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 9

"Water water everywhere not a drop to drink." We are surrounded by water and yet we have to pay for water under certain circumstances. Potableness of water is of paramount importance to all things living. Precipitation of water in any form is a welcome nature’s gift. Abuse of water is man’s nature. It is feared potable water will become scarce if the current abuse and overdrawing of ground water continue.

The main source of potable water is the water trapped in the different strata of the soil. Trees and shrubs through their deep root system can reach these aquifers and help themseves. Herbs and young plants in the absence of surface or high ground water table has very little or no chance of survival. Some plants have developed methods to reproduce or reappear when conditions return to normalcy.

In certain parts of ‘tamiz Izam’ frequency of supplying water otherwise known as irrigation varies anywhere from twice a day to a week or more. Farmers and through them experts have developed charts for each area the frequency and quantity for each crop. The time between one irrigation and the next before any serious damage occurs is called the critical period. There are various irrigation methods and type of irrigation. The source of water is a major factor in the determination of an irrigation system.

Not many rivers run through "tamiz Izam.’ There are few rivulets or streams and they are mostly seasonal. Therefore irrigation plays an important part and is a major contributor to the high cost of farming in’ tamiz Izam. Most of the wells could command only about one half of an acre, i.e., 6-8 lachams-’parappu.’ What it means is that anyone who wants to cultivate cash crops in an acre of land has to sink two open wells. I recall the ‘bird or animal calls’ to draw the attention of the partner or help long before sunrise to get to work. With the ‘paddy’ and in some cases the well sweep rope coil and the mammoty hanging on the shoulders, they walk to their fields.

One person controls the ‘paddy’ another controls the water flowing in the channels by directing it to the desired plot in a sequence with the flow. He uses a mammoty to open a temporary earthen ridge, which in effect is a miniature dam. Water flows down the well-laid channels designed by the farmer without any surveyor’s tools. Details for grade, type of soil to determine the width of the main channel, the secondary, right up to the plants are considered. Most of the wells were used by more than one farmer as the holdings were small so that a family could handle all the labor involved.

In certain cases they hire additional labor especially for labor intense operations such as seed bed preparation, harvest, etc. There was another method called the ‘vAram muRy’ where a help is engaged on a profit sharing basis so that the farmer does not have to pay for each service. Not all farmers are land owners themselves. They lease the land from absentee land owners for a regular lease payment or a percentage of the harvest.

Naturally, even exotic plants imported from India need water. They need more as some of them are cool climate plants and some of them need better care as they are not acclimatized like the local plants. We had some limitations to what each of us could do in the home garden enterprise. Brother Mahendran did not like to monkey on the sweep, I was not allowed to draw water. Mahendran will man the mammoty, father at the custom made ‘paddy’ and I am on the sweep.

When I had to have a break, which was very frequent and determined by father, Mahendral will be at the ‘paddy’, father atop the sweep and mammoty man I am. The younger ones play in the water and mother was there to take care of the little ones and to worry her head off for our safety. Occasionally friends and relatives drop by and help. The houseboy was a young man but he was busy preparing our meals or attending to other chores. We used to participate in local competitions and we have won a lot of prizes, organized by the department of agriculture and therefore could not use the house boy.

Mahendran liked poultry farming including ducks and rabbits. Sometimes he lets them out of the run into the open to range in the plot, but I liked them more when they were in the pot! The vegetable plot was well secured to prevent damage by goats and chicken. We had champion RIR cocks for the thing they do to get eggs. Any other cock bird was a liability over a certain age. Then who was keeping a record of each bird, it was the total count that was important.

I have forced him to release injured birds for the pot. One day he saw me aiming at a cock bird fat enough for the pot, did I get a thrashing from him? He is three years older than I am and at 10, 13 is a big difference in size and strength. I was so hurt not that much physically but emotionally. I got hold of the bar used to secure the door from inside the house and almost hit him when mother came in between us. There was no inquiry or father was diplomatic to ignore the event since no one was physically injured needing medical attention.

The students farming competition ends up with Health Week celebrations. We used to participate in the Manipay Hindu College events. There used to be all types of activities with slide and film shows on the prevention of diseases, cooking demonstrations, first aid, drama, elocution , poetry recital and many other activities. The Ceylon Tea Propaganda van with a huge tea pot pouring tea out into a cup painted on the side comes to mind. On the other side was painted, How to make a good cup of tea Charlie? Later this theme was a commercial in the cinema advertisement by the CTPB. It read something like this:

1. Clean you pot and kettle thoroughly.
2. Boil the measured water.
3. Put one teaspoon tea for one cup and an additional TS for the Pot.
4. Bring the pot to the boiling water.
5. Stir the pot, cover it and allow three minutes before drinking.

In those days a cup of tea was 2 or 3 cents. Later it was 5 cents and went on increasing. When it was 5 cents in the ‘kady’ restaurants and hotels charged about 50 cents per pot and two could drink and sometimes there was enough for a third cup. I found that drinking tea instead of coffee helped me in my morning S, before Shower and Shave. I developed such a taste for tea straight from the factory. Few uncles and cousins who worked in tea factories made it a point to supply us with tea -they were entitled to a quota. We did not have to drink an apology for tea we get in the beautifully wrapped packages from England. When I worked for Brown and Co. in Attidya I made it a point to take my friends to the Ratmalana airport for tea, they used to serve excellent tea.

Talking of Ratmalana, it brings to memory my visits to Kandawalai Estate. I was responsible for the School of instruction, at Browns Tractor Division. I always wanted to work in the private sector as the potential was greater for gaining hands on training than as a pen pusher in government service. This actually helped me to develop the necessary practical knowledge to complement my theoretical knowledge of Tractor. Training others in the service, maintenance and operation gave me the confidence to plan and execute programs requiring tractors in the real world. I knew and know of PE.

S who did not know that you had to mix a lubricant with the gas in some small engines and he burnt his lawnmower. This takes the cake, an electrical consultant called for the services of an electrician when he turned on the lights there was a splash and some of his equipment did not work. Of course he checked his fuse box and found a section was defective He replaced the switch and again it blew the fuse. One of the bulbs was loose in the socket and once it was screwed home everything was working. An expert they say is one who knows almost every thing about the subject .

That is why we have very narrow specialization’s. Some of my lecturers and professors were Ph.D. in such subjects as Ice cream making, types of nails used in Indian roofs, and one wrote his thesis on marketing of Brinjal in Benares. My in-service training a compulsory program as an engineering student, helped me to secure the job as Executive in charge of education and demonstration for Massey Ferguson Tractors and Implements.

More about Kotelawala’s estate and my stint as tractor expert that took me to every nook and corner of Ceylon next.


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