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!

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

Analytics of a Wedding Photo

Chulie_094blog

Bennie Kirtisinghe married Manel Chitra Fernando on 8 June 1944 at the Dissanayake Waluwwa, Panadura. Photograph© Chulie de Silva

It was on a day like yesterday, 8 June 1944 Manel and Bennie, my parents got married in Panadura, at the Dissanayke Waluwa, home of Manel’s illustrious Great grandfather. Yesterday, was spent looking at this photo, thinking of my parents, reading old letters and trying to deconstruct this photo to savour a day long past. A day and events that are now mostly forgotten.

She was 22 and he was 26. He the lover of poetry quoted Shakespeare:

Shall I compare thee to a summer’s day?
Thou art more lovely and more temperate.”

Today, only the two flower girls – my aunt Nimal on the left and my cousin Punya are alive from this wedding retinue.  Bennie’s Best man, his lifelong friend Ariyapala — Prof. M.B. Ariyapala, the bridesmaid on the left Manel’s only sister Irangani,  the other bridesmaid Enid, Bennie’s cousin and the cute page boy Senaka are all gone. Faintly visible to the left is the Waluwa buggy cart and on the right Bennie’s car, a Renault.

Irangani at her wedding to Tudor Soysa. May1957. Photo copyright Chulie de Silva

Irangani at her wedding to Tudor Soysa. May1957. Photo copyright Chulie de Silva

Irangani, who was a very clever seamstress would have sewn the bridesmaids and flower girl dresses. She would have poured over English mail order catalogues and magazines to get ideas for designing the saree blouses. If I look closely, I can see her famous embroidered roses on the frills of the blouses which look more like a top portion of western bridesmaid dress.

Nimal, the flower girl says she can remember a long luncheon table with a white linen cloth where the plates were set surrounded by red and green croton leaves and being told sternly by an aunt not to touch the decorations. She also remembers a large marquee – “Magul Maduwa” set up in the garden. It had Areca nut – Puwak trees decorated with green vines,  red and green dyed reeds ( used in traditional weaving mats we call peduru) adorned with arum lilies and barberton daisies.

Cooks and caterers would have been cooking and making preparations at least two days before the event. The wedding eve is also a huge party for all bride’s relatives, and is celebrated with much gusto in Panadura. I remember well Irangani’s wedding eve in 1957 and as my thoughts turn a cavalcade of laughing relatives faces drift past in my mind.

Bennie wearing the national dress was strange to Manel’s family in Panadura and the even more westernised Anglican cousins in Moratuwa. Cousin Ranjani in a letter written in 1994, at their 50th wedding anniversary recalled how the bride looked radiant, young and sweet and the groom was smart in his national dress  — something that was “new” to them. Manel didn’t wear a veil as a bride as most brides did, and still do, irrespective of religion. Contrary to this, the bride and bridesmaids succumbed to the western tradition and carried bouquets of flowers. The flower girls wore half sarees or lama sarees — a long skirt and a blouse and wore garlands. So a mixture of imbibed Western bridal customs and some influence from neighbhouring India. Manel’s hair ornament on her centre parting was also not very common and her brothers and younger male cousins used to make fun of it saying it looked like “a crow crapped on her head!”

Ranjani Mendi's letter

In 1940 Bennie had asked for a favour from God Kataragama, at a shrine in the Southern jungles of then Ceylon. His wish was for a lovely woman for a wife. Bennie was in Kankesanturai (KKS), the northernmost part of Jaffna, nursing his brother Lionel recuperating from TB for almost two years.  In 1941, he was back at Siriniwasa, taking a break from his lonely existence in Kankesanturai. Two of his mild flirtations one with a young girl who used to ride on the bar of his bicycle and another with a Ms. Udagama had come to naught.  His friends like Tarzie Vittachi had been writing about how they chased girls in Colombo and he too very much longed for a girlfriend. So in 1941, Bennie was ripe for love.

Bennie emerged from the back garden at Siriniwasa to greet his sister-in-law Meta’s relatives from Panadura, who were on a pilgrimage to Kataragama. And there at the doorway to the sitting room he saw Manel. Stung by the cupid’s arrow, hin his mind this was the woman sent by God Kataragama. The door became his doorway of love.

Manel Kirtisinghe with cousin Seetha at Kataragama, Sri Lanka. Circa 1940s. Photograph© Chulie de Silva

Manel Kirtisinghe with cousin Seetha at Kataragama, Sri Lanka. Circa 1941. Photograph© Chulie de Silva

The road to Kataragama from Tissamaharama was a dirt track that meandered through thick jungles in the 1940s and travel was on bullock carts. Manel, many years later, recalled how the elders travelled in bullock carts and the young followed on foot. On the return journey from Tissamaharam Bennie and Ariyapala travelled on the same bus to Hikkaduwa. “Bennie sat with Sepal ( Manel’s brother) on his lap, and we had a huge comb of bananas hanging in the bus that we helped ourselves to when we were hungry.” 

There was some concern that Bennie’s Mum, Pinto Hamy would veto a proposal. She scorned love and had arranged marriages for 4 of her sons. The fifth Vinnie stood up to her and married his lady love, but earned her wrath. Bennie, however,  had collected valuable Brownie points looking after the TB ridden Lionel. In Manel’s favour was her lineage from the Great grandfather Mudaliyar Wijesuriya Gunawardene Mahawaduge Andris Perera Abhaya Karunaratne Dissanayake

Ariyapala in a study for his PhD points out that the Pancha Tatntra advice which says “the wise give their daughters to those endowed with seven qualities: viz.caste or family character, protection, learning, wealth or power, beauty and health or youth.” Bennie fittingly qualified and Manel’s rather quiet and docile parents had no objections to the union. In fact they might have been overjoyed that their pretty daughter had attracted such a handsome man. However, life was to show that Bennie’s most enduring quality was his love for his relations and friends.

On his 50th wedding anniversary another lifelong friend of his, Godwin Witana, had sent the wedding invitation to Bennie and Manel’s wedding, back to them. A precious souvenir! For Bennie, this invitation and the letter from Cousin Ranjanii were the best golden wedding anniversary presents.

Manel & Bennie Kirtisinghe on holiday in Nuwara Eliya. Photo copyright Chulie de Silva.

Manel & Bennie Kirtisinghe on holiday at the Peradeniya Botanical Gardens, Kandy.  Photo copyright Chulie de Silva.

Manel did turn out to be the winner, that Bennie predicted and among many other accomplishments she did get him to wear western clothes too. While memories are fragile and sometimes unreliable, the written word lives on. “I got my wife to sing the song she sang on our honeymoon,” wrote Bennie. after one anniversary. He was ever the romantic.

“The day hath passed into the land of dreams
O summer day beside the joyous sea!
O summerday so wonderful and white,
So full of gladness.”

– H.W. Longfellow/A summer day by the sea

Sydney Diary: Lunch at The Greens

It’s day 3 in Sydney, still a tad sleep deprived and jet lagged and waved Tara off to school very bleary-eyed. Manage to wake up and tagged along with Granddaughter no 2, and daughter-in-law where she introduced me to The Greens – a North Sydney Club, set next to a beautiful park with plenty of shady trees.

Best of friends head to the Children's park. Photo copyright Chulie de Silva

Best of friends head to the Children’s park. Photo copyright Chulie de Silva

The Park , next to the club with a children's playground. Photo copyright Chulie de Silva

The Park , next to the club with a children’s playground. Photo copyright Chulie de Silva

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Not much of the history could be gleaned but there were some giant posters that gave a clue to the original founders of the Sydney Bowling club. The photos below reproduced with permission from the club tells the story.

A giant posters with the Founder members keeping a close eye on the Club they founded. Photo copyright Chulie de Silva

A giant posters with the Founder members keeping a close eye on the Club they founded. Photo copyright Chulie de Silva

 

Rephotographed from a framed photo on the wall. This Photo copyright Chulie de Silva

Rephotographed from a framed photo on the wall. This Photo copyright Chulie de Silva

 

The new bowling green. Photo copyright Chulie de Silva

The new bowling green. Photo copyright Chulie de Silva

The decor is modern except for these old photos.

Right at the entrance and to the left of the Bar is this classic menu on the wall. Rephotographed from a framed photo on the wall.  Photo copyright Chulie de Silva

Right at the entrance and to the left of the Bar is this classic menu on the wall. Photo copyright Chulie de Silva

The well stocked Bar. Photo copyright Chulie de Silva

The well stocked Bar. Photo copyright Chulie de Silva

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Orders taken here for a delightful menu that caters well for children.  Photo copyright Chulie de Silva

Orders taken here for a delightful menu that caters well for children. Photo copyright Chulie de Silva

We ordered the Barman’s Platter for Two, Wagyu Beef Burger, and they didn’t disappoint us. Incidentally, all food was served on light printed paper titled “Our Australia” and had news on Anzac Day, Sydney Harbour Bridge, a recipe for Anzac Biscuits etc.

Barman's Platter with Pork Terrine, Scotch Eggs etc in front and the Wagyu Beef Burger behind.  Photo copyright Chulie de Silva

Barman’s Platter with Pork Terrine, Scotch Eggs etc in front and the Wagyu Beef Burger behind. Photo copyright Chulie de Silva

More lunch time guests were arriving by the time we left. It is amazing how this large sprawling city has kept large green areas in its central business districts. Residents make full use of it all. There were people playing basketball on courts in the ground, personal trainers were putting some new mothers through training in a Mother’s Boot Camp, and we even so boxers being trained to box among the tree trunks. Blue skies, cool breezes, and a distant glimpse of the sea were all there in the panoramic view,

View from The Green. Photo copyright Chulie de Silva

View from The Green. Photo copyright Chulie de Silva

 

Tracing Ancestors from Great Grandfather KH Babun Appu de Silva

Memory is not exactly memory. It is more like a prong, upon which a calendar of similar experiences happening throughout the years, collect.” –Stephen Spender.

There is a deep yearning and a hunger in me to delve into the past and trace my ancestors. In many ways, we are who we are, because they were who they were. I look down at my hands and I see my mother.  I sit on my bed, surrounded by books and think of my father who did the same. The birth of my granddaughter, the latest addition to our family, Freya Amelia de Silva was another reminder of how we all carry bits of our ancestors in us and then pass it on to the next generation.

So it’s time to present probably the oldest member of the clan from Hikkaduwa, that I have a photograph of  — my paternal Great grandfather Kaluappuwa Hennedige Babun Appu de Silva (GGF).

Kaluappuwa Hennedige Babun Appu. Photo Copyright Chulie de Silva

Kaluappuwa Hennedige Babun Appu de Silva. Photo Copyright Chulie de Silva

 

On my mother’s side there was a Great Great Grandfather with an impressive long name —  Mudaliyar Wijesuriya Gunawardene Mahawaduge Andris Perera Abhaya Karunaratne Dissanayake from Panadura. I have written about him earlier. But unlike him, we have very little information on GGF Babun Appu.

Much of what I present here is culled from the family’s collective memory and my extrapolating or inferences might be considered dodgy, but this is the best we have at present, till someone else can come up with better facts.

For starters let’s take the clan name “Kaluappuwa Hennedige.” Kalu probably comes from having a darker skin tone — not considered a bad thing. God Vishnu statues in temples had a dark almost a blue black colour. Appu is supposed to be a derivative of Malayalam “Appa” meaning father. However, my father Bennie used to say it is not “Kaluappu” but “Kulappu” meaning hot tempered.

Babun Appu’s regal bearing is more in keeping with someone, who held a good position in the country. Anyway it’s the second name “Hennedige” that points to a vocation. Our family belongs to the Karava caste and Hennedige’s also Senadige’s were the house of the commanding officers. “de Silva” would have assigned by the Portuguese rulers .

Leonard Woolf named one of his chief characters in his classic novel “Village in the Jungle” Babun Appu — the name was then not unusual and is the Sinhalese transliteration of the Hindu honorific Babu. I have no clue as to his wife’s name as most of the records kept at Siriniwasa, our house in Hikkaduwa was lost in the tsunami. This included another valuable photo of him taken when my father’s eldest brother Parakrama ( aka Edmund) returned from England after obtaining an MA in Zoology from the University of London. My brother who remembers the photo says my uncle had a garland in his hand as in the photo below and GGF was also there. That photo had been taken near the railway line where his house was and I suppose this photo of Babun Appu was taken there too.

K H Bastian de Silva & S K Pintho hamy with their 7 sons. circa early 1930s. Photo copyright Chulie de Silva.

K H Bastian de Silva & S K Pintho hamy with their 7 sons. circa early 1930s at Siriniwasa. Photo copyright Chulie de Silva.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

What we know for sure is that my grandfather, KH Bastian de Silva was his eldest son. He had another son KH Henderick de Silva, and 4 daughters. One daughter Jane, married a wealthy businessman a Mr. Rajapakse from Ambalangoda and drove a Morris 8 Tourer and would come to visit Bastian driving her own car, dressed in the cloth (Kambaya) and Kabakuruththu as was the day dress for Karava women in that period. Jane might have looked some what like the painting below of a Sinhalese woman in a cloth and Jacket. By the way here in this painting the cloth looks more like a skirt. Most of the Western artists of the past didn’t accurately draw a woman in a Kambaya.

A woman in Cloth & Jacket, rephotographed with permission from author Rajpal Kumar de Silva from the book Pictorial Impressions of Early Colonial Sri Lanka: People and their Dress, Serendib Publications, 2014. This photo copyright Chulie de Silva

A woman in Cloth & Jacket, rephotographed with permission from author Rajpal Kumar de Silva from the book Pictorial Impressions of Early Colonial Sri Lanka: People and their Dress, Serendib Publications, 2014. This photo copyright Chulie de Silva

My grandfather seated on the front verandah with grandmother at Siriniwasa, would see her coming and say “Here comes the yakshini (she-devil)” and quickly retreat to hide in his room. The two sisters-in-law apparently got on well. Most likely they would have had tea and a good gossip. The Grand Aunt Jane was probably the first female to drive a car in the family and am told she had a handy hip flask of brandy and needed a swig from it for a bit of Dutch courage before starting on the drive back to Ambalangoda. She had 5 children — 4 sons and a daughter, according to my mother. The eldest son,  Dr. Sugatha Rajapakse, was a London qualified doctor who stayed on in UK and he in turn had a daughter Ajantha. The other 3 sons were Piyadasa, Jinadasa, Mahindadasa. My mother from whom I got this information was herself at age 90. She couldn’t recall the daughter’s name. Grand Aunt Jane, in naming her children had shifted from the Western names to Sinhala names.

Two other sisters of my grandfather married men from Magalle and one of them was Beatrice also known as “Bala Hami Nanda” and was the mother of Uncle Susiripala de Silva. There were aunts Leelawathi, Gnanawathi and Indrani who would visit us regularly at Hikkaduwa. Uncle Susiri, a much loved uncle, was quite a rebel in his youth. Meeting him in Singapore in the 70’s, he recounted how when he was boarded in a school in Hatton, where my Uncle Lionel was the principal, he scooted off from the hostel — I think after a caning from Uncle Lionel — and walked back to his mother in Magalle, Galle — a distance of over 200km.  He was packed off to Singapore as most incorrigible children were at that time, and fought with the Japanese in World War II before becoming a successful gem merchant. His story is another interesting tale that needs to be told.

Coast road to Hikkaduwa, near Peraliya, still showing the erosion of the beach 30 Dec. 2008.Photograph©Chulie de Silva

Coast road to Hikkaduwa, near Peraliya, still showing the erosion of the beach 30 Dec. 2008.Photograph©Chulie de Silva

The other daughter of Babun Appu married into a Peraliya family and my mother remembers my grandmother referring to her husband as “Peraliya Massina” — meaning Brother-in-Law from Peraliya. Peraiya in the last decade was where the train tragedy of the tsunami 2004 occurred. Most os us have lost touch with this branch of the family.

Brothers Bastian and Henderick were the best of friends and were building contractors. Apparently, the trust was so good that they shared one purse. Among many of the up country buildings alleged to be built by Bastian are the Hatton Post office, Labukele Tea factory and many tea estate bungalows. No doubt brother Henderick was there too, communicating with the British Planters, as he was the one more proficient in the English language. Bastian was also the first one to introduce electricity to Hikkaduwa. The big Chubbs iron safe we have at Siriniwasa, was a discarded one from an English Planter, that Bastian brought down to Hikkaduwa and installed it in the house.

A unique incumbent of Siriniwasa was the huge Chubbs ironsafe my grandafther had built into this house. According to Aunt Maya, my grandfather would light a huge hurricane lamp in the evening and keep it on top of the safe.The tsuanmi damaged safe in 2008. Photograph©Chulie de Silva

A unique incumbent of Siriniwasa was the huge Chubbs ironsafe my grandafther had built into this house. According to Aunt Maya, my grandfather would light a huge hurricane lamp in the evening and keep it on top of the safe.The tsuanmi damaged safe in 2008. Photograph©Chulie de Silva

However, things changed when Bastian married Sella Kapuage Pintohamy from Ambalangoda and Henderick married Patabendige Missinona.  Patabendige’s are supposed to be descendent of Kings, and the two women might have been competitive. Anyway, their quareling probably got to Bastian and he built Siriniwasa and moved his family to live by the sea in 1911.

The sea behind Siriniwas, a surfing point named  Benny's Point, after my father., Hikkaduwa. 16 Jan 2014.  Photograph© Chulie de Silva

The sea behind Siriniwas, a surfing point named Benny’s Point, after my father., Hikkaduwa. 16 Jan 2014. Photograph© Chulie de Silva

Bastian and Pintohamy had seven sons — Edmund later took the name Parakrama (born 1903); Albert (born 24 June1905, the only one who kept his given name); Lionel later took the name Haripriya (born 1907); Richard later took the name Ratnasara (born 22 Aug.1910); Vincent later took the name Vidyasara (born 20 Nov 1912); Bennie later took the name Bhasura (born 13 May 1918) and Bertie later took the name Cyril (born 1920). All of them dropped the “KH” and the “de Silva” and took “Kirtisinghe” as the surname about the time my grandmother’s brothers took the name “Kularatne.” Here again 5 of them dropped the English names and took Sinhala names.

Henderick and Patabendige Missinona  had 3 sons and 3 daughters. The eldest was daughter Regina who married a lawyer Mr. Danister Vincent Balasuriya from Matara. Regina Nanda, as we called her went on to become the  Prinicipal of Sujata Vidyalaya. It is said that “the golden era of Sujath Vidyalaya dawned with Regina Balasuriya taking over the principal’s post.”

Henderick’s eldest son was KH Wilmot Oliver de Silva who married Vinicia Fernando. He himself was a renowned school Prinicipal and among his students that I knew ws one brilliant chap who achieved a first class degree in Science and now lives in UK pursuing an academic career.

Waldugala rocks seen at sunset on 1 Jan 2014, t low tide from Chaya Tranz. Photo copyright Chulie de Silva

Waldugala rocks seen at sunset on 1 Jan 2014, t low tide from Chaya Tranz. Photo copyright Chulie de Silva

Then came Uncle Lambert — full name KH Solomon Lambert de Silva who was a member of the then prestigious and exclusive Ceylon Civil Service. He married Dayawathie de Silva, a lady with the same name as his younger sister. Uncle Lambert was known for his prowess in swimming. A regular weekend swimmer at Hikkaduwa, he who would swim beyond the reef to the crop of rocks out at sea called the “Waldugala.”

Lastly, Henderick had twins, a boy and a girl he named Jinadasa and Jinawathie. Sadly, we didn’t know Jinawathi. She had died as a schoolgirl probably from TB. Jinadasa known as Jin Bappa married Bertha from Ambalangoda, related to us from SK Pintohamy’s side. However, my earliest memories of Jin Bappa was when he was sent by my Grand Aunt Missinona to “borrow me for a day.” Apparently Grand Aunt loved children but now when I look back am not sure what I did or how I qualified for this honour! However, my parents were probably happy to have some peace without my chatter and I remember holding Jin Bappa’s hand and walking across the railway line to go play in that house. Sometimes, Aunt Regina’s daughter Gayathri would be there and we would play “House” — take our dolls and dissolve toothpaste in water to make milk for the dolls and play under the shade of a mulberry tree. Come evening, Jin Bappa and I would walk across the railway line — me trying to jump from sleeper to sleeper, singing ditties out of tune with Jin Bappa joining in with a quite chuckle.

My eldest granddaughter  Tara Padme with my son Ranil de Silva. Sydney 24 April 2010.

My eldest granddaughter Tara Padme with my son Ranil de Silva. Sydney 24 April 2010.

Bastian and Pintohamy wanted a daughter so much but didn’t get one. When their first granddaughter Nimala was born to his eldest son Parakrama and wife Millicent,  Bastian was overjoyed.  On his first visit to see the baby, he had thrust two sovereign cold coins into her little hands and watched her with tears streaming down his face. My father used to say he was delighted to be told that he had another daughter when I was born. As I watch my sons with their daughters, I marvel at the love they show their daughters. I suppose times and places change but somethings will still remain the same.

Enter Freya Amelia de Silva

Welcome Freya Amelia de Silva, the latest addition to our family. You burst into our lives yesterday and it was joy unlimited after an anxious 24 hours or more wait. As photos of you, my new granddaughter came through late last night, the years fell away as I saw in you a replica of my son, your Daddy. Through the cool winds that drifted in from my garden, I could smell the fresh baby cologne and powder on him as I used to gently put him down to sleep after his bath many many year ago. Then, I used to sit on the bed and just sit and watch your Daddy sleep and that pert little nose just like yours in this photo.

Freya Amelia de Silva -- first day on planet earth. Photo copyright Suren de Silva

Freya Amelia de Silva — first day on planet earth. Photo copyright Suren de Silva

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

You are named after Freyja, the Norse goddess of beauty, love and fertility and mythological wife of Odin and Amelia Earhart, the American Aviator. A lot to live up to but one thing we are sure is that you will have your Daddy wrapped around your litte finger. Dad on the other hand must be thinking when can I start on her karate training!

The proud parents Suren and Nickie (nee Thompson) de Silva. Photo Copyright Jacquie Thompson.

The proud parents Suren and Nickie (nee Thompson) de Silva. Photo Copyright Jacquie Thompson.

So, now you will make trio of goddesses with Tara Padme and Laxmi Elin, my two other granddaughters and have a whale of a time growing up doted by all.

Cousins Laxmi, Tara with Aunt Jacqui holding Freya. Photo copyright Suren de Silva

Cousins Laxmi, Tara with Aunt Jacqui holding Freya. Photo copyright Suren de Silva

Your Aunt Annemarie is celebrating the arrival of  her “brand new niece.” “I hereby pledge to kiss her tiny nose, her little pink toes and her round tummy until she begs me to stop; to pinch her cheeks and give her lots of those snuffly kisses that aunties are wont to dispense; to spoil her shamelessly and love her forever! Welcome Freya Amelia!!

Aunt Annemarie was your Dad’d playmate and kept an eye on him when he was busy chucking her kittens through windows etc. So she says she is going to be your Super Aunty.

This Freya is your Daddy 2 years +. Photo copyright Chulie de Silva

This Freya is your Daddy 2 years +. Photo copyright Chulie de Silva

I am so looking forward to holding you but in the meantime this sums up what I feel — although I am a grandparent.

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Remembering Amma@1 year after

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A year without Amma has flown past. Early on 17 morning I could hear the sounds in the kitchen as Padmini, the resident chef Prema & the consultant chef hired for the event started the preparations. I wandered outside on to the verandah. It was still inky dark, a sliver of the moon was still visible.

The night readies to depart -the sliver of a moon still visible. Copyright Chulie de Silva

The night readies to depart -the sliver of a moon still visible. Copyright Chulie de Silva

Dawn breaks over Siriniwasa.Copyright Chulie de Silva

Dawn breaks over Siriniwasa.Copyright Chulie de Silva

By the time I returned from the beach the dawn was just breaking. The house will later fill with visitors – neighbhours, relatives – most will remember Amma with love.
The kitchen was the hub – the centre. I was wandering around photographing food , and Prema 1 & 2 would take a peak at my photos.

Potatoes and pickle -- preparations have started.Copyright Chulie de Silva

Potatoes and pickle — preparations have started.Copyright Chulie de Silva

 

The tuna awaits. Copyright Chulie de Silva

The tuna awaits. Copyright Chulie de Silva

 

Copyright Chulie de Silva

Copyright Chulie de Silva

“Now put that away and do some work, otherwise you will mot get any good karma,” said our bossy Prema. So I got the job of rolling into balls the fish mixture. My sis-in-law came to my help and speeded things up deftly rolling the mixture.

As more helpers trooped in, I escaped to pick up the camera.

The fruits were prepared and the Buddha puja was ready.

A circular dish containing mini potions of all food prepared that is offered in the Buddha Puja.

A circular dish containing mini potions of all food prepared that is offered in the Buddha Puja.

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Copyright Chulie de Silva

Copyright Chulie de Silva

 

Prema 2, the consultant stirs the huge pot of yellow rice with a freshly cut and washed young stalk from a coconut tree.

Prema stirs the yellow rice. Copyright Chulie de Silva

Prema stirs the yellow rice. Copyright Chulie de Silva

“Aren’t you going to take ‘potos’ (photos) of us with the proper camera like last time asked Prema 2. Obviously, they didn’t have much faith in phone cameras! So that had to come out too. But those are yet to be downloaded,

The next day Prema 1 sat with me looking at all the photos and trying to understand what this posting pics on FB was. Suddenly, she turned and said there’s no photo on FB of the salad I painstakingly prepared. Luckily for me i had photographed it although I had not posted it.

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Prema was suitably impressed. “You must take more and post on FB, so people will get to know our culinary skills,” said Prema. “Tomorrow, you must photograph my garden, so the ‘rata inna nona’ (the lady who lives abroad) can see what I have done with the garden. I now have a second PR job.

All photographs copyright Chulie de Silva

PS This is my first blog from the iPhone😄

 

Meeting Ananga, the God of Love at the Telwatte Temple

There are about three stories jostling in my mind, each one wanting to be the first on the blog for 2015. Not quite good to have my own thoughts hustling to win like the politicians. Cut to the chase, the decision is to leave the sadness of 2014 behind, embrace the new and do a happy post. Post tsunami 10th anniversary almsgiving, I went wandering with my new love, my Nikon camera. First stop was to meet Ananga, a.k.a. Kamadeva, son of Vishnu and Laxmi . His wife is Rati but he lives alone at this abode — the Purana Totagama Raja Maha Viharaya in Telwatte, Hikkaduwa.. He and Rati were favourites of my father and a number of other writers. Ananga is the god of sexual love, like Eros of the Greeks and Cupid of the Romans.

Statue of Anangaya at Purana Thotagama Temple, Telwatte, Hikkaduwa. 26 Dec. 2014. Photo copyright Chulie de Silva

Statue of Anangaya at Purana Thotagama Temple, Telwatte, Hikkaduwa. 26 Dec. 2014. Photo copyright Chulie de Silva

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I am not sure, what he is doing or supposed to be doing standing larger than life size at the entrance to the shrine room of the temple but there he is, holding a sugar cane bow in his left hand and a sheaf of arrows in the right.

While our giant neighbhour, India, widely worshipped Ananga there are not many references to for the prevalence of this cult in Sri Lanka. In fact, as far as I know this is the only statue of Ananga in Lanka. He has a variety of names .  e,g. Kandapa, Naranga, Malkehella, Madana, Malsara, Makaradvaja and Kama.

Buddha Statue inner shrine, Purana Thotagama Raja Maha Viharaya, Telwatte, Hikkaduwa. 27 Dec. 2014. Photo copyright Chulie de Silva

Buddha Statue inner shrine room or Viharage, Purana Thotagama Raja Maha Viharaya, Telwatte, Hikkaduwa. 27 Dec. 2014. Photo copyright Chulie de Silva

In the inner shrine room, facing the huge reclining Buddha, is another giant standing statue, of God Vishnu, father of Ananga.  There is not enough room for me to back up to take the photo, but I do manage to capture some of the majestic stance of God Vishnu.

Statue of God Vishnu at Purana Thotagama Temple, Telwatte, Hikkaduwa. 26 Dec. 2014 . Photo copyright Chulie de Silva

Statue of God Vishnu at  Thotagama Raja Maha Viharaya Temple, Telwatte, Hikkaduwa. 26 Dec. 2014 . Photo copyright Chulie de Silva

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Vishnu is also known as Narayana, and  Upulvan (blue lotus colour), is represented as a black or deep blue man — sometimes with four arms,  club in one, a shell in another, a discuss in the third, and a lotus in the fourth. His vehicle is the bird Garuda. He is the guardian God of Buddhism.

To the left of the Ananga statue is another colossal statue of God Natha (Avalokiteshwara), surrounded by murals. Two guardian lions stand on either side of the God.

Statue of God Natha at Purana Thotagama Temple, Telwatte, Hikkaduwa. 26 Dec. 2014. Photo Copyright Chulie de Silva

The statue of God Natha ) at Thotagama Temple, Telwatte, Hikkaduwa. 26 Dec. 2014. Photo Copyright Chulie de Silva

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Aryapala in his  Book on Society in Medieval Ceylon, quotes Senarath Paranavitane ad states that there was an inscription containing invocations to Tara and Avalokiteshvara, affording evidence that Mahayana Gods and goddesses were objects of popular worship.

The Guard (Doratupalaya) to the right of the God Natha, with the guardian lion. Purana Totagama Raja Maha Viharaya, Telwatte, Hikkaduwa. 26 Dec. 2014. Copyright Chulie de Silva

The Guard (Doratupalaya) to the right of the God Natha, with the guardian lion.  Totagama Raja Maha Viharaya, Telwatte, Hikkaduwa. 26 Dec. 2014. Copyright Chulie de Silva

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Manjusri dates the Telwatte Purana Viharaya as 1799. The inscription n the doorway dates this “Aluth Viharage” pintings and sculpture to 1805, but despite this Senake Bandaranayake says these are much more likely to be of mid-century vintage.

Inscription above the door to the shrine room. Purana Totgama Raja Maha Viharaya, Telwatte, Hikkaduwa. 26 Dec. 2014. Copyright Chulie de Silva

Inscription above the door to the shrine room. Purana Totgama Raja Maha Viharaya, Telwatte, Hikkaduwa. 26 Dec. 2014. Copyright Chulie de Silva

Many who visit the temple have little idea of the historical value of the statues or the frescoes, let alone the names of the gods in the statues. For them its a temple in the village that they come to worship.

An elderly woman worships at the Purana Totgama Raja Maha Viharaya, Telwatte, Hikkaduwa. Copyright Chulie de Silva

An elderly woman worships at the Purana Totgama Raja Maha Viharaya, Telwatte, Hikkaduwa. Copyright Chulie de Silva

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

This lady had no answers for her grandson when he asked for the names of the Gods. It is difficult to account for the presence of Ananga in the temple says Ariyapala adding that “It may have been a warning to the lay-devotees against indulgence in sexual pleasures.” Whatever the reason for building the statue, its a part of our heritage that will be lost as there is no visible plans to save them. Learning to accept impermanence and decay is an essential requirement of Buddhism. Maybe we have lessons to learn.

Frescoes on the wall to the left side of the Ananga statue. Purana Totgama Raja Maha Viharaya; 26 Dec. 2015. Copyright Chulie de Silva

Frescoes on the wall to the left side of the Ananga statue. Purana Totgama Raja Maha Viharaya; 26 Dec. 2015. Copyright Chulie de Silva

Unboxing the Boxing Day Tsunami of 2004

A  slightly shorter version of this post first appeared on the World Bank Intranet and the End Poverty in Asia blog. 

It was happy days when I snapped this photo of Prasanna, Padmini and the young Kanishka and Matheesha. Photo copyright Chulie de Silva.

It was happy days when I snapped this photo of Prasanna, Padmini and the young Kanishka and Matheesha. Photo copyright Chulie de Silva.

My mother Manel Kirtisinghe encapsulated what the loss of a loved one in the tsunami meant, when she wrote in her diary “What you deeply in your heart possess, you cannot lose by death.” On 26 Dec. 2004, Prasanna went away leaving behind for me a lasting vacuum and a silent aching grief.”

Prasanna Kirtisinghe in Saudi Arabia. circa 1980s. Photograph©Chulie de Silva

Prasanna Kirtisinghe in Saudi Arabia. circa 1980s. Photograph©Chulie de Silva

Prasanna was my brother and this year when we observe religious rituals in memory of him, my mother will not be there with us. She left us earlier this year. Prasanna was our bulwark and the trauma of his death was so intensely felt that it took us seven years to rebuild and return to our beloved house. My mother was happy to be back in the house she had come to as a bride in 1944, but she stubbornly refused to go to the back verandah or to walk on the beach – a ritual she did twice a day before the tsunami.

Amma in front of the Birawa Almirah, which survived the tsuanmi of 2004. Elpitiya, 22 April 2007.Photograph© Chulie de Silva

Amma in front of the Birawa Almirah, which survived the tsuanmi of 2004. The family relocated to Elpitiya, 22 April 2007.Photograph© Chulie de Silva

As my mother did, we all had our coping mechanisms to handle the pain. The grief is still with me hastily boxed and lodged inside me but about this time of the year the lid flies open and the horror spills out. The images gradually become more vivid, intense, horrifying. Like a slow moving movie, they appear…and the nightmares return.

Siriniwasa, after the tsunami. circa 28 Dec, 2004. Photograph©Chulie de Silva

Siriniwasa, our house, after the tsunami. circa 28 Dec, 2004. Photograph©Chulie de Silva

Many who survived will not forget the swirling torrent of putrid smelling water and the paralyzing fear that rose inside with the thought “Will I survive this?” Prasanna, my brother and Cresenta Fernando, my colleague at World Bank Colombo office are but two out of the thousands the sea devoured on the Boxing Day tsunami of 2004.  For many who lost loved ones, the scars wound go deep. It only needs a person that from the back who looks like Prasanna; or a girl playing tennis to remind me of Cresenta’s jokes about the view from my office, and the wound bleeds.

My immediate role was to keep calm and help my family as well as the others who were injured. Remarkable as it seems now, an hour and a half after the tsunami stuck, all members within our immediate circle had seen a private medical doctor who dressed wounds, stitched deep cuts, gave tetanus jabs and medication. The village undertaker, who prepared my brother’s body, had burned all his clothes fearing infection and had found my car keys among the ashes. With practices like this, the country recorded no additional deaths because of tsunami related diseases or delayed medical treatment.

Cresenta Fernando, Economist, World Bank Sri Lanka Office

Cresenta Fernando, Economist, World Bank Sri Lanka Office

The World Bank office in Colombo too took a heavy blow with the loss of Cresenta. He was not only the clever economist; he was a much loved and admired co-worker. His wife Ariele Cohen survived but Cresenta’s body was never recovered. A poignant memorial service was held in Cresenta’s office and I remember his father stretching out his arms and telling me “I wore his clothes – shirts, trousers and even his shoes to make believe he is close to me.”

Rocio Castro, WB's Lead Economist in Sri Lanka, comforts Ariele, Cresenta's wife. His sister, neice, and parents are next to Ariel. Photo copyright Chulie de Silva

Rocio Castro, WB’s Lead Economist in Sri Lanka, comforts Ariele, Cresenta’s wife. His sister, neice, and parents are next to Ariel. Photo copyright Chulie de Silva

 

This period also brings to mind support I received from the then Country Director Peter Harold and the South Asia External Affairs Advisor Dale Lautenbach. I got back to work 7 days after the tsunami and that period was a roller coaster where communications were concerned. I would often find Peter standing at the door to my office around 3 pm, urging me to stop work and go home early.

Manel Chitra Kirtisinghe 22.8.22-17.1. 2014 Photograph© Chulie de Silva

Garlanded photos at the funeral of my mother Manel Chitra Kirtisinghe. On the left as a young mother and the one on the right celebrating her 90th birthday.
22.8.22-17.1. 2014
Photograph© Chulie de Silva

I didn’t expect my mother to survive 6 months after the tsunami without her favourite son but she did live to celebrate her 91st birthday and for another six months more, surrounded by a caring family retinue and an extended network of family, friends and neighbhours.

My brother Prasanna and I. Siriniwasa, Hikkaduwa. circa 1950's. Photograph by M.W. Indrasoma (Wimalatissa mama).

My brother Prasanna and I. Siriniwasa, Hikkaduwa. circa 1950’s. Photograph by M.W. Indrasoma (Wimalatissa mama).

As I write my film reel rewinds: I am on a mat on the hard floor in Upal Soysa’s house we sought refuge and every bone in my body aches. My mind is flooded with memories from the happy childhood days, to the last conversations I had with Prasanna, minutes before the tsunami stuck. I am terrified to shed even one tear, fearing that I might not be able to stop. Bats cry, an owl hoots and the smell of a dead rat on the roof somewhere comes with the changing wind.  To keep my sanity I repeat over and over a phrase I learned from my father “even this day will pass into memory.” Daylight was a long way coming.

When we gather for Prasanna’s memorial on the 10th anniversary, Cresenta too will be remembered.  No doubt I will be swamped with memories but then as my mother said, “What you deeply in your heart possess, you cannot lose by death

Ambalamas & Medieval Travellers of Ceylon

In medieval Ceylon when a man takes a bride and walks with her to his village, its customary for the woman to walk in front and the man behind her, said Robert Knox, who chronicled the life and times during his capture here. The reason for this tradition, he says is that once a man walked ahead of his bride and she was stolen from behind and the groom didn’t have a clue that his brand new wife had disappeared. In any case both men and women walked plenty of miles then, especially if you didn’t have a bullock cart or a retinue of slaves to carry you in a palanquin, On their journeys their wayside rest places would be the ambalamas.

Recently I had an opportunity to see two such ambalamas in the Kurunegala District. The first was the Panavitiya Ambalama  is situated close to Matiyangana near Narammala in the Kurunegala district. This served as a wayside shelter for travellers on the ancient foot path from Dambadeniya to Kurunegala and Yapahuwa. 

Panavitiya Ambalama. 6 Dec.2014 Photo copyright Chulie de Silva.

Panavitiya Ambalama. 6 Dec.2014 Photo copyright Chulie de Silva.

Not sure who erected the Panavitiya one, but it has been repaired and reconstructed over the years. The large timber columns are carved in the Kandyan tradition and floor beams rest on rock boulders planted on the ground. The structure is designed to achieve stability and raising it above ground level keeps the beams dry and away from white ants. The roof has the small Kandyan peti-ulu tiles.

The second was the Karagahagedera Ambalama, similar in structure to the Panavitiya one but without the carvings on the timber columns that Panavitiya is known for.

Karagahagedera Ambalama, Kurunegala. 6 Dec.2014. Photo copyright Chulie de Silva.

Karagahagedera Ambalama, Kurunegala. 6 Dec.2014. Photo copyright Chulie de Silva.

The four corners of both rest on solid rock boulders.

The base beams rest on solid boulders. Karagahagedera Ambalama, Kurunegala. 6 Dec.2014. Photo copyright Chulie de Silva.

The base beams rest on solid boulders. Karagahagedera Ambalama, Kurunegala. 6 Dec.2014. Photo copyright Chulie de Silva.

Coomaraswamy’s description of the Kandyan wooden pillars (kappa) fits the Panavitiya ones to T. The beams holding the roof of the Panavitiya ambalama are carved with a great variety of designs, elephants, dancers, birds, flowers, garlands of pearls (mutu dela), and the Goddess Lakshmi is centred on a cross ceiling beam.

Decorative woodwork on the roof and cross beams on the  Panavitiya Ambalama. 6 Dec.2014 Photo copyright Chulie de Silva.

Decorative woodwork on the roof and cross beams on the Panavitiya Ambalama. 6 Dec.2014 Photo copyright Chulie de Silva.

One column at Panavitiya Ambalam had entwined cobras with the cobra hoods (naga bandhu).

Carved wooden column Panavitiya Ambalama. Photo copyright Chulie de Silva.

Carved wooden column Panavitiya Ambalama.
Photo copyright Chulie de Silva.

There were many of these ambalamas at no great distance apart on frequent paths, says Ananda Coomaraswamy. There were better ones in each village, erected by all villagers, or by one man (or even a woman), anxious to perform a meritorious act.

Carving on a wooden pillar Panavitiya Ambalam. Photo copyright Chulie de Silva.

Carving on a wooden pillar Panavitiya Ambalam. Photo copyright Chulie de Silva.

It was easy to imagine the weary wayfarers resting at Karagahagedera ambalama  located near a lush paddy field. Most travellers carried their own food “Bath mula” a rice packet, probably wrapped in a banana or a lotus leaf. Often they would carry their own cooking utensils. Drinking water was supplied by the nearby villagers in stone or earthen pots, covered with a lid and provided with a dipper (kinissa).

Karagahapitiya  Ambalama, Kurunegala overlooking the paddy fields. Photo copyright Chulie de Silva.

Karagahapitiya Ambalama, Kurunegala overlooking the paddy fields. Photo copyright Chulie de Silva.

There were a few more pretentious rest-houses, called madama or idama, where food and firewood etc were provided free to strangers, being kept by a madama-rala or idama-rala who held land for the performance of this duty. Such would appear to have been the Governor’s house where Knox made a stay (on his escape) about six miles south of Anuradhapura; “having reached his house,”says Knox, “according to the Country manner we went and sat down in the open house; which kind of Houses are built for the reception of strangers.

The huge tree at the edge of the paddy field near the Karagahapitiya Ambalama. Karagahapitiya  Ambalama, Kurunegala overlooking the paddy fields. Photo copyright Chulie de Silva.

The huge tree at the edge of the paddy field near the Karagahapitiya Ambalama. Karagahapitiya Ambalama, Kurunegala overlooking the paddy fields. Photo copyright Chulie de Silva.

Coomaraswamy lists the wayfarers as mostly persons going to Kandy to perform their services or take their produce-rent;officials on tour, who travelled with a great retinue; King’s messengers; a few traders; and parties of pilgrims on their way to Adam’s Peak or other shrines.

 

Carved beams of Panavitiya Ambalama, Kurunegala  Photo copyright Chulie de Silva.

Carved beams of Panavitiya Ambalama, Kurunegala Photo copyright Chulie de Silva.

The ambalama served not only as a halting place for strangers, but was also generally resorted to for exchange of news and a quiet chew (of betel) says Coomaraswamy pointing out that it served as the meeting place for the village or gam-sabhava, and was intimately associated with the life of the village community.

References :
Coomaraswamy, Ananda K.  Medieval Sinhalese Art 3rd ed. 1979.
Knox, Robert An Historical Relation of the Island Ceylon in the East Indies 1984