23 June 2015

Dear Rebel, have you met 'PB' of Alutwela?

PB repairing the 900m long pipe that irrigates his land
This is the thirty fourth in a series of articles on rebels and rebellion written for the FREE section of 'The Nation'. Scroll to the end for other articles in this series.  'FREE' is dedicated to youth and youthfulness.

It is not unnatural for rebels to draw inspiration from the great men and women who came before, stood out in the crowd and led the people to victory.  Revolutionaries of a Marxist orientation therefore read about Lenin, Castro, Ho Chi Minh, Mao and Che Guevara.  One doesn’t have to be a Marxist or even a socialist to learn from such people.  The objectives may have been quite at odds with what one is striving for, but when it comes to methodology, there’s a lot one can learn.

So each rebel will look to the heroic leaders of his or her sphere of operation.  But just as they can learn from Mao and Lenin, Gongale Goda Banda and Dingirala, Puran Appu and Bhutaeve Rate Rala, so too can they learn from ‘PB’.

Dissanayake Mudiyanselage Punchi Banda was a rebel who took part in the 1971 insurrection.  The rebels lost.  Many were killed and many were imprisoned, PB among them.  Some of his fellow prisoners opted to do their A/Ls or if they were undergraduates to complete their degrees.  PB learnt English.  Upon being released three years later, he, together with 73 others formed a farming company, got some land about six kilometres off a place called Veherayaya, a bit north of Kuda Oya on the Thanamalvila-Wellavaya road.  It is now called Alutwela.  It receives the cold winds blowing down from Haputale even as it is scorched by the dry winds that sweep from the Thanamalvila area, making for a unique ecology.

They all had two acres each.  Three years later, only PB remained.  He grappled with the unfriendly elements and turned them all into collaborators and co-conspirators in his designs.  He build three small wevas.  He has over the years put in place pipes close to a kilometer in length so that he can draw water from the Kuda Oya.  He has enough grain to sustain him through seven lean seasons.  He has taught himself.  He can read palms. He can read horoscopes. He can repair cartwheels.  He can treat snake bites.  He can treat lots of ailments. He has grown lots of medicinal plants.  He has solar power.  He is humble.

It took PB years to get to where he is now.  More important than the years is to labor.  It wasn’t easy.  He had to do most of it by himself.  But he made for himself a country.  Visit him.  Let him tell his story in his own way.  He is not a textbook for revolution.  He’s more than that.  An archive of rare manuscripts about living, fighting, and making peace with defeat and victory.

Other articles in this series