Life Abroad – Part 26: WITHOUT CAP, GOWN OR CONVOCATION
Posted on May 2nd, 2013

Dr.Tilak Fernando

Sir Arthur C. Clarke found his way to Sri Lanka in 1956 intending to stay for six months to write a book on exploration of the Sri Lanka’s coastal waters. Until his demise, not so long ago, he decided to remain here for life. Sri Lankans are generally reputed to a have a higher intelligence quotient (IQ). For a small country of 20,263,723 (2012 Census) million people she has raised outstanding scholars in a multiple of professions out of which a good proportion has left her and living and working abroad to raise the economies of other nations.

A British Franciscan missionary nun, who lived in Sri Lanka for 60 years, was quoted once as saying: ‘”The day I reach Heaven, I am going to ask one question from the Almighty God” – as to why God did not let her be born in Sri Lanka’!

For those of us who have been blessed a little more in many respects can only be thankful to God for our Sri Lankan birth, figure, and form, literal and metaphorical.

By the same token it has to be acknowledged that the ingenious intellectual acumen of the Sri Lankan brains have also been put to nefarious activities even at international level!

How many of us who live in Sri Lanka and abroad have an inspiration of the many-faceted beauty of our Motherland? We once became a divided nation with a terrorist war ripping the very fabric of our society.

Sri Lanka, the paradise isle that enchants all

Now that we have achieved peace after 30 long years we need to pull ourselves together to maintain our brotherhood as a people who used to enjoy without allowing it to disintegrate into smithereens.

Missing link

We need not allow once again to raise the ugly head of race, hatred and division in our social fabric or on religion, but need to try our best to be united and understanding.

Something seems to have gone wrong with our fundamental education system from the very beginning that some of us, who are recognised as “ƒ”¹…”educated genius’, seem to lack the knowledge and experience of our Motherland? Is it due to such a vacuum that we often fail to blossom into a patriotic love and commitment to make our Motherland more than a taste of Paradise?

Being “ƒ”¹…”educated’, intellectual, or professional alone will not help our country’s urgent need. Various kinds of educational reforms over the last few decades have not made the majority of us to be visionaries either! Even University education at home, Oxford, Cambridge and London curricula have managed, largely to confine only to cap, gown, and convocation! Is it then a sense of pure humble and humanistic inspiration the simple answer we need to overcome this problem?

Deep down in every one of us, Sri Lankans, there is this peculiar innate feeling for “ƒ”¹…”just being there’ rather than doing something for the country. Amidst such a paradox there emerged a single Sri Lankan who shone from the London expatriate community and elevated to greater heights with humanitarian feelings, dedication and a lot of determination to help the poor and needy at home. Podi Appu Hamy (“ƒ”¹…”Podi’) whom I referred to in my previous week’s column did a modest job as a cook at the Sri Lanka student Centre while working hard at the Supreme Headquarters of American Allied Forces in Europe at 7, Grosvenor Square, London. He was not an affluent type to be seduced by alien values and culture even after living in the heart of London for over four decades.

Human qualities

His sober and humane qualities gave him the power to fan into a bright glow and to be recognised and treated as a real charitable man who by-passed even his personal financial perimeters to extend a helping hand to his people at home at the hour of need.

Starting from self-effacing beginnings in London since 1962, he achieved his goal over the decades without any Oxford, Cambridge curricula or a cap, gown and convocation, but doing his humble bit by feeding the hungry stomachs of students with his culinary skills as a “ƒ”¹…”modest’ cook!

Sri Lankan expatriates

Once the Student Centre was closed down and he retired from his second job with the Americans in London, he set his mind to do a service to humankind, especially to his own people, the very who needed the most – the poor, disabled, sick and the orphaned in Sri Lanka, out of his life’s savings with the cooperation of the Sri Lankan expatriates in the UK, especially at a time Sri Lanka needed desperately.

His aim was to give access to the down trodden and the helpless in far out terrorist border villages with free medical facilities during the terrorist war.

By coaxing and reassuring the UK based Sinhala Diaspora he opened eight free small scale medical centres (dispensaries) in many remote villages in Anuradhapura, (including one at Atamasthanaya), Pollonnaruwa, Kotiyagala, Tantirimale, Willachchi, Kiriwehera and Ambilipitiya.

He also gifted industrial power generators to Kataragama, Vidyodaya Pirivena at Maligakanda, Vidyalankara Pirivena at Peliyagoda, Mirisavatiya in Anuradhapura and Parama Dhamma Chaittiya Pirivena at Ratmalana.

With the help of his friends in Sri Lanka, especially with the support extended by the former IGP Rajaguru, Podi managed to establish an operational base in Ratmalana and made a plea to many local pharmacies to undertake and help those dispensaries in border villages with free pharmaceuticals and drugs.

His altruistic wisdom of innovative ideas of free medicine and mini dispensaries hit a chord over a short period of eight years his with the village folk, unknown to many intellectuals, policy makers or experts in Sri Lanka, to break down the barriers of nation and race and reach out to the poor and the helpless.

Without much publicity container loads of valuable items to the Sri Lanka Police and the Army arrived out of his involvement from London at a time the Sri Lankan Army ran his Kotiyagala and Tantirimale dispensaries.

On January 2, 2001 his shipment in a 40′ container contained 50 artificial legs, 200 wheel chairs, 2,000 clutches, one remote control surgical bed, 18 hydraulic beds with cupboards and mattresses, 1,000 oxygen masks, four commode chairs, one electric scale cum chair, boxes of surgical bandage, surgical gloves and equipment, 1,000 spectacles, lenses, clothes, shoes and children’s books and toys. In addition, there were medical journals and books to be used in the Medical College and a piano and 50 kV generator for the Dhamma School at Vidyalankara Pirivena Peliyagoda, Kelaniya.

A collection of such a magnitude is not an easy task, especially single handed in England. Podi achieved this with the help and moral support of his equally dedicated friends in the UK. All the medical equipments had been sourced from the National Health Service and shipping charges were borne by Podi’s own purse.

When containers reached Sri Lanka Podi Appuhamy was always there in person to punctuate the occasion and to see to its fair and equal distribution with the help of Police escort. I had lost his bearings for the past many years but at the eleventh hour when I sat down to write this column; suddenly Podi’s voice reverberated in my mobile phone.

This time he had come down to Sri Lanka to participate in a three month’s alms giving for his former general practitioner in London, the late Dr. Daya Silva, who acted as the Sri Lanka High Commission’s GP in London.

During his short stay in Sri Lanka he was, as usual involved in participating in various “ƒ”¹…”Dana’ at different venues. When I tried to contact him just after the Sinhala New Year holidays he was at Rajamaha Vihara, Kotte to offer another Dana.

His mate at the Student Centre, Shelton Silva, left employment at the Ceylon Students’ Centre prior to its closure, ventured into a business of his own (mobile service) by making his own brand of curry powder and Sri Lankan spices.

Within months his business flourished and he opened up his own “ƒ”¹…”corner shop’ at Swiss Cottage NW London under the name of “ƒ”¹…”Fleet Food’ which gave access to many Sri Lankans to buy their Sri Lankan food items.

Diversifying his business 2nd “ƒ”¹…”Fleet Food’ shop emerged from Colindale, Edgeware, Middlesex. He was last seen in London running about in a Jaguar motor car carrying a bulky “ƒ”¹…”prototype’ mobile phone which was known to Sri Lankans as “ƒ”¹…”Gadol – baage’.

“Success is not final, failure is not fatal: it is the courage to continue that counts.”

– Winston Churchill

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