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Sunday, 1 June 2003  
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Stay Sri Lankan

Two weeks ago, a letter in the Sunday Observer titled "Vanishing Traditions" caught my eye, and my heart especially. As a 23-year-old Sri Lankan woman, born and raised in the U.S. but brought up in the Sri Lankan tradition with Sri Lankan values and cultural heritage, I completely agreed with Manil Gunawardene concerning the future of Sri Lanka.

It is, indeed, incredibly sad to realize that the entire world is slowly, but surely, becoming more westernized. However, my parents have taught me the beauty of my heritage as a Sri Lankan, and I have always felt proud to share my heritage and culture with my friends and acquaintances here in the U.S.

Our culture is so very rich in scope, for we hail from kings and queens, of ancient people who had the incredible intellect to imagine and invent irrigation canals and a whole host of other impressive inventions that we largely take for granted today.

We may have lost our heritage when the British took over, but that too is part of our rich history as a nation. Our culture is a vibrant one, filled with stories of ancient lore from Sinhalese, Tamil and Muslim, which include ancient relics that foreigners travel far and wide to see. Our country is special because of the marvellous diversity of our flora and fauna, but also in our human communities. It will become even more special once our human communities coexist in harmony, sharing our beautiful island home together.

Our heritage is grand because of its wondrous festivities that stretch across the entire island, from Katagarama with its Hindu festivals and sacred rituals, to the highly venerated Sri Maha Bodhi Tree, to the beautiful mosques and shrines of our Muslim brothers and sisters. Our culture continually reminds us of the special lessons of life, to love and respect our parents and our elders, to have compassion for animals and for our fellow human beings in this world, and to be thankful for all that we have.

I just wanted to let people know that Western society may have solved some problems, but there are lots of other problems I hope Sri Lanka never has to face. I hope that Sri Lankans, as a whole, uphold our culture, just as I have been taught to do by my parents. My mother has always told me that there are both good and bad things in any culture, and as this modernization process takes place, I hope that all the bad things that "American" culture brings are weeded out by Sri Lankans.

I hope that people do not forget the important things in life, that I believe most Americans have forgotten and are trying to get back. It is important to become educated, but not lose your humility, not watch too much television (unless it's the news or the Discovery channel) and to read more and to spend more time with your family. It is important to realize what is important in life.

I also fervently hope that people will not lose their sense of morality, especially us, girls. When I visited Sri Lanka, I saw a version of MTV on the television and I was amazed by how the female hostesses acted because, truly, they were more wild and nude than those on American MTV. I hope that in the process of becoming more westernized, we Sri Lankans won't go overboard in an effort to fit in. Really there isn't anything to fit into. Be proud of our heritage because in truth, Americans look up to our culture. I know many Americans who love sharing our culture with us because they actually feel that they lack culture.

In other words, don't become another one of "them". Keep our identity strong during these changing times, for change always happens, but it is up to us to ride the waves of change and stay straight in our course, with compassion, with humility, and with wisdom, towards our goals in life.

V. Dissanayake, U.S.A.

Spare a thought for Dalai Lama

There is a lot of talk these days about the Dalai Lama being prevented from coming to Sri Lanka. It is time that our "leaders", from top to bottom, were asked to acquire a bit of self-respect and dignity, the hall-mark of a Buddhist, which is what they call themselves.

When Tibet was ransacked and destroyed, it was not only the mighty United Nations, paid and upheld by its member states, to prevent just such calamities, that turned away from Tibetan appeals for help, but also "Buddhist" Sri Lanka, whose leaders and majority citizens boast of embracing the Buddha's way of righteous fearlessness that can brook no offensive against those defenceless.

True, China has been our friend and we are grateful.

But our own self-respect and the teaching we follow that prohibits enslavement and grovelling for whatever reason, should tell us where to draw the line before servility. This will startle our "leaders" who all seem to have a penchant for weakness coupled with an ingrained inability to stand straight, as the on-going astonishing events reveal.

Is it not possible that the Chinese themselves would rather keep in touch with a nation of honest, straightforward comrades, than one crammed with nitwits? Moreover, if they were able to swallow with a straight face the recent saga of their sunken trawler with bodies aboard, will they be too critical of invitees to our supposedly sovereign state - which is not their business, anyway?

It goes against the grain of Buddhism that our authorities are refusing a visa to Dalai Lama, presently the most revered Buddhist worldwide. We have been hearing for a long time that he is simply dying to come. How dare we, the custodians of his Master's relic, deny him the right to worship it? It was truly meant to be worshipped by such as he.

Dare we hope that our ministries, societies, groups, etc. that have affixed the word "Buddhist" before their name, will unite to make it possible for Dalai Lama to visit Sri Lanka - this coming Poson? What a tribute that would be to the Arahat Prince who, in compassion, brought us the Buddha's message, so many Poson moons ago!

Prema Ranawaka-Das, Moratuwa.

Anomalies in old pensions

I wish to ask the so-called intellectuals and human rights activists whether the governments past and present are following the correct policy in depriving the old public servants (who retired before 1988), their pension.

These pensioners have sacrificed their energy through service for the advancement of the country and for the well-being of the Governments. The elderly therefore have a right to live in a contented and peaceful life and take leave of their life adding their last breath freely to the sweet winds that blows across the country created by themselves. They should not be allowed to die repenting, begging and weeping in sorrow.

It is very regrettable to note that the ruling authorities are deaf to it, why ? Most of them are compelled to spend their remaining short lifespan as a dejected section of the society, depressed, dissatisfied and deprived and cut under their feet in relegating them to an insignificant position among the population.

This is a very bad state of affairs. Had the government's past and present done its duty ? This problem of pension anomaly would not have arisen if the authorities took timely action when this problem was brought to light.

Saying goes "Better late than never". Hence over to you Prime Minister.

C.B.H. Dunuwille, Anuradhapura

Colombo tramways

For sometime past, I have been attempting to gather together photos, postcards, maps, drawings and reminiscences about the former British financed 3' 6" gauge Colombo Electric Tramways & Light Company's tramcars that from 1898 upto circa 1960 offered a useful means of transport between the Fort/Jetty area and both Grandpass and Borella respectively.

A later third line between Armour St. and Maranda linked the midpoints of the first two lines.

My hopeful objective is to be able to publish, as a co-operative authorship venture, a book or booklet about the tramway's history, for I am unaware that any such publication already exists. Todate I have found a certain amount of information and quite a few postcard photos in Britain, France, the United States and Canada.

However, living in Canada, I have been unable to access any appropriate older Sri Lankan newspaper or magazine files or other such sources. Any information your readers might care to share or help with would be very much appreciated.

My late maternal grandfather was a British Colonial Police Sergeant reluctantly caught up in the infamous 1929 Tramcar Strike.

He was left to calm down rioters, whilst the Governor together with the area's military commander cowered in the basement of the official mansion.

As his 'reward' for stepping in where cowardly superiors feared to go and thereby preventing further bloodshed, my grandfather was next sent on a 'punishment' posting to northern Nigeria. The Governor - who of course wrote the official account of the events for London's consumption - naturally ensured that he emerged as the 'hero'!

Michael South, Canada.

Top intellects oppose death penalty

I refer to a news item appearing on the front page of the Sunday Observer March 16, 2003 on the above subject.

The intellects, more than 50 in number, are strongly opposing the re-introduction of the death penalty. I believe, there may be many more of them in our country whose response to this matter is not yet known and they are not signatories to the above group.

Therefore, the said intellects' opinion alone cannot form a general consensus to enable the government to decide changes in the imposition of the death penalty. Also, we must not forget the general public who bear the brunt of brutal crimes in every parts of this country.

The news of recent murders to the extent of annihilation of a family is still echoing . Therefore, it is considered necessary and important to obtain the opinion of the general public before any decision is taken in this regard.

M. R. A. L. Gunasinghe, Veyangoda.

Use of the highway - a response

I read with considerable interest the article written by Anton Nonis in the Sunday Observer of the April 27 instant on the topic of drivers and the road users in general and the havoc caused on the high ways. Mr. Nonis rightly points out that drivers do not obey road rules and do not adhere to speed limits prescribed.

I agree with what Mr. Nonis had stated. As a matter of fact, there have been several articles in the past both by road users, the public and the Police on the subject of the use of the highway in Sri Lanka - and particularly on the Colombo roads which are always congested. For this malady, we have no one else to blame but the road engineers and the powers that be for their "intelligent" reduction of the space on our already limited roadways by the introduction of separation on the middle of the road which are at times as wide as the road itself.

The next culprits are the roundabouts in the city. It may be true that these adorn the city as can be seen in the city of Singapore. There, however, the roads are more than twice the size one way, and they can afford to adorn the roads with roundabouts and separations. But take the case of some of the cities in Australia like Melbourne where the road is separated by a pavement of about one to two feet and on that is erected a fence of nearly ten feet.

This has been done to prevent the pedestrians from crossing the road, for which there are crossings provided. I wonder how many of your readers have seen the pedestrian cross the road on the crossings provided for that purpose ? I have seen pedestrians squeezing themselves through the short and separated fences erected at Galle road and Borella junction to cross the road without going the whole hog to come to a crossing - or for that matter, how many use the underground crossing at Borella ?

We can of course blame the motorist for a whole host of offences. It is true that drivers of motor vehicles have scant regard for road rules and speed limits. I have seen several cars and buses speed past pedestrian crossing even when some vehicles have stopped to permit the pedestrian to cross. The worst offenders in this regard are the three wheelers. I often laugh at the TV advertisement sponsored by a big time seller of three wheelers when the advertisement shows how well mannered these three wheelers are on the road.

It is my view that the Police must take the initiative in the education of the motoring public and pedestrians. It is acknowledged that at present the Police Force is hardly sufficient to do these duties. Yet the responsibility rests squarely on their shoulders. What can they do in this regard ?

First, the Police must take the initiative to educate the public by using Rupavahini and TNL time and to show films on the "dos" and the "donts" in road usage.

Also, the Police must monitor the road use and direct road users on the correct usage by using public address systems at convenient junctions and places where the traffic accumulates. This system would be ideal to educate the road user on the traffic rules and also give them an inkling of the attendant legal consequences of breaking traffic rules.

The next thing is either the reduction in the size of our city roundabouts and the introduction of colour light systems as has been done in the Eye Hospital junction and at the Alexandra Place roundabout. Why don't the concerned authorities look at this aspect more seriously ?

The Police must also find an effective means of checking the speeding motorist. But I must say, that in this context the passing motorist gives the signal with his headlamps to the on coming motorist warning him of the speed checking policemen on duty.

The Police must devise some means of stopping this practice at least by stopping the motorist at the next junction by the use of their walkie talkies and warning him that what he is doing is an offence for which he can be prosecuted. This, readers will note happens frequently on the outstation high ways. The next problem is that of drunken driving.

The present methods are inadequate and the Motor Traffic Act must be amended to include the spot cancellation of driving licences when a motorist is detected driving under the influence of liquor. The Act must be amended in such a way that when a motorist is smelling of liquor when stopped by the Police, the power must be given to the Police to take the offender to the Police Station and have him examined by the D.M.O. or any judicial Medical Officer with authority to do so. If the examination is positive, the offender must be kept in Police custody and produced before a Police Officer not below the rank of Superintendent of Police and the latter must be given the authority by Act to cancel the licence forthwith.

Irwin Jayasuriya

Ruses adopted by local authorities for bribery

Today one of the most difficult tasks is to have a new owner's name and address entered in the Assessment Registers of a Local Authority. The Assessment Register is a Public Document and it should be available to any member of the public for inspection.

However, if one applies for a Certified Extract of the Assessment Register, any Local Authority requires a letter from a lawyer and the Maharagama Town Council does not accept a letter from lawyer even with his note-head unless the lawyer has affixed his seal of office under his signature.

The application form to have the names of the new owner registered in the Local Authority is called The Abstract of Title Deed form to enter the names of the new owner in the Assessment Register popularly known as the "A.T. Form."

An owner of premises finds it more cumbersome to enter his name in the Assessment Register than to register his Deed of Ownership with the Land Registry.

Derek J. P. Fernando, Colombo 12.

Holy Quran - a unique creation - a response

Mr. Ismaeel Marikar who calls himself the President of Al-Hidaaya Foundation, in his response to the Sunday Observer of May 4 has made references to my poem entitled 'The Holy Quran - A Unique Creation' which appeared in the Sunday Observer Magazine of December 1, 2002.

Let me at the outset draw his attention to the fact that it is a matter for regret he, as a fellow-muslim and as a person holding the responsible position of the president of Al-Hidaaya Foundation, has resorted to an unislamic and ungentlemanly manner of ridiculing me in the eyes of the reading public without giving a second thought to what he has expressed.

His failure to read between the lines and get at what the whole poem conveyed is his own fault. Let me make it clear that his interpretation of 'Creation' is not what I had in mind when I created the poem. It has become increasingly clear that 'Creation' has not been viewed in its true perspective. I accept the fact the word 'Creation' has been given pride of place in my own creative work. The Foundation President has picked out this word and has dealt with it at length quoting references from religious scholars. But he has failed to do justice to the rest of the poem wherein I have mentioned:

'Not a word was altered in the Quran,

Not a word was removed from the Quran,

It remained and continues to remain sacred,

Although its critics look at it with hatred.

The fact is the Quran cannot be refuted,

The truth is the Quran cannot be disputed.'

The above creative thoughts are some good aspects of the poem.

The Quran's critics are its disbelievers. If, in the opinion of the FP, I am a disbeliever, I ask the simple question whether such creative thoughts praising The Holy Quran could originate from a disbeliever? Mr FP, don't you for a moment think that the above mentioned lines contradict your own views on disbelief? What I meant by the word 'Creation' is origination. In other words, Almighty Allah has brought The Holy Quran into existence through his speech or revelation.

The word 'Creation' in my own sense is my own creation and the same word in the FP's sense is his own creation. The two of us in our own ways have been creative in our own imaginations.

Al-Haj M. I. Mohamed Ansar, Colombo - 3

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