Glowing tributes to a nice man are all I read these few days of people commenting on their personal relationship with Dr. Saman Kelegama, an erudite scholar, but a really down to earth and simple man, approachable to many, who never put his knowledge to pull rank in conversation. His untimely demise, alone in a hotel in Bangkok from a stroke on the 23rd June, is to me the ultimate insult to a man who should have been surrounded and never left alone, to be assisted and chaperoned in the busy schedule he kept.
To me, who knew him and this blog which he followed WHEN TIME PERMITTED, is a loss of someone who I could relate with on a policy level. Though our families have been close, with his father, Dr Jayantha Kelegama, around my father’s age, and going to Trinity at the same time my father was @ Ryde, he was more friendly with an Uncle, as they were at Oxford together. Dr Jayantha had also researched into our families’ history, going back 5 generations, possibly having common ancestors.
My friendship with Saman was much more recent, around 10 years ago, as it began with my meeting him at the IPS to discuss some Agriculture issues, when I was farming, and I introduced him to my extensive writing on Agriculture and Development related topics in my blogs, from the rural areas where I farmed and lived. The one that he was most interested in later, when I moved on from purely agriculture based writings in www.villagerinsrilanka.blogspot.com was www.kalpanakaranna.blogspot.com, as it was stretching the boundaries, pushing the envelope and challenging current practices. I suppose why it fascinated Saman, was that I was NOT a professional, or an intellectual in the classical sense, I was merely a practitioner and a thinker borne out of working in numerous fields over a period of 40+ years of work, with the goal of improving the quality of life of people who live in Sri Lanka. So I was looking at results, using common sense, and he would add the theory to make it meaningful as a policy tool! He could more easily articulate the economic rationale for what I was writing.
In short we approached the same problem from two completely different ends!
The problem with all this was he, though a policy adviser, had to tread very carefully with the policy makers, and elected officials as well as Government Servants, all of whom had personal agendas, and would not like to be jilted out of their comfort zones. I may be WRONG, but I suspect he was hidebound by playing it safe, NOT to advocate anything more than gentle change in the way things are done. I on the other hand believe there is NO time for that and we have to take serious steps soon if we are to actually make a difference. This is where we differed. He an establishment man trying to change a behemoth from within, and I a carefree thinker, making common sense suggestions based merely on gut feeling on what needs to be done. He perhaps envied my freedom to write what I wanted in my blog, while he was far more constrained in what he could or could not say, knowing that it would be reported upon, critically, and mercilessly if they were outside established norms.
ETICA was an example of him having to face unfair criticism, due to his intellectualizing an issue, where he will be proved correct, but which is unpalatable to a large section of the community, which is completely out of touch with reality in understanding what he had to say, and why. For example in the area of massive vacancies, which cannot be filled locally, we can only achieve our objectives, by employing large numbers of guest workers from overseas. What can you do when the very people who criticize overseas workers are unwilling to do the work themselves and instead will only take easy jobs, in public service, with a large salary and refuse to work diligently even for that.
I wrote a whole speech for him once for the JE Jayasooriya Memorial Oration and sent it to him this February, a week or more prior to the lecture, which he acknowledged, but he did not dare to include some of the suggestions made therein, perhaps he wished to be diplomatic and NOT ruffle any feathers! In fact my version has been printed in this blog at the link below:
All this goes to conclude in MY OPINION which can be incorrect, that he was a prisoner of his circumstance, as a head of an independent QUANGO, but nevertheless paid by the state, in NOT upsetting the status quo, no matter how he believed it should be better carried out in the interests of the Country.
I had NO intellectual baggage, I was a free thinker, and my whole purpose was never to be published, made famous, obtain plaudits, but merely looking at ways and means to improve the quality of life of people who live in Sri Lanka.
I wanted professionals, experts, and policy makers to take those ideas and fine tune them and make them better. This blog talks about a home grown Nationwide Ambulance Service, long before the Indians offered one. We had the vehicles we had the technology, but we did not have a policy maker who could implement this. It had to be India that took the credit for this, and the GMOA had egg on their face in the end when it showed promise, despite their rejection of it. See my proposal in April 2013! In the link below:
This blog entry is NOT an obituary, but an attempt to explain by way of example where Saman’s intellectual capacity to think and suggest was stifled by the system. Just think about it! If I was in his shoes, would I be able to write anything I have written in my blog? However they are ALL suggestions that if implemented, while at times, not be accepted initially, will prove in time to have been in the best interests of the Country. Saman did NOT have that luxury.
Due to his prestige, he was in demand by everyone, to be in the panel to judge, to speak, to attend, to lecture, and join boards, foundations and even be visiting lecturers in overseas and local universities. How much can a man do and have a life to pursue his own interests? I directly accuse those who lay claim to his time, for the stress that he was under. We never go behind the man and ask ourselves are we demanding too much? When you are too nice and don’t refuse what others would think are gift horses, you merely pile on the pressure!
Speaking from experience, today’s youth are intellectually challenged due to social media and such like to concentrate and be specialists in fields, and could not be relied upon to deputize for Saman in instances. This further exacerbated his inability to rely on subordinates to completely write his speeches for him when he was pressed for time. He did not have the confidence that the issue would be articulated in the way he wanted it done. All these add to the inability of our intellectuals to have the time needed for creative thinking, being so heavily involved with duties to perform from the various roles he had taken upon himself.
Who can replace him? There must be 5 people who should take on the work he did, and there aren’t the 5 needed for that task. There is only so much a human being can be called upon to do. Intellectuals are exceedingly professional people in general who take pride in their work. Then if more is expected, then more time has to be allocated to perform the tasks, and then the stress level can rise.
I would have loved the time to discuss each of the topics with him, so that I can get an intellectual and economic perspective on my opinions, but I know I could never ask Saman to give me that input, where I painfully was aware of the huge task he had taken on. It is then a salutary lesson to us all, to be able to say NO. Judging panels on Corporate Accounts for the Institute is merely a fashion show for personal prestige, not an indicator of how well run a company is, so asking Saman to be in the panel to judge these pathetic pieces of shit called financial statements was a dishonor and NOT an honor, IN MY HUMBLE OPINION!
Yes he could have refused, yes he should NOT have taken on so many roles, but the way he was pushed into them by people without an ounce of grey matter, being unable to understand how much work he did, is what is shocking.
I wish to stress that what I have written is my interpretation, and my opinion only, not influenced by anyone else, and I apologize in advance if I am wrong in my understanding. He will no doubt now have the time he did not have in this life to enjoy what he likes to do, or so I hope!