14 December 2022

Paul Christopher’s heart of many chambers

I believe it is in ‘Love in the Time of Cholera’ that Gabriel Garcia Marquez talked of the heart’s many chambers. He may have been referring to Florentino Ariza when he wrote, ‘his heart had more chambers than a whorehouse.’  

I’ve read somewhere that the human brain has an enormous capacity and that when you say or feel ‘I can’t get anything more inside at this point,’ it probably indicates that you are tired, that your neck and shoulders are aching or that you are simply sleep-deprived. The heart, in a classic romantic understanding has room for just one name and although there are four physical chambers in that much abused and misunderstood piece of flesh only one resident is permitted. At any given time. Debatable of course, but let’s leave claims and counter romantic claims aside. Paul Christopher, I insist, has a heart with more chambers than the grandest mansion you can think of.

I was introduced to Paul by Achala Samaradivakara, Co-Founder of Good Market and Adhikaramge Ishara, who along with Achala spend enormous amounts of time promoting better and wholesome agricultural practices, especially in urban settings. Achala and Ishara, following an invitation from the Hector Kobbekaduwa Agrarian Research and Training Institute, offered to help turn the ample open spaces into a model urban farm. They surveyed the premises, assessed amounts of sunlight, the quality and character of the soils and came up with a plan replete with a crop list and a sketch of what should be planted where. Paul provided the plants and nutrients.

Paul runs a PGS-certified organic vegetable outfit called Panda Farmacy. The nutshell version of the operation is as follows:

‘Panda Farmacy produces farm fresh organic and free range products, supports others to grow their own food for a healthy community and environment, and mobilizes the next generation for a sustainable farming revolution in Sri Lanka. Their own land is an integrated organic farm that produces leafy greens, vegetables, fruits, coconut, free range chickens, seeds, seedlings, vermicompost "black gold" fertilizer, and vermiwash liquid fertilizer.  

‘They donate to community kitchens, provide training, and donate seeds and plants for people to develop SEED (Something to Eat Everyday) and FAITH (Food Always In The House) urban home gardens and community gardens.’

A few weeks later, I ran into both Ishara and Paul at an event organised by the Royal College Agriculture Society. They spoke to students present representing several Colombo schools. It was not just about good agricultural practices but about the need to change ways of thinking about the world around us as well as the habits we have acquired. Bits and pieces of the wisdom shared I had already heard in conversations with them, but there was always something new to learn from them. New dimensions of the heart or, put another way, heart-chambers I hadn’t previously known about.

I owed Paul almost Rs 100,000 for the plants and nutrients but I couldn’t pay because it was around that time that I became an unemployed graduate for the eighth time. ‘Don’t worry about it,’ he had said. It was embarrassing but Paul had a way of dismissing such things with a smile. He called me a few days later, wanting me to visit him in Wattala. Didn’t tell me why. Didn’t ask. He sent me the location: Angels’ Care Montessori and Day Care, No 18 Balagala Road, Wattala.


Children’s Day. The place was decorated with various creations by the kids. There was food. There was laughter. I learned that Paul and his wife Nadisha Abigail had multiple definitions for ‘seeds’ and ‘faith’. And it was not just agricultural produce that they grew. They were not nourishing only the soil.  He told me about the kids. They were not from wealthy families. Hardship was the badge they had been forced to wear on account of economic difficulties or complex and tragic household situations or both. No one was turned away.

Paul and Abigail knew the back story of every single child and they were sensitive to the particular conditions of each as they nurtured them. Dozens of chambers. Innumerable nutrients. Their children, who are active and enthusiastic farmers themselves, were also there. Made of kindness, generosity and love, the kids in the school clearly saw them as older siblings who assured comfort and protection. I had forgotten their names, so I texted him late last night. He replied this morning: Cherubi Mikela and David John Paul. 

And he added, 'Sunday was dad's 11 year memorial service after service. We went to a children's home to share some love with them. I slipped as the ground was wet after the rain. To fractures in my left arm. Surgery was done late last night.  A metal plate was placed inside. Should be ok.' Followed by a smiley. I was concerned, but he still found a way to make me smile.

‘Thank you for coming,’ he said that day as he saw me off. I smiled in return and thanked him for inviting me. I should have thanked him for offering me an hour or two of childhood. I should have thanked him for educating me about the limitless capacity of the human heart.  He would probably have shrugged it off with a smile.  


['The Morning Inspection' is the title of a column I wrote for the Daily News from 2009 to 2011, one article a day, Monday through Saturday. This is the first of a new series.]

 Other articles in this series:

Calmness gracefully cascades in the Dumbara Hills

Serendipitous amber rules the world

Continents of the heart 

The allegory of the slow road