Mithra Returns to Banagala: The Responsibility of Wealth
I’ve mentioned my brother in the past, but today I got a portrait of him, that is not just share-worthy, but necessary. The world needs men like my Malli (Sinhalese word for younger brother). As we walked through the land, that he will inherit and manage, I saw the lessons of my Muththa (Grandfather) and Thaththi (Father) come alive in him. As we walked up, I had flashes of Muththa who used to bring us to this place, and instilled in us the desire to see this land flourish. Malli got the bug more than I did no doubt, and the time we spent on this land (and our other properties) has defined his future.
In one more semester Malli will graduate with a Bachelor of Science in Sustainable Food and farming. But the science and technology he learned in school is only second to the lessons he learned from Thaththi and Muththa. We learned at a very young age, that the good fortune of owning land, luck of inheritance, is less important to the responsibility of wealth.
The property we own is interwoven with surrounding villages. The work the villagers find on the estate is for the most part the only source of employment, unless they travel many hours into a nearby town or Tea factory. Our family has been here for many years, and our name is well known; but not just because we are masters of the land. We are better known for the way we look after the people, and the efforts we make to be a part of the community. When Muththa was still able, he and Aththa ( my grandmother) would have annual medical, dental and eye doctor visits. I remember playing nurse for Aththa (one of the first 4 women doctors in the country, graduated in 1932) during one of these Free health fairs, counting pills of vitamins, and supplements and passing out wellness packages with soap, towels and other hygiene items for the women and children of the village.
As my parents took over operations, Amma (mom) started a school for the children. She created opportunity for education otherwise unattainable for some of the kids, especially the girls. The older kids are otherwise destined to stay home and look after the younger ones, while the parents toil in the plantation. Opening the school meant the older children could go to the village school, and the younger kids would be watched over. They provide 2 solid meals for the children as well, for many children the most nutritious meals they get each day. Many children are born in these villages without any kind of official documentation;no birth certificates, or identity cards. Many of the older workers don’t know their birth date nor their precise age. My mother creates a certificate for the children, a document riding on the strength of our name to certify their existence and which allows them to enroll in the government school.
As we got older the opportunity for New Years Eve parties were replaced with a sense of responsibility. Every year, on the 1st of January we travel to the Hindu Kovils and small Buddhist temples in these villages and participate in their New Year ceremonies. We worship their gods, honour their traditions and participate in the festival of asking the gods for a bountiful year, for us and for the people.
When I went to wake up Malli, he was already awake and gearing to go. He isn’t one for propriety, or even a civil cup of coffee to start the day. I know I held him back a little, but by a quarter to 6 we were on our way. My goal was to catch the sunset at Banagala, the property about 20 minutes away. We drove through small towns, and woke up packs of wild dogs sleeping in the middle of the streets. The dawn was encroaching slowly, and when we arrived the superintendent was already tying his laces to take us up.
My family owns 65 acres of land in the South Eastern mountains of Sri Lanka. Mostly cultivated with Tea, some rice paddy and our pride patch of Cinnamon. We walked through the dew-y catterpiller threads hanging from trees. The estate dog followed along, and then impatient with my picture taking, and slow city-girl walk, over took me. Try as he might his instinct to protect had him stopping and waiting for me to catch up- the painted dog, Cheno.
We arrived at the top of the plantation just as the sun broke through the trees over the Cinnamon island. We crossed through streams, and marshy field that was formerly a paddy field and made our way through the 6 foot cinnamon trees to where the fieldmen were hard at work.
Leeches, baby ones, less than half an inch long crawled along the curve of my calf, and I resisted the urge to stop and remove them. Stopping to remove one, would just the give the opportunity for 12 more to latch on. We trudged through. The expert Cinnamon workers, gave us a lesson in the production of the Cinnamon, and Malli immediately got his hands dirty, tying up bunches of the cut down branches.
As Malli stayed to work and learn from the workers, I practically ran back to the road that took me back down to the Line rooms. I washed my feet, removed the leeches feeding heartily between my toes and put a little turmeric to stop the bleeding. It made my heart soar to feed the superintendent’s little daughter who took a shine to me, while we broke fast together. Looking over the land, I took in the feeling of wellness. I was soaked through and through, from hiking back down from the upper plantation through the trees densely situated and covered in dew. As the sun got hotter, the fog turned into humidity. I revelled in the feeling. The love and tenderness I get from my family when we’re together, coupled with tropical weather has the effect of making me glow on the inside and out.
While I waited for Malli to come down with the workers, I sat with my thoughts, catching myself smiling with pride. Malli has grown so much and so well, into a fantastic creature. On the ride home we talked at length about what he would do with this land, these opportunities that has laid a path for him. A lot of what we have is good fate and good fortune, and the people we have become is a result of good values from our parents, good appreciation and traditions from our forefathers, and a strong culture from our people.
Malli may have inherited his sense of responsibility from Thaththi, inherited his green thumbs, and love of the land from Muththa, but his sense of equality is all him. He has no sense of elitism, and encourages and empowers the men to work, by taking off his shirt, and getting down to work with them. He has none but love for all living beings, and as such the people flock to him. They would follow him to the ends of the Earth, because they know they will never be alone in any hardship.
He is magic, my Malli.