10 June 2014

The greening of the blue-n-gold

There was a time, way back in the early 70s when Sri Lanka, then Ceylon, had a Milk Board that provided fresh milk and yoghurt far superior in quality and taste to anything that wealthy milk companies offer today with all the technology and additives at their disposal.  There was a Kiri Hala or milk outlet at the Royal Junior School.  Children could order milk – unflavored, chocolate or vanilla – and it would be delivered to the class at the interval.  One pint of total goodness a day for those who wanted it. 

Time passed.  The local milk industry was destroyed by the ‘robber barons’ that J R Jayewardene opened the country’s doors to without any qualms.  Out went fresh milk. In came powdered milk.  There were soft drinks too back then.  Lanka Lime, Necto, Orange Barley, Cream Soda and Ginger Beer.  These gave way to Coca Cola and Fanta.  Things changed and it’s hard to say if it was all for the better. 

Today it looks like powdered milk is no longer chic.  It’s the fresh stuff that is demanded.  Maybe the consumer is getting wise.  The problem is that there just isn’t enough fresh milk to meet the demand – part real and part artificial of course.  Maybe this is why Royal College has started to go green.  Maybe it has nothing to do with the relevant political economy, but just a good plan by a good man.  Whatever the reason, if there’s one drink for which there is a big demand and a demand that’s growing day by day in Royal College, it’s something that Royalists did not really talk about, let alone enjoy in the canteen, during the 70s, 80s, 90s or even in the first decade of the new millennium.  Kola Kenda. 

If you go to the West Wing Lobby of the main building of the school you will see a process that school has not witnessed in all of the 178 years of its existence.  It all begins around 3.00 am.  

It begins, as has been the tradition in this country for millennia among the vast majority of the people, with solemnity.  Five men gather at a small shrine, hands clasped, reciting the five precepts.  Malinda Niranjan, H.M. Kelum, W.P. Rajindra, Anura Chaminda, Badhawa Raju and Suresh Dep make the kola kenda team. 

It’s not just rice and some leaves as one would find in kiosks in all parts of the main cities and along main roads these days (again, that’s not something that was in vogue in the past).  It’s made of traditional varieties of rice.  That’s incomplete.  It’s made of traditional varieties of rice that are organically grown. No chemical pesticides or weedicides, no chemical fertilizers.  There’s madathavaalu, paccaperumal, kahavanu and kalu heeneti.   The mix is flavored by an ingredient mix that includes rare herbs of immense curative value boiled with gotukola, pumpkin and radish. It’s thick. Wholesome. It has a flavor that is very addictive.

When the Principal of Royal College Upali Gunasekera began his kola kenda project some six months ago, it was a first for Royal.  The Principal recalls those early days: ‘We made just one large pot of kenda; there are just 25 servings’.  Now, on average, approximately 800 children come for kola kenda, some in the morning before school starts and some during the interval.  It’s just 15 rupees per cup and that’s about half the ‘market price’. ‘We do this as a service and don’t make any profit,’ the Principal explained. 

They are finding it hard to meet the demand, apparently.  Malinda Niranjan said that the work is all done by 6.15 am but lamented that there were days they just don’t have enough to give to all those who come.  But there are days when they make a second batch, he said.  Apparently it’s not just the children. Some parents, come with their children to have a cup of kola kenda.

‘We also have roti made of traditional rice varieties.  For most of the non-teaching staff breakfast consists of roti and kola kenda.  That’s Rs 15 for the kenda and Rs25 for a roti.  They say it’s their favorite breakfast meal.’

The idea has caught on.  Children in the first three grades get a weekly cup of green goodness.  There are plans to expand this so that children in grades four and five will also benefit.

‘They love it.  Parents tell me that their sons show unusual enthusiasm about getting up and going to school on their particular kola kenda day of the week.  If a child falls in and a parent offers to make some kola kenda, the child would ask if it’s going to be like what he gets at school or so I am told,’ Mr Gunasekera says with undisguised pride. 

There’s a story here that goes beyond providing a health drink for school children.  Theoretically, 10 years down the line Royal would have produced thousands of students who not only love kola kenda but know its value as a drink that gives energy and enhances immune systems.  From there to wean the nation of its powdered milk dependency would be far less difficult.   After all, even in this relatively early stage there are children in the primary school and there are very senior boys too who wouldn’t miss their daily dose of kola kenda.  ‘The Deputy Head Prefect is one of them,’ the Principal said. 

The teachers are part of the story too.  Renuka Vidyaratne is one of them. 

‘I’ve suffered from migraine and gastritis.  I found it difficult even to climb the staircase.  Everyone morning, when I woke up, I would ask myself whether or not I should go to school.  Kola kenda changed all that.  Now I have four cups a day.  I don’t feel fatigue.  I stopped all the medicines I’ve been taking for so many years now.’

The cure of course is in the packet of ingredients -- the rice and the particular vegetables.  Those who produce the kola kenda ‘packets’, Mr Gunasekera says, have agreed to provide enough to feed close to 100,000 students in areas in the North Western Province that have been hit by CKDu (Chronic Kidney Disease of Unknown Causes).  ‘Unknown’ of course is qualified designed to facilitate the continued poisoning by agro-chemicals.  The ‘project’ if you want to call it that is therefore ‘national’ in both potential and logic. 

If Royal is ‘greening’ these days it is not only because of the kola kenda.  Upali Gunasekera has made quite a name for himself as an advocate of hands-on learning with children getting involved in school-gardening.  Chemical-free gardening that is.  There’s a comprehensive solid waste recycling program in place.  Lighting will pay for itself in a few years time courtesy solar power. 

It is unlikely that the Blue-Gold-Blue of the flag will change with one blue stripe being replaced by green.  The school, however, is slowly but surely being encased in a ‘green’ frame in thinking as well as practice.  It is not hard to replicate.  It’s not, after all, as bit a challenge as getting dubious powdered milk multinationals replaced by local dairy farmers organized into cooperatives. 

Royal has taken a ‘greening lead’.  Other prominent schools lose nothing but would benefit much if they too went green.  Who knows, there might come a day when that pernicious habit-changing putting-down-the-local question ‘thamuse kenda beelada inne?’ (have you had kenda?) would be replaced as it should be (and as Prof Nalin De Silva recommends) by the far more pertinent dismissive, ‘Why do you look as though you’ve just had powdered milk?’  It would amount to a (healthy) greening of the mind and indeed, one might say, ‘a healthy greening of the nation’ –an unshackling from incapacitating and subjugating colonial ideologies.

Royal is going green. Will Ananda, Nalanda,Viskha, Sirimavo Bandaranaike,  Dharmaraja, Mahinda, Maliyadeva and other prominent schools remain ‘mis-colored’ as it were? 



tilak kariyawasam said...

Best article I ever read. Surely it will affect to not all the schools but the whole country in near future.

Ranjer said...

It is great to see Royal taking the lead from ex-BTS schools on Nation friendly issues and also to read aricles from a Royal product with the Nation's interest at heart.
Will the St. schools join hands and follow suit???