Hikkaduwa reflections on a Jaffna morning


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.

Portrait of Jeyaharan 51 yrs old. Jaffna. 1 Sep. 2009. Photograph©Chulie de Silva

Portrait of Jeyaharan 51 yrs old. Jaffna. 1 Sep. 2009.
Photograph©Chulie de Silva

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.

Bikes are a popular environment friendly transport. Photograph©Chulie de Silva

Bikes are a popular environment friendly transport. Photograph©Chulie de Silva

Others were out in their bicycles for early morning shopping.

Jeya sweeping the garden.  Photograph©Chulie de Silva

Jeya sweeping the garden. Photograph©Chulie de Silva

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.

Laxmy Villa Jaffna. Photograph©Chulie de Silva

Laxmy Villa Jaffna. Photograph©Chulie de Silva

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.

House with beautiful driveways popular with houses built in the early 1950's. Photograph©Chulie de Silva

House with beautiful driveways popular with houses built in the early 1950’s. Photograph©Chulie de Silva

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.

Jaffna shoppers are out early. Photograph©Chulie de Silva

Jaffna shoppers are out early. Photograph©Chulie de Silva

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.

The city comes alive with ladies in bright sarees. Photograph©Chulie de Silva

The city comes alive with ladies in bright sarees. Photograph©Chulie de Silva

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.

Young boy helping out in a shop is highly amused that I want to take his photo. Photograph©Chulie de Silva

Young boy helping out in a shop is highly amused that I want to take his photo. Photograph©Chulie de Silva

A mother and daughter out shopping. Photograph©Chulie de Silva

A mother and daughter out shopping. Photograph©Chulie de Silva

 

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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9 thoughts on “Hikkaduwa reflections on a Jaffna morning

  1. I liked the comparison between Jaffna and your own hometown. Chulie, you are indeed fortunate to get the chance to visit and see Jaffna reawakening.
    Do share your thoughts with us. thank you.

  2. The Hikkaduwa Lakshmi,

    A lovely narrative and striking photography. I would indeed share this with friends. This is a beautiful piece. As I have repeatedly mentioned, you need to write to an airline or travel journal. Why not this article for Serendib?

  3. Think your father was right, you were good fortune. And to your readers. I so appreciate your first-rate photos and comments. With your demeanor you are able to elicit so much information from strangers. Eager to see your next reflections.

  4. I like this because it is about everyday people and the pictures are also of everyday things.
    In the midst od WW2, in 1942-43, my father and friends did a trip to Jaffna and, just the other day, I found his account of their expeiences. It reads like a former-day version of yours. Good work, Chulie!

  5. Though I only had a chance to visit Jaffna a few times, your text and photos brings it back to me so clearly, and make me feel ‘homesick’ for this very special place. The picture of the smiling young boy is hauntingly beautiful. Thank you so much. Jan

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