By Emil van der Poorten –
Friends who are compelled to live in the urban centres of Sri Lanka often express their envy at what they see as our idyllic existence in “the boonies” of our land..
Let me take this opportunity of disabusing them of these false impressions, even though it might already be too late.
What follows is a very brief sampling of what now constitutes a rural Sri Lankan existence.
As pretty well all of our help, both domestic and field, hail from adjacent “colonies” – squatter settlements harking back to the time when that famous Sri
Lankan ‘land management system’ kicked in and resulted in a complete collapse of what was left after the post-Land Reform “management” of the State Plantations Corporation of hitherto productive agricultural land.
I have previously mentioned the fact that one of the largest cocoa (inter-planted with rubber) plantations in Sri Lanka in a region of the country deemed ideal for the Nectar of the Gods has been reduced to not so much as one cocoa bean being produced on approximately 1500 acres of land. The vegetation here has been totally denuded and anything that could be sold for any purpose whatsoever has been removed over the last thirty years.
Bad enough? Think of the fact that whatever vegetation survived the initial denudation was replaced by Guinea “A” grass. In dry weather, some firebug puts a match to the dry grass and the resultant smoke has a particularly negative effect on the wild bee populations of the area. Where one could, periodically capture a colony of honey bees and, with an adequate expenditure of time and effort, split this original hive into several new colonies, such a basic exercise is no longer possible. How do I know? Because we did exactly this in the time before the malicious machinations of Hector Kobbekaduwa and his Land “Reform” legislation. Now, there aren’t any wild colonies from which to draw and, perhaps even more significant, Apis dorsata, the giant honey bee (Sinhala – Bambara) colonies are beginning to disappear as well.
I distinctly recall counting, in the mid-fifties of the last century, more than half a hundred of these giant honey bee colonies festooning the undersides of the limbs of one particularly huge tree a short way up the road from the Galagedera Police Station on the highway connecting Kandy and Kurunegala. Now? Despite the tree retaining its identity as the “Bambara Gaha” (Bambara tree) there is not one hive on it. These very fierce bees, unlike their smaller cousins who nest in cavities in trees, small caves etc., follow their food supply. If they aren’t there any longer, the reason is simple: their food supply has disappeared.
When one thinks about the international battles waged against the likes of the Monsanto Corporation for their behaviour in the matter of decimating bee populations, we, in Sri Lanka better look at what we are doing to such economic resources, to the one creature without which our very existences could be at risk!
At a more immediate level, a road that provided access to automobile traffic has deteriorated (again) to the point that it is virtually impassable to cars, motorbikes three-wheelers etc. Over a period of almost 45 years, it has seen no maintenance of any description and the only way it has been kept open for emergency use is by the volunteer labour of those who need it to reach a hospital or similar emergency facility.
Immediately prior to the advent of the Good Governance (“Yahapalanaya”) government, we held a small gathering to drum up support from the man who proved to be an incoming Cabinet Minister. In fact, I made the mistake of heaping praise in the media on this individual who promised to rectify this terrible anomaly. As they used to say in the “good old days,” “alack and alas.” Nothing has come out of all that froth and bubble except a string of excuses that are, if nothing else, insulting to the intelligence of those at whom they are directed.
A threat to go public, inclusive of employing the electronic media in getting the word out has resulted in (yet another) promise of a visit and action. This is on the heels of the Chief Minion (CM) of the Minister making several lunch appointments with us that he’d cancel with about half an hour’s notice. Several registered letters to the Minister have not drawn so much as an acknowledgement. Most recently, I threatened publicity about this whole sorry mess in the local media and the internet. I then got a phone call from a minion of the CM saying they would be visiting us at 10:30 am on the 28th. They ultimately showed up about 4-5 hours late and it was obvious that the Minister’s CM was not there of his own volition but, probably, because of pressure from above! I reiterated what I had said with regard to the distinct possibility of the situation getting worse if the repairs to this road were not done immediately and appropriately. To the question directed at me as to what I expected in the circumstances, I said that I thought that those affected by what could be a very considerable expenditure of public funds should be provided with, at least, a framework plan. It was evident to me that no such plan/document existed. However, I was promised one. I also informed them that we, the residents of the area, had been compelled to husband whatever paltry resources we could to purchase, from a local quarry, rock chips which might make it possible to negotiate our only means of access in emergencies.
An idea of the state of his single access to services would be the fact that a journey that took about 5 minutes 45 years ago now takes half an hour.
Now to end on a lighter note, so necessary given the doom and gloom already referred to!
Recently, there has been concern about the meter readings on the basis of which local residents pay their electricity bills. The national media has reported that people had been overbilled by an under-staffed organization where even the existing cadre is incompetent. We attributed the in our meter reader showing up this month around the 20th to this state of affairs (as of the 5th of the next month of he still hasn’t shown up!) Seems our guess was simply wrong because our “usually reliable sources” report that during his meter readings in March this particular Central Electricity Board employee had removed all his nether garments when he was at the house of a young woman with three children and whose husband was away at the time! Never a dull moment and, when you think you’ve seen it all, (no pun intended) along comes an incident like this!
The consensus of opinion in these parts now appears to be that what is occurring in our daily lives is a further deterioration in what used to pass for law and order in the MR 1 (Mahinda Rajapaksa) days. One theory is that, if you belonged to the middle class during the reign of the previous lot you had a degree of protection because anyone intending to do you harm might have had second thoughts because you might in some way be related or connected to the White Van Disappearers!
I suppose I should “spin” the preceding anecdotal material into there being compensations for living “out in the sticks.” However, that would be patently dishonest given the fact that our Yahapalanaya (“Good governance”) is proving to be a sham, based on increasing corruption and incompetence.
One can but hope that, through some sort of miracle dictated by our lucky stars, things will turn around in the days to come and the very modest goals that most of us have in terms of simple honesty in governance are met.