Many have asked me why I started Galkadawala. I cannot give an exact reason as to why. I really did not have any sort of a long drawn out vision either, in fact I still do not. In the year I was born, 1957 my parents moved from Colombo to Kandy as my father joined the University of Peradeniya in Kandy as a lecturer. It was a decisive move at that time, to take a 5 year old child (my sister) and a new born to the 'Hill Country' of Sri Lanka, a spectacularly beautiful place but rather remote. My parents belonged to the “pre and post independent eras” of Ceylon. They were determined to take the newly independent Ceylon to the modern post World War II world, but with our ancient culture and heritage as it’s firm foundation. There was a group of people at the newly found University of Peradeniya with similar visions. We lived in the furthest corner of the campus called Mahakanda; a tranquil wilderness in the hills of Hanthana. My sister, younger brother, a few other children and I were brought up in this environment. We played in the woods, waded the streams, rolled in the mud, and ate various fruits, berries, flowers and plants found in the woods. The animals and other creatures we encountered were our friends and companions. We treated flora and fauna with respect. The large trees gave us the security we needed when faced with uncertainty in the forest – when taking refuge behind or climbing a large tree one can feel the warmth and the energy it shares with you; I still do encounter this. It was a very special childhood.
Staying with my grandmother and my aunt during the school holidays in the southern coastal village of Galwehera too was an experience. They instilled in us the value of moderate consumption. To recycle and reuse the leftovers of consumables. Hardly anything was thrown away. We had a very close knit network of collecting what is now called ‘junk’ like old newspapers, cardboard, bottles, any kind of metal, et cetera. The ‘Paper and Bottle Man’ will visit homes once a month and collect such items and in return he will barter enamel or aluminium kitchenware. As children we would love to haggle and barter with this person and we would look forward to his visit. Our clothes were handed down and then what was finally left was also collected by the ‘Clothes Man’. Here too the barter system will be done. These men will sell what they collect from the households to the collection centre in the nearest town. This in turn would be collected by the next rung of the chain of the recycling process. Finally the metals such as iron, brass and copper would go to the local metal foundries and even exported to India. Even today this system works though not as efficiently.
The food that was served at my grandmother’s, I need not elaborate. Sri Lanka is ‘covered’ with food. So much to eat is growing naturally around you. But, how much of it is really used?
1978 Sri Lanka opened its doors to ‘free economy’. In 1979 I moved to Colombo to work … and nosedived into the rat race.
20 years of working for buying houses as a merchandiser exporting garments to the USA and the Europe could not wean me off the wilderness of Sri Lanka. At any given free time – which was rare – I would be off to the jungles or travelling the rural corners of Sri Lanka (another habit inherited from my parents).
So, I think it was natural that, at the age of 49, in the year 2006 (when I could not bear see myself continue doing ‘what I was doing’ into my fifties) I took refuge in the wilderness of my beloved country.
It was my good friend and architect Vijitha Basnayaka who suggested that we should find a land destroyed by man as a base for the project. This is contrary to the norm, where tourist ventures are built on picturesque sites. He firmly believes that we over consume everything that we use, to the extent that our planet cannot sustain it. As a practice he reuses building material to the maximum. He designs according to materials available.
It was hard work from the very inception to convince the working team – carpenters, masons, etc. – to reuse old building materials. There were many dropouts; numerous times of despair too The rest of the story is explained at our website www.galkadawala.com
Environmental organizations have asked me why I have not submitted Galkadawala for an award. I cannot do so. Galkadawala is based on the values instilled in us by our heritage, a proven way of life based on Buddhist teachings – live in moderation taking the middle path, not in excess, not too less. This is neither a novel concept, nor based on a rubric of some organisation.
There is a popular song we used to sing at school when we were very small, the very core of moderate consumption ...
Mé gasé bohō, pani dodam athey ...
"There are many oranges on this tree. The branches are heavy with ripe oranges. But two oranges are enough for my sister and me. We are not bad children who would pluck too many oranges."
Also the Dhammapada, Aarahantha Vagga:
"There are many beautiful forests which do not attract ordinary men. The passionless are attracted by such forests, because they are not seekers after sensual pleasure."