Photo taken in 2010 at the height of my farming activities. A quick drive to Parsikudah about 90 minutes from my Hingurakgoda property, for some R&R. We took our two dogs Bahu and Megha also.
We must do what we enjoy, and if that permits you to help those less fortunate that is fine, but don’t think of that as a sacrifice, or that you had to forego your desire to fulfill others needs outside your family.
I am so grateful to my parents for the values they raised us in, which have rubbed off on me and my siblings. It has nothing to do with patriotism or love for our Country or any belief we may have adopted. It is all to do with duty, if it is possible, to do whatever you can to better the quality of life of those less fortunate.
We were never wealthy by any measure of wealth as my parents did not inherit land or a house, and whatever they have is by their own hard work. It is due to their behavior towards others and plain humaneness that we received whatever graces, to live our lives, which by no means was easy, and few know the sacrifice.
I will reserve the rest of the essay to what I feel and possibly why. From my earliest recollection, I was never forced to eat, I was merely told, the food is ready at mealtimes, it is on the table, please eat what you want, and don’t leave even a grain of rice behind. That has stood me in good stead all my life. I therefore ONLY serve what I can eat and nothing more. So I do not like other people who serve full plates for people and who leave food uneaten, saying that the animals will eat what is left over. We were told that, it was fine to eat only what you can, as there are many other hungry mouths who could eat the food you don’t eat, so it is only up to you to eat what you want. This created, neither greed, nor insecurity! I was sent to boarding school from age 8, which made me independent.
In the 1960s, we were less mature than youth of the same age today, due to various reasons, that I will not address here. So we were more pliant in accepting that our parents knew best. It was under these parameters, that once the JVP uprising hit Sri Lanka in 1971, that my parents wanted and were able to send me to school overseas, first to Australia, to stay with a friend who agreed to look after me and then to the UK to Boarding School.
I count myself lucky to get accepted into a direct grant school in Cambridge for my O levels and A levels, and even luckier to enter Bristol University to study economics, and pay British Student Fees, which was a few hundred pounds a year, though I did not get a student grant as my parents were not UK tax payers.
I was fortunate to be employed, upon graduation, at an international accounting firm, Deloitte Haskins & Sells, in London in 1978. I was then financially independent of my parents, qualifying as a Chartered Accountant in 1981.
Having lived for 18 years in the UK and 15 years in the US, I decided to return to Sri Lanka in 2004, only because I wanted to. I was the Country Manager for Dilmah Tea in London at the time I resigned my employment and returned to Sri Lanka.
It was something I wanted to do as I had not lived in SL . Don’t ask me why. I did not do it for any patriotic reasons! I had not acquired any wealth in the interim, and all I had when I arrived in Sri Lanka in November 2004 was around 10,000 pounds to call my own. I had no bank accounts or assets that I had left behind.
I had put down Rs300K on a Tata Pickup Truck for which I had to pay Rs18K a month for the next 4 years to pay it off, and I bought a property for Rs100,000, an acre of land in Ratmale that I decided to gradually build a small house, and I bought a plot of land, 5 acres of Swarnabhoomi land for Rs650,000 in Hingurakgoda, Raja Ela to farm. My father had some land in Godagama, Meegoda, which was a chicken farm, but which had Coconut and King Coconuts at the time, and I lived for the next 8 years farming both properties.
Of course, I had returned with a desire to live the rural life in Sri Lanka, something that was more a romantic notion than a practical one, primarily as I had no other family obligations, and I thought the village life was an idyllic one. Within a short time, I realized how different the village life was in fact!
It would have been nice to have met a life partner in the rural area then, but it was not to be, as those I liked did not want me and those who were proposed to me, I did not have any feelings for. I had an intention of living a rural life, married with children, but it was not to be.
As I had no option, but to earn a living, I set about that task earnestly, and using a few workers began growing and selling my produce to my customers in Colombo out of the back of the pick-up. It was hard work transporting produce between Hingurakgoda and Godagama and then to Colombo in the thick of the Civil War in Sri Lanka. We had to go through check points at every level and obtain security permits to transport food items in those days and it was a living.
I have blogged experiences during that time in www.rajaratarala.blogspot.com and www.villagerinsrilanka.blogspot.com It was hard work, where without prior farming experience, I was able to live off my earnings till January 2011, when I had a disabling accident, while bringing my produce to Colombo, at Minneriya and the whole operation stopped that very second, as I was driving the vehicle with the produce to market, and I was the hands on person without whom the operation would not function. It took 9 years more for me to be able to walk unaided again and that is a different story for another day!
Who said life was easy, as I had to live with the disappointment of my father, and not my mother, who felt I should have been gainfully employed in a prestigious company in the West, earning big bucks, considering the sacrifice made for my education, and I cannot blame him for that expectation, as that was normal in those days to expect a more than adequate return on investment!
Revisiting Patriotism and Nationalism
Like I said, I did it for me, and not for anyone else. It was selfish and not for any altruistic reason. I have enjoyed the ride, its ups and downs, and looking back on my life, I feel fortunate at being one of the few people to have been able to live a full life of many parts, where most people have a very simple, almost trouble free life in one field of expertise. Mine was completely out of the ordinary, eventful, unpredictable and compartmentalized. It’s like 9 lives rolled into one!
I have not met any Sri Lankan who are truly patriotic and that word is used very loosely. Many say they had an opportunity to go and live overseas and chose instead to live in SL. I say that has NOTHING to do with patriotism and it is do with the balance that was weighed up at the time to suit their own personal circumstances.
I find many of the most patriotic Sri Lankans live overseas because they were pushed out because of circumstances out of their control. Either life was made difficult for them where they had to leave, or they chose the best alternative for them and for their intellect to leave. It is Sri Lanka’s fault for not understanding the contribution they could have made to Sri Lanka instead of merely decrying their exit.
If I am merely to use one example, the best academics that Sri Lanka has produced live overseas, because the system of academia in Sri Lanka is not based on ability and merit, but on seniority and incompetence, which has led to a scary deterioration in the quality of tertiary education in Sri Lanka for which the faculty as well as the Government policy makers must share the blame.
Sri Lanka has still been unable to harness the latent talent lying overseas, due to the “Island mentality” of its people, who see progress with skepticism instead of the whole point being to improve the quality of life of the people who live on the Island, to make life easier, simpler and more accessible to the masses. So we have gone backwards, whereas in the rest of the world, the quality of life of people has improved, I would even go as far to argue that in Sri Lanka it has got much worse. The racial divisions, the civil war, and the continuing harassment of minorities, women, child abuse, hunger and malnutrition are all part of this result. The pandemic has pointedly shown the fallacy of this policy, but to no avail.