06 May 2015

Channa Ekanayaka of Dehi Gaha Ela*


‘I will give you a Kon plant,’ Channa Ekanayaka told me a few weeks ago. This was at a place called Deh iGaha Ela, an elegantly designed vacation hideaway that appears to have grown naturally in that Dry Zone landscape.

Dehi Gaha Ela is run by a group appropriately named ‘Back of Beyond’. The prime movers are well-known naturalists and environmental enthusiasts and activists, determined to create spaces where like-minded people have ‘the privacy of lounging on a deck chair, gazing at the stars listening to the night sounds of the jungle at the end of a long day where the occasional frog gazed solemnly at you over the basin tap, where we spread our maps, books and photo equipment on the dinner table and discuss with the bungalow keeper the best way to approach the next day’.

I like to think of myself as a like-minded person and I certainly enjoyed all of the above a couple of weeks ago, except that I didn’t have maps to pore over or photo equipment, not even a mobile phone camera. I enjoyed also, long conversations with Channa, the temporary manager of the above facility.

I first met him in the offices of the Green Movement of Sri Lanka, about ten years ago, when helping that organization put together a country report on sustainable development for the Johannesburg Conference on the subject. Over the years, I discovered that he was a mathematics teacher (now retired), exceptionally talented painter, a nature lover and an environmental activist. In Dehi Gaha Ela, I discovered other character-elements of this fascinating man.

Walking with Channa around the jungle, I realized that he was a walking encyclopaedia. He knew about trees. He knew the vines. He knew about the conditions in which particular plants, herbs and trees thrive. He knew their uses, especially their medicinal attributes. He knew about birds and butterflies, their habits and preferences. Reptiles.Four-legged creatures. He could read the signs left by our fellow-creatures. He could identify birds through their calls, their nests and their eggs.

Channa also knew history, not the history of event and personality only, but the civilizational narrative of the overall agricultural system including irrigation works and natural resource management, and the overarching philosophies that framed social and economic engagement. He had countless anecdotes to entertain child and adult. He knew janakatha and janakavi; well-versed he was in folk literature. While walking along a jungle trail (all made by elephants, he said) we came across two huge boulders. He didn’t point them out to us and we would not have noticed but for the following story.

‘A long time ago, a giant had been carrying huge rocks to build a temple. He had come far, carrying two such rocks, both tied to a single pole at each end and slung across a shoulder. He had come far. He sat down to rest. He had died right there, no one knows how or why. Years later they had found the two rocks and between them the skeleton that must have belonged to a huge man.’
My daughters listened, wide-eyed. Channa went silent. For effect.

‘These are the two rocks,’ he pointed to the boulders.

I didn’t ask if he made it up then and there. It didn’t matter. He led them to the Dehi Gaha Ela, the stream that gave the place its name. They waded, bathed, splashed around and were deliriously happy.
He, along with the three others who help keep the place neat and tidy and take care of guests, are very much aware that theirs is an intrusion. They move on tiptoe, so to say, in that wonderfully relaxing landscape. Channa educates without even appearing to do so and thereby makes it possible for the visitor to take a piece of Dehi Gaha Ela back home.

Not souvenirs, no. He paints a way of life and a sense of the natural order as eloquently as he would depict something using brush, colour and canvas. People don’t have to take home something ‘tangible’, but what they do take can transform how they interact with the world and each other and produce tangible results.

In this instance, he was offering me ‘tangible’. A Kon plant. Dehi Gaha Ela is a nursery too, I learnt. Channa and his team have numerous plants. I looked at the Kon plant and then at one of the ‘cottages’, ‘Kon Tree House’. Now all the cottages at Dehi Gaha Ela are either built on trees or into them, with the elevations giving wonderful views and also security. The particular ‘Kon’ was gigantic.
‘We have only a small garden,’ I said.

Channa smiled. ‘It is a common mistake. Or misconception. We tend visualize the full-grown tree in our gardens. Now it will no doubt grow to this height, but do you pause to ask yourself how many years that would take? Do we plant trees for our lifetimes? Even if that were the case, this Kon plant will not upset the landscape of your garden.’

How quickly we learn, how quickly we forget, I told myself. All I know is that Channa taught me a lesson in mathematics. He spoke about magnitude, depreciation, addition, enhancement and sharing. 

He did not use brush, colour and canvas, but painting is what he did.

He did not say ‘come again’. He didn’t have to. I have lots of memories. And a Kon plant.


msenevira@gmail.com

*First published in the 'Daily News', May 3, 2011
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1 comments:

දේශක යා said...

//Channa smiled. ‘It is a common mistake. Or misconception. We tend visualize the full-grown tree in our gardens. Now it will no doubt grow to this height, but do you pause to ask yourself how many years that would take? Do we plant trees for our lifetimes? Even if that were the case, this Kon plant will not upset the landscape of your garden.’//

Pretty good improvisation by Channa. I just remembered the song, "Monawada mutte mokatada Oba Oya bima harananneZ