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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Home Sweet Home

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The sea is a dull green. The beach strewn with jetsam and flotsam — broken coral pieces, empty bottles, rubbish, green and white dried seaweeds. A little girl skips along the shore, followed by a man carrying a pensive sad looking toddler that he is trying to feed from a plastic milk bottle. I stop to talk to him and learns his wife is in hospital and the toddler missing his mum is not keen on bottled milk. No, he is not from Hikkaduwa but from Medawachchiya, but had married a lass from here. The little girl, his daughter is a joy to watch — carefree, happy with the gloomy grumpy monsoon sea at Hikkaduwa. Sentimental me. I note every facet of the day, for this is the morning after the first night I’ve slept at Siriniwasa after the fateful tsunami of 2004.

Further along I watch a scene I…

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Benny’s Point

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Lounging on a “hansi putuwa” (planter’s chair) on the back verandah, watching a pair of blue kingfishers streak in and out among the coconut trees, sipping my morning tea, I am amazed at how relaxed I am. Gone with the wind are cravings to check mail or FB. There are  no deadlines to meet, no worries about strategies, budgets, Action Logs or Performance Appraisals. It is a painless transition to the stress free lassiz-faire lifestyle favoured by my father Bennie.

The coconut trees planted by my father have grown taller since my last visit, and the sky behind is a lovely porcelain Wedgewood blue. Beyond it the sea is multi-coloured — the pale jade green gets darker in the middle and turns almost a lilac where there are bands of coral. The horizon is smudged a deeper inky black and the thought that rains will come later in the day…

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Unexpected pleasures of old photos

Chuls Bits & Pics

It was a regular sound of a banging on a door or a window that woke me up in the middle of the night. Robbers, polecats?– snuggled nicely in bed I debated whether to get up or not but in the end commonsense got better of me and I switched on lights, peered from my window in to the garden. It was the howling winds with a full blown monsoon storm that was spinning my avocado tree in a crazy tango. Thankfully my road was not flooding and my house was dry — not like a couple of years ago when I stepped out of bed into a rising tide of water when a neighbhour woke me up saying “your house is getting flooded!”

Next day, the rain continued to pelt, I kept a wary eye open for signs of flooding but there was not much to lift the gloomy…

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An aunt, a house, and of joys on the beach at Hikkaduwa

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I have always waited with bated breath for the holidays to begin at Hikkaduwa, to be embraced by the warmth of that house, Siriniwasa, hear in the winds that came through the grove of coconut trees whisper of the joys of many who have been here before us.

For me, Siriniwasa was not just a house of bricks and mortar – for it is a house that has lived with us, witnessing births, marriages, sicknesses and the pain of death. It has become a companion that walked with me whenever I was away from it, the joys of memories sustaining me in difficult times. It remains an integral part of all of us who have loved within it.  Many of us remember with a smile the spirit and all it stood for – solid family values and that Southern hospitality.  We all leave our footprints in the sand, embed our…

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