The beep from the sms woke me up early. Still submerged in my dreams I debated whether to ignore it and go back to sleep but out here in Dhaka my brain kept nudging me to wake up — an sms at an odd hour doesn’t normally bring good tidings. Still half in a stupor I read it through bleary eyes –it was Mother’s Day greetings from my first born Suren and his partner Nickie in Oz. It was 13 May — Mother’s Day was not uppermost in my mind but the thought that it was my father’s birthday was. If he was alive he would have said “nonsense, rubbish” to Mother’s Day, saying “it’s mother’s day every day here and with a wink would have added a comment about my (n)ever loving wife. Their constant jabs at each other was legendary but so was their love story.
This photo was a delightful surprise from the past and had arrived at my desk a few days ago from my sister Yasoja, from Brisbane. She had ferreted away most of the family photos when she migrated in the 1980’s to Australia. We grumbled but after the tsunami of 2004, when we lost most of our treasured photos, we were overjoyed that her Brisbane archives had kept safe quite a cache of the family photos.
Photos like these are both a point of connection and a point of separation. It captures a moment that I might have witnessed many a times and is now played back in a slow review of a life gone past. I am there, sharing the cup of tea my bare bodied father is enjoying. I too am bathed by the amber light of the evening setting sun seeping through the coconut leaves over the back verandah. I feel the wetness of the towel on my mother’s knee, smell the freshness of the cool silky swathe of long wet hair, the tangy salt on my lips. The tape being played back stops as I linger over memories of how my mother and I tired of the salty sea water leaving our long hair a tangled mess, would go for a fresh well bath into the interior of Hikkaduwa. I smile quietly as they do and wonder who the photographer was – a family member, a friend, a tourist?
Many are the photographs taken on that back verandah, many are memories of interesting visitors, even more interesting conversations. My earliest recollections of a photo being taken and of course kept alive by the fact that a framed photograph of this one stood on the wooden radio set my uncle Vinnie had built at Siriniwasa.
It was taken by my father’s bosom friend Uncle Wimalatissa on one of his visits to Hikkaduwa from Singapore. My brother Prasanna and I were playing — he wearing the cap of a visitor who had gone for a dip in the sea. I was trying out a swimming cap left by a lady who had finished her sea bath.
My mother said my father had cribbed this poem to me, but I didn’t care. The scrawled handwritten letter is much treasured — written in 1981, after a visit home to see an ailing aunt and was addressed to a Dear daughter
“What am I thinking of
this golden evening (of my life).
It is the daughter of my heart
who flits across my mind.
so like a lotus bloom.
She came to visit me just yesterday.
She left her darlings for awhile and came to savour
yet again (and again)
the love that spreads and smiles.
within her childhood home.
She writes to say
she loves both Ma and Pa.
I’m glad to see she had her priorities intact.
She had to go back to her kids and home (abroad)
She left with me her youthful happiness.
She took with her
the love that Ma and Pa
will always give her.
Now I wait,
until she is home again
like the bursting glory
of the coming
of a flower in spring.”
At the end of this letter, my father had chided me for taking long to reply one of his letter, and said that “This account will be closed soon, and then you will have only memories
(ashes of thoughts).”
Family photos and letters my father wrote to me are my most treasured possessions, not just ashes of thoughts. More a kaleidoscope of love – I peer into —- my own private theatre to ruminate and enjoy yet again (and again) in the humid heat of Dhaka.