“So what do you want to know?” she enquired. “Everything,” I replied. She chuckled. “Okay. How much information do you have already?” “Bits and pieces. There’s a newspaper clipping …” “What does it say?” “According… More
Click here to read Our Present Past (1)
Life changed with the grisly demise of her husband, Vethanayagam Subramaniam Samuel. In ways Mary Chellamma never imagined. The breadwinner struck down in his prime, she was left alone to raise month-old twins amongst six young children. There was neither time, nor expertise to tend the land which was the family’s only source of income.
Mary turned in desperation to her brother-in-law, her husband’s brother, who cultivated rice and raised cattle on the adjoining property. He agreed to take on the management of her farm. Mary was relieved to be rid of the burden.
Blood is thicker than water, after all, and they were neighbours …
Harriet (Theivanei) Danvers – Mary’s mother, the children’s maternal grandmother – a widow herself, lived in her own home, a stone’s throw away. This pious woman was a bottomless reservoir of strength.
The late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries saw evangelical activity at its height in northern Ceylon. The numerous schools and hospitals in the region bore witness to the presence and commitment of the American and British missionaries. Mary Chellammah, a young woman still, found employment with the CMS Missionaries in the area, who offered her a position as nurse’s aide at the local missions hospital.
Disaster struck again. Neighbour-brother-in-law turned perfidious predator and assumed ownership of the widow’s property. By unscrupulous means he had changes were made to the the title deeds and the cattle were re-branded accordingly.
Grandma Harriet – Paatti to the little ones – was a woman of prayer and unshakeable faith. She was known to sit in her house for hours by herself, lost in prayer. Her hands one upon the other, palms facing heavenwards, she pleaded with tears for heaven’s favour.
Subramaniam Vethanayagam (S.V.) Chelliah, her oldest grandson, looked in through an open window one day, and heard the old lady praying out loud in Tamil: “Heavenly Father, what am I to do about these children? Open the windows of heaven and bless them, I pray.” (“Aandavaney, intha sinna kulanthaihalodu naan enne seivan? Vaananthin palahanhelai thiranthu intha chiruvarhalai aasirwathiyum.”)
Irreverently tickled by the pious woman’s fervour, Chelliah summoned his brothers and sisters to witness the peep-show. The amused youngsters gawked at their grandmother while she made her petition to the unseen Almighty.
“Look at how her hands are open and reaching upwards,” he snorted with laughter. “She’s waiting for heaven to open and blessings to fall into them.”
The yield from the land continued to be purloined by the greedy uncle. Mary and her little ones lived in a home, which, according to the doctored deeds, was theirs no more.
Life was a struggle.
The stuff that ugly fairy tales are made of …
When the twins – Solomon and Anna – were six years old, Mary Chellammah took ill and was confined to her bed. Grandma Harriet, who carried on as best she could, was out of earshot when young Chelliah complained, “The food is not good (chaapadu chari illai).”
“Be patient, my son,” his ailing mother urged. “I’ll be up and about to cook tasty meals for my children (porungo rasa, naan elumbitu wanthu, nalai chamaichchu kudukiren pillaihalukku)”
Mary was unable to keep her promise. Fate struck another foul blow when she succumbed to her illness and died a short while later. The six fatherless offspring of Vethanayagam Subramaniam Samuel were now orphans.
Grandma Harriet – was left to raise the children on her own.
The children became unofficial wards of the Anglican Church.
Elizabeth Thangamma, who showed no particular interest in academic learning, was constrained to give up her schooling in order to remain at home and help cook and care for her siblings.
The boys were fostered out to benevolent families in Jaffna, sixty miles north of Vavuniya. The providential intervention of the church enabled them to continue their education at the reputed CMS Missions boys’ school, St. John’s College , Chundikuli (Jaffna).
On Shadrack Chinniah’s twelfth birthday he received a letter from his grandmother (who remained in Vavuniya with his sisters), mailed to his new address in Jaffna. The single sheet of notepaper was laced with weighty words of blessing written in the Tamil language.
Granny wrote: May you, little one, go from strength to strength, and become a millionaire (Chinnavan aigiramum siriyavan palaththa seemanum aavaan).
This birthday proved to be a milestone marking the end of Shadrack’s formal schooling. He bade farewell to Saint John’s College where he learned to read, write and speak with the polish and ability of a highly educated individual. His dreams lay beyond the confines of the arid northern province, far away in the colonial metropolis of Colombo.
The landscape shifted from dusty-dry to lush-verdant as the tracks snaked inland and the train rattled on its way, two hundred miles down to the capital city in the south of Ceylon.
In his shirt pocket, pressed to his heart, was the precious birthday letter.
The memory of his mother grazed his thoughts. The grim ghost of his uncle’s unthinkable actions haunted these quiet moments.
Shadrack pressed his face to the train window. Coconut-thatch huts and green fields flew by.
The new life beckoned.
World War I was still to come.
To be continued …
Geneology of the Danvers and Samuel lines (from the files of the late S.E.R. Perinpanayagam, courtesy Eric and Tim Perinpanayagam)
Danvers family line –
* Kanthar married Thangam and had 4 children – 2 sons and 2 daughters (Circa 1790)
* Their son, Kathirgamar Danvers (born 1809) married Anna Saveriyal.
* Kathirgamar and Anna Danvers had 7 (8 ?) children – only 1 daughter
David, Jane, Daniel, Gabriel, Samuel, Solomon & Joseph.
* David Danvers married Harriet Theivanai
* David and Harriet Danvers had 3 children, all daughters.
Mary Chellammah, Elizabeth Annamma & Rebecca Ponnamma
* Mary Chellammah Danvers married Subramanium Vethanayagam Samuel
* Mary Chellammah Danvers and Subramaniam Vethanayagam Samuel had 3 sons and 3 daughters –
Sarah Chinnamah, Subramaniam Vethanayagam Chelliah, Shadrack Chinniah, Elizabeth Thangammah, Solomon Chinniah and Anna Chinnathangam
*Rebecca Ponnama married Samuel Alfred Chelladurai Perinpanayagam
Samuel family line –
Illanganayagar Udaiyar of Kaithady – Vethanayagam married: Seeniachi of Urumpirai
They had 6 daughters and 3 sons which included
* Subramanium Vethanayagam Samuel who married Mary Chellammah
Thangam Vethanayagam who married Solomon Danvers
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Life’s poignant vignettes erupt at unexpected moments.
Like that time in the hotel in Delhi …
She hovered uncertainly and looked anxious. Out of place in a sprawling hotel lobby teeming with tourists and brass-buttoned bellboys.
A bouquet of flowers in her hand. Red roses, in orange florist’s wrapping.
A dark swathe of garment flowed from the crown of her head all the way down to her heels. Only the hands were open to scrutiny. And the eyes. Beautiful eyes.
Elegance and grace.
He stepped up from behind. A brief exchange of words and she relaxed. The fabric of her shroud merged into the black of the couch.
The quiet tête-à-tête played out in the mirrored wall behind them.
His eyes never left hers. She leaned towards him. An ease, a pleasant familiarity in their interaction.
A glint of gold flashed on her fourth finger. I caught my breath.
The blinding brightness of Diwali, the annual Hindu Festival of Lights, crawled all over the streets outside, dripping off buildings and dangling from trees.
India ablaze …
… with light —
Bargain hunters poured into late-closing stores, negotiating traffic-snarled streets. Pavement hawkers squawked and beckoned.
Loud distraction painted the cosmopolitan metropolis and seeped into the marbled luxury of the hotel.
She nodded and waved a slender hand. The band of gold gleamed in the light of the crystal chandeliers.
Her eyes smiled.
The aching weight of might-have-been.
Playing with fire …
And then there was Farah …
My tiny friend flirted toothlessly and allowed me to hold her when harrassed-mom-of-three-kids-under-six looked like she could do with a break.
She nodded off from time to time and I caught this moment in cameo. It touched my heart –
as I recalled lines from the Psalms –
But I have calmed and quieted my soul, like a child quieted at its mother’s breast. (Psalm 131:2)
A powerful visual image.
There is an air of haughty luxury about some Middle Eastern airports –
and a mysterious modesty surrounds the veiled women –
The preoccupation with cellphones, of course, is global –
In the Middle East …
In India …
Sri Lanka …
A worldwide phenomenon, here to stay.
Does one even remember life before mobile devices?
Thankful for leisured people-watching fiestas during long layovers at far-flung international airports. Life at its unselfconscious best.
And thankful to be home.
Puppy found his present …
Until next time,
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The sun glowed orange during rush hour this morning. My heart sagged under a weight of joy and I slowed down to take pictures –
I almost sent them off to you.
Then I remembered …
I recalled a recent dialogue we had.
Me: Could I use these pictures of you, please? There’s such a beauty about you that’s riveting.
You: You can use every picture you want. You don’t have to ask. Surprise me!
So I’m surprising you today …
You: How long was your fight with cancer?
Me: The cancer battle was over a year and a half. My oncologist calls me a success case (I prefer miracle patient). I don’t look like myself in the picture, do I? Within two weeks of your first chemo, the hair starts falling out and you mutate into someone else. I began to practice intentional thankfulness. When gratitude seeps in, joy is not too far behind. Those were beautiful, dark, lovely, intense and precious times. God sends angels, as you know, in many shapes and forms.
You: I don’t look like myself anymore, either. I was always on the go. Now it is my mind that is on fast.
The aircraft commenced its descent into Halifax last Thursday afternoon and my thoughts overflowed with vignettes from your heart –
- My mum sent the pink rose to me today … just because. The Ford Escape is on the lawn because Cam wanted me to see it. He just bought it yesterday as a second vehicle. My wheelchair van rides low so it’s not practical for snowy days ahead. I always loved a Ford Escape and Cam would drive a van.
- We have a cottage on the Bay of Fundy and watch the tides go in and the tides go out. Nature at its best. September is a special time. Most cottagers are only there on weekends, so the solitude and beauty is magnified. My paradise …
Your beloved Cameron –
- Cam and our brother-in-law are re-shingling the back of the cottage. It has been a busy day. For me, the moments when I can look out the window and see the eagle fly, sandpipers having their last meals before heading to South America and the magnificent clouds being reflected in both water and wet mud are highlights of my soul.
- Today it was 29 degrees and sunny, so I went out in my wheelchair to enjoy. On impulse I drove on my lawn around to my gardens to see the tulips and bleeding heart. I felt free until my wheelchair got stuck in soggy lawn. Resourceful Cam got blocks of wood and we managed to get out. BUT my tires were full of mud. Cam cleaned as much as he could off and them I wheeled myself in. A flashback hit me. How many times had I told the boys NOT to wear their dirty boots in the house? Cam, patient Cam, has been working at getting the wheels clean ever since!!!
JOY was your three-letter codeword –
- Went to the Festival of Lights today in Wolfville, where Cam and I met while going to Acadia University. At the farmer’s market, it was all about Indian food and entertainment. I got a dragonfly and the word JOY done with henna and several Indian silk scarves for Christmas gifts.
- I am waking up immediately to JOY in the morning for the next couple of weeks.
- What made my day? My careworker this morning for 4 hours was Holly. Someone that previously had only been there for my half hour tuck-ins at night. We were sitting at my kitchen table in the sun, when I asked her about her heart-shaped ring … and that was my further joy for the day.
You infused JOY into every moment, Judy, distilled, savoured, sipped on it, then infected the air you breathed and intoxicated those around you.
You: There is no such thing as coincidence.
Absolutely. I agree …
You: Maybe I came into your life to show you the other side of ALS. The joyful side.
You did just that. And you did it so well …
Your boys: your pride and JOY –
- Tim is home. Happy heart.
- Just got back from taking Tim to the airport. What a lovely visit and a wonderful son. He left such wonderful memories behind.
- Andrew came home on Friday and stays till this Friday. Check him out on You Tube in the Hot Fireman ALS Ice Bucket Challenge. (Click here to watch Judy standing at Andrew’s side as he takes up the challenge.)
Matthew was home from Wednesday to Saturday. Shared the big news that Laura is pregnant! Be still my heart. We are so blessed.
Those grandbabies –
- Got a wonderful card in the mail today, with an ultrasound picture on the front and the announcement inside saying “It’s a boy!” Our third grandson is due the end of October. The Starrit genes were working again. OverJOYed!!!!
- He was born yesterday and all is right with the world. 8lb 11 0z of pure JOY! Yesterday was such an emotional day. Waiting, wondering, wishing, praying. And then the phone call came. Rejoicing, heart exploding, celebrating our new JOY! And then by 10.00 at night, emotional breakdown. Thinking about what I will be missing in his future, but being so overjoyed he is here. A part of me.
- He’s Henry now. Named after Cam’s dad. We are still on our baby high. Will be for quite a while.
- Cam just stenciled a picture of him onto a pillowcase.
- Tomorrow Andrew, Findlay and Eamon are coming for Thanksgiving weekend. I am beyond excited!!!
- I have arranged for the pilot, Debbie, of the only plane that travels to Sable Island, to come and speak about her experiences.
- I took pictures, but my hands were unsteady with excitement.
- Eamon just messaged me. Andrew is taking them to a movie. He likes to keep me informed.
Your sister —
- Tonight Linda comes. Any minute now.
- Linda is here and we are going to listen to the sixth CD of the Book Of Joy, a conversation between the Dalai Lama and Archbishop Tutu. This is our sixth Monday night doing it …
… and the whacky, wonderful friends –
- My friend, Mary, and sister are coming out to play a card game called Quiddler. A weekly event. I am on a winning streak.
- Mary brings muffins for Cam
- My tree is trimmed and …
… the Wild and Woolies are coming at 4.00. Laughter will abound.
- The Wild and Woolies have been getting together for over thirty years
Don’t forget the goats …
- Andrew and Cam have just taken the goats up the hill for a walk. If we let them loose too close to the house, they would eat all the flowers coming up …
- I always have flowers in my view. I even got flowers for Father’s Day!
Gotta be kid-ding – goats at a wedding?(The “kids” are included in Andrew and Shantel’s backyard nuptials) …
… and the chickens (of course) —
- Just had the chickens playing the xylophone at my window.
- Homecare just arrived, but chickens come first!
On living with ALS –
- I have a whole new view on listening. My boogie board is my voice now. People don’t wait until I finish writing and assume what I’m going to say and rush off to do their own thing. Also, they read it wrong, and I have to get their attention and underline a word or words.
- It cost less than $30 at Costco.
- I WAS a talker!
- I do most of my writing on my phone now.
- I am using my BiPAP for about 20 hours a day. It gives me the freedom of not having to think every time I take a breath. The strength in my hands has diminished as well. I will NOT let that keep me from living a full life but it has put limitations on what I can do. ALS sucks sometimes.
Sucks? The beast stinks …
- Thank you, my dearest friend, for caring so much
You have no idea how much, Judy …
About the annual ALS Walkstrong fundraising campaign —
- Success. Beyond resounding! My mind is still going. Still walking. Still enjoying yesterday. There were 59 people, including care-workers, friends and family on Judy’s Joys. I am blessed Truly blessed.
- Took 5-6 days to get over the walk. SO worth it!
We shared our rainbows, you and I —
In your home …
… in mine –
You: We are definitely sisters from another mother.
There’s no doubt about that!
You: The physical meeting somehow eludes us, but we are so much beyond that. We are so much closer than that. What we have done for each other is beyond friendship.
Me: Can’t wait to meet you, Judy. It will be odd, though. Kind of like having a first date after being married for a year!
You: I, too, want to meet you! If I could, I would be on a plane now. But the other side of reality is that I know I won’t be travelling by plane anymore. Too many uncertainties.
You: Wish, wish you lived nearby. Always thinking about you.
Me: Me too. I love how Cam cares for you, love the chickens, love the red bike. I even love your ghastly puns!
You: Our friendship goes much deeper. I needed you as much as you needed me. You took me outside of myself.
- By the way, Cam is going to mail a parcel to you tomorrow. No parcel from you yet. Tomorrow.
Your parcel arrived by express post on December 23rd. Icicles dripped off the eaves as the mailman hopped from one foot to the other and blew on his hands, while I hastily inscribed a signature on the electronic board he held out to me.
Such a treasure trove of thoughtful things inside …
Me: Did you make the Scrabble ornament? Love it!
You: Bought it at the ALS sale.
Me: It was meant for me.
You: I found your DREAMS, didn’t I?
You sure did!
We called on Christmas Eve, before heading out to church. Husband, Daughters and I sang We Wish You A Merry Christmas on speakerphone. Cam said you raised your arms in delight and crossed your hands over your heart.
On Christmas day we shared cameo moments.
You sent me –
and I sent these –
- Isn’t this fun?
- Our house was always the ‘go to’ house at Christmas. I used to make rolls and shape them in the form of wreaths and Christmas trees. Decorate them, of course, and wrap them in clear, cellophane with fancy ribbons. That is a thing of the past now, but Christmas still comes and goes!
I sent you a song on Saturday night. It came with my heart. Your response set my heart ablaze.
Click here to listen …
I picked up Cameron’s message on Sunday afternoon. You crossed over an hour after we last messaged each other.
Cousin Preman met me at the airport and drove me to the afternoon and evening visitations.
I met Cam and Linda, Mum and your boys. And the Wild and Woolies, of course.
Linda told me she’d packed my Christmas box of goodies for Cam to mail. She recognized the necklace I wore.
I laughed with the Wild and Woolies. Such stories they had to tell …
It felt like I’d known your friends and family forever.
Your final farewell on Friday was one immense celebration of joy. The church was packed.
An unusual, uplifting occasion. You planned it all yourself, Linda said in her tribute.
Your beloved Bhangra Boys danced their hearts out.
(Click here to dance with Judy and her Bhangra Boys, on her birthday last year.)
I picked up my tea bag and one of your dainty, embroidered white hankies on my way out.
(Click here for photos and video clips of Judy’s funeral Celebration of Joy)
It felt strange to visit your home on Saturday. To walk up the ramp and knock at your kitchen door.
Joy all over the house, pouring from every corner.
Cam and I sat in your room. We chatted like we’d known each other forever.
My Christmas package finally made it out to you after New Year’s, he told me. Two days before your final departure. Cam said you smiled when he showed it to you
He showed me your rubber chickens. I peeped into the henhouse on my way out.
You wrote three months ago: PS: Oct 11 – went to my regular 3 month appointment with all the specialists today. They are all pleased with how I’m doing …
The only predictable thing about life is its unpredictability, isn’t it?
I’m sipping, as I remember and write, from the mug I found nestled in my surprise Christmas box.
The dragonfly brightens my kitchen window. I love how it begins to burn when the sun seeps through.
We never said ‘hello’ in person, Judy. I never got to write about what I discovered in the bombed out jungle graveyard in Tellipallai, Jaffna. This was not how our Dear Judy travel series was supposed to end.
I’m thankful you found this blog and reached out in joyful friendship.
(Click here to read how we met)
Thank you, my courageous friend. You are proof that a purpose-driven life does not necessarily embrace a bed of roses. You were a true and unique gift.
- Loving you from afar. Love, xx Judy
I love you too, Judy …
We’ll meet face-to-face. On the other shore some day, when my own journey’s done.
His Master said to him, “Well done, good and faithful servant … enter into the JOY of your master.” (Matthew 25:23 RSV)
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The snow’s piled up outside.
Summer still clings to my head in spite of the skeletal trees brooding outside my window.
Okay, so returning to warmer times in sunny climes …
We are now in Jaffna, Judy. Part Two of our virtual travels together, you and I —
Click here to read Good Morning (Again) Colombo! (Dear Judy, Part 1) …
We drove into Tellippalai where Dad’s parents settled on their return to Ceylon (Sri Lanka’s pre-republic name) from the British colony of Malaya, shortly after World War II. Grandpa, a communications officer under the British government, took up the post of Airport Controller in the neighbouring town of Palaly.
Ghosts of war-time devastation lined our route. Cringing skeletons of bombed out buildings still haunt this once-upon-a-time ghost town.
A trickle of former war regugees are returning after decades of absence. Several unclaimed properties are now in government hands …
Desolate brick-and-motar wraiths of buildings steadfastly guard their ground –
So on day three of our odyssey, Husband and I found ourselves at the entrance of the graveyard attached to the Church of the American Ceylon Mission.
The rubble of shattered gravestones poked their way through tall vegetation, thorny underbrush and rope-like vines. A tangled tatch of tropical jungle.
Yikes! How trustworthy is the church caretaker who said there were no snakes?
But I have to tell you first about the journey leading up to this moment, Judy.
So this is how it came about …
Husband and I made a spur-of-the-moment decision to visit our ancestral homelands in the Jaffna Peninsula, a war zone for decades and only recently open to tourists.
How to figure out the details in such a short space of time?
I remembered Yamindra Watson Perera of Jungle Fowl Leisure Planners
— and presented my wish list to Mariesz, her assistant. A demanding cut-and-paste itinerary, a combination of every location in the area associated with family history and lore. Neither lady turned a hair.
Mariesz: No. So sorry, we are still in the process of setting up our site for online payments.
Me: (wailing) But I don’t have time to go to the bank!
Yamindra and Mariesz showed up at Dad’s condo the next afternoon, with Accountant Lady and credit card machine in tow.
Impressive service or what?
All booked and paid up by the time Husband flew in from Toronto.
Still pitch-dark. Growling clouds burped and released a deluge as we drove away.
Rest stop and a scalding pot of Ceylon tea in the ancient city of Anuradhapura –
And it’s well past the hottest time of year …
Landscape grows arid, parched and thirsty.
A paradox-panorama of war and peace as we fly by –
Crossed Elephant Pass, a sliver of strait connecting the northern province to the rest of the island, sandwiched on either side by shallow stretches sea.
Welcome to Jaffna, the traditional homeland of the Tamil people …
Zipped through Vavuniyya, then Chavakacheheri —
— and on to Jaffna town.
A different ambiance manifests beyond Elephant pass. It’s unique, distinct.
Ladies on bicycles –
— scooters and motorbikes –
Neatly draped sarees and all …
Scooters/ motorbikes are the new, affordable middle class family vehicles –
A plethora of Hindu temples at every corner –
Temple architecture is typically South Indian …
Ancient deities –
– worshipped in nooks and under spreading trees –
Sages and ascetics, some long dead ..
… and some still very much alive —
A distinct, bright South Indian flavour in the traditional women’s fashions –
One-of-a-kind cuisine –
‘Holy’ cows roam the streets unchallenged —
Ubiquitous stray dogs-
A conservative culture still –
Check out the sign, Judy. Chuckling with you …
Discreet couples sneak into quiet corners away from the prying eyes …
A certain demureness about the young women. Untainted grace and elegance.
Long tresses, often worn in a single braid, still the order of the day –
(1) Shopping malls boasting …
… beauty parlours and bright billboards
(2) Supermarkets –
Shopping in airconditioned comfort versus haggling over prices at the local market …
(3) Upscale tourist hotels –
(4) Mobile phones –
(5) … and Tom Cruise!
Niranjan slowed down to point out the ruins of the old Kachcheri –
The bombed remains of the Kachecheri (district secretariat), a maginificent Dutch-era seat of administration. It’s modern replacement sits across the street ..
and other landmarks around town :
– The Jaffna Public Library and clock tower –
- Imprints of King Sangilian, last ruler of the Jaffna Kingdom
Lingered awhile in the amazingly well- preserved home of King Sangilian’s minister.
How it survived the war is a mystery …
– The teaching hospital
– And ever-present phantoms of the past
Remains of once-magnificent Dutch-era architecture –
(Click here to take a haunting walk through the shattered ruins of an old Dutch-period mansion.)
Carefully slid camera under barbed wire fence to get this one. No one could identify the sprawling ruins, probably a palace, across the street from our hotel. The damage is definitely pre-war, from ceturies of neglect. Thick tree trunks grow out of remnants of walls.
No fanfare or signage for many ancient abandoned Hindu worship-places squatting by the roadside –
A sense of unhurried uncomplexity about life in this region. As if it’s just awakening from a long sleep.
Fluorescent lights, after-sundown markets and shops groaning with made-in-China and other items in varying violent shades of neon –
The three-storey Rio Ice Cream parlour with its wide variety of modestly-priced sundaes, is the place to visit these days.
A constant stream of tourists spill out of loaded buses …
The place is popular with couples anxious to hide from nosey parkers.
In a culture of arranged marriages, young women have to be cautious about ‘spoiling’ their names and ruining future ‘chances’ …
Popped in at Aunty Sothy’s old house, occupied for years by the LTTE and then the military. Street numbers and names have changed. It took some locating.
Then on to some vanishing landmarks of the LTTE –
– The unmarked site of the slain Tamil Tiger leader, Prabhakaran’s home –
– and the remains of a Tamil Tiger war-themed children’s playground –
Built for children raised to hate and kill. Sent unpleasant chills up my back …
Must-see tourist spots –
- Nilavarai – the bottomless well –
- Keerimalai (Mongoose Springs) –
There is a more evident Buddhist presence these days, in this former enclave of Hinduism –
Sunday morning service at St John’s Church, Chundikuli, where Mum’s parents were married –
Click here to sing along in Tamil with the congregation of St John’s …
The minister gave us access to old vestry records …
The ones that survived …
… and introduced us to David, who led us to the little churchyard –
… and pointed out tombs and monuments of interest –
Such a thrill to locate the site of Mum’s grandpa Charles’ grave …
Niranjan invited us to visit his ancestral home.
He shrugged when I enquired enthusiastically if there were plans for restoration and renovations in the near future.
“Who has the money?”
Framed family photos still adorn the walls, dusty books distintegrate on cupboard shelves, clothing and kichen untensils scattered on the floor while a rusty parrot cage languishes in the yard outside –
Signs of hasty retreat …
Me: Is there any bitterness in your heart, Nirangan?
Niranjan: No. The people of the north accept that war is a political machine. Soldiers are paid to do a job and follow orders. Without acceptance and forgiveness, there is no way of moving on. Besides, we are tired of war and the stagnation it brings.”
Niranjan was born into war, a child of the horrendous ethnic conflict that saw a death toll of over one hundred thousand civilians. His eyes clouded over when he described the growing up years without electricity or leisure activities, when he had to do his homework by the light of a kerosene-fuelled hurricane lamp. When there were no sounds of boys playing cricket in the dirt lanes outside the garden gates. When no one dared step into the dusty streets after sundown. When schools ceased to operate, childhood ceased to exist and young people disappeared, never to be seen again. When every young man was suspected of being a terrorist and subjected to unspeakable horrors, or seen as a potential recruit for the Tamil Tiger cause and expected to perpetrate such horrors.
He talked of the time he was conscripted into the LTTE, months before the end of the war –
Against his will …
– and when the militants surrendered and the army closed in. The memories grew ugly and burdensome. He changed the subject.
Sometimes the eyes speak what the lips cannot utter. There’s a heaviness in the air …
Nirangan: No more tears. Why dwell on the past? Sinhalese is spoken on the streets as much as the Tamil language now.
I asked if I could write his story and he agreed to sit down and talk the next time I visited Sri Lanka.
I purchased a hurricane lamp –
A souvenir to remember the many years determined young people of Niranjan’s generation excelled academically despite deprivations and hindrances …
And now I should return to the beginning and the jungle-graveyard in Tellipalai, shouldn’t I? But I’m all out of time, Judy. I’m so sorry. In the next post, I promise. Probably not until after the New Year though.
Tons of Christmas stuff still to get done . I’m really behind this year …
If you should happen to know anyone who’s thinking of exploring Sri Lanka in an off-the-beaten-track sort of way, I would recommend Jungle Fowl. The service is personal and prompt. The team is with it, knowledgeable and passionate. An exciting, different kind of travel service, to be sure.
Stay warm, my friend. Loving this country as I do, the tropics still run in my veins. I’d be happy to remain indoors from December all the way to March, if I had the choice.
So thankful for the freedom we take so much for granted in this wonderful country of my adoption.
God keep our land, glorious and free,
Merry Christmas, my inspiring friend. You are a truly remarkable lady.
Thinking of you with affection.
All my love until next time,
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Splashes of butter and blood met my eye when I looked through the kitchen window, just two weeks ago. Time to put the terra cotta flower pots away in the garage.
So summer’s officially done.
I messaged you two months ago: What can I bring you from Sri Lanka?
You replied: Send me pictures of your culture.
Puppy had the usual anxiety attack. Suitcases are a rotten omen, as far as he’s concerned.
I decided to visit Dad later in the year, to avoid the hot season. Got fried last April.
Texted Aunty Rom (who’s not really my aunt!): I’m arriving in Colombo in two weeks. Looking forward to our morning walks.
The familiar sense of homecoming as the plane touched down on the tarmac. I’ve spent more than half my life away from the motherland.
Sinhalese words came diffidently to my lips, then slid out with fluency. It takes my tongue a few minutes to get acclimatized.
Dad’s driver was waiting outside. He cranked up the air conditioning. The roads were congested, though it was still early in the morning.
A bewildering sea of highrises punctured the sky around me.
Colombo is currently the fastest growing metropolis in Asia, I’ve been told …
The Lotus Tower , dominates the skyline.
Rush hour traffic is in full swing and Dad’s just waking up when we get home.
Everything’s spick and span, crisp linen in the guest room, a fresh breeze and the sun streaming in through the open balcony doors.
A resounding emptiness, though. A sort of hollow ache as the eye alights on an empty rocking chair, the laptop idling under a dustcloth and the vacant seat beside Dad’s easy chair in front of the living room TV.
It’s been two and a half years. Hard to believe.
I missed Mum’s embrace, her radiant smile.
“How are you, my darling girl?”
Dad drove us to Independent Square in the evening to catch some fresh air. I struggled to keep awake.
This is my Dad, Judy.
He was a strikingly handsome man in his day.
Independence Square is a great place for people-watching. I got unobtrusively busy with my camera.
A change of scene the next evening, when Dad headed for Viharamahadevi Park (formerly Victoria Park). An imposing statue of Queen Victoria appears to have materialized out of nowhere.
There’s a different ambiance in this space, besides the gnarly, mammoth trees, probably planted in Victorian times —
… it’s the lovers cuddling beneath the colossal branches!
For as far as the eye can see …
Maybe because someone forgot to put up a sign like this one —
Tongue in cheek, of course …
Around six o’clock, dusk begins to fall and uniformed decency police appear to guard the morals of the nation. The amorous pairs are shooed out of the park.
Don’t laugh, Judy. I’m not fibbing – honest!
Three-wheeler tuk tuks swarm all over the city like a plague of locusts. They are the quickest and most precarious mode of transport in this traffic-choked city. The captions adorning the bodywork often had me chuckling —
So why is this one stuffed into the open doorway of an empty showroom?
Still good old tuk tuks are the go-to mode of emergency transport, I’ve often resorted to myself. A wild ride. Kids find it a hoot.
Uber is the latest trend, though, and so much cheaper with heavenly airconditioned vehicles …
I was up all night for the first ten days, Jet lag kills me. It gets worse with the passage of time.
The early walks with Aunty Rom were my day’s highlight.
In spite of these urgings –
and the necessary tools left lying around —
… and these willing workers
— the streets looked uncared for, garbage piled up in corners, picked over by crows and stray dogs.
A disappointing regression since the government changed hands.
The supervised disposal of crow’s nests has been abadondoned, Aunty Rom tells me.
Animal rights activists or government cutbacks. Don’t recall …
The morning walks energized me, Judy. I began each day embracing the essence of the city with all its quirks and complexities.
I remember this woman from last year —
The homeless slumber on –
… and the dogs —
Vigorously cleaning business premises —
At the bus stop. To school and work –
And so the day begins –
Early morning moments –
Some of my favourite moments, captured just for you, Judy –
The streets at peace half an hour before morning mayhem breaks out –