by Thilak S. Fernando

Sir Arthur C. Clarke had to find his way to Sri Lank in 1956 intending to stay for six months and to write a book about the exploration of the Sri Lanka’s coastal waters. After 45 years, he is still there and is quite happy to remain for the rest of his life. Sri Lankans are generally reputed to be brainy. For a small country of 18 million people, she has generated a high proportion of outstanding scholars in multiple of professions. Many of the best have left her and living and working today abroad. The intellectual acumen of the Sri Lankan brain has also been put to nefarious use even at the international level. A British Franciscan missionary nun who lived in Sri Lanka for 60 years was quoted once in saying that when she got to Heaven she would ask one question from Almighty God - as to why He did not let her be born in Sri Lanka! For those of us who have been blessed a little more can only be thankful to God for our Sri Lankan birth, figure, and form, literal and metaphorical.

How many of us who live in Sri Lanka and elsewhere abroad have an inkling of the many-faceted beauty of our Motherland? We have become a divided nation today. A terrorist war is ripping the very fabric of our society, the brotherhood we enjoyed as a people is disintegrating into splinters. Race, hatred, and division in the social framework in every form are throwing us day after day into the proverbial back yard of progress, unity, and understanding. The gap between the ‘haves’ and ‘have-nots’ is deepening. It’s a pity. Has something been wrong with our educational system that the majority of us today lack the knowledge and experience of our motherland? Is it then rather the vacuum within us that we often fail to blossom into a patriotic love and commitment to make our motherland more than a taste of Paradise?

Being educated, intellectual, or professional alone will not at times help our country’s urgent need. Various kinds of educational reforms by succeeding governments over the last 54 years have not made the majority of us to be visionaries either! Even University education at home or Oxford, Cambridge and London curricula have managed, largely, only to cap, gown, and Convocation! Is it then a sense of pure humble and humanistic inspiration the simple answer we need to overcome this problem?

Deep down in every one of us, Sri Lankans, is this peculiar innate feeling for just being there rather than doing. Amidst such a paradox it is heart warming to see a single Sri Lankan star shining from the London expatriate community and rising above all the elite, the intellectual and the professional in our society with humble humanitarian feelings, dedication and a lot of determination to help the poor and needy at home.

Podiappyhamy, popularly known as ‘ Podi’ is a modest human being who was not affluent enough to be seduced by an alien value system and life style, even living in the heart of London for over three decades. He had the power to fan into a bright glow and to be recognised and treated as a real charitable man by all, from the ordinary folk to high and mighty and even the powerful in Sri Lanka. Starting from self-effacing beginnings in life since 1962, he achieved his goal in life over the decades without any Oxford, Cambridge curricula or a cap, gown and Convocation. With his retirement from work he set his mind to do service to humankind and especially to his own people, the very who needed the most - the poor, disabled, sick and the orphaned in Sri Lanka. Similar to his own beginnings in life in London his aim was to give access to the down trodden and the helpless in far out terrorist boarder villages free medical facilities. Initiating with the help of his UK based diaspora he opened eight free medical centres (dispensaries) in a small scale in many far out villages in Anuradhapura, (including one at Atamasthanaya), Pollonnaruwa, Kotiyagala, Tantirimale, Willachchi, Kiriwehera and Ambilipitiya. Having its operational Headquarters in Ratmalana ‘Podi’ has managed to get a message across to many local pharmacies that have undertaken to keep these dispensaries going with free pharmaceuticals and drugs. Over a short period of eight years his altruistic wisdom hit a chord with the village folk with his innovative ideas of free medicine and mini dispensaries, unknown to many intellectuals, policy makers or experts in Sri Lanka, breaking down the barriers of nation and race and reached out to the poor and the helpless.

Without much publicity, he has been sending container loads of valuable items to the Sri Lanka Police and the Army. Even today, the Sri Lankan Army runs his Kotiyagala and Tantirimale dispensaries.

His latest shipment of a 40’ container was loaded on 2nd January 2001 which contained 50 artificial legs, 200 wheel chairs, 2000 clutches, one remote control surgical bed, 18 hydraulic beds with cupboards and mattresses, 1000 oxygen masks, 4 commode chairs, 1 electric scale cum chair, boxes of surgical bandage, surgical gloves and equipment, 1000 spectacles, lenses, clothes, shoes and children’s books and toys. In addition, there were medical journals and books to be used in Medical College and for a school in Kelaniya. A piano for a Dhamma school and 50 kV generator for the Vidyalankara Pirivena at Peliyagoda, Kelaniya. Collections of such magnitude is not an easy task, especially single handed, in England. This has been achieved by ‘podi’ with the help of his equally dedicated friends, Lalith Perera, Shantha de Saram, Wimlasekera, Hema and Malini Chandraratne and Jeena Robinson who is attached to the British Red Cross Society . All the medical equipments have been sourced from the National Health Service and shipping charges are borne by podi’s own purse.

The container will reach Sri Lanka on 17th January 2001 and Mr. Podiappuhamy will, as usual, be there in person to punctuate the occasion and to see fair and equal distribution.