Podi Aththa

Essay Writing Competition 2023
Category: 12-15 years
- Runner-up -

Essay "Podi Aththa" written by Hiranga Bandara Suraweera was chosen as runner-up in the Senior category.

podi aththa

Podi Aththa

I am used to calling him ‘Jaffna-man’. He has been to Jaffna so many times that he must be a "naturalized inhabitant" of the northern peninsula of Sri Lanka. I should be calling him 'Podi Aththa' or literally translated, 'small grandfather'.

He is my maternal grandmother’s brother. He is the middle child of his family. He was a rebel, through and through. There has been no day in his childhood that he was not reprimanded for mischief. To me, he is the most passionate wildlife conservationist I have ever come across in my life.

I like to listen to the story of how Podi Aththa saved a rooster who everyone else thought was dead beyond reasoning. It happened decades ago. There were no supermarkets in Kandy, no refrigerators in homes. Meat was bought fresh from the butcher and cooked as soon as they were brought home.

A freshly slaughtered rooster had been brought to my great-grandparents’ house. My great-grandmother was about to pluck the feathers out of the carcass, when Podi Aththa had yelled out that the rooster winked at him. His claim was dismissed, but he continued to argue and protest. Finally, he bargained. He asked my great-grandmother to tie some turmeric and ginger around the neck area (which appeared to have received a blow from the butcher’s knife) and allow it to lie overnight. If nothing happens, there will be chicken curry for breakfast the following day. My great-grandmother agreed to the terms and did the needful, while everyone went to bed muttering and cursing "what an idiot – we could have had a good feast if not for his bleeding heart for animal rights!"

Podi Aththa had been a vegetarian since childhood and he would not have consumed the chicken curry anyway, so it made sense that everyone complained about his seemingly hypocritical behaviour. There was some loud crowing in the morning – not melodious, but definitely avian origin. Everyone woke-up startled, wondering what the noise was. Podi Aththa jumped out of bed. He knew who it was. The rooster had healed, and he had won the fight for the animal’s life. One might say it could possibly be a one-time incident. You could not be more wrong.

Podi Aththa’s heart aches for all animal and plant life, even poisonous snakes and apex predators. We have vipers and common kraits visiting our backyard every now and then. He considers them natives, where we are the ones who have colonized their territory. He hates it when I chase monkeys away. They pay regular visits while destroying all the agricultural produce we have painstakingly grown in our garden. He claims that the monkeys have every right as us to consume the harvest – we should be the ones devising methods to distract them.

Ever since my great-grandmother passed away, Podi Aththa lives in their ancestral home all by himself. He has converted the garden into an organic farming area. He uses natural insect and pest repellants such as garlic peels and lemon water. He converts all organic waste into compost fertilizer, and uses them in the flower beds. He believes that fallen leaves enrich the soil the best. Therefore, he sweeps the leaves and arranges them around trees and plants, allowing them to rot and nurture the soil.

I do not think anyone has the patience and will-power to do what he does to ensure that nature remains untainted within his vicinity. He used to work for non-profit organizations that did many environmental projects such as removal of invasive plants.

Podi Aththa is strong. He does not go against nature, but lives accepting its ways and shortcomings. He gives freely, never expects anything in return. He does not pass judgments at anyone or anything. It does not take long for anyone who has a conversation with him to know that he loves nature.

He did not want me to write about him, but I had to and I wanted to.

His story should be made known to everyone because most wildlife conservationists like him do not bask in the limelight. They do their task, and integrate into nature like they never existed.

In the Age category 12-15 years, Hiranga's outstanding essay was chosen as the winner. 

Congratulations on your amazing work, Hiranga! What an insightful essay and great accomplishment! Thank you so much for sharing your fascinating story about your 'small grandfather' with all of us! And a huge Thank You must go to Podi Aththa for his unrelenting work to save our planet! 

Hiranga attends Trinity College in Kandy/Sri Lanka. Hiranga's home language is Sinhala, English is his second language.

In last year's competition, Hiranga already achieved a commendation for her entry "My Life". 

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