“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).
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.