09 April 2020

Let’s raise an army of rain-makers

A few years ago the principal of a leading public school initiated a project where children had to get involved in agriculture. The decision precipitated an uproar of protest.

‘We didn’t send their sons to Royal College to have their hands soiled,’ some parents complained. ‘This kind of thing had never been done,’ some old boys whined, delivering lengthy treatises about the school’s traditions.

The boys, by and large, didn’t mind. Anything to be out of the class, most would have thought no doubt. Some of them began to like the idea. They must have learned something and a few at least might have eventually come to cherish this ‘hands-on’ experience. The vegetable gardens flourished. For a while.

Anyway, a few years later, with the ‘upstart’ principal gone, things went back to ‘normal.’ No soiling of hands. Traditions all intact.  No vegetables either.

Today, forced to stay home, wary about what the future holds, almost everyone has started to question truths they used to swear by. Right now, a few at least must be happy that they spent some of their free time cultivating. They may be happy that they planted flowers and also vegetables. Some probably wish they had. Most, if not all, could be contemplating some hand-soiling work.

It’s a school lesson. It’s a life lesson. And now, given the constraints imposed by the need to combat Corvid-19, it’s also a nation-lesson and obviously a global-lesson as well. Conspicuous consumption is no longer fashionable or even viable. We can’t show off, can we? The markers of ‘the good life’ have been shelved and who knows for how long! New supply chains are being put in place, but they are not delivering ‘good-life’ packages. Just the basics, some of which we can actually grow at home without too much effort. 

I’d like to flip this a bit.

What if Royal College or any school for that matter set up a slaughter house? What would parents and old boys/girls say? They would recoil in horror wouldn’t they?  Here are some possible reactions…

‘I didn’t send my child to school to kill animals.’

‘I don’t want blood on my child’s hands!’

‘Unheard of! Is the principal mad?’

‘We should complain to the Minister.’

‘I will speak to the President himself!’

‘Let’s get this moron transferred or better still interdicted!’

Blood on other people’s hands is ok, folks. Soil too. So let’s return to agriculture and relative merits.

Well, we don’t know what the future holds, but we do know that we must have food. We know that we are blessed to live in a country where, as is often said, even if you throw a stick carelessly it will take root. We are a green nation. Less green than we were but certainly still capable of deeper greening, if you will.

It’s about doing the can-do thing, or if it comes to that, the must-do thing.  Soiled hands is a small price, all things considered, don’t you think?

Not everyone has a garden moron, did I hear someone say? Yes, genius, you are correct. We can’t grow rice in an apartment complex. We can’t have a mango tree? We can’t grow kos or del. How about some chillie plants in a pot though? Some gotukola, nivithi or kankun? There is a thing called urban agriculture after all and there are dozens of websites that will tell you everything you need to know. It’s a do-it-yourself project that almost everyone is eminently capable of accomplishing. Some soil, seeds/plants (easily obtained), some sunshine (there’s enough of it) and a bit of water (surely we can spare some, considering how much we waste?)…that’s all it takes. 

And maybe one day, if/when we get through these terrible times, we can re-think education. We can have principals, for example, who will tell the parents of kids enrolling in school something along these lines:

‘Get your child to plant something. Take a picture. Your child has to bring a picture of him/herself with the plant when he/she comes to school for the first time.  And every year, on the first day of the first term he/she has to come to class with another picture, him/herself with the plant one year later, two years later and so on until his/her final year.’

Some plants will not make it. Most will. Thousands of children will spend 12-13 years tending to a single plant, watching it grow into a tree, reaping multiple rewards. Such a child, when he/she goes out into the wide, complicated and often terrible world outside the comparatively idyllic school existence, will be appalled at any proposal which includes the felling of a tree. That will be our Green Army. They will be the rainmakers who will prevent or end the drought. 

Other articles in the series 'In Passing...':  [published in the 'Daily News']
  Happy birthday Raj Amirthiah
Let's not stop singing in the lifeboats
When the Welikada Prison was razed to the ground
Looking for the idyllic in dismal times    Water the gardens with the liquid magic of simple ideas, right now   There's canvas and brush to paint the portraits of love   We might as well arrest the house!
The 'village' in the 'city' has more heart than concrete
Vo, Italy: the village that stopped the Coronavirus
We need 'no-charge' humanity The unaffordable, as defined by Nihal Fernando
Heroes of our times Let's start with the credits, shall we?   
The 'We' that 'I' forgot 

 'Duwapang Askey,' screamed a legend, almost 40 years ago
Dances with daughters
Reflections on shameless writing
Is the old house still standing? 

 Magic doesn't make its way into the classifieds
Small is beautiful and is a consolation  
Distance is a product of the will
Akalanka Athukorala, at 13+ already a hurricane hunter 
Did the mountain move, and if so why?
Ever been out of Colombo? 
Anya Raux educated me about Juvenile Idiopathic Arthritis (JIA)
Wicky's Story You can always go to GOAT Mountain
Let's learn the art of embracing damage
Kandy Lake is lined with poetry
There's never a 'right moment' for love
A love note to an unknown address in Los Angeles
A dusk song for Rasika Jayakody  
How about creating some history?
How far away are the faraway places?
There ARE good people!
Re-placing people in the story of schooldays   
When we stop, we can begin to learn
Routine and pattern can checkmate poetry
Janani Amanda Umandi threw a b'day party for her father 
Sriyani and her serendipity shop 
Forget constellations and the names of oceans
Where's your 'One, Galle Face'?
Maps as wrapping paper, roads as ribbons
Yasaratne, the gentle giant of Divulgane  
Katharagama and Athara Maga
Victories are made by assists
Lost and found between weaver and weave
The Dhammapada and word-intricacies
S.A. Dissanayake taught children to walk in the clouds