Enter Grandson Thomas

“When in girlhood my heart was opening its petals, you hovered

as a fragrance about it.

Your tender softness bloomed in my youthful limbs, like a glow

in the sky before the sunrise.

Heaven’s first darling, twain-born with the morning light, you

have floated down the stream of the world’s life, and at last you

have stranded on my heart.

As I gaze on your face, mystery overwhelms me; you who belong

to all have become mine.

For fear of losing you I hold you tight to my breast. What

magic has snared the world’s treasure in these slender arms of

mine?”

Rabindranath Tagore

Thomas Alexander Glenn

Nickie with new born baby Thomas Alexander Glenn. 20 March 2017, Sydney, Australia

I had been reading a few days ago Tagore poems and thought this was so apt for my daughter-in-law, when I saw this photo. Today, when she asked me “Aren’t you going to do a blog for your new grandson, like you did for Freya,” I was taken a bit back by surprise! “That blog came up faster,” said the son, a tad accusingly. Achchi is the self appointed family historian but lately, the Achchi has been accused of laying bare her life on the blog and FB, being addicted to techie gadgets and teaching granddaughter to take selfies! Besides, Achchie has not been blogging for a long time but said “Sure!” A good time as any to get back to blogging and writing.(No matter that I accidentally deleted the first draft pics and all an hour or so ago!)

Photos had been coming in thick and fast today. Looking at them I had a little time to reflect on how times have changed. For all those who talk about the good ole’ times, I say these times are greater. Dads have evolved a lot more and mothers go to work, keep their careers but still find time to have babies, nurture them and hold the family sacrosanct. Fathers, when we had babies stayed well outside the delivery rooms and had to be told to send flowers the next day! But now they are in the thick of the drama armed with the ubiquitous iPhones. So the Best Photo award for this year goes to my son Suren for capturing this decisive moment , when the grandson took his first breath and yelled his lungs out. This was awesome, and yes this was how Thomas Alexander Glenn de Silva, arrived into our family.

First breath & cries

Thomas takes his first breaths & yells his lungs out. Photo copyright Suren de Silva

“I wanted to call him Thor after Thor Heyerdahl,” says son. Good thing they didn’t, that would have been more difficult to explain to the Sri Lankan family than Freya! ( Thor in Sinhalese is a less refined form of you – to put it mildly).

Suren, Freya & Thomas

Suren, Freya & Thomas

Freya had a long preparation to welcome the baby brother. Gifts from baby brother were brought, etc and that reminded me that I too did that and we bought a train set for Suren to say this was what his baby brother brought him. However, after an initial showing, it went to live on top of the wardrobe, for the father to take down and play, when the kids were safely asleep.

Suren & Freya

Father and daughter bonding and building a toy cupboard, the day before Thomas arrived. Photo copyright Nickie de Silva

Will Thomas one day ask as Tagore said ”

“Where have I come from, where did you pick me up?” the baby asked

its mother.

She answered, half crying, half laughing, and clasping the

baby to her breast-

“You were hidden in my heart as its desire, my darling.

You were in the dolls of my childhood’s games. …” Maybe the big sister will explain as she is almost ready to step into that role.

Bathing Tom day 3

Nickie with new born baby Thomas Alexander Glenn, and Freya joins in bathing baby. 20 March 2017, Sydney, Australia

A baby is a miracle of life, that gives joy unbounded and a new lease of life specially to grandparents.

Liz and Tom

Liz Thompson, Nickie’s Mum and the indispensable Nanna with Thomas. Photo credit Jacqui Thompson.

I will take back unequivocally what I told a colleague long time ago before grandkids actually arrived: “I won’t go ga-ga oover grandkids, all my mother instincts are satisfied!” Just looking at all these photos I turn again to Tagore for so eloquently saying what is in my heart today:

“I wish I could take a quiet corner in the heart of my baby’s very own world.
I know it has stars that talk to him, and a sky that stoops down to his face to amuse him with its silly clouds and rainbows.
Those who make believe to be dumb, and look as if they never
could move, come creeping to his window with their stories and with
trays crowded with bright toys.
I wish I could travel by the road that crosses baby’s mind,
and out beyond all bounds;
Where messengers run errands for no cause between the kingdoms
of kings of no history;
Where Reason makes kites of her laws and flies them, the Truth
sets Fact free from its fetters.”

One last request for all those Techie guys out there – can you please hurry up and get the “Beam me up Scotty” gadget into the market!

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With Love Father

My father Bennie Kirtisinghe as a young man. The photo from his driving license and the one he gave my Amma when he was courting her. Photo©Chulie de Silva

My father Bennie Kirtisinghe as a young man. The photo he gave my Amma when he was courting her. Photo©Chulie de Silva

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Every 13 May I wake up often far away from my town of birth Hikkaduwa, my mind clouded by memories, fragments of conversations drift past, and my brain’s neural networks are on an overdrive. This was the day my father was born in 1918 – second son to be born in the Siri Niwasa house at Hikkaduwa, but the 6th to KH Bastian de Silva and SK Pinto Hamy.

He and I enjoyed a long correspondence, sometimes as much as two or three letters a week, the first time I was away in England. In all his letters to me he used to sign off as Father, Father B, BK and some times in Sinhala “Thatha.”

Some of the letters have survived. Photo©Chulie de Silva

Some of the letters have survived. Photo©Chulie de Silva

As a father, Thatha embodied the Sinhala term “pithru snehaya” — a love of a father to a child – he was an incurable romantic, sensitive, and what mattered most were social interactions — family, friends, our friends, villagers, tourists he met  — well in short everyone he came across mattered to him.

The Siri Niwasa house was an open house 24/7.  No one who came to the house, left without some refreshments.   Mostly it was an invitation to stay for lunch or dinner and Amma learned to stretch meals and cook in anticipation of visitors.  Many were the ones who trooped in for sea baths, and stayed to have a fresh young coconut, “thambili” water — plucked straight from the trees he had planted.

The Back verandah of Siriniwasa, circa 1970's. Hikkaduwa, Sri Lanka. This view is sadly no more. Photographer unknown.

The Back verandah of Siriniwasa, circa 1970’s. Hikkaduwa, Sri Lanka. This view is sadly no more. Photographer unknown.

There were stories to be told, laughter to be shared, and plenty of sharp, caustic, witty comments.  He was in today’s terms a “wyswyg” – what you see is what you get character.  Sometimes the comments were far too sharp and his foot in the mouth comments hit sensitive spots and made some relatives angry. His life was probably too laid back for this day and age where success is measured by the wealth you accumulate. A sea bath in the waters just beyond the back garden of Siri Niwasa, a good book, a home-cooked meal preferably prepared by his Manel, and family and friends to chat with were his needs. He was not without his faults specially when it came to managing finances and never had enough in his bank but his life was rich with love — the love he gave generously, was repaid by many with dividends.

Bennie K with Multipla.jpg

My father with his funny Fiat Multipla — he was very proud of it. Photo copyright Chulie de Silva

I remember the dreaded call I received from my brother Prasanna as I was leaving work one day. His voice was somber -“Please come immediately, Thatha has not opened his eyes the whole afternoon, he won’t speak and is not eating.” With shaking hands I quickly packed, picked up my Poddi – my Aunt Irangani in Panadura and it was by then nearly 7 pm. The drive along on the mostly ill lit coast road seemed an eternity. The sea roared but I could barely see the waves. I drove mostly through memory and remember the jolt of the railway tracks as I drove over the Payagala Railway crossing that was barely visible. I counted towns as we used to do as kids coming home for the school holidays just as anxious now to reach Hikkaduwa as I was then.

It was just past 9 pm when we got there and Amma as usual was waiting for us on the front verandah. “Bennie, Bennie, see who is here, Chulie is here,” she called out as we entered his room. Then he opened his eyes and started crying – large rasping, heart-rending sobs. I had never seen him cry all my life. He was scared – scared of dying and probably knew his life was sapping away. I sat on his bedside held his hands talked and talked till he calmed down. The sobs eased, Amma bought soup. “I’ve been listening to your footsteps on the “kotu midula,” he said and wanted me to travel to work in Colombo daily from Hikkaduwa. I wanted to recite some pirith for him but he shooed me away. “You might have grown up at the Walauwa, but you haven’t learned the correct intonation. Send Amma.” So it was his Manel’s lilting voice that lulled him to sleep that night.

My parents Bennie & Manel Kirtisinghe on the back garden of Siriniwasa, Hikkaduwa circa late 1970's. Photographer unknown from the family albums.

My parents Bennie & Manel Kirtisinghe on the back garden of Siriniwasa, Hikkaduwa circa late 1970’s. Photographer unknown from the family albums.

Next day he was better and Prasanna, Pradeep and I sat in the back garden talked about longtime nursing care for him. All this time it was Prasanna who had cared for him bathing, shaving and attending to his every need with a liberal sprinkling of jokes as well as anecdotes about everyone in Hikkaduwa. Most were concocted by Prasanna but it seemed to be the best medicine for him. Thatha had no diagnosed illnesses and was not on any medication and we thought we would have him with us for a couple of years more.

However, on 30 Aug. when I came down again he had his eyes closed. This time my arrival didn’t change anything. His breathing was heavier, face more gaunt and much as I talked he wouldn’t open his eyes. His skin was like thin parchment and I could see he was getting dehydrated. There was no GP in Hikkaduwa and so we with great care we took him to Arachchikanda Hospital to get a saline drip inserted. As he was carried out, he opened his eyes and looked around and up the front verandah almost as if he was saying goodbye to the house he had been born in. He had never wanted to die in a hospital and so the drip inserted we brought him back to Siri Niwasa.

The ceiling on the front verandah Siriniwasa Hikkaduwa, Photo©Chulie de Silva

The ceiling on the front verandah Siriniwasa Hikkaduwa, probably what he saw last of the house. Photo©Chulie de Silva

Back in his room, his breathing eased and we hoped he would pull through this. Next morning Amma called me and said in a shaking voice tears brimming in her eyes, that a little bit of blood has trickled from his mouth. As we all rushed to the room, Pradeep whispered “Is he going to die?” I could only nod. He and Prasanna went to fetch our family priest.

Amma and Padmini recited pirith ( Buddhist stanzas) at the foot of the bed. I sat near him stroking his head and talking to him that we were all there with him, and also Lassie, our pet doggie. Amma had chased her away a couple of times but she refused to be removed from the room. Finally, we let her be. Lassie lay curled under the bedhead, her head buried in her paws. Thatha must have heard us as tears were building up under the eyelids – tiny, tiny, glistening tears like dewdrops on a parched leaf.

I held his hands and watched every breath as he took it in the life giving oxygen and the slow letting out of it. He looked so frail. I tried to etch into my mind this poignant moment. Breathing became slower, more laboured. Then there was this one deep breath and I watched and waited but no breath came out. That was the last breath.

The slender fragile thread we had clung to, unable to let go, was gone. I turned to Amma and Padmini who were still reciting pirith and shook my head and they understood. Padmini came with her stethoscope checked for a heartbeat and a pulse that was not there. The thin hands, the forehead I kissed was still warm. He didn’t like anyone kissing him or even worshipping him at his feet. The thought that he would have laughed at me crossed my mind but this was now the shell that once held my Thatha. The priest Rev. Tilaka, the scholar priest, my father had respected arrived. He and I sat silently by the bedside till the hands I held went cold.

Instructions for the funeral by father. Photo©Chulie de Silva

Instructions for the funeral by father. Photo©Chulie de Silva

After the tsunami, in Amma’s birawa almirah, we found this note with instructions for his funeral. Thatha had repeatedly mentioned all this to me but I didn’t know such a note existed.

If I get bumped off (no regrets) don’t take the ‘body’ home.  Keep it at CBO Florists (Kalubowila) and ‘fire off’ at Galkissa as early as possible. 

Inform the eye donation society and give the cornea (the consent papers are at Hkd iron safe left drawer). Get the cheapest paraphernalia and only Bougainvillea Flowers. No music & no carpets. No “sokaspraksha” (speeches at funerals). Only family members to handle

BK (signed) 19.12.77

Did we follow his instructions? Some we did – like donating the eyes, and there were no “sokasprakasha” but there were no Bougainvillea Flowers. The Bougainvillea Tree was no more at Siri Niwasa but Hikkaduwa had a crematorium. I wanted to cremate him the same day or at least within 24 hours – but the family, true to village traditions, howled with protests. “If we cremate him like that the villagers will think we were too stingy to feed them,” said Amma.

So we had the biggest funeral I’ve ever seen in my life.  For 3 days we hired a cook and with thanks to the owners turned the Poseidon Diving Station next door to a large dining room.   And we catered on average for 350 people who were around for breakfast, lunch and dinner.  For 3 days and nights people came and went and we scrambled to buy food, work out menus, make tea and coffee.

They came from near and far the long lost relatives, friends’ friends who had all enjoyed the hospitality of Uncle Bennie. There was his Best man and best friend Ariyapala and wife Neela, his last surviving brother Ritchie, his bridesmaids Enid and Irangani, and the flower girl Nimal. There were the old and feeble ones, escorted and propped up like Aslin Akka, the front house neighbhour, who had insisted on coming to pay her respects. She had to be carried in on a chair. Among the mourners were the ones he had given money regularly from his pension.  Amma only then realised why he never had much money left in his pension.

Once Thatha had shared his bottle of cognac with the man who came to pluck coconuts from our trees. A village “hard nut,” who was used to the sharp illicit brew “Kassippu” for his daily tot. He possibly found the cognac very mild to taste and had polished off most of the bottle.  The coconut plucker never made it home that evening. He was found by his family curled up and sleeping at the railway station. The burning question of the day then in Hikkaduwa was, “What exactly did Bennie Mahattaya give him to drink?” for this seasoned imbiber to collapse!

Then there was Liyanage, the son of a schoolteacher parents who had not done much with his life.  But he was at our house to take Thatha to the Arachchikanda hospital and as soon as he heard of Thatha’s death. He was there when we handed his body to the undertakers and he stayed at the funeral parlour keeping an eye on the body for good measure.

Sunset through the cinnamon stick fence at Siriniwasa, Hikkaduwa. Circa 2002 the year my father died. Photo© Chulie de Silva

Sunset through the cinnamon stick fence at Siriniwasa, Hikkaduwa. Circa 2002 the year my father died. Photo© Chulie de Silva

It had been three harrowing funeral days where I had kept vigil by his coffin. Emotionally, I was spent. After the cremation Liyanage sat with me on the back verandah steps on the floor at Siri Niwasa. I sat staring out at the inky night, and the tears were not far behind.  The roar of the waves was gentle but didn’t soothe me as it normally did.  Liyanage broke the silence and said he wished he had a gun to give him a gun salute at the crematorium. Memories of the number of times Father had advised him to tread the straight and narrow path was still fresh in his mind.  He told me how this advice had helped him to pull his life together. Liyanage pointed to the top of the coconut trees my father had nurtured lovingly in the back garden. “He told me that when the crests of the trees are as high as the roof of the house, I’ll be gone.”  Sure enough the top leaves were as high as the roof on that day.

The coconut trees at Hikkaduwa, 11 October, 2012. Photo©Chulie de Silva

The coconut trees at Hikkaduwa, 11 October, 2012. Photo©Chulie de Silva

Spring Vienna 2007

Photos, photos and photos, you take heaps on holiday and then they lie inside a folder, often forgotten. … Till, one fine day, you unearth them from a half forgotten archive. It all comes back then — the walk through a park, on a warm spring morning in Vienna.

The grasses stirred as the soft wind rippled the water. Photograph© Chulie de Silva.

The grasses stirred as the soft wind rippled the water. Photograph© Chulie de Silva.

Time to go cycling with Dad. Photograph© Chulie de Silva.

A father goes cycling with the duaghter. Photograph© Chulie de Silva.

Seeing the boy fishing in the clear stream, brought back memories of how my cousins and I used to fish in the little stream below the bridge at Hikkaduwa. Photograph© Chulie de Silva.

A boy with his net catching fish in the clear stream. Photograph© Chulie de Silva.

Cooling off in the clear meandering stream. Photograph© Chulie de Silva.

Two girls and a horse cooling off in the clear meandering stream. Photograph© Chulie de Silva.

Photograph© Chulie de Silva

… and then there were the lovely birds —  drakes am told.  Photograph© Chulie de Silva

Three drakes in a row. Photograph© Chulie de Silva.

Three drakes in a row. Photograph© Chulie de Silva.

.... and then there was four. Photograph© Chulie de Silva

…. and then there was four. Photograph© Chulie de Silva

Four ducks on a pond,
A grass-bank beyond,
A blue sky of spring,
White clouds on the wing;
What a little thing
To remember for years
To remember with tears!

By William Allingham (1824 – 1889) , “Four Ducks on a Pond”, from Evil May-Day &c., published 1882

Remembering Amma with love

Manel Kirtisinghe. 22 Aug.1922-17Jan.2014.  Photograph© Chulie de Silva. taken on 11 Oct. 2012

Manel Kirtisinghe. 22 Aug.1922-17Jan.2014. Photograph© Chulie de Silva. taken on 11 Oct. 2012

Sometimes our hearts borrow from our yesterday’s
And with each remembrance
we meet again with those we love.
Love’s last gift, remembrance.

7 Photos and stories within stories

“Shaken not stirred” was my first blog post in November 2007 — a result of getting copped in Bandarawela for photographing school children. It brought forth interesting advice from a very dear friend, writing as N.B.S. Silva ( this was his nom de plume and NBS stood for No Bull Shit Silva), who said if I had any sense I would take photos of old men and cattle.

I have taken his advice. 6 years later taking stock, I am reminded yet again how photos not only capture a transient moment but the untold stories behind the pixels. Then there are stories within stories, unseen actors of a landscape and fragments of conversations, tears, laughter and love embedded in a n image. This blog is an exercise to see if I can pick 7 all time favourite photos of mine. Not an easy task but the ones I have picked are significant ones which brings to my mind a bigger visual story of my wanderings in Sri Lanka.

An internally displaced mother carries her sleeping baby while attending a resettlement meeting in Jayapuram North, Sri Lanka. Photograph© Chulie de Silva

An internally displaced mother carries her sleeping baby while attending a resettlement meeting in Jayapuram North, Sri Lanka. 25 March 2010. Photograph© Chulie de Silva

On the tsunami affected but repaired coast road to Hikkaduwa 26 Dec.2008.Photograph© Chulie de Silva

Sri Lanka builds back better after tsunami. The tsunami affected but repaired coast road to Hikkaduwa 26 Dec.2008.Photograph© Chulie de Silva

The reclining Parinirvana statue of Buddha, Gal viharaya, Polonnauwa . AD 1153-86. Photograph©Chulie de Silva

For me the most beautiful Buddha statue in Sri Lanka. The reclining Parinirvana statue of Buddha, Gal viharaya, Polonnauwa . AD 1153-86. 12 March 2005. Photograph©Chulie de Silva

A man takes his morning bath at the Mahdangasweva tank. Mahadangasweva, Sri Lanka. 19 Oct 2007. Photograph© Chulie de Silva

All the beauty of rural Sri Lanka. A man takes his morning bath at the Mahadangasweva tank. Mahadangasweva, Sri Lanka. 19 Oct 2007. Photograph© Chulie de Silva

Cattle sleep on the warm tarmcac of the A9 road at night and moves to the roadside in the morning. Photograph© Chulie de Silva

Cattle moves to the roadside of the A9 in the morning after a nights sleep on the warm tarmac. 27 March 2010. Photograph© Chulie de Silva

14 yr old Konnes (14 yrs) the youngest of ten sons helps his farmer parents wto rear goats. North Sri Lanka. 14 Sep. 2008.Photograph© Chulie de Silva

14 yr old Konnes,  the youngest of ten sons helps his farmer parents to rear goats. North Sri Lanka. 14 Sep. 2008.Photograph© Chulie de Silva

After the sunset at Hikkaduwa. Photograph© Chulie de Silva

After the sunset at Hikkaduwa. Taken on a memorable reunion holiday with my elder son and wife. 20 Jan 2012. Photograph© Chulie de Silva

The moon and my father’s bike

if you can spend a perfectly useless afternoon, in a perfectly useless manner, you have learned to live” said a FB post by my friend Joe Qian, quoting Lin Yutang. A power outage meant a move into the cool of the garden. And, here was an afternoon, albeit slipping in to an evening of inky darkness, with my avocado tree playfully trapping and twirling the soft breezes. A learning to live lesson?

Blue skies, white clouds my avocado tree and the redundant TV antennae of my neighbhours. Taken before the moonrise. Photograph©Chulie de Silva

Blue skies, white clouds my avocado tree and my TV antennae keeping a watching brief. Taken before the moonrise. Photograph©Chulie de Silva

The chatter of my next door kids calling “Someone please give us lights,” quite the opposite of “Rain, rain go away,” had subsided. The suburban sounds muted, the moon seemed to have heard the call, as a long strip of soft moonlight fell across my garden. I watched the oddly disc shaped moon rise with a circular halo around it tinged golden.  When I held up the mobile camera on my shaky hand the moon came alive as a slippery dancing sliver.

Lying on the grass looking up at the moon, it looked as if it was in a might hurry sailing across the white clouds. The stars were pin dots. A balmy night, a romantic night, with a few flickering fireflies but I wasn’t getting up to get my camera. This was a night for savouring with your eyes and “mind wandering” — mine traversed to my father’s last bike — a tsunami survivor, that I had photographed last Saturday.

My father's bike at Siriniwasa, Hikkaduwa. 12 Oct. 2013. Photograph©Chulie de Silva

My father’s bike at Siriniwasa, Hikkaduwa. 12 Oct. 2013. Photograph©Chulie de Silva

Lovingly repaired by my brother Pradeep, it now leans again the wooden staircase leading to the loft area on what in the “Siriniwasa”  house we called the “pita kamaraya” — the outside room to the left of the house. The loft room is now bare, but was once occupied by the young males in the family during vacation times when the house held as many as 60 relatives and friends!

The bike was photographed among the debris by a New York Times photographer who came to Sri Lanka to cover the 2004 Tsunami with the NYT reporter Celia Dugger. Soon after I received two sets of prints from Celia with a note, that I have misplaced now. This is a rephotographed copy of what the room looked like then.

My father's bike among the tsunami debris in the front room of Siriniwasa, Hikkaduwa. Photograph©Chulie de Silva

My father’s bike among the tsunami debris in the front room of Siriniwasa, Hikkaduwa.
Photograph©Chulie de Silva

The bike survived, most likely as this room opened to the road and wasn’t facing the sea.

Siriniwasa, after the tsunami. The bike was found inside the room with the two windows to the right. circa 28 Dec, 2004. Photograph©Chulie de Silva

Siriniwasa, after the tsunami. The bike was found inside the room with the two windows to the right. circa 28 Dec, 2004. Photograph©Chulie de Silva

In the tales my father used to say, bikes were always there. He had told me about his flirtation with a 13 year old Burgher girl who used to ride on the bar of his bicycle, when he was in Kankesanthurai caring for his brother Haripriya who had TB.

My brother Pradeep says he used to ride on the bar of an earlier bike of my father’s. Pradeep must have been all of 6 years and he would sit on a cushion on the bar and the two of them would go to the family estate Malawenna, in the interior of Hikkaduwa. When it was an uphill climb, father would get down and push the bike but Pradeep would remain seated on the bar. There was one “Edanda” that they had to travel across. This “Edanda” is an elementary bridge and was made using two large coconut trees placed across the river. Then my father would get down and walk on one tree trunk while pushing the bike on the other.

Sometimes, they would stay the night in the estate, sleeping on a big four poster bed with a top canopy over which the mosquito net was draped. This had a provision for tucking in the mosquito net, so creepy crawlies like scorpions or even serpents couldn’t slither in. Pradeep still sleeps on that bed, but my father at one time had butchered the bed by cutting the 4 bedposts that held the canopy and using them as legs to build a table. The bedposts survived the tsunami, while the table top disappeared. Four poster beds are very much the rage now and Pradeep is musing about putting the posts back on the bed.

The route we used to go the estate in better times was by car/jeep. The vehicle would be left in a nearby house and we would yell to the boatman who would come and ferry us across. Re- Photograph by Chulie de Silva from an original probably by Dr. Bertie Kirtisinghe

The route we used to go the estate in better times was by car/jeep. The vehicle would be left in a nearby house and we would yell to the boatman who would come and ferry us across. Re- Photographed by Chulie de Silva from an original probably by Dr. Bertie Kirtisinghe

It was after such a bike visit to the estate that I received a letter in big childish Sinhala writing from Pradeep, which I think I have somewhere. He was giving me living in Liverpool the news — Next door Kumara Aiya brought home a woman — Kumara aiya ‘geniyek genawa” about our neighbhour getting married expressed in the very rural way of bringing home a wife. There were other interesting titbits of news — the toilet in the estate had no door and he didn’t like it!

Thatha had set his sights on a new bike and when he heard Odiris Silva (Pvt) Ltd was opening a shop at Hikkaduwa he had ordered the bike an “Avon,” probably made in India . It was purchased on the first day the shop opened a branch in Hikkaduwa in 1974 and he would happily cycle around, cycle clips holding his trousers in place and a beret or a cap shielding him from the sun. The question was why a ladies bike? The answer probably lies in what our front house neighbhour Lily told me on an earlier visit.

Portrait of Lily Nona, probably the last lady to wear a "Kabakuruththu" in  Hikkaduwa. 27 Aug. 2013.Photograph©Chulie de Silva

Portrait of Lily Nona, probably the last lady to wear a “Kabakuruththu” in
Hikkaduwa. 27 Aug. 2013.Photograph©Chulie de Silva

Lily Nona,  has lived opposite our house since 1965, when these houses were built by the government for fishermen. Lily had come to Hikkaduwa from Hegoda in Boosa, after her marriage on the 23 February 1946 to S.K. Dharmasena aka “Sudda.”

During a long conversation I had with her, she told me that her mother had told her that my paternal grandfather — my Seeya — K.H. Bastian used to come on his bicycle to visit his estate at Deepagodawatte, off Boosa. The tales she heard were about how Seeya used to bring sweets for the kids in the village and that he rode a lady’s bicycle. Most likely as he used to wear a long cloth and a jacket, which was the customary dress for men before the young turned to wearing trousers.

My paternal grandmother, Achchi, Pintohamy (Second from left) and grandfather, Seeya, K.H. Bastian de Silva standing behind her carrying Uncle Ritchie, in her father’s house in Ambalangoda. The photograph circa 1911 was taken when her brother Heron de Silva Kularatne (centre, back row) took oaths as a lawyer on his return from London. Standing next to him is his youngest brother Patrick de Silva Kularatne who also graduated from the University of London. His first job was as the Principal of Ananda College which he took up in 1918. He retired voluntarily in 1943. Later he shed his western clothes and went on to become one of Sri Lanka’s foremost educationists. Re-photogrpahed from a copy by Chulie de Silva

My paternal grandmother, Achchi, Pintohamy (Second from left) and grandfather, Seeya, K.H. Bastian de Silva standing behind her carrying Uncle Ritchie, in her father’s house in Ambalangoda. The photograph circa 1911 was taken when her brother Heron de Silva Kularatne (centre, back row) took oaths as a lawyer on his return from London. Standing next to him is his youngest brother Patrick de Silva Kularatne who also graduated from the University of London. His first job was as the Principal of Ananda College which he took up in 1918. He retired voluntarily in 1943. Later he shed his western clothes and went on to become one of Sri Lanka’s foremost educationists. Re-photogrpahed from a copy by Chulie de Silva

There was a momentous outcome from these visits. My Seeya had bought the land where he built “Siriniwasa” from Lily’s mother’s or father’s family. It was a partitioned land and the story is that Seeya bought 100 perches at LKR 110/- paying what was a huge sum of LKR 11,000 for the land, when the going rate was LKR 110/- for an acre. A perch is a land measurement that is still in use in Sri Lanka. 160 perches make up an acre. Sadly, the sea has gobbled up quite a bit of the  original 100 perches that was Siriniwasa land.

Seeya must have loved the sea, to build on the seashore, when most people avoided building houses near the sea, because of the high maintenance. Lily’s family had celebrated receiving their portion from the sale and related her mother’s recollections of the family buying sacks of rice.  This was a time when a “seruwa” [an old measure of rice, less than a kilo] was 8-9 cents; Samba rice seruwa was 14 cents; and a “hundu” [another old measure approx 1 cup] of lentils was 5 cents, says Lily.

Siriniwasa as it stands now. Still difficult to maintain, but restoration goes on. Photograph©Chulie de Silva

Siriniwasa as it stands now. Still difficult to maintain, but restoration goes on. Photograph©Chulie de Silva

While my grandfather rode a ladies bicycle, his sister who had married a wealthy Ambalangoda businessman, drove a Morris Tourer I let my mind wander to a time in the past when my grandfather and grandmother would be sitting in the verandah having a friendly chat about their brood of seven sons. In drives the feisty sister — Rajapakse Aunt or Rajapakse Nanda– as she was referred to, dressed in a Kambaya ( the traditional long cloth worn as a wrapped around skirt) and the jacket Kabakuruthuwa like Lily’s.

Up jumps the grandfather saying “Here comes the she-devil,” and moves inside, leaving the two sisters-in-law to have a good gossip.  Unperturbed by the chauvinist brother, she would enjoy her visit, take a swig of brandy from the hip flask she kept inside the door, and fortified, drive back to Ambalangoda. I suppose there is another lesson to be learned there!

Talking to Kingsley Premachandra

I had been dragging my feet for months, and the voice inside me was rising to a crescendo about the jobs around the house that needed to be done.  On “Me Time” life is serendipitous and often its pretty easy to ignore this inner scratchy voice. But the grass on the lawn was getting longer and visuals of more slithering reptile friends joining the garden party with my “thalagoya” were getting frequent. Short of getting a herd of goats like Google, the job had to be done by none other but yours truly.

First step — get the lawn mower blades sharpened. So, finally, finally, off I went to the only repair shop I knew in Colombo — its one advertisement being the open shop with a lawn mower outside at a busy traffic intersection. And that’s how I ended up talking to Kingsley Premachandra.

Kingsley Premachandra at his shop on Havelock Road, Colombo 5, Sri Lanka. 6 Sep.2013. Photograph© Chulie de Silva

Kingsley Premachandra.  Sri Lanka. 6 Sep.2013. Photograph© Chulie de Silva

Few minutes into meeting him, I realised here was a man who loved what he was doing, a skilled man, a forthright speaker. Someone out of old “Ceylon.”

The machine he touched, as lovingly as one would do an adoring child that has been ill-treated!. “Nona, whoever used this has not used it properly.’ He addressed me still as Nona ( lady) in an old fashioned way but there was no mistake in the tone — I was getting a rap on my knuckles for not looking after a friend of his. “These days they import  Chinese machines that are sold at exorbitant prices though they are not a patch on these German ones. … See here the wheels are worn because  you didn’t use it properly and the blades have not been oiled and have rusted. … there are no parts for this machine but I will fix it for you so you can get some more wear out of it …”

Kingsley Premachandra at work. Havelock Road, Colombo 5, Sri Lanka . Photograph© Chulie de Silva

Kingsley Premachandra at work. Havelock Road, Colombo 5, Sri Lanka . Photograph© Chulie de Silva”

So it was lecture 101 in lawn mower upkeep and usage!

I learned my trade from my father NPG Francis, while working with him. I wasn’t a good student and often cut school but I loved anything to do with Yakada (iron). I always remember what my father told me ‘Never be in a hurry to finish a job. You must do the repairs, keep it for awhile and test it again and do a proper job, so the customer doesn’t have to come back to you with complaints.”

I quickly dismissed any chirpy Pollyanna thoughts I had of collecting the machine in a couple of days. Nevertheless, I didn’t miss the tinge of sadness in his voice. He remembered the exact time and place of this conversation with his father as being 6:30 am at the Kalubowila Hospital. “My father passed away at 5 minutes to 1 pm that same day and that memory is carved in my mind.” Something I could very well relate too.

Kingsley Premachandra's shop is just near the Dickman Road traffic lights on Havelock Road. Photograph© Chulie de Silva

Kingsley Premachandra’s shop is just near the Dickmans Road traffic lights on Havelock Road. Photograph© Chulie de Silva

He couldn’t give me a receipt as his wife who handled all these transactions was out but I was told to write my name and address and phone number on a blue card which got hung on the handle of the machine.  They would contact me once it was repaired, which would take about 4 weeks he said. A simple process of doing business!

Sure enough, the call came almost to the day 4 weeks after the machine was handed in.

It was a cloudy, drizzly day, and it took a few minutes for him to recognise me when I arrived to collect the repaired machine.  I was meeting his wife Sunita, the voice on the phone for the first time.

The business part of the repair done, it was time to catch up on our unfinished conversation. I learned he was also a plumber  who had worked on many important buildings. All the money he had earned had been earned honestly with these hands, he said. I watched them black with grease, as he spread them out and recalled the words of his mother on her death bed: “Nothing will go wrong in your life as you have worked hard with your hands and looked after me.

A collector of antiques, Kingsley's shop has old clocks, gramphones from the past and yes plenty of "yakada badu." Photograph© Chulie de Silva

A collector of antiques, Kingsley’s shop has old clocks, a grampohone from the past and yes plenty of “yakada badu.” Photograph© Chulie de Silva

The past silently keeps watch of the present in his shop. There are the wall clocks with static pendulums, old lamps, a faded pink Gramophone and numerous bits and pieces in “yakada.”  He had once picked up three second-hand broaches the shop of his next door friend.  Asked how much he had to pay for them, his friend had said “Just give me something for a cup of tea.” So Kingsley paid him Rs. 100– enough for much much more than a cup of tea. Many years later, a chance comment about one of these broaches his sister wore on a saree for a wedding, got him washing it in shampoo and taking it to a jeweller for checking. That’s when he discovered the stone on the broach was a “Diyamanthi” (diamond).

Kingsley's dog Tiny a silent listener to all the stories of his master. Photograph© Chulie de Silva

Kingsley’s dog Tiny a silent listener to all the stories of his master. Photograph© Chulie de Silva

At 63, the future looms uncertainly for him. His sight is failing and has to undergo an operation to remove cataracts. He has no sons to hand over his business. A relative he trained under him for 9 years played him out. He doesn’t own a house, but one thing he and Sunita are both proud of is their daughter. With shining eyes, and pride in their eyes, they told me she is a graduate and following a Human Resource Management course and is also working as an intern. “All our efforts were to give her the best education we could afford.”

Underlying theme of many of Kingsley’s stories was his grouse about the lack of integrity, and ethics in the business sector as everyone is hell bent on the accumulation of wealth.  “Today even religion is distorted in the pursuit of wealth.”

We had talked till closing time of disappearing values and lifestyles. As I got up to leave both Kingsley and Sunita said “You must come again and meet our daughter.” I didn’t have to ask but Lionel his assistant who had been playing with Tiny, offered to carry the repaired machine to my car.

Although not a labourer, I thought of Khalil Gibran’s statement ‘Of life’s two chief prizes, beauty and truth, I found the first in a loving heart and the second in a labourer’s hand.’

Memories like the corners of my mind. …

Misty watercolor memories
Of the way we were

Chulie_001B1Scattered pictures
Of the smiles we left behind

Chulie_002 C1B1Smiles we gave to one another
For the way we were

Port Erin Isle of ManMemories
May be beautiful and yet
What’s too painful to remember
We simply choose to forget

So it is the laughter
We will remember
Whenever we remember
The way we were

Chulie MemoirsSo it is the laughter
We will remember
Whenever we remember
The way we were.

Chulie Memoirs47 is an odd number to get nostalgic — it’s not a round number like 40 or 50 but then you don’t need that. Fragments of memories of the day my father gave away his second born daughter, a distant memory of Barbara Streisand singing. … I am told that there is a sense of loss running through my writing. That is so, but it is not wish to retrace steps — just a record of the way we were.

Words: Barbra Streisand Lyrics “The Way we were”

Photo 1 : Chulie at 19 on 7 Sep. 1966, waiting for the Poruwa Ceremony. Photograph reproduced from a slide by Aruna Kirtisinghe. This image Copyright Chulie de Silva.

Photo 2: 7 Sep, 1966. Bennie Kirtisinghe gives away his second born daughter. Photograph reproduced from a slide by Aruna Kirtisinghe. This image Copyright Chulie de Silva.

Photo 3:  7 Sep. 1967. Celebrating the first wedding anniversary. Port Erin, Isle of Man, September 1967. Photograph reproduced from a slide by Prof MW Ranjith N de Silva. This image Copyright Chulie de Silva.

Photo 4: First snow fall in Liverpool England. 7  Sunnyside, Liverpool 8, UK. 1 May 1967 with Girigori Antoncopulous from Greece and Ranjith. Photographer unknown reproduced from a slide. Copyright Chulie de Silva.

Photo 5: Ranjith & I at Rasa Sayang Hotel Penang, Malaysia.  Circa late 1970s. Photograph probably by Buddie Wetthasinghe. Copyright Chulie de Silva.

Photo Memories of Nepal

I was certainly Click happy in Kathmandu Nepal. Cool, cool mornings, beautiful light and such colour — dazzling at times, soft and gentle at other times

The peacock in Gokarna. Photograph© Chulie de Silva

The peacock in Gokarna. Photograph© Chulie de Silva

Not sure what the ritual was here -- was it to redeem a vow? Photograph© Chulie de Silva

Not sure what the ritual was here — was it to redeem a vow? Photograph© Chulie de Silva

Nepal Muscian. Photograph© Chulie de Silva

Nepal Muscian. Photograph© Chulie de Silva

Flower sellers. Photograph© Chulie de Silva

Flower sellers. Photograph© Chulie de Silva

Photograph© Chulie de Silva.

Photograph© Chulie de Silva.

Rickshaw pullers Photograph© Chulie de Silva

Rickshaw pullers Photograph© Chulie de Silva

Sunset at Gokarna. Photograph© Chulie de Silva

Sunset at Gokarna. Photograph© Chulie de Silva

Where Shadow Chases Light/Tagore

My shadow chases light. ... Photograph© Chulie de Silva

Chasing light in the morning. …
Photograph© Chulie de Silva

This is my delight,
thus to wait and watch at the wayside
where shadow chases light
and the rain comes in the wake of the summer.

Messengers, with tidings from unknown skies,
greet me and speed along the road.
My heart is glad within,
and the breath of the passing breeze is sweet.

From dawn till dusk I sit here before my door,
and I know that of a sudden
the happy moment will arrive when I shall see.

In the meanwhile I smile and I sing all alone.
In the meanwhile the air is filling with the perfume of promise.

Rabindranath Tagore