22 November 2008

Letter 4.28

I believe I mentioned the Congreves when I was staying at Ella -- they are the friendly couple who were managing (the husband, at any rate) one of the large tea estates near to Ella. Now he has retired and they have moved to their own tea estate – about 40 acres -- a few miles the other side of Bandarawela. They will be setting aside a small part of their bungalow for me, and that will be (I hope) a more suitable place than where I am now in a number of ways, particularly for the work I shall be doing. (By the way, in Sri Lanka the word 'bungalow' is used to describe the single-story palatial residences built mostly during colonial times for estate managers. In those days the owners were usually in England, and since they knew that their managers could easily rob them blind, the usual strategy of defence was to give them everything they could possibly want anyway, leaving them with little incentive to cheat. An estate bungalow is typically built from granite blocks, expensive hardwoods, etc. with generous proportions and set on a carefully tended lawn with lavish gardens. Even today they are almost all kept up and retain their English atmosphere.) There are, it seems, several foreigners staying there (also a 'guest' bungalow, a smaller affair with four rooms, which is rented out -- though I've been told that if I would pay for the electricity I use the Congreves expect no rent from me), but I haven't met any of them and have been told that everyone keeps very much to himself, which is fine with me. Unforeseen problems could arise, of course, but it could turn out to be just what I need presently.

But before I move to the estate a trip to Colombo is necessary to have some corrections made to this word-processor which by now you will have realized that I have. A computer, actually, coupled to a printer, with a word-processing software package. Therefore it can be used for many other projects besides word-processing. But there seems to be a problem in that the software will not communicate certain commands to the printer, and therefore it can't do all the things it is supposed to be able to do in setting text to look like a professionally-set book. My requirements are for as text-setting ability, since that is its primary purpose (though I admit to having quite a bit of fun with it already and have written some basic programs myself). The computer is an Epson 0X-11 with a monochrome green monitor and dual disk drives, and the printer (the Spinwriter ELF 350) is made by NBC. Epson, I learned only yesterday, is owned by Seiko. NBC is the telecommunications giant, Japan's answer to AT&T.

Everything goes slowly in Sri Lanka. I ordered the system when I was in Colombo in January, but since some of it had to be 'got down' (as Sinhalese English puts it) from Singapore I didn't actually take delivery until my trip to Colombo of about six weeks back. So, knowing about delays, it would not surprise me if the software problem did not get corrected this trip.

The book I will be publishing is that of my teacher, Ñāṇavīra Thera, a typescript of which you saw about 18 years ago. I'm not the only one involved, but am the principal editor. I've also written some things and there is the possibility that they will be published under the same imprint -- we are setting up an entity called Path Press to handle legal matters, though there is no plan for it to be a full-function publisher. But one thing at a time. After this book we'll see what, if anything, comes next.

I suppose you'd only find giardia [1] listed in a medical dictionary, since it only occurs in tropical climates. It's an intestinal infection characterized by loose motions and frequent belching, often with a foul taste. Though I've never had it before now, it's, apparently, not uncommon, and is not regarded as dangerous but it is persistent and difficult to get rid of completely. However, I have been free of symptoms for a week or so and a stool test shows no parasites, amoebas, etc., of any kind. But it's sapped my energy, at least; at most, it's a discomfort and hindrance to concentration.

Well, that's the second time I typed the preceding. I got that far the first time when there was a power cut of about a half second and everything got totally erased. This time I've recorded it to disk so that that can't happen. Hardly a day goes by without a power cut -- usually brief, but occasionally lasting several hours. So it's necessary to get into the habit of saving a disk every half hour or so. (There are some word-processing programs that will do so automatically, but not this one.) Then it would not be possible to lose more than a half-hour's work (though I doubt it took more than either half an hour or half a brain to compose the preceding).

The Kantalee dam -- as you ask -- is far from here. (This is Upcountry -- dams are a feature of the plains.) It is in the Trincomalee area, a place where there is a lot of fighting going on, and it may be that the dam was sabotaged, as claimed by one group. I doubt the rains had anything to do with it, else there would have been earlier warnings of its being breeched. I believe it's one of the ancient earthwork dams constructed 15 centuries ago at a time when major irrigation schemes were the kings' pride for several centuries. It may have been strengthened in recent times, though these old dams have been found to be very well engineered. No doubt you also heard about the plane being blown up at the airport. Although the political situation seems worsening, there is no reason, however, to believe that it will affect Upcountry (except in indirect ways, such as economic), and however disastrous it is to those unfortunate enough to live in the north of the island it is to me so far only a nuisance (e.g. the army's main training camp is only a few miles away, and their target practice, which is clearly audible, has increased considerably since I was first involuntarily introduced to their 'fusillade symphony' when I settled in Ella). But, where are there no troubles? (E.g. The rain in Ukraine is a radioactive bane.)


[1] Perhaps, not the first symptom, or misdiagnosis, of the herniated bowel, which eventually took him to his death-bed in the hospital in Katmandu. -- Hūm

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