The importance of sustaining our villages | Daily News

The importance of sustaining our villages

If anyone was to ask me what my favourite ‘go to place’ in Sri Lanka is, the answer can be surmised in one word, villages. The rural villages are a naturally enchanting paradise. They teach us to calibrate our lifestyle, if we choose to. Whether it is the farmers in the paddy fields ploughing with their robust buffaloes, or an old woman selling fish at the pola or a solitary monk meditating amidst a thicket of trees, the magic of the village is absolutely alluring. The sight of a pious devotee burning incense at a small shrine or a young woman carrying a pot of water as her hair gently blows in the wind or the smiling face of a child picking flowers has a way of making an impression. Riding on a sturdy bullock cart or bathing in a river at sunset are all moments I have cherished, having travelled to every province in my country.

If there is one fundamental truth learnt during the long Covid containment curfew, it is the appreciation of the calm lifestyle in the village, and its unending freedom. Most phone calls I got or Watsapp messages I read reminded me how all the ‘Colombo people’ were missing their villages, ancestral homes and old friends. We need the city life for various reasons, though some reasons have been induced with unrealistic values and needs. After the lockdown many were unanimous in their opinion that it was the villages that sustained the digitally dominated cities.

The Covid-19 pandemic impacted the world, and has changed our daily routines. But the rural villages continue their healthy lifestyles amidst neighbours and friends, having to make just a few basic changes. There are no apartments here to cause Covid clusters. During the containment curfew people living in modern apartments were going through old albums reminiscing lovely family trips taken to villages. I know many brave frontline staff who were longing for a break to rush to their villages for a quiet rest and stress relief. This is the charm and natural power of the rural village.

The prudent Mahathma Gandhi once declared, “The soul of India lives in its villages.” We can agree that the soul of any country lives breathes and is reborn in its lush green villages. In Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs theory, we see that humans need food. It is our beautiful villages that sustained us with food, for centuries. During the time of our ancient kings this island was proudly deemed the ‘rice bowl’ of Asia, with so much interest and investment in agriculture. Where have we come since then? Sri Lankan cuisine infused with our stellar spices has a special appeal in the global culinary arena.

For centuries our fruits, vegetables, pulses, grains and paddy (rice) were supplied from the village. It still happens that way, perhaps with a certain decline. Every rural farmer does an important job, this is why US President George Washington once stated, “Agriculture is the most healthful, useful and noble employment of mankind.” During the early days of Covid-19 people were longing for the vegetable and fish vendors who came to every home. It was a stark (and should be a thought-provoking) reminder of how our lives were simple decades ago. Whenever curfew was lifted we all lined up at the old bakeries that operated consistently on firewood ovens and gave us bread, as they had done for decades. I was intrigued by manicured Colombo divas who were suddenly learning to make ‘village curries’ which they had once defiantly relegated as ‘old fashioned cuisine’. Such is the false physical, emotional and social makeup of some ignorant city folk.

The villages not only provide us food. They are the pillars of our bio-diversity systems. They are the regional lungs of oxygen that balance, restore and renew the ozone layer above Sri Lanka. Villages that border forests have an important role in coexistence and the protection of wildlife, including our magnificent elephants and leopards. How many can say they are a nemophilist (a person who loves the forest, its beauty and solitude)? Our forest cover must be increased which in turn augments some villages. The Japanese have appreciated sunlight so much that they coined a word komorebi – the beauty of sunlight filtering through trees.

Villages are deeply connected to tourism in Sri Lanka. Where do tourists spend majority of a holiday? Except for the first and last day (to the Airport) of their visit the entire stay is spent touring our villages. So over the decades our villages laden with culture, history, religious tradition, ayurveda, ancient handicrafts, dance forms and multi-ethnic cuisine are the primary showcase of Sri Lankan tourism. Be it the Kandyan hills, the rice fields of Polonnaruwa, the citadels of Anuradhapura, the magnificent kovils of Jaffna, the blissful beaches of Matara or the salubrious tea plantations in Nuwara Eliya – all of these are village landscapes. There was a surge in eco-tourism a decade ago. On a long train journey to any part of the island, we enjoy the natural undisturbed landscapes. The present global trend is agro-tourism, where families (mainly domestic tourists) visit large farms and cultivations and stay on site, learning about all the activities. The menu is made mainly from all the harvested products on site. Does this not accentuate the importance of sustainability and protecting the village network?

Most villagers buy their groceries in cloth bags or paper bags – no dramatic recycling. People cycle and pound their curry powder – they don’t rely on aerobics. The village lifestyle firmly incorporates the teaching of religious doctrines moderately, in a more pragmatic manner and neighbours truly know each other by name. A stronger sense of community is important as it enhances mental well being. Ethnic unity is a vital part of national security. Incidentally villages have a lesser crime rate with most crimes amounting to petty theft or a land dispute. Children must have the chance to rear a pet and know the value of a life, like it happens in the villages. It is an envied fact that rural people live healthier and longer than city people. The village diet is full of natural ingredients and devoid of artificial additions. Since last year more people are choosing to spend their retirement in their ancestral villages, especially those who still have a house. It is our duty not to pollute the village lifestyle, especially in a social and moral sense. Strategic development in any sphere must preserve the rural beauty and hold the community together. Our villages are the foundation of Sri Lanka. All these elements of village life must be kept alive for future generations.