- By Indran Ramanaden
I will be turning 72 in January 2010. Soon memories will fade. It is autumn now in Canada, and soon we will be in the cold and snowy grip of winter. But my thoughts turn to a youth spent in warmer climes and recollections of the “Clan”.
My mother was Iris, a daughter of Richard & Elsie Weerasooriya. My earliest recollection of mummy is associated with the birth of my sister Shanthi. Mummy did not like going to the hospital and all three of us were born at home. Two months later on Easter Sunday, I remember the Japanese Air Raid on Ratmalana and mummy getting us under the strong teak dining table for protection. The last poignant memory is of her funeral at the house in Patuwata in 1947. What struck me to this day and is still unexplained is why daddy carried me (a 9 year old) for most of the time that we spent outside in the garden just prior to her internment across the road.
I cannot forget time spent at Woodlands Estate. Seeya – sarong hitched to a star doing the morning rounds; Aachi preparing kaludodal, kavuns, lawariya and halape (best I tasted); the distinctive smells associated with the house and the gardens with the fruit trees. That house was one of many on the estate that belonged to other members of the clan – the Koddippily’s, Sam Seeya’s, Uncle Walter Mendis’s place – that come to mind. As children, I believe we have slept over at all these places but if we did not, lighted coconut leaf pandans guided us in the dark on our way back to base. I remember seeing a lot of Uncle Rex at the house. He was mummy’s one sibling (of the other 5 who had fled the nest) who happened to be living there at that time. He spent most of his time standing up.!! He took almost the whole day to do a bath – at the well. He wore national dress and if memory serves me right, he taught at the local Gonapinuwela school. I remember Uncle Leslie, the self-anointed “mummy’s joy”. He liked to hunt deer on the Estate and when the spoils of the hunt materialized in the morning there was a lot of excitement – the skinning and the cutting, culminating in the feasting. Mummy was predeceased by Uncle Lucien. I remember visiting him in the Galle Hospital just before his death from diabetes. Another picture comes to mind - a hackney ride to Church with Aachi and the gona deciding to kneel suddenly as if it wanted to pray! No uncharitable mention of Aachi’s weight that could have been a contributory factor.
In December of 1947, I remember attending Aunty Bertha’s wedding which was hosted by Uncle Percy. My two sisters were the flower girls and there was this little pageboy. I cannot explain this but he reminded me of a new born chick. To think that he later morphed into a mustached general to command our national army!! Uncle Leslie arrived with a bunch of army buddies for a roistering “baila” session the day before. I remember that I wore a nice pair of dark grey shorts with a light grey shirt to match.
My last memory of Seeya is of a visit (around 1949 or 1950) to see us in Nawalapitiya. He was impeccably dressed in Western attire and spent a few days with us. This turned out to be a farewell visit. We were told that he made the rounds seeing many people shortly before he died.
Funerals and Weddings – that’s the common association with family. But interspersed were many other things. We spent many a childhood holiday with Aunty Bertha and her family. She treated us as her own. We watched her children grow and the ties forged then are still strong. Who can forget Ruth’s smile as she ran along the rail line to greet us as we got off the bus. Who can forget Aunty Bertha’s jokes and the tears streaming down her face as she laughed. Or her quotes in Sinhala (“onna Sam loonu kirinawa” drawing attention to Uncle Sam’s dozing, “hakke thiyala sema arinawa” referring to the act of chewing a bone and sucking the marrow, “cigarette eka kate, kalu kalisama athe” which I have still not figured out, “galauda BA” referring to a wastrel who had given up studies and was wasting time, etc.etc. She was offset by the strong and quiet Uncle Sam, the artist whose drawing of Christ still hangs in Indrani’s bedroom in Canada!!. He always woke us up with his famous egg flip (coffee) sans whiskey or brandy. A frequent visitor to Aunty Bertha’s place was our Aunty Lena who was always impeccably attired - beaded necklace, powdered face, nice hairdo and all!
I did attend a few early Pelapatha gatherings and remember the stalwarts of the time – Uncles Maurice, Percy, Hubert, Aunty Merle &Dr JHF Jayasuriya, HSR Goonewardene, Sam Seeya, Aunty Grace (impeccably dressed in Portuguese evening dress and speaking with a refined English accent) among others. There I met family, enjoyed the good food, drink, music and dancing.
I remember meeting Aunty Manique for the first time in Wadduwa in the mid-50’s. Subsequently Uncle Merrill was transferred to the Jaffna peninsula. Daddy was principal of the School for the Deaf and Blind in Kaithadi. We enjoyed the company of our younger cousins and this was probably the happiest time of our lives. Jaffna was a revelation to me and I enjoyed my schooling there and we met many good people who remain friends to this day.
After daddy’s sudden death in 1961, Uncle Percy, Aunty Freda, Uncle Merrill and Aunty Manique took us under their wing and looked after us till we were soon able to fend for ourselves. Aunty Freda brought my morning tea to my bedside and Lakshman gave up his room for me!!
Time passes and memories will fade. But as we remember the many acts of kindness, compassion and love shown to us by many a member of the Weerasooriya family, let us not forget to be thankful and proud of our heritage.