Return to Hikkaduwa 7 years after tsunami


Unlike many of the other tsunami anniversaries my heart is lighter this year.  We have moved past a threshold of pain.  Maybe we are propelled by a natural release of energy that they say happens every seven years
, which encourages you to move forward and make changes. Seven years after the tsunami of December 2004, the Kirtisinghe family seems to have found this energy to move back to their much loved home Siriniwasa.  Built a century ago in 1911, by my paternal grandfather Kaluappuwa Hennidige Bastian de Silva the main house had stood the wrath of the tsunami.  However, the tsunami had taken away the last Kirtisinghe son born in that house, my beloved brother Prasanna.

Siriniwasa. Hikkaduwa 2011. Photograph© Chulie de Silva

Today when I spoke to my younger brother Pradeep, there is a very positive lilt to his voice.  They are out shopping for the almsgiving for the seventh death anniversary and the first to be held at Siriniwasa in his memory. Like last year, it pains me to be in Dhaka.  But in my minds eye I can picture the event, the extended family, Rev.  Tilaka will give his sermon and praise my mother and remember the dialogues on Buddhism that he had with my  father.  The photos and memories from the past are potent potions to ease  the loneliness of being far away from the family centre.

Prasanna in sunglasses and I in happier times with cousin Athula, and friends at the old rest house, Hikkaduwa. Photograph©Aruna Kirtisinghe. Hikkaduwa circa 1963.

It is impossible to count the number of people who had trickled in and out of the house over this last century, to enjoy the sea, listen to my father’s yarns or call as relatives did unannounced in the good old days. Tea was served, fresh young coconuts were plucked from the trees to quench the thirst, an extra pot of rice was put on the hearth and my mother would somehow dish out a scrumptious meal. For us children, the sea was always our private pool.

Wallowing in shallow water Prasanna wearing goggles with cousins Aruna, Athula, Anoma, Hemal, my sister Yasoja and I. Photograph by Benny Kirtisinghe

Some days, we will all troop off to have a picnic at the family estate.  For that we had to cross a small river on a catamaran. We had to park the jeep in the village, trek across a cinnamon estate to get to the river bank.  Once there we kids will cup our hands and holler “Hoooo” to the boatman. In old Sri Lanka a “hoowa” (the yelling shout) was a measure of the distance — i.e. if someone was close by  one would say he is only one “Hoowak” away — or ” Hoowak dura.”

Left to right standing Aunt Phoebe, cousin Punya and my mother, while Prasanna, Cousins Anoma, Hemal and Neomal, my sister Yasoja and I with the boatman in the rear. Photograph probably by Dr. Bertie Kirtisinghe

On 13 March this year I had a mail from a Dr. Bernd Hontschik  who left a comment on the blog I had written about Prasanna on the 3rd year anniversary of the tsunami.

Dr. Bernd Hontschik in the garden at Siriniwasa in 1979. Photograph© Dr. Bernd Hontschik

Dear Chuli,
 in november 1978 and 1979 I was a guest in the house of your parents Manel and Benny for many weeks. Both visits were the most sunshiniest times of my life. Both visits I shared many hours with your brother Prasanna. Once I travelled through the whole island with him as my chauffeur. I am very very sad that I must read now that he was a victim of the 2004 tsunami. I will never forget your parent’s house, Manel’s meals served on the veranda, and the tiny garden house, which was my home at that time. And I will never forget Prassana. All the best for you, sent from Frankfurt in Germany, and please put a candle from me and Prasanna’s German friends onto the grave of him, if possible.
 Bernd.

The garden cottage at Siriniwasa, that collapsed during tsuanmi killing Prasanna. Hikkaduwa, 1979. Photograph©Bernd Hontschik

Prasanna with his beloved Audi and Tom and Julia. Sri Lanka, 1979. Photograph©Bernd Hontschik

Thank you Bernd for the good memories and here’s to lighting some virtual candles to remember Prasanna, Chrishanta and many others who died on the 7th anniversary of the tsunami.

Candles at Madhu Church, Sri Lanka. March 2010. Photograph©Chulie de Silva

2005:  Ashes of thoughts what the tsunami took away

2006:  A look back twenty four moons after the tsunami

2007:  Tsunami 3 years on: Remembering Prasanna Kirtisinghe

2008: How Blue was my sea at Hikkaduwa 

2009: Tsunami 5+: the longest day, the darkest night, memories that linger 

2010: Tsunami musings in Dhaka

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8 thoughts on “Return to Hikkaduwa 7 years after tsunami

  1. Chulie
    I remember your home Siriniwasa, father, mother and Prasanna very well. I remember meeting your father for the last time when living when he attended my father’s funeral. I did not meet Prasanna for some time and the sudden demise was told to me when I came down to Hikkaduwa after the cyclone. It was a devastating shock for any one who knew Prasanna as a nice young man- of course matured more by the time he bid adieu.

    While understanding your heartburn on his passing away, I cannot imagine how your mother could take up the sad loss. The only reason she took it up would have been the realization of the appropriateness of the Buddhist teaching “Anichchawatha Sankara” (Nothing is permanent).

    May Prasanna attain Nibbana along with all others who left us on this sad day.
    With best wishes,
    Austin Fernando

  2. I am glad to hear that there is some solace in your heart after your great loss. may your brother and all others who perished on that terrible day attain Nibbana!

  3. Chulie, I hope 2012 brings you and your far flung family joy. Lovely memories here and I am touched to have been able to visit Hikkaduwa with you, see this special house with its warm history of family and food and warmth and swim with you in those same deceptively calm waters. Hugs, Dale

  4. Chulie, I didn’t know the sufferings of your family and the sad loss of your brother during the tsunami. I was in Sri Lanka and left a few days before Christmas, going back to Australia, and then heard of the terrible event on the 26th. Myself and friends here tried to express our concern by sending donations to a known group which had formed spontaneously and without delay, set off to help with provisions and so much else to those in need. I am so glad that your family has now been able to go back to the old house which meant so much to you all and others who had experienced the warm hospitality given them by your family. May you all be blessed and encouraged to go forward into the future, full of the gratitude of wonderful and happy memories of the past.

  5. Chulie, thank you for sharing the gift of these exquisite family photos and memories of a beautiful life, they are truly a treasure. Thinking of you, always, at this time of year, and so glad to know that your heart is lighter on this seventh anniversary — Jan

  6. What a treasure these photos and memories are to your family and to friends who while they don’t know your family members have similar memories of family gatherings and of family members now gone.

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