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7th May, 2006  Volume 12, Issue 43

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

Friday is  Vesak full moon Poy

Seeing things as they really are

Vesak Poya which falls on Friday, May 12 marks three important events in the Buddha's life - His birth as the Sakyan Prince Siddhartha,.....

More.... 


Review more articles

 > The New Polonnaruwa Rock Temple 
 >
From the corridors of Isipathana College...
 >
The bombs we knew 
 >
You don't have to be ill to see the doctor
 >
El Nino and La Nina  are playing havoc 


Seeing things as they really are

Friday is  Vesak full moon Poy

By Leslie Dahanaike

Vesak Poya which falls on Friday, May 12 marks three important events in the Buddha's life - His birth as the Sakyan Prince Siddhartha, His attainment of supreme enlightment before the Bo tree at Gaya and his passing away into Parinibbana at Kusinara at the age of 80, ending for all time His journey in Sansara.

With Vesak Poya only a few days away it is well to dwell on the three salient characteristics of life - impermanence anniccha, sorrow dukkha and anatta lack of a permanent, unchanging entity or soul. These basic attributes of existence remind us of its ephemeral nature or transient quality.

But worldlings are blind, says the Buddha and therefore not alive to the basic truths as their eyes are covered with dust. They are generally content to live their lives without even attempting to find out and grasp them as they are caught up in the business of day to day living.

Too engrossed

We have neither the time nor inclination to take a look at ourselves because we are so absorbed in our evanescent joys or engrossed in our pet fleeting past times. If one has a surfeit of pleasure or one is blessed with life's goodies in abundent measure, one can be insensitive to the suffering around as one can even develop a calculated indifference to it. The very thought of pondering over suffering could be sorrowful and therefore could be avoided or shut out if such a thought arises in ones mind. Instead, pleasurable thoughts and sensations which could make one happy, even momentarily are usually pursued with relish.

Worldlings are mad, says the Buddha because of the very fact they are wordlings. They are accustomed to pursue pleasure in varying degrees every moment of their lives, if they can. Pleasure has a variety of mani- festations and could mean all kinds of sensual joys, intellectual satisfactions, lust for power, wealth, position, fame, carnal delights, satiating the artistic appetites or whetting the literary palate, in fact anything and everything that satisfies ones ego-centric craving.

The world as we know it, is the world bounded by the senses. There is no other world that a worldling knows except this world. The world of the non-worldling or arahats, the saintly ones is the world that has transcended the senses and therefore unbounded. Like the limitless sky or the unbounded space in the vast cosmos, it reaches out to eternity and is, therefore timeless and ageless.

Human being are generally categorised as lunaties by the Buddha and the whole world is a lunatic asylum, according to him because man in his struggle for existence and in the rat race for living, by and large, cannot see things as they really are, enmeshed as he is in the web of his own craving which is personified in life itself in its manifold aspects.

In the category of lunatics are the extremists, killers, assassins, looters, robbers, arsonists, drunkards and narcotics pedlars who for various reasons commit base and evil acts. Why do they resort to such conduct? Because a veil of ignorance clouds their thinking. They cannot see clearly as their minds are wrapped by the three cankers of greed, hate and ignorance.

No salvation

Is there no salvation for these people or for that matter, the vast majority of foolish worklings and others on the lunatic fringe in pursuit of this, that or the other, holding on to find momentary happiness? The answer is that as long as they continue to grasp, clutch and claw there can be no salvation, according to the Buddha's teaching. One must learn to deliberately let go sooner or later at some stage or the other even in a small measure, little by little - a seemingly impossible thing for worldlings to even attempt to do. For our very lives are the antithesis of this very idea of letting go. In fact we may rightly say we breathe the air of craving with every pulsation or heart throb, as it were. Craving is the very fabric of our lives.

The veil of ignorance which surrounds us can be gradually and systematically and deliberately lifted through diligent and sustained effort by following the path shown by the Buddha - the Noble Eightfold Path. Then only can the mind be stilled and supreme wisdom realised. This path says the Buddha will be seen and intellectually appreciated by those whose eyes are covered with little dust.

They are the wise ones who are mature in their Sansaric Journey. Those who can at least intellectually comprehend the four Noble truths of suffering, its cause, its cessation and the path leading to its cessation have gained something. They are on the road, the correct road, says the Buddha to understand the truth.

They can see things as they really  appreciate the ephemeral nature of existence and the transiency of all component things. They will even with occasional flashes of insight someday penetrete the veil or pierce the shell of ignorance which encompasses their very being and see the light of wisdom which has so far clouded them.

Once they have rooted out greed, hate and ignorance fully in the way taught by the Buddha, they will see the futility of continued existence and truly let go forever. They will no longer be wallowing in Sansara's mighty swamp. For they will be free, liberated for all time.


The New Polonnaruwa Rock Temple

Kanumuldeniye Dharmashoka Thero

By Sunalie Ratnayake

The Buddha Jayanthi, the completion of 2550 years of Buddha's ministry since Sakya Prince Siddhartha Gautama's ascension to Buddhahood at the foot of the Asathu Bo tree at Bodhgaya in India will be celebrated throughout the island, commencing from Vesak on May 12. 

Something special has happened in the once  sleepy backwoods of Dehiwela. A place situated in close proximity to the zoological gardens down Quarry Road, the Sri Dumindaramaya Temple has transformed into the magnificent

'New Polonnaruwa Rock Temple' with its awe-inspiring granite statues of the Enlightened One, Gautama Lord Buddha. After the completion of all the Buddha statues, it is ready to be opened at an auspicious time on Vesak day next week.

A tower of strength

As I recently visited this impressive temple in the early hours of the day, I was touched by every bit of the place. As I first stepped inside the Sanghawasa of the temple I could hear the sound of a wind chime that was attached to the ceiling fan. It's rattling sound pulled me into deep thought. I felt as if the wind chime was a mode of meditation as it helped to build concentration in a different manner. The next thing I heard was the Thera's voice as he offered me a seat and immediately asked "what would you like to have?" Few minutes later, I was served with delicious treats by a younger Thera, along with a refreshing cup of steaming tea.

He is no other than the Ven. Dr. Kanumuldeniye Sri Dharmashoka Thera. His charisma, and  genial personality have endeared him to many a human being, irrespective of their social standards. Sri Dharmashoka Thera, who has been the chief incumbent of the temple for nearly 20 years was born in Ruhuna, but had his upbringing in Colombo.

He completed his higher education at Buddha Srawaka Dharpita in Anuradhapura with remarkable success. He is a Pali and Sanskrit scholar of impeccable repute, in addition to being an intellectual of the highest order. During his tenure in office, the Thera gave the temple a tremendous facelift and espoused the cause of Buddhism in its entirety.

Ven. Sri Dharmashoka Thera was also awarded an Honorary Doctorate by the Buddhist Sangha Council of South California, Los Angeles in the US. The Nayaka Thera who has over 25 years of teaching experience had served as a lecturer at Kelaniya and Anuradhapura Universities and also serves as director of the local branch of  International Temples Foundation.

In addition, Sri Dharmashoka Thera was also conferred the honorary title Phra Kru Sangharakh by the community of Thai Sangha Sabha, under royal patronage in March 1996.

History

The temple began in 1933, under Urapola Indarathana Thera. Maragoda Saddhananda Thera who passed away in 1980, became the chief incumbent of the temple in 1947. Being his student, Sri Dharmashoka Thera after assuming office in a bid to nurture and cherish our country's rich cultural heritage, decided to construct a replica of the world famous shrine in Polonnaruwa. When he took up duties as chief incumbent, the place was empty with only the Bodhin Vahanse. All the buildings, apart from the statues that exist today are results of the determination and hard work of Dharmashoka Thera.

New Polonnaruwa Rock Temple

The then Cultural Minister E.L.B. Hurulle laid the foundation stone on a Sunday morning at the auspicious time that fell at 8.15 a.m. in June 27, 1982 for the temple in Dehiwela, modelled on the Polonnaruwa Gal Viharaya. The then Trade and Shipping Minister, Lalith Athulathmudali, the then Health Minister Sunethra Ranasinghe and the then Power and Energy Minister P. Dayaratne. also helped in the task.

The statues that have been sculptured with flawless beauty at the temple in Dehiwela are in both reclining and upright postures. These are replicas of those found in Polonnaruwa, dating back to the era of King Parakramabahu the Great, who is said to have built them under his personal supervision, way back in the 12th century. 

These replicas are of the same form and size as the original ones. Its entire length is 160 feet and the recumbent Buddha statue is 45 feet long. This reclined  statue is believed to be that of Ananda Thera. When one sees this statue with hands in swastika mudra, which is a rare feature, one is inclined to believe that it is also a statue of the Buddha. The height of the statue in the seated position - Dhayana -  is 15 feet.  However the most exquisite statue is situated inside the cave that is five feet in height. This is built of hard granite rock.

The temple with its rock-cut statues depicting different postures of the Buddha is a true masterpiece of sculpture. It is admired by art lovers from all over the world. Undertaking to  construct these replicas close to Colombo is a great responsibility  because apart from being a  place of worship, it also would serve to publicise Sri Lanka's great heritage. " I am ever so grateful to my dayakas, friends and well wishers from all around the globe, who most readily accepted my idea and donated most benevolently towards the fund set up for the purpose. Their help made my dream a reality,"  Sri Dharmashoka Thera told The Sunday Leader.

Future plans

In the meantime, a Sunday school is operating in the premises. Religious programmes such as the observance of sil and meditation are conducted on a regular basis. Not stopping at that, the Thera is also planning on conducting computer classes for children. A Dharmasala of six stories is under construction.

The garden is perfectly maintained by the Theras in the temple. There are 10 monks and among them are also monks from Burma (Myanmar), Laos and Thailand.

This temple is also blessed with springs that fill an eternally overflowing water tank in the premises that provides water to all its neighbours who are in need.

Preserved pieces of the sacred bodhi tree in Anuradhapura (Sri Maha Bodhiya) also captured my attention. 


From the corridors of Isipathana College...

Principal K.A.D. Punyadasa

Portals of learning...

The school playground is not only where you got your first knee scratch, it's also where you first learnt to interact with other children. Your school informed your adult life, your career and your character. 

Your teachers were those beacons of light that showed you the way forward.

The Sunday Leader continues to feature those great halls of learning that helped shape Sri Lanka. 

FACT  FILE

School colours:  Dark green and light green.

Flag: Flag consists of three stripes-a light green stripe in the center and two dark green stripes beside it.

School motto: Adhitanin Diriya Vadamu - Strive with determination (The motto was initially in Pali language and later was translated to English).

Houses: Rahula, Tagore, Iqbal and Milton.

Type of school: National boys' school. 

Starts at: 8.00 a.m.

Closes at: 2.00 p.m.

College uniform: Grade 1 to 5 - White short-sleeved shirt, blue short pants, black shoes and white socks. Grade 6,7,8 and 9 - White short-sleeved shirt, white short pants, black shoes and white socks. Grade 10,11,12 and 13 - White short-sleeved shirt, white long trouser, black shoes and white socks. All students have the college crest sewn to the pocket of the white shirt. House badges are worn only during meets. Tie and blazer is worn only during special events. 

School Leaders:  Leaders are appointed according to the 'span of control' which is a principal of hierarchy.  Each class consists of a monitor and five deputy monitors. So, all together there are 40 deputy monitors and there are eight monitors for each standard. Above the eight monitors, there are two sectional leaders and above them are Junior prefects. The next higher rank is the team of Senior prefects. Above them are four deputy head prefects and above all is the head prefect.

By Sunalie Ratnayake

This weekend through  'portals of learning' we step into yet an other great hall of learning which has its own unique values. This is none other than Isipathana College at Havelock Town in Colombo 5. Through its corridors have walked out many  an outstanding personality, who have also gained international recognition in many a different field. Founded on February 2, 1952, this great hall of learning stepped into its 54th year of existence in February this year.

Having existed for only a little more than five decades, the college has achieved high standards in many fields.

History

In the early years Havelock grounds, BRC grounds, Claude's grounds, the children's park, Henry Pedris grounds and the land where Isipathana College stands today was a green pasture.  Royal College which began in the year 1835,  became overcrowded over the years as many students sought admission to that school. This resulted  in the need for a new school to accommodate the  many students who sought admission there.

During World War II, the buildings in this greenland were occupied by the military and after the war they were abandoned. In later years,it  seemed to be the perfect place to begin a new school. During this time, there were a couple of buildings that remained unoccupied as the military camps located there were moved into other areas of the country, after the Japanese bombing.

These abandoned buildings were the very first buildings of the present day Isipathana College, which initially started with only a primary section. It was the students who could not gain admission to Royal College who had the privilege of joining  Isipathana.

At the inception, due to  being built in the  pasture land, the school was named as 'Greenlands College.'  Since its coming into existence Greenlands College was a place where children, irrespective of their religious, ethnic,   cultural and other differences could study in harmony under the same roof.   With the passage of time Tamil medium students  at Thurstan College were also transferred to Greenlands College, gradually swelling the student population.

The Founder Principal of Greenlands College was B.A. Kuruppu.   From the very beginning,  Greenland College had a unique combination of Buddhist, Hindu, Muslim, Roman Catholic and Christian children as its students.

The 2500th Buddha Jayanthi was a significant event for Isipathana College as many changes occurred there during this period. As a result of this celebration in 1956, the street in front of Isipathanarama temple was named 'Isipathana Mawatha,' and in 1962 Greenlands College became 'Isipathana College.'  Soon thereafter Isipathana and Thurstan Colleges started higher classes  and became independent schools.  Since then, these two schools have had many things in common and complemented each other in their activities, so much so today they are known as brother schools. 

Current beacons of light

Isipathana's current Principal is K.A.D. Punyadasa,  who took over duties  as principal for the first time at Kalutara Vidyalaya at the young age of 25 in the year 1989.  Punyadasa had served as principal of President's College, Maharagama from 1999 till he was appointed as Isipathana's principal on January 3, 2003. Punyadasa has won many  outstanding awards such as Vidya Niketha Keerthi (President's Award in 2003), Prasadini Pranama Award in 2002 and Vidya Niketha Ranjana (President's Award in 2001).  

Punyadasa who also obtained a special scout award in 1998  is an old boy of Panadura Mahanama College.  "A school always has room for improvement and my immediate goals are to obtain a swimming pool, for which plans have been prepared already and we are hoping to complete it by next year. The ground is currently being renovated and I express my sincere appreciation to all those who contributed immensely towards the project which is expected to cost  Rs. 8.4 million. I cannot refrain from extending my gratitude especially to the College Old Boy's Association (OBA), School Development Society as well as Ven Uduwe Dhammaloka Thera who has taken much interest in the project,"  said Isipathana College Principal, K.A.D. Punyadasa.

 Deputy Principal Co-Curricular Activities T.B.C. Mahath who has served the school for thirty years says, "It is indeed a privilege to serve a school such as Isipathana for a period of thirty years. Through the years, I have witnessed many success stories of my students and I am the happiest guiding them in the correct path. The discipline of the students at Isipathana is of a very high standard." Mahath had started as an assistant teacher at Isipathana in 1976 and climbed up the ladder gradually to become a sectional head, prefect of games (1983-1990), assistant principal and deputy principal.

The current Senior Deputy Head in Education Development is G.D.S. Keerthisena; Deputy Principal Administration is Jayantha Peiris. The Deputy Principal Tamil Medium is A.S. Najudeen, Assistant Principal Grade 1-5 (Primary Section) is A.I. Wickrama and Assistant Principal Grade 6-11 is Sunil Nanayakkara. 

A school with a difference

At one time or another, all religions  in Sri Lanka have undergone periods of suppression and neglect.  But, Isipathana College conducted duties in a different manner as Sinhalese, Tamils, Malays, and Burgers who were Buddhists, Roman Catholics, Christians, Hindus and Muslims gained admission, without being harassed in any manner. Even today, Isipathana College practices this equality to the letter.

The 'houses'

The houses at Isipathana College had been named sticking to tradition    'Rahula' house is named after Rev. Thotagamuwe Sri Rahula Thera of Sri Lanka, 'Tagore'  house is named after Rabindranath Tagore, the legendary Hindu poet from India, 'Iqbal' house had been named after Pakistan's famous poet Mohamed Iqbal and finally  'Milton' house is named after England's famous poet Milton. This is an example that should be noted as it perfectly proves the basic qualities of the college.

Special college observances

Every morning at Isipathana College students of all religions hold religious observances.  Grade 6 and 7, grade 8 and 9, grade 10 and 11 and the Advanced Level classes gather separately for small assemblies. The Buddhists, Roman Catholics, Christians, Hindus and Muslims in these groups indulge in religious observances separately and finally join each other for meetings. On Fridays, Muslims have been granted permission to attend prayers at the mosque.

Current day school

Currently the school consists of 4564 students and 189 teachers. The best Islamic Day is celebrated here at Isipathana. The average class size in Sinhala medium is 50, in English medium it is 40-45 and in Tamil medium is 40. Taking into consideration this year's demand for admission in Tamil medium, Isipathana stands at fifth place in the entire island.

Sports

In most of the boy's school's the main game happens to be cricket, but just as Sri Lanka instantly reminds one  of tea, the mere mention of Isipathana brings rugby to one's mind. Isipathana has an outstanding history in this sport. The sport was initially introduced in 1963 and the first Isipathana rugby player was Rend Peters. In 1979, the college team participated in the Asian School Tournament. In 1984, the college rugby team won the 'triple championship,' and Isipathana became the first school in history to obtain a triple championship in rugby.

Some of the outstanding rugby players of Isipathana are the present Sri Lanka national rugby team captain Sajith Mallikarachchi, Hisham Abdeen, Dilroy Fernando and Group Captain Nalin De Silva. Some of the outstanding hockey players include Mervyn Perera and S.H.U. Kuthubdeen. The other sports conducted at Isipathana are baseball, volleyball, football, cricket, tennis, table tennis, karate, wushu, badminton, hockey, gymnastics, swimming, chess, carrom, and checker.

Although facilities  for swimming is lacking at Isipathana, the school has not sidelined swimming. In 1984, the college became champions in diving.

In 1970 Jayantha Paranathala and K.H. Nandasena represented Sri Lankan schools in  cricket in India. Among  the other famous cricketers that  Isipathana has produced are S.H.U. Karnain and Sanjeewa Weerasinghe, the first schoolboy to play test cricket.

In 2005 the Isipathana dancing group of 30 members obtained  first place in the All-Island Dancing Competition. The college debating team also has won many competitions obtaining  first place last year. There are significant achievements in English language as well. 

Isipathana is a school with many talents and proven track records in many achievements in its short span of existence. With an outstanding record behind it and great discipline, the college looks forward to many more years filled with great accomplishments. With its devoted beacons of light and ambitious and obedient students, there is no doubt that Isipathana shines amongst the rest.


The bombs we knew

In our youth, the only bombs we came across were the stink bombs that we placed in class to disrupt lessons. They were made mainly from blue (made your white clothes whiter) and lime juice, and stank to high heaven ! Sometimes, someone would sneak out some ammonium crystals(I think that's what it was!) from the chemistry lab and the most horrible smell would emanate from it !

    Most often, it was we who were affected by the smell, as the teacher would be sitting on the wooden podium and would get the full benefit of the cooling breezes from the sea at the end of the road. Of course, there would be much giggling and holding of noses and eventually the teacher would investigate and get the offending object thrown out.

No one would own up to the prank and so we would either be given "lines" to write or else told to stand outside in the sun until we regained our lost memories. We didn't mind either punishment. One of my friends tried out what we had read in a book -  she tied four pens onto to a horizontal pencil, thinking she could write four lines at once. Alas, it didn't work, they were untidy and squiggly, so after much grumbling, she wrote them the conventional way. It's not much fun writing "Insolence and disobedience are the products of lack of education and bad breeding," or some such thing one hundred times, let me tell you ! Standing outside was quite all right, unless you were unlucky enough to be there when Sister Principal was on one of her patrols around school. Then we would be questioned as to why we were outside, and would be dealt with severely!

Harmless bombs

The other kind of bomb we knew very well was the Jolly Bomb, freely available at Christmas time or at birthday parties. This was a kind of firework thingy, that would explode when lit up and scatter toys and knick-knacks all over the place for us to gather up. How eagerly we waited until it was blown up, wondering what trifle we would be rewarded with.

Then of course, my mum would regale us with her war stories, the favourite of which was how this fighter plane crashed into a field nearby their house. It was a British plane, so they were on "our" side ! Wide-eyed, we could question her whether they had come to bomb us, but she assured us they had engine trouble and they weren't the enemy. So basically, this was all we knew about bombs.

The other kind of bombs we heard of were what my mum referred to as "Bombshells." She never used the term 'Sex Bombs' since it just wasn't in her vocabulary. As a matter of fact, I don't think I ever heard her say the word sex at all ! Whenever she spoke of them she would raise her eyebrows and grimace. They were usually very curvy and attractive ladies. I suppose she meant their ability to be explosive and cause disruption ! "Loose women," she would say with a sniff.

My father moved in theatrical and musical circles at one time and so he came across plenty of these Bombshells. They had long red nails, very red lipstick, lots of wavy lustrous hair, tight fitting dresses, extremely high and thin stiletto heeled shoes and sometimes smoked cigarettes in long fancy holders, which we thought were the height of glamour and sophistication !  Apparently my very French name was chosen at the suggestion of a French Bombshell.

Different world

Think of the kids nowadays, they know about emergency drill during bomb attacks, they have seen the aftermath of explosions in actual life when they watch television. We had no television and even the movies we watched had to be okayed by my father. So we saw no blood and gore, maybe some cowboy and Red Indian movies if at all.

That wasn't all he forbade. Elvis movies were definitely on his "Don't let the kids watch" list. Nevertheless, we managed to sneak quite a few in, aided and abetted by our close friends. Of course we caught up when we were older and had perfected the art of arguing. My father would have shuddered to think of what we're letting our children watch now, Elvis movies are mere kid's play compared to what is available now, though I'm sure he would have enjoyed watching the modern Bombshells cavorting through these films!

- Honky Tonk Woman


Perth Diary

El Nino and La Nina  are playing havoc

What is it with the seasons? Come the transition period from one season to the next and everything dissolves into chaos. And after years of living with transitional periods in the weather, no one seems to have a clue as to how to deal with it either.

Right now, summer is turning into winter here in Australia - summer occurs in the December to February period because Australia is in the southern hemisphere for those who aren't up to scratch with their geographical knowledge. This year spring ended quite late and summer was a bit delayed but we got it in the end and it was hotter than it should have been. The general weather patterns of the continent are slowly changing. No one is entirely sure why.

Some say it's the greenhouse gas effect and global warming. Others think it's because the occurrence of El Nino and La Nina events are increasing - which is probably correct to an extent but why are they increasing?  There is no one consensus of theory as it is with any topic in science. But I think it's worth looking into. Even I spotted the phenomenon before I was told about it. I was researching rainfall statistics for an essay on the Western Australian state government's water strategies and I found a map on the government meteorology web site. The annual rainfall in Perth and the southwest region has been decreasing steadily since the 1970s and the temeprature has been increasing.

Alarming scarcity

It is alarming. In Sri Lanka, when there isn't enough rain, there are power cuts and water cuts. The problem is a bit bigger here because it only takes a slight drop in rainfall amount to cause chaos.  Seventy percent of the salinity problems in Australia occur in Western Australia - the land gets too salty to farm because of mismanagement and increasing temperature and the salt gets into the supplies of fresh drinking water. Increasing temperatures and less rainfall means that there is even less drinking water available.

They seem to drink a lot over here - 678 gigalitres of water a year for just Western Australia alone, 12,000 gigalitres for the entire country.

They do not know how to deal with it at all. They are rushing to build desalination plants and canals from the rainforested regions in the northern part of the state and perhaps they are panicking too much and thinking too little. It all seems to be nothing but a series of knee jerk responses, given a lot of other less expensive, more beneficial steps they could take.

How odd is it that it is knee jerk responses that end up being made, that end up influencing everything. The sooner you find a solution, any solution to the problem, the better, because then you can forget about it. It doesn't matter if the solution is the wrong one as long as it seems to solve the problem or at least solves it in the short term - we will not be here 50 years from now, who cares what happens to people living then because we used the wrong solution? 

We don't want to think about problems for too long - when we do, we feel helpless and insecure. We always want a temporary solution - the future is too far away to be concerned with at present. Later down the track we have a situation where we wonder why we didn't do anything in the past to prevent the new problems that occur or solve the old.

A confusing state

We do it to ourselves, we do it to others, we do it to our communities and countries and we don't stop. We don't seem to like logic very much even though we invented it - like the unwanted child we kick it out the door as soon as possible or we dress it up till it is no longer logic anymore. The weather and its effect on us isn't logical at all. Come transitional weather period - summer to winter, or winter to summer - a hot day is followed by a cold one and that is followed by a hot one till the weather makes up its mind.  My skin dries out till I am quite sure I look like a raisin, my tea turns cold right after I pour the hot water in and my plants do not  know whether to whimper 'I die!' or rejoice 'I live!' while I stand by and watch and say 'Do not  look at me - I don't know either!'

Nature is not  logical at all, but then again neither is our reaction to it. After all, there still isn't any interseasonal gear in the departmental stores - they all still seem to think that we want to perversely build snowmen in July while wrapped up in skiing gear in a city where the temperature never drops below zero degrees Celsius. Perhaps they have us confused with Melbourne? (giggle).

- Marisa Wikramanayake


You don't have to be ill to see the doctor

By Ranee Mohamed

"Women come to us when three months of their pregnancy has passed. By this time the embryogenesis (development of the embryo) is over. Birth defects occur during the seven to nine week period," pointed out Dr. Vandana Bansal, MBBS, MD, DGO, DNB, MNAMS (Obstetrics and Gynaecology).

A post-doctoral fellow of the National Board for High Risk Pregnancy and Perinatology and a Consultant in Fetomaternal Medicine, Dr. Bansal at the Apollo Hospital, Colombo pointed out that women in Sri Lanka ought to concentrate on eating more vegetables and drinking fresh milk.

Late visits

Consultant, Fetomaternal 
Medicine, Dr.Vandana Bansal

Besides the nutritional factor, Dr. Bansal expressed her disappointment about the fact that many women come to see the doctor when the embryo has been formed. "There are many factors to consider in a pregnancy - diabetes, X'rays and folic acid are a few of them," pointed out the doctor.

"A tablet of folic acid costs about Re.1, but deficiency of folic acid can cause irreversible birth defects in the unborn child. It is a very small tablet, but mothers who are at home waiting for the three months to pass may not know about it," she said. Dr. Bansal was referring to birth defects, especially spinal defects, in babies.

According to Dr. Vandana Bansal, the ideal situation for a woman is to see the doctor before she gets pregnant. "Her nutritional condition must be good, if she is obese then the diet ought to be modified accordingly, similarly if she is underweight she must be nourished. It is important that a woman is prepared in advance," pointed out the doctor and went on to say that she finds that many women are not prepared.

Speaking about the so called 'dieting' trend, Dr. Bansal stressed that dieting is not starving. "Nourishment is essential, if one does not eat then the skin would wrinkle and the body would not function well," she said.

Check ups

"All women ought to do check ups. They ought to visit the 'Well Woman' clinics," pointed out the doctor.

Advising teenagers, Dr. Bansal said that young girls ought to know about nutrition, about reproductive life and what sex is. "They ought to learn how to prevent infections and not get into trouble. They ought to know that their bodies need calcium," she said.

Advising women in the age group of 35 and over, Dr. Bansal pointed out that infertility is on the increase in Sri Lanka. "Late pregnancies could mean Down's Syndrome and congenital defects. It is not that a woman can not get pregnant when she is over 40 years old. But the older you get the greater the risk.  Also there is a chance that the older women's  babies are smaller," said Dr. Bansal. But the doctor went on to say that this does not mean that women who are over 40 years ought to be disheartened.

 "As long as one is menstruating, having a baby is possible, of course  such mothers ought to be closely monitored," pointed out the doctor. She spoke of the wonders of modern medicine and the availability of tests which are done in early pregnancy that determine whether the baby is  of good health or not.

First babies

Pointing out at pictures of 'first babies' in the arms of their 44 and 45-year old mothers, among the many 'thank you' cards that this doctor has received, Dr. Bansal said that motherhood and a healthy baby is possible as long as the doctor is consulted and one is prepared early.

A scan in the seventh week and the determination of the thickness of the baby's neck are some of the tests carried out here in Sri Lanka. "But there are invasive tests done in other parts of the world," said the doctor.

While advising on birth, and stressing that women in the 25-35 age group ought to have a health check done, Dr. Bansal was quick to point out that women over 40 years of age ought to undergo screening and tests.

"Women over 40 have to look for problems related to malignancies. Cancer could be detected early. Breast cancer, cervical cancer, uterine and ovarian cancer are some of the malignancies that affect women over 40.  A foul smelling, blood stained discharge in women and bleeding in menopausal women are conditions that need immediate attention," said the doctor.

Cancer of ovaries

Dr. Bansal pointed out however that cancer of the ovaries present no symptoms and could only be detected via screening.

"Women ought to self-examine their breasts after every period and look out for lumps. Though some lumps are benign it is important that women be assisted by a doctor in these instances," said Dr. Bansal. "It is very important that every woman over 40 years of age takes the mammogram test and a pap smear test, for these tests would detect cancers of the breast and cervix respectively," pointed out the doctor.

"Women who have not used their breasts for lactation, meaning women who have not breast fed and women who have not given birth, women who have given birth early, have had early sex, early marriages and multiple sexual partners, multiple births all fall into the category of the high-risk group," said the doctor.

"It is important that women especially in their pre-menopausal stage take in more calcium, eat less oil, lower their cholesterol and take regular exercise," advised the doctor.

"More fruits, green vegetables, curd, yoghurt and milk are essential. I have noted that many women take powdered milk and not fresh milk, few women eat enough vegetables, and some do not take yoghurt and curd frequently. This is very distressing," pointed out the doctor.

Speaking of HRT, Dr. Bansal said that there was some controversy that Hormone Replacement Therapy increased the risk of breast cancer. "But newer 'hormones,' which are not exactly hormones but of natural origin which mimic hormones have reduced the risk of cancer," said Dr. Bansal.

HRT gives back a woman her normal life and improves the quality of her life.  The doctor stressed that women ought to drink non fat or low fat milk, take a multivitamin, eat more fish, and drink fresh milk. "I have seen many cases of endometriosis. It is a painful condition which causes blood to collect in the stomach.

Infertility in women

"I have also noted that infertility is common here and also in Kerala in India, where the diet is similar. But it is of a lesser frequency in North India," said this fertility specialist.

Advising women to avoid smoking and cut alcohol, Dr. Vandana Bansal pointed out the realities of good health, and the realities of ill health which can be remedied only with early detection.


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