Tuesday, March 16, 2010

I leave home around seven in the morning and walk ..!!! Jak the bread winner..!!!

Tuesday, 16 March 2010

Jak the bread winner
Jayanthi Liyanage

Ariyadasa brings Jak in his wheel barrow

Gone are the days when Jak (kos) fruit was regarded as "the poor man's food". As a local delicacy, Jak has crossed gourmet boundaries, adorning the affluent dining tables with equal aplomb.

But the messy and sticky process of cutting Jak fruit and cleaning up Jak gum (Koholla) has made him sell only the Jak fruit - a poor man's livelihood. This is a blessing for Hewavitharanage Ariyadasa . So every morning he trudges many a mile to gardens where he knows jak fruit to be thriving and fills his wheel barrow with the fruit he buys, usually around Rs.40 per fruit.

"I leave home around seven in the morning and walk to areas like Koswatte and Malabe where I know Jak to be growing," said Ariyadasa, explaining the exhausting process of gathering jak fruit to be sold every day. The morning we met him he had been to Udahamulla and Batapola and returned around 10.30 am to Lenat Perera Mawatha in Battaramulla where he lives, pushing his wheel barrow filled to the brim with Jak fruit.

By the main road in front of this lane, his wife Thamara Kusum awaits him and assists him in cutting and packing into sili bags about two kilos of Jak fruit each and placing them on array to lure Jak-loving customers. The moment the array is ready, customers begin trickling in. A bag of Jak fruit changes hands at Rs. 50.

"Some of my customers have Jak trees at home but they buy from me as they don't want to go through the hassle of cutting and cleaning Jak fruit," Ariyadasa smiled. "Some times they let me pick fruit from their gardens without even charging money."

"Jak fruit is rather scarce these days," he says with disappointment. "I have to go a longer distance in searching for it. By the month of May, the situation should

Thamara sells Jak fruit

Thamara sorting out Jak fruit

be better."

When there is a scarcity of Jak fruit in home gardens, Ariyadasa goes to Pettah and buys Jak at Rs.150 a fruit from lorries brining Jak to Colombo from distant areas such as Kandy. His is a life of constant effort and physical exhaustion, spurred on by having to support three sons and two daughters, four of whom are still school going.

Ariyadasa used to be a mason. When his work began to reduce, he changed from masonry to selling jak. Originating from Aparekka, Matara, where his father of 98 years and mother of 85 years are resident, he says, "It is my parents you should ask about Jak fruit. They know all about it. When there wasn't enough food to eat, they used to have Jak for all three meals."

Being a Samurdhi recipient, he obtained a loan from his allowance and for short while managed a vegetable cart.

That venture turned out to be not profitable and Ariyadasa gladly stuck to his business of selling Jak fruit in which he has been engaged for the last eight years.

The income of not less than Rs.650 a day he earns from selling Jak fruit goes to educating his children and covering household expenses.

Ariyadasa's eldest son (21) works as an accountant at a lottery agency, having passed his advanced levels with three credits in the commerce stream.

The other four attend school. Being a Christian, Ariyadasa says that his church helps him with class fees of one of his daughters. When he was a child, his foster parents gifted him the land where he now lives with his family.

Selling Jak fruit is Ariyadasa's trade now. This courageous man and his family so dependent on Jak fruit deserves help from any interested persons who can uplift them to a more comfortable living.


Ariyadasa with his wood carving. Pictures by Saman Sri Wedage

Ariyadasa couldn’t continue to be trained in wood carving and furniture making at the National Youth Services Council because “I didn’t have money to buy wood”, he said. He showed us a sofa he had made from neem wood with decoratively carved arms. The Council asked him if he would prefer a training overseas or locally. He opted for local training and seemed interested in making use of this knowledge but financial difficulties keeps him occupied only in selling Jak (kos) fruit.

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