Monday, December 1, 2008

A DEDICATION TO KUMARA BANDA OF KUMANA. An extraordinary human being.

K.B squats next to a sleeping bull elephant-Yala.

I dedicate this exhibition to the memory of Kumara Banda, who I first met at the beginning of 2000. He was, at the time, working as a game guard (effectively a tracker), in Yala.
My friend Ashan and I were staying in the Mahaseelawa Bungalow, and he was assigned to us for the duration of our stay.
He was quiet, and reserved, but seemed to take in everything that happened around us, as we travelled through the Park. When he realized that I had a special interest in leopards, and photographing them, he said that he would like to accompany me as often as possible on my frequent visits to the Park. Thus began the most curious love/hate relationship, that became a source of constant amusement to my friends. Two stubborn men, trying to reach a compromise on something as simple as which road to take, most often ending up at loggerheads, with neither wanting to concede victory.
Over the years, on numerous occasions, he revealed his enormous knowledge of the wilderness. He could read the forest like a book. Every animal print and call meant something to him, and had its story to tell. He could tell, if the recently flattened grass imprint was from a deer having rested, or a leopard lying up, even when there were no footprints to decipher.
He taught me how to listen to the sounds of the forest, and make sense of it all, and I improved my own field craft immeasurably, learning how to decode signs and impressions left behind by different animals, just from their body impressions.
Kumara Banda was born and bred in the ancient village of Kumana, and a kinsman of the famous tracker Menika, of the days when Yala was reserved for 'sportsmen'. His knowledge and feel for the ways of the wild obviously ran in his blood. His instinctive knowledge of what a leopard would do was uncanny, and had to be experienced to be believed. Reading the signs that leopards left behind, and be able to age them precisely came naturally to him
Kumara Banda was once washed out to sea while cutting a breach in the Kumbukkan Oya sand bar. Given up for lost, he had managed to swim all the way back to Okanda, exhausted but very much alive. Immediately following the Tsunami of 2004, he alone among all the staff of the Dept. of Wildlife, swam in the raging sea, and the vastly expanded Palatupana lagoon, rescuing stranded survivors. In most other countries, his bravery, above and beyond the call of duty would have been rewarded by the state, but unfortunately, not in ours.
The end came quite suddenly while on duty in Maduru Oya National Park, where he was stationed since 2005, when he died of a silent heart attack.

I owe Kumara Banda a deep debt of gratitude, and will always miss his unique companionship.

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