He wears knee socks. A globe of a stomach strains the buttons of the shirt tucked into his shorts. Shades and a hat tops off the outfit. Somewhere in the background is the mud splattered land rover. Close at hand, a walking stick of some sort to point out what needs to be done to the labourers. Instructions are in slightly broken Sinhala or Tamil. Delivered in a deep voice befitting his status. The details will be handled by the foreman standing respectfully behind.
At the end of the day there’s a whisky (or whiskeys) with the chaps at the club. Where they address each other with truncated names or nicknames originating from boarding school antics. Berti, Micky, Dicky, Ronnie. The English is confidently smooth, easy flowing, and laced with Ceylonisms only when necessary. Most of the time though its solitary arracks in an isolated bungalow with a British name on a remote tea estate hill top.
As a child he was sent to a boarding school of missionary origins to be moulded into a man. In the footsteps of at least one generation of his family. The true purpose of such institutions are to build life long social networks and intuitively navigate hierarchies governed by unwritten rules. As part of this training he took part in one or more essential team sports: cricket, rugby and rowing. Consequently he is part of a close knit circle of friends bonded by ordeals of endurance on the field and daring escapades. In the process he mastered the arts of improving his alcohol endurance and making smoke rings. Exams and books are of course a formality.
Leaving school means joining an old company (perhaps festooned with relatives) and some sort of apprenticeship in the estates. Eventually “graduation” to his own fiefdom amongst the tea bushes, or rubber trees. Periodically he will “come down” to Colombo for the call of the social calendar: the big match, christmas/31st night. There would be youthful dalliances with the ladies of certain schools who will be attracted to the dashing style and manner. Carefully blurry details of these escapades will join the tales bandied about at the club.
Eventually there is a marriage and consequent offspring. Inevitably the sedate decent beyond middle age. Symbolised by a deceleration of movement, inflation of the belly, and the retreat of greying hair across a balding scalp.
Internally there are the health consequences of youth. The walking stick is now for use not show. His sporting life is restricted to dissecting the game from the pavilion. An activity that inevitably stumbles into reliving old glories on the field or boat over beer, cigarettes and bites. Some may have ditched cigarettes for the ceremonial dignity of a pipe. The lighting of which will be etched in the memory of an 8 year old who later in life will use it in a blog post depicting a brutally simplistic caricature.
It is a cartoon those who call for a simplified hell of ethnic purity love to use. The very icon of our familiar colonial past. Frequently bandied as a manifestation of evil, alien cultural impurity, the scapegoat for all that is wrong, the convenient obstacle in the way of recreating the paradise of 2000 years ago. I don’t feel any that such simplistic symbols have any validity. But caricatures paint easy pictures and easy pictures win votes. Thankfully, Hitler never won an election so there’s hope.
The term “planter” in Sri Lankan English refers to a member of the colonial era managerial class that ran tea, rubber and coconut estates for large British multinational companies. Until the mid 20th century they were mostly British or of British decent. However anglicised Sri Lankans began entering this demographic during the mid 20th century.