Rush hour traffic is in full swing and Dad’s just waking up when we get home.
Everything’s spick and span, crisp linen in the guest room, a fresh breeze and the sun streaming in through the open balcony doors.
A resounding emptiness, though. A sort of hollow ache as the eye alights on an empty rocking chair, the laptop idling under a dustcloth and the vacant seat beside Dad’s easy chair in front of the living room TV.
Dad drove us to Independent Square in the evening to catch some fresh air. I struggled to keep awake.
This is my Dad, Judy.
He was a strikingly handsome man in his day.
Independence Square is a great place for people-watching. I got unobtrusively busy with my camera.
A change of scene the next evening, when Dad headed for Viharamahadevi Park (formerly Victoria Park). An imposing statue of Queen Victoria appears to have materialized out of nowhere.
There’s a different ambiance in this space, besides the gnarly, mammoth trees, probably planted in Victorian times —
… it’s the lovers cuddling beneath the colossal branches!
For as far as the eye can see …
Maybe because someone forgot to put up a sign like this one —
Tongue in cheek, of course …
Around six o’clock, dusk begins to fall and uniformed decency police appear to guard the morals of the nation. The amorous pairs are shooed out of the park.
Don’t laugh, Judy. I’m not fibbing – honest!
Three-wheeler tuk tuks swarm all over the city like a plague of locusts. They are the quickest and most precarious mode of transport in this traffic-choked city. The captions adorning the bodywork often had me chuckling —
So why is this one stuffed into the open doorway of an empty showroom?
Still good old tuk tuks are the go-to mode of emergency transport, I’ve often resorted to myself. A wild ride. Kids find it a hoot.
Uber is the latest trend, though, and so much cheaper with heavenly airconditioned vehicles …
I was up all night for the first ten days, Jet lag kills me. It gets worse with the passage of time.
The early walks with Aunty Rom were my day’s highlight.
In spite of these urgings –
and the necessary tools left lying around —
… and these willing workers
— the streets looked uncared for, garbage piled up in corners, picked over by crows and stray dogs.
A disappointing regression since the government changed hands.
The supervised disposal of crow’s nests has been abadondoned, Aunty Rom tells me.
Animal rights activists or government cutbacks. Don’t recall …
The morning walks energized me, Judy. I began each day embracing the essence of the city with all its quirks and complexities.
I remember this woman from last year —
The homeless slumber on –
… and the dogs —
Vigorously cleaning business premises —
At the bus stop. To school and work –
And so the day begins –
Early morning moments –
Some of my favourite moments, captured just for you, Judy –
The streets at peace half an hour before morning mayhem breaks out –
Business is brisk at the food truck –
Aunty Rom and I pass these two every morning –
Aunty Rom pauses to pick up her newspaper –
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.
I acquired a new aunty when I took this picture last year.
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.
Warm, generous Sri Lankan hospitality …
Welai had prepared a delicious meal of pol roti, chicken curryand 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!
New aunty has a lovely Secret Garden.
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 auntySharmini’s home.
Scrumptious cheese toast with good friends, all because I made a random click on my I Pad …
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 —
… or not!
Paradise Road Galleries on Dad’s street has been torn down –
to make way for yet another highrise.
Found time to browse at Dean the Bookman’s secondhand store –
This is the old colonial cemetery where we buried Mum two and a half years ago, Judy.
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 –
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 –
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 –
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.
A highrise is under construction on the premises of #13 where my old home used to be located —
I’m embarrassed to admit that lunch become another highlight of my day. Latha excelled herself –
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 …
Judy, have I mentioned the research I’ve been doing towards writing a book on Mum’s ancestry? I chased clues all over the city.
Felt like a character in The Da Vinci Code –
I spent fascinating hours with Mum’s cousins and some distant relatives I’d never met before –
Heard some incredible stories from the family archives, gathered a goldmine of information and tons of old photos. A mountain of notes to be transcribed. Almost wore my hand out writing in longhand as fast as it would move!
So when Daughters enquired (during a Whats App phone conversation) if I was bored, I answered: “No, I create my own adventures. There’s a new one every day and I can barely keep up with them all!”
The plan was for Husband to fly out from Toronto and join me after two weeks. While talking on the phone before he arrived, we decided, on the spur of the moment, to visit the Jaffna peninsula together. This area, a war zone for decades, is where our ancestors hail from.
With only days to go and a specific cut-and-paste tour in mind, I had to figure out how to make it happen.
Until then, take care, my friend. I intentionally recorded every detail of this trip just for you, so you were sort of travelling along with me, you know.
I’m thankful for you, Judy. You inspire me to keep living out joy, because joy doesn’t depend upon external circumstances. It comes from within.
Love always and thinking of you, my friend,
p.s Woke up to our first snowfall this morning. Oh Canada …
Just got a text from Aunty Rom. She wrote: A few days ago, I met the dog lady. She said the puppy had been run over. I was happy for her, so she didn’t have to find food for another mouth. This morning, she had another, carried in a box!
Leave two days later. Weather’s changed, sporadic showers. Piano clothed in plastic protection.
Never encountered Simone in person. Forgot to ask about the piano. Wish I had. Kept wondering …
My mind is an interesting place I’ve been told.
“It’s about perspective,” I reply,
– “being able to see where there’s nothing to see.”
When waters swirl sixty feet deep, who’d imagine the possibility of a stroll on the ocean floor?
A parable? Sort of.
Waters did recede, in spite of what we saw when we first arrived …
Which is the definition of faith. Sort of.
Hebrews 11: 11 Now faith is confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see …
Which brings me back to when eye sees what doesn’t yet exist –
Like knowing when garbage is more than garbage …
For example –
(1) Old washbasin – just an unusual lily pond-in-waiting –
2) An ordinary bottle … a prospective tree ornament, of course!
(3) The old kitchen sink – a perfect container for growing swamp plants
(4) That tired saucepan – an eccentric hanging container for a flowering summer plant
(5) Ancient pots and pans make whimsical garden ornaments
Daughters issue dire edict when ensuite toilet is replaced: “No planting flowers in it, Mom. Not going in our garden.”
I give my word!
See a bath tub tossed out on sidewalk recently, imagination bubbles over. So tempted. Wish I could carry it home.
Which brings me all the way back to Simone’s piano.
A year and a half’s gone by. Often wondered about it. Have to know …
Find Simone Ritter on Facebook and shoot off private message. She sends picture of finished work with a note –
Simone writes: It was popular with the passers by during the summer months, even in the unfinished stages. Unfortunately a storm came through and ripped the plastic off the piano. The heavy rains made the wood swell and then it could not be played anymore …
Absolutely breathtaking …
It’s all about knowing how to look –
Living in the possibility of the moment –
And honing the inner vision –
So how do you see what you see?
And that’s Life According To Me, a deliriously expectant resident of La La Land!
Love living there …
Because, ultimately, it’s about the final, impossibly possible picture –
“There was a crash. The knife came down, barely missed my eye. Blood everywhere…”
I can almost hear Mum’s voice. Wish I’d paid more attention to details.
Her tales often commenced with all six of us.
Pearl, Ruby, Peter, Dan, Beatrice, Elizabeth …
Mum: So all six of us climbed into Babby’s cot with the cake Alice baked. We found it on the kitchen table. Just as Petes lifted the bread knife and said, ‘Let’s have a piece’, the cot collapsed. The knife came down on my forehead. It narrowly missed my eye.”
Alice, the family retainer who helped cook and keep house, the hapless victim of boyish pranks.
Peter and Dan – Petes and Danma to us nieces and nephews – youthful villains.
Baby Elizabeth was Baba. Babby to the next generation.
Me: (doing mental calculation) But Mum, if Babby was say … five, and you … eight, the others would have ranged in age from eighteen and under. How could all six of you have squeezed into a baby’s bed – with a cake and knife?
Mum’s a storyteller, not a mathematician. It’s how she remembers …
Mum: On Sunday evenings we had family prayers. On our knees. They went on forever.
Her eyes are brimming with memories …
Mum: We quietly slipped away into the kitchen to have a feast.
Me: All six of you …
Mum: Poor Alice.No one listened to her protests. The patties were for the visitors. She made lovely patties. We ate everything we could find and crept back to the living room, knelt down and folded our hands.
Me: And No one noticed?
Mum: No. And E.T.S Aunty was so impressed by our piety, we all got toffees. She said we were good children!
E.T.S Granny (always known by her initials), Grandpa’s widowed sister, frequent visitor, devout, determined lady, given to eloquent, lengthy prayers.
Mum: One Sunday evening, Geo Uncle came to visit.
Me: At prayer time?
She’s chuckling …
Mum: Petes used a coat hanger to start Uncle’s car. We all climbed in.
Me: All six of you …
Mum: He drove to Geo Uncle and Malar Aunty’s house. We ate all the goodies Malar Aunty fed us and drove back home again.
Me: And their eyes were closed, they were still praying?
I’m laughing with her …
Mum: He never knew!
Me: And Malar Aunty?
Mum: I don’t think she ever told him.
Shadrach Samuel Esquire, aspiring businessman aged 32, won the hand of Miss. Mercy Newton of Chundikuli, Jaffna. As legend has it, the friends of the sixteen-year-old bride called out over the fence as she walked past the schoolyard of the local girls’ school, on her way to church to be married.
Shadrach and Mercy set up home in Colombo, sleepy metropolis of colonial Ceylon.
He founded the iconic engineering firm, Samuel Sons.
The union produced six children.
A seventh, Mum remembers as Bertie, succumbs to an untimely demise as an infant …
Grandma Mercy died in her sleep at age 33. Cause of death unknown.
Mum recalls asthma and a family history of heart disease …
Rajes Aunty, seventeen-year-old bride, moved in with new husband, Thurai Perinpanayagam (Grandma Mercy’s cousin) to help take care of a brood of children, some of them almost her age.
To this day, Rajes Aunty occupies a special place in all our hearts.
The siblings grew closer to one another.
All six of us …
Grandpa Shadrack never recovered from his loss. Well meaning aunties and clucking grannies suggested umpteen prospective brides to grace his hearth and mother the children.
Mum: He always said, “There was only one woman for me. God who took her away from me will take care of my children.”
Me: Do you remember her, Mum?
Mum: Of course! She was slim and pretty, darling, gentle, soft-spoken, a lady through and though. Always simply and tastefully attired. She was an artist, she painted beautifully. I remember whenever she baked a cake, she let me stir the batter and lick the spoon. I got a new dress every year, for my birthday. She cut it out herself and made me turn the wheel of the sewing machine for her. She used to call me Pambaram.
Mum: Because I was a tomboy. I could never sit still. It means spinning top in Tamil. She played the piano. On Sundays, all six of us would stand ‘round and sing hymns.
Me: It must have been awful after she died.
Mum: We had Daddy. We loved him. He was strict, of course, but such a kind, generous man. He helped everyone. Babby and I secretly called him Dixie Daddy from a song on the radio hit parade. We giggled every time we said it.
Me: Did you miss having a mother, Mum?
Mum: Of course, darling.On the day she died,I asked God why he took my mummy away. I was six. Babby was only three. I made up my mind to eat all my vegetables and grow strong, so I would be fit and well and never die and leave my children all alone. But we had each other, it was a happy home.
All six of us …
Church was an important part of family life.
As cousins, we have childhood memories of our mothers and aunts talking for ages on the phone. Cousin Dileeni and I often recreated these conversations – to loud applause and gales of laughter – at family-gathering kid-concerts,
“How are you, dear?” ” Did Alice come today?” “Can you believe the price of sugar these days?”
They couldn’t do without each other.
Time marched on.
Pearl and Ruby married their doctors.
Peter and Dan sailed off to the United Kingdom to pursue engineering degrees.
Mum kept house for Grandpa and played doting aunty to a growing circle of adoring nieces and nephews.
They called her Bety …
Tragedy struck again. Grandpa Shadrach died unexpectedly, after routine surgery. He was only 63. Mum was 19 years old, Babby just 16.
Shadrach and Mercy united in death, buried side by side ….
Mum and Babby clung to each other –
Peter took over the headship of the firm.
Elizabeth attended medical school.
Mum ran the family home for Uncle Peter, wrote wonderfully imaginative short stories that were published in the newspapers, taught Sunday School and created exquisite cakes for nieces and nephews, an abundance of relatives and friends.
The artistic, thespian, writing/storytelling genes run strong in this family line …
Grandpa was a man of faith, a praying man.
His example rubbed off. Mum was a staunch believer in the power of prayer.
I remember Sunday evenings with Mum at the old piano of her girlhood (now situated in her own home), singing the same beloved hymns she sang as a child.
I remember us as little girls – Sister and I – kneeling by our beds as Mum taught us to pray. I remember Mum reading from a book of devotionals, holding hands with Dad, Sister and Me (in our tiny school uniforms) and sending us off for the day with a prayer.
Sister and I often made fun, called her Saint Beatrice.
Mum learned from Grandpa Shadrach.
They prayed, things happened …
I learned from Mum.
Much older now, I’m an ardent believer in the mountain-moving power of prayer.
Faith we follow …
Just dialed long distance to talk to Babby – godmother and second mum — in Bethesda, Maryland.
The pain of missing Mum is less when she and I talk …
Babby is the only one left. She feels it badly.
Asked about the size of the cot. Says she slept in it till she was around eight years old.
All six of us?
It must have been a humongous piece of baby furniture!
Called Rajes Aunty some months back, posed questions about the family tree. She snail-mailed handwritten details from New York –
Excited, more curious than ever!
Saw a picture of an ancestor on Facebook recently.
The Perinpanayagam connection, circa 1834 …
Fascinated. Impelled to dig deeper into the family tree.
Mum’s second cousin, Thavo (Geo Uncle’s nephew), e-mailed more puzzle pieces from New Zealand –
Cousin Thavo remembers the Noddy cake Mum made: ” For my sixth birthday in 1959. It had Noddy’s car and house and even had 2 milk bottles outside the house” …
Discovered that Grandpa Shadrach and Grandma Mercy were distant relatives.
An exhilarating peep into the past.
It was misty this morning in Toronto.
Much brighter/warmer in the land of our birth.
Alas for ugly politics, economics: the clans are scattered worldwide.
Appetite whetted. Must know more.
These roots go deep.
Stay tuned.More stories to come as more dots are joined.
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”So what do you do with your time, Mom?” Daughter asks.
“You know me,” I reply. “I find things to do.”
Daughter’s voice, all the way down the line from Toronto to Colombo, is as clear as a bell. It’s a free call, thanks to Viber, What’s Ap and Magic Jack.
The suitcases come out of storage four weeks before. I pack in spite of an unhappy Puppy
and head for the airport and a month in Sri Lanka, to visit my Dad in the Land of Dreams.
Dad turned eighty on March 23rd. March 28th marked the first anniversary of Mum’s passing.
This is my dad, a good-looking octogenarian –
He’s adjusted remarkably well to being alone. I miss Mum.
April is the hottest month in Sri Lanka, with soaring temperatures and stifling humidity. A perpetual film of moisture clings to the skin.
It’s snowing in Toronto.
“Aren’t you bored, Mom?” Other Daughter enquires a week later.
Me bored? Never!
Meet the aunties who are not really my aunts. (In the Land of Dreams everyone is your aunty or uncle. It’s respectful.) Aunty Romola lives on the third floor, Aunty Amitha – her friend from Australia -lives round the corner.
The aunties and I walk every morning, just after dawn.
The Ipad and camera phone are an established part of my anatomy. The aunties are very forebearing.
Pause. Click. Pause again. Click. Aunties shrug and move on. Catch up at a trot …
“Our shadows. Look! Don’t move.”
Aunties strike a pose. Aim and tap.
“No backsides, please!” Aunty Romola warns.
I have the routine down pat –
“Excuse me!” (That’s me in one of three languages) “May I take your picture?” …
“They probably agree just because you’re a woman,” my friend Suresh says when I show him my cache of pictures.
I never thought of that.
Aunty Romola squeaks when she sees this one –
“That’s my friend Sharmini’s maid!” she says. “Where did you find her?”
I e-mail the picture to Aunty Rom, who sends it on toher friend, who chides the sweet old lady for posing for a stranger. “Don’t you know they do terrible things on the internet?”
The poor thing is horrified.
Aunty Rom looks over her shoulder. “Did you get that?”
Aunty Romola is beginning to see with my eyes …
She points again. “Get that!”
That is a line of tiny clothing hanging out to dry between a lamp post and a tree.
Not far away, a beggar family is asleep on the tiled threshold of an upscale store.
The city landscape is changing rapidy. A handful of remembered landmarks from my girlhood remain –
Lovely old colonial homes –
Are being torn down –
to make way for more high-rises-
This is Mr C.R. de Silva, a friendly retiree from Washington, DC. We often pass him and his wife on their morning stroll. Today he’s pruning the greenery hanging over his garden wall.
This charming gent delights and intrigues me with his impeccable English and private school accent –
(It must be over 40 degrees celsius inside the lottery ticket booth.) I ask about his family. He tells me he’s single and lives alone. He’s inclined to chat and I’d love to linger. The lights change, time to cross Duplication Road. The aunties urge me on.
I ask Dad about Dr Chinniah, who was my dentist when I was a girl (too long ago). Is he still in practice?
Aunty Romola and I bump into Dr. Chinniah on Galle Road.
Only in Sri Lanka!
Doyne and Sunitha are my neighbours in Canada –
during the cold months,
La dolce vita …
I partake of a sumptuous breakfast and warm Sri Lankan hospitality in their fabulous home.
This year Sri Lanka celebrates the Sinhala and Tamil New Year on April 13th and 14th. It’s all about the astrologically pre-determined auspicious time.
For days the metropolis of Colombo becomes a ghost-town. I stand in the middle of Galle Road, the capital’s normally traffic-choked main thoroughfare, to take pictures.
Overnight showers have done nothing to ease the stickiness. The streets glisten with pretty puddles.
Aunty Romola suggests we pop in at Aunty Christine-and-Uncle Chandi’s for a quick visit. Their home is along our route.
Aunty Christine is my cousin Dileeni’s mother-in-law and Aunty Rom’s cousin (and not my aunt at all!). It’s 7:15 am. They are a charming couple, gracious and welcoming, notwithstanding the early hour. They’ve been married for sixty plus years. I meet them for the first time. We stay for fifteen minutes.
Aunty Romola and I walk home holding cinnamon branches from Uncle Chandi’s well tended garden. They’ll serve as plant-props on Aunty ‘s balcony.
Dad sometimes takes an evening stroll at Independence Square.
and I accompany him. Dusk is falling when I happen upon this sweet old lady and her son.
She beams when he tells me her age. She’s ninety something years old.
This young family is happy to pose –
I click and I head towards the walking track to get this one –
and collide into my once-upon-a-time friend, Piyali. Piyali and I met (too many) years ago at a cooking class for young ladies. I’ve often wondered where she was.
We recognize each other instantly. I puff and pant to keep up as, never pausing, she sends me a friend request on Facebook and enters all my contact details into her phone. It’s boiling hot, I’m wilting.
I find out that Piyali’s in Colombo for a few days. She shuttles between Sri Lanka and Abu Dhabi, where her husband works. The timing of our meeting is amazing. She hasn’t changed one bit. She’s a mother-in-law now.
Dad showsme a copy of the family tree on his mother’s side. It dates back to 1670. I find Aunty Romola on it, so I guess she’s sort of an aunt after all!
Aunty Amitha messages me on Facebook . She’s back in Melbourne.
It’s spring again in Toronto. Suitcases are unpacked. I’m home.
Puppy is pleased.
I close my eyes and dream of Paradise. It’s such a long plane ride away.
There’s something about Sri Lanka. It’s …
To Paradise Island, land of endless summer, land of my birth –
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