by Somasiri Devendra
Jungles fascinate me. It was a fascination that had been kindled by my father, as well as John Still, both of whom were archaeologists and writers. But, somehow, I never became one who trod the forest ways regularly. The jungle spoke to me in a different idiom – to my heart rather than my head.
Father, a teacher before turning archaeologist, became our teacher in English literature. Our text was John Still’s The jungle tide and, from the beginning, both the teacher and the author held the class spellbound. The slow progress made through the opening chapter describing a rain forest only served to stamp more deeply in my mind the world that was the jungle.
Years later I read Leonard Woolf’s haunting description of the dry zone jungle in Village In The Jungle. I always think of these two kinds of jungle – rain forest described by Still and secondary scrub by Woolf – in their words.
Trips with an archaeologist
Not long after he interpreted Still to us, father joined the Archaeological Survey of Ceylon, as it was then. He loved the work and found every excuse to go on circuit, leaving his desk. Each time he came back, he was brimful of experiences and what we learnt from him round the dining table was more than anything a university could teach.
His interests were eclectic and the tale would flit effortlessly from treasure hunters at a ruined dagoba, to a dung beetle at work, the cult of Aiyanar, a bungalow-keeper’s encounter with a wild elephant, the migrant birds, the gaemi-kavi of village pilgrims seeking male progeny from Kalu Devatha Bandara (the guardian-deity of the Sri Maha Bodhiya), and the man who manufactured sarvagna dhathu.
Being then in the class preparing for an examination, I could go with him only occasionally, but even that was wonderful. Striking inland from Puttalam, on the way to Anuradhapura, the road was, in season, bordered by weera trees in bearing and we would stop to break down the most reachable branches and strip off all the berries. He would nonchalantly remark that this was elephant country and they, too relished these berries.
Passing through the Kurunegala route, we never went past the Aiyanar jungle shrine, a mere tree, without plucking off a twig and offering it to this mysterious deity. The tree-shrine, thankfully, is still there.
Ambitious development schemes were afoot and father went to inspect work at Gal Oya, where bulldozers were turning back the jungle tide. The impact of these behemoths must have made a strong impression on him: I still have his photographs of trees being pulled down. Perhaps, it was this that prompted him to induct us into our fast disappearing cultural and environmental heritage.
He took us to see the Veddahs, who were old men in the late 1940s. They sang us their songs swaying to a rhythm of their own. It was hardly music to our ears but, definitely, a far cry from what is touted as Veddah music today. Among father’s favourite verses were a gaemi kaviya in praise of Sorabora Wewa (which Seligman attributed to the Veddahs, though this is unlikely).
The verses begin with –
Paalu rata-i Vanni-ye etha-nin oha ta
Golu gene panithi veli-hinniyo aenga ta
Seru avith dive-kelinaa sonde ruwa ta
Yaa-lu thopith giyado horabora weva ta?
“It’s waste land in the Vanni from here onwards, Screaming, the she-bear will pounce on you
And the seruwas sport in the water, pleasing the eye And you, friend, have you, too, been to Sorabora lake?”
and end thus:-
Horabora waevey weva degodey vananrata rey
Kapaa gal kaanu egodata eliya ke ley
Nelaa mal pahan veherata eganthe rey
Horabora wewa n
udutu aes motada pin ke ley?
“Deep in the forest on either bank
Sluices cut in the rock tap the water.
You offer flowers and light lamps at the shrine on the other bank
But of what use is merit to you, you eyes that have not seen Sorabora lake?”
Another jungle trek in Veddah country was from Aluthnuwara, through the jungle to Rantembe. All this must be under water now with the construction of the Rantembe resovoir, but it was thick jungle then and we had to go in single file. If the nade gura or leader found a rock on the path he warned galak (stone), and the one behind him repeated the warning. which went drawn the single file till it reached the last man, our driver, who duly repeated it to whoever was behind him, hoping nobody was!
The rapids of Rantembe were worth every aching muscle to see. The sheer power, the roar of the Mahaveli forced into a narrow gorge was reward enough. You cannot see any of this now: so our induction to the vanishing loveliness of Lanka was something worthwhile.
“Elephant” at Tantirimalai
Another day, we were following a footpath to Tantirimale, a temple in the jungle which was famous for its unfinished reclining Buddha statue, pre-historic drawings in a cave and an ancient bo tree growing out of a crack in a slab of rock.
We were about to climb up an incline, which was really the bund of an abandoned tank, when we suddenly saw a man on a bicycle atop the bund. He was wearing sunglasses in the jungle gloom. Seeing us, he let out a yell, dropped his bike and took to the trees! When we had rescued him still trembling, he had an explanation to offer: “I thought your jeep was an elephant”. Therein lay the moral: do not wear sunglasses in the jungle!
The year I graduated from Peradeniya and started work as a teacher at Kegalle father gave me HCP Bell’s Kegalle report to make me get my historical bearings. He also decided that he would retire from the Department – though not archaeology. He set about planning a long circuit, a final good-bye to all his beloved sites, as well as to follow up reports of some new finds. This time, I went with him.
Again, I remember the barely cleared monastic site of Arankele with its long, long sakinan-maluwa (pathway for meditation). On the way we stopped at a living forest hermitage, Ruwangirikanda, where we saw many a hermit and understood what moved a man to seek the solitude of the forest. Near Arankele was Gala-pica-gala (rock-upon-a-rock) where I learnt the principles of wind erosion. And so we went from one jungle ruin to another.
Off Polonnaruwa, we went towards Dimbulagala, which was dubbed Gunner’s Quoin by sailors at sea who used to take their bearings from it. On the way we trekked to a group of boulders entirely surrounded by forest, but not yet excavated. This was Pulligoda Gal-ge (gal-ge = cave). On one of its sides was a beautiful fresco of a group of celestial beings. I was told that these were either the earliest or the only examples – I forget which – of the use of the halo on beings other than the Buddha.
Walking back to where we had parked the car, we came upon a site called Kos-gaha Ulpotha. It was a jungle spring of beautifully clear water.
At Dimbulagala, a man seeking a place for meditation had come to live in a cave. His mission was to destroy the paintings. He would comb the forest for buffalo dung and, in the nights dissolve it in water into a paint-like consistency and using a broomstick as a brush, paint over all the ancient paintings. By the time his act became known, it was impossible to remove the offending layer without destroying the paintings under it. The chemists were yet working on the problem. We saw the damage, but what could one do?
A lucky escape
I had another adventure in those parts. It was twenty years or so later, when I was working in Trincomalee. Kantalai was fully colonized by then. One day, friends visiting my brother, then the Government Agent, offered me a ride to Colombo. Gallantly, they gave me the front seat of the absolutely new car. We had passed Kantalai tank and the light was beginning to fade. There was a wide curve in the road and Joe, who was driving, asked me to switch off the tape-recorder so that he could switch on the lights.
I did not know how to do it, so he leaned over and did it. At that moment, an elephant thundered out of the jungle, where people were clearing a chena, and ran across the road. Joe promptly stood on the brakes but, before he could bring the car to a dead halt, another elephant, only about six6 to seven feet in height, ran in front of us. We hit him broadside, between the front and hind legs.
Caught in mid stride, he fell over; legs rolling up under the impact. Joe did a quick gear change and we took off like a rocket, swerving round the prone animal, just as the rest of the herd ran out of the jungle behind us. We kept going at top speed for about ten minutes, before getting out to assess the damage The radiator grill had caved in but, luckily the headlight and radiator itself were unharmed and we could go on. We reported the incident at the Habarana Police Station and carried on.
In 1958, we had torrential rains and floods in the country, including the least expected areas in the dry zone As was usual in such instances, all and sundry began collecting contributions for the flood victims and we teachers at Ananda College, too collected a sizeable stock. We were advised not to hand over the money but to adopt one of the affected villages and rehabilitate it. Our village was Hiriwadunna, some miles before reaching Habaran from Colombo. Apart from looking after the immediate needs of the villagers, we teachers in the upper forms used the village as a field laboratory, taking groups of student on various surveys that brought to life history, geography, botany, and the way of life in a village. What an experience it turned out to be! Probing old men’s memories turned out to be a great learning adventure.
Something the villagers said would have made eminent sense today. They were able to trace the water that came to their tank from its source: “When a tank overflowed, that water came to another tank, and when that too overflowed, it went to a third” and so on, tracing the route traversed by the water in their own tank from the beginning to the very end.
Decades later, when the cascade system was understood by our irrigation engineers, I related this concept to some of them and they admitted that they had never tapped the villagers’ reservoir of oral history.
When I asked the old folk whether there were ruins in the jungle around them, they undertook to show them to me. So I trekked with them to a thickly forested spot not far away, and came upon the remains of a small monastery. There were columns and slabs pushed aside by the living trees as they grew, and yet untouched by the archaeologist. I could not find any inscription to copy, but came upon a stone cistern, made of four slabs of stone, about waist high. Three of these were still upright, forming three sides of a square, and the fourth was lying flat on the ground. It showed two grooves chiseled for the other slabs to fit in snugly. This fit was good enough to last many centuries. I wonder how many ruins, like this one, are hidden in the forest.
In the 1960s when I was in the Navy, we were called upon to open a new camp in an area totally unknown to us, but which is familiar to many now. There was an operation on to combat illicit immigration from India to Sri Lanka.
The Navy went to reinforce the Army and the sector allocated to us was Pooneryn, off Vavuniya. It was a forested, sparsely populated area just beyond an old Dutch Fort. The base camp, which was a collection of aluminium sheds, was set up in a clearing. We had a string of small outposts along the seashore to watch for incoming boats. Small groups of men would patrol those lovely, lonely beaches. There was only the main road, but none leading to the outposts until jeeps crashed through the undergrowth making tracks that later became roads.
So little was happening there and game was plentiful, that everyone became a hunter or fisherman. Driving through the open villu, we often came upon jackals, who were not in the least perturbed by us, peacocks and elephants. I remember seeing my first Ceylon magpie. The open stretch near base camp was like a slate on which was freshly written every night the tracks of all kinds of animals which had wandered there.
The outposts had to be visited day and night. During the day, we found it easier to drive along the beach from one point to another. There was no sign of anybody else or animals, but there was plenty of bird life. The most intriguing animals were fish, which swam in the very foam of the waves. As we roared and skidded along the beach, we could see before us fish after fish diving back to the deeper waters as they sensed our approach.
At night we kept to the roads. Driving through patches of arching forest alternating with open villu, one could predict which of the two he was passing through with his eyes shut. The skin was the sensory organ, for one felt warm while traversing forests and cold in the villu. It was exhilarating to go from warmth to coldness, from bright moonlight to “tunnels of green gloom”. As always, it is the sights, sounds, smells and other physical phenomena that spell “jungle” to me.
Elephants were plentiful. We had unknowingly built one post under a large tree the elephants used to scratch their backs on. The entire tree would start shaking in the night and the human inhabitants would seek refuge on the beach! One night I remember driving back along an abandoned tank bund, which was blocked by branches torn down by elephants. There was no way of reversing, so we had to get down and clear the way. Steaming piles of elephant droppings were around us and we could hear the culprits pulling more branches. But they were not worried by our presence and both animal and man went their separate ways peacefully. Pooneryn was a wonderful place then.
Mansions of the sea
The year was 1930. The scene was Dodanduwa, the last home of the traditional three-masted sailing ships of the Sinhalese, the yathra dhoni or maha-oruwa. The occasion was the launching of a ship. Two friends, one an entrepreneur and the other a seaman, had joined forces to build and launch this vessel that, though no one knew it at the time, was fated to be the last of her breed.
Kariyavasam Patuvata Vithanage Don Siyadoris de Silva, land owner, and Punchi Sinno Marakkalaehe, mariner, hoped that their freighter, by now named Amugoda Oruva, would do brisk business with South India and the Maldives. To mark her maiden voyage to Male, verses were composed, among which was:-
Gaman yanna naekatin oruva baa geney
Saman deyiyanta puda panduru baenda geney
Viman sagarey kanu mul soya geney
Apit yamuva haema deviyanta vaenda geney
“Auspiciously have we launched our vessel
And made our offerings to the god of Adam’s Peak
Let us now worship all the gods and go In search of the mansions of the sea.”
No god, alas, heard their pious prayers and the proud ship foundered on the reefs of Male, leaving those left behind in Dodanduwa to sing her dirges:
Metaenin oruva baa laa gati varaayata
Diyamba porn sata divve tharangataya
Kopamana ruval aedalaa divvat sondata
Amugoda oruva tava naeta aave gamata
“From here was the vessel taken to the port
And many a league did she race along under sail,
But however many sails were hoisted, and however fair she sailed
Amugoda Oruva never made home again.”
Sixty years or so later I was in Galle, organizing an international group of maritime archaeologists who were training a clutch of our young archaeology undergraduates and, at the same time, compiling a data base of shipwrecks in Galle Bay. Among the group was Tom Vosmer, an Australian boat ethnographer, with whom I discussed the Amugoda Oruwa and the large 100-year old model of a yathra dhoni at Kumarakanda Pirivena, Dodanduwa, that I had been privileged to photo record.
Tom was enthusiastic, for this was the last of a type of large outrigger-equipped sailing ships which could be traced back to the time of Borobudur. Days were spent in examining the model, and measuring, photographing and making detailed drawings of structural details. Built by the young son of a ship-owner, around 1890, it had been awarded a gold medal by the Governor. Tom considered that its accuracy, both in scale and detail, made it a fairly reliable source for (????????)
Scarcity, prices, hoarding and queuing
We live in a scarcity economy and will do so well into 2024, past the next Presidential elections if it comes then; it may not. (The new minister may open bets.) All economies are scarcity economies; otherwise, there would be no prices. We also live in plentiful economies; look at the streets of Tokyo, Shanghai, Singapore, Paris or San Francisco during day or night. Scarcity is a relative term, as most terms are. A scarcity economy is one where prices rise relentlessly, where cigarettes are more expensive in the evening than they were the same morning. Scarcity economies will have two or more sets of prices: one official, others in markets in varying shades of grey until black. Scarcity economies are where everyone (producers, traders, households) hoards commodities, hoards everything that can be hoarded, at reasonable cost. Scarcity economy is one where productivity is lower than it was earlier, where both labour and capital idle. Scarcity itself may push down productivity. Observe thousands of people standing in queues to buy all kinds of things whilst producing nothing. That is labour idling. Others hang on to dear life in crowded trains arriving in office late to leave early, to get to ill lit homes where to cook each evening they repeat what their ancestors did millions of years ago to light a fire. Money is one commodity that can be hoarded at little cost, if there was no inflation. The million rupees you had in your savings account in 2019 is now worth a mere 500,000, because prices have risen. That is how a government taxes you outside the law: debase the currency. In an inflation afflicted economy, hoarding money is a fool’s game.
The smart game to play is to borrow to the limit, a kind of dishoarding (- negative hoarding) money. You borrow ten million now and five years later you pay 500 million because the value of money has fallen. US dollars are scarce in this economy. It is hoarded where it can wait until its price in Sri Lanka rises. Some politicians who seem to have been schooled in corruption to perfection have them stored elsewhere, as we have learnt from revelations in the international press. Electricity is not hoarded in large quantities because it is expensive to hoard. Petrol is not hoarded very much in households because it evaporates fast and is highly flammable. That does not prevent vehicle owners from keeping their tanks full in contrast to the earlier practice when they had kept tanks half empty (full). Consequently, drivers now hoard twice as much fuel in their tanks as earlier. Until drivers feel relaxed as to when they get the next fill, there will be queues. That should also answer the conundrum of the minister for energy who daily sent out more bowser loads out than earlier, but queues did not shorten.
As an aside, it is necessary to note that the scarcity economy, which has been brought about by stupid policies 2019-2022, and massive thieving from 2005 is partly a consequence of the fall in total output (GDP) in the economy. Workers in queues do not produce. The capital they normally use in production (e.g. motor cars, machines that they would otherwise would have worked at) lie idle. Both capital and labour idle and deny their usual contribution to GDP. Agriculture, industries, wholesale and retail trade, public administration, manufacturing and construction all of which have been adversely affected in various ways contribute more than 75% of total GDP. Maha (winter crop) 2021-22, Yala (spring crop) 2022 and Maha 2022-23 and fishing are all likely to have yielded (and yield) poor harvests. Manufacturing including construction are victims of severe shortages in energy and imported inputs. Wholesale and retail trade which depend directly on imports of commodities have been hit by the sharp drop in imports. Tourism, which is more significant in providing employment and foreign exchange, collapsed dreadfully since late 2019 and has not recovered yet. About 16 percent of our labour force work in the public sector. They have failed to contribute to GDP because they did not engage in productive work due to variegated reasons. Teachers were on strike for two months in 2021. In 2022, so far government employees have worked off and on. Wages of government employees are counted as contributions to GDP, by those that make GDP estimates. However, here is an instance where labour was paid but there was no output equal to the value of those wages. Such payments are rightly counted as transfers and do not count to GDP. For these reasons estimates of GDP for 2021 must be well below the 2020 level. The 3.6 growth in official estimates is unlikely. The likely drop in 2022 will be roughly of the same magnitude as in 2021. These declines are not dissonant with misery one sees in towns and the countryside: empty supermarket shelves, scant supplies of produce in country fares, scarce fish supplies, buses idling in parks and roads empty of traffic. There have been warnings from our paediatricians as well as from international organisations of wasting and probable higher rates of child mortality. It is this sort of sharp fall in wellbeing that engenders the desperation driving young and ambitious people to obtain passports to seek a living overseas. You can see those from mezzo-America amassed on the southern border of US. Will our young men and women end up beyond the wall of China?
Of this lowered supply of goods and services, this society is expected to pay a massive accumulated foreign debt. (Remember the reparation payments in the Versailles Treaty). In real terms it will mean that we forego a part of our lower incomes. Do not miss this reality behind veils of jargon woven by financial analysts. It is not something that we have a choice about. That is where international help may kick in. Gotabaya Rajapaksa government after much senseless dilly dallying has started negotiations with the IMF. There is nobody compelling our government to seek support from IMF. They are free go elsewhere as some who recently were in their government still urge. Examine alternatives and hit upon an arrangement not because it permits the family grows richer but because it will make life for the average person a little less unbearable.
If prices are expected to rise people will seek resources to hoard: money to buy commodities, space and facilities to hoard, security services to protect the property and much more. Rice producers cannot hoard their product because animals large as elephants and small as rodents eat them up. Because of the unequal distribution of resources to hoard, the poor cannot hoard. In a scarcity economy, the poor cannot hoard and famines usually victimise the poor, first and most. If prices are expected to fall, stocks are dishoarded to the market and prices fall faster and deeper. In either direction, the rate at which prices change and the height/depth of the rise/fall depends on the speed at which expectations of change in prices take place. A largescale rice miller claims he can control the price of rice at a level that the government cannot. His success/failure will tell us the extent of his monopoly power.
When commodities are scarce, in the absence of a sensible system of coupons to regulate the distribution, consumers will form queues. A queue is rarely a straight here, nor a dog’s tail (queue, in French, is a dog’s tail which most often crooked). Assembled consumers stagnate, make puddles and sometimes spread out like the Ganges, with Meghna, disgorges itself to the Bay of Bengal. They sometimes swirl and make whirlpools and then there is trouble, occasionally serious. There is order in a queue that people make automatically. To break that order is somehow iniquitous in the human mind. That is why breaking the order in a queue is enraging. For a queue to be disobeyed by anyone is infuriating, and for a politician to do so now in this country is dangerously injurious to his physical wellbeing.
The first cause of rising prices, hoarding and queues is the scarcity of goods and services in relation to the income and savings in the hands of the people.
Terror figuring increasingly in Russian invasion of Ukraine
In yet another mind-numbing manifestation of the sheer savagery marking the Russian invasion of Ukraine, a shopping mall in Ukraine’s eastern city of Kremenchuk was razed to the ground recently in a Russian missile strike. Reportedly more than a hundred civilian lives were lost in the chilling attack.
If the unconscionable killing of civilians is a definition of terrorism, then the above attack is unalloyed terrorism and should be forthrightly condemned by all sections that consider themselves civilized. Will these sections condemn this most recent instance of blood-curdling barbarism by the Putin regime in the Ukrainian theatre and thereby provide proof that the collective moral conscience of the world continues to tick? Could progressive opinion be reassured on this score without further delay or prevarication?
These issues need to be addressed with the utmost urgency by the world community. May be, the UN General Assembly could meet in emergency session for the purpose and speak out loud and clear in one voice against such wanton brutality by the Putin regime which seems to be spilling the blood of Ukrainian civilians as a matter of habit. The majority of UNGA members did well to condemn the Russian invasion of Ukraine close on the heels of it occurring a few months back but the Putin regime seems to be continuing the civilian bloodletting in Ukraine with a degree of impunity that signals to the international community that the latter could no longer remain passive in the face of the aggravating tragedy in Ukraine.
The deafening silence, on this question, on the part of those sections the world over that very rightly condemn terror, from whichever quarter it may emanate, is itself most intriguing. There cannot be double standards on this problem. If the claiming of the lives of civilians by militant organizations fighting governments is terror, so are the Putin regime’s targeted actions in Ukraine which result in the wanton spilling of civilian blood. The international community needs to break free of its inner paralysis.
While most Western democracies are bound to decry the Russian-inspired atrocities in Ukraine, more or less unambiguously, the same does not go for the remaining democracies of the South. Increasing economic pressures, stemming from high energy and oil prices in particular, are likely to render them tongue-tied.
Such is the case with Sri Lanka, today reduced to absolute beggary. These states could be expected ‘to look the other way’, lest they be penalized on the economic front by Russia. One wonders what those quarters in Sri Lanka that have been projecting themselves as ‘progressives’ over the years have to say to the increasing atrocities against civilians in Ukraine. Aren’t these excesses instances of state terror that call for condemnation?
However, ignoring the Putin regime’s terror acts is tantamount to condoning them. Among other things, the failure on the part of the world community to condemn the Putin government’s commissioning of war crimes sends out the message that the international community is gladly accommodative of these violations of International Law. An eventual result from such international complacency could be the further aggravation of world disorder and lawlessness.
The Putin regime’s latest civilian atrocities in Ukraine are being seen by the Western media in particular as the Russian strongman’s answer to the further closing of ranks among the G7 states to the Russian invasion of Ukraine and the issues growing out of it. There is a considerable amount of truth in this position but the brazen unleashing of civilian atrocities by the Russian state also points to mounting impatience on the part of the latter for more positive results from its invasion.
Right now, the invasion could be described as having reached a stalemate for Russia. Having been beaten back by the robust and spirited Ukrainian resistance in Kyiv, the Russian forces are directing their fire power at present on Eastern Ukraine. Their intentions have narrowed down to carving out the Donbas region from the rest of Ukraine; the aim being to establish the region as a Russian sphere of influence and buffer state against perceived NATO encirclement.
On the other hand, having failed to the break the back thus far of the Ukraine resistance the Putin regime seems to be intent on demoralizing the resistance by targeting Ukraine civilians and their cities. Right now, most of Eastern Ukraine has been reduced to rubble. The regime’s broad strategy seems to be to capture the region by bombing it out. This strategy was tried out by Western imperialist powers, such as the US and France, in South East Asia some decades back, quite unsuccessfully.
However, by targeting civilians the Putin regime seems to be also banking on the US and its allies committing what could come to be seen as indiscretions, such as, getting more fully militarily and physically involved in the conflict.
To be sure, Russia’s rulers know quite well that it cannot afford to get into a full-blown armed conflict with the West and it also knows that the West would doing its uttermost to avoid an international armed confrontation of this kind that could lead to a Third World War. Both sides could be banked on to be cautious about creating concrete conditions that could lead to another Europe-wide armed conflict, considering its wide-ranging dire consequences.
However, by grossly violating the norms and laws of war in Ukraine Russia could tempt the West into putting more and more of its financial and material resources into strengthening the military capability of the Ukraine resistance and thereby weaken its economies through excessive military expenditure.
That is, the Western military-industrial complex would be further bolstered at the expense of the relevant civilian publics, who would be deprived of much needed welfare expenditure. This is a prospect no Western government could afford to countenance at the present juncture when the West too is beginning to weaken in economic terms. Discontented publics, growing out of shrinking welfare budgets, could only aggravate the worries of Western governments.
Accordingly, Putin’s game plan could very well be to subject the West to a ‘slow death’ through his merciless onslaught on the Ukraine. At the time of writing US President Joe Biden is emphatic about the need for united and firm ‘Transatlantic’ security in the face of the Russian invasion but it is open to question whether Western military muscle could be consistently bolstered amid rising, wide-ranging economic pressures.
At 80, now serving humanity
Thaku Chugani! Does this name ring a bell! It should, for those who are familiar with the local music scene, decades ago.
Thaku, in fact, was involved with the original group X-Periments, as a vocalist.
No, he is not making a comeback to the music scene!
At 80, when Engelbert and Tom Jones are still active, catering to their fans, Thaku is doing it differently. He is now serving humanity.
Says Thaku: “During my tenure as Lion District Governor 2006/2007, Dr Mosun Faderin and I visited the poor of the poorest blind school in Ijebu Ode Ogun state, in Nigeria.
“During our visit, a small boy touched me and called me a white man. I was astonished! How could a blind boy know the colour of my skin? I was then informed that he is cornea blind and his vision could be restored if a cornea could be sourced for him. This was the first time in my life that I heard of a cornea transplant. “
And that incident was the beginning of Thaku’s humanity service – the search to source for corneas to restore the vision of the cornea blind.
It was in 2007, when Dr Mosun and Thaku requested Past International President Lion Rohit Mehta, who was the Chief Guest at MD 404 Nigeria Lions convention, at Illorin, in Nigeria, to assist them in sourcing for corneas as Nigeria was facing a great challenge in getting any eye donation, even though there was an established eye bank.
“We did explain our problems and reasons of not being able to harvest corneas and Lion Rohit Metha promised to look into our plea and assured us that he will try his utmost best to assist in sourcing for corneas.”
Nigeria, at that period of time, had a wait list of over 70 cornea blind children and young adults.
“As assured by PIP Lion Rohit Mehta, we got an email from Gautam Mazumdar, and Dr. Dilip Shah, of Ahmedabad, in India, inviting us for World Blind Day
“Our trip was very fruitful as it was World Blind Day and we had to speak on the blind in Nigeria.”
“We were invited by Gautam Mazumdar to visit his eye bank and he explained the whole process of eye banking.
“We requested for corneas and also informed him about our difficulties in harvesting corneas.
“After a long deliberation, he finally agreed to give us six corneas. It was a historical moment as we were going to restore vision of six cornea blind children. To me, it was a great experience as I was privileged to witness cornea transplant in my life and what a moment it was for these children, when their vision was restored.
“Thus began my journey of sight restoration of the cornea blind, and today I have sourced over 1000 corneas and restored vision of the cornea blind in Nigeria, Kenya and India till date.
“Also, I need to mention that this includes corneas to the armed forces, and their family, all over India.
“On the 12th, August, 2018, the Eye Bank, I work with, had Launched Pre-Cut Corneas, which means with one pair of eyes, donated, four Cornea Blind persons sight will be restored.”
Thaku Chugani, who is based in India, says he is now able to get corneas regularly, but, initially, had to carry them personally – facing huge costs as well as international travel difficulties, etc.
However, he says he is so happy that his humanitarian mission has been a huge success.
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