sick, especially with sicknesses related to the gods.

"If we are to continue to pay homage to the Gods and protect the existence of this devale we need the financial support of the government. We hope the government will take an interest in this ancient and historical devale and help us financially during our annual pooja to protect it for future generations" says Depanama Sri Ganegoda Devale Society (DSGDS) President, Keerthi Jayaratne.


 The Ceylon Motor Yacht Club at 75 

 Rambling notes of an idle sailor

Lalin Jirasinha and Jan Wimaladharama in rough seas-without the benefit of a golf umbrella

By Rohan Pethiyagoda 

As sports go, sailing is up there withthe oldest, together with buzkhasi and the ancient Olympian pastimes of hurling stuff like discuses and javelins about the place. A great many heroes of yore were sailors, right from the time of Jonah (who had that unfortunate incident with the whale) through Jason (of Argonaut fame). Every time St. Paul wrote one of those epistles of his to the Corinthian citizenry or decided to take off for a long weekend at Philippi, it was to his trusty sailboat that he had to turn. Nelson and Drake would not be household names if not for their skills on the water. Sailing is a truly ancient art.

Not long ago, you could not have dreamed of being the progenitor of some great race if you could not get your genes across a fair bit of ocean. Indeed, legend has it that the founder of the Sinhala race got here by ship, and given the indolent tribe he founded, it is most unlikely that he paddled (the Tamil race, in case you wondered, did not need to be founded: it was always there). To prove early-human propensity for sailing, the late Thor Heyerdahl spent much of his time building improbable craft and sailing them across vast expanses of water, in the process giving the coastguard rescue services of several maritime nations something to do in their spare time.

What a life

Ah, how times have changed! Nowadays, you can get by in life even if you do not know your port from your starboard, or for that matter, your port from your sherry. We have become a bunch of sissies, landlubbers almost to a man. And the cause of it all is this newfangled sport (I use the word loosely) they call golf. Can you picture Papa Columbus on a Sunday morning asking young Christopher, a pimpled youth of 14, if he'd like to motor down to the local yacht club for a sail? "Bracing breeze this morning, me boy", he'd say (in Italian, of course, but I can't do the dialect). "Would you care to go down to the water and practice going west? It'll put some pink on those sallow cheeks of yours."

What would the upshot have been for posterity should young Chris have demurred? "Nah, Pa," he might have said, "I think I will go practice my chip shots at the Royal Neapolitan." Columbus the Explorer would not have got a lot of exploring done if he spent all his time smacking a little white ball aimlessly hither and thither with a stout stick in the outskirts of Genoa, would he? Why, America might never have been discovered. No double cheeseburgers. No ketchup. And Osama Bin Laden would be out of a job.

But not everyone subscribes to the view that sailing is the sport of kings. I heard a golfer once, after it was pointed out to him that golf is not an Olympic sport, pouring scorn on us yachtsmen. Sailing, he said, was the only sport in which you stay seated throughout the event. It was, he said, much the same as chess except you don't need any brains. You don't have to be paraplegic to be a sailor, he said, but it helps. Funny young swine, he thought he was. Criticism we yachtsmen welcome, but this surely is mere calumny. And from a golfer, to boot! The only time a golfer breaks into a sweat is when the income tax returns arrive. There's simply no comparison between sailing and golf. Sailors do not practice their art while trading stock market gossip. They do not require the services of a caddy to tell them how to play-and to carry their umbrella for them in case it rains. They do not yell "Fore!" at one another. They do not have handicaps in the 20s. And they certainly do not have ridiculous names like Tiger (why not Hippopotamus, Aardvark or Painted Stork?).

Decent sport

Sailing is a dignified sport. We sailors are not called upon by the rules of our trade to place our feet 18 inches apart, bend our knees to 120 degrees and wiggle our bottoms in the manner popularised by hens laying eggs. We do not ramble on about birdies, eagles and other assorted avifauna. We do not wear preposterous tartan caps with woolly pompoms on top. And we have no need to compete for Mercedes Benzes-beastly, noisy things that cause no end of global warming.

At just 400 years of age, golf is a mere infant in pampers beside sailing. It was not even invented when the Vikings were sailing across the North Sea and sneaking the Sunday roast off the tables of the inhabitants of The Royal and St Andrews. The result of golf's embarrassing youth is that, apart from "Fore!", the game has no vocabulary of its own. Sailors, on the other hand, possess a rich and eloquent lexicon. "Starboard", they croon to one another. "Water at the mark", they call cheerily. "Windward boat, keep clear", they advise politely. None of the reckless aggression of golf. The very idea of whacking a ball into orbit and hoping futilely that a shout of "Fore" will deter it from planting itself in the gluteus maximus of some fellow citizen would fill a sailor with horror.

Golf is fine, of course, for those too old to sail. But when it comes to repelling an invasion or fighting off the enemy, it isn't much good, is it? I mean, when Good Queen Bess needed the Spaniards kept off her shores, was it to a golfer she turned? Right silly Francis Drake would have looked, standing on the cliffs of Dover waving a nine iron at the Armada. And if it was a Monday he would not have shown up at all: that's when they replace the divots.

Important difference

Perhaps the most important difference between sailors and golfers is that sailors have pretty wives (and we all know that it's sailors, not golfers, who've got a girl in every port). I met a golfer's wife once. She looked like a walnut run over by an express train. Why do you think they take to golf in the first place, escaping from their homes and wandering aimlessly into bunkers and water hazards in the burning sun for hours on end? Remember, it was a sailor's wife-not a golfer's-who had a face that launched a thousand ships. It is but rarely that a golfer's wife owns a mug that would launch a kayak.

Ah, but I digress. My commission, from the committee of the Ceylon Motor Yacht Club, was to write a story informing you, the public, that the club is now 75 years old. They want that sung from the rooftops (they also wanted that bit in about sailors having pretty wives, I have no idea why). So, pray be informed that the Ceylon Motor Yacht Club was indeed 75 years old as on October 7, 2004. Now that I've got that off my chest, they want me to tell you something about the history of the club.

Boat club

On October 7, 1929 (they wanted me to say), a group of well-meaning citizens gathered together and decided to found a boat club. The name first proposed was Ceylon Cruising Club, which idea was dropped after some of the founder members pointed out that they were married men. Given that the club would be devoted primarily to sailing and not to motor boats, it was duly decided to call it the Ceylon Motor Boat Club. There were still members however, who entertained delusions of grandeur. "Motor boat" does not quite convey the illusion of actually doing anything other than turning the wheel and pushing on the throttle to the accompaniment of lots of noise; besides, it sounds common and squalid. So, within a month of the club's creation, its name was changed to Ceylon Motor Yacht Club. Hoity-toity and ever so U. That done, the club has not looked back.

Today, the club has almost 200 members, and there is a sailboat race every Sunday. Sadly, only about 40 people in the country know how to sail, the bright side of which is that that's more people than who can speak Latin. We have the best of both at the club, actually, because after a couple, many sailors actually find they can speak Latin: shouts of "Dextra!" and "Aqua!" are not uncommon on the water.

The club bar serves some of the best beer south of Dehiwala (it is also fully licenced, VAT number 4090 88791 7000, in case those zealots at Inland Revenue happen to be reading this and get funny ideas into their little heads). So well is the bar patronised that a former Commodore (we do not have a president, we have a Commodore, a Rear Commodore, a Vice Commodore and so on. All nautical appellations. Very grand... Now where was I? Ah, yes. A former Commodore had made the astute observation that the CMYC was "a drinking club with a sailing problem". Indeed, the residents of Bolgoda maintain that on Poya Days, when the bar is shut, the water in the lake goes down by a whole foot.

And talking of Commodores, there is every chance my cheque will bounce unless I mention the incumbent, Joseph Kenny. Joe works for a major purveyor of intoxicants and is therefore a natural choice for Commodore. A mean sailor (or is it "keen"?), he has secretly taken up golf, honing his skills in preparation for his retirement and declining years. As head of the club, Joe runs a tight ship (the committee are nearly always tight). Ah, an interesting mob, our members. There's our Trustee, David Blackler, who rears donkeys. There's our Oldest Member, Asian Games medallist Ray Wijewardene who, when he's not crash-landing some flying object, spends his idle hours digging up his front lawn. Then there's our rabbi, Hans O Svendsen, who maintains order in the club (he is not Irish: the "O" is just added for effect). And of course, there's our Bar Secretary Mohan Balasuriya, whose job it is to keep the bar amply stocked with laryngeal lubricants. Together they ensure that the club operates strictly as a meritocracy: everyone's eternally merry.

And for those of you easily impressed by rank and title, the club has had its share of big-wig visitors. The king and queen of Nepal have been there, though that was in 1956, so I might be more correct in saying 'the late king and queen of Nepal'. Another highlight, though some years before I was born, was the visit to the club of Prince Philip in 1952. Not only was this a great honour to the club, but it also set a record as yet unbroken: His Royal Highness became the only sailor to grace the waters of Bolgoda in a GP-14 sailboat correctly attired in long-sleeved shirt, long trousers, argyle socks and bally shoes. No one got to see the royal knees.

The committee wanted me to tell you also about the young optimist sailors. They are called optimist sailors not because they are romantic idealists, but because the class of boat they sail was named Optimist, evidently by a designer who knew he was coming into a lot of money. There's 16 of them now, eager beavers all. The Optimist Brats (which is what we call them when they aren't within earshot) are causing a certain amount of dyspepsia among the older membership because they are sailing so well. After all, who wants to be beaten by a 12 year old? Every weekend the optimists are out on the water, training. They are coached by another Asian Games medallist in our team, Lalin Jirasinha. Lalin spends all his waking weekend hours training the brats, and has a tan to prove it.

Whatever golfers might say, sailing is a great sport. Well, look at it this way: come the Asian Games of 2006, CMYC's Optimists almost certainly won't be laying eggs in the Red Sea-not sitting, nor standing neither.

Note. When I submitted this little piece to The Sunday Leader, I omitted to provide a footnote explaining what the game of buz khasi involves. Leader readers, after all, belong to that discerning segment of society better described as the cognoscenti: there's not an ignoramus among them. The Editor rang me up, however, and pointed out that the paper is bought also by a number of golf players who might require enlightenment on this point (and, doubtless, on many others).

For the benefit of our golfing friends then, buz khasi, an Afghan sport, was the precursor of polo. Much the same as the present-day game, in fact, except that instead of a ball, the protagonists employed a goat's head (the goat having previously been detached from it). As a Saturday afternoon pastime, everyone found it most diverting except, of course, the goat. The late Genghis Khan, we are told, had a scratch handicap and played an impressive innings, modestly attributing his success to his deft follow-through, though contemporary sports commentators thought it had more to do with his topspin. "Bend it like Khan" was a household phrase throughout Inner Mongolia at the time.


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