Words fit for a king | Daily News

Words fit for a king

Herman Gunaratne
Herman Gunaratne

Tea is essentially the story of Sri Lanka. Despite its recent history of not more than 200 years, the crop shaped the economy of this little isle.

www.hermanteas.com, however, remembers the moments when politics changed the course of the tea industry.

…. and in 1974 with the nationalisation of British plantations 1000 acres were taken over by the government and 1000 acres was lost by predecessor (who was the President of the Suicide club at that time, an informal association of gamblers) on the roll of the dice.

Herman Gunaratne, the sole proprietor of www.hermanteas.com as well as Handunugoda estate, finds relaxation in writing.

“When I feel that some issues with which I am familiar need to be known I write. I get inspiration from no one. Writing comes easy for me because I do not complicate writing with inspirational figures.”

Gunaratne cares much about readability. Anything that is readable, he would not reject. If he cannot manage to journey beyond the first few pages, he would just leave the book aside.

I just reject any author I have to labour to read, says he who loves Fredrick Forsythe, Jeffrey Archer and P G Wodehouse.

Herman counts 43 years experience as a plantation manager, his career culminating with his appointment as regional manager of the Nuwara Eliya region in charge of Sri Lanka’s best tea lands. He was thereafter appointed as the general manager of the Mahaweli Development Scheme He is the author of three earlier books, The Plantation Raj, For a Sovereign State, Tortured Island and The Suicide Club. He runs his own plantation and tea factory and is also developing the only private tea museum in the world. The Suicide Club was shortlisted for the 2010 Gratiaen Prize.

His latest work titled as ‘God’s Secret Agent’ and subtitled as ‘Battle Against Dark Forces’ was launched recently at Misissa Hills, a boutique hotel in Mirissa.

Inquired by Ashok Ferry at the launch whether the book was purely a work of fiction, Herman Gunaratne responded in the negative. The work centres around true events, Gunaratne asserted. He recalled his own experiences with a Christian who went by the name of Nissanka Wimalasuriya who executed a number of miracles such as healing physical and mental ailments. He would also offer a solution to your career problem, Gunaratne went on to say. The book was written as a way of tribute to that saintly figure known to Gunaratne for decades.

“The events outlined in this book have enlightened me to the world I never knew. It sometimes defies belief, but I already knew that when I wrote it. I do hope however it brings the spotlight on witchcraft which is the downfall of this mighty nation,” Gunaratne explained.

Adds he: “None has criticised me. I follow John Gay’s famous words. Fools may scorn not envy raise because envy is a form of praise.”

Looking back, does he wish if he could edit his first book? His answer is simple: “No I regret nothing I have done.”

Gratiaen shortlisted author has this comment about the local literary awards: “Some winners of awards have not sold more than 300 books. They do a complete disservice to Michael Ondaatje but he seems to go along with this. In Sri Lanka, nothing changes. However, my literary taste does not come anywhere near the levels of sophistication of these judges.”

Anyway, he is not much passionate about the award-winning books. He reads only readable books by any author.

Herman is now a planter who plants virgin white tea which is the most expensive kind of tea in the world. Writing is his past time activity.

“I work 13- 14 hours a day. That is what I love, hard work.”

His website offers an exquisite description to the white tea.

An ancient Chinese tradition lost in the sands of time for over 4000 years, where the Chinese Emperor employed virgins wearing soft silky gloves to cut the tea leaves with gold scissors into a golden bowl. The leaves, with the help of the divine wind, were dried naturally until ready to store. It was a drink exclusively served in the Imperial court and was, even then, considered particularly beneficial to health. Virgin White Tea is the rarest type of white tea, completely untouched by humans from the tea bush to production and until it reaches the lips of the consumer. This tea is Rich with antioxidants and is passionately handcrafted for a unique tea experience.

Excerpts from God’s Secret Agent

These machines were extremely sensitive to the tropics and used to breakdown quite often. Nissanka was almost indispensable and had to stand by for all major operations. He was called upon to travel widely to all the hospitals in the country as there were frequent breakdowns of electro medical equipment due to misuse and lack of maintenance. He had only to go near a machine and ‘ Hey presto’s got it working again. It was almost a gift from God.

The Doctors recognized his ability and became very close friends with him He was to help many of them, but let me come to the story in sequence!

He was the most accomplished musician I have known. Was the leader of a band that played all the classical music and the old time favorites. Nissanka could play to perfection the violin, the guitar, piano, organ, mouth organ and the accordion. He could coax out of these instruments the most melodious and lilting music. He was eagerly sought after for parties and dances.

He was once following an electro mechanical course in Germany, where he had no friends at all. He was quite depressed walking about in cold Germany aimlessly and alone. He heard the sounds of an accordion and some raucous German Singing from within a bar. This was irresistible to him! He walked with some trepidation into the Bar. It was an all Caucasian bar and they looked at this tall brown skinned man with no signs of recognition or acknowledgement. He ordered a beer and the bartender reluctantly served him. Nissanka nursing his beer watched the passing scene with keen interest. The German revellers did not even glance at him. It was al most as if he did not exist!

They were singing to the melody of the most expensive accordion in the music market. To Nissanka however they were torturing the instrument .He waited for a while hoping that another accordionist would take over and do justice to the accordion. This was not to be. The same man kept on and on. The musician in Nissanka revolted against this assault.

This was too much for him to take. After fortifying himself with another beer, he summoned up the courage to walk up to the musician. He is soft spoken at all times, and he made a request to the accordion player to give him the opportunity to play.

Also authored by Herman Gunaratne

* The Plantation Raj
* For a Sovereign State
* The Suicide Club
* Tortured Island and the Price of Peace


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