05 January 2013

Towards a Saadambara Sri Lankaava

Sahan Ranwala, livewire of the Ranwala Foundation which was the life-product and life of that inimitable artiste, conservationist of things national and teacher, told me one Sunday that the end of the war provided an opportunity to extend the concept api wenuwen api (we, for us) to all aspects of Sri Lankan life. He made two points.

First, he stressed the importance of figuring out ‘api’ (us/ourselves) and ‘apekama’ (that which defines us, our ‘ourness’ so to speak). This is true. Years ago, when Ranil Wickremesinghe was briefly Prime Minister, the UNP launched a policy document called ‘Regaining Sri Lanka’.
It was an unadulterated blueprint to destroy anything and everything ‘Sri Lankan’ in the name of Sri Lanka and Sri Lankans.

The problem was that the regime and the architects of that document clearly didn’t have any clue about who we are as a nation, how we came to be us, who our ancestors were, what they gave us that we should keep, what they gave that we should throw and cultural foundations upon which we should stand when doing the relevant choosing.
I argued in a Sunday newspaper that the api wenuwen api concept that’s associated with the Security Forces and which could be taken to have been the bottom-line guiding principle of the military offensive against the LTTE could be and should be applied to the development drive. I should have prefaced my face with Sahan’s important interjection.

The second comment was as follows. Sahan said that it cannot be too difficult for people to dedicate one day of the month to do something for the country.
It could take the form of any kind of voluntary work and if such sentiment is of a collective kind all the better. It could also take the form of doing an honest job of work at one’s workplace, sans clock-watching, shirking and extended tea/lunch breaks etc. It is a personal choice of course but one which can be actively promoted by leaders.

A friend of mine commenting on my api wenuwen api article said we need not wait for budgetary allocation or some supposedly benevolent donor to toss some coins out way to get certain things done.
It is as though we have been cowed down to a level of dependency that has divested us of initiative, entrepreneurship, innovation and self-belief. My friend asks, ‘Do you need a budgetary allocation to plant few coconut seedlings in a village on a Poya holiday, Eid holiday, Christmas or Thai Pongal?’ He illustrates with an example:

‘In my capacity as Secretary to the SLFP Branch of my village (1970s), Thunduwa, Bentota, I invited Albert Kariyavsam , M.P. for Bentara - Elpitiya for the Opening of Electricity supply and I whispered into his ears to mention in his speech about the lands (just the home garden size) are left uncultivated , be it even a few sq. meters, and to warn everyone that he might be compelled to take some unpleasant and drastic actions to assign the land to someone else who could cultivate them.
The whole of next week I was able to see everyone fencing the land, planting with banana plants, murunga, gahala etc. At the end of a year we could see most lands were looking green. No Budget, no aid; just calculated persuasion.’

It takes a different kind of leadership. A leadership that lets the doing do the talking, so that when the talking happens, it encourages, empowers and perhaps even shames people into doing the things they can do. Architecht/Planner L.T. Kiringoda points out that the fascination with Singapore that some of our leaders reveals more about a loser-mindset than anything: ‘Singapore does not have rivers, water falls and tanks, mountains, forests, paddy fields, villages and kada mandiyas, world heritage sites, wild life etc. etc.
Also in Sri Lanka we have farmers, fishermen, tea pluckers, rubber tappers, toddy tappers, craftsmen, dancers, etc. and Singapore has exploiters of wealth with bloodless faces. If Sri Lanka is to be Asia’s wonder then it should be as Sri Lanka not as another Singapore.’

There was a different in approach that worked (in a sense) for Singapore and an absence of that approach in Sri Lanka which could be the reason why we are where we are. It is not about being another Singapore but being a different kind of Sri Lanka. Renton de Alwis told me that it is not that we don’t have people or that we haven’t understood the full potential. Maybe it is that we haven’t learnt the lessons.
Renton wrote the following about the kind of people we should learn from, be inspired by and try to emulate: ‘Teachers who worked for what they were paid and went that extra mile to give us lessons in life, doctors who chose not to go into PP but to serve the needy for what they are paid, the policemen (perhaps the one in the pix) who keep their heads high, farmers who put in such hard work, take such risks, unlike others who collect cool commissions on funds borrowed from banks to import cars and other luxury goods to sell regardless of if we needed them, workers who work for they love what they do, no matter how little they make, law makers and keepers who are honest, mothers and fathers who give their all to make us what we are ...all those who suffer in the service of the public selflessly... May all of them be blessed and may they qualify to be Maithri Bosathwaru.’

We can. If only we know who we are. If only we understand that we are who we are because our ancestors looked to the future, worked together, worked hard, had self-belief and resolve.
Sahan is not saying that anyone should give what they cannot. They should do what they can. That extra bit. Call it ‘My Nationalist Hour of the Day’, ‘Nationalist Day of the Month’, ‘My api wenuwen mama moment’. What’s in a name, after all, as long as it’s not a ‘Dinavamu wena aya’ (for the triumph of someone else) at the cost of hurting or bringing down ape aya (our people).

One hour a day. Too much? How about one minute, just to ask if it means anything to you that you were born in this country and was made of its historic waters and its cultural breezes and other things ‘Sri Lankan’? I think that would be better than nothing. It would inspire, I am sure.
At some level, it’s a personal choice, as I said. A necessary choice if we want to inhabit a Saadambara Sri Lankaava, a nation we can be proud of.



Ananda Ariyarathne said...

I have no problem in identifying the aspects discussed under the title as a superb eye-opener.

Sri Lankan villager did not need prodding to do what was right fifty to sixty years back. It was with the welfare economy which slowly encroached the Sri Lankan way of living the normal initiative and the sense of responsibility were lost. In any home garden, useful plants such as taro(Gahala/ Kiri Ala), manioc, sweet potatoes could be seen and it was a common sight to see a housewife heaping of kitchen refuse around taro plants or at a cluster of bananas. A person uprooting a taro plant for the edible tubers never forgot to tuck the plant, after slicing away the edible portion of the main plant as well as the new tubers that had grown, back into the same dirt heap which was a continuously growing compost resource. Boiled roots could become a tasty breakfast with chili chutney or coconut chutney or could end up as a very tasty curry at the lunch table, cooked in coconut milk with mildly added spices.
During the blooming season, children of the house took care to collect the flowers of Beli tree that fell to end up as the main ingredient for the Belimal Drink.

How many gardens got new varieties of mangoes collected when the villagers went on small pilgrimages to famous temples in the area where traders would bring tasty varieties for sale? Those villagers brought such fruits and did not throw way the seeds and some would boast about such trees in his garden.

While the Village Co-operative Shop killed the spirit of the villager the government servants stopped looking ahead. The original sense of 'productivity' the normal villager had got confused due to the way cases were handled. I know of a certain Chairman of a regional development authority in Sri Lanka thought of introducing a distillery to extract Arrack out of Kitul Toddy to enhance the living standards of Kitul Toddy tappers. What was missing in his thinking was the fact that a Kitul Trees were propagated by pole cats and most of those trees could be found in the most difficult terrains. So, it was not a practical suggestion as collection of Toddy to reach the distillery before it tuned sour was not possible. Anyway, as I see the whole potential lay in the aspect that it was not available freely. It got more complicated as a Kitul tree would start blooming only after at least ten to fifteen years and a tree may yield a maximum of about fifteen to twenty flowers. But, the sap of Kitul could give one of the most unique and a pleasant kind of a sweetener- the Kitul Treacle, which could be developed in a simple kitchen. It still remains a promising tree that could be planted in an organised manner. But not as 'estates'. Then , how ? Is there anything wrong in planting such trees on the sides of roads all over the countryside and they can be maintained by the relevant 'Local Government’ and the 'Tappers' registered at that authority can pay a rental for the flowers yielding duration and make his living. After the final flower when the tree starts its gradual decay, can provide valuable timber which is very durable.

For that matter, the same concept can be applied to other types of trees too. How many Jak,Breadfruit,Mango and Palmyra trees can be grown along roads , on both sides ?

What is needed is the capacity to think and to take the initiative. It is something that can start at Home Level and progress through schools and get established through the Local Government Authorities.

This cannot happen as there is no properly synchronised National Development Plan for Enhancing Productivity.

This can be developed not only in increasing food production but also in maintaining roadways and water ways. The impact that can have on eradication of mosquito menace can save billions for the nation.