By Vishwamithra –
The morning dew has created a psychedelic design on the grass. Each drop is perfectly circular and varying in circumference; when sun rays are reflecting off its minuscule summit of the drop, the patterns that the dew generates are swaying to the morning breeze like an immaculately choreographed ensemble. The moist touch must be bringing heavenly feel to any rough-skinned under-feet. Pages of ‘Grass for my Feet’ by Jinadasa Vijayatunga bring back fondest of memories, read almost eons ago. The sun has already risen above the distant horizon, at extremity of the plains that dominate this part of the land.
The dry zone whose fate is fundamentally tied up with intermittent rain and reservoirs of water so constructed by wiser men is where our ancestors initiated massive and solid development schemes. Those who claim these arid plains from generation to generation have been wedded to the land with religious devotion; when it was dry, they did not complain and when rains paid their irregular visits they were not overjoyed either. Centuries of surviving in all extremities have inflicted a superior kind of composure and restrained their joy and toughened their hearts, for show of awkward misery or ill-timed delight is a surrender of their collective stoicism.
Yet at present time, it is a totally different story; a story of an ever-changing physical landscape made unbearably pathetic by imposition of a scenery of political genre. Long before the government’s idiotic decision to convert agriculture production from chemical fertilizer-enriched cultivation to one reinforced by ‘organic’ fertilizer has left behind a landscape brutally starved by a dearth of fertilizer of any kind. As far as the eye could see, it was, sometime back, a carpet of greenery, stretching from one end all the way to the horizon of this farmland. From the evaporation of the morning dew to the twilight time when a family of proud farmers prepared the land, enriched the soil, provided the water, indulged in an unending meditation on the growing paddy and then harvesting to feed a nation and a proud family, this enchanting saga of dry-zone cultivation has fed our nation from time immemorial. That was how a productive day was spent.
Not now. The farming families in the land have been subjected to the whims and fancies of a Minister of Agriculture who cannot claim allegiance to the farming community. He did not comprehend the nuanced aspects of cultivation, paddy or any other crop. Sensitive practices of traditional farming have been sacrificed at the altar of political expedition. The joy of tilling one’s own land has been taken away from the men and women who fed and nurtured this nation for centuries. The Rajapaksas have come, they’ve seen and indeed, they’ve conquered. A tragic tale of national starvation is being written and enacted on the national stage for all to see.
The massive reservoirs that provided hydroelectricity have gone dry. The whole country has been literally plunged into darkness and those who are responsible for this monumental failure in governance, economic mishandling and cultural debacle don’t seem to care in the least. And in that darkness, under the cover of the Covid-19 pandemic, capital market collapse and ensuing economic negativity, the Rajapaksa Family, its corrupt cabal of henchmen and women and immediate kith and kin went into business of virtually selling the country to the highest bidder. The norms have changed, the entire culture of fair governance has been altered and law and order has become a rare commodity, rarer than today’s milk-food.
Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP) and its breakaway groups like Pohottuwa Cabal have been in power from 1994 up till now, barring on two occasions from 2001 to 2003 and 2015 to 2019. All what is apparent today in the national scene should be owned by them. Defeating Prabhakaran and his deadly forces of Tigers does not give a license to the Rajapaksas, nor to the SLFP and the Pohottuwa cabal to plunder the country’s coffers. It does not offer excuses to displace the Northern Tamils from their traditional land; such military feats do not qualify the rulers unquestioningly to be the masters of a slave-nation. Fiefdom and feudalism, albeit an integral part of the Bandaranaike history and a stinking patch of indignity of their followers, is history now.
A nation that became free of the colonial rule seventy three years ago cannot be treated like a pack of serfs by some uneducated, unreservedly crooked and dangerously self-righteous. If the majority of the people of Ceylon choose to serve these merchants of corruption and nepotism without questioning the right and wrong of fundamental human principles, without probing into the absurdities of avaricious ambitions of politicians, the destiny of the land and her people is a lamentable one whose arrival is dreaded and consequences fearsome.
It is in this distressing context, Siyadoris, the head of the farming family whose farmland which I described in the opening of this sad saga, embarked on this sunny morning to complete the application of the meager amount of fertilizer purchased at a premium price in the black-market, close to his dwelling in the settlement scheme. The Unit Manager of the scheme has taken his yearly leave, leaving the mundane affairs of a land settlement scheme to his deputy, a new recruit whose only qualification was that he hailed from the same community, same village in Nawalapitiya, a picturesque electorate in Kandy district.
When Siyadoris visited the Unit Manager’s office, he was told that even the Deputy had gone on another errand, private or official, the attending peon did not know. It certainly is not becoming easier for Siyadoris. The field engineer is sick and the Unit manager’s office resembles as desolate and headless as does Siyadoris’s parched field waiting for another rainy day.
When Siyadoris reached back to his farm, the sun was at its maximum strength; the dry zone birds that used to chirp in a cloudless sky despite the scorching temperatures, are still doing their sky-dancing, to a charming pattern that bedevil the mind and fascinate the eyes. Siyadoris, the pride of yesteryear and harbinger of the country’s riches is not only tired and exhausted, he is angry and enraged. His dreams are not to make two millions from half a million; his dreams are made of much more mundane stuff. Education for his two children, three meals a day for a family of four and a decent and dignified day of labor for the land he worships each time he sets his foot on this breathtakingly beautiful tract.
Such men are not greedy; indulgence in a glass of pot-arrack at the end of the day after a strenuous and sweaty day of honest labor is no crime or an extravaganza; a daily regimen of devotion to the land that sustains his family has bestowed on him that simple pleasure. Lost in hope, yet eager to finish his day’s labor, Siyadoris reaches his homestead for lunch, which his wife has prepared, rice, pol sambol, and dry fish curry. Being a village girl, Yaso Hami, Siyadoris’s wife knows how to make a delightful meal even with the minimum of the items available. While those men in power lunch and wine in five-star hotels in Colombo, Siyadoris has willfully opted to partake of a simple yet tasty meal. That meal is a product of his honest labor; it was prepared by his wife whose devotion to Buddhism and its middle-path practices has nourished her and her two children to be honest and dedicated rural children that dominate the most far-out corners of the land.
Siyadoris does not have the luxury of an afternoon siesta; he has to track back to the field to close the field channels so that his neighboring farmers too could share the same amount of water the field engineer releases each morning. He continues to plough his land and he does it with enormous pride and now with a little bit of anger. The promises and slogans are still lingering in his ears. In order to feed a family and lend his share to the nation’s riches, Siyadoris has to undergo the apathy of the government officers and politicians who claim that they had a better knowledge about farming. But nothing can be further from the truth. In addition to the fact that he is being pontificated by some ignoramus whose knowledge about farming is next to nothing, he also has to suffer the indignity of bring ruled by one single family.
When dusk is about to envelop the surroundings, Siyadoris makes up his mind. He would not wait any longer. Whether it was the political party led by an elephant, hand or a pohottuwa, that school of political thought has to be discarded. They have collectively plunged his nation into an abyss of bankruptcy, starvation and hunger. He must pay a visit to office in the township; that office is being manned by some village youth whose only wish and hope, it seems, is doing away with the past mistakes and opening up new vistas, where Siyadoris never ever thought that he would dare begin to go. Everything has a time…and that time for Siyadoris has come.
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