Deathtracks along our coastline
By Shezna Shums
The Sri Lanka railway service set up by the British during their rule of Ceylon, has seen some improvements but far from what it should be......
Along with four horses and two elephants....
You have brought
honour to Sri Lanka
I saw our best friend
struggling in the night...
> Never seen nonas like this before!
Deathtracks along our coastline
Passengers risk life adn limb travelling
in overcrowded trains
By Shezna Shums
The Sri Lanka railway service set up by the British during their rule of Ceylon, has seen some improvements but far from what it should be. The rail track, carriages and crossings have seen very little improvement in quality as well as operational efficiency.
The number of frequent rail related accidents are an indication of the lack of high standards in the Railway Department.
Only last week in Wadduwa a couple travelling on a motorcycle were knocked down and killed instantly at an unprotected railway crossing.
Waduwa police told The Sunday Leader that the male, Nethikumara Lalith Dharmasena, aged 37, was riding with a woman on the pillion, when they met with the accident and died instantly at the railway crossing.
According to the Sri Lanka Railway Department there are about 1300 unprotected railway crossings scattered islandwide.
Almost every week there are reports of people either getting injured or being killed at railway crossings.
Lack of resources
The lack of resources at the Railway Department is cited as the main reason for these unprotected crossings. And making these crossings even more dangerous is the people's hurry to reach the other side of the rail track, taking no notice of the approaching trains.
In April this year, there was a horrific accident in Alawwa where a train ploughed into a bus at a level crossing, causing the deaths of 38 innocent people.
In this case, it was a protected railway crossing and the bus driver who had over 60 passengers on board drove around the barrier and was crossing the tracks when the train struck.
The impact of the crash was so great that the bus almost split into two and caught fire.
Such accidents are mainly to be blamed on the people, who seem to never learn because just the next day another bus driver tried to do a similar stunt when the barriers were down, at the very same place the accident happened.
The Sri Lanka Railway still operates on the old British-built rail network and like many of the country's roads, haven't seen any major investment or improvement.
There are a number of problems that could lead to train accidents; some of the obvious are, people trying to cross the rail track when they know the train is around the corner or very close by.
The southern railway line being parallel to the beach sees a number of people literally walking on the tracks, and if the wind is not blowing their way, they would hardly hear the sound of the oncoming train. This too causes accidents.
People even have the habit of walking through tunnels as a shortcut- this being visible when travelling on the up country bound trains, and when the train is going through the tunnels the people walking would cling to the tunnel walls.
Another factor that causes accidents is the overcrowding of trains.
Missing nuts and bolts, unsupported joints on the tracks, cracked sleepers and malfunctioning brakes on the trains are also common and contribute in no uncertain terms to the rising number of rail accidents.
Along with four horses and two elephants....
Sri Lanka's surgeons to walk towards achieving their goal..
They are eminent surgeons from
the Sri Lanka College of Sur
geons and they will begin a walk on December 4. The walk too is a very 'professional' exercise - to collect funds to set up a training center for the junior surgeons and the surgeons of the future. Last year it was a fund-raising dinner, this year it will
be a fund raising walk and next year the surgeons will have a charity ball
"We are walking to collect funds for a training center," said Dr. Indrani Amarasinghe, the chairperson of the fund raising committee . "The convenor Dr. K.L Fenando is doing a great deal of work. He is a
senior council member and a consultant surgeon at the Asiri Hospital," explained Dr. Amarasinghe.
"We are walking to raise funds," said Dr. Indrani Amarasinghe and went on to say that surgeons do not normally walk. "When they do walk we hope that people might feel the importance of the cause. We will have to walk for our money. We cannot sit comfortably and get the money. The five mile walk will start at Independence Avenue and finish at Galle Face on the first Sunday in December. There will be at least 100
surgeons in this walk and we will have four horses, two elephants.." explained the president.
In the fund raising commitee are surgeons Dr. K.L. Fernando, Prof. A.H. Sheriffdeen, Dr. Neomal Perera, Dr. Upali Banagala, Dr. Sanath Liyanarachchi and Dr. Mahanama Gunasekera.
The walk is plotted for five miles and there will be vehicles that will take banners from various interested parties. The banners will cost Rs.50,000. David Pieris will be giving a new car to go along with the surgeons..the vehicles on which banners will be displayed will go before or after the surgeons and Mobitel will be the principal sponsor.
Dr. Indrani Amarasinghe is the 21st president of the College of Surgeons: the first being Dr. P.R. Anthonis. The membership of the College of Surgeons today is 325. The College of Surgeons recently became the only professional body to go to Jaffna in 25 years where they held very successful sessions. The college conducts 18 workshops per year for its junior members
and monthly college lectures too. Foreign lecturers too are invited every month, and pre congress and post congress workshops, trauma courses, disaster management courses are held every year.
Dr. Indrani Amarasinghe went on to say that the life of a surgeon in Sri Lanka is not a bed of roses. "Surgeons are severely overworked. The ratio of a general surgeon to the patient population in England is 1 in 50,000: in Sri Lanka the ratio of a general surgeon to patient population is 1 in 250,000" pointed out the President, Sri Lanka College of
"This is mind boggling. So, from morning till night we are virtually rushed off our feet. There is a great deal of stress and pressure. At the Mahargama Cancer Hospital we work on public holidays; if it is an operation day, not only the surgeons, the minor staff, the nurses, the registrars, they all come to work. I think the surgeons here are all committed to
their work and their whole life becomes their work.." explained Dr. Amarasinghe.
"It is work,work and work. In the United Kingdom, you see 25 patients in the morning and with each patient you spend about half an hour and patients are given appointments. In Sri Lanka you see 60 to 80 patients without appointments, because it is difficult to maintain an appointments register-you have to see them in the same period of time," went on Dr. Indrani Amarasinghe. "How can you spend half an hour with
each patient?" she asked.
"We all enjoy the work. But there is a lot of pressure to finish the work and not to have a waiting list.." said Dr. Amarasinghe who has been a surgeon since 1983.
Advising the public, this chief surgeon of the Cancer Hospital said: "Please follow evidence based medicine. Do not go around saying that Kathurumurunga causes cancer, when there is no evidence at all that Kathurumurunga causes cancer. And to please avoid alternative medicine pathways unless there is evidence-based proof that they are effective. What I mean by alternative medicine is ayurvedic cures without
evidence," said Dr. Amarasinghe.
Of cancer, Dr. Amarasinghe said that if you get at it early you can cure it - especially breast, rectum, skin cancers, head and neck cancers - all these can be cured, when detected early, assured Dr. Amarasinghe.
"All that is needed is for people to present themselves to a doctor," said Dr. Amarasinghe.
"The College of Surgeons holds workshops and seminars for junior surgeons on how to spot cancers. We have a breast clinic where we have trained medical officers of health and pubic health workers," explained this chief surgeon.
Dr. Amarasinghe said that the cancer control unit in Maharagama is doing an excellent job of work, going to far away places in the country and educating people on the importance of seeing a doctor early and the signs etc.
"We are definitely seeing more public awarness and more and more patients presenting themselves to the surgeons and the doctors," observed Dr. Amarasinghe.
Surgeons become important to us when we ail. It is only then that we realise how much they have helped us to renew our life. Hence the setting up of a training center for the junior surgeons means that we are improving the quality of life of our future generations.
Defining surgeons, President, College of Surgeons said "Surgeons are the fastest means of removing tumours. Otherwise one has to undergo radiotherapy for 25 days or chemotherapy.
"Surgery is the quickest way of removing tumours and other non tumourless organs like renal stones, gall stones, gall bladders, etc. It is a quick, efficient method of removing pathology including cancer," said Dr. Amerasinghe.
This subject, Dr. Amarsinghe said requires intense training and that there is a learning curve. There is a huge technical skill involved in it. The cutting is important but the ability to decide when to operate and when not to operate is as important as the operation itself, said Dr. Amerasinghe.
This is why this training center becomes important not only to the surgeons themselves but to the people of Sri Lanka.
"This training center is to develop the science and art of surgery in Sri Lanka and to educate and develop young surgeons in training.
We have inherited these premises from Dr. Noel Barthelomeusz and his wife Nora, who bequeathed it to us when she died in 2002. We need today to establish a surgical skills training center. This center would occupy part of the garden too and the plans have been passed," explained Dr. Amerasinghe.
A sum of Rs. 20 million is needed for the setting up of this training center, though only Rs. 8 million has been collected. The College of Surgeons hopes to raise the balance money through some philanthropists and by walking towards achieving their goal, somehow, someway.
You have brought
honour to Sri Lanka
There was a hushed silence in the auditorium. The
orchestra continued to
play, awaiting the moment to roll on the sound of drums.
Everybody was standing, waiting for the arrival of a procession.
Where was this? What were we all doing here and for whom were we waiting? It was in the auditorium at the University of Alberta, Canada and we had been invited to witness the installation of the University's 12th president and vice-chancellor. There was an air of expectancy since this new president elect would be a woman and from an Asian country - a first time on
The main body of the auditorium was filled with academics, university alumni, politicians and dignitaries and invitees for this prestigious event. Seated on the wings, in a VIP section, were a group of Sri Lankans, the family of the new president and her close relatives and friends. They had travelled across the globe, from Sri Lanka - her parents and her own professor from the University of Peradeniya: from England and
relatives from Japan, the United States, Philippines and Thailand.
Of course, we all looked around at everybody with pride and joy and they in turn looked back at us perhaps with curiosity and wonder that most of us had come from the other side of the world.
A grand entrance
The lights dimmed and the orchestra was hushed. The procession entered the hall. About 100 men and women, robed and gowned representing various positions from their own universities, walked down the two aisles to take up their positions on the stage. Lastly came the chancellor's party with the university mace bearer before whom walked a regally gowned figure, resplendent in green and gold, the colours of the University
President elect, Dr. Indira Samarasekera.
The usual procedure began - national anthems; salute of the Governor of Alberta, the conferring of honorary degrees and the introduction of the new president by the chairman, board of governors, who in his talk, informed us why this particular selection was made.
Indira took her oath of office in a firm voice and was then invited to address us. I settled down and wondered how she was going to hold this audience for perhaps 30 to 40 minutes!
But with her opening quotation from Henry Marshal Tory, the first president of the university to the poignant finale of nostalgia and hope, she held her audience spellbound - an audience who applauded, cheered and even wiped away tears. An audience which gave her a standing ovation when she finally sat down.
"Her speech was the finest she has ever delivered," said Marsha, her personal aide who was seated next to me. She added ."I have never heard her speak better and I have been with her for the past decade"
It was a tapestry of words that she wove with fiery colours, blending into the patterns of her life - her beginnings, her past and her hopes and aspirations. Sri Lanka featured predominantly in her speech.
Her early education was in a school in Jaffna founded by American missionaries and then at Ladies College in Colombo. Then to the University of Peradeniya at the Engineering Campus (a time fraught with the terrors of political and student violence.)
Visibly moved she acknowledged the presence of her parents who had given her the strength and courage to embark on her career; her children; her aunt and late uncle who gave her so much love and laughter during her stays with them in Colombo and her maternal grandmother at whose feet she learnt the ethics and covenants of Christianity. As these many aspects made
Indira what she is today she paid tribute to her life's mentors.
Traced her history
Briefly she traced the history of the university, its leaders whose passion for learning, teaching and research has given the university a firm foundation. As her speech gained momentum, she talked of Canada's pioneers whose efforts have made the nation what it is. She quoted from great men and women who academically have made an indelible mark on her.
She drew attention to the European and British settlers on her country who had left their imprint in construction, agriculture religion and education. She reminded us that Canada is a multi-cultural, ethnic nation that gladly opened her doors to the people of the world - particularly students.
With consummate ease she turned to the governor of Alberta and the cabinet ministers who were on the stage and then to the audience and with fire in her voice said inquiringly .... "although endowments have been granted for health, research, science and engineering, wouldn't it be wonderful if a third
endowment be given for scholarships and research in social science, art and humanities?... and ended with the classic clich ".... over to you Mr. Minister."
There was thunderous applause of agreement from the audience! Endowments in this part of the world run into billions of dollars.
And what of the future? Indira spelled out her programme. "A great university is ultimately about her students - its faculty," she said. When the union president spoke he told us that she had wanted to be called simply Indira as he had stuttered over her surname. Indira she will be! Her vision for the future is entwined with the aspirations of the human
spirit, particularly of young people.
She is confident that Alberta, which has one of the best public education systems, will help her to achieve her goals. Indira - the 12th president of the University of Alberta is a credit to her parents, her teachers, her professors and above all to her country, Sri Lanka. The nation is proud of this great
daughter she has spawned - a daughter who remains true to her roots and is first and foremost a citizen of Sri Lanka.
As she neared the finale moments of her speech she made a pledge to devote her intellect and imagination to the high calling of her office on a journey of greatness. She requested everybody to join her in the rising tide of the Alberta Advantage and commit to continue the work begun a century ago in the building of a great university. She concluded with the words of Brutus to Cassius:
"There is a tide in the affairs of men
Which taken at the flood, leads on to fortune
Omitted all the voyage of their life
Is bound in shallows and miseries..."
As she sat down there was only a brief second of silence and awe before the audience stood up to give her a standing ovation.
Indira Samarasekera, Order of Canada, today the 12th President and Vice Chancellor of the University of Alberta - you have brought honour and esteem to Sri Lanka. Your journey to reach this position has been extraordinary and those who know you would surely continue to be with you as you seek elevation of the human spirit in all spheres of life.
- Mohini Thambyah
Never seen nonas like this before!
What fun to have an outing with friends who
giggle and shriek the whole night through! Each one requests the radio channel in the car to be changed, as they don't like my choice. I like rock!
Arguing loudly, finally they are all satisfied and I give in or else! Some of them sing along and jiggle, to the amazement of the driver, who has never seen or heard nonas like this before!
Incidents are remembered with each song and rude comments are yelled out to the person concerned. Suddenly we are stopped at a checkpoint, the security personnel look sternly at us as we giggle and grin at them. One of my pals tells the driver to say he's taking all of us out and he bursts out laughing. Finally the policemen too grin and wave us on! One needs this occasional letting off of steam or, gosh, just think, we might
Those on holiday from overseas say they could never really have fun like this as the people in their adopted country do not have our sense of humour. Most of them yearn to come back and are always planning to do so.
So with all the madness going on here, they still love it! It's flattering but sad.
Natives try to cheer them up and tell them before they know where they are, it will be time for them to come back again. Oh well, such is life! But it is so true, most of all you really miss your bosom buddies!
The maids are off for their Deepavali vacation. I start my daily grind by dropping the entire dish of coconut sambol on the floor.
Dark force at work
I gnash my teeth and sweep it into the dustpan. Darn! The kids seem to have only worn clothes that have to be hand washed. The soap powder is over and no one bothered to inform me. Never mind, I will wash it with scented soap, they will smell good ! Utensils have mysteriously disappeared from the face of the
After a futile search, you give up and continue with your chores, muttering darkly under your breath. All of a sudden, the lights in the kitchen go out. A mysterious dark force is working against you.
Both the gardener and the driver can't fix it, so I call the electrician, as it is extremely difficult to cook in the dark. In between, friends keep calling to chat and ask the most inconsequential questions. You politely tell them you have no time.
In the midst of all this, the Man is playing golf furiously every day and comes back with various awards. I am tempted to hurl all these blasted clubs into the stream by the garden fence.
Since he's too occupied to answer his cellular phone in the midst of a game, I have to answer various queries from people who can not get through to him. On Sunday, he reads all the newspapers from cover to cover, whilst I haven't even glanced at the headlines. In the midst of several hundred telephone calls, he predicts the future and can sagely say what people are
Two at a time
Ah, he has disproved the theory that men can only do one thing at a time - he has ironed the clothes whilst on the phone. What a pleasant surprise ! At least I'm off the hook for that.
My youngest daughter has decided to study for her exams lying on the grass in the garden. She assures me that she is indeed seriously studying. I can only hope so. The elder one plans various outings with friends and expects everyone to fit her schedule.
I certainly do not see any studying going on there. Her spare time is spent chatting on line with her pals overseas or reading books. On her off days she rises only at noon.
I have told her she must learn to cook if she's going overseas. I tell her to choose any recipe from one of my books and make it on her off day.
She chooses chocolate brownies with crunchy peanut filling. Certainly I can see her making this on a daily basis! Never mind, at least she goes into the kitchen. She can also iron, though rather slowly, taking about 10 minutes per garment and about another 15 minutes to fold.
This is only the second day of the maids vacation, I have two more weeks of being the household drudge. Wearily toiling.
Honky Tonk Woman
I saw our best friend
struggling in the night...
It was the night of Friday, October 28.
The time was 10.20 p.m - a time when we humans return home after our friday night dinner. It was a starry night and the area around Police Park, in Colombo had the thick darkness filling between the trees and branches.
Here and there the lights lit up the streets - but opposite the beginning of Police Park just past Thunmulla Junction was a dog struggling. In fact at first it looked a happy sight - it seemed like the dog was dancing - with its paws up, like a human it seemed to dance on two legs. On a closer look, through the darkness I saw that it was a
dance of death that this innocent animal was struggling with - attached to its body with a noose and the offenders remained inside an aluminium type of vehicle with the authoritive three words printed therein - Colombo Municipal Council.
What hypocrites are we? Talking of religion, compassion and kindness during the day and harming innocent animals at night. Whatever happened to the no-kill programme, did the sterilisation programme die a natural death?
What hypocrites are we that we wait for darkness to do these dark deeds? Where are the animal lovers? Where are the religious leaders? Where are those with power who speak out for animals.
Can this go on?
Can we let this happen - in this civilised time and age, can we allow innocent animals to be harmed, hurt and agonised this way. Dogs we all know fear so much - they fear noise, they fear vehicles, they fear humans wielding sticks and they fear the rain too.
But on this day there was numbing fear all around. Few people saw the van, but the cries of the dog would always remain - they were pitiful, pleading and heart rending. On the way I saw the hungry dogs out in the night. After the mid-day heat and the days of starvation they were all out on the road enjoying the deserted peace therein. Little did they realise that the
greatest danger on wheels was a mere breath away - that a few yards away their helpless, hungry brethren were being ripped away from the peace of the night and stuffed into that hot aluminium coloured van.
On the way I saw mother dogs in a great hurry - to get some food to rush back to their little ones. They are the mother dogs who never went back to their young pups that unlucky Friday night. I saw pregnant dogs, hungry and heavy with their young ones struggling to sit up on the road. There was no place to go, no food. If a shower came there was no shelter besides vehicles were all over the road, wherever they sat down, they
had to get up and make way for some motorcycle or car that wished to turn.
We human beings seemed to have completely taken over. There is no space, no room for any other living being. But doing this to the dogs is unforgiveable. Doing it at night does make the deed darker. Why not do it during the day? Why fear to do the right thing in the light of day.
We have all heard of rabies. We all know about its dangers. But nothing could justify the killing of hundreds of innocent animals. Nothing could justify the harm and the agony that this 'man's best friend' is made to undergo by the very beings to which it wags its tails and gives a glorious welcome.
Let there be a home
Animals are helpless beings, yet they are so full of love - so capable of showing us undevoted attention and a love unparalelled. Is it meant for man to be this way, for the authorities to ignore them this way?
If there is money for animals in this world, then let it be spent on a home for the strays. If there is kindness for animals in this world, let it be spent on the animals on the road.
If only we open our eyes wide and see those animals seated outside hotels and eateries waiting for a morsel. If only we see those animals on the road, hungry for days and nights, living on garbage and existing on their own hunting prowess. So engaged are we in ourselves and our own children and our own activities that we fail to note that pleading look, we fail to see
the sucked in stomachs and the pleas of the mother dogs who suckle their young. We fail to notice the great hurry they seem to be in to have some food and rush back to their young. All we understand is how important it is that we get to our own children in time - we fail to realise or feel their emotions, their feelings and their needs.
We fail to notice how hungry the pregnant animals around us feel. We see but fail to realise that dogs are eating newspapers and garbage in their unbearable hunger. We fail to realise that pregnancy brings with it great desires and agonising hunger - because we let all the animals around us bear their own pain.
Sometimes we humans do act like dumb animals. But for all this we are forgiven. A crumb from us and they are our friends for life. But the great sadness in life is that we do have time for that crumb.
Ignoring animals is tolerable, letting them starve has been accepted. But killing them this way, in the dead of the night, using government vehicles, using mean tactics is not human.
For whatever is being done, let it be done in the light of day, when we can all see and feel.
Let us gather together now to plea for animals - for they are our dumb friends.Let us help them to live and be refreshed with the thought that we are human beings after all.
"I am personally for no-kill policy
- Health Minister
Health Minister Nimal Siripala de Silva when contacted said that he was personally for the no-kill policy but said that other authorities ought to respect the cabinet paper and the legislation and reforms that were in the process of being formulated for a no-kill policy.
"It is not morally correct to go ahead and kill animals when the matter is in a formulative stage," pointed out the Minister.
"What animal lovers must understand is that these things cannot happen overnight. Right as we speak too there is a consultative committee in session with WHO etc., and a workshop too on the issue," said the Minister.
The Minister said that he was for compassion, for no-kill and other authorities ought to respect the cabinet paper.
"We are doing our duty"
- OIC, Dog Pound
The Officer in Charge of the Dog pound,
Dr. Mohammed Ejaz said that they were doing their duty by the public. "Animal rights activists make a big hue and cry about this but they do not realise that we are compelled to catch dogs because they become a nuisance to the public," pointed out Ejaz.
Ejaz went on to say that he was prepared to hand over all the dogs at the dog pound if the animal rights activists could rehome them.
According to these people there would be no need to kill the dogs. "Rabid dogs attack other dogs. We then cannot release these dogs," explained Dr. Ejaz.
When asked whether these animals are being cruelly treated, Dr. Ejaz said that they have a iron bar with a lasso to catch the dogs. We do not kill the dogs on the streets. Anyone who says that we kill the dogs on the streets could show me the carcasses," said Dr. Ejaz.
"We are public servants. It is the responsibility of the local authorities to catch any animal, not only dogs, that it's a nuisance to the public. The public could take us to court for not doing our duty," pointed out Ejaz.