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Saturday, March 30, 2019

Srianee and Jayaratnam in Sri Lanka

Srianee (Bunter) and Jayaratnam are in Sri Lanka right now. 
They were at our Battaramulla home today for lunch with a few other friends.

Mangala, Hemantha, Pram, Jayaratnam

Senerat, Srianee, Mangala, Hemantha, Jayaratnam (back to camera)

Srianee (Bunter), Lucky, Jayaratnam, Pram 

Pram, Senerat, Hemantha 

Friday, March 22, 2019

Sri Lankan version of Bohemian Rhapsody

I received this from Speedy.

Bohemian Rhapsody

This song became topical recently after the release of the award winning film based on the life of Freddie Mecury, the star of Queen. Bohemian Rhapsody is a foot-stomping celebration of Queen, their music and their extraordinary lead singer Freddie Mercury. Freddie defied stereotypes and shattered convention to become one of the most beloved entertainers on the planet. I think this song is one which will retain its attraction forever. It is brilliant, innovative and a work of art.

Suri sent me this YouTube clip of the Sri Lankan version and her son Sean  had a big part in it. Suri says "The vocals (except the single female lines) are by my son Sean (who you have met) harmonising with his own voice. The lines " dosthara wanna be aney.... " is single by another chap, not Sean and also a few lines further on. But  the main Vocals and harmony  are all Sean's

I am sure our readers would love to view it and hats off the xx for his superb performance.

Tuesday, March 19, 2019

Speedy Dialogues: Episode 6 - Srianee Dias

Speedy Dialogues Series:
Episode 6. Srianee Dias

Making the Most of Your Retirement Years.
Speedy: Good morning Srianee. Here we are at last! I hope you are fully at ease and ready to talk about the subject we have agreed to discuss.

Srianee: Thanks for inviting me Speedy. I am not sure whether to call you Speedy or Mahen. You were always Speedy at Medical Faculty but lately I have addressed you as Mahen.  Mahen sounds more ‘grown up!’

Speedy: It really doesn’t matter Bunter! I know what you mean though. Let us begin.You do travel a lot dont you?
Srianee: Ha! Ha! Bunter indeed and I know some people still call me that, and there are some members of the younger generation who call me ‘Aunty Bunter!’  It is perfectly OK. About my travels, yes I do move around. As you know I am based in the US and have family in Germany and of course in Sri Lanka. This keeps me busy and actively engaged, which is a good thing, dont you agree?

Speedy: I entirely agree, from physical, emotional and psychological perspectives. I am sure we are going to touch on these aspects. Before we continue, can I offer you a glass of wine? I know you like a good wine Srianee. Red or white?

Srianee: This is unexpected! Yes, I would love a glass of red wine, Shiraz, if you have it.

Speedy: That is perfect. I have here a bottle of Brass Monkey Shiraz from Australia. It is quite fruity and has a lovely aroma. I do like Shiraz although I must admit that my favourite is Merlot. You are happy with Merlot did you say? No, no, I insist, let us have the Shiraz. Cheers!

Srianee: Cheers Mahen!I have to say that I do like Australian wine.

Speedy: The scene is set and off we go! Your thoughts on making the most of your retirement

Srianee:I do remember that you did a presentation on this topic at one of our reunions a few years ago, so I think well probably have a lot of suggestions for our friends, whether they follow them or not!

Speedy: This was at our 50th Anniversary meeting academic sessions in Hikkaduwa in 2012 when I did a talk called Challenges and Opportunities in an Ageing Society. During that talk, I spoke on health promotion measures to achieve healthy ageing and this is what I think you are referring to.

Srianee: Yes, that is the one. I thought a lot about this after you contacted me and the first observation I would like to make is that every stage of ones life requires adjustments - just like adjusting the thermostat when the seasons change.  Our working years were rather crazy, juggling the demands of work and family.  Keeping in touch with friends was also not so easy.  Life after retirement definitely requires some adjustments.  Now we have more time and it is important to use it in an enjoyable and fulfilling way.  Reconnecting with old friends may be a good way to start.

Speedy: Very true. I suppose this process of adjustment is life-long although the nature of the adjustments changes with time.

Srianee: Precisely. Some people are worried about retirement as they are not sure how to deal with the hiatus caused by stopping work. They continue working because they are concerned that all of a sudden they have all this time on their hands with nothing to do.  But people who have recently retired often tell me I am so busy now! 

Speedy: I have observed this too. This seems to be particularly the case with doctors of Asian origin, at least in the UK. For some, their whole life is centred on work and they just cannot handle the “loss”. I know doctors who keep doing short locums forever and in some cases, the spouses welcome it as otherwise they stay at home and mourn!

Srianee: Thats interesting. I dont know whether this is so in the USA.  Do you think this mourning is more prevalent among males? But as you know Speedy, this shouldn’t happen as retirement is something inevitable (unless you are unlucky not to survive to that age) and preparation is essential. You certainly have enough time to cultivate interests outside Medicine.

Speedy: I agree. I think you are probably right about it mourning being more prevalent among males, after all they are the weaker sex! I always encourage my friends who enter into discussions on retirement that they should have a wide portfolio of interests so that they can eagerly look forward to retirement when they have the time they always wanted for these. What about your own experience Srianee?

Srianee: In my own experience I was able to work part time with a few Pathology groups in Connecticut, after I retired, gradually cutting back as time went on.  This allowed me to become involved in other activities on my days off.  One day I realised that I could quit completely and not miss the work.  My family situation also influenced my decision.  My two daughters live faraway, and visiting them involve plane rides,and staying over for a few days or weeks.  I realised that I needed more time and flexibility to do that.

Speedy: That is another important lesson I suppose, which is to tail off your work rather than come to a sudden stop, but again, there will be individual variations; there is no prescription set in stone.

Srianee: Quite so. The adjustment is psychologically easier if full retirement occurs in stages.  The other milestone for me personally was downsizing my home and simplifying my life. This was also a major step to making my full retirement a reality.  I know that this is a difficult decision for many people, and believe me; I let the idea percolate in my brain for a really long time.  But, as we grow older we need to think about this adjustmentseriously.  Once I completed the move, I felt so free!  In Connecticut, my present home consists of a rented cottagein a complex of 14 cottages.  Our landlord is a Church and they take care of the landscaping in the summer and the snow removal in the winter.  When I owned my home I would try to relax in my backyard, but felt guilty whenever I saw a clump of weeds in the flower beds.  Now, I am free to leave for long periods of time, because my friends and neighbours watch the place.

Speedy: Moving housecould be a tricky one, and again, circumstances differ. Some still have a close extended family and like to frequently fill their house with all the sons and daughters and their spouses and still want to maintain a large family home, but increasingly, families are scattered and this is not possible and downsizing to a smaller more manageable one is sensible. But I do warn people against moving to a smaller house ina totally unfamiliar area. Your friends, neighbours, the local shops and amenities matter a lot more as you get older and less mobile and less flexible, both physically and mentally.

Srianee: I can see your point. Maintaining a large house for family gatherings depends on how often everyone is able to gather under one roof.  Some retirees decide to move to different locations (a new state or even a new country) after they retire for a multitude of reasons, such as better weather, lower cost of living,  low or zerostate income tax etc.  Like you, I have my reservations about doing something like that, but this is a very personal decision. It is important to have a clear idea of what you expect to achieve when you downsize and weigh the advantagesagainst the disadvantages.

Speedy:Spot on! OK, moving on, once the decision to retire has been made, what next?

Srianee: Once we make the decision, how should we spend the time? I find that it helps to have a rough framework for the week (a rough plan).  An exercise routine is a must.  Sitting in front of the TV for long periods is not recommended!  I try to incorporate some form of exercise into my weekly routine.  Often it is yoga classes twice per week, walks in the park nearby when the weather is inviting, or even practicing tennis strokes against a backboard now and then.  Sometimes it is a struggle to get out of bed to do this, but I know it is good for me, so I do it!  It helps to have a friend or spouse who will motivate you, but even if you dont, you have to do it for yourself.

Speedy: I dont think that there is any doubt that regular short bursts of moderate physical activity, something like 30-45 mins at least on 5 days a week promotes not just physical health but also mental health. The activity must be sufficient to notice an increase in heart rate and some sweating.

Srianee: Yes, I recall you mentioning that in your lecture at Hikkaduwa.The sweating part is easy in Colombo! I use a small gym on the rooftop of our building in Colombo. Taking care of ones health is very important, but I try not to overdo the visits to the doctors office.  I decline any tests, procedures or medication that I deem unnecessary, and consider myself very lucky that my health is holding up so far.  I am diligent, however, about my visits to the dentist and optometrist.
Speedy: I am glad you mention the dentist and optometrist (or optician in UK) as I find that a lot of Sri Lankans in the UK at least, are a bit lax about it.

Srianee:Actually there is a difference between an optometrist and optician, and it is not just the terminology.  I should know, because my father was the first British qualified Sri Lankan (Ceylonese, at the time) Optometrist.  An Optometrist is a health care professional who performs complete examinations of the eyes, for refractive errors as well as examining the retina for evidence of systemic diseases.  An optician is a person who fills out the prescriptions for the lenses as prescribed by the optometrist or ophthalmologist (who is a physician/surgeon).  I think it is very important to get the intra-ocular pressure checked at least annually.  I find that the optometrists do a very thorough eye examination and do not feel the need to visit an eye surgeon, just yet.

I think keeping your teeth and gums healthy are also really important, because it keeps the inflammation in your system under control.

Speedy: Thank you for expanding on that and the distinction is exactly the same here but it is a matter of usage. The term optometrist is rarely used by lay people and when they go to the "optician" for an "eye check", they actually see the Optometrist. As a Pensioner, I incur no charge and I visit every 2 years. I am glad you mentioned teeth and gums as I find that Sri Lankans here are a bit lax about it and visit the dentist only when they arein trouble.

What about social interaction Srianee?

Srianee: Keeping in touch with family and friends is really important, because it has been shownthat older people who become isolated decline faster.  I feel blessed to have good friends in Sri Lanka and in the US.  In addition, I catch up with my family on my frequent visits to Colombo.  Sometimes it takes extra effort.  As Pram said in her Dialogueit is important to have friends of all ages.  My older daughters neighbours are mostly retired couples.  The guys have established a tradition of going out to breakfast every Wednesday.  They call themselves ROMEOs (Retired Old Men Eating Out!) My forty-something son-in-law is an honorary member of the group.  I make an effort to keep in touch with younger, former colleagues, who are now my friends.  We meet occasionally for lunch or dinner as time permits.  They cannot wait to retire!

Speedy: Fascinating! This is a totally new variety of Romeos! Any other ways by which you do not merely occupy time, but also keep healthy?

Srianee: I think Book Groups are also a good way to hang out with likeminded people.  My group is rather flexible and laid back (no rigid rules there!).  Sometimes members show up without reading the assigned book, and nobody minds.  Libraries are great places to make new connections with kindred spirits.  My local library in West Hartford, Connecticut has great discussion groups about many topics, although I have not taken advantage of them yet.

Speedy: I am a firm believer of the value of reading books to keep an active mind and I agree that book clubs are a great way of combining social interaction with mental stimulation. We are fortunate in the UK because we have an excellent network of Public Libraries. One of my favourite ways of acquiring books is by visiting charity shops! You can also download a lot of free books in pdf form and read them at leisure in your i-pad or tablet. More tips?

Srianee: Having a hobby, or starting a new one, can play a major role in making ones retirement an enjoyable one.  I know that music plays an important role in your life now.  Im sure you didn’t have much time to devote to music when you were practicing medicine full time.  I am so happy that I have more time for painting now.  Ive even found time to paint during this visit, while hanging out in Colombo. 

Speedy: You certainly are a talented artist Srianee. May I remind readers that Srianee has posted some of her paintings on this blog? (Just type Srianee on the search bar at the top of the Blog and you will be directed). Other skills worth considering are photography, painting, computer work, there are so many open to you these days.

Srianee: Absolutely true. By the way, thanks for the compliment about my paintings.  I just enjoy doing them.  It is almost like a form of meditation.  Learning something new, or picking up something (such as a musical instrument) that you had dropped because you were too busy, would be very fulfilling at this stage of our lives.  The universities in my state of Connecticut allow people over 62 to enroll in classes for a nominal fee.  One can learn anything, from history to physics, once the professor gives permission. I took advantage of this last fall and enrolled in an upper level German class at Trinity College, Hartford.  It nearly killed me, but found it very rewarding.  Im also a fairly frequent attendee at the classes given at the Apple Computer store nearby.  I learn some new skills every time I go there.

Speedy: This certainly applied to me and you are right, I found it difficult to devote more time while I was working. I dont have a single dull moment now as I enjoy playing my Yamaha Keyboard, reading, listening to YouTube and TED broadcasts and learning new computer skills among other things.

Srianee: Another worthwhile and rewarding activity to consider is volunteering somewhere and assisting an organisation that can benefit from our expertise and knowledge.  It is sometimes difficult to find the correct fit.  Because it can often lead to a long term commitment, such opportunities should be evaluated very carefully.

Speedy: Again it is a matter of individual preference but to use one’s valuable experience and help others is so rewarding and fulfilling.

We referred to your travels at the beginning. Do you want to say more about it?

Srianee: My travels are mainly centered around visits to family and friends. Some people enjoy traveling extensively and have a bucket listof places to visit but I dont. If an opportunity arises to visit an interesting place, I take the chance.  I think I like visiting historic cities, absorbing the culture and visiting museums etc.  Im not too enamored with cruises (especially those huge floating cities.)

Speedy: A very common thing many of my married friends refer to is the satisfaction and happiness they get through their grandchildren. I know you are in that category Srianee, your thoughts?

Srianee: Yes Speedy, I have been fortunate enough to have grandchildren. I agree that we must spend quality time with them as often as possible.  (It is perfectly OK to spoil them a bit, I think!)  Mine are 17 and 15 already, and are avid travelers,and great travel companions.  We are looking forward to a trip to Sri Lanka in July 2019, just the three of us!  This would be their third visit, and they really love coming to Sri Lanka.  Pretty soon they will be striking out on their own, as we did so long ago.

Speedy:I hope you have a wonderful trip. I can well imagine how much your grandchildren love you but I just cannot get my head round to thinking of you as a grandmother! How time passes!
Let us finish with a few quotes, one I chose and one from you. Here is mine:-

"On the positive side, retirement can be an opportunity to enjoy life in a new way, the right to stop work and do the 1,001 things you've always wanted to do but never had time for, and a chance to give yourself over to new challenges and adventures." Sara Yogev.

And yours Srianee?

Srianee: I found a quote which kind of reflects my philosophy: “There is a fountain of youth: it is your mind, your talents, the creativity you bring to your life and the lives of the people you love.  When you tap this source you will truly have defeated age.”  Sophia Loren.

Speedy: Splendid! Can I conclude by saying how much I enjoyed talking to you and thanks again for being the 6th subject of my Speedy Dialogue series. Hope the wine was good!

Ladies and Gentlemen, I give you Srianee Dias MD, FCAP, Retired Pathologist and much loved and respected 1962 Colombo Medical Graduate.

Srianee: Thanks Speedy. Keep this going. It has been fun chatting with you and sharing a bottle of wine. The Australian Shiraz was good! Did we finish the whole thing?!I hope more colleagues volunteer to do this, because we can share so many ideas across time zones and oceans.

Speedy: We have gone through half a bottle which is quite acceptable, don’t you think! Thanks again.

Saturday, March 16, 2019

How I Survived a Plane Crash

Close upon GAF's article and Prof. Lama's comment underneath, here is what I wrote about the plane crash that I was involved in.

How I Survived a Plane Crash

By Lakshman Abeyagunawardene

December 17th (2008) marked the 30th anniversary of the day I had a brush with death being involved in a plane crash in which the Boeing B-737 was reduced to ashes, but where the majority of passengers miraculously survived. Needless to say, I too lived to tell the tale! A strange coincidence it may be, but it was exactly 75 years before on that very same date that Orville Wright (of Wright brothers’ fame) made his first flight in a powered airplane 20 feet above ground in North Carolina on December 17th, 1903. The flight lasted 12 seconds and covered 120 feet. The flight that I am about to describe attained a higher altitude, covered a longer distance and lasted much longer!  

New Delhi Bound
There were no direct flights to New Delhi from Colombo in the seventies. Passengers from Colombo had to take a flight to Madras (Chennai) and then proceed to New Delhi often via another major Indian city such as Hyderabad. I was one of many Sri Lankans who boarded a plane at Katunayake that left for Madras on December 16th, 1978. Four of them including myself were Health Ministry officials who were on their way to New Delhi to attend meetings at the South East Asia Regional Office (SEARO) of the World Health Organization (WHO). Ministry Secretary B.C. Perera, Medical Statistician Srini Samaranayake, and Principal of the Anuradhapura Nurses' Training School Padma Siriwardene were my Health Ministry colleagues who were also my fellow passengers on that flight. 

It was a pleasant flight that took us to Madras where we stayed overnight to take another connecting flight to Hyderabad early morning the following day en route to New Delhi.

The flight from Madras in the Indian Airlines plane left the airport and headed for Hyderabad. Although we knew that the plane had reached Hyderabad after the usual hour long flight, it never landed there. After circling over the airport for some time, the pilot had decided to go back to Madras, as visibility around the Begumpet airport in Hyderabad that misty morning had been so poor that it was impossible to make a safe landing. We were disappointed, but not unduly concerned. In hindsight, it was a bad omen if one is prone to be superstitious. Whether the pilot was being overly careful and not taking undue risks had anything to do with the precious cargo he was carrying, we will never know. On board that flight was the South Indian film idol M.G. Ramachandran who by that time was a leading political figure in Tamil Nadu. Apparently, he too was heading for New Delhi to attend an important meeting. 
Having gone back to Chidamparam airport in Madras, we patiently waited until it was time to restart the journey. It was about two hours later that we were airborne again and on the way to Hyderabad. The skies had cleared considerably by that time, and the plane landed safely on the runway at Begumpet airport in Hyderabad. We were scheduled to leave again from there after a stopover of forty minutes. However, VIP M.G. Ramachandran (MGR) was not on the plane that took off from Madras a second time. He had probably changed his mind and cancelled the trip to New Delhi due to the delay. Going by the events that unfolded in Hyderabad that fateful day, MGR had taken one of the wisest decisions in his life. 

High Company
On the second leg of our journey to New Delhi too, we were in high company. Another prominent Indian politician of that era Dr. M. Channa Reddy who was Chief Minister of Andhra Pradesh, then Chief Secretary I.J. Naidu, and the Inspector General of Police of the state M.V. Narayana Rao were among the 126 passengers on board. Dr. Reddy had also served as a State Minister, a Union Cabinet Minister, and Governor in the states of Uttar Pradesh and Tamil Nadu.  

Everything looked fine as the plane started along the runway for take off. But as it gathered speed and momentum, the whole plane started shuddering and rattling. By then, it was probably too late for the pilot to abort the flight and bring the plane to a halt on the runway itself. The plane did take off but only succeeded in gaining some altitude before coming down in a rapid descent. As the plane lost altitude, we clung on to our seats not knowing what the next moment would bring. There was a loud impact that shook the plane as it touched terra firma again after the shortest flight that I had ever taken! If the passengers were not thrown around, it was only because they were wearing their seat belts.

Not stopping immediately, the plane careered along tilting from side to side until it was brought to a halt. The cabin lights went off and passengers noticed that one engine was on fire. Thick black smoke filled the cabin and passengers were feeling terribly uncomfortable. We had seen the usual routine of a flight stewardess going through the motions in demonstrating the use of oxygen masks just a few minutes before during preparations for take off. But ironically, they never dropped down, as one would have expected when smoke started filling the cabin. By now all passengers knew that the fire was raging – an inferno in which we were trapped. Some people were screaming, but there was no pandemonium as such. A few sensible quick-thinking passengers climbed on to the seats to try and calm down others who seemed to be in a more agitated state. In the meantime, the cabin crew tried to open the exit doors. They had trouble initially, but after a few agonising moments, they finally managed to get one opened somewhere in the centre of the fuselage. The exit door at the rear too was opened a few minutes later. Passengers started moving towards them in some order. Instead of stampeding wildly in all directions, the relatively disciplined manner in which the passengers acted would certainly have prevented more deaths in this disaster.

(Websites that cover air disasters provide more technical descriptions of the accident in narrative form together with pictures of the destroyed plane. Websites of interest to readers include:

 Survival of the Fittest
I unbuckled my seat belt and took my turn in a line that formed spontaneously in the central aisle. I did not even try to pick up my brief case that was lying underneath the front seat because every second mattered. By that time, the entire plane was on fire and I could even feel the heat through the floorboards and soles of my shoes. I was one of the first to reach the exit. But to my dismay, I soon discovered that there was no chute for anyone to slide down. I jumped out without any hesitation, but just like the way the plane came down, mine too was not a smooth landing! I went sprawling on the ground the same way a few other passengers did. Fortunately, the height from which we had to jump was not much. The landing gear (according to later reports) had been retracted for a belly-landing. I did not realise it at that time, but I had badly twisted my ankle in jumping out of the plane even from that height. I remember creeping through a partly damaged barbed wire fence and running for dear life. But as I ran, I was tempted to look back. The entire plane was engulfed in flames. It was only then that I had time to think of my fellow Sri Lankan passengers. I feared the worst - that all of them would have got trapped inside and perished. It was a case of “survival of the fittest”. If there were any sick passengers, invalids or anyone who was old and feeble, they simply would not have had a chance. It was later reported that the only passenger who died had two little children with him. He had to virtually throw them out before jumping through the flames himself. He had died in hospital having suffered severe burns.

Lost in the Crowd
Soon after I “evacuated” the plane, what I saw on the ground was equally horrible. I first saw a stewardess rolling on the ground trying to douse the flames on her Indian silk sari that had caught fire. Just beyond the barbed wire fence were two dead bodies that would have been of the poor grass cutters who had been crushed by the plane. A swarm of people from the village appeared from nowhere. No one offered help but simply gaped at me. Just as I got lost in the crowd, I heard the wailing sirens of ambulances and fire engines. But they were not heading in my direction. I did what I thought was the only sensible thing to do. I got into a trishaw (three-wheeler) and used sign language to get the driver to take me to the passenger terminal. It is interesting to recall that soon after boarding the aircraft, I had settled down in my aisle seat without removing the dark blue blazer that I was wearing that day. In my coat pocket were the air ticket, international health card, passport, travelers’cheques and some cash in Indian currency. This action of mine saved me a lot of trouble that I would otherwise have been faced with during the rest of the journey had I lost those precious items. I was thus able to reach for my wallet confidently and pay the trishaw driver his fare. At a time when getting international telephone calls from a place like Hyderabad was almost impossible, I rushed to the Post Office in the passenger terminal and dispatched a telegram to my wife. It carried a brief message – “Plane crash landed. Escaped unhurt”. If she heard the news on the radio, it would have caused her more anxiety.
It was in the terminal building that I was relieved to be reunited with my fellow Sri Lankan passengers who too had obviously made the miraculous escape. It was only then that I fully realized the plight I was in – stranded in the airport terminal in a strange land with only the clothes that I was wearing.

Flight to New Delhi
The Indian Airlines authorities had hurriedly arranged a special flight for us to be taken to New Delhi from Hyderabad. It was with much trepidation that I boarded yet another Indian Airlines plane! But we were anxious to get to our next destination as soon as possible. As the plane accelerated along the runway, we kept our fingers crossed. But as it settled down after that initial steep climb, the passengers broke into spontaneous applause! After a safe landing in New Delhi on that cold December night, it was close to midnight when we entered the lobby in Lodhi Hotel (where we had prior reservations). I had neither a toothbrush nor a comfortable sarong to get into before going to bed at the end of a hectic day. I wrapped a bath towel around my waist and crept under the blankets almost in a daze. It was only then that I became conscious of the throbbing pain in my badly swollen right ankle. However, we all went to the WHO Regional Office the next morning. Most of us even managed to go through the weeklong meeting, but not before going shopping for new clothes at Connaught Place with the cash advance we were provided. But Mr. B.C. Perera who had suffered minor burns on his face decided to return home immediately.

My Only Memento
I have lost count of the number of flights that I have taken in my lifetime. I have not bothered to collect scraps of paper in the form of boarding passes from all those flights that I would have taken both before and after the disaster. But I do have with me the boarding pass issued to me at the check-in counter of Indian Airlines at the Begumpet Airport in Hyderabad on December 17th, 1978. The boarding pass that I have preserved to this day remains the only memento from that unforgettable flight.