Tuesday, December 29, 2009

At the dawn of the New Decade

The expected view of the new year morning outside my verandah where the new decade will dawn for me.
Ten years ago when the historic 2000 dawned, I was with friends at a Hotel in Las Vegas. Little did I realize that ten years hence I am expecting to herald the next decade asleep in a bed made from tree branches, at an open veranda in a place with no electricity in Hingurakgoda. This last act was necessitated by the sudden departure of the person who had been in charge at this location, and so I have had to be there to protect my interests and find a stop gap person to cover the needful. This is an involuntary act on my part as I have been invited to various New Years Eve celebrations in Colombo and Kandy, all of which I have had to decline.
The above situation, points both to the good and the bad experience of living in Sri Lanka. Firstly there are people one can theoretically employ as they are staff who are paid to do the needful. However the reliability and commitment is what I have found wanting, and this is what causes an emergency situation like this to erupt.
This unpredicted set of events has forced me to take stock of the future, where I cannot be in four places at the same time, and I do not have the luxury of an army of retainers or reliable man Fridays to cover for me. I will first have to obtain the services of a driver and hopefully a competent one who I can rely on for my deliveries and not have to do the very tiring and back breaking delivery job I am engaged in every Monday going from house to house selling my produce.
The Tata cab lights burnt and I was told I have to replace the whole switch behind the steering. I spent Sunday going by bus in search of the replacement. Then on Sunday evening in the rain, while carrying some vegetable crates from the shop to the cab I slipped on the stairs and fell right down, hurting my back, and fortunately did not hit my head. I was lying concussed for a while, but was able on Monday to take care of my home delivery schedule in agonizing pain. I did not have the luxury to take the day off to recover as I could not delegate. I realize I was a hairline away from being hospitalized with a serious injury. I had to earn the money to pay for the light repair today, and had to finish the deliveries yesterday before it got dark. I was not able to use the vehicle after dusk without lights.
I should get insurance in the New Year to cover for unforeseen personal accidents, and also work more at an office job, and spend more time with the dogs, www.sinhabahuridgeback.blogspot.com as my body is not in a state to handle more of the heavy duty farm labor I have engaged in these past 5 years. The income from this job will have to pay for the labor, I will have to hire to delegate the work I have hitherto done myself. I guess this is just being a realist and answers the most recent query from a reader on what my plan is for the next five years.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

i cannot invent interesting stories to tell as life does not imitate fiction

I am fully aware that the readers of my blogs await news of interesting events in my life and when none are forthcoming, now get quite upset. I apologize, and say that while I don't always have good stories to tell, I can only tell what actually happens and nothing else. Lately I have had to deal with a whole host of unforeseen events that have contributed to the absence of writing as they in total have taken up almost all my waking hours.

The battery of my laptop has also decided that it is time to retire and so with the 30 minutes or less charge I have I find it increasingly difficult to blog in the evenings after dark as I used to more frequently in the past. Replacing a battery at present is out of the question.

The main incident that took place is that the person who I most relied on to assist me in my agricultural undertaking, and the person who persuaded me to purchase the Polonnaruwa property, had an accident on his way back from an alms giving on November 29th, leaving me singlehandedly to cope with getting the fields ready to sowing, at great cost as I had to hire labor at premium rates at short notice to complete the work. He then decided after opting to take ayurvedic medicine on his broken foot, at his wife's village near Hataraliyadda in the Kandy area, not to return to work.

So leaving me with no notice and finding suitable short term stop gaps has consumed an inordinate amount of time, and energy with no armchair time to think or write amusing prose. No reader likes a litany of ills so I have refrained from that, and have decided to carry on my work and look out for someone with more commitment.

It was sad to note that his commitment to his work gradually declined upon his second marriage, and later upon the birth of a child, with various strictures imposed by his new wife on the dos and don'ts of his life. Since I got twice the productivity from him in the first year than I have in the last, I have decided to look upon this with favor, as I now hope to implement a plan to reduce the reliance on salaried staff and instead only try to pay on performance or profit share to reduce the potential for a greater loss.

left after 5 years with no notice and explanation, the more he was indulged the less committed he became! is that a lesson for the future? The pasture unseen appears green, what the future foretells is any one's guess. Let us hope it is only better for his sake.As for mine it is just another chapter in the experience of life in Sri Lanka.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Sri Lanka wins the BBC world challenge 2009 prize besting 900 entries

www.theworldchallenge.co.uk/winners-2009.php “The winner of World Challenge 09 is:Bright Idea: Safe Bottle Lamp Foundation, Sri Lanka, which distributes safe, virtually unbreakable kerosene lamps to those who can’t afford electricity. The Safe Bottle Lamp Foundation received a $20,000 grant from Shell to invest in the future of the project.

This foundation set up by Dr.Wijaya Godakumbura a surgeon has developed this safe bottle lamp using a relatively unbreakable bottle with a low center of gravity, and by its widespread use in Sri Lanka has enabled many a person to be saved from severe burns or even death.

I am probably the only blogger (on the face of the earth!) who currently uses at least 5 of these bottle lamps at present as I do not have electricity in my Raja Ela, Hingurakgoda, property or in my Ratmale, Minneriya lodge (www.ratmale.blogspot.com) which are both in the Polonnaruwa District. Just to add my two cents to this story, what I would like to say is that either a hurricane lantern or the chimney lamp are inferior to the bottle lamp! I have used both, and found the hurricane lantern, and the chimney type, I have used, malfunction and have to be cleaned daily, and the latter has also cracked as the quality of the glass is also too delicate. Additionally they too are prone to accidentally topple over despite not having a naked light, and then the kerosene spills causing a fire. The bottle lamp has a naked flame that withstands a relatively decent degree of wind, and I have occasionally to shield them from high winds during the May to October windy season in Polonnaruwa.

In my experience they have never toppled over while lit, but in the clumsy occasions I have even managed that when they are put away during the day, they do not leak the kerosene on toppling as the screw top and the tight squeeze of the wick through the small tube in the middle prevents spillage.

I will try and get a photo of my bottle lamp in due course to include in the blog. So when I sometimes have referred in my blog to typing these entries in the dark, it is with a bottle lamp on either side of the laptop! Before any of you critics take me to task about the burning of fossil fuel, please spare a thought for the fact that I have not been able to set aside sufficient funds to get solar energy to light up my place. Once that is set up in the future I will have to protect the solar cells wherever they are placed from the ravages of the packs of monkeys who have destroyed solar cells of people I know by jumping on to them either on the roofs or on separate towers set up to avoid the monkey menace, where they actually climb the barbed wire ringed post to get to the top to investigate this curious cell!! But that is fodder for another future story.

I therefore sincerely commend the foundation on this win which has received very little publicity in the land of its invention, and am grateful to them in making my life a little easier and in being able to bring some of my stories to you my readers during moments of darkness where all I have is a bottle lamp with a naked flame and the laptop for company.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

An eventful period to live and work in the Sri Lankan hinterland- 5 years on

It is now nearly two and a half years since I commenced this blog, out of the 5 years since my return to Sri Lanka, and I have tried to be as honest and accurate as possible in my personal view of the various events that I have been confronted with and experienced during this period. I have expanded it to 5 different blogs to concentrate on different areas of my interest and focus.
I have had both words of encouragement from my readers and followers as well as those who have advised me to just give up this exercise that I had commenced in mid life. I initially had a lot of hope and enthusiasm, but latterly it was severely dampened due to a myriad of negative factors that in essence reduced me to penury in the past year, which was the worst of the five years I have had to face in terms of loss, and cost.
The fact that I can write about it now is also a testament to the stamina and endurance, which I believe I still have, but I need to make some adjustments to my lifestyle in order to benefit from my experiences but also to improve the quality of my life, without totally abandoning the objectives I had set myself except to modify them in view of changed circumstances and delayed achievement of goals.
The only thing I would do differently is to have recruited people for my operations, and not use those who I inherited, who just could not change their ways, as they have not been trained with productivity and profit in mind, but with the expectation of a sinecure for past services rendered. A new approach really needs new blood to make it work, and oneness in goals, with rewards based on achievement.
Often I have heard that the western protestant work ethic does not work in Sri Lanka, as we are easy going people who work at our own pace. I don’t agree with this philosophy entirely, as I notice that when our unskilled people go overseas their level of productivity and output explodes. So it is something about the country, the people they work for that has this effect. Even in Agriculture, I have noticed those who succeed are foreigners because they are able to discipline the workforce better than we can. It is that fact that both irritates and embarrasses me, and convinces me that I could also have done it emulating their practices.
One miscalculation was the level of investment required in Agriculture, in order to improve productivity. The labor force should only be incidental and not integral. Had I known that the real cost of an agricultural laborer exceeds that of an industrial worker on a productivity level, my input mix would have changed significantly. Those interested in this field should take this fact into account.
Only a fraction of the arable land in Sri Lanka is utilized due to this lack of investment in capital, as the human resource is assumed not to be viable. A farmer must clear a profit of at least Rs100,000 a acre per annum in order to call themselves worthy of their profession. This makes CIC a large scale producer with extensive land also highly unprofitable, as they only achieve about 10% of that.
Sri Lanka does not have contiguous extents of arable land, therefore the farming has to be intensive and capital intensive at that. Due to the climatic conditions, good yields and 3 crops a year on average can be achieved from the land if attentively cultivated preferably under cover. The giveaway of land to those least able to utilize it is the cause of the low productivity, production, and waste.
The infrastructure is the responsibility of government, and in this regard they too have been sorely lacking in vision. The false notion that small scale agriculture is feasible for unskilled peasants has reduced people in rural areas into a poverty trap.
No one goes into agriculture out of choice and that has to change, where only those wanting to go into this field should be encouraged and assisted. It is a profession worthy of the best brains in the land, and with proper guidance there will be no shortage of applicants. I went into this just like the majority of those engaged in agriculture with similar resources and therefore I can see clearly that this approach is the wrong one. My financial investment in agriculture was limited and so my return was accordingly negative. This goes for farming in general.
I have learned to love the rural hinterland. I live with no electricity in Polonnaruwa with little desire to even want it(except to recharge the batteries of the laptop), which goes a long way to confirm that it was the right move. It is the baggage of the people I am carrying on my shoulders that have prevented me from being in the land full time. I cannot get rid of the baggage, and just have to wait for them to pass on, hopefully before I do. In time the way forward for me is to subcontract out or lease out the productive means of production, and agree to buy back output, as I have a market. This will permit me to concentrate on my strengths and not have to deal with the production side once committed people are prepared to take it on.
The sad thing is, I see how potentially profitable this venture is if we can get the small kinks ironed out. It is more profitable than any other business based on return on investment except for illegal activity, commissions and graft. I have come close to realizing the dream and hey presto a bunch of monkeys ruin a husbanded crop in one night. So if only the reader realizes how tough it is to get a gun in a country full of guns, to shoot the monkeys one realizes that the farmer is not supported.

Thursday, November 26, 2009

What is the most significant factor in my not being able to achieve my dream?

In four days it will be 5 years since I returned to Sri Lanka after being overseas, namely in the UK and the US since 1971. I have been meaning to write an update on my present evaluation of the pros and cons of this decision, but have not been able to get down to it yet. I however still expect to write something in detail in a future entry, if only as a record for me for future reference but also for those interested in making such a life changing decision, as it would help them better plan, learning from some of the mistakes I made along the way.
Many factors cumulatively have had a hand in my not being able to achieve the “Dream” I had in mind when I first arrived in Sri Lanka. I have had to modify my plans continuously as and when I had to face unforeseen obstacles along the way. I suspect that there are many more hurdles to be scaled before I achieve my utopia or at least some sense of normalcy that I am still craving for.
My single biggest failure in achieving my goals is that the workforce I employ, both young and old, have not been(despite my effort at every possible method) persuaded to follow the same goal I had set myself in the area of maximizing productivity of the area under our control, in whatever crop we mutually agreed was best to plant. This fact has convinced me that in order to achieve this objective, we have to minimize human interaction in these inputs, and use mechanical and electronic means of achieving these objectives. Gone are the days of peasant farmers. It is just an election winning subsidy that is counterproductive.
To explain what I mean, I had this lengthy plan, which we agreed soon after the disastrous previous harvest, that we do everything in our power, to maximize the yield both in kilograms, rupees and profit of the current paddy crop that I am in the midst of preparing for sowing. I gave him all the inputs he wanted including the best seed paddy and preparing the groundwork. He tells me a few days ago, that he has to go to his home village, with his family to attend the almsgiving of the second death anniversary of his brother’s demise and that his mother expects him to come, this in the midst of sowing, a critical period in the planting season. The four days I lose this key person, will definitely affect my harvest, but nothing I do or say will prevent him from leaving, as to him, (as it is with many in this country) certain rituals are non negotiable, except when they are slaving away in a Middle Eastern country. The weather has affected and delayed the planting schedule that is critical in my view, but the dates of his function are not flexible and attendance considered mandatory. Me as the risk taker suffers the cost and he as a paid employee bears no cost! If I were to set up a performance based remuneration, which I have already tried and found unworkable, this is not negotiable! It is easier to find a replacement cardiac surgeon for a critical operation in Sri Lanka, than a knowledgeable farm employee at short notice!
The commitment to a task in Sri Lanka just does not appear to be existent as evidenced by the rampant unreliability and non-attendance of low skilled employees whose sole goal is ensuring daily fulfillment without reference to the long term. The level to which these people take personal criticism is beyond belief. They down tools and leave within a moments notice if they have been perceived to have been slighted, as was the case yesterday when I reprimanded a 20yr old about his liaisons with my neighbor’s daughter, causing some friction with my neighbor.
While not trying to blow my own trumpet, I have no choice in not taking a day off work in the past 5 years to be able to meet my weekly sales deadlines to my customers as I need the resulting funds to make payroll and other liabilities. During this period in Sri Lanka, I have never known so many people, being so sick for so much of the time. I think it is the use and abuse of the free medical care given in this country that draws people to illness and hospital or excess eating.
During these five years, I have not had a particularly good or healthy diet and have very often skipped meals out of necessity, but I have suffered less illness than those who must have three square meals a day and grumble if it is not to their taste. Even on the day of my mother’s funeral, I had to first deliver my produce to my customers before attending the funeral, as there was no one who could substitute for me that time, and I was surviving on a hand to mouth basis. I have suffered severe back ache these past few weeks owing to stress and hard work, but have not had the luxury of taking time off, as I am the razor round which the whole wheel of my enterprise turns for lack of other support. The back ache seems to have corrected itself with work including heavy lifting of bunches of king coconuts delivered to my customers!
We must work together to bring about responsibility, discipline, level of priority to life, and attach more importance to the tasks. Industrialists seem to have achieved a level of this with trained workers. In the agricultural sector, if we are to see productivity improvements we must emulate this. Providing free anything is a recipe for disaster, and those farmers who have been given land for votes are the most unproductive. They don’t have a capital cost of the main input to contend with or pay any sort of premium for its use. If we reduce the human component in agriculture to a few trained dedicated and focused people and penalize those who are not maximizing their freely given resources, we can come out on top.

Friday, November 20, 2009

tipping in the emerald isle is blue green or white

The previous blog entry unwittingly started a discussion into the tipping habits in Sri Lanka. In summary there is NO HABIT, just DO AS YOU THINK FIT. I remember in the US in a posh restaurant, I left a 10% tip once rounded up to the nearest dollar when filling in the credit card slip and the waiter followed me out of the restaurant saying that the tip is not sufficient and that he wants another 2.5% as 12.5% is customary. I was floored by such a brazen request saying that then they should put the service charge at 12.5% as this was not discretionary.

Coming back into the SL context I would really say give what the giver thinks is reasonable for the service rendered, and not be led by any rule. When I use a three wheeler trishaw cab with no meter, if I feel the charge is high I do not tip, if I feel the charge is reasonable I tell them to keep the change.

I customarily tip the person who works on a car repair, but if I leave it at a garage and not know who works on it, then I just pay the bill that is presented. However I know that as a rule there is no tipping done in these circumstances.

I often eat at very cheap joints where I have a meal for about Rs80. ( I might add that those places are probably the cheapest eateries in the land) No one tips there. I only tip if I feel the waiter has accommodated me well and been attentive, sometimes leaving the change out of a Rs100. When I eat with my staff and the bill for 4 of us including a cool drink such as a ginger beer (Rs35ea) is between Rs400 and Rs500, it is keep the change type tip that can vary between Rs 20 and Rs50.

At more posh hotels where all taxes and service charges are added and the couple of thousand rupee bill is paid by way of a credit card, then a hundred or two in cash is left to the waiter. Often however if the tab is charged to the room, then there is often not even a signature and when leaving the waiter is given the room number to charge the tab to with no tip!

When the bags are taken to rooms whether it is one or a whole lot for more than one room Rs100 will suffice.

I notice that in the upper price range eateries people with means customarily tip, but at the mostly poor man's eateries that I eat when I am out in the outstation areas there is no tipping at all.

So in short there is no rule. I would welcome some opinions amongst the readers of their personal experiences.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

for the benefit of my readers in the US - cost equivalence

This is just a blog about one person's mundane life in rural Sri Lanka along with the occasional exploit either within or outside this existence. I was asked to comment on the break-down I had as reported in the previous entry below, by giving approxmate values of expenses incurred just to be able to compare equivalent costs in the US. I am using the exchange rate of US$1 = Rs100 for ease.

As I noted earlier, my uncomfortable Tata Cab just stalled in the middle of the road in the heart of the Kurunegala town, on a very wet Sunday night, halfway from my journey from my Minneriya agricultural plot bringing produce to my Godagama Farm, the travelling distance being 220KM.

There was nothing anyone could do that night, so I hailed a 3 wheeler trishaw (tuk tuk) from a stand and got the driver first to take me around to scout for possible repair shops to take the vehicle in the morning, and then to find a place for me to stay the night. I gave the man $5 though he asked for $2 (one of the few times I actually had more than $1 with me on my return journey as I usually exhaust everything by Sunday, as Monday is sales day and hope to replenish by selling as much of the produce I bring.

He promised to come the next morning at 7.30am to take me to the vehicle and to take me to a repair shop to arrange to have the vehicle towed there. The room in the inn by the lake was US$10 and had an attached bathroom, no hot water, and the bed had a clean sheet and two pillows. The room had a fan but no covering sheet.

I skipped dinner as it was too late to find something and I was too stressed about the breakdown. The three wheeler guy came bang on 7.15am and I was surprised to see him as I thought he may not come. He took me to the vehicle where I cheked everything was OK and then went to a repair shop garage where we had to wait a while for it to open and the driver hung in there with me and once the owner arranged for a truck to come to the shop to pick me up, he left with no further payment for this morning's services as he was amply rewarded the previous night. A very unususal case of prepayment for services.

The coir rope cable was $1 to use to pull the cab, the towing charge to the shop was US$5. The new replacement clutch cost US$60 and the labor charge for the repair from 8.30 am to 1pm was US$10. I tipped the mechanic US$2

Food for the day was about $3 so for a total of US$95 I was back on the road after a 18hour delay and a day lost. The worse was the severe back pain on my arrival at the Godagama Farm due to the uncomfortable driving seat exacerbated by the stress of not knowing how long the forced layover would take.

In the US the towing charge would be covered by AAA as I was a member, but the tow truck driver would have been given a possible $20 tip. A motel 6 would have set back another $80 and basic food about $20. The clutch would have been about $30 and the labor charge nearer $300. No three wheeler or cab to get to an inn, so I would have had to sleep in the cab! So lets say a total nearer US$500.

So to compare costs as if that can be done rationally! It costs about 20% of that of the US while the current GNP per capita is about 8% of that of the US. So a cost factor of 250% higher in Sri Lanka in equivalent units.

Does this explanantion give some basis for comparison?

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

An update for those of you screaming for one of idyllic rural life!

I have been called names for not updating frequently enough to satisfy those craving for the mythical village life! If only you knew the reality. That’s why the blog is called Dream into Reality. It is just that the Dream did not turn out to be real! Since the last entry, I had a sword, yes a sword as in the ancient style pulled on me; A real “kaduwa” (sword) threatening me with being chopped into pieces.I did not realize that such things existed in the modern day! Actually I was not really worried then or now, having looked at the incident in hindsight. Did I call his bluff or was I just not phased when it was pulled, so as to put him off balance I don’t know what?
So much for that as I do not want to regurgitate the incident in detail, but thankfully there were witnesses to the incident, and knowing the village I can just imagine the stories that must be told, as people are prone to exaggeration and multiplication, just to make it sound more juicy than it really was. To some I could be the hero not giving into the village bully to others I may be the villain from outside come to bully the macho guy with promises that vanish. No matter, I live to tell the tale and the inveterate readers know this is not the first escapade I have had to face in this journey.
The more real worry to me was when I was returning from Polonnaruwa, late on a Sunday evening (Nov 8th), my now rickety ( 5 year Tata with 150K km) cab just clapped out in the middle of the road right in the heart of the Kurunegala town. What was I to do with the clutch gone and not being able to change gears and not move with traffic trying to pass me by on both sides? I was eventually able to get it to the side with much difficulty in the pouring rain, and after an overnight stay to have it towed to a garage close by that specialized in clutch work to have it repaired. Thankfully as it was the heart of Kurunegala, there were motor spare retailers, where I was able to purchase a new clutch to replace the one that had broken to bits. The amazing revelation was the garage. No awning, all in the open with no hoists, just a bunch of guys about 10 beavering under the vehicles, and only they could get under the vehicles on the stony ground, as they were thin and scrawny, no fat American mechanic would be able to slide easily into place let alone get under without his belly getting stuck!
It makes you proud of being Sri Lankan to see how this acrobatic act of removing the underside differential just with hands and spanners and replacing the clutch was done. All this before the inevitable rain shower that was expected shortly which would have just left a torrent of water, mud and all, come down the hill into the quad flushing the mechanics, spanners and all.

Friday, October 23, 2009

The issue of Boat People has been completely ignored, is there a reason?

I have returned to Sri Lanka after a lifetime overseas, and it is nearing the 5th year, where I have struggled, with my blog illustrating the good and the bad. The issue of Sri Lankan citizens fleeing the country by any means possible, risking their lives is one that is truly troubling me.

I have noticed that as a matter of policy, the Sri Lankan government has decided to stay completely silent on the subject of the 300 people who are being detained in Indonesia for attempting to go to Australia illegally and the 80 or so people who have taken a boat across the Pacific, attempting to land in Canada.
Let me address each of the points. I suspect it is illegal for a Sri Lankan citizen to leave the country by means other than BIA Katunayaka's immigration controls. They have therefore committed some kind of crime in doing so. Then the Sri Lanka Navy that is supposed to provide surveillance of our maritime assets has failed to spot these boats leaving the country. Presumably in the same vein may not be able to spot unauthorized craft landing illegally either! Is the government embarrassed by this breach or completely non-plussed?
I then read that an official spokesman questioned the validity that they were Sri Lankan as they did not have any documentation on them confirming who they were, as they presumably ditched or had no form of identification, a usual practice, amongst people seeking refugee status. While that is technically correct, the overwhelming evidence is to the contrary, and one cannot hide behind this excuse.
Seeking refugee status while making the statement that they would be imprisoned or discriminated in some way, is the usual modus operandi of a refugee to obtain sympathy, and the hunger strikes and threats on their persons seems to be a way of garnering sympathy and supporting their case.
Once the identity of these people have been obtained and I presume submitted to the Sri Lankan authorities by the country harboring them, checks made to determine if any had LTTE connections has brought to light one or two who are wanted. This further corroborates why they left, but not others who have no such threat. However some of them can be escapees from the Detention camps in the North aka Welfare Villages. Paying US$45,000 to escape is a huge king’s ransom to leave the country. I cannot believe the main smuggler took all this money without sharing it with some enabler in high places. Have any of the ruling class received a kick-back from this largesse? I find it hard to believe where there is money to be made some politician is in the thick of it, re-enforcing the reasons for a news blackout.
I believe the Government of Sri Lanka, should show loyalty to its own citizens by making a statement to the effect that, “We are very sorry to hear that people smugglers have assisted our citizens to leave the country with the promise of better prospects, by misrepresenting the conditions prevailing in Sri Lanka. We are prepared to unconditionally take them back if they are able to show some proof that they are Sri Lankan. They will not be subject to prosecution because they broke the law, except for the smugglers. We further appeal to our citizens not to be fooled into such escapes, as there is no other reason other than purely economic for their desire to leave.”
The silent stance taken is an indirect confirmation that they prefer as many citizens who wish to make a gateway to do so. There is no display of concern for their well being, or steps to prevent further departures. While the reason for departure is not race based, it is more likely that a Tamil refugee is granted asylum as compared with a Sinhala one due to the recent actions taken by the Govt. That further encourages the Tamil refugee to seek this rather treacherous route out.
While the media display the people and their actions, there is not one iota of local concern by anyone for their well being especially as they are citizens of Sri Lanka who are undergoing severe hardship where they are currently being held. Of course Tamil rights groups in Australia and Canada are providing legal representation in order to get them released and admitted to the respective countries of their choice.
The lack of sympathy for these people in Sri Lanka will further increase the argument these people have in leaving, as well as find grounds for why they cannot be returned. This policy of no comment has been adopted all along, but the damage it is doing to the reputation of the country and the government is much higher than the government cares to admit, or possibly they don’t even realize it!
Concerted action in collaboration with the countries where these refugees are fleeing to, is required. Note they are not fleeing persecution and going to India, so the smell of ‘economic refugee’ tag is obvious. This collaboration will educate people wishing to flee about the stupidity of so doing, and that the money that they are spending can actually be more useful in Sri Lanka to give them a better life.
The UN organization on Migration, IOM also has a part to play in this regard and can play an intermediary role in preventing this exodus, while conducting some form or program in explaining the legal ways of successful emigration.
In conclusion, it is safe to say that people will try whatever means at their disposal to achieve their goals. Whether they achieve this or not is open to debate, but a consistent policy stance by the host country and that of origin is required to cover areas such as immunity from prosecution on return and basic rights of the individual both to deter them from leaving and making conditions favorable at home, so this will not happen in the future and tar the reputation of Sri Lanka.

Monday, October 19, 2009

One writes not expecting to see one’s article in print, now the fallout!

The Sunday Leader in the special Kottu section of October 18th published the previous blog entry, with my permission of course, but I for some reason thought it was the earlier article, the comments there from resulted in the published piece.

Either way it was an entry out of personal experience and not empirical evidence as should be appreciated. I would however like to elaborate on some of the issues dealt with in the said piece as this debate is nevertheless important and opportune, and the sooner we tackle this problem of diet holistically, so we bring in the agriculture sector as well as the consumers of their produce on to the same plane.

I would like to add that while the farmers in Polonnaruwa eat white rice, usually parboiled nadu, devoid of nutrients, and full of starch, the Southerners tend to prefer Rathu Kekulu, or red rice of various hues of redness.(note that the level of polishing determines the level of redness and not the type of rice per se) So there are regional disparities in diet. At the same breath I would like to add that the red rice I am referring to is currently selling about 10Rupees a KG below the aforesaid parboiled nadu. So it is a fact that many of the affluent in Colombo eat lower priced rice than their staff, who eat the white parboiled. Of course they do eat out and imported Basmati seems to be dish of choice at restaurants.

My struggle with regard to selling organic vegetables is however something I still grapple with. Most of my completely organic foods are very small in size when compared with the non-organic versions and sometimes have insect and other exterior blemishes. In my very small level of cultivation, without the aid of greenhouses etc, my organic products cost more than twice to produce, but are perceived as inferior products by the consumer, until I spend hours giving a lesson in nutrition. It is impossible for me to win this struggle on my own, as attested by my road to penury as a result of my efforts. These points also should go into the overall education on healthy eating habits.

Needless to say the most embarrassing part of the published extract was about my personal preferences and diet, for the world to read, but then again that’s what blogging is about. Despite my unbelievably poor and irregular eating habits, I have hardly had cause to take as much as a panadol in the past 5 years back in Sri Lanka. I attribute it to just drinking King Coconut water, Fresh Milk from my cows, and the juices from the oranges, limes and lemons I grow. For all intents and purposes they are all organic and see an earlier entry to explain what I mean. www.rajaratarala.blogspot.com/2009/05/i-am-orange-kala-dodang-also-called-gus.html

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Rural Diet has become the Urban Diet and vice versa!!

One of the comments I had for my previous blog entry on the poor state of the Rural Diet was about what it is that they should or could eat.

My diet bourne out of a lifetime in the West, is to say the least, very poor in quality. It is still difficult for me to eat healthily despite the healthy food I grow around me.Sadly it is out of what one is used to, and it is difficult to change in mid life. If one is interested I will let on, but even I am embarrased that beggers in Sri Lanka eat a more healthy and balanced diet. My diet was bourne out of English boarding school food of baked beans, fried bread, oily chips, mashed potatos out of powdered smash tins, and rhubarb crumble. Then as a poor starving student it was just soup and rice,which has made hodi and bath my favorite food even now!! So it is what you get used to that one likes irrespective of how healthy it is.

In the village context, "rata kama" or foreign seems to be gaining popularity, because some years ago, when I gave a Dansala in Hingurakgoda, and asked what they wanted, they said they wanted noodles!! I was more appalled the other day when my man in Polonnaruwa said there was nothing to eat. That meant that he had not chosen to grow anything in the home garden despite numerous requests. Home grown food to him is not food! There are enough leguminous crops that grow easily in Sri Lanka, and I grow, Bathala, Manioc and Hingurala that can substitute for rice if the latter is not available.

I digress, but to make the point, I would like to note that as I sell my produce to my customers in Colombo on Mondays, and every household asks for red rice be it samba or the long grain rathu kekulu. This red rice is rarely sold in the Kade in Godagama not 30Km from Colombo, as they demand white rice. In addition to the various yams I mentioned in the earlier paragraph I sell Kehel Muwa and the following list of greens, freshly plucked on the morning of delivery.

Namely: Gotukola, Mukunuwenna, Kohila, Kankun,Kola Guva, Kathurumurunga,Salad Leaves, Nivithi, Gus Nivithi, and Kanda Kola like Penela, Athavariya, Pol Pala and Monara Kudumbi. I also sell a Kalawampala which consists of Manioc leaves, Passion Leaves, Pumpkin Leaves, Japan Batu Kola and a few others.

There is a great demand in Colombo for such as there is little availability and what there is, the source is suspect due to hygenic reasons. In conclusion I have noticed the need of the urban dweller to eat more healthy food while the rural dweller shuns what is freely available around him. I guess it is human nature to want what you don't have so I rest my observation and let you the reader be the judge.

I firmly believe that as we are creatures of habit, that it is very important to impart healthy eating habits on our children, as they could then eat well without effort. Both the parents and schools have a duty to promote healty eating and part of the school curriculum should include the education in this area of utmost importance.

Thursday, October 8, 2009

An intriguing take on eating habits in rural Sri Lanka

Each time I look at the food that the rural person in Minneriya eats, I wonder what it is that has led them to such a diet. While one knows that price is an issue, I notice the level of imported food that is consumed there, and begs belief. Thankfully the rice consumed is local, but always white and devoid of nutrients. Even though I grow red rice, the family that live on the land only eat white rice, and Nadu (parboiled long grain rice) is the dish of choice, usually for all three meals. The current retail price is Rs65 a kg of Nadu.

They then may have a fried onion dish, where the Red Onions are imported from India, the retail price of which at present is Rs 100kg (lately we have got consignments of red onions from Jaffna, but the wholesale mafia have not allowed prices to come down) Another favored dish is Dhal, which is imported from Australia and carries a price tag of Rs 225 a kg which I am not certain includes a government tax (I know as I have a retail shop for which I buy this in bulk) Another is a potato curry where the imported potato from Pakistan is about Rs20 less than the Up Country potato of Sri Lanka. The current price of this imported potato is Rs70 and this includes tax too. Tinned fish in SL is referred to as Salmon and is also consumed even though the current price is over Rs200 as it includes a significant government tax. We are also a major consumer of Big Onions that currently are locally produced these last two months only, as the harvests have just come in, and are just once a year, and cannot be stored as well as the Indian varieties. The price is low at present at about Rs60 a kg, where as normally once the local season is over will rise a further Rs20 for the Indian ones that have a tax of about Rs30 a kg.

I just bought a 50kg bag of Sugar for my retail shop, and it cost me Rs 88 a kg. This is from Brazil, the world’s largest Sugar producer, and as the Indian crop has failed the Sugar prices are on their way up with little stopping the sweet tooth of the locals, who still drink their plain tea with oodles of sugar. I retail the sugar at Rs95 a kg and I believe even this carries a tax. SL only produces 10% of its Sugar requirement and I am told we are one of the highest per capita consumers of sugar in the world. (Remember kasippu/moonshine and arrack production requires a phenomenal amount of sugar too)

As a dairy farmer, I still find it hard to convince the buyers of imported powdered milk from New Zealand, that my milk is healthier and more nutritious. A 400gram pack now retails around Rs225 and carries with it another hefty tax of about Rs80 a pack. I would appreciate any comments from one who knows the breakdown of the yield from all the taxes from each of the food-stuffs I have mentioned above.

Last but not least, is the wheat flour, which is made from imported wheat by two producers, with Prima being by far the largest from their factory in Trincomalee. I purchase it wholesale at Rs70 a kg and retail at Rs80 a kg and I am told that carries a high tax too. The bread I sell in the shop, which is delivered fresh to me twice a day is at Rs40 a loaf.

Therefore, I am convinced that our rural dweller, eats imported food, on which he pays high indirect taxes, which is a higher proportion of income than a wealthy urbanite’s.

Sunday, October 4, 2009

My absence of an age from blogging

I have had to field many upset and annoyed avid readers of my blog and explain my absence and to them I all I can say is I am sorry and will make my best effort to resume.

It has been a very trying couple of months, with the general principle of everything not going my way or as I had hoped and I have spent the past few months trying to get back into a system of normalcy having had to cope with many a trying circumstance, especially as it relates to produce and yield in all my farming activities, and made worse by the ever increasing costs of labor in farming and the corresponding decline in their productivity which only another farmer in SL can understand the meaning of.

The last straw was when we had to leave a third of our land fallow. All the farmers around me and myself were left with costs that exceeded the revenue from their paddy this season. It was so intense that there was a long line of people wanting to borrow money from me at rates in excess of 50% per annum. Needless to say I may lose the principle forgetting the interest, as they just had no real methodology in rational thinking to pay back.

This has now convinced me that rural farming as it is encouraged in Sri Lanka is just to keep the farmers impoverished, and another system of allocation of land and farming economical scales with less of the internecine warfare that takes place now is the only answer to higher yields and more productivity with actually a lower cost than is currently incurred and hence wasted due to the present system.

I have had to resort to a part time job to supplement my agricultural loss, and all this job does is to subsidize the loss. I have therefore to seek a more viable method of agriculture with the use of more intensive mechanization than what I have done so far along with the cultivation of a larger extent of land, along with the minimization of some of the risk factors such as water, and weather in the approach I take.

I have had problems in all the aspects of agriculture from problems with the dairy herd, to low yields in coconuts added to the unexpectedly dormant season for King Coconuts, added to the lower paddy crop, and the complete destruction of my banana cultivation by monkeys and the papaya cultivation by the mealy bug infestation took all the wind from my sails, and I went into reverse gear. The high staff turnover with the resulting training curve added to the fall in productivity. The economy is in a bad state, and with lower incomes and less money, people increased the level of stealing and the non payment of goods and services purchased. My neighbors were robbing my coconuts and selling them cheap to their other neighbors resulting in a lower turnover at my shop, as my customers bought the same coconuts, this time stolen at lower prices, which I could not possibly match.

It is not something that one likes to read, so I recoiled from relating the day to day misery on my blogs as it does not make a good story. I was waiting for some good news and it never came, and does not seem like coming for a long time.

Friday, July 3, 2009

Suicides and attempted ones go unreported - a serious issue

Three of my staff had to leave at a moments notice one morning, as the brother of two and the cousin of one had committed suicide by taking poison, in the form of an easily available farm pesticide. He was 24 with a young wife and a child of a little over a year. He seems to be someone who was easily drawn to fights, and also abused alcohol. He had some disagreement with his wife and moved in temporarily with his parents leaving the wife at home in her village. Ironically, I last met the dead person, at the funeral of his maternal uncle, who had also died of suicide, consuming Kurator a crystal that is used to kill harmful subterranean pests that attack the roots of banana shoots and come up the trunk to kill the plant. This older person not married was an alcoholic.

Another boy of 15 committed suicide in the same village only a month ago by ingesting Gramoxone a weed killer. He, a friend of my staff, who again went for that funeral (going for a funeral of this nature means they are away for at least 7 days, as they wait on for the 7 day almsgiving) was the eldest of 5 boys who had to support his family by either mining sand from the river, an illegal activity or by cutting clay bricks prior to firing. He had apparently had a fight with his mother and done the deed, a mother who was rarely there for him, and his father absent out of town. At that tender age he commonly consumed alcohol, and this may have been a contributory factor in the seemingly senseless death, in a need for attention. I dread to think how the younger siblings are now coping with little care from parents.

When I learned about this and mentioned this to a neighbor in Ratmale, I was told that another girl about 18 had taken Kurator and was in a bad way in hospital. She is in a photo in one of my blogs, and so this tale of this problem seems to continue uncontrolled. I cannot put my finger into the causes, but just to say that we are a race of very passionate people who are easily roused, and also very brittle under criticism, and are easily upset for the slightest thing. A fight with the spouse of parent, an unhappy love affair or some short term financial crisis all seem to lead to this sort of event. Consumption of alcohol may also make the person more prone to depression exacerbating an already fragile situation.

The rate of suicide in Sri Lanka is one of the highest in the world. I am at loss to know how we can identify the signs, and take preventative measures. My work on the farm has been put on hold waiting for the week to be up for them to return. No doubt their explanation of the causes will come to light upon their arrival. A 52 year grandmother of 6 and mother of 7 has lost her2nd son. Her eldest and youngest work at my farm.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Sunday, June 7, 2009

A reflective Poson Poya

I am spending a quiet Poson Poya holiday today at the farm in Godagama, Meegoda. It also happens to be a Sunday. Last year was more eventful at the Gal Vihare in Polonnaruwa and can be checked in entries in June 2008.

The early morning news, as the cows were milked, before the milk gets delivered to nearby houses around 6am, was that a month old calf that seemed quite healthy yesterday was found dead this morning, with us not knowing what the cause was. We now have to learn a way of taking the milk from the mother, as she would normally unlikely to give the milk unless the calf was around her.

One of the boys who works here, left at 5 am to go to his sister’s in Ibbagamuwa a few km past Kurunegala, as his father was also meeting up there from Ratmale in Polonnaruwa where I have a cabin. He will be back tomorrow. He has to take the bus to the main Bus stand in Pettah and then take the Dambulla or any bus that goes up that way. His total fare one way on the two legs will be about Rs120, and if he chooses to take a three wheel from the main road to the his sisters about 2km, that will be another Rs150. That is one irony in public transport, namely the bus is cheap for the whole distance, but the short distance home from the bus stop can cost more than the long journey.

Then it was string hoppers for breakfast, probably the last time it was made here was over 6 months ago, as I am usually not particular about my food, but Anula who comes during the mornings to clean the house and make the food for a couple of workers on the farm, offered to make it. So I had it with pol-sambol made from fresh coconuts, and a dhal curry gravy.

Then it was to cut the grass for the cattle, and plant some gotukola roots on a newly prepared bed. Yesterday I had got some cake for the staff who worked today, which they had with their tea at 11 and that was the work for the day. Geetha Sriyani who works in the shop was lucky as I close the shop on Poya days, and so she said she goes with her daughter to two temples during the course of the day, which she has not been to before. So she kind of explores new temples on Poya days, which I thought was very unique. She maintains there are so many temples around that it is not that difficult to find them, and this time she is going to a couple that are on top of rocks with a view of the area.

I went out and got all the English Sunday papers to relax for a change, and for those interested to know they are The Sunday Times, the Sunday Observer, Sunday Leader, Lakbima News, the Sunday Island, the Nation and Lakbima News. Now those readers overseas tell me you have 5 English Sunday Papers to read except of course if you are in the UK!

I then had boiled potato with skin, the small ones with butter for lunch with Katta Karawala, fried in Red Onions and Tomato, with fresh lime-juice from limes in the front yard. It was a very gloomy day all day with very little sun, and the time just flew by in time to post this entry and say good night. Tomorrow is another day, a heavy day as I have to deliver my produce from house to house in Colombo, right through till the evening.

Monday, June 1, 2009

Coconut palm being prepared to reroof the kitchen

the fallen dried up coconut palm collected and now soaking in the river overnight
I have to re roof the kitchen every two years with coconut palm thatching and here are some photos of it from the point the fallen palm is left to soak in the river overnight, and then taken out, first to split in two and then to weave and then dry. Finally stacking them awaiting roofing once we have the 300 we need.

splitting the soaked palm to make two sides to be thatched and used in pairs

all joining in the thatching

Drying the wet woven palms in the sun

Stacked up

Thursday, May 28, 2009

I finished sowing my rice fields, but yet again the farmer is tethered like an animal

Four days after sowing a light green of the young shoots is visible

It is always an exciting event and a relief when one completes the sowing of the paddy fields, as there is an extraordinary amount of manual work that goes into this process. This is a luxury we can ill afford in the future, with the spiraling cost of labor in agriculture and so I believe it is something that will shortly disappear to be replaced by more mechanical and automated equipment. I am relived at finishing my planting today, but I am most displeased with the interference from the busybodies of our agricultural society who have restricted me to plant sixty five percent of my fields, as the water allocation has been reduced accordingly due to the lower rainfall, and the less water available this year. It does not matter to them that I had already decided to pump the water at my expense, accepting that I may not receive a drop of water.

This is yet another example and I have quoted many in the various writings in my blog, where it seems to be the order of the day to keep farmers impoverished. It is the farmers themselves to blame for it as they do not appear to like any other farmer using different means to improve his productivity. People are free to do what they like in other careers but farmers are tied by a set of nonsensical rules to impose equality. No wonder farming at the basic level is an utter failure, as none of the really productive farmers in the island are helped along to maximize their potential, as jealousy and envy reign.

I will leave the philosophical discussion on the rights and wrongs of the methodology of agriculture to my farming related blog, www.villagerinsrilanka.blogspot.com

The end of the war led to the rejoicing, a level not seen in these parts ever, with more crackers being lit than anyone old can even recall and every home preparing kiri bath as an act of thanksgiving. We now come to the reality of what it has meant and the real sacrifices, as the boys are now coming home from the battle-field with the tales, and heroics.

One of my neighbors Kumara, came home from the thick of the battle unscathed, he had rejoined his unit, after recovering from wounds from a previous battle on the Muhamalai front, but this time he had to carry one of his mates in the village in a different unit, who had been hit, where the shrapnel is still lodged in the stomach, and he is undergoing a series of operations in Colombo. This boy’s father borrowed some money from me, and is late in repaying, but under these conditions where his son is fighting for his life in hospital, I have to defer any thought of recovery.

This is the reality in the village, something no one writes about. I have mentioned a few times already on the blogs about deaths and wounded here in Raja Ela, Hingurakgoda, and Ratmale, so multiplying that into the number of villages extrapolates into a staggering cost of lives lost and permanent disability. When we are only reading about the IDP camps, and the HR violations, spare a thought for the real people on both sides who are affected. War is bad, which ever way one looks at it, and all our efforts should be to prevent another violent uprising even if we are confident of crushing it.

Just after sowing watering to wet the surface from excessive burn

Saturday, May 23, 2009

A Diaspora return - a reflection of a few years of adjusting to new surroundings

I write this with specific reference to a reader’s request on my experiences back in Sri Lanka after a life in the West. One must always understand that each one has different needs and expectations, and it is not ideal to use one person’s impressions to form an opinion, however experiences of different people help in getting a sense of what to expect and how to cope under those conditions. I count myself very fortunate in one sense as it was just me. I don’t have a family, so I did not have to think about any other person’s opinion in making this choice. I must confess if I had a wife and kids, I may not have made this leap as it was a leap of pretty far reaching proportions.

If you have kids, and the request was from a family in California, the adjustment would be huge, as there are two generations. I know, as I lived in California for 13 years, working in Santa Barbara, as VP Finance for a publishing company. I grew a fabulous Rose garden with over 64 different varieties of roses, and from 1995 drove a gleaming white Jaguar XJ6 with personalized number plates, bought new, in complete contrast to my Tata cab I now drive that feels like it is just about to disintegrate any moment.

I returned with little funds, US$20K to be exact, less than what many who go to the Middle East bring after a couple of years. I was therefore prepared to live on almost nothing to start. I have also completely cut any ties with the West in that I do not have any assets overseas or even a foreign bank account, and it is only some pension funds that may kick in my sixties that I should benefit from but that is only speculative at this stage.

One other point is I left Colombo, where my family and extended family live, at young age to go to boarding school in Cambridge, England where I sat my O and A levels. I returned to a village and in the case of Minneriya, a rural community with no friends or family, and for that matter no connections at all, a new settler, to speak only in Sinhala.

I was fortunate in having a place, a farm of 10 acres in Godagama, Meegoda, that already had a small house, but was not giving a return, and still is not. I soon realized that if I tried to change the mentality of those who live and work on the farm, I would go grey in a day, I decided that to keep my sanity I would buy a plot of land in Minneriya and try to make a go of it there, where the total capital investment of property, cabin and equipment was US$12K.

The blog details the real issues I face in Meegoda and Minneriya in life and farming, and is straight from the gut, warts and all. Later I decided to concentrate on writing purely farming related experiences in the sister blog www.villagerinsrilanka.blogspot.com, which I called “Perceptions, the musings of a renaissance farmer.”

Its been over four and a half years, and I am still struggling to make ends. I have paid off the 4year lease on the pick up truck, but now the truck is badly in need of a complete overhaul, with over 135K km on the odometer. I have to try and make up the shortfall by supplementing my income, with consultancies, as my knowledge and experience is of value to organizations in Sri Lanka, and I am able to find work if I want.

It is difficult to summarize what I have written in the blog, so I will leave it to you to read the stories and incidents I have encountered. I will therefore only try and summarize my expectations, reflections, hopes and disappointments as well as some observations.

First one has to put aside, the discipline and order that one is used to. Nothing happens to time, or expectation. Often people are so reluctant to say cant or wont or no, for fear of disappointing or upsetting the person, that “can, will and yes” actually mean the opposite!!! That is something I still find hard to understand. Never does no mean yes!!

The secret to success in SL living is to have a good man Friday to take care of little, essential, annoying and sometimes time consuming tasks. Sadly I have yet to find such a reliable and honest person to fill this role. I am still looking, as that is a prerequisite to stress reduction and comfortable living. I have staff, but they to me are more like kids depending on me for everything and live a life of carefree luxury at my expense!

I have dealt extensively in the blog, about the shock at finding the level of alcohol consumption in SL being off the charts. For someone who rarely imbibes, I am still in shock. This to me is in my face daily, as people who come by my place in the evening for a chat are already legless.

I find that the people, who are generally highly intelligent, have little commonsense and rationality in what they do, they are easily led and quite gullible and impressionable. I therefore give vent to this lack of contemplation on what people do and why, in my blog www.kalpanakaranna.blogspot.com It is I believe the fault of the education system that needs a complete overhaul, so that there is a sense of purpose in action and inaction.

Despite all the heartache and disappointments, it is still my country, I am proud to be part of it. I have traveled extensively around the world, and there is no country of this size that is as diverse and colorful, yet geographically, culturally, historically, climatically so varied as to keep me looking forward to seeing more of it each time I can grab that chance. Thankfully now the war has ended, I am so eagerly looking forward to visiting areas I have hitherto not been permitted to enter. This country is truly “paradise” and I sincerely hope that we are at a juncture to put nationhood to the fore, over petty differences arising out of gender, race, religious and caste differences. If we can take jealousy and envy out of our weaknesses, we can overcome all these differences.

I can make a difference to people’s lives in Sri Lanka, I feel I am a more useful and fulfilled member of the human race living in Sri Lanka. There is an inner sense of commonality and friendship amongst neighbors, especially during festivals and occasions. We always seek a party, a fun loving, what is yours is mine and what is mine is yours kind of behavior I have never encountered anywhere. People are irritating and interfering but at the same time concerned and helpful. Its great to get hospitalized !! the whole village comes visiting with bananas and biscuits! I live alone, but I am never alone. This land of contrasts is incomparable. Serendipitous events abound, even daily, You can never be depressed, you just don’t have time to be, I have never been busier !!

Sunday, May 17, 2009

An overwhelming response to my last blog entry as an Orange

I was pleasantly surprised at the incredible response to my last blog entry where I tried to highlight the life of the oranges that grow in the villages of the Polonnaruwa district, left to rot on the ground due to no demand. I have had so many calls for these oranges, that thanks to my highlighting this issue, I will probably be able to sell every orange that village produces in the next season. Thanks to you all. Something I forgot to mention is that you can keep the orange fresh in the fridge for about 2 weeks and longer if you have it squeezed and the juice kept in the freezer section, thus prolonging the enjoyment.

I should guarantee to buy the whole crop and pay an extra rupee to the homeowners so they would value their trees more and either water it to get a greater yield and also compost at the foot, to ensure a richer and more bountiful harvest. One thing I will continue with, is all the plucking and not leave that task to the homeowner, as the level of spoilage due to falling on the ground would exceed 50% if not plucked by hand.

In my Hingurakgoda property, there were 10 trees that had not been taken care of when I moved in, so once I put a good dose of compost and also gave it a soaking, I was able to get a reasonable harvest of fruit, where earlier there was none. The next step is to learn how to get a regular crop, as I need to experiment with methods to get the trees to flower. A heavy pruning now will do the trick, as we are in for a dry spell for the next 6 months.

One thing that is impossible to control is the fruit’s level of sweetness, as even growing plants from the seeds of the sweetest fruit does not guarantee fruit of the same level of sweetness. That is up to chance, and tissue culture would be something I should investigate though I confess I know nothing about that method.

That gives me an idea, that if we are able to replicate the best trees by tissue culture, then these trees, and their widespread propagation, can be encouraged once a more permanent demand is established, and we get a new product that reaches the mass market that is superior in everyway to the imported varieties. As an aside to this, those living outside SL would be shocked at the level of imported fruit we now have here, partly due to the high cost of local fruit which makes the imported apples and oranges from the USA cheaper, (yes USA including Apples from the state of Washington) than fruit here. Mangoes are regularly over Rs50/- whereas apples are around Rs30/- I know we are comparing different fruit, but I wanted to make the point nevertheless.

Going on a tangent, after destroying all my papaya trees, as they were infected with that Mealy Bug(pitti makuna) that had been brought from overseas, that has also killed the Araliya trees, we have now imported a beetle form the USA to eat the mealy bug. I hope this works and does not in turn become a pest for other crops. This is currently being tested in the Polonnaruwa area before being released to other areas. The new papaya plants I have grown since will take a few more months to come into bearing, and so despite constant requests I will not be able to satisfy my customers for a while. How can I talk about oranges today when the war is finally over, but the new era that is just dawning has not hit us yet, as I have been so exhausted, being inconvenienced because of it.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

“I am an Orange, Kala Dodang, also called Gus Narang. My value is unappreciated.

Finally after decades of living and dying, refertilizing my mother tree with my remains, I am now being exploited, and brought to the world’s attention.”

So goes the story as narrated by an Orange that was picked from a tree in the Ranchettes of the homes in the far off villages of Rotawewa and Ratmale(purana gammana) bordering the Kaudulla National Park near Minneriya in the Polonnaruwa District.

“ My mother tree was planted by my master 8 years ago, from a seedling that had grown under an older tree, my grandmother tree, that is now too old to bear many Oranges, but has still not been cut down as there are a few more years of fruit to be produced here and there. My brother Oranges and I have been born in these villages for a very long time. They are from trees that have been planted from seedlings neighbors gave each other from other trees, and are usually planted with lime trees in the vicinity. I don’t know the origin of where my species came, but would surely like to know my history.

Over the years, until Rajaratarala appeared on the scene, we have grown, matured, ripened and fell dead just where we were born, with few people taking any notice of us. Our masters rarely plucked, ate, squeezed or sold us. There was no market for us, as people don’t like the little bumps we have that look ugly on the outside and therefore look like some apparition. Oranges are supposed to be perfectly smooth, like the Bibile Oranges, which are Green and sell for Rs25each. Now even they face stiff competition from the Orange color Valencias that are imported from Pakistan in thousands and sold even in way side stalls in our area for Rs30ea. Our juice is lime colored theirs orange!

My true value is now being explained as my worth, and my history is being narrated to the world by Rajaratarala, a person who has come from afar as if sent by some force to amongst other things bring to light our plight and try and build a notoriety as the best, healthiest, and greatest treat whether eaten whole or squeezed into a glass to satisfy thirst.

We grow with no added fertilizer. The elephants who used to come to my yard before the Elephant fence encircled the village always avoided us, so we were unharmed by them and even the ever present Monkeys don’t come anywhere near us or our cousin limes, because we have thorns that prick them. We are truly the safest crop to be grown in the midst of the whole range of animals that inhabit our area. So it is ironic that we who no one harms are also unwanted. We who no one cares to even put any nutrients provide a bumper crop, only to be left to ripen and rot on the ground.

There is nothing more organic than us. All the market Oranges are grown in conditions of exploitation, so fertilizer, pesticides and tissue culture are all used to have trees that produce thousands of fruit each season. Our mother tree decides when to flower, if the water or rains come suddenly. So we are not regulars like clockwork. Some trees decide to have a rest and miss a season of flowering. Actually the level of drought and intensity of the resultant rains determine how many flowers and therefore fruit my mother tree decides to put out in a season, along with how many dead leaves have rotted under the tree, as well as fruit to provide it with the nutrients necessary to produce more flowers.

Each of our mother trees have different intensities of sweetness, and sometimes two fruit from the same tree taste slightly differently. So we are not consistent and predictable. Even our sizes are different. Some of us grow very big, others smaller. If we are too mature when we are plucked, and we fall to the ground with a thump, we bruise badly. That bruise comes out in a patch of brown in 24hours and so even Rajaratarala cant sell us to anyone. So what he does is remove our skins and have us squeezed into fresh juice and refrigerated for him to drink as his favorite drink. In season he drinks about 6 glasses of Orange juice a day, and I can assure you all he is the only person on the face of the planet who gets a completely organic, forest grown juice that is priceless as his favorite tipple. Unfortunately for him our season runs for about 4 months and unless he juices us and puts us in a freezer, the period he can drink us is limited to that time.

Due to the seasonality of our birth it takes people a while to get used to drinking us and once they are hooked, we are no longer available. This is a problem Rajaratarala faces every year in finding a market for us. Rajaratarala buys us from our masters for between Rs 2and 3 each depending on size, after plucking us carefully, trying his best not to drop us to the ground, a difficult task, as we are inside in very thorny trees. He and his mates find it hard to reach us and pluck us safely. If our masters pluck us we all fall to the ground, and become unsellable, so Rajaratarala insists on him coming to pluck us.

He then has to pack and transport us trying to make sure we don’t get the sun on our heads as we get sunstroke and people think we are spoilt! He takes us in his pickup hundreds of kilometers to his customers in Colombo, who treat us with curious eyes, and pick and choose the bigger ones leaving the stragglers to be made into juice in Godagama when ripe. So after the post harvest loss of off about 25% as explained above, in bruising and spoilage, he sells the balance for between Rs5 and 7 each. He has to pluck all the oranges in a home garden, so sometimes he has to buy more than he can sell, so occasionally we get thrown away uneaten, though he tries to keep them for himself.

To think we are consumed by posh houses in Colombo, which if they don’t add sugar, cost them about Rs15 a tall glass, is the best value for money they can buy anywhere for a wholesome drink, full of vitamins and minerals and transported from afar. If only they know our humble beginnings, they would be more respectful of our personality and even save the rind to make marmalade, instead of throwing it away.

Rajaratarala is building his home in the village where we live, and he hopes to be able to entertain his friends and customers, so all of you who like us please come and see us one day, and maybe take the best of us and develop us into a native species of fruit to be propagated nationwide, being more adaptable to local conditions than the harder to grow Bibile, and the impossible to grow Valencia and also value us more by increasing our demand and paying a higher price for his efforts. One day, Rajaratarala has promised to grow many of us in his Ratmale property so he can make fresh Orange juice, chilled and deliver to his customers once he has been able to build a loyal clientele for our taste. I can assure you that we have a good life, unlike all the other crops that are grown and so take an interest in our welfare and usefulness in telling your friends our story.”

Friday, May 8, 2009

Another surprise on Vesak no one talks about

I blog experiences I encounter and are not tailored to be politically correct, as no one pays to read what I write and I am not beholden to anyone or under obligation. So after my blog entry below I wrote earlier today, my laptop needed recharging and on my way home, I encountered some neighbors, all women and children, dressed up, and wished them as they were walking to the Giritale Janapadaya temple, the closest here. I then encountered a group of men, all waiting for their afternoon shot of moonshine and I half jokingly was sarcastic to one who yesterday asked me for Rs200 for you know what. He proudly said he just purchased a bottle of “ seal arakku” earlier for 1200/- from ‘minni akka’ who he said would sell at least 500 bottles today in the Hingurakgoda town.

I analyzed this, as all bars are closed on Poya, a day of most demand for any brew. So this lady sells the normal retail sanstha gal, which normally retails for Rs 565, at Rs 1200. She would buy it wholesale and make a clear profit of about 700 a bottle. Anyone who does the math will realize if she sells only half what that man said she does, she makes a clear profit of 175K today. If she tells croocked law enforcement that she sells only 50 and will share profits equally with them, then 35K is given with the balance for her.

I am sorry to say that even the staff who work for me look forward to this, and I dread to extrapolate how much goes for the stuff and how much one has to pay both in fines and also to those in law enforcement to either look the other way, or reduce the purported illegal brew they confiscate, so as to minimize the fine. Despite Mathata Thitha, policy of the government, the reality is different as the greed and the money involved is too great to enforce the the law. So those who forced abstinence by not serving liquor even in hotels in Sri Lanka, don’t realize they are just punishing people who bring in legitimate money to the government in liquor tax, while promoting a lot of lawlessness, when bans and prohibitions, encourage the underworld with connivance of the police rotten apples.

For those of you who are unaware, alcohol sales rise enormously, on the eve of Poya, as that is a day when alcohol is consumed in quantity and all outlets including clubs and restaurants as well as all hotels in the Island are banned from serving alcohol. There is a small exception in hotels where I believe they can serve liquor in the hotel room, and at more expensive hotels the mini bar is stocked to partake in ones needs.

I admit I am using a small example of my locality to extrapolate, and in that regard admit that it is unfair to say that nothing has changed since the new Mathata Thitha rules. Any intelligent person would say that such laws only make the underworld wealthier and creates need when previously there were none. The excitement of doing something that is against the law, seems to be a need of the men. The camp that says to legalize cannabis, or ganja as it may result in a lower demand, as it just will not be lucrative as it is now seems to have merit. I believe that unless those given the task of enforcing the law, in fact profit from it being broken, then there is something wrong with the law or those enforcing it. You can suggest what you think should be done and comment on the blog. It is a point to note that the state coffers from Tobacco and Alcohol taxes, and fines from illicit sales of them amount to a lot more than the sum of corporate and income taxes.

Vesak here in Raja Ela, Hingurakgoda –Near Minneriya in Polonnaruwa District

Today is Vesak Poya, and in terms of activity, is no different from another day. We tie up the cattle in a different place, and after an hour down pour yesterday, they seem quite happy with the potential of some tender morsels sprouting up. After all it was the first rain for a month and it preceded a very hot humid spell.

People here having been waiting for this rain, called the rain that turns the winds, and are not sure whether this is it, as the winds have not turned. Over here that rain portends the beginning of a new growing season, and this rain has to pass before the onion seeds are put into the nursery. If this is done before these rains, when they come the nursery will drown as the wet clay filled soil will suffocate the growing plant. Though I slept soundly last night despite having my whole verandah where I sleep soaked after the shower, the ‘hulang kala’ or the windy season has not commenced yet. It may rain tonight!

Unlike in the Western Province, (accounts for 60% of the GNP of Sri Lanka) where there are shops selling a lot of Vesak decorations and lights, especially the temporary ones just for the season, there are no shops like that, and nor have I seen any homes with even on Vesak lantern.

When I passed the row of Army campls in Minneriya yesterday, they had only just begun setting up their individual display locations, I presume the actual decoration is being prepared in a different place to be brought here.

The only plan we appear to have is that some neighbors want to go in the two-wheel tractor to Medirigiriya, thinking there would be more decorations there, for which they borrowed my tractor and borrow a trailer from someone else as I do not have one. Some may, and MAY is the operative word this May 8th, go to the local Temple as they do on each Poya day, and others may go to the nearby stretch of Army camps, to see their more elaborate decorations, as the Army always has a competition for “Best Vesak Lantern”.

No doubt the older ladies take sill (upasaka amma),and as is usual the Gal Vihare is a destination every Poya where the Army provides the midday meal for those pilgrims. See my blog entry of June 2008 for some of the visuals of last year’s Poson, which is the bigger occasion in these parts, and not Vesak as it is in the Western Province.

The shops are closed till Monday, so I have to plan ahead to ensure that we have got the inputs necessary for our work schedule for these few days to prepare the land for sowing.

In the Kauddulla vicinity there is a pinkama in progress, praying for rain, for the farmers who depend on paddy cultivation using the waters of the mighty Kaudulla Tank. There is no surplus water to be given to Kaudulla from Minneriya, nor any excess to be sent further on to the Kantale Tank. The rains in the Up country have not been sufficient to fill the Victoria and lower Reservoirs of the Mahaweli scheme, so little has come our way to Minneriya through an elaborate series of tunnels and canals that fill Giritale and Minneriya Tanks and also affects the Parakrama Samudra inflow through another route.

Monday, May 4, 2009

martin wickramasinghe museum, koggala

The childhood home

During my stay in the area, I visited the museum and childhood home of the famous author of many novels and books of learning, the late Mr Martin Wickramasinghe. Details can be found on www.martinwickramasinghe.org

The Martin Wickramasinghe Trust runs this establishment for the benefit of the people, where we only have to pay a nominal entrance fee of Rs20/-

School children are encouraged to come as a class, as many of the works of Mr Wickramasinghe are part of the literature that is studied. One should ideally spend about 2 to 3 hours wandering around the grounds.

Of course with my need to learn mode, I was most interested in the names of the trees in the park that have both the sinhala name, the english name and the latin name.

The folk museum is not too large as to make it boring, and so little interesting snippets can be learned like knives used to cut herbs for ayurvedic medicine which caught my eye. There is something of interest for everyone. The more interest the public shows in this place I am sure the interest the trust would take to enhance the enjoyment factor of the visitor and provide an even greater experience, with no burden on the state.

Exhibit of carts of yesteryear

Sunday, May 3, 2009

the fortress resort in koggala

I spent a few days at the fortress hotel in koggala, www.thefortress.lk It was very relaxing, as usual bathing in the sea is the most pleasurable pastime for me. The hotel is almost on the water, being on a 4 acre thin strip of land between the main Galle Matara road and the beach, and was built on the land previously occupied by Hotel Horizon, which I used to visit when I was small.

The main feature, is the simple fortress like design on the outside, based on old Dutch buildings in the Island, however there are no other Sri Lankan touches other than the staff in sari or sarong. One could be in any hotel room anywhere in the world as the interior while finished to a very high standard has no traditional motifs or furniture. There was no desk in the room and the closets for clothes was minimal, which for a super luxury hotel is one that needs addressing.

The bathrooms are almost the size of the rooms with white marble on the floor and up to ceilings, with modern fittings, bath showers and double wash basins and modern fittings. All rooms have flat screen tvs and ipod, with good sound stereo, which also implies the iphone can be charged on the same docking station. The free wifi did not work as well as hoped.

The choice of food was good, but not excellent,however the staff were exceedingly helpful and polite, but still lack the attention at a US restaurant where the water tumblers are always filled with iced water, without having to be asked.

Saturday, April 25, 2009

I voted and what I found inexplicable

My Voting card in Sinhala and Tamil only

I am registered currently for voting purposes in my farm in Godagama, which is in the Homagama electorate of the Colombo District. I had a list of 41 parties including independent groups with potentially 46 persons vying for preferences for each party.The ballot paper was about 2 ft long to accommodate all these parties, firstly the party sign on the left hand side box, and then the name of the party, in Sinhala, then in Tamil followed by English. In a small section in the bottom, a box of approximately 8cm X 6cm were the 46 boxes with numbers to cross for three candidates for the party one voted for in the top.

The irony was that most people know what party symbol they would vote for, but which of three numbers to cross is much more difficult. Peoples attention span for remembering numbers is not good, and though one may remember one number of a particular candidate, recalling three is a wholly different matter.

I was particularly shocked when my father who had voted in the Colombo West electorate and came up to the farm in the morning told me, that as far as the numbers were concerned he had no clue who he voted for, just crossing three consecutive numbers in boxes, as he did not know names or numbers of candidates.

If that is the comment of a supposedly experienced voter of numerous elections, then I can only conclude that this system is considerably flawed, as all the electioneering was to get people to remember names and numbers, and not party platforms, and even that was poorly executed.

The scale of the waste of money thus expended on an election, which for all intents and purposes is merely a referendum, is unpardonable in light of the current events. Effectively to me it is nothing more than a jobs list for the second tier of boys, who get a duty free vehicle, for all 104 provincial councilors elected. Not one word of utterance was made on how the Rs50B allocation for the Western Provincial Council will be spent. No surprise therefore that voter turnout was under 60%

I found one troubling point which I would like one of my readers to explain. My ballot paper was torn from the perforation and given to me, and my voter number was entered on the counterfoil.Now the counterfoil and the ballot paper have a unique number much like in a cheque book where the counterfoil and cheque have the same number. It is therefore possible, and if computerized, very easy to match who voted for which candidates and party, nullifying the whole point of a secret ballot.

I would like some clarification on this, as to why the lady handing me the ballot paper wrote my voting card number on the counterfoil in pencil!