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

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Suddenly Sometimes

Ever noticed how suddenly-sometimes serendipity seems to occur most when the sun is shining and summer seeps into one’s heart, bubbles over and spills out in splashes all over the garden?  It almost feels as if this sweet summer state of mind creates a catalyst that activates a sublime sequence of inexplicable events.                

Like the time Bernadette called.  “The Town is giving away compost.  Want to go?  I’ll pick you up.”

I went.

The sight of eager townsfolk feverishly shoveling free compost, piled up in the parking lot, into bags and bins didn’t inspire me.  The stream of comings and goings to and from the main building however, was intriguing.                                                                                                        

Woo hoo! Community garage sale …     

 Bernadette laughed when I mumbled, “I’m going to look for treasures for my garden.”

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That’s me!

I heard “Junk Lady” as I hopped out of the vehicle.

My friends know me too well!

 

 

 

I picked up a bunch of beauties for mere coins.  Like these –

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A wall mirror to create the illusion of an open doorway on the fence in the backyard
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A toy scooter to use on the deck as a stand for a flowering potted plant.

 

 

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Three of five forlorn, unclaimed items remaining on the book table.  1917 publications. A century old.

 

 

 

And then I stopped in my tracks as some old books caught my eye.  

Me:  “How much?”

Bored vendor:  “How about a dollar fifty?  Fifty cents each.”

I set the coins down and scooped the volumes up, unable to believe my luck.  There were two others still  languishing on the table. 

“I have a quarter left and a TTC token,” I dared to venture.  “Would that be payment enought for those?”

Bored Vendor:  “Sure.  Someone could make use of the token.  This stuff is junk anyway!”

He was in a hurry to pack up and leave.

I handed over my last coin and the transit system token, picked up my booty and scurried away in case someone should have a sudden change of heart.

James 4:2 You do not have, because you do not ask …

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This rollicking suddenly-sometimes ride commenced a week before, when Evelyn and I sat down to enjoy a Japanese bento box lunch, and the conversation turned to gardens.  

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That’s me!  The only gardener in the family, actually.

Evelyn:  “How’s your garden doing? Done planting yet?     

Me: “No.  Haven’t even started.  I haven’t had time to buy the annuals.”

Evelyn: “Have you tried Costco?”

Me:  “No.  We’re not members.”

Evelyn:  “I am. I’ll take you.”

So off we went.

Nothing caught my eye in the garden centre.

But …

On our way out, we passed the  mobile phone sales centre, and I remembered my phone.  It had been gasping at death’s door for a while. 

I paused.

Me: My phone is a bit of a dinosaur. I need a new one with a good camera, but I’m not willing to go above my present monthly payment.

Pleasant Salesguy:  No problem. How much do you pay now?

I told him.  I had an exceptionally good deal, he said.  I knew that.

Pleasant Salesguy: Are you willing to go ten dollars more a month?

Me:  No!  I don’t use my phone enough to justify a higher monthly payment.

Pleasant Salesguy:  So you want a free new phone with a great camera for the same amount that you pay now – or less – right?

Me:  I know, it sounds like awful cheek, doesn’t it?

I turned to go.

Pleasant Salesguy:  Wait, wait …

He continued to scroll down, squinting at the screen in front of him.

Evelyn assured me she wasn’t in a hurry.  I rolled my eyes and sighed.

Then –

Pleasant Salesguy: Found it! There’s a loyalty deal and you qualify …

Music to my ears …

So I get a  free phone worth $700, and my monthly payment is four dollars less than previously.   My current phone, I’m told, is worth no more than $150, brand new.

Me:  I’ve been to every mobile provider I could think of.  When I tell them what I’m looking for, they look down their nose at me like I’m cheap. Or they talk down to me like I’m someone’s grandma, shrug and turn away.  So how come you found this one for me?

Pleasant Salesguy:  Because the mall guys work on commission.  It’s not in their interest to spend time looking for deals in the customer’s favour.  I’m a paid employee of Costco.  I’m not on commission.

Me:  On a scale of 1 to 10, how would this phone rate against my old one?

Pleasant Salesguy:  It’s an 8!  What’s more, check out the camera.

Evelyn and I pose.  I click.  We look ten years younger, the lines all automatically air-brushed away.

 Me: Wow!  Wow!! What a selfie!  …

 Pleasant  Salesguy’s name is Michael Blumenfeld.

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Michael Blumenfeld, Sales Manager, Wirelessetc.  Superlative, swept-me-off-my-feet customer service

And that’s not all.

I asked for an upgraded phone cover and screen protector and he gave me $125 in Costco gift cards to pay for them.

Me:  How come?

Michael:  Because this is Costco!

And there’s more …

The screen protector I chose was not in stock, so Michael made a call and arranged for me to pick it up from the mall closest to my home.

I’m elated.  Quite weak at the knees, to be honest.  Evelyn’s jaw’s dropping.  We’re both bewildered by the spectacular customer service …

Daughter squeaked when I showed her my phone at the end of the day.  “Where did you get that?  I’ve wanted an LG forever!  They say it takes the best pictures.”

She almost passed out when I told her how little I was paying for it.

I couldn’t stop talking at dinner that night.  About the amazing deal.  About Michael and the unbelievable customer service.

So we all four of us marched into Costco the next weekend with Grandpa and Grandma (and their Costco card) in tow – Husband, daughters and I – waving my contract with Michael’s business card attached to it.

The service was disappointing. Lack-lustre. The two young fellows at the counter seemed to barely tolerate us.  Kind of felt like we were a nuisance.

Daughters exchanged glances and threw me a funny look. 

“So where’s the customer service you kept on about?”

We got the loyalty deal for two more phones.  Husband pays two dollars and fifty cents less than I do, because he’s the second line on my account.  Husband and Daughter also got $125 each in Costco gift cards.  ONLY because I already had my contract through Michael and requested the same deal for the rest of the family.

There was enough left over, after paying for the extras, to buy trays of flowering annuals for the garden, a set of LED walkway lights, and a rose bush for Grandma.  Compliments of Costco. All because Michael Blumenfeld never made me feel stupid, and took the time to dig out a deal that finally embraced my family as well.

Young Fellows were indifferent, when we were done, and looked relieved to see us go.

I assumed, because of my initial experience, that exceptional customer service was the norm at Costco Wirelessetc.  I understood otherwise on my second visit. It was Michael who went out of his way to make this customer’s day sparkle.

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Husband and Daughter had to return to the location the next day, to pick up their not-in-stock screen protectors.  

“Pick them up from your local mall?  Sorry. No way!”

“But Michael arranged for me to pick it up from …”

 “Michael is the manager, he can do these things …”

Evelyn mentioned that if she’d chosen to take me to the other Costco location she shops at, the mobile phone sales section would not have been visible from the vicinity of the garden centre. So I’d never have seen it to remember the worn out dud I had in my possession.

Such a smooth-as-silk sequence of events that led me to three valuable vintage books and a brand new top-notch cell phone.

Sweet, surreal, sublime, suddenly-sometimes serendipity …

It was not about Bernadette and free compost, or about Evelyn and the garden centre at Costco after all.  

So thankful.  For Evelyn and her Costco membership.  For Bernadette.  For Michael Blumenfeld at Wirelessetc.  And for my fabulous new phone, of course, and the old, old books …

Love how life works when one leans in and listens. 

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Never miss a moment. (Taken at Walmart.  Most folks are proud pose and flash their captions.)
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On a friend’s coffee table

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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There’s more.  Lots and lots! 

Next time!

Until then,  

sincerely

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Parked outside the doctor’s office

When We Were Very Young

“My dear Beatrice …” Mum read aloud from the letter in her hand.

Postman has just delivered the mail …

Sister and I dared not meet each other’s eye. Bit our lips to keep from giggling.

“I don’t think you will recall me.  I was a friend of your cousins, Daisy and Rosie, and have met you in their company on a few occasions in our young days.”

Mum’s voice rose to a squeak.  “I write to you now regarding my son …”

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Some mother’s boy …

Sister and I held our breath.  Our lips trembled with mirth.

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Hmm …

“He is a good boy.  Very sober and steady (no vices whatsoever).  He graduated as a doctor …..”

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Mum’s eye popping out of her head …
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So his mother says …

Sister swallowed hard.  Her shoulders shook.  I covered my mouth with my hand.

“We have heard about the goodness of your daughters.  People all say they are good and smart, clever girls …”

No vices whatsoever/ the goodness of your daughters … good grief … who even writes like that?

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And so the letter went (in sister’s heavily disguised handwriting ) …
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From one mother to another …
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Sis and I barely contain ourselves …

 

Mum eyes continued to scan the handwritten lines. “I would be so happy to hear from you regarding this matter if your elder girl is still unattached.  My friend, Mrs. M. tells me she is 22 years of age.  In fact, your sister, Ruby …”                    

I’m the ‘elder girl’ …

“You may remember the times we shared as children.”  Mum began to look puzzled.

Her jaw finally dropped when she came to the end of the letter.  “PS:  We prefer a spacious house in Colombo with garden and attached baths.”

Dowry details!  Eek …

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Who better than a boy’s fond mama to take the bull by the horns …

We could almost read Mum’s thoughts –

What cheek!

 “I don’t remember this lady,” Mum mumbled almost to herself, and ran to the phone to dial Aunty Ruby’s number.

Hello, how are you dear? I just received a strange letter … sounds a little eccentric … who are these people?”

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Definitely not!

Sister and I held our sides and roared.  We laughed ourselves into stitches.

It all began some months before, when a close school friend of Mum’s asked if she would contact a certain family (who had an eligible son) regarding a formal proposal of marriage for their youngest daughter.

Girl in question was pretty, a recent university graduate, now on the Marriage Market. Parents were anxious to have her fixed up and settled.

True story, honest (down to the phraseology)! Absolutely no embellishment …  

Older sister of said Young Lady got entangled with Completely Unacceptable Young Man and eloped when well-to-do Daddy refused to give his consent.  Daddy disowned her.  A year later, when First Grandchild was born, Starving Couple were ushered back into the family fold.

Get the picture? God forbid that history should repeat itself, right? Okay, so stage is set …

Mum obliged and our home served as venue for introduction between Sweet Young Thing and Very Acceptable Beau.

Cousin Ranji was staying over that weekend.  She, Sister and I eavesdropped from behind the drawing room drapes.      

No TV in Sri Lanka then.  This was far better, delicious entertainment, served up on a platter …                         

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Me (left) and Sister (centre) with Cousin Ranji, possibly that same weekend. 
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We had too much fun to miss TV when we were kids.  (Pic. of Daughters celebrating 12th birthday at Disney World)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Young Pair sat at one end of the room to get acquainted.  Mothers made small talk close by.

Recipes and stuff …

Two dads at farthest corner.

Mum and Dad sat in on the powwow – being it was their home and all.  Awkward …

Things suddenly grew ugly.  Raised daddy-voices.

Dirty dowry matters …

Young Man’s father haggled for more. 

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What Girl’s Dad said …
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What Boy’s Father hoped to hear …

Sweet Young Thing’s father finally agreed to throw in a lorry along with the house and land.  

Or something like that  …

Cousin Ranji, Sis and I are horrified. 

 We’ve travelled back into antiquity …

 Deadlock.  Evening concludes in chilly huff.

But no one counted on Young Pair falling madly in love.    

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Definitely! Head over heels for each other …

Completely unexpected turn of events …

Now unacceptable, Young Man contacted and romanced Sweet Young Thing on the sly.

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Was it ever! Boy, oh boy …

 

 

 

 

 

Mum politely declined when asked to intervene.

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He won’t!

Sweet Young Thing phones to weep on Mum’s shoulder …

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Persistent suitor 

Romeo and Juliet elope to overseas destination.  Daddy disowns Little Girl, then throws arms wide open when she returns from honeymoon with baby on the way.

 Yay!  Forgive and forget …                                                                         

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They defiantly tied the knot

Found out later that Rejected Romeo and one of the cousins were co-workers at the time of Nebulous Nuptial Goings On.  They were  quite good friends and  I’d met him at one of her birthday parties.

Only in Sri Lanka …

…………………………………………………………………

Found an old scrapbook of letters and cards written by Sister, cousins and me when we were children.  Carefully dated and captioned by Mum.     

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Mum was sentimental about everything.  She would have kept every birthday and Christmas card she ever received if Dad hadn’t protested.

Sis and I wrote little notes and longer letters all the time.

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Me (left) with Sister.  Probably born with a pen in my hand!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

About everything.

Hilarious notes from Sister …

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Thank you for being so kind.  Please buy peppermints! (No idea why she asked for prayer …)
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Forgive me for being so rude.  I am very hungry … (Looks like she went  to bed without dinner.  Don’t recall the incident.)
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I fell ill today.  Feel very much down in the dumps.  (Sis was a precocious little thing)
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From me. My dearest Mummy … Written while spending some days with Cousin Dili at Aunty Ruby’s home.  The younger cousins all went to Sunday School together

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Mostly to Mum.

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Sister’s handwriting

 So when it came time to play a prank on a long-suffering mother, inspired by              recent events, one would automatically resort  to letter-writing.

“My dear Beatrice …”

Poor Mum.  We teased her unmercifully and she was always such a good sport about it.  Don’t think Sister or I ever ‘fessed up or divulged the source of the written proposal of marriage that once came my way.        

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We kept out lips sealed!

Dirty deeds!

And now I’ve two daughters of my own.

Full circle.  What goes around surely comes around!

The memories flooded in when eyes wandered over the yellowed sheet of notepaper taped to the fraying page of Mum’s scrapbook.

With sister’s heavily disguised handwriting on it.  She must have figured it out …

Thankful for Mum’s sentimentality that induced her save all this stuff.

Pure gold …

Like these home-made cards from her nieces –

A definite artistic bent in the family …

 — and the self portrait I drew.

A fairly good likeness of my gawky pre-teen self …

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The unflattering self portrait!
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The real bespectacled me with Sis (and Dad inside car)

 

 

 

 

 

 

Sister needs to work on her spelling in this one –

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S ..EPRISE!!!

Golden memories.  A sweet, mellow time.              

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Strolling down the quiet corridors of memory lane ..

When we were very young …

Until next time,

sincerely

 

 

 

 

 

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Birthday Cakes and Secrets

On the first family trip to England, Mum had us pose in front of Buckingham Palace while she attempted to take a picture of Dad, Sister and me against the backdrop of the Changing of the Guards.  

The guards had changed and gone their way by the time the picture focused to satisfaction. Sister and I  teased her about it for years to come.

Smile please …                        

Everyone was using pocket cameras.  Sis and I were embarrassed by the ghastly contraption Mum still wielded with pride!

We flew on to Singapore where Dad bought us girls a Kodak Instamatic with disposable flash bulbs.  

Colour pictures … yay, finally!

Shudder to think of the environmental impact from all the used  flash bulbs we gleefully dumped in the trash can.

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“Smile please,” for the Yashica, at the Trevi Fountain, Rome.  Me with Dad and Sister (centre).  Have to check if Sis has the Palace picture (without the guards!)
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Dad, Mum, me (in rising order) on moving escalator in Zurich, Switzerland.  Instant focus with the new Instamatic captured moving subjects.  A new era in family photography.

Mum discovered the joys of photography around age 12 when she got a gift of a Brownie camera

She still had it when Sis and I were kids …       

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Kodak Brownie.  A later version of Mum’s camera. (Courtesy Google images)

Mum’s crisp black-and-white photos display an instinct for capturing the ‘moment’ and an unerring eye for placing and composition.

When sister and I were little, Mum acquired the Yashica, also sort of box-camera-ish

Sleeker, less ‘primitive’,  more sophisticated  …

It took ages to focus with Mum staring into the open Yashica ‘box’ in her hands, at an upside down image. 

She’d  murmur, “Smile, smile” through fixed grin and puckered brow, our features remaining in frozen limbo until we heard the click and a cheerful ‘thank you’!

Felt like forever!                                                                   

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Mum’s Yashica (courtesy Google images)
Latest in modern technology! Kodak Instamatic with disposable flash, wrist strap and film

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Mum often said she wanted to get an ‘unawares’ shot.

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Preoccupied with underwear. What Sis and I thought we heard Mum say.  We’d go into hysterics! 

Sister and I heard … underwears! 

We hadn’t the foggiest notion what she meant.

 

 

 

 

 

She caught us unawares all right.  The delightful album-memories bear testimony to the fact.

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Puzzled.  “Okay, so what IS it?”  Little sister and me with oldest cousin, Sri. 
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“Did you hear that?”  Sister (right) and me
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Sheer joy, unawares.  Sister (left) and me with Dad.

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Mum’s was the era of stay-at-home mothers. Those who were in the professions were nevertheless the proud masters of the housewifely arts.  They cooked, sewed, hung for hours on the telephone with other women, shared recipes, discussed the current price of important commodities like sugar, rice and eggs, wrote lengthy, polite letters and never forgot birthdays and anniversaries.

At family concerts we kids ‘did’ Mum and aunties talking on the phone …

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Me pretending to be Mum on the phone with one of her sisters 

When Sister and I got married, we each received a special gift from Mum.    An album of photographs – mostly black and white photos and some washed out Kodak and Polariod colour pictures – each one tailored to document our lives from birth to early adulthood.

All meticulously labelled …

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A gallery of our early lives, with love from Mum.

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 With Mum’s unexpected passing two years ago, I lost my best friend and discovered a treasure trove of old pictures while cleaning out cupboards and putting things in order for Dad. 

Eyes popped out of my head as a pictorial record of family history unfolded …

Who ARE these folks? (Dad has no idea. Dying to know!)

Entered a new realm.  Memories of bygone days surfaced from boxes, dusty files and disintegrating albums.

Mum’s voice recounting fragments of family legends echoing in the recesses of my mind …

The past came alive in a way that didn’t seem possible.  Moments in time frozen on faded bits of glossy paper,  pictures worth  thousands of words.

Family.  Grandpas, grannies, aunties, uncles, cousins …                                                      

Cousins might not necessarily be immediate ‘first’ cousins.  Sometimes you might not be quite sure how you’re related!
Me (left) and Sister on a play date with Mali (centre), our THIRD cousin.  Her grandpa and ours were first cousins.
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Birthday parties – just the cousins were crowd enough. (Me, a baby in cousin Chris’ arms, far left)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Weddings were a huge deal, grand affairs.  Guest lists could run into the hundreds.  Your parents’ friends and business associates and in-laws’ in-laws might be invited. And the neighbours, of course.

No fib. Honest!

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The workers from Mum’s family’s firm at her wedding.  They arrive bearing a gift-wrapped china dinner set  (I own it now and use it on special occasions)
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Dad and Mum’s wedding

Little girls were dressed to the nines in scratchy, organdy dresses often ‘smocked’ by hand,  with stiff  ‘can can’ skirts underneath.  A nightmare to sit down in.  

Detested those cancans …

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Cancans and bows for Aunty Elizabeth’s engagement party.  Sister (left) and me outside Westholme, Kinross Avenue, Mum’s family home.

Engagements were solemn, formal family affairs, with a priest/ minister to officiate.

Pretty much as  binding as the marriage ceremony itself …

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All the cousins, uncles and aunts on Mum’s side at Aunty Elizabeth and Uncle Selva’s engagement.  Toddler Sister seated between the couple.  Cousin Shiro the only one still to be born.

You were as important to the aunties and uncles as their own offspring –

The aunties even cared enough to tell  you off as if you were their own!      

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She does!

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Sister (left) and me with Babby (Mum’s younger sister, Elizabeth), my godmother.  I lived with her family for two years while Dad worked in West Africa.  She sewed some of my clothes and treated me as her own. 
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Uncle Prince, my godfather, recently celebrated his 95th birthday.  (Mum’s sister Ruby’s husband).  He’d always visit, very late in the evening after work at his clinic,for as long as we were laid up in bed with sundry ailments.  He never billed patients who were financially in a bad way.  Treatment was free for clergy of all religions.

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Sister and me with Uncle Peter (Mum’s older brother) who lived with us for some of his bachelor years after Westholme, the old family home, was sold.  Sis and I hung around in his room whenever we got into trouble, until the situation cooled, knowing he would intervene if Mum hunted us down!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Chances are your best friend was a cousin, the one closest in age to you  –

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Me (lying on mat) and cousin Dileeni.  Besties since we were babes.
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Gotta have a sun hat!  Rarely apart.  Dileen (left) and me.

Such secrets you’d share!

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And she whispers in mine …
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I whisper in her ear …

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

You both could be flower girls together, several times over –

Two for the price of one!

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Little flower girls.  Dileeni (to bride’s right) and me at Babby and Uncle Selva’s wedding.
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Flowers girls again!  Me (left) and cousin Dileeni at Aunty Betty’s (Mum’s cousin’s) wedding
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… and again!  Dileeni (left) and me, experienced flower girls at our oldest cousin Sri’s wedding.

No need to wonder why Getting Married and Having A Baby used to be our favourite dress up games!

We created our own entertainment, inspired by the Enid Blyton books we devoured. An active imagination and a bunch of henchmen was all a handful of cousins required. 

We all loved to read.

No one called you a nerd or geek.  It’s what kids did …

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This little girl reminded me of myself as a kid. 
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Puppy posing with some favourites from my childhood
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Sister and me with my doll, Cynthia

 

 

 

 

 

 

Endless doll’s tea parties – 

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Dileeni (right) and me
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Sis and me With Baby Cousin Shiro and my dolls Cynthia, Diana and Minerva (Mum named them, probably)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Never seemed to outgrow the toys and board games.  Played with them for years.

Those were the days …

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Me with cousins’ toys.  We all shared.

Don’t recall ever being bored as a child.

Two cousins, Sister and I once crawled into our pretend kitchen, a curtained alcove under a desk space, to melt squares of chocolate over a burning candle.

Melted  chocolate is delicious spread over Marie biscuits …

We could have set the house on fire.

When best friend/ cousin set up a lab at home, you  followed suit. 

My lab sat on a rickety table in a corner of the kitchen …

Best friend/ cousin obtained test tubes from her dad’s clinic.  Litmus paper too.  And needle-less syringes.  She always shared.

We performed acid/base watch-the-colour-change litmus experiments with vinegar and lime juice …

There were those school-holiday cousin sleepovers, Monopoly games that went on for days, birthday parties and breathtaking birthday cakes –

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Sister and Me with my 7th birthday Humpty Dumpty cake made by Mum.  She handcrafted Humpty Dumpty out of parchment icing and painted him in with food colouring.

Rocking horses and fluffy pets –

Piano lessons and picnics, seaside frolics, Sunday School.  And cousins, cousins, cousins –

A kinder, gentler time, a different world.  No TV.  

Innocent and enchanted …

Though a late bloomer, I think I’ve inherited Mum’s love of photography and her desire to record the precious, never-to-be-replicated moments. 

And like Mum, I’m in less than a handful of photographs in my immense digital library!

So thankful for this gift of photo-memories from the past. 

Much to remember, much to write about.   That’s what next times are for.

So until next time,

sincerely

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Cousin Dileeni (left) and me.  Still close friends though we live at opposite ends of the world.

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