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.’

Benny’s Point

Benny's Surf Point, Hikkaduwa. Photograph© Chulie de Silva

Benny’s Surf Point, Hikkaduwa. Photograph© Chulie de Silva

Lounging on a “hansi putuwa” (planter’s chair) on the back verandah, watching a pair of blue kingfishers streak in and out among the coconut trees, sipping my morning tea, I am amazed at how relaxed I am. Gone with the wind are cravings to check mail or FB. There are  no deadlines to meet, no worries about strategies, budgets, Action Logs or Performance Appraisals. It is a painless transition to the stress free lassiz-faire lifestyle favoured by my father Bennie.

The coconut trees planted by my father have grown taller since my last visit, and the sky behind is a lovely porcelain Wedgewood blue. Beyond it the sea is multi-coloured — the pale jade green gets darker in the middle and turns almost a lilac where there are bands of coral. The horizon is smudged a deeper inky black and the thought that rains will come later in the day drifts into my mind.  But what am watching today is the white frothy topped waves – they come wave after wave, a never ending cycle. Eternally fascinating for me is the built up of energy as the wave rolls in, a moment of silence, followed by the huge thud as the wave hits the coral reef, splintering into a myriad bubbles.

This place I am watching behind our house has been named Benny’s Point and is listed as a Surf Point for Hikkaduwa, probably by early surfers when the back packing surfers of 1970’s flocked into Hikkaduwa.

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

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

This was also when my father Bennie, the garrulous, sometimes pugnacious local with a never ending stream of stories used to rent out rooms of “Siri Niwasa” on a bed & breakfast basis. My mother Manel and he had regular loyal clientele of German, French, American and Italian tourists who kept coming back. They didn’t even have 3 star luxury but they loved my Mum’s cooking and the generally laid back home life ambiance of Siriniwasa.

The verandah at the back of Siriniwas, facing the sea. Circa 1970's. Photographer unknown. Photograph© Chulie de Silva

The verandah at the back of Siriniwas, facing the sea. Circa 1970’s. Photographer unknown. Photograph© Chulie de Silva

My sister-in-law Padmini had heard that Benny’s Point was listed in German travel guides years ago but my nephew Matheesha had only heard it, recently when they were in Panama in the East Coast of Sri Lanka.

Padmini says there was a Chef named Guido who copied my Mum’s recipes – specially her “Watalappan” — a steamed custard made of eggs, palm sugar and thick coconut milk flavoured with nutmeg. Like us, they used to refer to it as the “What will happen” pudding. Some modified form of this, plus other dishes like her fresh fish stew must have featured in some menus wherever Guido worked. Those days my Mum’s three course meal for Rupees 10/- — (costing even then probably less than US$1), was listed in a travel article as the best value for money meal, this side of Singapore.

Bennys_Hikkaduwa.10A quick search on Google brought info on Benny’s Surf Point up in an entry made by Shaka Sign Surf:

“Benny’s is one of the many surf breaks in Hikkaduwa. Named after a B&B property close by, on a perfect low tide day this should be your dream land in Hikkaduwa. Benny’s is a shallow break with a fast take off. Most importantly Benny’s is not for beginners.”

Another entry mentions the coral bottom and the fast left wave that is quite dangerous and how it breaks over a very sharp reef with shallow water. That entry too cautions: Only surf here if you really know what you are doing and at your own risk.

Bennie as he spelt his name might have been highly chuffed about this reference to him in Benny’s Point on the Internet. He himself at times signed off letter as “Foot in the mouth father”. Despite this he had a great sense of humour, was an avid reader and was very liberal in his outlook. Both he and my mother took the skimpy bikinis, topless sunbathing, see-through Kurtas, Oxford baths under the garden shower and gay couples in their stride. We were the ones returning for holidays from Kuala Lumpur and Penang who would go around  gobsmacked. I suspect some of the surfers had a soft spot for their host Bennie and if they had an interest in Buddhism they would have found in him a wealth of information although he hardly visited a Buddhist temple.

When I was flitting around countries in my not so distant working life, Father Bennie would say “Stay on terra firma, give up your ambitions, this place is your dowry to enjoy.” A tad too late to enjoy it with him. Walking along the beach, thinking of him, I waited for a spectacular sunset. Watching the watery sunset I was reminded of a reply by my father to one of my letters. ” Today’s house motto is Be satisfied with what you get [Lada pamaning sathutu wanna]. if not how can I be satisfied with this rag of a letter you sent.”

Sunset at Benny's Point, Hikkaduwa, Sri Lanka. 14 August 2013. Photograph© Chulie de Silva

Sunset at Benny’s Point, Hikkaduwa, Sri Lanka. 14 August 2013. Photograph© Chulie de Silva

It’s my house motto too. Gods don’t give you all pleasures. As I waited looking at the rather bland skyline with the camera in hand – a teenager after an evening swim runs past me shouting to his mates “Machang, machang (local for mate) walk this side if you want to be in the picture.” Good stuff, comes packaged in small sizes!!!

Beyond Benny's point to the left the beach stretches to the breakwater. Photograph© Chulie de Silva

Beyond Benny’s point to the left the beach stretches to the breakwater. Photograph© Chulie de Silva

See also an earlier post: Much ado about Hikka Nudes

The Sound of Silence


Portrait of Nilanka. Photograph©Chulie de Silva

Stories have a way of arriving at my doorstep quite unexpectedly like my Gotukola kids.  This is another one —  Nilanka’s story –  one of the many unsung heroes amidst us. 

It was an ordinary Friday, but my do list was long.  On top of “My to Do List” for the day was getting the roller garage door serviced. The first telephone call said the servicemen were lost.  I had given directions to Chapel Road, but the board at the Nugegoda junction says “Chapel Lane” said the guy.  The confusion I later discovered was the board at the Nugegoda town end that had always said “Chapel Road” had now been suddenly changed to “Chapel Lane.” Finally, we managed to sort it out thanks to the presence of the ubiquitous mobile phones and three men arrived all crunched in the front seat of a little half-a-loaf truck.   

Ladders and pumps, buckets and mops came out, plug points were found, high pressure water pump got activated and the work started.  Jeevaka led the team work and worked on the door cleaning from outside while Nilanka perky cap on head, was up on the ladder busy scrubbing the door from the inside. 

The door had remained dormant for 5 months during my Dhaka sojourn and now groaned and grumbled when I opened it. I spoke to Nilanka wanting to know what the status of the door was and whether they required extra detergent.  Completely engrossed in his work, there was no response.

Nilanka at work. Photograph©Chulie de Silva

There was me yapping away while Nilanka remained totally absorbed in his self contained activity. It seemed to me getting the door checked was his one objective. Watching him suddenly the penny dropped.  Nilanka was hearing impaired.  I had to get Jeevaka to tap him on the shoulder and ask in mime whether it was OK for me to photograph him.

Jeevaka was surprised I had noticed and he filled me in.  Nilanka is a qualified technician and he is not the only hearing impaired technician employed by the firm.  “First there was one, and he got the others in” said Jeevaka with a grin.  “He works with me and is learning all the skills well,” he added.  It was really good to see how one firm had made room to absorb Nilanka and his friends.  More importantly it was good to see how his co-workers treated him as a buddy  and how Nilanka himself  had overcome life’s limitations by learning complex skills.

This was Flow in action – I could endorse — the way to happiness lies in a mindful challenge.

Note: “Flow is the mental state of operation in which a person in an activity is fully immersed in a feeling of energized focus, full involvement, and success in the process of the activity. Proposed by Mihály Csíkszentmihályi, the positive psychology concept has been widely referenced across a variety of fields.

According to Csíkszentmihályi, flow is completely focused motivation. It is a single-minded immersion and represents perhaps the ultimate in harnessing the emotions in the service of performing and learning. In flow, the emotions are not just contained and channeled, but positive, energized, and aligned with the task at hand” ( from the Wikipedia).

Outside the garage door the sunlight was too bright and hard for photography at mid-day, but the story won’t be complete without one of the three friends.  Take one  in front of the vehicle said Janaka, the driver — one for the road so to speak.

The trio of friends: Janaka, Nilanka and Jeevaka. Photograph©Chulie de Silva


Though the silence never ends
I can hear
I can hear:
A dove in flight
The sound of sunlight . … Read the full Poem: The sound of Sunlight by Anna M. Stott.

2010 in review: Chulie’s Blog review by WordPress

The stats helper monkeys at mulled over how this blog did in 2010, and here’s a high level summary of its overall blog health:

Healthy blog!

The Blog-Health-o-Meter™ reads Wow.

Crunchy numbers

Featured image

The average container ship can carry about 4,500 containers. This blog was viewed about 23,000 times in 2010. If each view were a shipping container, your blog would have filled about 5 fully loaded ships.

In 2010, there were 24 new posts, growing the total archive of this blog to 84 posts. There were 207 pictures uploaded, taking up a total of 107mb. That’s about 4 pictures per week.

The busiest day of the year was June 17th with 326 views. The most popular post that day was Goddess Tara Time to Come Home ?.

Where did they come from?

The top referring sites in 2010 were,,,, and

Some visitors came searching, mostly for lankadeepa, sri lanka houses, martin wickramasinghe, beautiful eyes, and kandyan dancers.

Attractions in 2010

These are the posts and pages that got the most views in 2010.


Goddess Tara Time to Come Home ? August 2008


Degas’ Fourteen Year Old Little Dancer June 2008


Age Old Charm of a 200 year old Sri Lanka House January 2008


Martin Wickramasinghe’s house, Koggala, Sri Lanka August 2009


Images of Jaffna September 2009

Encounter with Gotukola Kids

blog Gotukola kids DSC_0151

Tharindu Udaya Kumara and Niroshani Dilki. Photograph© Chulie de Silva

Saturday mornings are for lying in – there’s birds chirping on the lawn, noisy squirrels on my barren avocado tree,  and I can just about see the “Thalagoya” (monitor lizard) sunning on the wall.  I am slow to emerge from layers of sleep, trying to hold on to the view in my head of the breathtaking beauty of the Knuckles range, the Randenigala dam, the glimpse of Adam’s Peak on the edge of  a blue sky – an aerial view from flight to Batticaloa. Breaking this lazy morning reverie, the door bell rings. Mentally, making yet another note to get that door bell changed, I was ready to chase a salesman.  Doe like eyes, hesitant not sure of the reception, he stood there, the ubiquitous plastic bag in one hand and in the other a bunch of greens. 

Would you please buy this last bunch of gotukola?

What’s your name?

Tharindu Udayakumara

Do you grow them?

No, my mother buys them and we sell them again to make some extra money for the family. This is only Rs.10 (1 US$=LKR 115 approx)

How much do you make a day?  Oh, about Rs.200

A little girl puts her head through the door and smiles coyly.  She is a little princess – Is she your sister? 

Yes, her name is Niroshani and she is nine years old.

She corrects the brother — It is Niroshani Dilki

How old are you?

I am ten and she is 9 years.

Go to school?

Yes to Revatha , I want to be a doctor.

And  Niroshani Dilki?

The smile is wide and the eyes light up

I want to be a teacher.

Any more in your family?

Yes, eight – eight kids?

No, there is my mother and  father, and my elder brother , and baby sister and grandfather ( that only makes 7 but  I didn’t add properly at that time).

 Achchi – where is she?

She died.

Where is your brother?

She is looking after my baby sister who is three as my mother has to wash clothes and cook.

And your father?

He is a labourer

Do you help your mother?

Yes, we wash dishes, sweep the garden, the hand goes protectively round the sister.

May I take your photo?


No smiles for me?

The smiles are enough to warm the cockles of my heart.

They turn towalk away hand in hand. He turns back and repeats I want to be a doctor. My thoughts ping back to another boy I met at the Kotmale Internet Radio Station. He too had walked up the hill selling gotukola and stayed on fascinated to learn about computers.  By the time I met him he was posting information on a website in Sinhala, Tamil and English and for a good measure was teaching the rudiments of flash to his buddy. Both his parents were estate labourers. He too had a dream. …

P.S.  Gotu in the Sinhala language is conical and Kola is leaf .  Scientific name Centella Asiatica. In Sri Lanka it is made into a finely finely sliced salad with onions, fresh coconut,  flavoured with  lime and a pepper dressing. It is also cooked into a curry with coconut milk and is popularly taken in the morning as a local watery porridge  –Gotukola Kanda –made with red rice, coconut milk and the extracted juice from the leaves. My gym serves this and is great after a workout. There is at least one posh restaurent in Colombo that has on the menu as an elegant upmarket soup — no doubt flavoured with cream.

Mine went into a not so finely sliced salad and it tasted pretty good with my crab curry — ahh to be in Lanka:-))

e-Swabhimani awards: giving life to digital creativity in Sri Lanka

No matter that I had to drag myself out of a cosy house, drive through pelting rain, the perpetually  maddening Colombo traffic ,  to get to the Cinnamon Grand.  It was worth the effort to see the E-Swabhimani awards  by the Information Communication Agency  (ICTA).    As the name Swabhimani  means it was   certainly a night of “Our Pride,” a night to be a proud Sri Lankan,  a night to remember.  ICTA lived up to its tag line of Smart People, Smart Island to spring on an unsuspecting audience the creative and innovative talent of Sri Lanka’s digital content developers/producers from its e-Society program.  This was even more satisfying for those of us who had listened to much criticism being leveled at ICTA.  But that’s another story  –this was a night of the winners.

 Minister Tissa Vitarana was pleased as Punch. He was unstinting giving credit to the creative talent of the ICTA staff.

 There were eight e-categories and 27 winners.  They came from near — Colombo University Department of Computing as well as from far away interior places with exotic names — Galenbindunuweva, Sooriyaweva, Tantrimalai.

Here’s some that caught my eye. Please note that this is only a selection and is not a comprehensive list of the winners.

For me the most interesting was the e-inclusion and Participation category where the winners were:

Techkatha (Technical Chats) is really cool and uses cross media and a friendly chatty environment for learning from peers the techi stuff.  It is in the Sinhala local language, community driven, podcasted discussion about solutions to technical problems one encounters daily,tech news, new inventions etc.  Every Thursday at Sri Lanka time 9:00 pm you can join via real time web chat.  Google Group, Skype, SMS, email or phone.  So far they have had 40 program chats.

e-sri lanka 1 DSC_0149

ICT for teaching the hearing impaired (  A multi media based interactive DVD and e-learning website to teach sign language in Sinhala and Tamil.

Ganidu SI854740

Ganidu Nanayakkara. Photo reproduced with permission ICTA agency

Watch” the invention of young Secondary school student Ganidu Nanayakkara which features  a specialized hardware and software to enable people with disabilities  to use a computer with a key pad of only four keys.  So a finger, a toe, a head the hand or even the tongue can be used and the software and hardware system can be customized to cater for  specific needs of a disabled user.

E-entertainment & Games section had two interesting winners. One was the Ranasara Internet radio  from the Balangoda Nenasela ( IT/Knowledge Centre)  which partnered with an IT company microimage to set up   a commercial quality broadcasting studio in the Nenesela.  Using commercial quality broadcasting software and drawing and training  announcers from the community they provide an interesting service enabling many working abroad to stay connected with their communities. Other  district telecentres too get one hour time slots per week to produce news and programs from their districts.

e-Lanka 2

The other winner in this category, the Toppigala/Jamis Banda, Sri Lanka’s equivalent no doubt of James Bond is  a locally developed PC Game by Games Core.

The e-Learning & Education sector had three very useful contributions reaching out to educate through ICT , primary, and tertiary learners and farmers in the agriculture sector.

e-Curriculum Master: Mastering the Primary–an easy to use interactive educationla software for children sitting the Grade 5 Scholarship examination.

Vidupiyasa — the virtual campus for ICT education from the University of Colombo’s School of computing.

Wikigoviya — The Agriculture Wikipedia, an interactive web tool for agriculture development.

Then there were the winners e-commerce for SME’s; project e-Diary; Farmernet in the e-business and Commerce category.

Blog Nenasakmana

Nenasakmana Mobile Library of Sooriyaweva Nenasela. Photo reproduced with permission from ICTA

Having been a librarian in my previous incarnations I loved  the Nenasakmana Mobile ( can be loosley tranlated as “strolling knowledge”) Library of the Sooriyaweva Nenasela from the Hambantota district. It serves remote villages who can not afford internet facilities in a converted “buddy” lorry with four laptop computers powered by a solar panel and with connectivity through a dongle.

Nenasakmans 2

Inside the Nenasakmana Mobile Library. Photo reproduced with permission ICTA

“It’s not easy providing this service on rainy days when there is no sun,” says Deepika who runs the service.  Then it is only a reading library and we carry newspapers and magazines in addition to books. But on good days in addition to Internet,  users can access educational CDs, games. etc.”

The Juror’s special mention  is another worthy project.  The Centre for Women and Development, Jaffna’s “Violence against Women” website, documenting violence against women. The aggregate anonymous information collected from this website has been shared with other civil society and government organizations to help them better understand the extent of the issue.

Bomb Explosion in Bus@Piliyandala Sri Lanka; 26 Killed, 62 Injured(updated 4/27)

The bomb that exploded in a crowded bus in the suburban town of Piliyandala,  on Friday  (4/25) in Sri Lanka  was packed with steel balls and was designed to cause maximum damage said the Government analysts department.

26 people were killed and over 62 people have suffered injuries, and are being treated in hospitals.  The targeted bus has been waiting to leave for Kahapola . 

Today’s (4/27) news reports said quoting officials that the bomb had been placed on the hood rack above the third seat behind the driver but they were  not yet certain whether there was a timing device.

Painful wakeup call@Lighthouse, Galle

The pain was sharp, excruciating, just below the elbow.  This must be the pain that precedes a heart attack  says my sleepy mind and  if so might as well die in the comfy bed – why get up?  Coming out of deep layers of slumber I wait for the heart attack that shows no sign of coming.

Well, my brain is more awake than my body — plodding me get out of the bed.  “Switch on a light have a look at your arm you idiot says my inner voice. ” OK, OK but why me? And why at this time? The time on the digital clock is 5:16 am – the light shows there is  a pinprick of pink just below the elbow but no blood – no flying insects.   Body says get back to the cosy bed, so I do  holding the arm but with the light on, trying to think of  a rational cause for the pain that was now spreading to my fingers….I snuggle in on the soft soft mountain of four pillows and then . … out comes the villain – a 7 or 8 inch reddish orange centipede.  He wriggles across the snowy white sheets,  I jump out of bed and grab a shoe to whack him – but he is too fast and disappears into the bedhead.


Mr. or Ms. Centipede is so named because of the 100 legs she/he has  but apparently the real number can be any in the region of 15 to 191 says the Wikipaedia.  Their first pair of legs are modified to form poison claws which are found underneath the head while the last pair of legs, which turn backward, are used for holding prey and fighting off predators. In Sri Lanka we have the small varieties, and these big ones called “gas paththeya” or tree centipedes that like to live on coconut trees.

Apparently, there are many moist, warm, and dark cavities where phobia-inspiring organisms quietly lurk in our world.

One such example is the Amazonian giant centipedes  — Scolopendra gigantea, a venomous, red-maroon centipede with forty-six yellow-tinted legs. Read more

For these  vicious varieties devouring prey  watch ( not recommended for the  faint hearted)



I didn’t know all this at that time except the searing pain.  My brain searches for possible antidotes, and I  call room service to get me bicarbonate of soda/baking powder hoping I could neutralize what I was guessing to be an acid sting.  The stretch PJ top doubles as a tourniquet and I count the minutes, pace the floor waiting for room service.  Time is 5:45 am and I feel it’s OK to wake  my sister-in-law Padmini an ayurvedhic doctor.  She tells me to rub a red onion on the bite point — the traditional treatment on the fast swelling arm. 

So its back to room service for onions but  no one picks up and as I hang up I hear the door bell. Three guys from the hotel are outside — one in a chef’s hat holding 3 or 4 unpeeled red onions.  These are peeled and I send one guy down to get a stick of cinnamon.  I remember something I heard from my  yoga teacher in Brunei — that a cinnamon infusion removes toxins.

The bed is stripped but we can’t find the villain.  I change rooms, drink my cinnamon tree and try not to scratch my skin out.

At  breakfast I growl at the manager that I didn’t come to a posh hotel to be bitten by a centipede.  I hear nothing more from the hotel till my loud complaints reach the manager and a doctor is summoned in the afternoon. He can give me only pain killers and an antihistamine ( these have  already been taken).   The doc tells me that I will be OK in 24 hours and that nothing ever happens to us Sri Lankans.  Well, nothing really except the pain and suffering. 

I stayed recently at the Cinnamon lodge in Habarana famed for its natural environment   Monkeys loped around in the gardens and on the roof;  the mongoose came for breakfast running around the dining tables.  


 Fine,  nature at its best  and I loved it there


  …. but are these hotels ready with their first aid, if anyone is bitten?  Lighthouse wasn’t.

Selling Bananas and Discussing Climate Change





It was a slow afternoon, at the market, date Saturday 8 December.  The Saturday morning rush was over, and there were plenty of parking places.   As I wandered over to my favourite vegetable sellers, there was a heated discussion going on.  Just across from the veg stall, the lady who sells bananas was reading from the popular Sinhala daily “Lankadeepa” the lead story. 


The banner headline was visible and  said “ 3 Districts in danger in another 30 years: Polonnaruwa, Anuradhapura, Hambantota – No rice farming and parts of Colombo will go under water.”  As the lady continued to read the article most sellers at the market could not understand how the rising temperatures will in turn cause rising sea levels and the coastal towns being submerged.  But what’s that got to do with Anuradhapura, and Polonnaruwa was the question — One bewildered guy said “there is no sea in Anuradhapura and Polonnaruwa—so how can rice farming be affected.”  Another man shouted “You idiot, the sea is under those cities too!”

With patience that comes with age and wisdom, the lady went on to explain how the drying up of water resources will affect the farmers in the dry zone, and the possibilities of those cities turning into deserts. Quoting the paper she said that there was a need to come up with newer less water dependent varieties of rice for planting.  

Totally fascinated by this discussion I went over to speak to the neatly dressed lady –  Obviously, educated, quite well read, what’s she doing selling bananas I asked myself.   




 Her smile was quizzical, eyes bright, her name Gallage Sriyawathi.  Born in Poregedera, Padukka she had been a bright student at the Padukka Kotiyangoda Maha Vidyalaya. She had obtained what in today’s terms a pass at the the ‘O”’ level exam, passing  8 or so subjects including English, Mathematics, Geography, History, Literature, Sinhalese, and had even done a short hand and typing course. Her one ambition was to be a Policewoman.   

But her dreams were quashed by her parents who put their foot down and said No, no, no – no daughter of theirs was going to be a copwoman. She was told that she was educated so she would know to read a prescription etc, but not to go to work.   Totally dejected she had refused to continue her studies and so was married off at 21 years and went to live in Rathmalgoda, Horana.  A common story no doubt of the fate met by quite a few smart women in the country.



















Nearly two months later today, I found her still reading her favourite paper. Now 65 years old she has five children and says she has lost her English skills. Life is not easy for her as she leaves home at 5:15 am to get to market to  set up her stall.  Sriyawathi says she earns anything from LKR10,000  to LKR 15,000 ( approx US$100-150) per month and that is without accounting for her travel costs. 

I couldn’t help but think if she was in the Police, she would be earning a pension and reading her newspapers from an easy chair.

Text and All photographs© Chulie de Silva

Inside the Supreme Court’s Ceremonial Hall

flag-blog-x-dsc_0030.jpgThe silvery metallic flags – eight in all inside the Supreme Courts ceremonial hall depicts ancient Sinhala flags  and emblems but they stay as rigid and straight-laced as the Supreme Court itself.  The flags don’t flutter.

The room was octagonal, with ten white columns with a decorative carving in gold and has at its midst the government emblem in gold providing a solemn back drop to the red seats for the 3 judge bench.  The flags which reflected the magenta on the  wall gave  a curious silvery dull  glow to them. Quite impressive, if I ignores the monstrous yellow  chandelier hanging in the center. 

 The opportunity to venture into the corridors of power came yesterday when Kanishka, my nephew and Supun his good friend were taking oaths after completing their degrees in law and the attorney’s exams. The smiles were wide, the joy of success palpable. 


The young men in austere in black western style suits,  young ladies glamorous in white sarees and traditional Asian garb., were getting their photos taken.


Padmini my stoic sister-in-law looked happier that I had seen her  for a long, long time and even my 85 year old mum who finds it difficult to travel now, was there for the event, with two of our favourite aunts.


The steps up to the entrance were hard for my mum. Not that we had a wheelchair but I did wonder whether this building had access to the disabled since that provision is now a law in this country. Once inside lifts was there to transport us to the 5thfloor where a milling crowd of lawyers and relatives were gathered.  I had a hurried few minutes to scramble and take a few photographs before we were told to put the cameras away as the judges were approaching.  Each new lawyer, came up to a dais and took their oaths in Sinhala and English but no one did in Tamil.

Most names in the Sinhala tradition, gave a long clan name like – Mudiyanse arachchilage and easily three other names… the “ge” being the connection showing belonging to a family clan, followed by a couple of first names and then again surname in the western tradition. My father Benny once told me why our family decided to drop the “ge” bit . ” When you go up to receive your degree, it should be as you the person, there is no need for this generation to be encumbered with long “ge” names, Kirtisinghe, is sufficient as the family name.”

 Supun who with Kanishka had carried my mum to safety during the tsunami came over to greet my mother with the traditional worship bending at her feet.


After the tsunami, the sadness we felt overwhelmed us.  It seemed as our sorrow would last for forever. However, deep inside all of us, we had a need to grieve for Prasanna while recognizing the necessity  make it not a bottomless pit of despair.  I still worry about my mother for Prasanna was her favourite son. But My mum and dad were the ones who took Kanishka to school when both parents were working and there has always been a special bond between the Achchi and this  grandson too.  So, today for her there was much joy in seeing Kanishka become an attorney-at-law.


Kanishka, an excellent swimmer had despaired as he sat with me that unforgettable day when we stood guard over Prasanna’s lifeless body — “Thatha was so happy and proud when I got into the varsity.  I saved two lives from drowning but couldn’t save my father.” His triumph today is a tribute to Prasanna and  specially to Padmini, who faced the unexpected tragedy with much admired bravery and quiet dignity.