Koskola Mamas (Original Title)
Successive governments have taken the masses for asses. They have duped the people into voting for them by making various promises such as ‘bringing rice from the moon’ and giving away eight pounds of grains. Needless to say all those promises were reneged on. The SLFP-led United Front government (1970-77), instead of making ‘lunar rice’ available free of charge, imposed restrictions on transporting rice and chillies; the barricades put up for that purpose came to be dubbed haal polu and miris polu. Some ardent supporters of that regime which ran a dirigiste economy proved that they were no better than asses; they held May Day processions offering to eat bath (cooked rice) without haal (rice grains), drink tea without sugar and eat curries without chillies if their leader or methini (Sirimavo) asked them to do so. The UNP, which dislodged that government, specialised in effecting welfare cuts and people were left with neither rice rations nor the promised eta ata or eight pounds of grains. The masses once again proved that their leaders were justified in treating them like asses.
Other governments which came to power subsequently also held Barmecide feats for the hoi-polloi while squeezing the latter dry to fill the state coffers by way of increases in taxes and tariffs. Baskets of goods were promised but never delivered. Social welfare continued to be curtailed while the cost of living was soaring.
The incumbent yahapalana government, however, has not taken the masses for asses. Instead, it apparently thinks they are goats! For, it is now urging them to eat koskola (jak leaves) and crotons among other things purportedly to overcome an expected food shortage. The apologists for yahapalanaya may claim that recent attempts by some high-ups in the agricultural field to educate the public on food substitutes to be consumed during a prolonged drought have been blown out of proportion to discredit their political masters. But, the fact remains that the people have been asked to eat jak leaves of all things.
The yahapalana leaders have overtaken much maligned Marie Antoinette, who only asked the French to eat cake if bread was not available. She didn’t ask the people to live off hedges and trees, did she?
It was only the other day that we pointed out in this space rice weighing millions of tonnes had perished in Sathosa warehouses. Similarly, large stocks of other food items go to waste every month due to poor storage facilities and improper handling. Post harvest losses as regards vegetables and all varieties of fruit are extremely high. Besides, some UNP leaders have advocated that paddy fields in the Western Province be filled for starting high income generating projects such as factories. They are either unaware of or have turned a blind eye to the fact that a steady food supply is a prerequisite for national security. The need for protecting and helping local farmers to step up national food production cannot be overemphasised. More funds have to be allocated for agricultural research to enhance yields, lessen farmers’ dependency on fertilizer and prevent the colossal waste of water.
Before trying to raise public awareness of food substitutes the government and its bureaucrats should develop the agricultural sector with a substantial input of technical know-how and subsidies to step up national food production. If they are so keen to have people eat koskola let them be urged to add it to the menu at parliament restaurants first with poonac as a dessert.
Famous Sri Lankan patriot, Arthur V. Dias, was passionate about promoting the cultivation of jak trees to ensure food security and, therefore, came to be fondly known as kos mama. He popularised the term ‘bath gasa’ (‘tree of rice’) for the jak tree because its nutritious fruit could be substituted for rice. However, he never asked people to eat jak leaves.
What shall we call the yahapalana leaders who urge the public to eat jak leaves? Shall we call them ‘Koskola Mamas’?