Saturday, December 30, 2006

Singapore. the land of fantasy. "Be part of the race in more ways than one"

Singapore is an interesting island city which has many facets though it is well-known only for its economic prosperity. This popular belief makes us forget a people who also feel joy and sorrow and has no “natural” social safety net. The Singapore society is truly a melting pot, which is heated by economic desires as in case of any of such kind. Busy city life, tired passengers, ethnic districts, sky scrapers and malls, roadside food courts, blend of colonial and modern architecture, window shoppers, brand loyalists, flea markets, cabarets etc. would arouse curiosity in anybody’s mind. Above all, fragmentation between centre and periphery is quite apparent in the Singaporean society.

Sunday, July 2, 2006

Konda Seeya. Hair cut. Growing old is inevitable. Growing up is optional

Ruchi getting a hair cut from Konda Seeya. I took this black and white photo quite some time back. This was exhibited at Royal Photographic, London.

Konda Seeya is old now. Nilvala has told me he had cut her hair as well. Have heard amma saying he used to cut Nilvala's father's hair. He is three generations young. Below is Milith getting a cut from Konda seeya. He tells me stories. I enjoy inviting him to lunch with us. Old age takes the control of the wheel fully. Never gives it back. Sacry. Universal truth.

"Growing old is inevitable. Growing up is optional" i saw this sticker pated on a cupboard in the Recovery ICU rest room, National Hospital, Colombo.



old adjective 1 old ladies elderly, aged, older, senior, advanced in years, up in years; venerable; in one's dotage, long in the tooth, gray-haired, grizzled, hoary; past one's prime, not as young as one was, ancient, decrepit, doddering, doddery, not long for this world, senescent, senile, superannuated; informal getting on, past it, over the hill, no spring chicken. antonym young. 2 that old barn is an eyesore dilapidated, broken-down, beat-up, run-down, tumbledown, ramshackle, decaying, crumbling, disintegrating. antonym new, modern. 3 old clothes | an old sofa worn, worn out, shabby, threadbare, holey, torn, frayed, patched, tattered, moth-eaten, ragged; old-fashioned, out of date, outmoded, démodé; castoff, hand-me-down; informal tatty. antonym new, fashionable. 4 a collector of old cars | the city's old architecture antique, historic, vintage, classic; veteran. antonym new, modern. 5 she's old for her years mature, wise, sensible, experienced, worldly-wise, knowledgeable. antonym young, inexperienced. 6 in the old days bygone, past, former, olden, of old, previous, early, earlier, earliest; medieval, ancient, classical, primeval, primordial, prehistoric, antediluvian. antonym modern, recent. 7 the same old phrases hackneyed, hack, banal, trite, overused, overworked, tired, worn out, stale, clichéd, platitudinous, unimaginative, pedestrian, stock, conventional; out of date, outdated, old-fashioned, outmoded, archaic, obsolete, antiquated, hoary; informal old hat, corny, played out. antonym fresh, innovative. 8 an old girlfriend former, previous, ex-, one-time, erstwhile, once, then; formal quondam. antonym new. 9 the town has held tight to its old ways time-honored, old-time, long-established, age-old; familiar, established; customary, usual, routine, habitual; historic, folk, ancestral, old-world. antonym modern, progressive.PHRASES old age I was not prepared to deal with my father's old age declining years, advanced years, age, agedness, oldness, winter/autumn of one's life, senescence, senility, dotage. antonym youth, childhood. old person the old people in this community deserve our support senior citizen, senior, elder, retiree, geriatric, dotard, golden ager; crone; Methuselah; septuagenarian, octogenarian, nonagenarian, centenarian; informal old-timer, oldie, oldster, codger. antonym youngster, child.THE RIGHT WORDAlmost no one likes to be thought of as old, which means having been in existence or use for a relatively long time (: an old washing machine). But those who are aged, indicating a longer life span than old and usually referring to persons of very advanced years, are often proud of the fact that they have outlived most of their peers. Children may exaggerate and regard their parents as ancient, which means dating back to the remote past, often specifically the time before the end of the Roman Empire ( | ancient history), and their attitudes as antediluvian, which literally means dating back to the period before the biblical Great Flood and Noah's ark ( | an antediluvian transportation system). Some people seem older than they really are, simply because their ideas are antiquated, which means out of vogue or no longer practiced ( | antiquated ideas about dating). Things rather than people are usually described as archaic, which means having the characteristics of an earlier, sometimes primitive, period ( | archaic words like “thou” and “thine”). Obsolete also refers to things, implying that they have gone out of use or need to be replaced by something newer ( | an obsolete textbook; a machine that will be obsolete within the decade).

Wednesday, May 17, 2006

Lunuganga. Geffory Bawa’s dream

Bawa’s Lunuganga can be considered as self-sufficient entity. A few other photographers and I spent time there in exploring subjects for “Imagine Tropics”. Karin Apollonia was the director. These images came into being in my attempt to exploring how labour shape up the garden.

Tuesday, May 16, 2006

Cinnamon story : social, economic and political relations to cinnamon people

These images are from my cinnamon peelers essay. This was a part of the project : Imagine Tropics organised by Goethe-Institut Colombo and directed by Karin Apollonia Muller. Apollonia is great teacher and a great photographer.

“If the vagaries of the wind brought the Portuguese to Ceylon, lure of cinnamon made them stay in the island”. - Dr Colvin R de Silva (Ceylon under the British Occupation, Volume 1, 1795~1833, Political and Administrative Development)

Historic background of cinnamon trade

An earliest mention of cinnamon is found in the bible. Later, in Europe cinnamon was also a commodity that signified the higher socio-economic status of those who used it. The cinnamon trade was initially monopolized by Arabs who kept the source of cinnamon a secret. The desire to gain control of the lucrative trade of cinnamon brought the Portugese to Sri Lanka (Ceylon).

Sri Lanka was the main source of “true” cinnamon (Cinnamomum zeylanicum - deriving from the Dutch’s name for Sri Lanka) the purest and the most prized of cinnamon. At the time of arrival of Portugese in 1505, people belonging to the Salagama caste were involved in harvesting from natural groves and supplying cinnamon to the king as an unpaid service to the royalty. The same people had to continue, albeit at a more vigorous pace, as Portugese who established themselves in the southern maritime belt of the island where cinnamon production was centered, sought to increase the trade.
Dutch ousted the Portugese as the colonial power in Ceylon and wrested control of the cinnamon trade. Cinnamon laws were introduced to sustain the more intensified commercial production, with some of the so called offences being punishable death. The trade changed hands when the Dutch were defeated by the British who then made Ceylon their colony in 1796 and controlled among other things its trade.

Vulnerable lives - cinnamon peelers from then to now

The cinnamon peelers were brought to Sri Lanka from Kerala or TamilNadu of India by the Sinhala kings around the 14th century and assimilated with the locals forming the caste referred to as Salagama. It was considered a low caste. Even today cinnamon peeling is confined mainly to the same caste, the art being passed from one generation to the next and the whole family, including children young enough to wield the knife, engaging in peeling. Labour relationships still remain between feudal and semi feudal. The cinnamon peeler has no claim to the land he works. On completion of harvesting a land, the families move on to another which will have work, their income being a share from the sale of the spice. This means for the aging peeler a future of complete dependency on his offspring on the day that he could no longer work.

The industry is very much labour intensive to date and little or no modernisation could be noticed. Work is done on an average of 4 days a week, work being available for six to seven months of the year. Moreover, since produce is meant for the international market, the peelers’ income is vulnerable to fluctuation due to the sharecropping system.

Modern day use of true cinnamon

True cinnamon bark is widely used as a spice. It is principally employed in cookery as a condiment and a flavouring material, Cinnamon bark can also be consumed directly and is one of the few spices that can be consumed so. Cinnamon oil, a volatile oil, is obtained by distillation from leaves and from the bark that is not suitable to be used as spice. Pharmaceutical industry too frequently uses cinnamon extractions in their produce.

Unequal economics of cinnamon trade and peelers

Cinnamon growing now takes approximately 27,000 hectares of land. Cinnamon is Sri Lanka’s leading spice in terms of foreign exchange earnings and employment. Sri Lanka commands over 90% of world production of true cinnamon and exports close to 13,000 tons of cinnamon per year. The value of foreign exchange earnings generated by cinnamon exports is over USD 68 million, which is about 60% of the total earnings from all spice exports. Sri Lanka exports 85 % of its cinnamon production.

Cinnamon growers journey to the local fair with their cinnamon, all processed and baled to the precise requirements of the international market. This journey is the starting point of trade in cinnamon. World trade in cinnamon is centered around London and the Dutch ports of Amsterdam and Rotterdam, which are the main trans-shipment points. The leading buyers are Mexico, the United States, Britain, Germany, Holland, Colombia and Spain.

End users in importing countries usually pay a minimum of USD 40 per kilogram, which will include simple value additions such as grinding, packaging etc. to use as a spice. Branded cinnamon as a spice could go up to over USD 190 a kilogram. Pricing mechanisms related to pharmaceutical industry are not clearly revealed as it requires extremely complicated extraction processes and value additions.

About 250,000 are engaged in the cinnamon industry in Sri Lanka today, the majority of them being peelers. First sale by the grower would bring USD 2~5 per kilogram and a peeler would get a 1/3 share from the produce. This usually amounts to a daily income of USD 3~4 per working day during his/her seasonal carrier. The cinnamon people are inherently dependant on the existing local and international labour, political and trade relations.

Friday, January 27, 2006

Pettah by morning

I love photographing Pettah. It is so vibrant. These images were in the morning as Pettah was waking up. Pettah – garbage, dust, congestion – yet pleasant. During the Dutch era Pattah had been an affluent neighbourhood. Commerce has remoulded the place the way it wanted.