The Good Son – Vinnie Kirtisinghe

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“We’re all ghosts. We all carry, inside us, people who came before us.”
― Liam Callanan, The Cloud Atlas

He was my most obedient good son, but he did the most disobedient thing,” my grandmother Pinto Hamy  had lamented, talking of my uncle Vinnie. Born on a day like today 102 years ago on 20 Nov. 1912, Vinnie or Vincent as he was named at birth was my grandmother’s 5th son. He also grabbed the honour of being the first Kirtisinghe to be born in Siriniwasa, our seaside house in Hikkaduwa. Most of the time he was the quiet stay at home son, pottering around with radios and hardly caused any trouble to my grandma. So, what on earth did he do to earn his mother’s wrath?

Wedding photo of Vinnie &  Somi Kirtisinghe. circa 1943. Photographer unknown. Flower girl Malini and the Page boy Ranjith Ratnapala. This image reproduced from a copy by Chulie de Silva Wedding photo of Vinnie & Somi Kirtisinghe. circa 1943. Photographer unknown. Flower girl Malini and the Page boy…

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Kavum, cookie monsters and all good things at Avurudhu

Robert Knox talks of Caown likening it to a fritter made of rice-flower and juggery. When the Dutch came first to Colombo the King had ordered that Caown should be sent as a Royal treat. Apparently the Dutch had asked whether they grew on trees.

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From bottom left: Kirialuwa, Kavum, Kiribath and Bananas at a New Year table. Photograph©Chulie de Silva From bottom left: Kirialuwa, Kavum, Kiribath and Bananas at a New Year table. Photograph©Chulie de Silva

The good things which belong to prosperity are to be wished. The good things that belong to adversity are here now to be admired and enjoyed,” so wrote my father in 1976 quoting Francis Bacon. 


“Siri Niwasa ”  The maintenance of the family house “Siri Niwasa” during the monsoon was weighing heavily on him and my letter to him from Penang had been sent  without insufficient stamps.  The letter had come by surface mail and in the meantime he was worrying and imagining “all sorts of illnesses and hospitals etc . … so I got told off right royally by Father B who said “So next time you take into your block head that for every half an oz. stamps go up.  And when you write why not write on both sides of…

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Death as a mirror of life

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The narrow road from Pinkande to Katudampe was shiny black newly tarred, clearly marked on the edges with white unbroken lines.On either side we passed lush green paddy fields, houses surrounded by small garden plots with coconut, mango, banana and fruit trees. A solitary young Buddhist priest walked briskly, the bright orange of his robes, matching the setting sun that burned brightly beyond the fringe of trees. This was quintessentially rural Lanka at its best. We were mostly silent on the way to the Sri Sunandaramaya Temple at Katudampe in Dodanduwa.  On the seat with me was a small clay pot with a white cloth over it. This was my mother’s ashes — all that remained of a once vibrant, energetic, mother.

The river by the temple was silent. Nothing moved. The silence had an aura of its own as if it paid homage to the nearby temple.

The river by the Sri Sunandaramaya Temple, Katudampe, Dodanduwa. 8 Feb.2014. Photograph© Chulie de Silva. The river…

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How blue was my sea

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The primordial sea was very much a part of our life, but it was only recently I learned that the stretch of sea beyond the reef directly in front of our cinnamon stick fence was named Benny’s point  by surfers.

On 16 January of this year, I had sat with my mother in the front verandah and watched her as she dozed.

As we we brought her back to the room, and Nilu the carer, was settling her on her pillows, I walked to the back verandah to photograph her through the window.

As I wandered to the beach I wish she could have seen the blue sea through the coconut trees. The sea was a deep blue and for the first time I could see Surfers at Bennie’s Point.

The sea changed colour as the sunlight dimmed but watching the surfer, a sight I had not seen in recent…

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A star danced when my Amma was born

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Born on 22 August 1922, my mother Manel Chitrawathy was the eldest daughter of Romiel Anthony Fernando, a dashing handsome man and Eva Engelthina Dissanayake, a quiet daughter of the Dissanayake Walauwa, Panadura,   She as the lotus she was named after was a picture (Chithra) all her life.

Now she is gone from us, it’s hard to put into words her life and our loss. When I saw her on the 21 Dec. 2013, she was getting weaker and more feeble. For a once feisty strong woman, it must have been hard to be dependent.

We talked as we always did of old times in this house that she had come as a bride. She recalled again one of her favourite stories of how her mother-in-law, my grandmother had called her the most obedient daughter-in-law. She was undoubtedly my grandmother’s favourite daughter-in-law and had trusted her with her…

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Haripriya’s story

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In my hand is a pale blue aerogramme with a coloured photo of a beach scene at the back. The year 1977, the address  on it is 2, Solok Glugor Penang, Malaysia, the sender B. Kirtisinghe , 306, Hikkaduwa, with a scrawled arrow from the word Hikkaduw on the sender’s address pointing to the beach photo.

Inside my mother had penned a one liner on the side of the aerogramme “Thatha’s best friend is the second daughter – Amma.” My Mum’s one liner is a debatable statement. However the letters from Thatha was  a precious link to my family when I lived abroad, especially as these were times when there was no email and cost of international phone calls were exorbitant. Embedded in the writings were family values — threads to weave a fabric of the past.

I hope you’ll read my letters again when I’m dead and gone…

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And the river sang. …

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Eleven years ago, on the 31 August, death came silently taking away my father. More than a decade later, I still feel the events of that day with a stark loneliness that is hard to describe.

That morning at Siriniwasa, Hikkaduwa there were no need for words. I sat holding his thin hands, stroking his head. I was the parent, he the baby. Our faithful mongrel Lassie was under the bed with her head on my feet.  My father’s face was thin and gaunt with a prickly growth of a faded beard. His breathing was laboured with a rasping sound. Tears were building under his eyelids and I felt he could hear my mother and sister-in-law chanting pirith at the foot of the bed. He had no words for us. A thousand images streamed through my mind and I kept them all to good thoughts of what he did not…

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The Mudaliyar Great-great grandfather meets Olcott

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I would make faces at him when no one was looking, quite sure he couldn’t come down to punish me, although I felt his piercing eyes follow my every escapade. He had a long impressive name — Mudaliyar Wijesuriya Gunawardene Mahawaduge Andris Perera Abhaya Karunaratne Dissanayake — and was my scowling grumpy looking maternal Great-great-grandfather (GGGF). He held a prestigious position as a Mudaliyar in the Colonial administrative system in the nineteenth century in Panadura.

The legend and the oral history was mostly on his dream of a location of “nidhanaya” a treasure trove and the gilded gold Buddha statue and other treasures. The loot he found is embedded in the Chaitya of the Welipitiya Abhaya Karunaratne Mudalindaramaya Temple in Panadura, that he built with his wife Waduge Appolonia Fernando ( Note women still hung on to their maiden names).

The Chaitiya then and for a long time was the…

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