The Flower of Love: Bennie meets Manel

As told by Bala Malli



Amma and  Prasanna Aiya were just about to leave for Colombo early morning, when Thatha still in bed shouted  “Wait, wait I have a letter for Chulie.”  Prasanna  Aiya puffing on his  cigarette raring to go rolled his eyes upwards.  Amma grumbling, but ever indulgent went to collect the letter muttering under her breath ” Don’t know what he writes to the daughters, never shows me.”

“Read it quickly and see if you need to buy anything for him and whether we need to take it back,” said Amma handing the letter to Podi Akka,  in Nugegoda.

The letter was scrawled on the back of a photocopy of an article.  Thatha was always making photocopies of his favourite articles, posting them to friends or the akka’s and his bed was usually littered with papers and books. He read a lot.  Poetry, western mostly, which he liked to quote, and books on Buddhism and philospohy — Krishnamurthi being a favourite at that time.  He once advised Podi Akka to do a “Desai” — drink your own pee first thing in the morning to stay healthy, like a former Indian Prime Minister.

Thatha could and did write anything and everything to Podi Akka that came to his head — in Sinhalese and English — no censoring.  This particular one was a gem.  The letter purportedly written by Amma in her teens to an agony columist of the Sunday Observer said:

Dear Aruni

 I am the eldest daughter in our family, unblemished as the lotus flower I was named after and was brought up by my maternal grandmother in a Walauwa in Panadura. While on a pilgrimage to the shrine in the jungle, we stopped at a house of a relative of mine in Hikkaduwa.  There I met this handsome young man at the doorway to his house and he  served us tea.  He reappeared as we finished bathing in the river before going to the shrine, and he made us marmite soup with just a touch of lime.  On the way back he sat with my brother Sepal in our bus. Now he visits our school on the pretext of visiting his aunt who is the Principal of the school.  The problem is that my friends call him “Redda” for wearing national dress and I hear his mother will veto a proposal.  What should I do?

Aruni’s reply (written of course by Thatha):

Get him to wear western dress and hope his mother will die soon, you are sure to be a winner.

Manel & Bennie Kirtisinghe's wedding photograph, 8 June 1944,  Dissanayke Waluwwa, Nalluruwa, Panadura
Bennie Kirtisinghe & Manel Chitrawathi Fernando wed on 8 June 1944. From L to R : Nimal Ratnavali de Mel (nee Wijesekera), Flower girl, brides 1st cousin; Irangani Chandrika, Chief bridesmaid (later married W Tudor Soysa, bride’s only sister; Senaka Kirtisinghe, page boy (groom’s nephew); Manikku Badaturu Ariyapala (Prof. M.B. Ariyapala)  Bestman; Enid de Silva (Groom’s first cousin, & SK Jano Hamy’s daughter) & Punya Kirtisinghe (groom’s niece). Photo copyright Chulie de Silva

And they tied the knot nearly 3 years after the first memorable meeting in 1941.  Amma did turn out to be the predicted winner but couldn’t get Thatha to wear western dress on the wedding day.  The wedding took place in the ample and beautiful gardens of the Dissanayake Waluwa in Pandura on June 8th 1944.  Amma was 21 going on 22 and Thatha was 25 at the time of marriage — I guess Hikkaduwe Achchi didn’t veto the proposal in the end,  but the fact that Amma was brought up by her maternal grandmother  — a strictt disciplinarian, stood her in good stead with an autocratic and exacting mother-in-law.  And I think it did help that Amma was an excellent cook bringing wtih her all the culinary skills the Waluwa folks were famous for.

Although Thatha would refer jokingly to Amma as “my (n)ever loving” wife in letters to Poddi Akka, they were together for 58 years.  When he lay sick and bedridden it was only Amma’s cooking he wanted . He would chase Podi akka away from his bedside saying she can’t chant pirith with the same intonation and lilting tone as Amma.  Thatha was lucky — Amma was chanting  pirith by his bedside when he took his last breath on August 31, 2002.  For Thatha his Manel was eternally sweet  — Manel Suwandamaya. …

Hikkaduwa Achchi died on January 19, 1948 after a sudden acute attack of asthma.  Amma is probably the only one who still remembers the death anniversary of her mother-in-law and gives a “dane” in memory of her.

In the photo from Left to write:  Flower girl Nimal Podi Amma — Amma’s cousin from Panadura ; bridesmaid Podi Amma Irangani ( Amma’s only sister fondly called Poddi by the two akka’s); page boy Senaka – the boy genius, the youngest son of Loku Thatha and Loku Amma died tragically never realising his full potential; Amma  wearing no veil as most brides did then and now (even Buddhists) in keeping with Thatha’s national dress; Bestman Honda Mama Thatha’s lifelong best friend – Professor M.B. Ariyapala lived 90+ years and died after Thatha; Bridesmaid Enid Kudamma Thatha’s cousin and Bala Achchi’s daughter now deceased; and flower girl Punya Akka ( eldest daughter of Albert Hong Kong Mahappa and Naela Mahamma).

Faintly visible in the wedding photo — left hand side the hood of the Waluwa bullock drawn carriage and on the right corner Thatha’s Renault car. The original photo in our house was lost with the tsunami.  This was the photo that was with the Bestman Honda Mama, which Neela Nanda passed on to Amma.

Photographs©Chulie Kirtisinghe de Silva


13 thoughts on “The Flower of Love: Bennie meets Manel”

    1. Chulie,
      I stayed with the very kind and gentle Bennie and Manel 42 years ago. A few days ago I wrote the following to my wife Anna, who is touring round-the-world….

      One night while you were in Singapore I began to dream of my own trip thru that part of the world 42 years ago. Somehow, my mind got to what was then Ceylon and a little west coastal town there named Hikkadua. I had it so good there…so much so that its memory has receded into my mind to a special place that today makes me wonder if I was ever there at all. For a couple of dollars a day I stayed with a very kind man and his wife: a house they called “Siri Niwasa”, a wonderful room that looked on a garden, a short path to the sea with a magical coral reef, 3 meals a day, and a young man who climbed the trees for young coconuts when I was thirsty in the heat of the day. It was a peaceful town, and the only foreigners I saw during my 2 week stay were a couple of young Germans with a quirky way of looking at life.

      My host and hostess were Bennie and Manel. After so many years, a few days ago I found them again….

      1. DaleHi!

        What a wonderful gift your mail is– almost to the day. 13th May was my father Bennie’s birthday and I saw my mother Manel on the 10th in Galle. She is 87 years old now but still a beautiful lady — mellowed a lot. I am not sure where you are located now but I am in Washington. I work for the World Bank and is here for the next 2 weeks. Are you by any chance living in this part of the woods?

        When I et back to Sri Lanka I will share the contents of your mail with my mother. Her memory is good. I hope she remembers you. In any case she would so love to hear your words. In the meantime I will share it with my sons in Sydney and my sister in Brisbane.

        So you would have visited Hikkaduwa in 1968 — I was married and living in England at that time.

        If you read my other blog ( you would see how we got caught in the tsunami and we lost our brother Prasanna. After the trauma of that event we moved out. My mother lives with my youngest brother Pradeep

  1. Chulie: Thanks for sharing another moving story. The image added a touch of poignancy to the story. I was sorry to hear the original was lost to the tsunami – with so many lives and so much else – but am glad a copy survived somewhere else.

    Our mutual friend Shahidul Alam wrote in the book on Communicating Disasters that I co-edited last year: “As people rummaged through the ruins of their homes, the first thing they searched for was photographs.”

    His full chapter is found online at:

  2. Two blogs in two days – I can cope with that…especially when they are interesting and so well written. Keep it up – retirement is a long way off!

  3. I am not really fantastic with English but I get hold this very easy to interpret.

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