Benny, my father was born no.6 in a family of seven boys in Hikkaduwa to Sellakapuge Pinto Hamy – a 4 foot something and some say a formidable lady, others like my Aunt Maya says she was a wonderful warm loving aunt who had a special place in her heart for Maya as she didn’t have any daughters.
Benny was the second son born in the house that was built by Pinto Hamy’s husband and my grandfather building contractor Kaluappuwa Hennidige Bastian. Vinnie [Vincent] the no 5 in the family was the first born in the house and was Pinto Hamy’s favourite. He later went on to become the Vice Principal of Ananda College, now a leading Buddhist school whose seventh Principal was P.de S. Kularatne ( Aunt Maya’s father), Pinto Hamy’s younger brother.
Bastian is credited with building many upcountry bungalows in tea estates and the Hatton Post Office. In 1911 he completed the house “Siri Niwasa.” My father called it the “Garden on Sea,” and added many extensions. He converted into a cottage the “outhouse” which in the good old days stored giant bundles of cinnamon quills waiting for the correct market price, coconuts and the cinnamon twigs used as fire wood for cooking. Food cooked with cinnamon twigs had a wonderful aroma. As a child I used to love to pick a piece of clean charcoal straight from the hearth to brush my teeth and get them squeaky clean.
The house that Bastian built was solid. So solid that most of it withstood the 2004 Boxing Day tsunami. All the extensions that no.6 son Benny built including my room that had a panoramic view of the sea and the garden collapsed like a pack of cards in the tsunami. Benny, my father was raconteur par excellence. As children going to school from Panadura, my mother Manel’s hometown, we had to write a letter every week. This practice was carried out most of my life and when I married and was in England, I received on average 3 letters week. One lament of my father’s in the periods I was in Sri Lanka was that I didn’t write as often when I was in the country. I had asked him once to start writing about Hikkaduwa. It was never completed but many of his letters are with me and what I write here now are extracts from his letters.
All good things start he says with love. He lived in this “wonderful and unique village by the sea in what was then the largest house on the sea front without realizing it. “My father who built it was dead by 1933,” Benny says. He was schooling in Kandy at Dharmaraja College when his father died. The obituary notice didn’t mention his name or the youngest brother Bertie’s name. “The school mates doubted whether the two brothers were adopted and had no direct claim to the Principal Mr. P. de S. Kularatne.
Significantly in the first letter I got him to write about his Hikkaduwa memoirs he writes about the proud parents who came to sea bath with their children in a buggy cart drawn by a single bull. The youngest a son was born to them after an interval of about 7 years after two sons and a daughter. “The little boy of about one and a half years was afraid of the sea. He was put on the sand where the waves licked his feet.” He says the “vivacious mother whispered to him that he was an accident!” The phrase had sounded novel to young Benny as he had “little learning.” Much to my father’s amazement and chagrin this same imp after a quarter of a century came again to the beach and to Siriniwasa as a student of Botany and a scuba diver – there lies another story of love, wanderings, submerged activities and eventual partings…