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 !!

17 comments:

Anonymous said...

Ranjith,
Thank you for the detailed explanation. You are right. When there is a family , complete with teens the situation is difficult.

As you have lived in Calif. I need not tell you the perils of bringing up teenage children :)They are so focused on material things that we feel a move to a Sri Lankan village just might show them how the simple values.

Thanks again.

Hope to visit you when we make the move sometime in 2010 or 2011.

J and E

Anonymous said...

Always nice to read your blog Ranjith. Hopefully I will be able to visit you this time when I am back in Sri Lanka.

In the meantime, do you have any pictures to share with me...life in rural Sri Lanka is what I want to depict on my website.

Susan

Anonymous said...

Dear ranjith

I was landed on to your blog while I was searching for something else, I read couple of articles here and there, to my greater surprise I was reading about my own dream:-)
Some one has already started writing and doing what I was dreaming about :-) since then I have started reading your blog from the beginning It is the same feeling where I read the "Madol Duuwa" while I was a kid.

your blog is really impressive keep it up im waiting to follow you.

let me know if there is a contact email to contact you.

Thanks

Rajaratarala said...

you can contact me Ranjit.Hulugalle@gmail.com

diff girl said...

..."People are irritating and interfering but at the same time concerned and helpful" .. sounds very sri lankan, wouldn't want it any other way! i'd like to come back home for good some day too.

Anonymous said...

Hi Ranjith,

My husband and I have been reading your blog with much interest for sometime now. I have a taste of the village life since I used to go to my father's village often as a kid. Your blog brings back nostalgic memories. We are planning to come down and settle in Kurunegala area (hopefully) in the near future.

Keep up the good work and the blogging.

R&V

Anonymous said...

Hi Ranjith
Thought of taking a break from some monotonous reading to something more interesting. Its cold here and the thought of nice hot weather, no hustle and bustle of daily routines here is appealing.
Shea

Harsha said...

Hi Ranjith,

I stumbled upon your blog today at work. I'm very inspired by your experience.

I am planning to take a break from and volunteer with a Sri Lankan NGO next year.

I am also little bit disillusioned with the materialistic focus of Western society. I guess working for no pay for an year in genteel poverty would make me appreciate the simple pleasures that do not have price tag.


Keep up the good work.

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