Outside the small hotel we stayed in, the wind howled in the night. It was eerie – spirits of the past wailing or just my fertile imagination? I was up early to see the first feint pink streaks grow darker across the sky behind the large mango tree. The colour was gone by the time I got dressed. I could see Jeya the hotel worker in the garden, as he chatted happily to a co-worker.
Jeya was out sweeping the garden with an ekel broom. He greeted me with a cheery “Good morning.” No sign here of the howling night winds bothering him.
Others were out in their bicycles for early morning shopping.
When we were young we used to do this in our grandma’s house on weekends. Then we tried hard to leave a nice pattern on the sand sweeping in one direction making about one foot sweeps diagonally that left a row of fine lines on the sand and then turn around to sweep so the design formed – sort of a herringbone design. After a sweeping, I’d be disappointed if someone walked across and the footsteps invariably messed it up. That is besides the fact that we ourselves would come out to play and draw 2D doll’s houses and build little 3D stone houses for fairies later in the day. It was a must that the sandy front garden “midula” be clean swept in the morning. So this is what Jeya was doing too. He needed to sweep the dead mango leaves away, no matter that vans and cycles would leave marks on the sand later on.
I had seen the front of this house late last evening when we checked in and noted the beautiful design outside this house called “Luxmy Vasa” – abode of Luxmy the goddess of good fortune. I’ve always had an affinity for this goddess, specially as the name was given to me by my father who believed that I was the Luxmy of our house “Siriniwasa,” at Hikkaduwa.
Generally, these early built houses all had some sort of motif like this with writing on it . There was a “porch” where the household driver in immaculate white would bring the car around from the garage, for the gentleman master, the lady of the house or for the children to get in.
Across the road, there was another house that looked as if it was being refurbished. The peach wall colour was new, the board said S. Ponnambalam and the house was named “Breamvilla” – I wondered whether the B should have been a P and the house was meant to be a Premvilla ( House of love), or whether in Jaffna the B is pronouced softly to sound like a P.
My imagination was in full swing on what this street would have been 50 years ago. Families would gather, children would play, ladies would gossip at the well, go shopping together, share cooked food over fences (walls came a lot later on), weddings and births would be celebrated . … I heard the sadness in the voices of friends who lost their houses and property. Jeya brought me down to ground zero with a thud as he came running across with a bunch of keys and asked if I wanted to see the house. I really did, but didn’t want to invade anyone’s privacy.
“Oh, no not a problem,” said Jeya. We walked through the symmetrically laid out garden with two jack trees on either side, through the car porch to the open verandah. This is where most of the casual entertainment would have happened. Politics would have been discussed, marriages arranged, successes at exams celebrated. Those were the days of no TVs , when friends, neighbours just dropped by a for a cup of tea, a vadai, a sandwich , small pastries like patties or cutlets, biscuits or whatever sweet meats that were in the house.
“The house is being refurbished by the hotel, and we will make these rooms available too,” expalined Jeya showing me around the house. He pointed out the work he had done on polishing the doors, and pointed to a large rectangular wooden box, that might have held harvested paddy or rice and said “very old.” A relic of not much value, left behind.
Beyond the sitting and dining area there was a courtyard open to the sky — what we in the South called a “Kotu Midula. ” It reminded me of our Kotu Midula in the Hikkaduwa house, damaged during the Tsunami of 2004.
Out in the main town people were out shopping. Shops were opening.
We women can’t resist shopping. So we too went looking for Jaffna specials — Nelli cordial, thal hukury or thal juggery ( molasses from the Palmyrah tree) and in addition found red wine made in Jaffna. My two colleagues were shopping for more, justifying the buying saying “we are contributing to Jaffna’s economy.” I was trying to catch the street scene with a few photos in the short space of time I had.
This boy was highly amused that I photogrpahed the neatly laid out slippers by the side of his shop. So with his permission I photographed him too, amidst peals of laughter from his mates in the shop.
Zen masters encourage us to ‘just be.’ If asked, ‘Just be what?’ They apparently reply with enigmatic silences. Or so we are told. I haven’t met any Zen masters. They don’t do much travelling. They are too busy, ‘just being’. And in Jaffna, it seemed to me that most were also following the Zen masters. So, I too plan to “just be” in Jaffna.
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