Bennie, the Gentleman in Disguise!

Benniw Godwin Lakshman 700

My father Bennie Kirtisinghe at the wedding of his good friend Wimalatissa Indrasoma on the 28 Aug 1952. On the extreme right his good friend Godwin Witane and next to him, Dr. MWV Lakshman de Silva. Girl Guide HQ, Colombo 7, Sri Lanka. Copyright Asoka Indrasoma

Almost a birthday gift, the photo above came quite unexpectedly from a cousin Asoka Indrasoma. My father, with a cigar in hand, in national dress was at the wedding of his good buddy Wimalaya, Wimalatissa Indrasoma, (Asoka’s father) in 1952. A photo like this, unravels a lot of memories. He would have been 34 years old at this time and looks very happy and in good spirits.  The fact that he is the only one in national dress does not seem to bother him. However, his lifelong friend Godwin Witane, on the extreme right has a certain smile on his face and I wonder who the photographer was. My father, Uncle Wimalatissa and Uncle Godwin remained good friends through out their lives. Today, 13 May would have been my father’s 99th birthday.

Wimalatissa Mala

Wimalatissa Mama/Uncle with his sister late Dr. Mala de Sylva at Arachchikanda house of Mr. MW Surasena de Silva. Photo probably by Bennie Kirtisinghe

Life is a retrospective, a continuous flow of images and thoughts. Usually, my mind has constant flashbacks of what life was like with my father. I’d often get woken up on holidays at Hikkaduwa, with a banging on the window “rise and shine, get up, get up!” Giving a boost to these episodic memory wanderings, I had the unexpected bonus last month, of hearing his voice and see him come alive in Rupavahini’s teledrama Palingu Menike, as the “Iskoley mahattaya” — school master.

However, it is his words, often humorous, mixture of Sinhala and English for punning and tongue-in-cheek comments in his letters to me, that I see him in my mind’s eye.

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My father with my sons in the sea at Hikkaduwa. He taught us and his grandchildren to play “Ring-a-ring-roses” in the water. Photo copyright Chulie de Silva

His letters were gold then and now. Where ever I was —  Liverpool, Penang, KL or Brunei –  life in the Hikkaduwa house would come alive to me. Often his letters would make comments of the tourists staying with them, painting a lively picture of his life, that never failed to bring a smile to my face. In this letter written in January 1993, he would have been 75. “An old friend, a guest from Holland brought me a Gin- Bols, which satisfies me after a bath with tonic and crushed ice.

In the same letter he talks of two Dutch men. 34 and 44 years old, who are tobacco smokers and roll their own cigarettes.  “I have taken to my old pipe and smoke often after meals,” and says “one of the Dutch men an engineer “marvels” at his building construction and water and sewage systems which are contrary to all norms and accepted laws!” Many a times have we moaned about his disastrous skills in construction – very far removed from his father, my grandfather. “The two [Dutch] men and I argue about philosophy and religion.” The parting comment of one of the Dutch was, “Bennie is a gentleman in disguise,” while the other had concluded that “Bennie is like the old fox who has not lost his tricks, though he has lost his hair.

Probably perked up by the Dutch comments he says, “I am enjoying good health in fine weather and of course the old man sea is ever so timid.” I have “Kola Kanda” herbal porridge with green vegetables like Gotukola for breakfast.” His special recipe includes Quaker oats and he complains that my Mum doesn’t give him access to the electric blender, but she or my sister-in-law Padmini will grind the veg in the old fashioned way in a pounding stone to make his breakfast. “If I had taken Kola Kanda much earlier, I would have taken another wife. But for the present this one is enough…”

My father with Malika at 39 Chapel Road, Nugegoda.

My father Bennie with Malika, his grand niece on one of his visits to our house then 39, Chapel Road, Nugegoda.

Prophetically, he ends the letter I have in my hand saying, “even if I don’t write, you can read my old letters, which you will do even if I am no more. Bye Bye, don’t cry for me.”

 See Also:

Godwin Mama called Bennie, my father “The most popular citizen of Hikkaduwa” in an appreciation written after his death in 2002.

Appreciation Benny Kirtisinghe by Godwin Witane

My blog post on “On Chasing Jade Dragons with Mao Tsetung “ was based on a book that was a gift to my parents from Wimalatissa Mama.

Wimalatissa 2

Wimalatissa Indrasoma on the right with an unknown friend. From our family albums.

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!