Thursday, December 30, 2010

Another year, another page, another change and another challenge

I feel this year has flown by faster than most, and when I realized at one stage that I had not blogged for 5 months, it was simply because I just did not have a spare moment to do so. I have had to evolve over time and meet the new challenges that I have faced. Change in my field is par of the course and if I do not change, I will be steamrolled by events, all out of my control.

When I began this particular journey 6 years ago, I was selling Rs70,000 a month in King Coconuts(thambili). Today I barely make Rs15,000 and that is after price revisions, which means the volume loss is ever greater. To explain this phenomenon, which may not be understood by the reader; when short of nuts, I used to go outside my farm and pluck from neighboring houses and lands too meet the demand, as I used to drive my pick-up to the wayside stalls, near parliament, along the Western Provincial Council and Central Environmental Authority offices as well as along the University of Colombo as well as other streets including opposite DS Senanayake School. I sold everything I transported to Colombo.

Now these wayside stallholders have been evicted by Gotabhaya Rajapkse and his edicts of cleaning up unauthorized structures, and they have had to find alternative sources of employment and I have had to change my product range and work balance. In their place are fancy Coca Cola stalls selling sweet water and so the wholesome thambili has been sidelined in favor of cleanliness and development.

I have had to change with the times, and find some part time work that keeps me even more occupied than before, as I have to commute to office, work late nights and rent another place close to the workplace to make it a practical proposition. My staff have not improved their conduct, or mended their ways, and despite being on the lookout for more suitable persons to do the work, have not been able to find them.

Still my intentions and goals remain unchanged, and I have now resolved to draw up a plan that as its objective is to establish an efficient and productive agricultural business, provided I am able to obtain the services of the relevant and suitably qualified personnel. There is no other way in which one can truly justify spending the time and effort in this field, unless the rewards are worth the risk.

The immediate concerns of the public re sky rocketing food prices have not been addressed satisfactorily, and I still believe this critical national food security topic requires addressing urgently, and I am part of the solution. To that end, despite the brickbats from my friends poking fun of me for not being able to satisfy their needs for wholesome, nutritional food, due to shortage, I am still determined to continue.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Have you ever had your liquor cabinet raided in Sri Lanka? Tell me about it!!

This is such a uniquely Sri Lankan saga, that I must write about it for the benefit of my readers overseas who want to know what it really is like living in this splendid land. What prompted me to write is the tragedy I was told about yesterday.

At my open house last evening I was told that my neighbor had unexpectedly returned home one evening and stumbled upon the fact that a usually locked room had been opened, and upon entering found a trusted staff member rifling through the liquor cupboard having found the hidden keys. (in SL the alcohol is usually kept locked away) Upon seeing the master he had run out of the first floor window and fallen badly injuring himself, in addition to possibly losing an eye. So much for long service and a chance of improving one’s position in life.

This is just a tip of the iceberg, but nevertheless it was the first time that I heard of one actually coming to such grave injury on account of the need to raid let alone drink alcohol. Any type of alcohol cannot be left unattended. I was at an exclusive Christmas Party at one of the top hotels in Colombo recently and the host who has this event, always provides his own liquor, both to ensure quality of the drink, wines and spirits are unblemished, but also to ensure that none goes missing into the hands of the servers. His trusted employee who is a teetotaler is in charge of serving the drinks into the tumblers and wine glasses which the waiters then serve to the guests.

It is a well known fact, ask a wedding planner, that a good proportion of alcohol served at weddings disappears. It is noteworthy that a bottle of Dom at Rs30K is not siphoned off to be sold, but to be drunk as quickly as possible mixed of course with Sprite to get thoroughly sloshed! It matters not one iota as to the value of the bottle, it is much the same to the drinker if they can get high on it.

In a similar vein, at a relative’s home just this week I was informed that all the boxes of premium whiskey that had been carefully purchased and stored for an occasion over a period, were suddenly found to be empty when the cupboard was opened recently. So the theft of the bottles was not noticed till then as the empty boxes looked untouched! They have no idea as to when it occurred, at one go or over a period, and by whom as there may have been many domestics in the house.

No doubt I have lost more than a share of bottles, and have been embarrassed when guests at Polonnaruwa bring their liquor and my boys swig it and are under the table even before they leave. Ask the tourist hotel managers how they control mini bar losses and their whole accounting for alcohol. It is something that occupies an inordinate amount of their management time. It is a huge cost to the industry.

I must also add the favorite trick is to fill the bottles with water to take attention away from the missing liquor from the open bottles, sometimes using artificial colorings too!!!

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Imports of Chicken and Eggs for the Festive Season – Will you bet on fact or fiction?

Today 8th December, the Minister of Consumer Affairs announced in Parliament that 2500Tonnes of Chicken and 50Million eggs will be imported for the Festive Season. Please watch the facts as to how much chicken and eggs will be imported and the actual dates of arrival in the country and another 4 days before it gets to the retail outlets so that the likes of you and I may have a chance of buying such!

I would like to know how many of the readers believe this will happen, even if it comes after the festive season, as there is no practical way of getting it to the retail store within 14days. So why do we even permit such statements to be made and secondly reported? It is because we read and believe that will be done, and sing his praises. Do you remember how 8 weeks ago the cess on the import of Big Onions was reduced? Well the imports of this at the lower price is yet to take place, as Big Onions are still Rs180/- a kg and we have been promised that the price will come down at the end of the week once the new shipments arrive.

In my farm shop, I sell eggs, which I buy from my neighboring farm. On Monday I was speaking to the owner of the farm about the price I paid for the eggs, namely Rs14/-, the previous week I had paid Rs11/- and asked him if next week it will rise further due to the festive season demands. He said as feed costs have risen and if demand exceeds supply it will inevitably be so. Only imports can stop the rise.

This is another case where the planning period is longer than the knee jerk reaction to criticism the agents of the Government indulge in. If they were serious about controlling the price of chicken and eggs, then sufficient notice would be given to the trade and orders placed so that the extra quantities would be in the shelves when needed. The producers and consumers know the score. Remember what happened once with the rice. In an attempt to control the rising price, rice was imported, but it came to the shelves once the next harvest was in, resulting in a glut, and this massacred the price down, decimating the livelihoods of farmers who have to sell their crop as soon as it is harvested due to their personal needs.

Is this a precursor for a repeat of the same? If the chicken and eggs arrive when demand drops, then the resulting oversupply will force those producers of this food item to sell at a loss, thereby seriously affecting them, some of whom will go out of business and prices will accordingly rise. They (ministers) who are making these decisions on behalf of the nation, though elected by the people have never produced as much as a pea in their lives, and don’t know the production cycle or the import cycle. You cannot run a country in this haphazard manner betraying the public!!

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Wikileaks – it means nothing to us though it does to the US

I guess people with not much to do are having a field day discussing the revelations of the above. It is called entertainment. So while I have a lot to do, I guess I will also surrender and add my two cents to the discussion, in the half hour I am waiting to go to an event this evening at RIZE. I think it is great to have this info come out, so students of diplomacy understand the types of information sent in the diplomatic ‘cables’ to their bosses. It is so normal as to be unsurprising. I am sure our learned and not so learned diplomats have super Sinhala words to describe the antics of the people in their postings, and would dearly love to get our take on the same, as I would fall of my chair in fits of laughter about such things like the antics of a Queen’s Garden party at Buckingham Palace, both on the ignorance of our diplomats of the strange customs of the West and their descriptions thereon.

Sinhala is such a flowery language for these descriptions, that I hope someone takes a few of the dispatches and translates them into Sinhala for some our readers to keep them enlightened and entertained as to common practice the world over.

I think it is so obvious that every country big or small, rich or poor pass on information in a similar vein, as all these diplomats meet locals at these cocktail parties, where some get themselves blind drunk, as I have occasion to note our high ups sometimes do and make an ass of themselves, the ruling and opposition I put into this category, as alcohol inebriation crosses party lines!

I am therefore curious what kind of reports get publicized in the case of dispatches from Colombo. I hope we get a good dose of fun out of them. Remember it is an opinion only of a diplomat who writes his or her understanding, which may or may not be accurate. It is therefore important not to take umbrage or place too much I told you sos as a particularly biased politician is keen on emphasizing for whose gain I don’t know. It shows his ignorance of the matter, as if he is any better.

It is a source of news for media who seem starved of stories, and so are playing all the air time for what it is worth. The cynics of this world will say this is actually a CIA plot to expose this, as they have their reasons and blame it on Wikileaks to take all the flack. Sit back, relax and let your mind wander the possibilities and rationale, without just reading the actual texts and putting any weight on it.

In summary, I think it is nothing more than wonderful entertainment and any more serious implication is just for personal agendas. Just look at how the Israelis are loving the leaks, as it puts them in good light vis a vis our great friend Iran, as they seem to be more a ‘pariah’ to the Arabs, and so is this a Mossad plot!!

Friday, November 26, 2010

The dreary weather in Colombo – I am in desperate need of sunshine

It is Friday and already this week has been quite hectic. Monday was a day of house to house produce delivery after taking Megha (dog) to the vet with a wound in his ear. Tuesday was a full day on the job, with a seminar on the budget in the afternoon blogged elsewhere in Serendipity. This was followed by a book launch of “the suicide club” the author and his family being friends. Got drenched getting there as it was at a (new to me) venue called the Warehouses opposite the Elphinstone Theater in Maradana. It was an occasion to meet friends and relatives, with the dress code being black & white. The book, a biography of plantation life and loves.

Wednesday was a dinner party (baked crab, crispy pork and a super meringue with chocolate topping) hosted by friends that went on past 1.30am and I was stopped for the first time, this on Horton Place being accused of the smell of alcohol. I must confess I did have a favorite malt whiskey and the hostess insisted on one for the road. I did tell the cop I was prepared to go to the station for the breathalyzer though he was hoping for a less complicated solution, so he sent me on my way. I was only about 200 meters from my destination.

Thursday for a full work day at the WTC(our twin towers) and it was straight to another dinner party in the rain by tuk tuk. This time it was string hopper biriyani with prawns, chicken, mutton and a spread. The dessert was also scrummy, but the Laphroig Malt whiskey was the highlight as that was one I used to enjoy in bygone days and not had for ages. This time I had a ride home from a fellow guest.

Friday, was a quick drive back to the farm at 6.30am to pick up the King Coconuts, and deliver them to the Golf Club, and at the same time, take whatever I needed for my night’s trip to Minneriya, including the plastic crates. Then after leaving my cab at the apartment in town, I took a tuk tuk in the rain to the office for a full day at work. I will shortly get back to the flat, pick up the cab, my man Friday and make my journey to Polonnaruwa to oversea the sowing of the new rice crop.

It is raining outside, and I suspect it will be a drive in heavy rain for five hours, which is not easy, but the rains are much less over there, which is what is worrying me as it means my preparations and planting become more of a challenge.

However my weekend in the wilds is what I am really looking forward to, a far cry from the life and work stated above, that’s when reality and creation take place and that’s where my heart and soul lie. It is anyone’s guess how soon I can make the permanent transition. I have to lead this double life to be able to indulge in my desires, as I have not yet found the solution to be self sufficient living on the land.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Cock Fighting –" The Hidden Sport" – The most international of them is all over this country

It is amazing that nothing is written about one of the most popular pastimes in the rural areas of Sri Lanka. In little nooks and crannies in Sri Lanka young boys raise fighting cocks. It is not an expensive hobby, so as a pastime, interest, risqué activity or a gambling starter pack for the youth, fighting cocks are everywhere.
Believe it or not this is something done all over the world, and in the scheme of things by people of lower income as it is something they can engage in without too much cost, and with the potential of wagering for a considerable gain. If one looks at European and American history, cockfighting was a common sport, and amongst slaves in America, this was a pastime that was common to take their minds away from their harsh living and working conditions. In short this was their form of entertainment.

Due to the fact that cockfighting is a banned sport, both due to the cruelty to animals and the fact that it is unlicensed and therefore outside the taxation net nothing is publicized about this activity and people carry on this on the QT as they say. Those youth engaged in this are completely ensnared and engrossed in this, and they start out doing it for fun, and the rules are simple. You fight your cockerel with another’s and if yours wins, you have the losing bird. Winning is if the opposing cock runs away in fright, or refuses to fight by cowing down, or if it gets killed in the fight.

This activity has sparked a complete industry, so people go in search of the best varieties “jalaya” is a word I constantly hear for a type of bird. They have sharp talons on their feet that they use to strike their opponent and some if they are let out of their cages just goes in search of another bird just to fight to kill, with no fear. Then once they get a fearless bird there are those who try to breed from that one to raise fighting cocks.

There is a well organized cock fighting underworld that the police have no idea of as it is not a well publicized form of wagering. People come from all over the place for a cockfighting competition which is usually held in a small compound in a not too obvious part of someone’s property, where there are people on the lookout for any strangers in case they are police in mufti, to signal to by way of whistle.
It is a thrill for the youngsters as the wagering is done by the adults and there is a decent reward for the owner of the wining bird, who can sometimes pocket Rs10,000/- for his efforts and even sell his winning bird for more.

I will try and get some photos and also include some cockfighting capers in the future

Sunday, November 21, 2010

So much has happened in the past six months, I was suffering from writers’ cramp

How do I summarize in the space of a blog entry what has happened? Well I don’t know how. It has been filled with trips to places and discovering more, even taking the dogs on the back of the pick up on vacation/ working holidays. I recommend a slow drive up or down the Bogawantalawa cut to Balangoda a road I been for the first time a few months ago and determined to take a picnic lunch and go again to appreciate the varying forests and tea estates of the Bogawantalawa valley and most of all the peace and tranquility.

There have been additions of more calves on the farm, with varying theories of how to maximize the yields from the cows. Generational fights called young vs old with me fighting for the youth for change against the old who blame the youth as being lazy, and the youth saying they cannot take orders from a bunch of old geezers who sit back and do nothing expecting them to do all the work. I lost the skirmish and have to suffer the daylight robbery that is taking place. Its called respecting the elders in Sri Lanka!!!

I have been working all hours and have also been in the thick of the stock market boom in Sri Lanka with not a share to my name, but having safely made millions tax free for clients who I am at pains to explain the world of risk and reward, something very alien to Sri Lanka it seems. Sometimes I have been working in the office till 6.30pm on a Friday, then going to a cocktail function of a leading Conglomerate, chatting with the MD on how he could improve his share price if only he could show more transparency to inspire investor confidence, only to leave for Polonnaruwa at 9.30pm getting to sleep on my bed made of branches in an open verandah at 2.30am.

I still hold my open house on Tuesdays in a flat in Colombo, entertaining a cross section of society, serving Cheeses from all over the world, courtesy of friends and relatives just back from foreign climes, along with a selection of red and white wines. Recent guests have included, captains of industry and commerce, big time jewelers, small time lawyers, designers and artistes; new MPs of the government and opposition, friends and relatives from overseas and all just interesting conversationalists who enjoy meeting new people.

I have had the usual travails on the farm, where instructions are not followed, alcoholics roam, police reports to vouch for the those under my direction, even though I am not sure of their complicity in the infraction. The unreliable staff, agricultural tools, weather, water supply and theft all contributing to chaos. It is surprising that anything gets done on the fields in Sri Lanka given the attitudes prevailing.

In fact this crazy life was even filmed by a film maker from the UK following me one day on my produce delivery route from house to house, then one day at the office in the clouds in the World Trade Center, then on the fields in Hingurakgoda coupled with a trip to see the elephants at the Minneriya National Park, interviewing all those around about what they thought of this vagabond.

All this fortunately with no time off for a head ache! I will just carry on where I left off!

Friday, June 11, 2010

Travails of marketing your own produce to those who buy from a wholesaler

Sometime ago I reported in my blog about my losing the account at the Royal Colombo Golf Club, due to them not willing to accept some of my King Coconuts as they did not conform to a minimum size. The farm has been supplying the single estate King Coconuts to the club for a number of years as my father a member of the club, had been asked to supply them during the period he was actively playing.

Recently I was approached again by the Club to supply them with King Coconuts, and I duly arrived this morning with the order of 200. (uneconomical really to supply such a small quantity on a special journey from the farm, but due to the prevailing rains demand from the club is also low so I was willing in the interests of a relationship to supply this small quantity, despite having told the person who contacted me regarding a renewed order that I need a minimum order of 250)

The new rules set in motion by the Club Captain and the committee running the club is for a chef from the kitchen to check the quality control upon delivery, and this chap said that he would be hauled over the coals by his superiors for ordering some of the nuts owing to their size. The same issue I fell out with back then!!!
I had to tell them firmly that they choose between single estate Thambili and those they can get a supplier in Colombo to deliver, bought wholesale from the Pettah market where they choose the bunches they deliver according to size, not knowing from where or date of plucking. I was able to pluck nuts to order, as I have to cut according to a row of trees where in some sections the nuts are smaller than others, and vary in size from tree to tree. It is also a fact that sometimes smaller nuts have more King Coconut water than the larger nuts, and so size bears no relationship to quality and volume. As I only plucked the nuts to fill the club order, either I sell it to them or just throw it away, as I do not have the time to go at short notice to find buyers for the balance, especially on a rainy and cloudy day like today.

While the chef is just doing his job, frightened of the bosses, they have either to make an exception to their size rule if they want my Thambili, knowing it is plucked the previous day just for them or buy from a trader who sells other people’s produce. It is their choice as it is beyond my control to conform to their specifications. They decided to accept the order today but that may be the first and last I deliver to this club!!! Watch this space for updates to the latest saga of the farmer and his produce dealing with systems and procedures that are not compatible with his method and means of supply. I pluck fresh coconuts to my home delivery customers in the same way as the sizes vary from tree to tree.

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Eventful few days in grappling with the new reality of drought amidst plenty


It is interesting to note that while there was rain and floods in the Western Province in Sri Lanka, and I was called by friends overseas wondering if my Pokuna was flooded, that we have not had a drop of rain in ages in Minneriya, except for one day when it rained island wide. So when people are drying out from wet conditions, I was having a battle to get a few drops of water into my fields, by trying all means to damn the water flows and send some water my way.

It is vital that the fields get enough water to allow the plants to grow and prevent the weeds from getting hold of the dry conditions to flourish. We have the semi annual discussion on what types of herbicide based on the most likely weeds that can strangle the rice plants. No one questions the part played by the big multinational chemical companies, whose agents the local companies sell a whole host of products, which cost the farmer more than the cost of his annual fertilizer, just to prevent weeds from making a start on the fields. Often even this attempt is forlorn as inevitably the weed that the spray does not kill is the one that sprouts to adversely affect the harvest. One would say the non use of this is the answer. I tried it once and to my cost I know that is not an option if I am to survive.

I have had to resort to pumping water using my tractor engine to run the 3inch pump, as despite my paying for water, I do not get my allocated share, as my supposedly neighborly neighbors do their utmost to prevent me from getting any.

While it is the rainy season in the West, it is the windy season in the North East with a constant blowing. This season continues till the October rains, so it is a breeze to sleep in my veranda without electricity / fans. The problem however is that it dries things fast, where crops need more moisture, and the wind blows away the newly formed mango, where there appear to be more on the ground than on the tree, another added threat over an above the rock squirrel (see photo here near the mango) who also nibbles at the mango and it falls to the ground.

I harvested the oranges from my trees on this visit, and am pleased with their quality, and wished I had ten times this number as I can sell them now I have got the marketing sorted, but alas this will be it till next season. In agriculture however there is never a dull moment, as when you thought you could relax a new crisis erupts, and this time it was the tractor that requires a major repair. My chaps ever the optimists who think I am made of money, suggest I trade it in for the latest model without a moments realization that I am running on my last rupee in the world till I earn something from tomorrow’s sales and so I survive another day.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

"ayahapath kalaguna warthawa" - unfavorable weather report

The Western Province has been deluged with incessant rains these past few days, which has resulted in no sunshine for the past week. The Victory Parade that was to have been held on Thursday, May 20th has been postponed due to it. On Thursday the 13th, when I rode the bus to the WTC for work, there were in excess of 200 CTB buses that had lined up on DR Wijewardene Mawatha, which had brought security forces from all over the country for rehearsals. They were all in formation on Galle Face Green and the rains came hard as I watched these poor guys getting soaked from the 32nd floor of the WTC. They were not wearing rain coats just their uniforms and you know how thin our young boys are as it is the recruits who draw the short straw for this sort of thing. They were totally frozen and no doubt the next day 10% would be with coughs and colds and flu and the worse for wear. But no, I went on Friday, the rain was heavier and I got totally soaked, despite a brolly there was not a dry part on my body, getting drenched by the motor cars whizzing past the puddles on the road side.This time the buses were on Galle Face Green itself and the troops still on parade in the heavy heavy rain.

Now tell me the viewing platforms for the dignitaries are under construction, they will not know the suffering of those on parade, and what they had to undergo so they and the TV audience can be lulled into the spectacle that is being created, totally oblivious to the sacrifice that have to be undergone so the credit can go to the higher-ups, that is those who do not have to get wet!!

Anyway I digress a bit, and mercifully note this parade that was about to become a charade was postponed in the interests of common sense once the top brass realized the toll it has taken on the brass-less, with no one fit and able to parade.

So it was a weekend of rains on the farm, and where it is hard to get any productive work done. Worst of all Monday morning is a very busy day on the farm getting ready for market. My staff had the cheek to tell me it was raining and that they'd rather not go out and pick the leaves, vegetables and fruit. I said no leaves no sales, no sales no income and the choice is theirs. If I can get wet so can they!!

So finally I left late with having to load up the pick up with produce in the rain and then drive in the rain through flooded roads on my delivery route. Needless to say my King Coconut sales were totally down, taking a bath literally on them. People don't like to drink Thambili when it rains, a totally absurd view in my opinion. Ironically a lot of fruit ripens in the rain, but people reduce their consumption in the rainy period, giving a double whammy wallop to the farmer who has to reduce his price as both supply increases and demand decreases all at the same time. Now none of you readers realize this do you? unless of course you are one of the producers who have to face the consequences.

Anyways it was past 9pm when I finished my deliveries, as it rained all day long and I was delivering to homes in the rain. Here people are not willing to step outside their homes on a rainy day, and I turn up with produce, what more can they ask for? Anyway after a hard day's work it was a welcome relief to have a shower and a Raheema's chicken fried rice for me and my helper, before settling it to watch the TV news at 10pm showing the flooded city we had just been wallowing in!

So that was yesterday and this is today, and I got to the office at the 32nd floor by 8 this morning to avoid the inevitable deluge that struck an hour later.

Take it from me, I drove around Colombo 7 delivering and I have never seen so many roads and homes under water, even MacCarthy Road(Wijerama) homes had water in their verandas. The roads of Colombo are full of pot holes, the drains are so full of debris they were overflowing, and there just is no proper drainage for water to flow smoothly through the various channels to the sea as there has been a lot of development and infilling of marshland reducing the flow of water out. To see Parliament Sq and the Old Town Hall as islands was quite an eye-opener.

I trust those in charge will do something as the Indian Film Festival will otherwise showcase Colombo as a City unable to handle rain and remember the monsoon is only expected next week!! as the weather forecasters keep on saying.

They are hoping to spruce up the city, as we will get an extraordinary amount of publicity, and if the powers fluff this once in a lifetime opportunity, then it is another of the many failings in a litany of failings in administration.

Monday, May 10, 2010

The Na tree in bloom in front of my home


The Na Tree (Ceylon Ironwood) with Latin name Mesua Nagassarium is the National Tree of Sri Lanka. ( Wikipedia uses the Latin name Messua Ferrea - so someone with better knowledge than me can enlighten me on the difference)

It was declared as the National Tree in 26th February 1986 according to the official Government of Sri Lanka web site which also states that "It is believed that the first visit of Buddha was to a grove of NA Trees at Miyanganaya and also the next Buddha (Mithriya) will attain enlightenment under a NA tree."

Why I chose to highlight this in my blog today was that I had planted the tree a few years ago, when I bought a seedling, and for the first time this year it bloomed and I was pleasantly surprised at the extent of buds and blooms, especially as I drive by the Na Tree lines Parliament Drive in Kotte where hardly a tree has bloomed, maybe the higher being does not approve of the shambolic state of some of the jokers in Parliament whose first job was to approve duty free vehicles to all, and so did not think it fit to grace the new parliament with a potentially magnificent sight of Na blooms.

I will later investigate other traits of the tree and include in the blog as I understand there are ayurvedic properties also associated with various parts of the tree.

In the meantime just appreciate what I see, just a wonderful sight to walk out of the front door to!

A few days later the blooms increase and now it is the only Na in the island with so many blooms. I challenge anyone to contradict me!!!

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

The greatest Sri Lankan celebrates his 80th birthday “Happy Birthday”

After the ceremonies in the office, I was invited to the Board Room for tea and cake

I have been fortunate in learning from one of our greatest but little known Sri Lankans. In the interest of respecting his privacy I will not reveal his name, but those who know me will easily guess who I am referring to.

This gentlemen who will reach a well deserved 80 on May 6th 2010, is still one who works like a driven man with a specific goal in his mind and a discipline that is the envy of anyone who knows him. He does enjoy life’s luxuries that he certainly has earned, however he has not let that overawe his purpose in life and enjoys simple pleasures in life too, just like the “kiri ala” that he asks me to supply him with, which his staff are lazy to serve saying he will just eat a spoonful only. A man who began life in very humble circumstances, and who managed to learn a trade and then use his knowledge to build a brand and a business empire that I admire as I know the hard work that has gone into it, which many envy and in Sri Lankan lore try and downplay noting reasons why he has succeeded rather than really giving him the credit for the effort that has gone into everything he has done.

Cutting his birthday cake with his family, executives and office/factory staff

In my experience being with him for some years and learning from him in the UK, I have noticed that he does not let obstacles prevent him from going ahead. When faced with the proverbial brick wall, I like to say he will break it and not sidestep it or avoid it. In his business as he built it from the ground up, he knows every aspect of the work, so it is difficult for those who serve him to make excuses as to why they cannot do some task, as he uses his experience to show them the way when faced with a ‘cant do’ opinion from a subordinate.

He lead life alone, bringing up his two sons single handedly. He is a perfectionist in everything he does, and able to handle a multitude of disparate tasks that he has been forced to handle at the same time. One aspect I learned from him, is to make a ‘to do’ list at the beginning of the day and resolutely go through it and clear as many points from it. I am only still able to clear a quarter of the items he can, but it is something I learned that needs to be done if one is to achieve some satisfaction at the end of the day that you actually performed a worthy function. One can then relax with a sumptuous meal or a nice cigar knowing full well you really earned it.

He is the only person in Sri Lanka worthy of titles that seem to be dime a dozen these days, but for some unfathomable reason not been awarded him. In a way when I know those who have actually been awarded these, I rather like the idea that he is not in such undistinguished company, needing no titles to buttress his greatness, but humbly carries on his work with little fanfare but much purpose.

I unashamedly say to people that his product that is sold in 100 countries worldwide and which I helped also to publicize in some of these countries, is better known than the name Sri Lanka itself. The quality of the product is one that I was proud to sell as on a par or better than anything available in the market today.

I know many of the distributors all over the world who sell his product, and I know how many distributors who would like to have exclusive rights to sell his product and therefore know the esteem to which this gentleman his held by his representatives all over the world and the attention to detail he places to all his distributor family who can still identify with him personally as he still replies to his emails himself, something that no other company chairman does in this country, nor for that matter anywhere, to the extent that he does.

He has set up a foundation, that is run by a separate group of people who painstakingly investigate the merits of certain charitable contributions, not to just provide short term relief but to provide long term real benefits to the recipients, like livelihood enhancement, that goes with teaching and raising the skill levels already attained by those who are the beneficiaries of his assistance. The size of this foundation is greater than any other charity currently set up by any living Sri Lankan, and the real benefit from this to the economy of this country passes unnoticed but is very real and rewarding.

What can I say when the man is better known outside of Sri Lanka than within as well as his products, as I noted earlier. He has not received any recognition from his motherland, for his contribution to the economy of this country in processing a valuable raw material into a super value added products that due to the countries he has to service results in over 8000 different product types that have to be produced in just one factory location, which is arguably the only factory on the face of the earth that produces so many different products destined to so many different countries.

“I wish you good health and peace of mind that no matter what, there are people who silently admire you and wish to emulate your success in a small way, learning from you by way of example, so that we can teach our youth what is possible. We need real role models for our future that we can emulate and know that given hard work anything is possible. There is one thing you were born with which no amount of training can gain, and that is an incredible photographic memory for names, places, and events, that has enabled you to maximize that ability to the best advantage of your products, people, processes and profits. I thank you Sir for the time you spent with me, something I will treasure always and put to good use.”

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

an example of when work is fun and totally unproductive

The picture above reminds me of a painting scene in some famous gallery in old England where the farmers are all engaged in various activities.If not for the machine it could be a timeless shot.

In this instance there are a total of 10 people doing in theory a job that can be done by one machine and its operator. There is the tractor driver who just lies on the ground under a shade smoking a fag.(he is out of the pic by the way) He is just there in case the roaring tractor stops, as the tractor engine drives the rear wheel which operates this tsunami thresher. He is also the boss to whom I pay the money after the work is completed, and is the son-in-law of the owner of the tractor and tsunami.

Then there are 6 men/boys who work the machine, like carrying the bales of hay and stuffing into the machine. I know them all as they are all my neighbors, and there are some in school, who work on this machine during their hols.

Then there are my three who hold onto the paddy sacks that collect the paddy and have to move them out once they fill up while another holds the replacement to avoid spillage.

They all have some fun while working, though talking when the machine is in operation is hard due to the deafening sound of the thresher. At the tea break it is lying in the shade chatting about yesterday and plans for the evening after they get their daily pay. There is a fair in town and the famous musicals that rural areas are now being plied with as a source of entertainment is a topic of conversation.

If and when the work ethic changes, and money becomes the driving force in a society then these lands will be more streamlined, worked by fewer people, and all these people who you see as underemployed will instead be part of the driven workforce.

Will that ever happen in Sri Lanka? is the question, and many would say it should not happen, as work,growth and acquisition are just not compatible with the psyche of the people who only do what is necessary to survive.

A short drive to Pasekudah Bay

The day after New Year, which was spent quietly and with a few visits to neighbors, we decided to go to the beach the following morning.

We packed our lunch in banana leaves, after having a light breakfast mainly of fresh cows milk by the milking crew in the morning and left around 10am. We could not possibly leave Bahu the Ridgeback and Megha the Dalmatian on their own, so we decided to bring them along with us.

After passing Kaduruwela, and then the Japan Peace bridge over the Mahawelin in Manampitiya it was only 45km from there to the Bay. Total distance from my agricultural property was 80km and it took us 90 minutes as I was driving leisurely surveying the countryside I had not seen in decades due to the war. A fast car on this newly widened empty road, would have taken only 45 minutes.

Pasekudah was very different to when I had last seen it. There were no trees. I remember when it was so lush and thickly overgrown with trees and shrubs. The Tsunami must have changed the landscape dramatically.

We parked in a central parking spot teaming with all types of vehicles. The Bay was so full of people, probably 2000 with very few in swimming gear, and most of them in the normal clothes they wear. The women were in the water in their saris or dresses.
There were no waves, and there were about 5 boats plying the water taking people on a 5 minute ride and charging Rs500.

Those boats certainly did a roaring trade that day. I was all ready for the water, but the boys and Menika and daughter were completely unprepared despite my saying that it was the bathing spot par excellence of Sri Lanka. Only once they saw the place that they could not resist the temptation and decide they must go in.

I was worried because Ranga decided to show off and swim all the way to a far off rock, in long trousers!! Well he made it there and back much to my relief, saying that at the rock were some drunken louts preventing them from alighting onto the rock with their silly antics.

Of course I had an Elephant House icy choc the perfect accompaniment after a long swim and then took the dogs who had been waiting patiently in the cab till we finished our swim, to take them for their enjoyment into the water and to a side where there were not too many people as I did not want to frighten them.

having a late lunch from the rice packet we had brought, under a really cool Kumbuk Tree on the wayside, with a pond on the side. We could not have found a quieter more perfect place to relax and satisfy our hunger, having also bought a couple of cold water bottles along the way.

To see more photos of the dogs having the time of their lives see Sinha Bahu's blog which is

"new year" just another day in the life of a villager

At the break of dawn after the spectacular sunrise, the next work at hand was to milk the cows and here is a joint effort by a boy and a girl taking one teat each to pull on!!

throwing fireworks a dangerous exercise at the various auspicious times, in my opinion a totally wasteful and very hazardous occupation, much enjoyed by the young ones.

for the 7am boiling of milk before the start of the cooking

lighting more fireworks with each aspect getting more dangerous that one even exploded prematurely in one of these 4 little hands. Fortunately the dip of the hand immediately in salt water for 10 minutes saved it from burns and excruciating pain, after a moment of complete numbness.

After the kiri bath breakfast it was then a case of bathing the cows in the water and giving them a full scrub down.

then it was a case of photo op to remember the occasion by

not forgetting Bahu the dog, where is Megha when you want to photograph him!!

photos of the dawn of the new year in the rajarata

Even I could not believe my eyes when I woke up on New Year on April 14th 2010 morning and saw the dramatic colors at about 5.30am in the Rajarata facing due East. So here they are to share with you

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

In the intervening period-- a case of taking care of business AS USUAL

This is Sri Lanka as someone just told me. I have learned the hard way to realize that I cannot rely on anyone. When I put people in charge of something, and they actually work destructively, to in this case knowingly reduce the harvest how can one hope for a future! (see blog entry below for details) If this happened within a few months of my return to SL, I would have burst a blood vessel or at least burst the aorta of the culprit, this time I just had to comfort myself as a case of ‘Déjàvu’ and not even tell my friends who will tell me to give up this lost cause.

It is ironic that the Uncle was the person who left for a family alms giving on the days he should have been sowing, and got into an accident on his return, which meant he left my service at a critical juncture for me, and the Nephew who did the same at a critical juncture just as I should have been harvesting, affecting the crop.

Today is Wednesday, April 7th so many people are leaving for their home villages to cast their ballot in tomorrow’s General Election. As Friday, 9th is declared a National Holiday, and Tuesday and Wednesday are New Year holidays, there will be no work done from today till Sunday April 18th as most people will be taking an extended break. This is bad for business and business owners, but great for the workers who look at it as a right which has been extended due to the election.

Now I have to spend time in Minneriya taking stock of my situation, and looking at other practical alternatives during the Avurudhu season fending for myself as I cannot find any staff at this time, meaning I have to mind the shop, while my relatives are holidaying in all places. During this period the ultra-rich flee the country as it is also hot and humid. The rich flee to cooler climes, the workers to their villages and Colombo, a ghost town, a haven for the cat burglars.

Unfortunately if I had private means to fund myself I would be living permanently in this property, possibly infusing the capital necessary to make this land as productive as possible using the latest agricultural techniques and eventually making it highly profitable. So without repeating myself, I stress the need to take stock of our agricultural practices, and encourage those with desire and knowledge to work the land and banish the louts and wastrels that currently occupy the country’s prime farmland under patronage from the government if we are ever to achieve the goals of being a net surplus producer of food.

Only when we can revive the work ethic still prevalent in the North from where we are now receiving food, affecting the inefficient farmer in the South to go to the government for help, can we get ahead as a nation, and not just be ‘lotus eaters’.