Jamis, growing old with gold!

By Sarasi Paranamanna
Mounting a greenly hillside road in Kegalle, the village Watura stands amidst a tranquil environment which is occasionally disturbed by resonances like a shrill cry of a bird. In this village dwells a living testament to a great blessing; a long healthy life.
For us to know whether he is the oldest Sri Lankan, we might have to wait till the general census is over, but he is worthy to write about. Though 105 years old, he still has an intact memory, still walks on his own, does his daily chores, and still has black hair. One might expect a man who is 105 years to be ailing, weak and dependant because it is the usual situation when one ages.
However, Jamis who is 105 years old, is quite different from being dependant. Living in a house situated on a small hill in the village Watura, Jamis is still energetic and robust. Walking towards the doorway of his house with his walking stick he greeted me with a warm smile offering me a seat. Though he appears to be frail as his physique is small built, his energetic voice and loquaciousness lifts the air around him showing vivaciousness at his old age.

He can still remember his year of birth. “1906, yes that was the year I was born but I can’t remember the date or the month. Our IDs were collected during the JVP insurgency period in 87-89, I still do not have an ID so I lost track of the date and the month,” he said.
Talking about his childhood he said he is the eldest in his family. All of his siblings have passed away except one younger brother.
Hailing from a village called Galigamuwa in the Kegalle District, Jamis reminisced about his school days. However he had been able to attend school only till grade two since economic barriers had forced him to drop out of school. “If somebody passes the seventh grade he was considered to be very educated those days,” he said smiling.

He talked about what his elders spoke about those days. “When I was a child I can remember the elders talking about ‘Sura Saradiel’ because he was also from Kegalle. They used to tell stories about how he became a bandit. Saradiel had been begging for milk when his mother was sick and none of the rich people had offered him milk. They used to say that that incident led him to help the poor,” he said interesting us with his stories though myth or fact.
Witnessing a history of more than 100 years Jamis’ memory is like a time machine. He can recall some of the memorable events in history. Jamis had started to work from a very young age and he said he did many jobs. When the Japanese bombed Colombo he had been working as a caretaker in an estate in Wattala. “I was in Colombo when the bombings took place. It was in 1942, I think it was during April. After they bombed several places, the next day I even went to see the place they bombed in Galle Face Green,” he reminisced.
He added that he can recall how commodities were scarce and the how tensed it was during the 1915 Muslim riots.

After doing several jobs he had returned to Kegalle to work in the base hospital. “I used to cook for the doctors at the hospital. I can cook many dishes,” he said proudly.
For the 105 years Jamis had suffered from only one disease which was serious enough to go to the hospital. Several years back he had suffered from pneumonia. “After I worked in the Kegalle Hospital I worked for a doctor who came to work at the hospital and I travelled with his family everywhere they moved. That doctor’s son treated me when I was having pneumonia. They love me very much because I know them since the day they were born. They still visit me,” said Jamis with an innocent smile.
According to Jamis the secret to his long life is the honesty in his heart. “I think if an employee works honestly his master prospers. Then the master also blesses his employee,” he quipped. When asked whether his secret to a long healthy life is some especial diet he follows, he laughed it off saying he eats whatever that is prepared. He said he is not very particular about his food though he used to drink one egg coffee every morning.
Although he doesn’t follow a special diet Jamis said he used an herbal oil everyday on his hair when he was young. He believes that the oil has made his hair withstand the graying that comes with ageing. “I worked in estates and timber sawing places. When I was working in these places only I found out about this oil. It is made from a seed called ‘mee’ and several herbal leaves are mixed into it and I applied it every morning,” he said.
Though Jamis has four children he said he does not like to rely on them. Ranjini who is Jamis’s daughter in law is the one who looks after Jamis. “More than my sons Ranjini takes care of me,” said Jamis.

During his free time Jamis said he likes to do gardening. According to Ranjini he is still very enthusiastic about agriculture. “I have planted a guava tree and I still do a little bit of planting because it has been one of my life long interests. Now I do not have the strength to plant everything I want. When I was young I only bought spices from store. I used to plant all the other needful like coconut, vegetable, karapincha,” he said.
Jamis has four children, sixteen grand children and twelve great grand children. He expressed that he felt downhearted and lonely when his wife passed away and recently when one of his sons passed away in March this year. “Most of my friends have passed away and it is only me now…” Jamis said in a melancholic tone. Weathering the effects of time and age Jamis said he is now content about his life looking back. “I have worked with honesty and even now I am not entirely dependant. I wash my own clothes, I do the daily chores. I have not been a burden to anybody and I am still trying not to be a burden on anybody,” he said.

Being 105 years old Jamis does not wear spectacles and he said that though the eyesight of one eye is diminishing, the other eye is perfect for him to carry out his daily routine. “I often reminisce when I am alone. I have no high hopes and big wishes. I just like to keep to myself and live my last days happily,” noted Jamis bidding us farewell and we indeed wish a healthy life for Jamis.
Jamis is a true example to all others who worry about ageing and other ailments. Jamis has gracefully accepted the nature’s will and in his old age his agility and independence is remarkable.