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It was when my working life seemed to be virtually over that I finally came to terms with my own body. I had been diffident about it from my young days, seeing myself as ungainly, but convincing myself that that was of no account since it was primarily intellect that counted, and that I felt I had in abundance. At Oxford indeed one made a fetish of such matters, affecting to look down on the hearties, the footballers and rowers and rugby players.
In fact I was rather fond of them, the captain of rowing who would spend ages in my room worrying about the fact that we were not going to do well on the river that year, the football hero who was candidate for Treasurer on my ticket when I ran for President of the Junior Common Room. It was largely because of him I think that I won with a thumping majority, against the captain of rugby who had been the favoured candidate. And I remember being impressed at how elegant even rugby could be when well played, when the Senior Tutor took me to Twickenham for the Varsity Match. He ensured beforehand that I got myself a heavy coat at the Army Surplus Shop, since the light jacket that I had made do with in my first year was clearly insufficient for two hours in the stands as the game swept from side to side.
But none of this persuaded me to take up any sport, except for a brief stab at fives when I failed completely to hit the ball except I think just once. I did enjoy the joke matches where I led a JCR team, against the Dean’s team at football and the Senior Tutor’s at cricket, but it was only at bridge that I represented the College (playing with the Dean, so we had to ensure that we were knocked out before things became serious and it was discovered that he was in fact a don). But it never occurred to me that exercise was something either desirable or necessary.
All that changed in 2013 when, at the annual check up I engaged in, ever since sugar and cholesterol and pressure went up, the stress ECG was stopped early, and I was told that my heart was not quite what it had been the previous year. The doctors who comment on the tests at Sri Jayewardenepura have all been marvellous, sympathetic but firm. This time I was told that, while the decision was mine, it would be sensible to start taking exercise regularly, since otherwise I would find my heart not coping very well when under any strain. Read the rest of this entry »
In the last few weeks I have looked at the way in which several of the pledges regarding reforms in the President’s manifesto were forgotten or subverted by those to whom he entrusted the Reform process. In addition there are some fields in which reforms have been carried through, but in such a hamfisted fashion that the previous situation seems to shine by comparison.
One area in which this has happened is that of Foreign Relations. The shorter manifesto declared that ‘A respected Foreign Service free of political interference will be re-established’. This was fleshed out in the longer version, with the following being the first four Action Points –
- The country’s foreign policy will be formulated to reflect the government’s national perspectives.
- Within hundred days all political appointments and appointment of relatives attached to the Foreign Service will be annulled and the entire Foreign Service will be reorganised using professional officials and personnel who have obtained professional qualifications. Our foreign service will be transformed into one with the best learned, erudite, efficient personnel who are committed to the country and who hold patriotic views.
- Cordial relations will be strengthened with India, China, Pakistan and Japan, the principal countries of Asia, while improving friendly relations with emerging Asian nations such as Thailand, Indonesia, and Korea without differences.
- Our Indian policy will take into due consideration the diversity of India.
A couple of years back one of the more thoughtful of our career Foreign Ministry officials tried to put together a book on Sri Lanka’s international relations. This was an excellent idea in a context in which we do not reflect or conceptualize when dealing with other countries.
However it turned out that hardly any Foreign Ministry officials were willing or able to write for such a volume. Still, with much input from academics, the manuscript was finalized. But then the Minister decided that it needed to be rechecked, and handed it over to his underlings at the Kadirgamar Institute of International Relations and Strategic Studies, where it has lain forgotten since.
Recently I retrieved from my archives the two pieces I was asked to write, and am republishing them here –
Sri Lankan relations with the different regions of Asia present a fascinating prism through which to examine our changing position in the world. The subject also suggests areas in which we might develop our position further, in terms of defining more clearly our objectives, and endeavouring to fulfil them more coherently.
Though the field requires constant attention and care, there is not really much need of further definition with regard to three areas. South Asia, the SAARC Region, and in particular India must remain our main focal point. The attention government pays to ensure that we are on a similar wavelength to India is a feature we should never have allowed to lapse, while continuing of course to ensure positive relations with Pakistan and the other countries in the region.
With regard to East Asia, similar principles apply. Our friendship with China has been a cornerstone of our approach to other countries, and this obtained even in the era soon after we obtained independence, when the Soviet bloc considered us a satellite of the West. From the time of the Rubber-Rice Pact, negotiated by R G Senanayake, we made clear our determination not to let the formulaic approach of other countries adversely affect our relations with the most populous country in the world. During the last years of the Cold War, friendship with China accorded with the predilections of the West, but now that the latter is wary of increasing Chinese capabilities, we should not let ourselves be stampeded into a less affectionate relation.