I had started writing this on the 13 May my father’s birthday, thought I’d finish it for Father’s day but couldn’t do it either. So many years down the line, I still can’t write about him without crying, without being choked by a myriad of memories.
Today far away from Hikkaduwa in an alien land, I wake up in a strange room and think of Thatha. 13 May was the day Thatha was born in 1918 – the second son to be born in the Siri Niwasa house at Hikkaduwa. In all his letters to me he used to sign off as BK or Father B.
As a father he embodied the Sinhala term “pithru snehaya” — a love father gives a child– he was an incurable romantic sensitive, totally a social bod in that for him what mattered most was family, friends, our friends, villagers, tourists he met — well in short everyone he came across mattered to him.
The Siri Niwas house was an open house 24/7. No one who came in left without some refreshments. Mostly it was an invitation to stay for lunch or dinner. And many were the ones who trooped in for sea baths and stayed to have a fresh young coconut “thambili” water — plucked straight from the trees he had planted.
There were stories to be told, laughter to be shared, and plenty of sharp caustic witty comments. He was in today’s terms a “wyswyg” character. Sometimes the comments were far too sharp and his foot in the mouth comments hit sensitive spots and we had angry relatives. He was probably too laid back for this day and age. Certainly he was not the best in managing finances and never had enough in his bank but his life was rich with love — the love he gave generously was repaid by many with dividends.
After the tsunami, in Amma’s birawa almirah (Which had earlier belonged to Hikkaduwa Achchi) this note with instructions for Thatha’s funeral was found. Thatha had repeatedly mentioned all this to me but I didn’t know such a note existed.
If I get bumped off (no regrets) don’t take the ‘body’ home. Keep it at CBO Florists (Kalubowila) and ‘fire off’ at Galkissa as early as possible.
Inform the eye donation society and give the cornea ( the consent papers are at Hkd iron safe left drawer).
Get the cheapest paraphernalia and only Bougainvillea Flowers. No music & no carpets. No “sokaspraksha” (obituary)
Only family members tohandle
BK (signed) 19.12.77
Did we follow his instructions? No we didn’t and there were no Bougainvillea Flowers. Not out of disrespect. I wanted to –but others, true to village traditions howled with protests. “If we cremate him like that the villagers will think we were too stingy to feed them,” said Amma.
So we had the biggest funeral I’ve ever seen in my life. For 3 days we hired a cook and turned the Poseidon Diving Station next door to a large dining room. And we catered on average for 350 people, breakfast, lunch and dinner. For 3 days and nights people came and went and we scrambled to buy food, work out menus, make tea and coffee.
They came from far the long lost relatives, friends’ friends who had all enjoyed the hospitality of Uncle Bennie. There were the old and feeble ones, escorted and propped up and aided but yet wanted to pay their respects. Some were the ones he had given money regularly from his pension. Amma only then realised why he never had much money in his pension.
Once he shared his cognac with a fisherman, one who was used to the sharp illicit brew “Kassippu” for his daily tot. He probably found the cognac very mild to taste and had polished most of the bottle. He never made it home but was found by his family curled up and sleeping at the railway station. The question of course in Hikkaduwa was what exactly did Mr. Bennie give him to drink.
Then there was Liyanage, the son of a school teacher parents who had not done much with his life. But he was at our house as soon as he heard of Thatha’s death and when we handed his body to the undertakers he stayed at the funeral parlour keeping an eye on the body.
View of the sea through the cinnamon stick fence, Siriniwasa, Hikkaduwa.
Photo© Chulie de Silva
Liyanage sat with me on the back verandah steps on the floor after the funeral. Emotionally I was spent. I sat staring out at the inky night, and the tears were not far behind. The roar of the waves was gentle but didn’t soothe me as it normally did. Liyanage broke the silence and said he wished he had a gun to give him a gun salute at the crematorium. Memories of the number of times of Father B had advised him to tread the straight and narrow path was still fresh in his mind. and he told me how this advise had helped him. Pointing to the top of the coconut trees he said “he told me that when the crests of the trees are as high as the roof of the house, I’ll be gone.” Sure enough the top leaves were as high as the roof on that day.