“There is a space between man’s imagination and man’s attainment that may only be traversed by his longing.”
Everyday before I drifted off to sleep, in the waking hours as I moved into consciousness, rumbling along in a rickshaw in dusty Dhaka and often bored at office meetings, my thoughts would be on this this reunion and return to Siriniwasa.
The need to see the house had become a permanent gnawing ache, a longing, an avatar that travelled with me from the time I heard it had been restored. In my minds eye every door of the house opened on to a memory – voices, faces, laughter, tears, friends and foes, all floated by – a kaleidoscope that I never tired of. When I traversed it in my dreams, stuck in Dhaka, the nights more than paid for my hopeless longing in the day.
Suren had come back to Sri Lanka, after 16 years, it was Nickie’s first visit and my first for the tsunami +7. The drive had to be the sea hugging coast road and not the new fast highway. How could one not drive past the old school haunts of Panadura, cheekily breeze past the Kalutara Bodhi thinking of Father Bennie who never used to stop but eagerly stop at the perennial favourite Monis. I peered at the portrait of the old man founder remembering him counting out the Monis biscuits from a tall jar. I think then we got 100 biscuits for Rs. 10 or so. While he fished out the “monis”, we would very politely ask if he could add more of the top biscuit halves than the bottom ones.
Nothing was amiss. Amma was sitting on the front verandah waiting for us and I could barely park the car when Suren bounded out. Even at 90 years she had no problem recognizing her eldest grandson with tears of joy. The walls smiled, the doors welcomed with wide open arms, I tenderly touched the glass doors with the decorative woodwork “mal leli.” The one piece we broke playing football in the sitting room, had been left unrepaired. Only I noticed it had got slightly shifted from its original position. The salty sea breeze whispered, there was thambili to drink, the cinnamon stick fence was up, the iron safe stood guard and the Birawa almirah quietly watched us as it had done for 100 years.
The return is never complete without the memory of my father. In 1989, he had written to me ” I hope you’ll read my letters again when I’m dead and gone. My time is fast running out. .. Kanishka has evening school so we have a sea bath and go to school. I have nothing else to do – the car and the grandson.”
“When I was a dayaka for the Polgasduwa hermitage there was a monk weighed by asthma,” wrote my father. ” He used to work hard at his studies to forget his asthma. Two years ago my birthday gift from you was an English translation of “Visuddhimaga” – the original [a Buddhist Pali Canon] is lost forever. In the preface were these poems this monk had written one night at 2 a.m. because he believed in wearing out than rusting out.”
Out of the womb of sightless night – bring out the word of healing strong
And put to flight the evil thoughts – that stood betwixt the eye and light
Where lies, friend, the golden mean? In giving up
Where’s the heart forever clean? In giving up
Where is life at its best seen? In giving up
Where reaches one peace serene? In giving up.
On 22 January 2012, the day when these photos were taken, Siriniwas welcomed Kanishka , and his bride Chamila, a doctor from Ratnapura. Kanishka is the eldest son of my late brother Prasanna and as my father used to say the 10th male Kirtisinghe brought up at Siriniwasa.