Silence. The house and surroundings were absolutely silent. No singing by Kussi Amma Sera (KAS), no shouting from the kitchen, no ‘bloody’ interventions when “home people on the phone” (to borrow a phrase from writer Carl Muller). Absolute silence! Only dogs barking and the ringtones from the ‘choon paan karaya’ down the road. Holidays are [...]

The Sunday Times Sri Lanka

That lonely feeling … again


Silence. The house and surroundings were absolutely silent. No singing by Kussi Amma Sera (KAS), no shouting from the kitchen, no ‘bloody’ interventions when “home people on the phone” (to borrow a phrase from writer Carl Muller).

Absolute silence! Only dogs barking and the ringtones from the ‘choon paan karaya’ down the road.

Holidays are here and the home help have gone for their long summer sojourn to the village, taking away that much-needed gossip, while they talk about their exploits in the city and how they beguiled the mahattaya with ‘kitchen poli-triks’.

While some things don’t change – household help going away for a long Avuruddu holiday to definitely cooler villages, sitting in the cool shade of the large banyan tree — one particular aspect has. The weather and climate has definitely changed.

Year after year it’s getting warmer during Avuruddu. I can picture KAS telling her grand-daughters… “Kolamba hari rassney. Mehe nung jolly”. She is absolutely right. Who wouldn’t relish a nice and cool well bath or lucky dip in the river?

Instead, ‘Colombities’ have to listen to the antics of ministers offering a so-called cheap Avuruddu basket of goods and visiting markets for good measure with their pictures appearing in newspapers.

Or traders grumbling that sales have come down by 40 per cent this season. Or politicians and rich businessmen frolicking in the cool climes of the hills, rubbing shoulders with the hoity-toity as they watch horses run for dear life at the Nuwara Eliya races. Who said only cricket is a silly sport, watching grown-ups run after a silly ball and getting injured in the process?

Absolute silence … no silly interventions from KAS as I thump on the computer, nevertheless craving for some ‘inspiration’ from the kitchen.

There is no shortage of news however. The economy is in the doldrums. We are not saying it; the Government is saying it and warning about the borrowing cost per citizen owing to the enormous borrowing by the previous regime. So we borrow again and again to pay off earlier debts. In today’s economy borrowing seems to be the right thing to do. I wait for the usual verbal barrage from KAS but there is silence from the kitchen.

The plantations are in despair. Old retired planters are ganging up against today’s planters running estates managed by the private sector. Both sides are trading accusations on how to run estates well or run them to the ground.

The coconut industry is in turmoil. Remember M.S. Fernando’s famous song “pol, pol, pol, pol, pol, pol, pol pol … lankawe wathuwala wavena pol”. MS must be turning in his grave to see his beloved motherland once filled with coconuts now having to probably import coconuts or rather forego our favourite creamy curries with coconut milk.

Below, a coconut expert explains what ails the coconut industry. The ubiquitous coconut is not the only missing or reduced product in the kitchen. What about fish? Sri Lanka is surrounded by the sea, and fish, naturally, should be the cheapest protein available. Then why is fish so expensive?

More and more coconut land is being partitioned in 10-20 perch blocks and sold off for housing or other commercial use by coconut landowners fed up with the high cost of production. Elsewhere, there are attempts to grow coconut in the north as a new, cost-effective crop. If that succeeds so will MS’s song be given a new lease of life!

A couple of months ago, the talk of the town was that a Cabinet reshuffle was on the cards and was to take place after the President or the Prime Minister would be returning after an overseas trip. That didn’t happen because when the President is back, the PM flies away and vice versa. Now attention has been drawn to a post-Avurudu reshuffle. Maybe not, as the PM who went to Japan earlier this week also has a scheduled trip to India.

The Government is forever on the back-foot blaming the media, among others, for picking holes in its economic management. Rightly so, because ruling politicians don’t only have to answer to its citizens but also to India, China, the US, Europe and Japan and the rest of the world it seems.

Try developing the country with only Chinese aid? That angers India and vice versa. So it’s a delicate balancing act that Sri Lankan politicians are engaged in and thus have to learn from Harvard and US economists. It would be better if they are taught how to manage tensions between India and China, while using both to develop the country. Over the past two years, Ministers and officials have been running to and fro to Harvard University for lessons on how to manage an economy.

Much as one would like to, it’s difficult getting away from these issues that confront Sri Lanka at the moment and not easy to say everything is hunky dory.

Ring … ring … ring! The peaceful afternoon is shattered by the ringing of the home landline (another piece of home furniture that is threatened by the mobile phone). It’s my friend, the loafer dubbed, ‘Gedara Yana Gamman’(GYG).

GYG: You heard? Sri Lanka is to receive another international accolade and some ministers are preparing to fly abroad to accept the award.

Me (FS): What do you mean?

GYG: Well we have won hands down as the country with the most number of holidays.

FS: But shouldn’t we rather figure on the global happiness index. Don’t holidays bring happiness?

GYG: You are now deviating from the subject. If you count all the holidays in Sri Lanka (there is also a proposal for paternity leave for males), people are at home or on holiday half the year.

FS: Exactly my point. Isn’t that happiness?

At this point, GYG mumbles something about “you going mad because the heat wave is affecting everyone” and rings off.

Waiting for some cursing and a reaction from the kitchen, there is none. KAS is on holiday. Things are not the same. Even the Koha is tuning up at the wrong time and less heard during the New Year.

Maybe I have gone mad owing to the heat and absence of KAS’s ranting, and now ranting on my own. Maybe I should show her some respect (on her return) for her kitchen eco-no-mics and poli-triks and send her to Harvard, not to learn but to teach them how to run an eco-no-mee!

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