- Are the gas explosions a cover for underhand play?
Akila, a resident chef in Weligama, well known for his ability to whip up Down South’s favourite dishes, recently faced a terrible tragedy.
Having built his hotel from scratch, making sure not to take any loans or go into debt for it, Akila wanted to slowly make a name for himself through sheer hard work. He had spent every cent of his money on it, to the point where he did not have any savings even to eat, and depended on his hotel to make him a daily wage for him and his family to survive on. Eventually over the years, with an astounding amount of support from foreigners that came from far and wide just to taste his cooking, he established his hotel Chef Akila’s Kitchen.
Unfortunately, more than a month ago, calamity struck and word got around through a Twitter post recently that an untimely gas explosion destroyed his treasured establishment.
Brunch contacted Akila to know more about this unfortunate event, but what we found out left us questioning the state of the food mafia Down South; was this actually a gas explosion or dirty play?
When we asked Akila to describe exactly what happened on the afternoon of 4 November, he shared: “I’m also not sure exactly what happened. I prepared food for the guests like I do every day, but there was a rainstorm that day, so at exactly 11.15 p.m., I went to the kitchen and inspected it.”
He assured us that every day, he checks the kitchen to see if the windows are closed properly, if the gas is turned off, if the fridge is closed, and he makes sure that everything is in proper condition, after which he locks the doors and goes downstairs to sleep. Akila went on to describe that night. He and his two sons were sleeping in the downstairs room; the storm had been raging and there had not been electricity. The next thing he knew, he’d woken up in a hospital and had sustained some injury as well.
“The hospital staff told me that my gas had exploded and my hotel was destroyed,” he explained, adding that he was feeling dazed and confused at the time and doesn’t recall anything from before arriving at the hospital. He was informed that he walked to the ambulance when it arrived, but he does not recall this and told us that he had big wounds on his legs, hand, and head and had to get stitches. “I still can’t walk properly, so it’s a wonder that I walked to the ambulance; I have to return to the hospital tomorrow (today, 28) as well for a check-up.”
His son, who was also at the premises, suffers with a leg broken in three places.
Right after Akila was discharged, he had to give a statement to the Police about what happened. He alleged that this is when Akila revealed that just four days ago, before this accident, the owners of a restaurant in front of his hotel had threatened him. “An argument started and they told me ‘let’s see how much longer you’ll stay at this hotel’, because they were not happy with my success,” Akila claimed.
Now, with all these gas explosions being reported around the country, one is inclined to believe that this was merely one such incident, but Akila’s next words leave room for doubt. He alleged: “On the day of the explosion, in the morning, these same people came, dashed some flowers against my door, and threatened me again, saying: ‘Lets see how long you’ll be in business’, so from that moment on, I felt uneasy. And now after this explosion, I have my suspicions that this was sabotage since I remember vividly making sure that the gas was turned off properly.”
He, of course, informed the Police of this threat, and Akila claimed that the Police didn’t even question the neighbouring hotel, but instead took some samples from his hotel. Nothing has happened since, he added. “They (the Police) have shown no interest in this issue. I haven’t even been visited by the Government Analyst’s Department. I was just told to wait, but I don’t know if anything will happen,” he lamented.
Having been Down South and conversed with the local restaurants before, we have been told many times that there is a mafia in the restaurant business and to run one without connections with the authorities is difficult in itself, where each one is out to get the other. Whether the neighbouring business had anything to do with this accident or whether they have connections with the local cops remains a question.
Taking us back to the building of his hotel, Akila told us he had plans to make it into a rest house, but the rooms hadn’t been built completely yet, so only the kitchen and dining facilities were operational, which wasn’t a bad deal for Akila as that is what his customers loved him and his establishment for. He had an open restaurant downstairs, which is now completely destroyed, including the rooms that were being built. “The stairs are destroyed, the wooden deck I built is in pieces – everything is gone, including the foundation,” he lamented.
On top of this disaster, Akila can’t even begin to salvage the wreck, as he claimed he received letters from the Municipal Council instructing him to break everything down as it’s a hazard.
Akila told us that he first began by singing to foreigners on a beach, and eventually was picked up by a small beach side shop to prepare rice and curry, which was such a hit that he was poached by other restaurants. He watched the head chef and taught himself to cook western cuisine, and when he realised how much his guests loved his cooking, so much so that they took it upon themselves to give him reviews online, he saved and worked tirelessly towards opening up his hotel.
Right now, though, he has no savings and no way of feeding his family; restoring his restaurant seems a far-fetched dream to him. The Mayor of Weligama did help him financially the last few days, which he is grateful for, but that alone isn’t enough to sustain his family. He has no way of doing any other shop due to his arthritis and the condition his body is now in. “I’m trying to make even a single meal for foreigners and earn a living now, even though it’s very difficult because I don’t have a proper kitchen,” he said, adding that his loyal clients have assured him that they will help him rebuild, but even that is unconfirmed.
Akila’s story is one of perseverance and determination. He shared: “When building, it was a nuisance for the neighbours; the vibration caused damage to their homes, which I ensured to repair and pay them for. It was a long and hard process. I dealt with complaints to the Police and many threats, but I pursued my passion and now it’s all gone.”