March 26, 2019

Generally, one visits a foreign country as a visitor or as a student. There are instances where some travel on professional basis to complete an educational assignment on sabbatical leave, while there are two other categories called refugees. Economic refugees are those who are quite comfortable at home but who seek greener pastures elsewhere, while the political refugees leave their motherland because they are either unwilling or unable to stay in their own country of nationality due to persecution or political skulduggery.

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Sir Arthur C. Clarke was a different kettle of fish. He arrived in Sri Lanka in 1956 intending to stay for six months to write a book on exploration of the Sri Lanka’s coastal waters. He quite liked the country and decided to stay put, until his demise.

A British Franciscan Missionary Nun lived in Sri Lanka for 60 years. She was supposed to have said:  “On the day I reach Heaven, I am going to
raise one single question to the Almighty God  as to why  He (God) did not  allow me to be born in Sri Lanka before? ”

Emulating her, those of us who have been blessed a little more, can be thankful to God/ good karma for our Sri Lankan birth, figure, form, literal and metaphorical. By the same token, one needs to acknowledge the ingenious intellectual acumen of Sri Lankan brains that have surpassed beyond limits and used on nefarious activities even at international level.

Sri Lankans

Sri Lankans by nature are reputed to have a higher intelligence quotient (IQ). For a small country of 21.44 million (2017 census), mother Lanka has raised outstanding prodigies in a multiple of professions; regrettably out which, a good portion has abandoned her and is living and working abroad to boost the economies of other nations.

How many Sri Lankans, who live at home and abroad, have an inspiration of the many faceted beauty of our motherland? Once Sri Lanka experienced a tremendous trauma, as a divided nation, when the fabric of the entire society was engulfed  in a terrorist war, for almost 30 long years, dominated by the  world’s most  ruthless terrorist outfit known as the LTTE (The Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam). However, the Sri Lankan security forces managed to extinguish terrorism in its entirety, and that is why many claim Sri Lanka as a blessed country.

Do Sri Lankans need to allow the ugly head of race, hatred and religious beliefs and divisions in our social fabric, once again? Such a deterioration could have emerged due to something going wrong fundamentally among those who were recognised as ‘educated masterminds’ who seemed to have lacked the knowledge and experience of the motherland. It is through such a vacuum that Sri Lankans have often failed to blossom into a patriotic love and commitment to their own country!

Whiz kids

Being ‘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 the populous to be visionaries either! Even the university education at home, in Oxford, Cambridge and London curricula have only managed the educated elite largely to confine to cap, gown, and convocation! What is necessary is a sense of pure humble and humanistic inspiration and patriotism, as a simple answer to overcome this problem.

Innate feeling

Deep down in every one of us, Sri Lankans, there is this peculiar innate feeling of selfishness, to mind our own business and to be just there like a bag of basmati rice, rather than doing something for the mother country. Amidst such a paradox, an isolated Sri Lankan expatriate did shine from London, of humble beginnings by doing yeoman service to his motherland at a time she needed the most.  

Initially visiting London as a chef, Podi Appu Hamy (‘Podi’) elevated to greater heights with compassionate feelings, dedication and a lot of determination to help the poor and needy at home. ‘Podi’, did a modest job as a ‘cook’ at the Sri Lanka student Centre in London, many moons ago, while working hard at the Supreme Headquarters of American Allied Forces in Europe at 7, Grosvenor Square, London simultaneously. He was not an affluent type, neither was he seduced by alien values and culture, even after living in the heart of London for over four decades.

His sober and humane qualities gave him the power to fan into a brighter glow and to be recognised and treated as a real philanthropist, who at times bypassed even his personal financial perimeters to extend a helping hand to his own people at home, in their hour of need.

Starting from self-effacing beginnings in London, since 1962, he achieved his goal over the decades without any Oxford or Cambridge degree or a cap, gown and convocation, but did his humble duty initially by feeding the hungry stomachs of students (including the writer, while he was a student in London) with Podi’s culinary skills!

Podi Appuhamy

Once the Student Centre at Sussex Gardens, London W2, was closed down, he retired from his second job with the Americans in London, too, and 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 when Sri Lanka needed it 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 LTTE terrorist war. By coaxing and reassuring the UK based Sinhala diaspora, he opened up eight free small scale medical centres (dispensaries) in many remote villages in Anuradhapura, (including one at Atamasthanaya), Polonnaruwa, Kotiyagala, Tantirimale, Willachchi, Kiriwehera and Ambilipitiya; gifted industrial power generators to Kataragama, Vidyodaya Pirivena at Maligakanda, Vidyalankara Pirivena at Peliyagoda, Mirisavetiya in Anuradhapura and  Parama Dhamma Chaitya Pirivena at Ratmalana.

With the help of his friends  and  colleagues in Sri Lanka, and with the supreme 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 the supply of 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, 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 he organised container loads of valuable items to the Sri Lanka Police and the Army out of his involvement from London and the Sri Lankan Army helped him to run the Kotiyagala and Tantirimale dispensaries.

container loads arrived in Sri Lanka from UK

On 2 January, 2001 he shipped a 40’ container load containing 50
artificial limbs, 200 wheel chairs, 2,000 clutches, one remote
controlled surgical bed,18 hydraulic beds, mattresses and  cupboards,1,000 oxygen masks, four commode chairs, one electric scale, 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 at the Medical College and a piano and a 50 kW generator for the Dhamma School at Vidyalankara Pirivena Peliyagoda, Kelaniya.

A collection of such a magnitude of charitable items is not an easy task to endure, especially single handed, in England. ‘Podi’ achieved this with the help and moral support of other equally dedicated Sri Lankan expatriates in the UK. He managed to source every item from the National Health Service  in the UK, and shipping charges were entirely borne  by ‘Podi’s’ own funds.
When containers reached Sri Lanka Podi Appuhamy was always there in person to ensure fair and equal distribution with the help of the Police. I had lost contact with him for many years, but during his last
visit to Sri Lanka, Podi’s voices suddenly reverberated from my mobile phone. That instance he had come down to Sri Lanka specially to participate at the three month’s alms-giving for his former General Practitioner in London, the late Dr. Daya Silva, who was also  the GP for the Sri Lanka High Commission staff  in London.

During his short stay in Sri Lanka, he, as usual became involved in participating in various ‘dana’ – alms-giving to the Buddhist clergy at different venues. Although, he promised to visit the writer after visiting Rajamaha Viharaya, Kotte to offer another dana, we were unable to meet up.
The writer has lost touch with Podi Appuhamy, ever since, and he is unaware whether Podi is still among the living or has passed away, but his invaluable service to his motherland, while living thousands of miles away from his home country, for decades, needs to be recognised as a simple man who  excelled as an unsung hero .

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