FOREIGN DESPATCH

SERENDIPITY

A Sri Lankan with an affinity for sunshine and thinking on the bright side, Heshika Deegahawathura is a Yale graduate and proud to be a Mahindra Global Recruit. He describes himself as a reader, a commentator of international relations, traveller, seafood lover and explorer of historical palaces and regal architecture. He believes in the humanised approach to business and hopes to contribute towards the nexus of business and policy - whatever that may be!

HESHIKA DEEGAHAWATHURA

1. WHAT COMES TO MIND WHEN YOU THINK OF YOUR HOMELAND, SRI LANKA?

Serendipity! That's the word that comes to my mind when I think of Sri Lanka. In fact, the English word 'Serendipity' also stems from the ancient name 'Serendip', given to Sri Lanka by the Persians. There is an old Persian folk tale titled The Three Princes of |Serendip that speaks of these Highnesses who through their travels were always making discoveries, by accidents and sagacity, of things which they were not in quest of. This is true even in modern day Sri Lanka. It's a country filled with pleasant surprises.

2. DESCRIBE A REGULAR DAY IN YOUR LIFE.

In Colombo people usually start or end their day with a jog at one of the quaint-looking parks or jogging tracks in and around the city. Some of these jogging areas are quite scenic and well-maintained, proving to be a much needed incentive for folks to take a run in the humid weather. I personally really love the stretch close to Sri Lanka's Independence Square. Then it's a quick trip to the office. The various modes of transport available include bus, car or a Tuk Tuk – the Sri Lankan name for a rickshaw/auto which comes in a multitude of colours. I start my day early, by 8 am. I feel like the Sri Lankan work environment is relatively similar to that of India with a pinch of laidback-ness, probably influenced by the island lifestyle. People at work are both funny and friendly. Just as I come in early to work, I also make sure I leave by 5 o'clock. Evenings are spent leisurely with friends at a restaurant, cafe, pub or lounge.

KANDYAN DANCERS

NUWARA ELIYA, A CITY IN THE HILL COUNTRY OF THE CENTRAL PROVINCE, SRI LANKA

3. WHAT ARE SOME OF THE INTERESTING THINGS YOU HAVE DONE WHILE EXPLORING THE COUNTRY?

I think one of my favourite things to do is boarding the train from Colombo to Ella. You can take in the scenic route while hanging on the edge of the footboard, breathing the fresh mountain air while the train slowly slithers across valleys and peaks. I make this train ride to access Sri Lanka's highlands which are home to sprawling, lush, green tea estates. Dotted with colonial bungalows, Sri Lanka's tea estates produce some of the finest quality tea in the world. A perfect getaway location amid these tea estates is the Tea Factory Hotel, an old tea factory converted to a fabulous hotel. Speaking of tea estates, a cup of freshly brewed Ceylon tea is the Sri Lankan substitute for an early morning coffee.

The 'Esala Perahera', a Buddhist night procession held annually in Kandy was a genuine feast for my senses. Traditional dancers in royal costumes, bare chested drummers, fire dancers juggling fireballs, pipers playing historical melodies and elephants donning glamourous drapes could be seen parading the streets. As the procession flows, the entire city is transported back in time to the era of the Kandyan kings. The procession is a celebration of the Buddha's tooth relic which is enshrined in the Sri Dalada Maligawa (Temple of the Tooth) in Kandy.

Exploring some of Sri Lanka's finest beaches has also been a phenomenal experience. Most of the popular beaches are located on the South and East coast of the island. It has also been a lot of fun exploring some lesser known beaches with my friends, walking through small footpaths, cutting across the bushes with fishermen guiding us on our way.

4. DESCRIBE THE PRESENT CONDITION OF THE SRI LANKAN ECONOMY AND HOW IT IS AFFECTING ITS RESIDENTS AND THE OVERALL CONSUMER BEHAVIOUR.

The Sri Lankan economy has been relatively steady for the last several decades now. It saw a boom post war where the economy growth rate rose to nearly 8%. This rate has now slowed down, but the World Bank expects that the economy will continue to grow at around 5.3% in the next 3-4 years. Although most of Sri Lanka's residents are facing monetary and fiscal tightening, growth is expected to occur due to infrastructure spending financed with sieable FDI flows. Recent restraint import policies will also contribute to growth in the coming years, but might affect companies such as Mahindra who directly import to Sri Lanka. Consumers have pushed back with a recent increase of VAT from 11% to 15%, but the consumer behaviour patterns are expected to fall back into normalcy within a few months.

HORTON PLAINS NATIONAL PARK

KIRIBATH, A TRADITIONAL SRI LANKAN DISH MADE FROM RICE

5. IS THERE AN AUTHENTIC SRI LANKAN EXPERIENCE THAT YOU WOULD LIKE TO SHARE WITH OUR READERS?

I think my best experiences have been with Sri Lankan food. It is in a league of its own. From traditional coconut milk-infused rice - Kiribath, Dutch inspired Lamprais, Jaffna crab curry, lotus leaf chicken, jackfruit curry, down to the spicy okra, Sri Lankan cuisine graciously touches your soul. It's hard for me to describe such an experience, so I urge you, the reader, to experience it for yourself.

6. WHAT IS YOUR HOPE FOR THE COUNTRY'S FUTURE?

I trust that the relationship between India and Sri Lanka will play a key role in Sri Lanka's growth trajectory. In that context fostering robust relationships will definitely matter. I look forward to being a part of that process while munching my seafood rice and sipping my Ceylon tea! you, the reader, to experience it for yourself.