BY Priyan Rajapaksa

Many of us would have recalibrated our thoughts, feelings and plans during the pandemic. And the resultant lockdowns gave me time to wonder why – in this self-created rat race – I was ‘crazy busy’ doing boring things.

If we ignore the hype as to how successful humans are and look at the bigger picture, we’re doing the same thing that cavemen did. We’re born; we hunt and gather; and we furnish a cave, procreate and die.

In the end, we may leave a faint impression of our existence in the genes of our offspring – such as the four percent of Neanderthal genes that humans are said to carry.

I believe the fundamental purpose of life for all animals and plants is to reproduce, and perpetuate their species. Our constant quest to improve ourselves seems to be genetically driven to get a leg up on other people.

We do it without thinking; and some are more successful than others. In modern-day business, it’s phrased in terms such as ‘free market,’ ‘competition,’ ‘survival of the fittest,’ ‘be the best you can’ etc.

And we see our genes in action – if only we could spare the time to stand and stare.

Gene theory was well articulated in the Cole Porter song titled ‘Let’s Do It, Let’s Fall in Love’…

Birds do it, bees do it
Even educated fleas do it
Let’s do it, let’s fall in love…

Romantic sponges, they say, do it

Oysters down in Oyster Bay do it

Let’s do it, let’s fall in love

Cold Cape Cod clams,’gainst their wish, do it
Even lazy jellyfish do it…
Let’s do it, let’s fall in love

Electric eels, I might add, do it
Though it shocks ‘em, I know…

If you google ‘R. M. Nadoris,’ you’ll only find a computer game. But Nadoris was a real person. Though relatively unknown, he spread his influence around the world in an unobtrusive manner. I have not seen the man, and know of him only through documents and hearsay. But I owe my life to him; and am alive only because of that…

Nadoris was born in the 1860s in a quiet village called Batapola in the south of Sri Lanka – eight kilometres from the Ambalangoda coast. The village was named ‘Batapola’ because soldiers were stationed there from the 1500s. When Nadoris was around, the population was around 600 – and it had grown considerably when I last visited in 2019…

Available documentation lists him as a cultivator (wevima), and I was told that he had green fingers and that his cultivation went well. Nadoris and his brother Uberis had entrepreneurial genes, and acquired some fairly large landholdings.

The area around Batapola has a diverse geology with a variety of mineral deposits. This includes the kaolin deposits at Meetiyagoda, which are known for their high quality, and used by Noritake and other ceramic manufacturers.

Since Batapola is some 40 kilometres on the southern side of the Ratnapura hills, there are veins of gem bearing deposits as well. I once tried to pan one of the veins in a youthful get-rich-quick scheme!

In the early 1900s, Nadoris and Uberis mined graphite, and did very well as a result. They each built 10 room houses and I was told Nadoris drove a Buick.

In addition, he ran a bus service between Batapola and Ambalangoda with one white bus that was called ‘kirimuttiya’ (pot of milk). The mine, that bus and those landholdings are long gone… almost without trace.

But Nadoris’ presence lingers on unseen, other than in his economic success. His greater contribution to the world came through means that aren’t often recognised – through his progeny. He is not unique, and many of you know people who have done similar things.

Uberis had five children who lived around Batapola and enjoyed a quiet village life. Nadoris too had five children but four of them left the village because they had more adventurous genes. The children who left went on to have more children of their own.

It has taken considerable effort to trace 50 or so of his descendants. There are four in Australia, four more in the US, one in Canada, another connected to the Philippines, five in the UK, one in France and three in New Zealand.

I couldn’t trace all his descendants and there are bound to be others overseas. The rest live in Sri Lanka. In the next generation, the genetic legacy of Nadoris will live on in an estimated 100 people.

Being connected to Nadoris, that gene pool and sharing in his success did not come without a cost. He died relatively young, at the age of 70-something, of a sudden suspected heart attack.

Uberis, who was probably less gung ho, lived to be 101. I remember his hundredth birthday. Many of Nadoris’ progeny carry the risk of high cholesterol and heart disease, and have some cardiovascular issues around the age of 70.

Success is not only financial. Our reason for existence is to spread our genes and increase biodiversity.

  1. M. Nadoris was my paternal grandfather. So here am I – like some Captain Kirk but on ‘Starship New Zealand’ – going about my genetic mission.