Honouring Arthur V. Dias
Jak tree should have been named the National Tree:
The Daily News feature writers Nalin Fernando and Firoze Sameer
deserve to be complimented by readers for their excellent well
researched article (July 31) on that great patriot of yore Arthur V.
Dias. Of all his pioneering, courageous initiatives, the campaign to
plant a million jak trees was indeed the most noble concept. Had this
effort been relentlessly pursued, today it would be having a significant
beneficial impact not only supplementing healthy food requirements but
more importantly the environment.
Arthur V. Dias
But by the wanton destruction of Jak trees accelerated particularly
by the timber requirements of the construction boom of the past three
decades a great disservice has been done to the memory of this great son
The rapid fragmentation of land for building purposes has had a
devastating effect on jak as well as other trees. Notwithstanding all
the laws that have been enacted by well meaning governments Jak trees
keep on vanishing. In most urban areas of the country, Jak trees and
even coconut trees have become a rarity. It is not far from the truth to
state that many schoolchildren in Colombo have not seen a jak tree!
When a Jak tree can easily be grown in a homegarden and its wonderful
shade and fruits enjoyed, lazy urban lifestyles are driving housewives
to stand round pavement jak vendors to buy a polythene bagful of cleaned
and shredded tender or mature jak. When bought by the gramme and cooked
and consumed as a mere accompanying curry they probably do not realize
the potential jak has as a substitute for the rice of the common man.
The proliferation of residential buildings in cities and the suburbs
with limited space for trees has led to the emergence of individuals and
even communities with no love for trees. There are even anti-social
petty minded individuals who curse the winds if the leaf of a
neighbour's falls on their concrete, treeless and even grassless outer
areas. It was this mental degradation resulting in a condition that
psychiatrics described as an "aversion to greenery" that prompted
Singapore to introduce legislation to make it compulsory to grow trees
This unique, less apparent human factor would also have presented
obstacles to the Jak planting campaign of Arthur V. Dias. Singaporeans
who for generations had grown up in 'concrete jungles' initially found
it difficult to adjust to a green environment with falling leaves, twigs
and fruits. This natural fall out of a green environment came to be
considered a nuisance.
Such cranky individuals exist in Sri Lanka too. About 25 to 30 years
ago when I was DIG Metropolitan, I received a petition against the
Cinnamon Gardens Police that the latter had refused to entertain a
complaint. When I recorded the statement of the aggrieved party he said
that when he drove out of his residence rotting mangoes that had fallen
off a tree of a neighbour on to the road were polluting the wheels of
his new car! I asked this man who was an educated professional," what if
you run over cow dung or the sh--of a dog-- you will want to change the
wheels of your car." I had to explain to this stupid man that the police
were well within the law to refuse to entertain trivial complaints.
Another major sociological obstacle to Arthur V. Dias's efforts to
popularize jak was the 'brown Sahib' dominated ruling class of the time
who used only silver cutlery and Johnson's crockery. To this class,
which exists even today eating jak was 'infra dig' it is a fact that
seldom or never is jak served at our State banquets or even at wedding
functions in star class hotels. The country needs another V. Dias to
give a start.
Jak tree is one tree that fully deserves to be protected to the
utmost. Its fruit can be consumed tender, mature or ripe. Our
forefathers even dehydrated the pulp (Atu Kos) and preserved it to be
eaten during the off season. The value of a jak tree as a 'buth gaha'
overwhelmingly outweighs its timber value.
The Na Tree's (Iron wood tree) tender leaves often glamourized in
classical Sinhala poetry led to its fame and recognition. But unlike the
highly versatile jak, Na has limited uses. Because of its thick foliage
that provides shade and the unique redness of its tender leaves it had
been planted as an ornamental tree in the Walawwas of yore eg. Batadola
and Weke in the Gampaha District and in cemeteries eg. Borella Kanatte.
It is surprising indeed that adequate importance had not been given to
the life sustaining jak tree when naming a "National Tree".