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Asian Tribune is published by World Institute For Asian Studies|Powered by WIAS Vol. 12 No. 2524

Random Thoughts

By Shani Calyaneratne Karunaratne

I remember, when I was a small child In the mid-seventies living in Sri Lanka, a country with a closed economy that had banned imports. Like most Sri Lankan children, I could eat many things but rice and curry were not among my favorites.

In fact, I remember running around the house refusing to eat at meal times. Corn on the cob became a favorite for a short time, but when there were visits from the tooth fairy I did not like them.

Unlike today, there were no chocolates and cookies and I was thin ,bony, and scraggy child at a time children were supposed to be fat and round.

My grandma, and other womenfolk who were the wives of the good guys who tilled the land tried to device ways to make me eat, Mung Kevum, athirasa, helapa etc. were always there, especially in the harvesting times.

This is what we grew up on, apart from the fruit that came from the trees in the vicinity. In a village, all are relatives and in our village in Hindagoda, Badulla, lived a Famer Supreme.

His real name was Mr. Jayasinghe but every one called him 'Maha Govi Raja'. He had won many farmer contests at that time, a man of stature and dignity. Apart from vegetables and fruit three crops, Paddy, Kurakkan ( finger millet),and Maize (corn) were grown in our area.

These are important crops in the Sri Lankan commercial and domestic agro sector. The farmers and their families who tilled the lands, had a claim to half of the crops, but they had no social security, no insurance or pension to fall back on when they were old.

People in Uva are basically grain, vegetable and fruit eaters. With no sea close at hand, people had not developed an avid taste for fish. Eating meat was not common. And People had high regard for the farmers.

Rice was our staple diet. Maize was eaten either boiled on the cob or as Maize kiri bath, but Kurakkan was the most versatile crop of the three. Kurakkan seed is not pounded with a motar and a pestle but with a hand operated Mill made out of stone that goes round and round. Finely powdered kurakkan flour cascading down.
As a child, I used to be fascinated by this simple technology. People of Uva also liked Kurakkan roti: An earthy brown thick roti with coconut. Thallapa is another that is not eaten by people of Uva.

For those who have not seen or eaten Thalapa, it is a thick dough made of Kurakkan flour added to boiling water and made into a a dough ball, it is then eaten with a very spicy curry called 'Aanama' and is usually swallowed in small balls than chewing. Kurakkan pittu is also made at home and is eaten with coconut milk, lunu miris and or with coconut milk and sugar, banana and jaggery.

Reasearching on Kurakkan, as I am Helapa fan, I found that the grain is native to Ethiopia botanical name is Eleusine coracana. It is an annual plant widely grown in the arid areas of Africa and Asia. It is very adaptable to higher elevations and is even grown in the Himalaya up to 2,300 meters in elevation!

India is a major cultivator of finger millet with a total cultivated area of 15870 km2. Kurakkan is called Ragi in India and with its flour is made into flatbreads, including thin, leavened dosa and thicker, unleavened roti. Ragi grain is malted and the grains are grounded. This grounded flour is consumed mixed with milk, boiled water or yoghurt. In Tamil Nadu, it is called kezhvaraguor just keppai. It is dried, powdered and boiled to form a thick mass that is allowed to cool. This is the famed 'kali' or 'keppai kali'.

This is made into large balls and eaten with sambar or thick spicy lentil curry flavored with tamarind extracts. For children, it is also given with milk and sugar. It is also made in the form of pancakes with onions and tomatoes chopped. Kezhvaragu is used to make puttu with jaggery/sugar and adai(by making a thick paste(sweet or salt is used) and tapping it flat on hot skillet).

Apart from that its used for medicinal value for sinus and severe cold by applying (boiled kezhvaragu flour cooled to skin bearable heat) on forehead.

In Andhra Pradesh Ragi Sankati or Ragi muddha, which are ragi balls are eaten in the morning with a chilli, onions, sambar (lentil based stew)or meat curry and helps them sustain throughout the whole day and it keeps the body cool which is very useful as this area is located in tropical region. Indians say that Ragi Malt soaked and shadow dried, then roasted and grounded. this preparation is boiled in water and given to children, patients, adults as a good substitute and better and cheaper than Horlicks, Milo etc.

On the 28th of January 2014, the farmers pension scheme was re-launched at the Magam Ruhunupura International Conference Center (MRICC) in Hambantota. This was the food for thought for me. Who is a Sri Lankan farmer and what is their contribution to the nation? Looking at the Central bank data, the Agricultural contribution to the GDP is decreasing, but from the perspective of food security and gainful employment agriculture is a base on which people fall back on.

Even though the farmers pension was axed in 2011 possibly due to dwindling numbers in the farmer population it is in recognition of this contribution of the farmer by the state, that this re-launch of the Pension Scheme occurred. ( Farmers Pension Act No. 12 of 1987)

By reactivating the Farmers Pension scheme a social void and a social imbalance was fulfilled even though it further increased the 2014 budget deficit and accounted to a sizeable amount of the recurrent expenditure. However, it can be seen as a serious measure to take care of the traditional farmer who ensured food security of our country.

At this inauguration, in his speech, President Mahinda Rajapaksa, wearing his Kurakkan color shawl and standing tall, spoke about his childhood memories, particularly that of his late father, Mr. D.A. Rajapakse. He said that Mr. D.A. Rajapakse enjoyed his time working in the paddy field.

It was touching to see the gratitude of the senior farmers coming up on stage to accept their pension scheme from the hands of the President. The photograph shows Dark Kurakkan colour shawl lines against a white background the shirt.

I being a painter and a photographer found the equivalent word for this color in English /Rust/ and found that this is the color number 777 in the Lee Filters swatch book.

Earliest reference recorded on color Rust dates to as far back as 1692. Rust is a red-orange-brown- color resembling iron oxide. Iron is significant with industrialization and Kurakkan is significant with Agriculture.

Searching on number 777, I found that the set of numbers 777 is associated with luck, religion and the fight between good and evil. In this light, I believe that the colour borrowed from Kurakkan is the most appropriate color for the Shawl of the President who defeated terrorism.

Thank you Mr. President, for reviving the farmers’ pension scheme. It was much anticipated and timely.

- Asian Tribune -

 Relaunching  the farmers pension scheme on the 28th of January 2014,   by President Mahinda Rajapasha at the  Magam Ruhunupura International Conference Center (MRICC) in Hambantota.
 Shani Calyaneratne Karunaratne  - Rumbling THoughts
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