Thursday, September 25, 2008

a story about choices in life

Using the analogy in Forest Gump the movie where Tom Hanks said that life is like a box of chocolates, you never know what you are going to get, I guess he meant flavor, I bring a real life situation to light.

This boy Sameera who I will refer to as Sam and I call him the Samenera as he lives in a Pirivena ( a center for Buddhist learning ) He comes from a poor family of 4 boys with him being the youngest from a village near Anamaduwa where the father who is an alcoholic has some land they cultivate with paddy just enough to feed the family.

As this boy excelled in studies in his local village school, through some connections I am not yet able to confirm, was brought to the notice of the Lokuhamuduruwo (chief priest) of a pirivena in Kurunegala. The priest told the parents who could barely afford to feed this boy, that he would take care of him and would treat him as his own and took him.

The priest through his local influence managed to get him placed in one of the best schools in Kurunegala town and this boy has almost completely lived in this pirivena for the past 8 years going to school from there. He excelled in his O levels and has now sat for his A levels and the priest again using his influence has managed to get him a job at the NDB bank branch in Kurunegala as the manager is known personally to him.

The priest’s intention all along was to make him a monk, especially as Sam has excelled in Pali, which is extremely useful to know if one is aiming to be a Buddhist priest. Sam also is very pious following Buddhist principles to such a degree that he is both vegan and does not even want to harm a mosquito or fly! In addition to his normal school studies he is well versed in the doctrine and also used to the very frugal life in the pirivena, except when lay people provide a dana (food offering) when they get a serious level of good food, from which he does not take the forbidden kind!

I offered Sam the chance of a job as a trainee computer maintenance and repair engineer in a reputed establishment in Colombo, and I would provide him accommodation free of charge. Another local boy who I helped, could share a room together and go to the same job. He was most keen on my offer as computers was an area he was little exposed to but was very keen to increase his knowledge knowing that it is the future for whatever field he sets his sights on even the priesthood. One must also understand that once his A level results are in and he is accepted to a university, then it will be at least a year before he can start, and this job would be an ideal way to enter the private sector working world to get a better idea through practical experience as to what he may want to do either at university or forego a university education for a more rewarding private sector career.

After a lot of thought and discussion with his chief priest who is his guardian and mentor, he decided to take the bank job and he admitted more to me that it was mainly because he was his guardian and he made a lot of effort to get him to this position so he owes an obligation not to disappoint him.

This is an example of an adult, a boy who has just reached 18 where he can make choices for himself independent of others, who has made a life style choice based not on what he wants but on obligation to others. Often parents do not realize that it is the same choice their children make because the parents make it for them and not a free-thinking adult. The comforts of home or pirivena are still there, but the chance to be independent and find ones own way in the world, if a choice is offered, the parents may closet the child from that path the guide them in the path in the parents interest and not that of the child. It is most accurate to state that choices made by parents are often not in the long-term interests of the child. There are always exceptions to the rule, but many parents in the Sri Lankan context live in a world far removed from the world of 2008 and they make choices based on their personal experiences, which are not relevant in today’s context.

Of course I wish Sam every success in his future, and hope he has made the right choice, but we don’t know what is right and wrong as we follow different paths and twenty twenty hindsight is easy to pontificate on, but the choice ought to be that of the person and so all directions thereon can be the person’s to take credit and not someone else to blame if that is the result.

Our whole life is that of choices we make, and choices others make for us. If things don’t go according to plan we have a tendency to blame others and not ourselves as it is easier on the psyche. We are also very poor at giving credit where credit is due especially where we succeed however we measure success. Parents measure success differently to a child, so even there conflict reigns. It is the thinking through of the options, and not the choices that we make that are important.

a story that will not go away

I was very surprised when local villager, more in the socialist mould and likely to vote for SLFP told me that while the law is there it is only for the poor as rich are above the law. Nothing will make him change that opinion, which is deeply held in rural Sri Lanka.

I was surprised that he used the Mervyn Silva episodes as his reason for being utterly convinced it is so. Time and time again when he brakes the law in front of the country watching his antics, time for buffoonery is over. It is apparent to even this simple man that his protector sadly is none other than the President of this country. So the President though he does not know it has already met his Waterloo in the field of public opinion and not in battle which is a foregone conclusion where an army of 500,000 is bearing down on 5,000 holdouts who are cornered on all four sides with nowhere to turn.

It is very sad when examples come from the top of bad behavior encouraged by inaction on the part of the law enforcement authorities no doubt fearful of applying the law due to the bias of the commandeering chief. With such bad leadership, how can we expect better of the lower rungs of politicians, like cabinet ministers engaged in wholesale hostage taking of the nation and its assets for personal and no doubt short term gain.

This Sinhala speaking man used the term “buddhimathunta vitharai therenne ugathunta nevei” Only the intelligent understand the reality not the educated. He also further clarified that an educated man is not necessarily intelligent and vice versa. It is important therefore that the people are taught to think. Only then does the nation unshackle itself from this feudalism and get cheated out of false promises to make statements by way of the ballot box, which is the only way to upset the status quo in a democracy.

This discussion went on to state why we cannot exercise our free will through the ballot box because the only the rich can seek election as they have the funds to campaign and gain name recognition, and therefore perpetuate the status quo of one law for the rich and another for the poor. The left is too out of touch with reality to be rational, and the genuinely altruistic have no route to get recognized and exact leadership from the traditional mafia. Look at each party, there is no one of stature. We are governed by the people we deserve, and we deserve no better. We must change from the heart to want a better country free from this establishment.

news as entertainment value only

I currently have no access to news be it newspapers, radio or TV. I don’t have electricity and so I have to finish this article in an hour before the battery in this laptop runs out. I used to be a news junkie when I lived in the US and UK and had access to and was rooted in everything happening all around the world and there was hardly a fact I was not aware of!

Having experienced both phenomena, I conclude thus. The news we are fed is only what the feeder wants to give us. That may or may not be all the news, and the angle presented is only the perspective of the journalist presenting it or the editor or media owners. Due to the biases of what is presented, we form opinions and views, which we hold as gospel and mould our way of thinking. We lose our ability to rationalize and balance what is presented and come up with our own independent opinion.

I feel so much at ease not knowing what is happening, as it really should not affect my quality of life except as a form of entertainment, which I believe it merely is and nothing else. If one takes that view it is a form of entertainment that I am foregoing out of choice or necessity, and that is all.

Our knowledge is gained from learning, from interacting and being informed, but the only knowledge worth anything is that which we can use to make our lives or the lives of others better. The other bits of knowledge have no social benefit, and therefore becomes pure entertainment at best and a total waste of time at worst.

We humans must try and experience life in a different form from that we are used to so we can both appreciate the life we have, and also remove those that we really don’t need and sometimes could harm the quality of our lives. I like to think that I am a rational human being who wants what is best for me first before I let any excess flow to others! I like to lead my life based on that premise, but with an added caveat of attempting to be as little of a bother to others as I can or feel others have to go out of their way at a cost to allow me to have the best. I have no problem compensating others for services they render to me, in the form of my employees or others, they simply have free will and can choose to refrain and I can then choose to withhold compensation. Once we come to a rational balance in our lives we are able more easily to face the true challenges of living, which vary by degree for each individual.

kalpanakaranna we can save time and effort

a pic of the visiting midwife on my property to see to the welfare of the pregnant lady. what a great and free service!!!

An incident where a man who works for me, fell off the bike with his pregnant wife, when a dog crossed the road and was rushed to hospital clearly brings light the idiocy of our people and the totally slavish attitude to going to hospital. The man had a wound to his knee, which a plaster would have sufficed and the woman had no superficial wounds, but the villagers around insisted and took them to the Polonnaruwa hospital and the woman has not been released only because the admitting doctor has to also release the patient. The doctor who they had seen when the accident happened had told the nurse to release the patient, but they had to follow the orders, despite three women having to sleep in a bed for lack of bed space and I would venture to say more harmful to be in the hospital than out.

This reminds me of an accident I recently had where I tripped on a sidewalk that was uneven in Colombo and fell flat injuring my body in about five places with bleeding in all, far worse than this chap’s and I just hobbled to the bus stop and got the bus home with all the cuts and bruises and walked all the way home from the bus stop. It is over a month and the broken toenail has yet to heal, but I treated it at home with no medication other than water. I could have been admitted into emergency and lost a day’s work and the corresponding effect on my business, as there is no one to stand in for me.

I have lost more than two days of work from this man, as he had to go again to get his wife who has yet to be discharged. This event has put a strain on my business, as I have to make a decision to cut a particular task in my planting program at a cost to my eventual harvest. It has further put an unnecessary strain on an already overburdened health service, and the regulations have prevented the discharge of a perfectly healthy patient.

In the US the fear of the cost would have meant the injured would not have gone to hospital. The previous excuse of doing tests to cover all the bases does not apply in managed care, as the case will be evaluated on an as needed basis. I firmly believe half the patients in a SL hospital will be discharged in the US. In SL minor injuries that should result in outpatient care are admitted only out of fear that unsanitary conditions may lead to infection. However I would challenge that overcrowded hospitals give rise to unsanitary conditions and we should be more respectful of the health care we receive and not put too much of a burden, with the obvious answer being an admission charge of Rs250 irrespective of injury to deter the superfluous.

treasure treasure everywhere

It seems I am never short of something to write about despite spending most of my time on my own or with those who receive a pay packet from me.

Here in the Polonnaruwa district, the word ‘nidhana’ is used everywhere, so much so I wanted to name a dog “Nidhahan”. The word means, artifacts of value and can also include antiques, but usually means gold statues and highly valuable items worth millions. I have yet to see even one of these though I have been offered items worth millions for pennies all peoples talk. I have of course not even wanted to see them before making an offer for fear of being taken on a ruse as I have no idea of telling the difference between real and fake and even a gold colored thing from pure gold.

If you talk to villagers they will reel the names of local and national politicians habitually in the business of acquiring such and then taking them overseas to sell them at enormous profit, as only they can smuggle with impunity. If any of this is true it is frightening that our people of stature are involved in this highly lucrative trade in international antiquity smuggling.

People claim some holes in my property is as a result of the excavation of antiquities and there is more to be unearthed here. Further it is stated that there are valuable antiquities in the property I am about to acquire for my sister and a lot of people are eyeing this find! I don’t believe a word of it.

Apparently some top brass in the army and the police have been caught in the act of excavation recently and now the site is in the control of the department of archeology who under the guise of security are involved in the wholesale excavation and smuggling through these higher ups all the valuables of Sri Lanka out of the country. It frightens me that this theory is so pervasive as to be accepted as common fact by anyone in the area you talk to and I have yet to see even an item of what they refer to.

We are a nation of great exaggerators and expanders of the truth until it becomes totally farfetched. I grapple with this concept ‘there cant be smoke without fire’ and feel there is some truth in the belief but the fact of the level of value in this illegal activity is grossly exaggerated.

This, further highlights the issue of the rich are above the law and the poor face the wrath if they are caught with anything they should not have.

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

religious fervor

This is an opinion I have that is not confined to one religion but to all religious persuasions. While I do not doubt the freedom and peace of mind some individuals may get from such pilgrimages, they are merely man inspired events, which no child without any learning from another will indulge in from ones own intuition.

I find it illogical, irrational and wholly slavish that people believe they need to go on some pilgrimage to a holy place on the mistaken belief that they may get some sort of blessing, be cured of some ill, or obtain merit of one sort or another.

If I was a higher being, what is important for me to see would be how people conducted their daily lives in following my teachings or morals and commandments laid down in a scripture. I would be horrified if people go and worship in a place because that was where I died or was born or some miracle happened in my name. It is such a simple concept, that I find it hard not to think otherwise.

I don’t have a problem with people worshiping shrines statues or going on pilgrimages, but they should realize they are doing so only out of a sense of duty, charity, tradition, blind faith or for the memory of having gone there. It should not be felt that by so doing one can obtain any sort of special place in the eyes of the beholder, from whom no one can hide.

I find it so hard to understand the mumbo jumbo that people use as an excuse to go to these places or feel that by not going they are not fulfilling a religious obligation if they are so able to perform. The world is so full of man made beliefs and so little of following a true religious existence that the former seems to take precedence over the latter which is the crux to one’s life.

This need to go is so enshrined in every religion, that I find it hard to persuade people to think the opposite, which seems to me the only solution to common sense. Blind faith damns common sense and that is the nub of the problem. However what has blind faith got to do with living according to the teachings of one’ religion, nothing!!!

the challenges that face Thirantha

This is a brief outline of a post hiring review I had with a 23yr boy, who we had just hired at Paradise Farm to train him into Ruwan’s position. Ruwan left on August 30th when I spoke to him about his handover notes, and today, Tuesday, 2nd September was Thirantha’s first day.

As I intend to post this into my kalpanakaranna blog, I would like to clarify for the reader some of the background. I am a director of Paradise Farm in Kitulgala, an organic estate of approximately 75 acres, which is primarily tea, but also includes a variety of crops but whose aim is to produce organic green tea of the utmost quality to sell in very limited quantities due to the capacity of the factory and the estate, at over Rs1,200 a kg to overseas markets. It is owned by Norwegians. I have known the chairman for over 40 years and that’s how I was appointed a director.

I have been asked and have agreed to oversee its management and accounting functions and have agreed to come to the farm twice a month to overlook the operations and report back on its numerous aspects.

Ruwan who has been trained whilst employed in accounting and computing in the farm left after about 4 years for a better paying job in Horana, where he has to be boarded and work as a scheduling clerk for a MDF board manufacturing BOI company, this being the first time away from home.

Like Ruwan, Thirantha also lives close to the farm and can walk from home. He has no training in Accounting, though he has a desktop at home and knows Microsoft Office, with Word and Excel being the functions we would need his skills as an accounts clerk, who we will have to pay to train in basic accounting skills so he can perform book-keeping tasks.

The additional attributes we found useful in hiring him was his experience working in Qatar for 2 years as a helper for a surveyor, who was building homes or hostels. The surveyor and the other people he was with were Sri Lankans and so his command of the English language is limited, but he appears to know and understand what is being said, and can also read and understand English. This being the background, I wanted to quite clearly on his first day at work, when fortuitously I happen to have also arrived, lay the expectations we have from him along with the benefits he will achieve by his services to the farm and how he can use it for personal gain in future.
I am recording this in this blog because the whole theme of my discussion, almost all of which was conducted in Sinhala, which went through lunch all the way to 5.30 was “kalpanakaranna”. I laid the emphasis of how important thinking was in the performance of his job along with illustrations of what I meant so that there was no element of doubt in his mind about a different interpretation.

I gave him a list of tasks we expect of him and why he needs to do those and what benefit would accrue to the organization from him carrying out those tasks diligently and according to a time-table. There is nothing worse for a person not to know why he is performing a task.

As if I had to state the obvious but it has to be stated because people in Sri Lanka cannot see what is so obvious because the education system has not taught them to think. So the mere fact of telling him to always look for areas where we can increase our revenue and look for areas where we can reduce our costs, does not seem to cross anyone’s mind as a basic requirement.

I was trying to get him to think of the lowest common denominator of the job, so that only tasks expected of him are done and ancillary and less important tasks when time permits. This being an agricultural organization, there is never a limit to the amount of work one can do. Accordingly, he needs to prioritize his work to do what is important before performing the lesser tasks, and be able to order the tasks in order of importance.

From what I gather no one really performs a detailed pep talk session on a one on one basis, so the recruit is quite clear as to the task at hand. We are great at exit interviews to know where we went wrong, but the first thing that really went wrong was there was no clear hiring interview to clarify the job description to explain all that is necessary in the performance of that particular function.

Due to some exposure to a foreign country he was better able to understand the idiosyncrasies of Sri Lanka and the way people behave. Scolding appears to garner respect, while politeness gives the impression of weak leadership. Performance of needed tasks in a job description is important and nothing riles the employer more than the non-performance of such tasks.

He left with the knowledge taht the 4 hours I spent with him was most important for the job and in the future to lay the foundation.

Monday, September 1, 2008

the farce that is unemployment

There is so much talk about unemployment, and it seems more to be about political groupings, privilege, promises, pandering to parties and perceptions and nothing to do with reality.
Once the Middle East opened up for employment, there is an opening for anyone skilled or not to leave the land in search of some form of employment and there are agencies ever willing to find recruits to send.
Ask any employer and he or she will say it is hard for them to fill job vacancies. I am short of labor in all fields and my business is suffering because of it. There are over 50,000 vacancies in the garment sector, and even in tea estates finding labor is a very big problem. Of course there are many times more applicants than places for government jobs, because it is still considered desirable to have as there is some sort of security of tenure and a pension at age 55, however many of these jobs are in fact detrimental to the efficient working of the economy as many government servants are a hindrance to development not a help as they should be.
The issue is the lack of availability of positions people want, and accordingly people would rather not work until they get the job they want. The higher quality of life in Sri Lanka as compared with most countries in the west or east, is the reason for many able bodied people just to stay and home and do very little, wasting their and the nation’s investment in them rather than taking up employment. This is at the nub of the problem.
The security forces including the Police and Home guard employ over 600,000 and a further 400,000 are employed as security guards. These jobs contribute little to the economy, but whose incomes contribute much to the livelihoods and sustenance of the villages. This adds to rationale of why there are many at home not in any hurry to get work. I know so many in this situation. The policy makers however are quite unaware of this.
To summarize this dilemma, those who are not working are doing so out of choice and not out of necessity as there are plenty of employment opportunities. If they want better paid employment they should obtain better skills, which the government can enable by establishing or expanding on the skills programs, they should accordingly realize the limits of their capability and get jobs in keeping with their abilities and not aspirations.