He Changed His Mind – (Our Present Past 6)

Get caught up on this story – 

CLICK HERE   FOR PART 1 – OUR PRESENT PAST  
CLICK HERE FOR PART 2 – WIDOW’S DILEMMA   
CLICK HERE  FOR PART 3  – ANNA GOES TO SCHOOL
CLICK HERE FOR PART 4 – THE NEWTONS OF OLD PARK VIEW
CLICK HERE FOR PART 5 – A BRIDE FOR SHADRACH

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There was excitement at the fine brick residence on Forest Office Lane in Chundikuli. Shadrach Samuel was expected in town as the guest of his relatives, the Newtons of Old Park View. 

Posing in a “fine” brick tile-roofed residence in Chundikuli.  Most homes of the time were of wattle-and-daub with coconut thatch roofs.  The items in the room betoken affluence in keeping with the upscale neighbourhood. Note the victrola (wind-up gramaphone) with its large acoustic horn, bird in an ornamental cage, table-top keyboard instrument, potted plants and miscellaneous ornate pieces of furniture. Elizabeth Thangamuttu Porter, wife of Charles Selliah, in her home at Park Road, Chundikuli (circa 1920s). Mrs. Selliah, an unidentified individual, was perhaps a relative or friend of the family. (Courtesy Eric Perinpanayagam)

Mrs Charles Newton (nee Anne Rose Perinpanaygam), his mother’s first cousin, was also Aunt Rebecca’s sister-in-law. Anne Rose was famed for her culinary expertise and Charles — her husband — was a hospitable man who needed no excuse to turn an occasion into a party.

Charles Newton, circa 1930s. The picture published in the St John’s College magazine, was photographed by this writer at the college library during a visit to Jaffna in 2017.
Anne Rose Newton
Anne Rose Thangamma Newton (nee Perinpanayagam) (circa 1930s)

Their two  daughters — Grace Nesaratnam and Mercy Sugirtharatnam — were young women now.  Petite Grace, a studious bookworm, was married to Mutuvelu Fred Aiyadore in 1924. Fred Aiyadore was attached to the Civil Service of the British Government, in the employ of Ceylon Railways.  

 Old Park View was part of the substantial dowry Anne Rose had received from her father, the wealthy landowner, Joshua Perinpanayagam.  The property was signed over to Grace as her dowry when she married.

The first son-in-law, Mutuvelu Fred Aiyadore, bridegroom of older daughter,  Grace Newton (circa 1930s) (Courtesy the late Sybil Thapararatnam)
 
 Fred Aiyadore, a man of arresting good looks,  in his stationmaster’s uniform. He was posted to different parts of the island during his long tenure with Ceylon Railways (circa 1930s)(Courtesy Ranji Ratnasingham)
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Fred (left) and Grace (Newton) Aiyadore in the earlier years of marriage (circa 1930s/40s)(Courtesy the late Sybil Thapararatnam)

Mercy, four years younger than her sister, was a student at Chundikuli Girls’ College, steps away from her home, Old Park View.  She, like her sister, had acquired the skills required of a genteel lady of her time.  She played the piano, was a proficient dressmaker and had learned the finer points of cookery from her mother.  She was also a gifted artist.

Chundikuli Girls’s School at its inception, circa 1896, as pictured in a school magazine, from the 1930s. (Photo taken at the school library by this writer, on a visit to Jaffna in 2017)

The infant Shadrach once held in his arms, was now sixteen.  She was tall, slim with a distinctive beauty spot above her upper lip.  She scaled the fruit trees in the orchard surrounding her home and roamed the grounds of Old Park View barefoot, engaging with gusto in the boisterous pastimes of Victor and Arthur, her  young brothers.  She still found time for her dolls. Life was lovely and uncomplicated.   There was no hurry to grow up.

Young Victor Newton in his early teens (circa 1930s)
Kid brother Arthur Newton, circa 1930s

The senior Cambridge class at Chundikuli girls’ school (1910) published in a copy of the school magazine from the 30s. Seated (centre) are the British headmistress and vice-principal. (Photo taken at the school library by this author during a visit to Jaffna in 2017)

 

 

 

 

 

 

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There was something about the marriage-market game that brought sparkle to the humdrum of day-to-day duties.  Rose Newton’s spirits rose as she oversaw the dusting and sweeping of the home and issued orders to yard and kitchen staff. 

Her husband and she were to accompany the young man, Shadrach on his visit to the home of the prospective bride.  Rose had picked a suitable saree for the occasion.

The rice boiling on the wood stove was from her paddy fields, delivered yesterday by bullock cart and piled up in gunny (burlap) bags on the kitchen floor. There was fresh Seer fish which she would spice and cook to practised perfection.  Oorukai prepared with limes from the kitchen garden, dried on the back porch and pickled last week, would be the tangy accompaniment to the afternoon meal, along with several side-dishes of curried vegetables simmering in clay chatty pots.  Water was drawn from the well in the  yard outside — northern water that was famously known to tinge Jaffna cuisine with a distinct flavour which would make the two-hundred-mile train journey from the south well worthwhile. 

A feast of special things awaited the guest.

A coconut-thatch bullock cart, circa early 1900s (Google images).

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Shadrach  didn’t seem inclined to rise from his seat at the Newtons’ table.  Though gravy-stains spattered the white tablecloth and lunch was long consumed, he chatted about inconsequentialities while his gaze strayed through the open window to linger on the slender form of a boisterous girl, a pretty tomboy blooming into womanhood.  Her braided hair askew, Mercy clambered up a tree in pursuit of a mischievous brother whose bare legs dangled from the branch above her.  

A fashionable bullock hackery (buggy cart), circa early 1900s (Google images)

 

The buggy waited outside, the driver at the ready.

The wall clock chimed the hour. 

Charles Newton glanced at his wife and cleared his throat.  “We have to leave in a little while.  They’ll be waiting.”  

“I changed my mind. I’m not going,” Shadrach announced flatly.  He eyed his host and declared, “I want to marry Mercy!”

Husband and wife succumbed to seconds of stunned silence.

“Mercy?”  Charles rasped.  “She’s sixteen.  Still at school!”

Shrewd Rose gathered her wits to take stock of the situation. Young Samuel was an up-and-coming entrepreneur, they said.  He hadn’t made a fortune, of course — not yet — but his prospects were good, she’d heard.

The busy northern grapevine was rarely wrong. 

There was discussion around the table in the course of which the surprised pair agreed that a union between their younger daughter and Shadrach Samuel was something to be desired.  Despite the fact that she was a teenager and he sixteen years older.

Rose stepped onto the front porch and called to her daughter. “Mercy, come inside.  We have to talk to you!”

                                  ……………

A man in love: Shadrach Samuel, in his early thirties, circa 1930s

One can’t help but feel bad for that young woman who would have been attired in her best and put on display, coached on the etiquette of serving tea to the visitors and speaking only when spoken to.  Some unfortunate individual would have had the unenviable task of informing her parents that the eligible bachelor from the city of Colombo would not be visiting their home as arranged. 

For the first time in her life, Mercy had a saree draped around her frame.   A formal engagement ceremony took place the next day, with an exchange of gold rings and an Anglican minister officiating.  A guest at the occasion later reported that she looked tall and grown up in her unaccustomed attire.

Childhood was now officially behind her.

The Newtons made it perfectly clear  that their younger daughter would not be given a  dowry,  their unusual reasoning being  that the bridegroom-to-be was a businessman and should well be able to make his way in the world unassisted.  This was an unprecedented decision at a time when it was expected that a father would bestow property and jewellery on his daughter.  Still on the precarious cusp of acquiring financial stability, he had fallen so much in love that it never occurred to Shadrach to protest or argue the matter. 

Why the wealthy Newtons decided to act in this manner is a mystery.  

Shadrach returned to Colombo with a band of gold on his finger, excited to share his news with his youngest siblings– Anna and Solomon — who were living in his home at the time.

He was caught off guard by the twins’ unexpected reaction.

To be continued …

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Anna Goes To School (Our Present Past 3)

[ To get caught up on this story Click here   for OUR PRESENT PAST (1) / CLICK HERE FOR OUR PRESENT PAST (2) ]

Pink streaks of dawn stained the sky when the overnight train from Jaffna ground to a halt at the Fort railway station in Colombo.  Clutching his small bag of belongings, the boy stepped out of his carriage, overwhelmed by the noise and bustle of the waking metropolis.  Aunt Rebecca Ponnamma was waiting on the platform, her husband — Uncle Samuel Alfred Perinpanayagam — at her side.  She waved to catch her nephew’s eye. Rebecca Ponnamma wrapped her arms around her dead sister’s boy and Shadrak heaved a quiet sigh of relief. This was his mother’s flesh and blood.  His own.   He was home.

Tramcars on York Street, in the bustling metropolis of Colombo, circa 1900’s. (Courtesy Google images).
Goodbye farming communities, wattle-and-daub abodes and coconut-thatch roofs in the rural the northern province of Jaffna … (Google images)

Rebecca Ponnamma Danvers was an intelligent young woman, as beautiful as she was bright.  She conversed fluently in English, a bright star at Uduvil Girls’ College where she was awarded a Queen’s Scholarship in 1901 when she obtained her Calcutta University Matriculation Certificate.  

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Woman beyond her time: born in 1876, Rebecca Ponnamma Danvers (far left), with classmates (courtesy Eric Perinpanayagam)
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Uduvil Girls School founded by the CMS Anglican Missonaries in Jan. 1824, the first girls’ boarding school established in Asia.
A senior class at Uduvil Girls’ School, circa early 1900’s (Courtesy Tishan Mills, ceylontamils.com)

School teacher, evangelist, lifelong friend and ally of Dr. Mary Rutnam, Rebecca Ponnamma Danvers was a woman beyond her time.

Dr Mary Rutnam (1873-1962), a Canadian pioneer, physician, philanthropist and political activist, came to Ceylon in 1896. She was rejected as a missionary doctor because of her marriage to a Ceylonese Tamil man. In defiance of missionary and colonial society, she remained in Ceylon and worked for the government.

In 1904 Rebecca married Samuel Alfred Chellathurai Perinpanayagam who was a first cousin.  They were both grandchildren of Kadirgamar and Harriet (Theivenei)  Danvers.  (Kadirgamar Danvers was the first in the family line to convert to Christianity). The couple moved to Colombo where Samuel Alfred was employed by the British firm, Messrs Boustead Brothers.  They settled in the then fashionable suburb of Kotahena, where they purchased a home in Silversmith Street (now Bandaranaike Mawatha)

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Samuel Alfred and Rebecca Ponnamma (Danvers) Perinpanayagam, grandly attired in colonial finery.

 

 

 

Shadrak found shelter in the kind maternal presence of his aunt and was happy in the home in Kotahena.  Barely into his teens, the boy was apprenticed to the British firm, Hoare and Company.  Here he was initiated into the hardware business.  The job called for hard manual labour and his duties often included heaving heavy bags around on his back.    Young though he was, and now a cog in the wheel of big city life, Shadrak never gave up the daily discipline of a quiet early morning time alone in prayer and scripture-reading.  He clung with steadfast determination to the early discipline of  his grandmother’s teaching, From time to time he paused to open the twelfth-birthday letter from his granny to refresh his memory and savour the words of the blessing scrawled in Tamil script. Continue reading “Anna Goes To School (Our Present Past 3)”