Tuesday, April 19, 2011

A delightful and enforced stay in one place for once

This is the first time since I returned to Sri Lanka nearly 7 years ago that I have stayed in one place for so long (other than the recuperation at my sister’s following my accident and operation) It is also the first time I have not had any means of transport, so I have not been able to go out of the gates of the farm, except once, when I hired a three wheeler to take the new puppies to the vet for their immunizations.

I have not had any visitors, except on two occasions when one set brought me dinner one day, and the others came for Sunday lunch on the farm. So it is just a matter of passing the time playing with the dogs, and listening to the sounds of the farm with birds in every direction. One notable concern I used to have here were the monkeys destroying the coconuts and bananas, but now that we have a gun to scare them away this threat seems to have diminished somewhat.

The above point suddenly came to mind when I was reading yesterday about the threat of predators being the single biggest threat to farmers in Sri Lanka, especially in the Anuradhapura and Polonnaruwa areas, and that there is no recourse, as the species that threaten the crops cannot be killed by law. I have pointed this issue time and time again, and still there is no national plan. The Rata Nagamu Api Wawamu program is not worth entering into if this issue is not addressed. It will not yield results unless there is a holistic approach to agriculture that covers all the inputs, risks and output outcomes.

I digress here, and being unable to walk and in crutches limits me to depend on our good Sri Lankan hospitality for everything. My main grouse on this is the fact that any request I have is fulfilled in the order of priority of the helper. That is the most frustrating part as I am rendered quite incapable of going through my list of things to do in the order and rate at which I would have if I was able. Patience and lack of any haste in everything is something I just had to learn.

I am unable to bathe on my own and need assistance. I am usually used to doing this twice a day, but in the current circumstance, getting my helper to commit a time even once a day is an exercise in despair. There is no amount of compensation the Government of SL can give me for the loss of my freedoms I had hitherto taken for granted, and not concerned myself about. I now have had time to work out the strategy to counter Govt. intransigence

Monday, April 11, 2011

Each one to his own castle for the holidays- man the roads are clogged!!

The country is preparing for the Sinhala/Tamil New Year and people have begun their trek to their villages to be with family and partake in the rituals traditionally carried out in many homes, but becoming less of a custom due to mobility and distances that separate.

In my case I am on the farm in Godagama, Meegoda (just 20km from Parliament, the Capital City of Kotte or Sri Jayawardenepura) now really a suburb of Colombo just outside the perimeter of the new Half Circular Road that will soon ring Colombo. It is an 11 acre spread where I have the feeling of living out in the country surrounded by fields and Coconut and King Coconut around me and beautiful if rather odd looking farmhouse built in three stages when the need for larger space became apparent at intervals.

The house has three bedrooms, two bathrooms, dining room, hall and verandah along with a pantry and a store room leading from the pantry, where paddy sacks are stored. The whole place is furnished with hand me down bits of furniture that has seen better days and hence is just an eclectic mix, but functional. The house is surrounded by many small buildings from the firewood kitchen closest to the house and the misnamed canteen where coconuts and king coconuts are stored, where the milk is measured and prepared for distribution. Other nearby buildings include the large kennels and run for the dogs, and three new kennels under construction. There is a row of rooms for staff and the cow shed, as well as three little houses dotted around the property, a shop at the entrance to the farm and adjoining buildings where the people who have rented the chicken cages live. The unmistakable chicken cages round off this collection with a large building that doubles as the tractor garage and storage for wood as well as the chicken feed and feeders for that activity. Then the building across the road that used to be a gem cutting factory, has been rented and now houses a MFD furniture assembling plant.

I should not forget to mention the manicured garden with a fish pond and grotto, which my father prides himself in keeping in prime condition at all times with an Anthuriam section under the shade beside it. There are also the two sheds that house orchids and anthuriam plants that round off this menagerie. This really sounds like a farm ha!!!!

I am surrounded by homes built on 8 perch plots (160 perches to the acre), to whom this place must seem outsized and grand. No wonder coconuts get stolen from the trees, a very dear commodity, as we are unable to cook a curry without fresh coconut milk!

I am the sole occupant of the house, for this holiday period, as my young attendant, seems to have decided to extend his stay at home (after going home for a funeral) till after the New Year, no doubt influenced by his mates coming home for the holidays not wanting to miss out on the friends, festivities, food and fun. Needless to say my recent loss of wheels has cramped my style and the wheel chair being the only set of wheels will forcibly keep me at home with just the dogs for company.

Readers will note that last year I had a lot more company including the dogs at my Hingurakgoda, property with rural traditions and gift giving and day trip to Passekudah Bay a short drive away where the dogs enjoyed it too. Nevertheless there is a lot to do and a working farm has daily activity and everyone lives on the farm or just outside.

Sunday, April 10, 2011

any film directors out there looking for content!

I am surrounded here today with a cast of characters out of the past, which when I got here originally having given up the western lifestyle, thought I could rehabilitate. I have failed miserably. They lend themselves to a real life teledrama, far better than anything that can be imagined with the real tease being a spectator to the outbursts when all below are inebriated at once. No amount of admonition from me seems to help as I do not take alcohol on the farm, and they know it, and just look sheepish when confronted!

I have Paul, a late 50 something Christian who lives at the far end of the land with his common law wife Anula, and a colorful past in the heyday of Colombo in the 70s a scion of a once well known landed family whose family gifted the land which is now St Mary’s Bambalapitiya. I have never seen him doing any real work, but seen him inebriated more than I have seen him work. Still he is a good soul who brought me breakfast of stringhoppers this morning and wants to die on the property!

Then there is Gamini, (40s) another who gets sloshed most nights, but can climb trees and is more able to do some work, who lives with his wife and 3 of his 4 children. The eldest girl got married at 17, to a grandson of a family retainer, and has a one year old.

Ranji (60s) is tasked with looking after the cattle and milking and lives near the shed with his disabled wife who is completely dependant on him and is with us out of pity, as he is a worse alcoholic, and unable to physically handle it and cannot work in the morning after a binge unlike the others. His three sons don’t even visit, even though they live nearby, and only come for money from the father.

Then there is Siripala (50s) currently single from a local family but prefers to live in a room on the farm, and presently also takes care of the dogs, due to my absence. He needs his fix and has been in and out of prison for distilling moonshine as his brother’s fall guy. He cant help but harrass the ladies, and gets incensed when he is rebuffed!

The only ones at least doing some work is the old dear Caroline(late 70s) who has been the supervisor forever and works only because she wants to get away from the daughters-in-law as all her three sons are well to do businessmen, and Menika (30s) who runs the shop, who lived on the farm at one time, with her family, but now lives in her own place just outside.

Here I am without income and no realizable investments, unable to walk, having also lost my only vehicle, typing this on a MacBook Air with my dogs in my spread sounding very much like those down and out Southern farmers at the end of the Civil War with their raggedy bunch of retainers who don’t have anywhere to go, somehow batting on waiting for the good times!! We just squeak by. The issue in the future will be the lack of a productive workforce, as no one wants to get into any agricultural employment.

I tried to get a bunch of young people in to help from elsewhere, but these guys know where their bread is buttered, and when they realized their number was up, used every trick in the book to get rid of them, with unfounded accusations and then, by getting them to do the work while these older ones sat in the shade and slept driving the youngsters out of disgust. I live with the devils I know hoping they do not bury me first! I have had to change my attitude to suit the situation and be philosophical about it for the moment.

Saturday, April 9, 2011

I have come home - how exhilerating it is!

It is just after 7 pm having completed a busy day, with a refreshing shower, three glasses of orange juice from my orange grove, and dinner, and am home alone for once with one Ridgeback Hugo Rama under the bed.

I have finally come home to stay a while. It sounds normal to most of us, but if you have been unduly and unfairly delayed from coming home for two and a half months, you will fell differently. We take our homes for granted, I now value my home, my bed, the smells and sounds around me.

Apart from the weekend I spent a few weeks ago to get accustomed to home, this is the real return if you can call it that. My sister and her family (I stayed with her after being released from hospital) are off for the holidays out of the country and the home help have all gone for avurudhu, so it was the ideal chance for me to pack my bags and also leave town!

It was an interesting episode getting back to the farm today. I had so much stuff, including 1000 oranges I had brought from Minneriya on Thursday, that I asked Amila who used to work for me in the past to help me by taking me in his new DIMO batta! It was amusing, as added to that were two bags of rice that I had milled in Minneriya, along with all my clothes, including the washing, books and papers, bedside lamp, and radio, my TV as I don't have one on the farm, and two puppies, the cutest two Ridgebacks ashen colored born on Park Road, a very unusual color, which I will hopefully get some photos to upload soon. My crutches and wheel chair added to this lot actually filled the vehicle.

My caregiver and attendant, the most important person these days that makes life bearable was missing, despite promising to be back in the morning prior to my departure. Well he had the very unusual illuck and sad news, because one grand mother died last Sunday, and he went home for the funeral on Tuesday (yes in villages they do have funerals on Tuesdays when they do not wish to keep the body and cannot afford expensive embalming) When he returned on Wednesday evening, as soon as he got to my place he got the news from his mother, that his other grandmother, his mothers mother had also just passed away enroute to the Negombo hospital in an ambulance. So he went on Friday morning promising to come on Saturday morning, saying the funeral was on Friday, and he is not aswering his phone, his way of coping with the white lie he told me, because the funeral was today Saturday. Both grandmothers live in the same village about 5 minutes walk apart, an unusual occurance now, as his father and mother are from the same village and their mutual family properties are adjoining.

So I shall take a break from the cares and worries and try to enjoy what my sorroundings can offer. I have arranged for a three wheeler to take me around for any must do jaunts, like going to the bank or taking the dogs to the vet, as I am without wheels at present and even if I had wheels as I am unable to drive and don't have a driver, I think this is the most practical option.

The three wheeler driver is the Baas (Contractor) who built my shop on the farm, and my wood burning kitchen adjoining the house and the kennels for the dogs. I cannot believe he thinks it is a better deal to drive a three wheeler and earn money that way, but I think he had some medical problems that made the earlier work too tiring for him to chose this less tiring option.

As you readers can see it is always a different day in the life of the wanna be farmer!!

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

is it any wonder why people are queuing up to leave Mother Lanka

I was in for a rude shock yesterday, when I was visited by a high officer of the Ministry of Justice last evening. For those who have not followed my blog over the last few weeks, I will just remind them that it was the convoy of the Minister of Justice that nearly killed me in Minneriya when one of the vehicles in his convoy crashed into me as it either skidded or its brakes failed and so rendered the vehicle uncontrollable completely destroying my vehicle (my life blood in earnings) and nearly killing me, as now I am bed ridden and recovering from major surgery for a broken femur.

The gist of the officer's message was that there is no provision for the Ministry which is vicariously liable on account of the vehicle being under the Minister's direction to pay me any sort of compensation for the damage and suffering caused. If this is true it is a serious issue. In theory the government can kill anyone they like, and not hold themselves responsible. This is a gross violation of civil liberties and fundamental rights.

I believe I have no other option other than completely sue the pants off the ministry and the Minister, so that the latter will not even be able to afford the pants he will wear. I will have to go to the International Human Rights Commission if the Supreme Court does not finally determine culpability and liability. If I am to take it to such extremes, I believe I should enjoin all the other claimants including the families of the over 100 killed by security vehicles and over 1000 injured to make it a class action kind of lawsuit, which can only have a positive impact for the general public, which the government is sworn to protect and in fact is currently oppressing!

So watch this space for the latest on this ongoing and if one knows the pace of legal proceedings in Sri Lanka, a lifetime of effort on behalf of future generations.

So if anyone asks you why you left Sri Lanka, just say "I did not want the government accidentally killing me or harming me and my not having any recourse to justice, which all civilized countries on earth currently provide."

Monday, April 4, 2011

Its just a case of attitude - look forward not back

An Update- I am looking forward to finally spending some quality time at my home on the farm, as I have only spent a weekend there after the accident. I expect to spend the avurudhu season from April 8th to 18th there. I am sure the dogs will also enjoy the company and the attention they have so lacked all this time and I miss them too.

I have had my monthly check up with the surgeon who was in charge of the operation and he looked at the new x-rays that were taken and while satisfied generally with it, showed me that the break is distinctly visible, rendering me immobile for much longer than I thought! I will just have to live with it for a while and put up with the discomfort and the significant change of circumstances for a while longer.

I am currently not working, and have had to curtail some of my agricultural work, due to funding difficulties. I am also seriously considering not cultivating my paddy land in the coming season due to my inability to motivate and inspect the work on site to ensure these people follow my instructions, which in my absence they are more than capable of taking issues into their own hands.

My readers have asked me what has happened to the agricultural work and output and all I can say is I am struggling through with stress in getting people to do things in my absence with no knowledge of how successful things are.

In the meantime my friends pop in from time to time to keep my spirits up, and I even had a very supportive call this morning from Mr Merril J Fernando of Dilmah fame giving me all the encouragement to see Justice done in this case, as he really appreciated the commitment and sacrifice I had made giving up employment with him as the Country Manager in the UK for his brand and coming to Sri Lanka to pursue a very risky venture with little personal financial benefit to me. His timely words of encouragement each time I met him asking what I was doing and discussing the various issues I have had, meant that he was really interested. He being one of my customers, his particular favorite from my farm was KIRI ALA, also showed his support for what I was doing.

My main worry at the moment is the ability to get mobile (buy a set of wheels for my work) on the funds promised by the insurance company, which I have yet to receive as they have not received all the paperwork necessary to process the claim!

The pain I was in has lessened, but the discomfort in sleeping is still there, where it is still painful to turn in bed and wake up many times at night to get into a more comfortable position.

I now need to get a laptop as otherwise I will have no communication with the outside world when I am on the farm. Not sure I could stretch the budget that far. Such is the dependence today with the internet.