Success story of a baker



Cassandra is sick and tired of our country’s politics, governance and administration. They stink and make no correct delivery. The Island newspaper of Tuesday October 03 carried this headline on page 1: “GL: suspension of IMF bailout highlights failure to meet anticipated revenue targets.” It is an ex SLPP important minister who makes this statement – G L Peiris – but it is not an exaggeration or incorrect. The IMF team came and went into matters here and did not seem satisfied with progress made and so “the second tranche would be delayed pending sthe staff level agreement.” Getting the economy straightened out is the first and foremost task the government had/has to tackle.

This they all repeatedly carp on and say what great good they are doing to right the situation. However, action has been far from satisfactory as it appears to be. If it was a pure Rajapaksa government this sort of laissez faire could be expected. Both presidents Mahinda and Gotabhaya went their own way letting the country slide to poverty and finally bankruptcy. We expected a much better job with Ranil Wickremesinghe as Prez and at the helm of the sinking ship. We had such expectations and we thought that with the present Governor of the Central Bank the country would be pulled back from the disastrous ruination this wonderful country was led to by incompetent, selfish leaders.

But raised hopes are not fulfilled; not dashed Cass adds, only due to the Central Bank Governor. We Ordinaries are going under with the ever rising COL, increasing of prices of all we use including electricity and water, and paying indirect taxes. Cass realised this last fact after giving a year’s overdue lunch to friends at a restaurant. The food bill was Rs 14,000 but she paid Rs 20,000 which was a service charge (given willingly) and a tax (paid with curses to all the big wigs who led the country to shambles).

So, being sick and tired of the way things are done by the government, important bureaucrats and big businessmen in this country, Cassandra decided she need not make herself physically sick too with all the mental turmoil suffered not knowing how to pay the incoming batch of bills and buy food for the next week. Hence her search for a success story. She was sent one which gladdened her heart. A veritable silver glimmer in the overcast sky of the land, weather-wise and governing–wise; the latter connoting continued mismanagement and those politically high living lavishly while most Sri Lankans grovel in poverty.

Migrant Baker

The protagonist of Cass’s tale is a Sri Lankan Tamil who migrated to Paris and made GOOD. To crown his success he has won a prestigious award: Grand Prize of the Traditional French Baguette. It may sound trivial to you and me and you may well ask – So what? But it is a significant award in France in its 30th year organized by the Paris City Hall. It’s an honour to our country and all here to have a Sri Lankan beat all bakers in Paris: his bread creation edging out 126 other baguettes, to win the award.

And who is this master baker? It is Thurshan Selvarajah, 37, “an intense bearded man with a fierce work ethic” as Roger Cohen, the New York Times Bureau Chief in Paris, says. He titled his article A Sri Lankan Baker’s baguette conquers France.

And what is Selvarajah’s prize? The honour of delivering his baguettes to the Elysee Palace for President Macron and his staff to breakfast on. He also received USD 4,250 plus a huge leg-up in business since Cohen writes that long lines now form outside his boulangerie, Au levain de Pyrenees, on the fringes of eastern Paris. Also, Selvarajah with details of his win and life was on the front page of the New York Times –a success story in itself.

Selvarajah migrated to France around 2006 because, as he told Cohen, he could not find employment in Sri Lanka. He was working in a restaurant in Paris when he met an owner of bakeries who invited him to work in one of them. We can surmise the invitation was because the bakery owner noted how diligently Selvarajah worked. So the migrant from Sri Lanka moved to bread making, and in 2012 was chief baker. Eleven years later he was adjudged the best traditional baker in Paris.

He certainly is a hard worker giving 10 hours to each of the six days he works. He lives close to his bakery while his wife and child live further away.

Cohen details how Selvarajah explained his success with making baguettes. “’God gave us all different hands,’ he said. A smile broke across his face. ‘My mother’s chicken curry and my wife’s chicken curry may use the same chicken but they do not taste the same. God gave me the hands to make the best baguette in France, I am never angry with the flour as I knead the dough.’”

He seems to be spiritual; travels to Chennai two or three times a year to visit Sri Amman Bhagavan, cult leader, who helps him be at peace. “Everyone is so tensed today and thinking about money and selfish. He helps me to be happy inside my head.”

The bread

Baguette de tradition or the traditional bread of France is made with flour, salt, water, yeast. Simple one might exclaim. Not so since there is much that goes into the mixing and making and baking that produces the good and the bad; the good being crusty outside and soft with lacunae within. A baguette is short lived; not more than twelve hours, it is said, and then loses its special qualities.

A bakery that makes and sells baguettes is called Boulangerie Traditionnelle. We have such an outlet named Baguette here in Kollupitiya, where you can buy the slightly twisted, long, pointed at end baguettes. The pleasant cafe is very successfully run by a French woman.

Reactions to the win

Thurshan Selvarajah would have been mighty pleased winning the prize for the year’s best baguettes which award is usually bagged by Tunisian or Senegalese bakers with their French colonial background. But there have been clouds in the sky which should have been all blue for him. He has not been invited to meet Mr Macron which is a gesture of approval and appreciation extended to each year’s baguette winner. He also feels he was given less French media attention than that given winners of the past.

Nor was he invited to the party organised by the confederation of French bakers marking the anniversary of the creation of the traditional baguette defined in great detail in 1993. Selvarajah attributes these slights to the fact he is the first winner who is not from France or a country colonised by the French. Also people getting to know he is not a French citizen. Although he has been in France for 17 years and his Tamil wife and child are French citizens, he has delayed applying for citizenship. His comment to Cohen on insults and belittlings he has faced is an admirable “It’s not pleasant but I don’t give a damn.”