Vol. 11


Fifty Years Ago and One Hundred Years Later

1967; Kandy, Central Province, Sri Lanka

Almost fifty years ago, in 1967, Sri Lanka, my parents’ country of origin, celebrated one hundred years of the introduction of tea by James Taylor in the Loolecondera Estate. That year, Cuckoo Mama, my daddy’s brother, was battling his first year of leukemia cancer. It was virtually a death sentence, and my grandparents impoverished themselves in seeking a cure for their son. However in 1967, they “walked on the moon,” because that year Cuckoo Mama won first prize in the national costume competition to mark the Tea Centenary.

Daddy was four, and my grandmother, Atcha, dressed him as a teapot. When Daddy swayed to one side, colored water resembling tea would flow from the pot’s spout. Daddy’s eldest brother, eleven-year-old Aiya Mama, went dressed as a tea planter with an extraordinarily large hat. Atcha spent most of her time and energy on creating a beautiful terraced tea plantation, a replica of the first tea plantation, Loolecondera Estate. Atcha had beautiful homemade dolls resembling tea pickers dotted across the tea plantation plucking tea. Three-year-old Alex Mama was dressed as a tea bush. Of the four boys, Cuckoo Mama’s costume was the simplest. Six-year-old Cuckoo Mama went dressed as a centenarian: a white-haired, white-bearded, bare-footed, spectacled old man in a tattered sarong, leaning on his staff.

Unfortunately for Daddy and Alex Mama, there were many other teapots and tea bushes, and they were eliminated early from the competition. Aiya Mama survived a little longer: His costume was spectacular, but when the judges asked him what was the name of the estate, he gave the wrong answer and was eliminated. The sole survivor of Atcha’s beautiful creations was Cuckoo Mama’s costume, another unique creation. Leading the field with his slow gait, the man was the message: Centenarian Cuckoo Mama refused to be hurried by the crowd behind him. The judges’ decision was unanimous: Not only did Cuckoo Mama look like a one-hundred-year-old man, but he also behaved like one. He walked the talk.

The first prize was a tea set made especially for the occasion with the words “Ceylon Tea Centenary” emblazoned on the china. Only one of its kind was ever produced, and it still remains a cherished heirloom for Daddy’s family. This heirloom is also very special to Daddy’s family because Cuckoo Mama never lived to be a hundred; he died from the leukemia two years after he won the prize. Atcha, the creative genius, is also no more.

To me, remembering Cuckoo Mama’s story, the take-home message is the importance in life of walking the talk, of the person being the message. It is kind of like character: Who you are must come from within you and not by the pressure from the world outside.

Anagi Rhoda Shalomi Pieris; Missouri, USA



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