Saturday, December 28, 2013

Make a drop- add list

Everyone is so busy getting ready for 2014, or the future, that they have forgotten the year that just flew by us all. Before you make your list of New Year resolutions or buy a planner for the New Year, it is also important to look at 2013 or the ‘Old Year.’

What did 2013 mean to you?

Since we are all making lists anyway, here’s one more you can and should make. Divide the paper and label one column as good and the other as bad. However, this is not where you list down all the good and bad things you did this year. Instead, write down every good, or happy memory, and then the unhappy memories.

Maybe you found a new job this year. Met some amazing people. Read quite a number of good books. Spent quality time with your family. Managed to work but also have fun too. All the events you attended; concerts, meet ups, parties. Add all the memories to the list. It would be easier to go month by month. What happened in January, February and March and so on.

However, we must not forget the downs in life too. The sad memories are what make us appreciate life more and they too must be listed next to the happy memories. The death of a loved one, how friends became strangers, disappointments and all that made you want to escape life. Jot them all down, and like before, it would be easier if you go month by month.

Finally, you would have a list that would tell you how good or bad the year was. If the happy memories outweigh the sad memories, you have a reason to celebrate. You can start the next year with excitement and hope. You can be happy about everything you achieved and learnt during the year.

However, if the cards life dealt you weren’t that good, there’s still a way to learn from the year without losing hope. Think about your struggles, every little thing that went wrong. For one, you have a reason to be proud because you survived all that. While other people would have given up, you kept going forward. You kept hoping and dreaming. When others sympathize, don’t silently accept their pity. Look in their eyes and say, “I will survive this.”

You can also use the sad memories to make the coming year better. You will be wiser and since you know the reasons behind the sad memories and struggles, you can work towards not making the same mistakes again. This side of the list will make you realize who your real friends are and what your strengths are.

The list will in the end prove that 2013 wasn’t as bad as you thought it would be. Or that it wasn’t as useless or boring as it seemed. Every year holds something special for us. Every year is one of change, challenges and ups and downs. Without forgetting who you are, either because you feel you are an overachiever or worse, an underachiever, look back at the year and learn from it.

Wednesday, December 25, 2013

Happy Cows and Happy Consumers

Do you know where your food comes from? The kitchen is the wrong answer. Where does the milk in cartons come from? Are they imported? Or do they come from our own cows? Is it even cow milk?

Fonterra's Anchor New Dale recently organized a factory tour for all those interested in seeing the place. Of course, one couldn't just walk in and they made sure the visitors respected the regulations and procedures followed in the premises. After a brief explanation about the company, and their many products, we all enjoyed a cup of set yogurt. Here I learnt that I was in an odd minority. According to Anchor, most Sri Lankans eat and prefer set yogurt. This of course explains why stirred yogurt is difficult to find.

Anyway, the factory tour then started. While Fonterra boasted about the machines used to mix and pack milk and other products using very little man power, it also reminded us that soon enough, the machines will take over. We have become so lazy, so unwilling to actually work, and so, by the time the tour ended, we were tired and ready for rest.

And even though we see how far technology has been developed every single day, the speed of the machines and how intelligently they have been designed surprised us all. While we struggled over typing 140 characters, adding hashtags where necessary and posting it, a machine would have already boxed ten packets of milk powder. And looking at the storage rooms, box after box of food items, you wondered if an island as small as ours demanded so much. Think about it; how much milk, yogurt and ice cream can one consume?

Yet, the shelves are often empty of such products. We complain about the high prices, and yet, we don't stop buying such products. Fonterra is just one company, and there are many more. They may not produce at such a great scale, and yet, there is so much being put out to the market. So there are many people who depend on pasteurized milk, yogurt, milk packets and ice cream. The flavors are a many and they keep introducing new products at a regular basis. Do we really need all this milk in our system? And why are we not drinking more fresh milk?

Now during the factory visit, we were told that yogurt is made of fresh milk, collected in Sri Lanka. They make millions of cups a months, and for now, we have enough milk. However, they plan on putting up more farms, and encourage farmers to collect more milk, by feeding cows more grass and following good storing methods.

However, the question is, will companies like Fonterra, which aren't local companies, use milk collected here to sell as fresh milk or even powdered milk? When asked why we drink more powdered milk than fresh milk, the only answer was that powdered milk could be stored for longer. Why are we turning into a people who prefer the canned and tinned goods than fresh goods?

And finally, the biggest question everyone had; the DCD issue. Late March or early April this year was a bad time for certain companies. Newspapers had a field day questioning Fonterra and stressing on their lack of a sound response. DCD was found in milk imported from New Zealand, which led to many questions about what DCD was and how harmful it is. No matter how little DCD is found in milk, and no matter how lacking the world is in studies about the effects of DCD, nothing but milk should be found in powdered milk.

What really struck me was something told by a Fonterra staff member. According to her, no traces of DCD were found in the tests done by Fonterra. However, the tests done in Sri Lanka, by local institutions found traces of DCD in Fonterra products. For them, this meant that the low standard tests done by the SL government gave false results. Yet, what would you and I believe; the absence of DCD because it is 'proven' by a test done by the accused, or the presence of DCD because it is 'proven' by a test done by the government of the consumers?

Anchor, through the factory tour, attempted to clear the misunderstandings and doubts. They of course, did a great job of convincing us that the machines made very few errors, and that the factory and storage rooms were clean. They did a good job of putting on a straight face and saying they have nothing to be afraid of.

Whether its milk or rice or chocolate, we must always be aware of what we consume. Where does the food come from? How are they packed and stored? Do they, in any way, contain harmful substances?

Sure, happy cows produce more milk. Yet, if this milk is unhealthy or harmful, the consumers will not be happy.

Sunday, December 15, 2013

My Christmas

For me Christmas was never about church or Jesus or Christianity. I wasn't raised a Christian but I did and still do celebrate Christmas. Sure, my father is a Christian, which is why when my brother and I were young, we decorated the tree and waited for Santa Claus. Christmas was a happy time for us, lunch at either my aunt's or uncle's and lots of fun.

However, since I was very small I understood that Christmas wasn't a Buddhist thing. My grandmother, I think, once gifted a copy of a Ladybird hardcover on the Christmas story to my brother and I loved reading it. It told me about Joseph and Mary and the Three Wise Men. I knew that what made me a Buddhist prevented me from being a Christian. My father would go to church early Christmas morn, and we would wait for him to get back home to open our gifts. I never wondered why I never went to church with him. However, those were happy days, when all we fought over was what to have for breakfast or which TV show to watch.

Then my father went abroad and we grew up. In a home where only Buddhists live, the tree is still put up a few days before Christmas. My mother still buys us all gifts, even though Christmas means noting but family movies, songs, sales and discounts. In our home, where flowers are offered to the Buddha twice a day, during Christmas time, the tree stands high, and the ceramic Santa who is older than me, waits to greet visitors, although we have none.

When I pasted some paper Santas on the wall closest to me at work, a [Christian] friend told me Santa has nothing to do with Christmas. And of course, at nineteen, I know Santa has nothing to do with Christmas. I know Holy Night is a carol while Jingle Bells is a song. So then what is Christmas?

Its certainly not the birth day of Jesus. Whether it was 'stolen' from the pagans or some other people, however, Christmas is now a Christian holiday. Sure, it has been commercialized. And yet, isn't this to be expected?

Look at me. I grew up believing in the wrong kind of Christmas.

And yet, isn't what I believe in, not that wrong either? For me, Christmas is a time to give, to love, to be with family and friends. Its about having fun, and having a good time. Its about crying watching that sad movie or bobbing your head to that catchy Christmas song. You can't complain about people who say 'x mas' when Happy Birth Day has been brought down to a simple 'HBD.'

So has Christmas lost its meaning just because we associate it with Santa Claus and trees and reindeer? Do we not still give, and love?

I read a story by the editor of the Nation recently. He wrote about his daughters and how one made Santa and Christmas seem real for the other. It reminded me of the time my parents told my brother and I that Santa wasn't real. We were shocked and so met up with our cousins under the mulberry bush which was where we held all important meetings. There we came to the conclusion that our parents had lied to us just so they wouldn't need to buy us gifts.

My cousins are Buddhists, and yet, last Christmas, we decorated the tree together. We wished each other, even though we didn't believe in Christmas. And we left gifts for each other under the Christmas tree.

That Christmas reminded me that, love doesn't belong to just one religion, or one race. Love isn't a human thing either. There is love in us all, and it may take special days like birthdays and Christmas to show it openly, but love; its somewhere in our hearts.

Sunday, December 8, 2013

Animal Rights!

Animals often suffer horrendous amounts of abuse and neglect and they have no one to complain to, no authorities to go to. Organizations like Adopt a Dog Sri Lanka and Embark do fight for animal rights and try to win for dogs the love and safety they deserve. However, most organizations focus on dogs and cats, and thus many other animals continue being victims of their cruel masters.

What is animal cruelty? What are their rights? Do animals need rights?

What makes us, humans, different from animals? Is it the ability to talk? Or our intelligence? There have been many heroic acts by animals, and these are clear indications of their intelligence or at least understanding of the world. Animals feel, and they love. They may not read books, or start wars, but like humans, they are life and they matter.

However, people turn a blind eye to the plight of animals. They are used as lab rats, and for doctors-in-training to practice their surgical skills on. Farm animals aren’t better off, as they are often branded, which is painful and are also undernourished and unloved. Animals like cattle are often forced to work long tiring hours in fields and are given nothing in return.

Animals are also used for performances in circuses, zoos and amusement parks. The seal who balances a ball on its snout, or the chimpanzee in costume doing various tricks was trained to amuse audiences. They had no say in the matter, and the decision to entertain was made by another. Animals used for performances are given very little freedom and are rarely treated well. Once they are unable to perform, the animals are discarded mercilessly.

Street animals are also ill-treated. Recently, there were many protests when street dogs were locked up in a building so they won’t be seen by foreign delegates visiting the country. After the conference was over, the dogs were not released to their ‘homes’ and were not taken care of. Many animal lovers and organizations collected funds to save these street dogs, although there scars still remain.

Pets are also often neglected and abused. They are either caged or tied to a leash. They never get to run around and are fed scraps that aren’t enough to survive. They have no strength to howl or bark and their rib cages press against their skin. Their owners don’t bathe them or care for them. The pets they once swore to love, now wait impatiently, until death saves them from their misery. Where is that love and kindness humans boast about and yet, never actually show? Why are these animals abused, harassed and neglected? Are they not deserving of the same amount of love they show us?

“I take more care of my dog than my own daughter, because I know my child can look for food when hungry and can find water when thirsty. My dog though, he’s helpless and so I must take care of him,” an animal lover once said. There are people who share his beliefs and who fight for the rights of animals. They raise a voice against animal cruelty and urge authorities to take action against abusive owners. It is because of such people, who dedicate their lives for animals that days like International Animal Rights Day are commemorated.

International Animal Rights Day, which falls on December 10, is important in Sri Lanka. Due to the influence of certain cultures, cows are given a god-like status and they are also important as we rely on them for milk. Elephants were used in combat and also to transport goods and people. Who reminds us of the Sinhala and Tamil New Year in April and who wakes us up early in the morn? Thus since very early days, animals have been very much part of our lives. Yet today, we show little regard for them and animals are not loved, and their rights aren’t respected.
Thus we must all stand against animal cruelty and fight for animal rights, for as Mahatma Gandhi said, “The greatness of a nation and its moral progress can be judged by the way its animals are treated.”

Dec 10 - Animal Rights Day - Animal abuse awareness - See more at: