Kussi Amma Sera came running into the sitting room, shouting, “Kokatath Thailaya Mahattaya enava gate-eka langa (Kokatath Thailaya Sir is near the gate)”. For a moment, I was completely confused then realised she was referring to Sando Kumar, my Kokatath Thailaya (remedy for all ailments) friend who drops in occasionally for a chat and provides [...]

Business Times

Balm for the soul


Kussi Amma Sera came running into the sitting room, shouting, “Kokatath Thailaya Mahattaya enava gate-eka langa (Kokatath Thailaya Sir is near the gate)”.

For a moment, I was completely confused then realised she was referring to Sando Kumar, my Kokatath Thailaya (remedy for all ailments) friend who drops in occasionally for a chat and provides a soothing balm for aching joints, before he leaves.

Unlike most of us who’ll run to a doctor for the slightest ailment, Sando has this array of herbal balms which he uses for all kinds of ailments and, in the process, tries to convince our circle of friends to do the same. But with doctors complaining that they are being taxed too much and seeking tax concessions, it would be rather unfair to use Sando’s remedy and cut into their income. On the other hand, Sando’s balms may be just what the doctor ordered to soothe the souls of even our dear, stressed (nope, blessed) doctors!

“Machan, I read this piece about a new balm in the market that takes care of aches and pain for sufferers of backache, muscular aches, sprains, cramps and insect bites, etc,” he says, sitting down, for what could turn out into a long conversation, at a time when I need to get started on my column.

“That might be good for our politicians and their ‘hench-aiyas’ (henchmen),” I say laughing and silently motion to Kussi Amma Sera to bring the tea. KAS knows that “bringing in the tea” is another signal for her to create a diversion for any ‘unwelcome’ guest to leave on a Thursday morning when I’m on column mode and hate distractions.

“Ha … ha … there are balms for everything except a cure for some of our learned persons, in Parliament or outside, who never stop talking on how they can save the nation. But its talk, talk, talk and no action,” he said.

At this point, I recalled a conversation, earlier in the week, with a ‘gentle’ politician who sticks out like a sore thumb in today’s rambunctious world of politics. “Why do you fellows blame politicians all the time? Isn’t it society that votes them into power? Shouldn’t people share the blame for the state of affairs, rather than blame the politicians for everything,” he asked, however, not in an aggressive tone. “Agree my friend, agree,” I said heartily, in response.

Remember the award-winning book series – Chicken Soup for the Soul – in which motivational speakers Jack Canfield and Mark Victor Hansen began compiling inspirational, true stories they found from their audience members?

May be the balm producers in Sri Lanka, like the Siddhalepas, the Samahan makers, the Spa Ceylons and many others who market balms for local consumption and export should come up with a similar series on ‘Balms for the soul’ using a series of motivational presentations and gather stories from audiences and balm users on how balms have been soothing to the soul.

Today, there are balms for every part of the body (and mind). There are balms to relax you before going to sleep at night; there are balms to relax stress, there are balms to relax your nerves; there are balms to relax you before making a speech and even balms for improved sex!

On the other hand, our enterprising entrepreneurs of balms and herbal remedies are also close to creating balms to help you get ready for the usual brawl in Parliament or “adi pudi” (brawl in Tamil), rubbing their joints, stomach and below the belt parts – taking care of the aches before they actually happen. Like preparations before a surgery!

On a more serious note, the potential for growth in Sri Lanka’s balm industry is phenomenal given the success by the main producers in Sri Lanka. The new kid on the block – Spa Ceylon has seen rapid progress, expanding to 13 countries and hot on the heels of Siddhalepa, the pioneer in herbal remedies and herbal spas and Link Natural whose Samahan appears to be unbeatable.

Directors of ECO Ceylon, another new kid on the block, announced last week that they were producing balms to repel mosquitoes (available already in the market however) among other products. The company is using ingredients such as menthol, clove, cajuput, peppermint and eucalyptus oils, etc.

While export of herbal products is not only a huge business but a serious one, unscrupulous businessmen including politicians are killing a niche market in tourism and exports helped by fake “vedamahattayas”.

Speaking to a veteran herbal remedies’ industry official reveals that most of the ‘spice garden’ shops in the central hills – mainly in the Matale area which are a must-stop for tourists – are mostly marketing fake herbal remedies at high prices. They are minting money selling fake herbs in bottles with an inhouse ‘vedamahattaya’ to provide a level of authenticity.

Ayurveda remedies and spas are popular among the 2.2 million tourists to Sri Lanka last year with at least a million tourists getting a spa treatment and/or taking away a load of herbal oils to last for several months. Sri Lanka is a popular stop for Ayurvedic treatments and specialised spas are springing up all over including in the 5-star hotels which are cashing in on this new market and trends. One sees the world-over the trend in using medicines from safe ingredients and the market for herbal remedies is growing in size and stature.

Sri Lanka has a great opportunity to grow in this market based on a progressive policy framework helped by state encouragement similar to the focus given to garments, tea, etc.

Wait, why is the house silent? Sando has gone, after muttering that I was not listening and appeared to be on another planet. True. Since I was framing a column to discuss today’s topic ‘Balm for the souls’ I was only half-heartedly listening to his Kokatath Thailaya discourse. Didn’t even bat an eyelid when he said, “Machan, I am going”, and walked out, disappointed.

As for Kussi Amma Sera, she was snoring away after serving the tea and retiring to her room having complained of a headache. I don’t know whether Sando was the headache or whether it was an actual one. Whatever it is, her gentle snore meant she had rubbed her favourite Siddhalepa on her forehead. It must have worked miracles in not only bringing relief but also putting her to sleep. Balm for the soul, indeed!

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