Out of the womb of sightless night – bring out the word of healing strong


“There is a space between man’s imagination and man’s attainment that may only be traversed by his longing.”

Khalil Gibran, Sand and Foam

Everyday before I drifted off to sleep, in the waking hours as I moved into consciousness, rumbling along in a rickshaw in dusty Dhaka and often bored at office meetings, my thoughts would be on this this reunion and return to Siriniwasa.

Boats at Sunset. Hikkaduwa. 11 Jan 2012. Photograph© Chulie de Silva

Boats at Sunset. Hikkaduwa. 11 Jan 2012. Photograph© Chulie de Silva

The need to see the house had become a permanent gnawing ache, a longing, an avatar that travelled with me from the time I heard it had been restored.  In my minds eye every door of the house opened on to a memory – voices, faces, laughter, tears, friends and foes, all floated by – a kaleidoscope that I never tired of.  When I traversed it in my dreams, stuck in Dhaka, the nights more than paid for my hopeless longing in the day.

Back at Siriniwasa, we slid ever so easily into its embrace — it was as if we had never left it. Photograph©Chulie de Silva

Suren had come back to Sri Lanka, after 16 years, it was Nickie’s first visit and my first for the tsunami +7.  The drive had to be the sea hugging coast road and not the new fast highway.   How could one not drive past the old school haunts of Panadura,  cheekily breeze past the Kalutara Bodhi thinking of Father Bennie who never used to stop but eagerly stop at the perennial favourite Monis.   I peered at the portrait of the old man founder remembering him counting out the Monis biscuits from a tall jar.  I think then we got  100 biscuits for Rs. 10 or so. While he  fished out the “monis”, we would very politely ask if he could add more of the top biscuit halves than the bottom ones.

The walls smiled, the doors welcomed with wide open arms, I tenderly touched the glass doors with the decorative woodwork . …. Siriniwasa, Hikkaduwa. Photograph© Christine Kirtisinghe

Nothing was amiss.  Amma was sitting on the front verandah waiting for us and I could barely park the car when Suren bounded out.  Even at 90 years she had no problem recognizing her eldest grandson with tears of joy.  The walls smiled, the doors welcomed with wide open arms, I tenderly touched the glass doors with the decorative woodwork “mal leli.”  The one piece we broke playing football in the sitting room, had been left unrepaired.  Only I noticed it had got slightly shifted from its original position. The salty sea breeze whispered, there was thambili to drink, the cinnamon stick fence was up, the iron safe stood guard and the Birawa almirah quietly watched us as it had done for 100 years.

The return is never complete without the memory of my father. In 1989, he had written to me ” I hope you’ll read my letters again when I’m dead and gone. My time is fast running out. .. Kanishka has evening school so we have a sea bath and go to school.   I have nothing else to do – the car and the grandson.”

Kanishka my nephew and my father on the beach behind Siriniwasa. Hikkaduwa circa 1989. Photographer unknown.

When I was a dayaka for the Polgasduwa hermitage there was a monk weighed by asthma,” wrote my father. ” He used to work hard at his studies to forget his asthma. Two years ago my birthday gift from you was an English translation of “Visuddhimaga” – the original [a Buddhist Pali Canon] is lost forever. In the preface were these poems this monk had written one night at 2 a.m. because he believed in wearing out than rusting out.”

Out of the womb of sightless night – bring out the word of healing strong

And put to flight the evil thoughts – that stood betwixt the eye and light

Where lies, friend, the golden mean? In giving up

Where’s the heart forever clean? In giving up

Where is life at its best seen? In giving up

Where reaches one peace serene? In giving up.

Postscript:

On 22 January 2012, the day when these photos were taken, Siriniwas welcomed Kanishka , and his bride Chamila, a doctor from Ratnapura.  Kanishka is the eldest son of my late brother Prasanna and as my father used to say the 10th male Kirtisinghe brought up at Siriniwasa.

Kanishka and Chamila at the traditional poruwa ceremony on their wedding day 19 January 2012. Ratnapura, Sri Lanka. Photograph©Chulie de Silva

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10 thoughts on “Out of the womb of sightless night – bring out the word of healing strong

  1. What a treat this piece is to your Mother, Chuli, knowing your father would be too. And what a lovely surprise at the end. Congratulations to the handsome couple and may they have such warm memories of their parents and express them so beautifully.

  2. Great article and it is lovely to see pictures of Siriniwasa, it does bring back lots of memories – getting spoilt by Achchi with breakfast whenever we woke up, cricket in the backyard with Kanishka & friends & baths with Seeya. Nice to see pictures of Kanishka & Chamila.

    Ranil

  3. Chuli
    Very emotional write up. It has to be so too with the background I knew of your dad, mom, malli and Siriniwasa. The latter was a lifeless object; but, I hastily add as a venue full of life. The write up even gives life to the departed like your dad and malli. May they attain Nibbana. When in Hikkaduwa I may gate crash to Siriniwasa, just to see the place.
    BTW have you got the old motored push bicycle your father owned in addition to the car, saved as a piece worthy of fond old memories? I do not think. Perhaps, it reminds us that Sabbe Sankara Anichcha.
    Austin Fernando

    • Thanks Austin but don’t agree with you that Siriniwas was a lifeless object. We refer to it as the “grand old lady Siriniwasa.” She has sheltered 3 generations and protected all during the tsunami — even the dog Lassie floated on a cushion riding the tsunami waves and survived. Prasanna died when the cottage walls fell not at Siriniwasa.

      Yes, we have my father’s bike but not the car and I have a lot of the letters he wrote to me when I lived in KL and Brunei and a few of his books. So watch the blog, you’ll hear more and do go visit the grand old lady of 100 years. My mother will know you:-)

  4. Chulie how wonderful to see photos of the grand old place restored to glory. I treasure the memory of the visit we made there even when the walls were mouldy and the cruel rush of water still so marked. It must have been astonishing to return to it renewed and alive with all those memories that you record and share so generously. Thank you.
    PS. And now there’s a new highway? No more dodging flying buses on the corners. Less picturesque I am sure but a good deal calmer on the nerves 🙂

    • Yes, it felt sooooo good to be back and it was amazing to see the restored house. I’ll be writing more, as the family history is so tied up with Siriniwasa.

      We did drive back on the highway and it was a breeze. Today, I read of plans to extend the highway to Hambantota and to Trinco That will be super:-)

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