தமிழ்த் தேசியம்

"To us all towns are one, all men our kin.
Life's good comes not from others' gift, nor ill
Man's pains and pains' relief are from within.
Thus have we seen in visions of the wise !."

- Tamil Poem in Purananuru, circa 500 B.C 


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Journey Down Memory Lane To Reach 'tamiz Izam'

Chapter 14

I have felt a sense of belonging to the Eastern province. May be because of my short visits. I have heard it said that a particular place is good for a visit but not for living. It was more than that for me.

There was a continuity in the ‘tamiz’ traditions in the East than it is in the North. North was more involved in the Ceylonese variety of the rat race. This is the result of constant traffic between Colombo and Jaffna. Also because some of us ‘jAzpAnhar’ are selective in choosing ‘tamiz panhpAdu’ for personal gains. ‘paraNta uLap pAngku’ is very religiously followed. Some of us for any reason, some for many reasons and some for money reason did not hesitate to embrace other religions.

I am not talking about those who claim they chose other religions for the mere superiority over their traditional religion. As much as the ‘thing’ god is within one, religion is personal to one. Some forefathers even changed our names to be fashionable or did we not have a ‘tamiz’ name to begin with? ‘arici’ is also called Oriza sativa or Oriza indicum I think. Some imaginative teacher is supposed to have fooled his students by naming an unfamiliar weed ‘ROddOram karyjOram’- high sounding ain’t it? Such ruses did not help them once their benefactors left the country.

How to carry favor with the new masters- wash’tamiz’ dirty linen in public for the amusement of the masters. I am only dry cleaning the clothing of these few Sinhala court jesters, that smell alien. In fairness to the large number of ‘tamizar’ with high sounding names,- I know of a father from the traditional religious group, who gave his son a middle name, the name of a British Prime Minister in the hope the colonial masters will never leave-, I must mention, that this large number have no chips on their shoulders. They are shoulder to shoulder with the mainstream ‘tamizar’ and I will go a few steps further and say, that the freedom struggle progressed so far because for some of these ‘tamizar’ ‘tamiz’ patriotism took precedence over their own right to live.

The East maintained most of the old traditions in areas of folklore, hospitality, religious activities, etc. Despite an almost balance in Muslim and Saiva populations, religious differences did not seem to divide the people to cause panic. It was not a cursory observation, but my over three years of residence in Hingurana, Amparai District, confirmed my impressions of coexistence and camaraderie in the East between Saiva and Muslim ‘tamizar.

Sivalingam, from Sammanthurai, who worked for Brown and Co. at Amparai, went through the School of Instruction. We struck a mutual respect and affection for each other until his premature demise. He was working as a Field superintendent in the River Valley Development Board sugar plantation in Hingurana. The Gal Oya Development Board by an act of Parliament was re-named, to undertake other river valley development programs. Again the government created another para-statal body, the Accelerated Mahaveli Development Project {AMDP}. The Sinhala politicians seem to take an incessant pleasure in changing names of places-Ceylon to Sri Lanka- rather than change economic, and other needs of the country for the better. How does anyone expect the ever active, ‘Tigers’ to follow the ever sleeping ‘Lion’ that awaits its prey to come to him? Perhaps the ever changing ‘tamiz’ chamellions will .

By another act of Parliament all sugar activities were brought under the Sri Lanka Sugar Corporation. The RVDB assets were to be transferred to SLSC. I was sent by the Chairman of SLSC with specific instruction to personally check every item I was receiving before I signed for it. One incident stands out. One of the Tractor Companies delivered four new Caterpillar tractors. The Superintendent of Stores receives it and transfers items to the respective department inventory. I was asked to sign for them. There was no details of size, model, optional equipment, but just the stock number and a brief description.

I wanted the original Tender specifications and the invoice. The clerk handling the subject was also known to me. He had relations in Chankanai and he was nick-named Madras Mail. There was a "tamiz’ movie by that name in which S.S Coco played the part of a Scarlet Pimpernel. I had to be more careful. My Madras Mail friend will for a few Rupees more sell his grandmother as the saying goes. When I demanded to see the originals, he rubbed it into the SS who came without the originals. He told me in his over twenty-five years with the RVDB, no one has questioned his integrity and me, that too the husband of one of his nieces had the gall to challenge him.

I told him, Mr. Pushparatnam, it is not a question of doubting your honesty, which I know is unimpeachable, but did you take over the tractors yourself? He turned around and sent me the connected papers. To my delight, I had a chance to justify my refusal. Ordinarily a canopy comes as a standard fitting but billed as an option. There were no canopies for the four tracttors, but charged for. They had to install the canopies before I signed for them. Then onwards life was very easy for me, because I was the man who defied the never yielding honest stores ‘yjA.’ We were neighbors at Hingurana and when I left Sugar to join Collettes Ltd. as their Manager for the Agricultural Division, he advised me thatt I should keep my lavish entertainment under check. The Scot in the ‘jAzp pAnhattAn’ was talking..

Unlike Kantalai, Hingurana was run like a government department. The various plantations were scattered all over and sometimes the fields stretch up to twenty-five miles from the factory. Bureaucracy drove a go-getter like me to the limits of patience. The General Manager, a very amiable person after hours but in office his was the final word as far as his staff was concerned. Harvesting of cane, planting of cane, etc. are done by contract private labor. One day all the loaded cane carts were parked outside the factory entrance. There were no more empty trailers to be given to the cutters in the field. The cutters numbering over a thousand are paid according to the amount of cane cut and delivered to the factory.

SLSC was responsible and as Equipment Manager it was my responsibility to take the empties to the harvesting field and place the carts inside the field at a convenient spot from which the loaded cane cart could be pulled on to the field road. This is a messy job and worse after or during the rains. The cane cutters sometimes manage to bribe the tractor operators and get them placed infield for easy loading, but a tough job when heavier machines had to be transported and used to pull the bogged down or stuck loaded cart. This was overlooked as it was a government job and nobody bothered about costs and returns and everybody was happy. That was how the cost of production of a pound of sugar was over Rs. 100.00. This was before my time, but I do not claim full responsibilty for the change for the better.

If the carts or cane trailers were not placed in position, the cutters will not start cutting, and even if they wanted to, the field supervisors will not let them to do so, as the factory will reject old dried cane. In times like this the field supervisors will be nowhere to be seen. This dereliction of duty was excusable according to their supervisor the Plantation Manager who had no better qualification other than that he was a Sinhala Buddhist and the son of a Sinhala Buddhist leader. Of course, the lives of these field supervisors were sometimes threatened by the cutters wielding cane knives , that can slice 1-11/2 " cane in a bundle of 4-6 canes or more. I was in a worse position as the cutters knew that I was responsible for placing the trailers. Since I was able to explain to them in person and I have already proved my mettle, I was never threatened. I knew my reputation that preceded me was confirmed when the acronym E.M. for Equipment Manager was also for efficiency maximum.

When the trailers were not off-loaded I pleaded with the Factory Manager to stack the old cane closer to the cane choppers and the new cane farther away. The General Manager with his entourage joined us. I knew of the loyalty factor and was not surprised when the GM sided with the FM. I do not take no for an answer except from that person of final authority. We had radio communications with the Head Office in Colombo, and sent a message to the Chairman.

The Chairman arrived very late that night, judged the situation and ordered that the operation of the cranes used in unloading and feeding the chopper should come under the responsibility of the Equipment Division. Before day break all the trailers were unloaded and dispatched to the field. I remember the Chairman’s words that day, ‘You cut any bugger’s throat but deliver the goods.’ The Chairman was nervous as he has taken over Sugar from RVDB and that was his first season. If he did not show improvement then it will hurt everybody right up to the Minister who was the Chairman’s nephew. He had to trust somebody and he trusted the known devil. His testimonial I carry with me is proof that I did not let him nor the Sugar industry down as long as I worked there.

The Gal Oya project based on the Tennessee Valley Authority {TVA}, a very large reservoir , the Senanayake Samudra was built to open 85,000 acres of new land and 35,000 acres of existing irrigated lands. This was a multi project including a sugar factory, tile factory, wood works, rice mill, tourist industry and other service industries.

Amparai district between Badulla to the West and Eastern province to the East , is connected to the outside world via Mahiyangana by perhaps the only highway with double lanes outside of Colombo going either direction built by the Canadians. This road joins with the old Batticaloa Badulla road.

After the 1956 Sinhala riots against ‘tamizar’ rumor had that ‘tamizar’ were going to attack Sinhalas, and a quick get away road was traced from Inginiyagala through Siyambalanduwa connecting the Pottuvil Buttala road. The man behind this almost overnight construction was Chandrasenan, one time Minister V. Coomaraswamy M.P. Chavakacheri’s brother, Equipment Manager GODB. This road is sometimes known as Chandran Road. between Mahiyangana and Maha Oya is the home of the Veddahs- Damana and the little hamlet Kotabakkinni home of Veddah Tissahamy the hero in Dr. R. L. Spittel’s Book "Savage Sanctuary.’ My wife remembers our visit to this hamlet with some Australian visitors.

More about Veddahs next.


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