26 April 2020

The Theory of Three Chillie Plants

I have a friend. Let me call him Nadesan. Now Nadesan left Sri Lanka more than 25 years ago when he was just five years old. The LTTE had robbed his family of the only asset they owned, a tractor. They managed to flee to Canada where life turned out to be very harsh. Nadesan made it through those tough years. Then he decided to visit Sri Lanka. And he decided this is the country where he wants to spend the rest of his life.

Young, endowed with an absolutely brilliant mind and possessed by a rare determination to set right every wrong he noticed, Nadesan, now married and with two children (at the time I first met him) talked to anyone and everyone he thought could help. Let me not get ahead of his epic story which, in a way, is just starting. Instead let me relate an observation he shared with me.

‘My father-in-law has grown chillies for many years. I figured that if enough households grew chillies, we can bring down the price and everyone will save a little bit of money.

‘I have met lots of people who complain about things. They say “the government didn’t do this, didn’t to that.” So I ask them “have you grown anything in your life?” And if they haven’t I ask them, “if you can’t even grow three chillie plants, what right do you have to complain?” And I give them some plants.’

Now all this was long before anyone had heard of Covid-19. This afternoon my wife related a ‘growing’ story. She had visited a nursery nearby. The person who ran it had said he had 50,000 rupees worth of vegetable plants which no one had wanted to buy. In fact he had offered free vegetable plants to people who came to buy flowering plants and that hadn’t worked either. Came Covid-19 and after a few weeks, he had managed to clear his stocks! 

Sri Lanka, then, has started growing in ways long abandoned when we embraced a different kind of ‘growth’. Growth of per capita GDP. Growth in the production of goods and services. Growth in capital goods, labor force, technology and human capital. Growth in aggregated market value.

All of these things went hand in hand with depletion. Depletion of forest cover. Depletion in community integrity. Depletion in solidarity. Depletion in the use of traditional technologies. Depletion in food security. Depletion in the earth’s capacity to maintain natural cycles. Depletion in fertility. Species depletion. Depletion in the ability to demand from and supply to the market.

There was ‘growth’ too, it must be acknowledged. Growth in CO2 emissions. Growth in wars. Growth in pollution. Growth in the production of weapons of mass destruction. Growth in the number and frequency of natural disasters. Growth in arrogance.

Covid-19 forced us to stop, metaphorically and literally. We stopped. We looked around. We looked ahead and things looked bleak. We looked behind and found a multitude of errors. We saw pathways abandoned so long ago that it was hard to even detect trace.

And we discovered or rather we are discovering that we got growth all wrong. We are realizing that growth took us up the garden path and away from the vegetable plots. The road taken glittered so much that we went blind. 

Three chillie plants. Think about it. We were reluctant to plant just one, weren’t we? We had hundreds of reasons not to, hadn’t we? We were high on complaints, low on self-reliance, weren’t we?

Three chillie plants. It would be very rare for anyone not to have the space to grow three chillie plants. Forget three chillie plants. How about just one?  Let that be a little something that gives you a little (not absolute) right to whine over things you don’t have (a lot of which you probably don’t need).

One chillie plant. Can we start there? Gut feeling: it will lead to two chillie plants and then three. And then other plants.

Nadesan doesn’t see himself as a visionary. He’s a hands-on, feet-rooted kind of person. He does not whine. Let’s raise a cheer to that young man who wishes to remain anonymous but has said and done something quite profound. No one has called it ‘Nadesan’s Theory of Three Chillie Plants.’ Not yet.  Forget the theory. Remember the plant. Remember to plant. 

Other articles in the series 'In Passing...':  [published in the 'Daily News']   
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
White is a color we forget too often
The most beautiful road is yet to meet a cartographer