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Our Present Past (1)

“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 to Rev. Donald Kanagaratnam who wrote an article which was published in the Morning Star, a young man named Kadirgamar Danvers from Tellipalai was baptized into the Christian faith in 1835. The villagers, angered by the conversion, burned the local church down.  Danvers fled to the village of Panditherruppu, where he met and married Anna Saveriyal.”

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A clipping of the article by Rev. Donald Kanagratanam published in 1981 in the Morning Star (courtesy Eric Perinpanayagam).  The Morning Star was the oldest English newspaper in Jaffna, established by the American missionaries in 1841.

“There was a lot of missionary activity in Panditherruppu at the time.  They were more tolerant towards the converts,” she explained.

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The American Mission Church in Tellipalai, Jaffna (prior to civil war damage and reconstruction)

 

“According to Rev. Canagaratnam, Kadirgamar Danvers and Anna had seven children.  One of them was Solomon Danvers,who trained as a medical practitioner under the famous Dr. Green of Manipay.  An old Bible geneology that came into my possession recently, makes mention of only four offspring.”  

 

The children of Kadirgamar and Anna Danvers (as recorded in the Bible of Solomon Samuel, their great grandson) –

  • David Danvers (married Harriet  Theivanei)
  • Solomon Danvers (married Thangam Vethanayagam)
  • Jane Elizabeth Danvers (married Joshua Perinpanayagam)
  • Gabriel Danvers (married Mary Santiago)

 David Danvers (son of Kadirgamar and Anna) married Harriet Theivanei.

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Victoria Harriet (Theivenei) Danvers  (courtesy Vasanthi Narendran)
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1. Gabriel Danvers and wife, Mary (nee Santiago)     2.  Gabriel’s son and wife – Alfred Muttiah Danvers and Archimuttu – with their daughter                         3. Albert Seevaratnam Danvers and his sister, Muttamma, children of Gabriel’s brother, Solomon Danvers (from notes by the late Rev. Donald Kanagaratnam)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The children of David and Harriet Danvers –

  • Mary Chellammah Danvers (married Vethanayagam Samuel)
  • Elizabeth Annamma Danvers (married Jacob Arumainayagam)
  • Rebecca Ponnamma Danvers (married Samuel Alfred Perinpanayagam)

 “Mary Chellammah married Vethanayagam Samuel, who was your great grandfather,” she said.  “Her sister, Rebecca Ponnamma, married Samuel Alfred Perinpanayagam. Samuel Alfred’s father was Joshua Perinpanayagam, who married Jane Elizabeth Danvers, (the daughter of Kadirgamar and Anna), David Danvers’ sister.”

My head begins to swim in a muddle of recurring last names …

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Mary Chellammah Samuel (nee Danvers) (From the archives of Rev. Donald Kanagaratnam)
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Rebecca Ponnamma Perinpanayagam (nee Danvers) (far left) (1901 Uduvil Female Seminary matriculation class. She obtained a Queen’s Scholarship on the results of the Calcutta Matriculation examination.  Her mother and she were among the earliest batches to graduate from Uduvil Girls School, established by American Missionaries in 1841) ( Courtesy Eric Perinpanayagam)
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Samuel Alfred and Rebecca Ponnamma (nee Danvers) Perinpanayagam (courtesy Eric Perinpanayagam)
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Samuel Alfred Chelladurai Perinpanayagam, at age 25 (born 1872)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

“Ah … so that’s the Perinpanayagam connection.  And Rebecca Ponnamma Danvers and Samuel Alfred Perinpanayagam were first cousins,” I commented.  “There’s a link to the Newtons, too, I noticed …”

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Family tree notes from the files of S.E.R. Perinpanayagam (son of Rebecca Ponnamma and Samuel Alfred Perinpanayagam) (Courtesy Thavo Perinpanayagam)
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Samuel Alfred and Rebecca (Danvers) Perinpanayam with their children and Rebecca’s mother, Harriet (Theivanei) Danvers (from the archives of the late Rev. Donald Kanagaratnam)

“There have been Danvers/Perinpanayagam/ Newton marriages over a few generations,” she replied. “My mother told me the old stories.  Now I can pass them on to you and they won’t die with me. I’m so happy you are doing this.” 

Her eyes grew misty.

I’m visiting the Colombo home of Aunty Paranidhi, Mum’s cousin.  We’ve just met for the first time.  She responds with ease to my barrage of questions  …

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Aunty Paranidhi, a goldmine of ancecstral history.  I managed to snatch two more visits during my brief stay in Colombo.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

My journey of inquiry commenced shortly after Mum’s funeral in 2015, when I came across a battered copy of a formal family portrait from the 1930’s.

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The photograph that began it all.  Shadrach Samuel, wife Mercy (nee Newton) and their children, taken before the birth of their youngest child, Elizabeth.  Left to right: Ruby, Pearl, Dan (seated), Peter. Beatrice is the toddler held by her father.

Faded photos on relatives’ Facebook pages – fascinating pictures of men and women from generations gone by – fanned curiosity to a compelling flame. 

The search began. 

I embarked on a voyage of e-mails, long distance calls and some stamped, addressed pieces of snail mail. Pictures, obituary notices, genealogies and newspaper clippings poured in from all corners of the globe.  Through Facebook introductions, Whats App texts and hand-written letters, relatives contacted each other on my behalf, and people I’d only heard of by name leapt onto the ancestry bandwagon.

An inundation of images and information descended on me.  Tantalizing clues, fascinating glimpses into a bygone colonial culture and whispers of a skeleton or two in the ancestral cupboards. Riveting.  The stuff bestselling novels are made of.

The first stop on the trail led me to Wellawatte (Colombo, Sri Lanka) and Aunty Paranidhi.  Her eyesight is almost non-existent, but her mind is razor-sharp, her recollection flawless. I see pieces of my mother in the facial features.  The family resemblance is evident. 

My pen flies across the pages of the notebook I balance on my lap …

“So Mary Chellammah – David and Harriet Danvers’ daughter – was given in marriage to Vethanayagam Subramaniam Samuel.  He was a farmer who owned land in Urumbrai – 

Vethanayagam Samuel and Mary Chellammah had six children –

  • Rebecca Chinnamah (married David Sinniah Kanagaratnam)
  • Subramaniam Chelliah (married Annam)
  • Shadrach Chinniah Samuel (married Mercy Sugirtharatnam Newton)
  • Elizabeth Thangamma (married Godwin Wesley Sittampalam)
  • Anna Chinnathangam (married Albert Kanthapoo)
  • Solomon Chinnatamby Samuel (married Mercy Atputhanayagam Gnanaratnam)
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Subramaniam V. Chelliah
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Rebecca Ponnamma

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Elizabeth Thangamma
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Shadrach Chinniah
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Anna Chinnathangam
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Solomon Chinnathamby

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

“Aunty Renee found handwritten notes in her father’s Bible  – that’s the Bible I mentioned.  She sent me scanned copies of the geneologies recorded on the fly leaf.  My heart almost stopped when I saw how the entries confirm the details set out in Uncle Donald’s article.  Just imagine, how information from a source in Australia confirms the data acquired from another source in Western Canada! Within weeks of each other.  It has to be providence!”

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Handwritten family records from great uncle Solomon Samuel’s Bible

“Your interest is inspiring,” she commented. “No one seems to care about these things these days. Renee is Solomon Chinnathamby’s daughter. He had ten children.  She is my first cousin.”

 “Yes, I know. I remember great uncle Solomon Samuel and the annual Christmas visits to his home in Mutwal. 

“Anna and Solomon were twins,” she continued.  “Shadrach Chinniah was your grandfather.  Anna Chinnathangam was my mother.  And Rebecca Chinnammah was the mother of Rev. Donald Kanagaratnam who wrote the article you told me about.  He was my cousin and your mother’s.”

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Rev. Donald Kanagaratnam (standing) with his sisters and mother, Rebecca Ponnamma

“According to the genealogy in the Bible, Anna Saveriyal – Kadirgamar Danvers’ wife – was a Bible Woman,” I noted.

“Bible women worked among the women in the village.  They visited the homes, shared the gospel of their faith and cared for them,” she explained.

“I remember your mother,” I said. “We called her Asai Granny. She came to stay with us once when I was about seven years old.  I remember the glasses and the white hair knotted at the back of her head.  She taught me how to make a rag rug with strips of leftover material and a hairpin.  I never forgot that.”

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Anna Chinnathangam (Asai Granny) as I remember her

 

 

 

Aunty picks up the threads of her narrative …

“Vethanayagam Samuel, a successful farmer, wanted more land.  After the birth of his two oldest children, he relocated his family to Vavuniya in the undeveloped Vanni region of the northern province of Jaffna.  In those days, people of the Vanni were considered wild and uncouth, even the British avoided the area, so land was dirt cheap. Samuel disposed of his property in Urumbirai, and with the proceeds from the sale, invested in several acres in Vavuniya. He built a house for his growing family and began to cultivate the land.

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Jaffna province in northern Sri Lanka (Ceylon)

Once established and beginning to prosper, Samuel encouraged his brother and family move to Vavuniya and make a new life for themselves. The brother sold his land in Urumbrai and purchased the stretch of property adjoining Samuel’s fields. The families became neighbours.

Vethanayagam Samuel distinguished himself as a prominent citizen and earned the respect of his peers.  He was appointed chairman of the village council, which was a position of authority and responsibility.

The were no proper roads in the region.  Daily journeys on foot could involve traversing stretches of jungle inhabited by snakes and wild animals.  Legend has it that Samuel was skilled in the art of herbal medicine and would venture into the jungle in search of plants for his potions.

The farming life called for disciplined manual labour.  The older children, still all under ten, had to wake up at dawn each day to perform assigned chores.

Rebecca Chinnammah had the unenviable job of cleaning out the cattle shed.  One morning she pretended to be asleep and refused to be roused.  Her father, whose task it was to wake her up, finally declared, “If my child is really asleep, her feet will move.”

Rebecca reacted as expected and wiggled her toes.  She received a spanking for her naughtiness and was shooed out of bed to complete her daily task.

The twins – Anna and Solomon – were born in Vavuniya.  During the pregnancy, an astrologer made a grim proclamation.  He declared that the birth would not be a good omen and would bring about the untimely demise of both parents (Samuel and Mary).

Solomon showed no signs of life when he was born.  The midwife placed the tiny body on a banana leaf outside on the open verandah of the home and rushed back inside to attend to the mother who had gone into labour with a second baby – a twin – whose appearance was an unexpected surprise.  Rebecca, the oldest child, sat beside the lifeless form of her new little brother, shedding tears over the loss.  Providence intervened when a fly settled on the infant, who shuddered in response and began to bawl loudly as if nothing had been the matter. 

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Solomon Samuel in his twilight years.  He lived to a ripe old age and was known for his vigour and boundless energy.

Custom dictated that on the thirty-first day after the delivery of a chid, a traditional ceremony of cleansing (thudakku kaliththal in Tamil) must be carried out.  The woman who had given birth would take a ritual herbal bath and the house had to be washed and cleaned from top to bottom.

Vethanayagam Samuel and his wife were about to begin the task of house-cleansing when a message came from the village counsel.  Samuel was needed to arbitrate on a matter involving a dispute.  Samuel sent word asking to be excused. He requested that the vice chairman to act on his behalf.

A second summons came.  The matter was urgent, they said.  His presence was mandatory.

Samuel left home on the mission of mediation, assuring his wife he would return in an hour.  He conferred with both parties and reached a verdict.  The disgruntled man who hadn’t been favoured by the decision, reached for a weapon concealed in his clothing and struck a heavy blow.  Samuel’s head split open.  Never pausing to retaliate, Samuel re-tied his turban and headed home. Blood gushed down from the wound in his head.

He passed a pond (kulam) as he walked, and saw the family dhoby (washerman) scrubbing his way through a pile of villgers’ clothing.  Samuel stepped in to cool off and dipped his head in the water.  The dhoby, concerned to see how the water turned crimson from the blood, reached for some fresh-washed clothing spread out on the ground to dry.  Samuel shed his blood-stained linen, donning the clean sarong (veshti) and turban offered by the dhoby. He walked into the house to his waiting wife, stepped over the threshold and announced that he was ready to start cleaning. Then, barely pausing for breath, Vethanayagam Samuel collapsed at her feet and died.

In an instant Mary Chellammah Samuel found herself a widow with six young children on her hands.  Rebecca – the oldest – was 10, the twins – Solomon and Anna – were barely a month old.

Rebecca Chinnammah, a child herself, had to take charge of a brood of fatherless siblings while her mother attempted to salvage the pieces of their shattered lives.

(To be continued)

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Featured

For Her Eyes Only

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.

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“Only have eyes for you …”

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.

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… other symbolic Diwali decorations 
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Images of Hindu deities in the hotel lobby and …

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.                                 

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She sat on her mother’s lap, smiling all the way through a 15 hour flight.                           
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Farah: “That’s my mommy and she’s wonderful!”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

She nodded off from time to time and I caught this moment  in cameo.  It touched my heart –

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Sleeping Farah – an allegory of rest in complete trust

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 –

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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,

sincerely

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“Get lost, silly tourist!” (Amritsar,  India) 

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Good Morning Jaffna!

Dear Judy,

The snow’s piled up outside.                                          

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This morning’s view through kitchen door.
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My friend, Judy Starrit (seated), who lives in Beaver Banks, Nova Scotia.  

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Just the beginning …

Summer still clings to my head in spite of the skeletal trees brooding outside my window.

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There’s a desolate ugly-beauty about leafless tress 
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Sigh …
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Not if I had any choice in the matter …

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) …

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This is the island of Sri Lanka in the Indian Ocean, the tear drop at the foot of the sub-continent of  India.  The pink shaded area in north is the Jaffna peninsula where our ancestors hail from.

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. 

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Tellipallai was subjected to merciless bombing, in an ugly game of political tit-for-tat 

 

 

 

 

 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.

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The entrance to the graveyard-turned-jungle.  A short way down the road from the church.
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Rope-like vines with broken bits of tombstone peeping through the undergrowth

 

 

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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

Yamindra Watson Perera, partner at Jungle Fowl.  Her cousin told me about this adventurous new start up.

— 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.

Until …

Mariesz:  No.  So sorry, we are still in the process of setting up our site for online payments.   IMG-20171215-WA0002

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.

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The Jungle Fowl team: Yamindra Watson Perera (left), Mariesz Ebert (centre) with the credit card machine, smiling lady accountant (right)

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.     

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Droplets on car window as day awakes 
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Sunrise over cocunut trees

 

Rest stop and a scalding pot of Ceylon tea in the ancient city of Anuradhapura

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Tea at Seedevi Family Restaurant, brewed the Sri Lankan way — strong, with loads of sugar and condensed milk.  No time to linger unfortunately.
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Nirangan, our driver/guide, sips his tea

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Searing heat.

And it’s well past the hottest time of year …

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Brave tourists on bikes, mopping moisture off their persons
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Go girls! Ladies on scooters and mo’bikes.  The pillion rider is texting.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Landscape grows arid, parched and thirsty.

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The Jaffna peninsula’s signature palmyrah palm thrives where no greenery would dare
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Gasping to grow …

 

 

 

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Salt farms along the coastal line.
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Post-war reconstruction has produced impressive roads. Highway skirts the ocean and rail route

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A paradox-panorama of war and peace as we fly by –

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Memories of war – Concrete water tower resting on its side.  Toppled over by the LTTE (Liberation Tigers of Tamil Elam) militants.
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Monument to peace – the island of Lanka supported by multiple hands, the national flag in full flutter

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  …                    

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Finally the Lion of Lanka has united the troubled northern region (where once flew the  Tamil Tiger Flag)  with its southern brethren.
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Approaching Elephant Pass

Zipped through Vavuniyya, then Chavakacheheri —

 — and on to Jaffna town.  

A different ambiance manifests beyond Elephant pass.   It’s unique, distinct.

Ladies on bicycles

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Don’t forget the handbag. Multi-tasking with ease!

— scooters and motorbikes –

Neatly draped sarees and all …

Scooters/ motorbikes are the new, affordable middle class family vehicles –

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Not a single car to be seen in this parking lot

 

 

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Gentleman clad in traditional sarong, climbing nimbly on 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A plethora of Hindu temples at every corner –

Temple architecture is typically South Indian …

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… and dozens more under construction.  (Protective ‘cadjan’ screens made of coconut leaves)

 

 

 

 

 

Ancient deities –

– worshipped in nooks and under spreading trees –

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Ancient (could this one be from as far back as a thousand years, I wonder) and …
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… relatively modern.  An occasional Roman Catholic icon in a glass box.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Sages and ascetics, some long dead ..

… and some still very much alive —

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Those burning eyes …

A distinct, bright South Indian flavour in the traditional women’s fashions –

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The mannequins in the shop windows are very European-looking!

One-of-a-kind cuisine –

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Couldn’t  get enough of thosai (crisp, savoury crepes) with its spicy, vegetarian accompaniments
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Vadai (savoury ‘donuts’ with a hole in the middle) for sale in display case

 

 

 

 

 

 

‘Holy’ cows roam the streets unchallenged —

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Foraging for food in a pile of garbage
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All dressed up and nowhere to go.  Wearing a coronet of green leaves and tethered to the premises of an ancient temple undergoing reconstruction

 

 

 

 

Ubiquitous stray dogs- 

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… or in packs. (These guys growled and barked as we walked by, till someone stepped in and shooed them off. Thoughts of dog-bites and rabies made for some unpleasant momentsn
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By themselves (this one has made a hollow in the soil and slumbers unperturbed in the hot sun as hundreds of people mill around him ) …

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 A conservative culture still –

Check out  the sign, Judy.  Chuckling with you …

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In three languages. Wise up, folks! Big brother is watching you … 

Discreet couples sneak into quiet corners away from the prying eyes …

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… and somehow a stray dog will find you!
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With a  cellphone, of course …

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  –

Post-war phenomena: 

(1) Shopping malls boasting …

… beauty parlours and bright billboards 

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For the emancipated post-war woman ..
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... and a banner advertising lingerie. (Someone must be blushing!)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

(2) Supermarkets –

Shopping in airconditioned comfort versus haggling over prices at the local market …

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Bombay onions and manioc (cassava) – locally grown produce

(3) Upscale tourist hotels –

(4) Mobile phones –

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Hunched over and lost to the world. The universal body language of the millennial
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Even on temple premises …

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

(5) … and Tom Cruise!

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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 –

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The Jaffna library, home to priceless ancient ola leaf manuscrips, was burned down in the ethnic conflict.   This is the rebuilt, state-of-the-art building.
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Old clocktower undergoing restoration

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Sangilian (died 1623), bloodthirsty last ruler of the Jaffna Kingdom,  overthrown by the Portugese colonial lords
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Sangliliyan’s ‘thoppu’ in Nallur,  gateway to the Kingdom of Jaffna.  All that remains of old glory.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Lingered awhile in the amazingly well- preserved home of King Sangilian’s minister.  

How it survived the war is a mystery …

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This treasure of cultural history squats unannounced and uncared for.  There’s no charge to go in, no one to supervise visitors.  A hang out spot for the town’s bored youth, who probably are responsible for the graffitti smearing the walls.

 

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The  architecture takes my breath away

 

 

 

 

 

 

  – The teaching hospital

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–  And ever-present phantoms of the past

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Haunting memorial.The shell of a torched train sits at the very end of the rail route to the north.  

 

 

 

 

 

 

Remains of once-magnificent Dutch-era architecture –

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This beauty is being renovated to serve as a banquet hall

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(Click here to take a haunting walk through the shattered ruins of an old Dutch-period mansion.)

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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  –

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A sense of unhurried uncomplexity about life in this region.   As if it’s just awakening from a long sleep.

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Manual labourers off to work with a ‘mammoty’ an implement that has served generations before them.
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Just chillin’

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Pausing in traffic to chat with a pal

 

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Only a dog in sight. Patiently awaiting customers

     

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Questions of life.  All the time in the world to ponder 
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Gentle afternoon stroll

 

  

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Time to share some news.  Cops are people too, you know …

Fluorescent lights, after-sundown markets and shops groaning with made-in-China and other items in varying violent shades of neon –

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Brisk sales at the food carts 
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Intriguing shop sign: For Guys

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Tailor pauses to pose
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Business booms at the mobile phone centre

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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.

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Kind lady who answered the door, let us in and showed us around.  The house looked different from when I visted last at age 16
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An eyesore of a concrete underground bunker, legacy of the LTTE , occupies most of the backyard

 

 

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Ice-cream pink outhouse now serves as a storeroom

Then on to some vanishing landmarks of the LTTE –

 –  The unmarked site of the slain Tamil Tiger leader, Prabhakaran’s home –   

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Government forces have flattened the house of the slain Tamil Tiger founder and leader, Velupillai Prabhakaran. A flat, scrubby, weed-ridden property is all there is to see.
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Determined not to forget. Graffiti in Tamil on the boundary wall stubbornly proclaims the name of the former  LTTE head

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

– 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 –

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Supposedly bottomless, this water source has recently been found to have a depth of around 150 metres.  The site, like most tourist spots in this area, is still unglamourous and free of tawdry tourist ‘hoopla’. 
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Steps leading back up from the well

 

 

 

 

 

 

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The legend goes that a princess who was born with a horse-face, was instructed by a sage to bathe in this pool.  She obeyed and supposedly emerged from the waters  with  a normal woman’s face ..

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… She was worshipped as a goddess and a Hindu temple  erected on the site.  Note the horse faces on the standing statues
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17th century Portugese-era fortifications, now undergoing intense government-sponsored restoration
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The fort was a high-security zone during the war.  A part of it is still occupied by the military.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

  • Fort Hammenhiel  –
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    Approach to Fort Hammenhiel (literally heel of Ham), the old Duch Fort on a little island, a short way from the coastline.  It’s now a hotel/ resort operated by the navy.   
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    Fortifications of fortress visible from the mainland beach

       

 

 

 

 

 

 

There is a more evident Buddhist presence these days, in this former enclave of Hinduism –

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Sunday morning service at St John’s Church, Chundikuli, where Mum’s parents were married –

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St. John The Baptist Anglican Church, a victim of war, recently restored and modernized .

 

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Sung communion in Tamil.  

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Click here to sing along in Tamil with the congregation of St John’s …

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Friendly assistant curate
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The congregation files outside after service, to shake hands with the officiating ministers and linger for a cup of tea.  Lovely, leisured provincial customs 

 

 

The minister gave us access to old vestry records …

The ones that survived …

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Turn back time …  records and updates continue to be written by hand
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Husband and I both recognized names from our family trees in the surviving graveyard records.  Amazing …

 

 

 

 

 

… and introduced us to David, who led us to the little churchyard –

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David, the church sexton, who remembered husband’s great uncle and aunt in the village of Kopay
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David unlocks the gate, warning that the graveyard has sustained damage and been neglected for years.
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Handwrittenrecords in hand, David searches for our ancestors’ graves …

 

 

 

 

 

… and pointed out tombs and monuments of interest –

 

Such a thrill to locate the site of Mum’s grandpa Charles’  grave …

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Niranjan invited us to visit his ancestral home.

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A pause to pick up the  keys from his aunt, and Nirangan drove us to this beauty of early 1900s architecture
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A typcial central courtyard, with doorways leading into the rooms around it.
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Wood-burning hearth in the kitchen
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Antique furniture in the bedrooms

 

 

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Outhouse.  The home has no indoor plumbing.
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Well for bathing and drinking water

 

 

     

 

 

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.

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Driver/guide Niranjan outside the ancestral home in his village, built in the early nineteen hundreds.  His brothers and sisters all reside in the west.  He opted to return to the land of his birth from where he’d fled, to take care of his widowed mother. 

I purchased a hurricane lamp –

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This blue kerosine oil lamp sits on my dressing table
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Bought it from this soft-spoken vendor who respectifully bore with my halting Tamil

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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.

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Passionate crusader and spokesperson for ALS. (Judy holding her mixing bowl and rubber chicken spoon. Someone’s coming to borrow it.)  Click here to read Judy’s story in Love Those Bhangra Boys!
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A math teacher once upon a time, she inspires with her positivity and passion for groanworthy puns.  Judy communicates by typing on an Ipad-type tablet she calls her ‘boogie board’.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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,

 Oh, Canada we stand on guard for thee …

Merry Christmas, my inspiring friend.  You are a truly remarkable lady.

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Merry Christmas.  Peace on earth, goodwill to all … 
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Rainbows  downstairs, on the Reason for the Season. 

 

 

 

 

 

Thinking of you with affection.  

All my love until next time,

sincerely

  THUMBS UP ! To like my Facebook page: Click here

Good Morning (Again) Colombo!

Dear Judy,      

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.

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View from kitchen window two weeks back.  The Virginia creeper blazed up and down the fence as the morning sun buttered the landscape with gold.

                                   

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My friend Judy Starrit (centre), who lives in BeaverBank, Nova Scotia.

                                                                                               

 

 

 

 

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.  

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Puppy hoping to halt the packing process. 

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.                        

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Aunty Rom, my stalwart walking companion.  This birthday card she mailed on one of our morning meanders never reached its destination.     

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.  

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Vijitha, Dad’s faithful driver and general factotum

 

 

A bewildering sea of highrises punctured the sky around me.

Colombo is currently the fastest growing metropolis in Asia, I’ve been told …

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The Lotus Tower (new since my last visit).  A Chinese investment.  The tallest free-standing structure in Asia.  

 

 

The Lotus Tower , dominates the skyline.

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City of Colombo growing upwards for as far as the eye can see

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Higher and higher …
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View from my friend, Angali’s balcony

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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NO LIMIT.  Sure looks like it …

Rush hour traffic is in full swing and Dad’s just waking up when we get home.  

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Dad’s home
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Dad’s halfway up. Never thought the parents would adjust so well to condo living. 

 

 

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?”

Latha had prepared pol roti and katta sambol for breakfast.  

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Pol roti (coconut flatbread) and katta sambol (a fiery mixture of dried red chillis and raw onions). A carb-laden breakfast favourite.  Homecoming heaven!

Yum …

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Latha, Dad’s cook/ housekeepeer

 

 

 

 

 

Dad drove us to Independent Square in the evening to catch some fresh air.  I struggled to keep awake.  

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Independence Square, where the who’s who of Colombo go to keep fit, see and be seen

This is my Dad, Judy.                                        

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Dad enjoying a quiet moment under a banyan tree by the walking track at the old racecourse. 

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.

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A place for  lovers …
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… and loners

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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… and quiet reflection
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Backpack and burkha
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Caption: My Shirt Made a Difference (It did.  I paused to take a picture of it)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Daddy and his princess
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Secrets of childhood

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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A moment to breathe
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Palm trees in silhouette.  Twilight shrouds Independence Square.  Time to go home for dinner. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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.

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Queen Victoria’s Statue (purloined from where it had been dumped decades ago, after independence) restored to its original spot just before the recent Commonwealth Conference. 

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 …

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Sign set up at the old racecourse: This is a place of National Significance.  Keep Discipline

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 —

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“City Boy” — as opposed to … Country Boy?
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“Don’t touch my heart” (scroll in to see the words)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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“God bless you”
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“I am strong to carry you” (I certainly hope so!)

 

 

 

 

 

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“Bad Boyz 008” (Like James Bond 007?)
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True liberty is to be A free of viceses (think they mean VICES?)
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Pirat 

 

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So why is this one stuffed into the open doorway of an empty showroom?

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The door hasn’t been installed yet, so for overnight security …

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 —

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Road sweeper’s ekel broom on the sidewalk,  leaning against a tree 
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Garbage collector’s handcart 

 

 

 

 

 

 

… and these willing workers

— the streets looked uncared for, garbage piled up in corners, picked over by crows and stray dogs.

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The instructions are pretty clear
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Check out the mess under the sign …

 

 

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  …

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Mama crow guarding her nest. These raucous scavengers are becoming a problem again. 

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 —

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This gentle homeless woman has a puppy in her arms today.  
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This was her last year with just the one dog. (Click here : Good Morning Colombo! for story)
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Aunty Rom and me as the sun rides highter
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Dawn over Colombo city.  My favourite time of day

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The homeless slumber on –

… and the dogs —

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The stray dogs – all mild and minding their own business –  have increased in numbers since I was last here.  A troubling threat of rabies.
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Abandoned coverlet and water bottle.  Someone just woke up

Vigorously cleaning business premises —

At the bus stop. To school and work –

And so the day begins –

Early morning moments –

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Beggar freshening up at public tap
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Maid going to work at the big house
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Young vagabond with electricity in his eyes …
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Dust pan and broom seller
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Newspaper delivery – motocycle and …
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… by bike. (Sarong tucked up high)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Some of my favourite moments, captured just for you, Judy –

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Walking his employer’s dog
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Happy to pose for camera lady
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“Where’s that wife of mine? …”
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“… where the heck is she?
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Lady in red 
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“Just dropped in at the temple …”
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Jaunty three-and-a-half-legged dog …
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… pausing to check out a pile of garbage before hopping merrily on its way

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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“Whats App, Doc?”

The streets at peace half an hour before morning mayhem breaks out –

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Peeping Tom
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Laurel and Hardy. These billboard pasters came rolling up and spilled out of a tuk tuk ..
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… and asked to pose for a second picture, pot of glue and all!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Graceful lady cop
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Flock of nurses off to work
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What’s in the hand?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Breakfast from the corner vendor

 

 

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“Hey, thanks for the brekkie money!”
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In a mighty hurry
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Shoolgirls packed like sardines into a private van.

Business is brisk at the food truck –

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At the corner of Dad’s street

Aunty Rom and I pass these two every  morning –

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Determined walker. This one means business, down to the nifty running shoes
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On her way to work?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Aunty Rom pauses to pick up her newspaper –

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A moment to chat with the vendor.  English newspaper, please.

From time to time she suprised me with a detour.  Like the time we popped in at Uncle Chandi and Aunty Christine’s home and sat for a while chatting.

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Aunty Rom with Uncle Chandi and Aunty Christine (not my uncle and aunt!), aunty Rom’s cousins and my cousin’s in-laws.  I met them for the first time last year when we ‘dropped in’ during one of our walks.  
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Uncle Chandi’s  lovely garden

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I acquired a new aunty when I took this picture last year. 

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Her name is Welai.  Met her at the corner store by the church, early one morning last April. (Click here for the story in Good Morning Colombo)

Found out later that the smiling woman was the employee of Aunty Rom’s friend, Sharmini.

Only in  Sri Lanka …

Newest aunt, Sharmini, invited us both over for breakfast one Tuesday morning. Aunty Rom and I walked over.  We’d been Facebook friends since the photo incident, and met face to face for the first time today.

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Aunty Sharmini (right) in her beautiful home (with Aunty Rom)

Warm, generous Sri Lankan hospitality …

Welai had prepared a delicious meal of pol roti, chicken curry and spicy, accompaniments. Fresh bananas for dessert.

So good …

She was all dressed up to meet us and quite overwhelmed to encounter the camera lady once again!

 

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Welai, feeling shy, in her Sunday best.  All dressed up for Aunty Rom and me

New aunty has a lovely Secret Garden.

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Aunty Sharmini and Welai at the entrance to the Secret Garden. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Welai looking coy and posing in the garden wearing her regular work clothes!

 

 

The sun rode high in the sky.  Too sticky to walk.  Aunty Rom and I took a tuk tuk back home.

The next week,  Aunty Rom, New Aunty and I went to breakfast at the Commons Coffee House, steps away from new aunty Sharmini’s home.  

Scrumptious cheese toast with good friends, all because I made a random click on my I Pad …

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Singing in the rain.  Aunty Sharmini (left) and Aunty Rom outside Commons Coffee House, Cinnamon Gardens.  

 

 

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Sri Lankan Menu (Commons Coffee House)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Some mornings Aunty Rom surprised me with a different route (to feed my appetite for photography), pointing out stately homes.  Many of them are commercial buildings now.

The remaining single unit homes lurk behind high fortress-type fortification walls and iron gates.

A handful old mansions still remain private residences –

… a couple of them in varying stages of disrepair.

Love how flowers and foliage create waterfalls of colour along walls and from balconies —

Destructive love language along the sidewalk …

Architecture and construction accommodate behemoth trees –

The iconic Cricket Club Café has changed locations. There seems to be some confusion as to whether the old location is for sale —

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FOR SALE proclaims this gate …

… or not!

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NOT FOR SALE declares the gate at the other end.  Didn’t notice till Aunty Rom pointed it out.  Someone can’t make up their mind!

Paradise Road Galleries on Dad’s street has been torn down –

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The rubble of Paradise Road, a classy tourist shopping spot
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Took this pic last year

 

 

 

 

 

to make way for yet another highrise.

Found time to browse at Dean the Bookman’s secondhand store – 

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Discovered Dean at the Saturday pola (farmers’ market) at Torrington Square last year.  Bought this copy of short stories by Guy de Maupassant
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A 20 volume collection of Dickens novels, over a hundered years old, on sale for Rs. 20,000 ($200 Canadian approx)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

This is the old colonial cemetery where we buried Mum two and a half years ago, Judy.

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Kanatte Cemetary.  I never saw it as a place of beauty until now

I’ve just discovered the beauty of  the old memorial monuments.  Wonder why I’ve never noticed before. I was almost tempted to stand in the sunshine and recite Victorian elegies, surrounded by discoloured Italian marble gravestones.  Some of the sculptures are really quite exquisite.

China is pumping money into this country. Thousands of Chinese construction workers are swarming all over the city of Colombo. 

This is the future Port City, a Chinese enterprise –

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View of Port City from lighthouse.  Reclaimed land, stretching fifteen miles out into the sea, leased to China for ninety nine years. 

The ocean at Galle Face, where generations of Colombo dwellers came to relax and enjoy the fresh, salt air is gone.  The Galle Face Green where you could fly kites, buy a cone from the Alerics ice cream van and have a ride on a sad, mangy pony, barely exists anymore.  What’s left of it is all withered and brown.

Not sure how smart an idea this Port City is, politically speaking …

Slave Island is the dizziest hub of construction in the city –

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The star of them all is the Leaning Tower (Altair building).  By day …
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… and by night.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The sights and sounds of Sri Lanka, Judy, are very much like India, with a lot less people, of course, and not as colourful.  And less dirt, I suppose.

The varied face of Colombo fascinates me –

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Working girl carrying her saree with grace
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Beggar commencing his day

 

 

 

 

 

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Woman and street dog: crossing the road in opposite directions

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Shoe shopping
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Cool dude!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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“Cheque, please!”

 

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Dapper gran’pa …

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Texting and walking

 

 

 

 

 

 

The flexibilty of the Sri Lankan woman is pretty amazing …

Umbrellas, come rain or sun —

Tried my hand at rainy day photography.  Quite pleased with the outcome –

The street of my childhood grows less recognizable each time I go back.

Uncle Gerry and Aunty Doreen’s home is one of the few original houses in the old neighbourhood.

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Uncle Gerry and Aunty Doreen at their front porch. The last of the original homes.  They lived two doors down from us. She was one of Mum’s close friends.

A highrise is under construction on the premises of  #13 where my old home used to be located —

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A highrise at #13, stomping on memories of the past

I’m embarrassed to admit that lunch become another highlight of my day.  Latha excelled herself –

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Red rice and curry accompaniments.  Three meals a day, served up on Mum’s Noritake dinnerware, with linen napkins and everything.  I packed on the pounds fast!

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I miss the leisured  simplicity of life as it used to be when I was growing up.

Change is inevitable of course.  It just took longer coming to Sri Lanka …

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Sidewalk strewn with temple flowers (frangipani) before the sweepers get going
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Betel juice.  An ungenteel ‘provincial’ habit that needs to change. Red spittle on the sidewalk from chewing betel leaves

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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The old Parliament building from colonial times

 

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Colombo lighthouse

 

 

 

 

 

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Galle Road in Sinhalese, Tamil and English.  The city’s main thoroughfare, leading all the way down to Galle down south

 

 

 

 

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View from the lighthouse

 

 

 

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Little Lion ice cream from Top Shelf.  Consumed copious quantities of it as a girl!