Edited by Dr. Tilak S. Fernando
Olive Princess (nee De Silva) Fernando was born in 1910 in a Tea Estate in Sri Lanka. Her father Solomon de Silva was a Medical Officer on Dunsinane Estate, Pundulu Oya, who worked for 40 years. She had maintained a diary of events containing recollections of her own personal life, as well as anecdotes revealed to her by her parents from 1909 to 1943. Her death took place in 1994. Her youngest daughter, Suranganie, has compiled all relevant animated chronicles surrounding the life of Olive Fernando at Dunsinane Estate, which is edited here for the reading pleasure of those who are familiar, especially with tea planters and their life styles, in Sri Lankan tea estates.
De Silvas had been an affluent family where almost every De Silva had made a mark on the Sri Lankan Society, being either a specialist doctor, lawyer, parliamentarian or a government minister. One of the family members has been able to be the first Ceylonese to beat the British in Golf, and to accomplish the title of Golf Championship.
Olive’s mother’s father had been the Chief Clerk in the Department of Public Instruction. Mother’s family too consisted of four brothers, who excelled as eminent Lawyers, and medical specialists. Solomon de Silva married Myra Cecilia Abeyratne and produced a large family of fiveboys and four girls, out of whom Olive was the eldest.
Her life story, encompassing the ‘crowded’ family and their experiences are at times hilarious, gloomy and equally heart breaking. Starting her married life from a rosy beginning to a professional lawyer, and when they had just settled down in a newly built house in Kalutara, the sudden demise of her lawyer husband has made her bewildered. In the meanwhile, her brothers had decided and arranged one married brother and his wife to move into her house in Kalutara to keep her company and to take the strain away from her husband’s loss.
She, in good faith, had handed over the management of the entire house at Kalutara to her sister-in – law, who became mean, heartless and despicable to the extent of making her ‘marooned’in life and helpless in her own house with a young daughter less than 3 years old. However, through a school friend and a compassionate Principal of her alma mater, a position at Visakha Vidyalaya was offered to her, with working facilities and accommodation thrown in to solve her immediate hurdle in life. Her little daughter, at first became rather bemused having to live with so many ‘boarders’ in the Visakha hostel having to get used to sleep in a crowded dormitory from being in her own room, which was heart breaking. Finally, she managed to get her daughter educated and she excelled in studies, in the same fashion as de Silva’s, and ended up becoming a professor of English in Macquarie University in Sydney, Australia as the late Dr. Chitra Fernando.
Although it is a kind of day-to- day occurrences lodged in a diary format, when put together it becomes an interesting novel to read. Written in simple English it carries the motto that was ingrained in Olive Fernando by her father that, “there is no disgrace in being poor. The disgrace will be if you try to get rich by underhand and unlawful means”.
“Farewell to Dunsinane where honeybees hum melodies and orange trees sing in the breeze.”
“On looking back over the years, it came over me with a sudden surprise, how greatly the world has changed over the years, especially after World War II. Time moved at snail’s pace in those days, and one scarcely felt the slipping away of the days.
My father was a Medical Officer in Nuwara Eliya (Up (Tea) Country in Sri Lanka); his father Weeradiwakara Cornelius de Silva had been a popular Ayurveda Physician, who has had a lucrative practice in Nuwara Eliya town and the suburbs.The Sri Lankan Ayurvedic tradition is a mixture of the Sinhala traditional medicine that has developed on a series of prescriptions handed down from generation to generation over a period of 3,000 years.
Cornelius de Silva’s family was a large one, and all the sons did extremely well in life in their chosen fields. His eldest brother C.M.C. de Silva became the Secretary of the Grand Hotel. He was also elected as the Chairman of the Local Management Board on several occasions.
My grandfather founded a Buddhist School, which today is known as Gamini Maha Vidyalaya. Buddhist Schools were unheard of, in Nuwara Eliya during that era, and this seat of learning was a real boon to the Buddhist children of this town. Another brother, the well-known personality in Sri Lanka, the late George E. de Silva, Proctor in Kandy, was elected as Member of Parliament for Nuwara Eliya electorate and later held the Parliamentary seat for many years. Subsequently, he became the Minister of Health for some time. The youngest brothers, Timothy de Silva and Gregory de Silva were Lawyers; Timothy practiced in Nuwara Eliya and held the honour of being the first Ceylonese (Sri Lankan) to beat the British in Golf and to win the title of Golf Championship.
My father, Solomon de Silva was the Medical Officer on Dunsinane Estate, Pundulu Oya (up country) and held that office for 40 years and died there while he was still in service. When he joined this Estate, he was a very young man and the estate life being, no doubt, very lonely, became a voracious reader as well as a celebrated stamp collector. In 1909, he married Myra Cecilia Abeyratne, a girl from Colombo and a Christian. After the marriage she came to live on the estate, thus my father’s married life began.
My earliest recollections began at about the age of five years, when I was sent to Colombo with my maternal grandmother to begin schooling. My mother’s father had been the Chief Clerk in the Department of Public Instruction, (as the Education Department was then called)was long deadand my grandmother lived with some of her sons who were still students. There were four of them living at home. One was the late, Arthur H. Abeyratne, at Law College and another, the late L.O Abeyratne at Medical College, who later specialised in paediatrics in Edinburgh and became the Chief Physician and Medical Officer in charge of the Lady Ridgeway Hospital in Colombo. Through his efforts, the late S. W R D Bandaranayke, then Minister of Health, drew up plans for the expansion of the LRH (Lady Ridgeway Hospital).
The two youngest (twins), Donald de Silva and Percy de Silva, were still studying at Wesley College, Colombo. Life within that household was quite lovely for me, being the only child in a house full of adults, I was teased and petted by turns by my uncles. One thing I loved was to listen to my Uncle Lloyd’s singing. He did this every morning at the top of his voice, while having a shower, and one song that has stayed in my memory to this day is: “Little Gray Home in the West”. My grandmother lived in a house named ‘Croydon’, and I was sent to St. Paul’s Girls School, which was only a little way across the road. I remember the day when a tramcar nearly knocked me down on the road, and how a kind ‘tram car inspector’escorted me home. One thing I took delight was to push the bead curtain that adorned the door of the sitting room aside with a swish, whenever I entered the house returning from school; two ebony elephants planted on both sides of the door added more splendour as well as served as doorstoppers.
Another important member of the household was an old lady who was called ‘Land Aunty’by the older members of the family and ‘Namma’ by the younger folk. ‘Namma’ did all the housekeeping work and bossed everybody around including the uncles! She always chewed betel leaves and the ‘betel’ box was ever by her side. Somehow, I remembered this part of my life more clearly than life at home, as I was very young when the grandmother took me to stay with her; my sister Celia (Vitarana) was only a baby at this time.
Electricitysupply was unheard of those days, and as dusk fell, I ran to the gate to watch the lamp lighter go down with a long pole lighting the gas lamps. When holiday time came, I was taken home by one of the uncles, and sometimes the grandmother accompanied me. A rickshaw (a light two-wheeled passenger vehicle drawn by one or more people)was sent to meet us at the railway station, and we had to travel in this vehicle 12 miles to reach the estate. The train arrived at the station around 1.00 p.m. but it was almost sundown when we got home. There were three pullers to the rickshaw, each one took turns to pull, while the other two pushed it from behind. We stopped at a tea maker friends place for tea; rickshaw men had a rest. I sat on grandmother’s lap during the journey, and sometimes fell asleep; but grandmother held me fast and prevented me from falling down. It was a tedious journey for us and grandmother remarked aloud how my mother could stand life in such a wilderness!
Our house was a lovely old building with ivy-covered walls and glass windows running right round it. The main house was built on pillars, and we often played hide and seek underneath it. The floors were wooden except for the kitchen quarters, which were on ground level. We had two open fireplaces with a mantelpiece round it, in the living and dining rooms. In cold weather there was a log fire in the evening and my mother sat by it with us all gathered round and told us fairy tales while she fed the younger ones.
Visitors were a frequent occurrence in the April season, and my uncle Arthur used to come there with two friends John Wilson and Sam Kadirigamar also law students as they found it an ideal place for studying. They used to sit by a nearby stream and address an imaginary audience in order to practice their speeches that only the birds and butterflies heard.
A year or so after I started schooling, Frank, the eldest of my brothers also joined me; but he stayed with my uncle Timothy who at that time was practicing in Colombo and was also married to my mother’s youngest sister Grace. I used to spend some weekends with my Aunt Rose, mother’s eldest sister, as there were cousins for me to play with. They had a neighbour named, Mr. Armand de Souza, and I used to play with his youngest son Tony who was nearer my age, but after some time aunt Rose moved to another house in St. Michael’s Road, Polwatte. Here, I began going to school again, this time to St. Mary’s Polwatte, with my three cousins, Elsie, Nita, and Enid.
By then the World War 1 was in progress, and we used to often see soldiers marching down the streets. When the Aussies were around local people feared them. On one occasion we saw soldiers lifting a Tamil woman, who was selling gram, into a rickshaw and dashing down the road with the terror-stricken woman. Sometimes soldiers helped themselves to bunch of plantains from people’s gardens, and the law turned a blind eye to these escapades as it was wartime and not considered such as a great crime! My aunt Grace was terrified of these soldiers and hid herself in the house if she spied one of them on the street, and even the sight of a Chinaman had the same effect on her.
About this time, 1917 to be exact, my father heard of the Buddhist school that was about to be opened in Turret Road, Colombo, and had me admitted there as a boarder. It was called Buddhist Girls’ Collegeand its first Principal was an American Lady called Dr. Banning; her assistant was Miss Reade.
I was one of the youngest boarders, and was quite happy there, but after only two terms I was taken seriously ill and taken home. After this I went back again to stay with Aunt Rose. By this time, my cousins had left St. Mary’s and were attending Methodist College, and I too went there with them.
In those days we had to travel to the railway station by bullock cart. We were put to bed after dinner, fully dressed in our travel clothes and when we woke up we found ourselves on a bed of straw covered with mats, but the swaying of the cart sent us to sleep again. When the sun was up, we sometimes got out of the cart and walked behind it for some distance, picking wild flowers. The train was due to arrive at the station at mid-day and we had our lunch, at the Station Master’s bungalow, which we brought with us. Once we were in Colombo, by late evening, it was a rickshaw ride again or a horse carriage to our destination. We always looked forward to going home for the holidays and enjoyed it immensely, as sometimes my cousins too used to come with me. As yet, it was only Frank and myself who were school going, and my father bought a lot of children’s books, and I spent a good deal of my time reading those.
The First World War came to an end in1918. I remember the peace celebrations very clearly. There was a splendid display of fireworks on the Galle Face Green, and Aunt Rosie’s family, some others, and myself went in a bullock cart to see the display. We took our dinner along with us, which was godamba rotichicken curry and seeni samboland had an exquisite time. Soon after these episodes, a bad epidemic of some type of fever broke in Colombo. Aunty Rosie and I suffered from it badly, and soon after recovering, I was once more kept at home, and had to give up schooling for a time. My dad then advertised for a governess to have me taught at home. We had three of them in the course of a little over a year as none of them proved satisfactory.
Brother Frank de Silva by this time was a boarder at Ananda College, so there was no problem about him. Then in late 1919, our grandmother died. My mum, who was very devoted to grandma was grief stricken. I can never forget our journey by night mail to Colombo. My father could not go with us because of all the little ones at home and my brother Noel de Silva was only 9 months old at the time. I can still remember the funeral carriage drawn by black horses and black plumes. The funeral service was much the same as Buddhist funerals today, but none of the children participated in it being non-Buddhist. As far as I remember, grandmother’s sister was the only one besides Uncle William who was married to Aunty Rosie and Uncle Tim, Aunty Graces’ husband. Uncle Arthur married his cousin Daisy on the very morning of grandmother’s passing away. He came to her bedside with his bride in order to get her blessing.
It was from my grandmother that I had my first lessons in Buddhism. She had a little shrine room like a caravan on wheels where two people could sit comfortably. Whenever she moved, her shrine room also went with her. After the funeral was over, we had to travel back home and my visits to grandmother came to an end.
By this time my dad had decided to try Buddhist Girls’ College once again for us, and this time sister Celia and I were admitted there in 1920, at the beginning of the new term. By this time, we no longer travelled by bullock cart as lorries had superseded them. We went to the station in the estate lorry, sitting on our ‘trunks’ all the way. When we got to Hatton station, another girl, somewhat younger than myself got into the same carriage as us with her mother. Once we got into a conversation, we found she was also going to the same school as a boarder. Her mother kept a caring eye on both of us during the journey. The girl was called Caroline de Silva, and this meeting proved to be the beginning of a lifelong friendship.
My second time at Buddhist Girls College was a happy one, as there were some girls who remembered me. We were all like one big happy family and enjoyed ourselves in spite of rules and regulations. After about another year, my brother Harry also became a boarder there as boys were allowed up to 9 years of age. He was the most mischievous boy there ever was to the despair of all the female servants, not to speak of the other little boys! By this time, some of my cousins from Nuwara Eliya; the children of my father’s eldest brother also came there. As there were so many of us, we were all shifted into a small room that came to be known as the ‘de Silva dormitory’where I was the oldest of this crew. When the holidays came around, we took the early morning up country train from the Fort Railway Station.
The matron booked a horse carriage the previous evening and saw us settled into it before we left for the station. On our arrival, my father’s brother-in-law, Uncle Wilson, who was married to one of his younger sisters called Roslyn, met us. He bought our tickets, put us into a second-class carriage, and handed us a parcel of food, which he had prepared at his home. Before leaving us, he admonished my brothers with the words “don’t put your heads out of the window. The driver will mind the train and you train your mind’! One thing must be said about this uncle, in thunder, lightning or rain, he would be at the station to meet us, either were arriving or departing.
The holidays passed quickly, especially when we had visitors. A family of my mother, the Louses, came and stayed with us. This was when we were quite young. After lunch, the entire family would spread mats under shady trees and lie down chatting and exchanging news and views, while the younger ones often were asleep. These were really wonderful days. There were times when domestic help was not as scarce as it is today, consequently my mother had a little leisure time. As the family increased, however, my father had to work very hard in his vegetable garden in order to earn some extra money to keep us going.
In 1920 my sister Isabel (Sirimanne) was born and in 1921 the twins arrived. As there was no grandmother to come and go as before, in this instance Namma came to help her, having being sent by one of her brothers. After about 7 months, one of the twins died of some illness and only Barcroft survived.
In 1922, Edward, Prince of Wales was expected in Ceylon. Mother went to Colombo to stay with her sister Rose in the hope she would get a chance of seeing the Prince. It was here that my youngest brother was born. Celia, Harry, and myself were at Buddhist Girls College, while Frank was at Ananda and Sita (Rajasuriya) and Noel were left at home. Isobel (Sirimanne) and Barkey were with our mother in Colombo. We, the school children, were all thoroughly excited about the Prince’s visit. All the schools were trained to sing a special song whenever the Prince was present anywhere in their vicinity. We were taken in a motor launch to see the ship in which he arrived. It was called theRenown. We walked all over it looking at the Staterooms and even the kitchens and also went on deck. Many of the girls’ schools were gathered at the Museum grounds as the Prince of Wales was to visit it, and this gave the children a good chance of seeing him at close quarters, which we did. We also saw him on several occasions when he passed by our school in an open carriage and saluted us as we waved to him and cheered as he passed.
During this time my mum was absent from home and a tragic event took place when our cowherd was found drowned in the lake opposite our house. The old woman, who did our cooking, was looking out of the kitchen window and when she suddenly had noticed a bucket floating in the water. Upon raised cries, brought the labourers from the estate running to the spot. The superintendent informed the police as my father was also being away in Kandy to see the Prince.
Sita and Noel were taken care of, by the old cook woman, and the tea maker’s wife came and saw them regularly. About this time, we were to get a brand-new bungalow, but we were really sorry to leave our lovely old place where we had been so happy playing under the house and also the stable. When my cousins Elsie, Nita and Enid spent holidays with us we all played at the house, and on one occasion Celia pretended to be the ‘servant girl’ and she was asked by Nita, ‘the mistress of the house’, to buy a pound of mutton from the market. After a while she returned, and on being asked if she brought the mutton, she burst into tears saying there was no mutton in the market!
I often loved watching the beautiful king fishers that used to come and perch on a branch overlooking the lake; gazing at the still waters and waiting patiently to see if any fish emerged. This house was built with stone, up on a hill overlooking the tea factory. It was a three-bed roomed house and the sitting room had windows right round it. Most evenings when the weather was fine, we loved to sit on the windowsills that were very wide to watch the sunset. The clouds used to take the most fantastic contours and colours. We made up stories about them, as they took different shapes. Somehow this new place did not have the same fascination as the old one did with its outhouses and nooks and corners. Our rickshaws too had to be given up, as by then there were few cars available for hire, and lorries to replace the bullock carts. There was also a bus between Watagoda and Pundulu Oya.
Sometimes the oldest of my mum’s brothers, Edward and his family, would spend holidays with us. Uncle Edward’s chief delight was to put up a tent under a huge Guava tree. He spent most of his time reading palms, which was his hobby. My cousins and all of us used to go on long rambles all over the estate, followed by an admiring crowd of urchins. Once we stopped by a school when our father was also with us, and the schoolmaster asked his pupils to sing a song for our entertainment. Dad asked him about his family, as he was a new comer to the estate and told dad that he had three daughters named Winsila, Thaksila, and Miracle Rose! This caused us much merriment, but we managed to keep serious faces until we were out of his sight and hearing; our father followed us at a more leisurely pace.
In 1923 my youngest sister was born, but when we came home for the holidays three months later, she had answered the compulsory call from above so, we hardly saw her. There had been an epidemic of dysentery on the estate at the time and brothers Barkey and Noel too were victims of the disease. Both of them recovered, however Barkey was at death’s door more than once. It was the constant care and attention of both parents that brought them round, and no doctor from outside was called in. I often wondered if our mother ever had a proper night’s sleep during the years we were growing up. Yet, in spite of all this, they kept an open house and we had some wonderful times.
We had six weeks holidays during the long school vacation in April, and were sometimes visited by friends, and others by family members. On such occasions I used to get up to concerts, and we did have a lot of fun by substituting our stage curtains out of bed sheets; father helped us to get the stage props etc.
In school, Principals came and went until the advent of Miss Perera, who was there until I left school for good and long after too. Under her management the school showed a rapid progress and many of the students passed their Senior Cambridge examination. Regina de Silva had the excellence of being the first girl to obtain a distinction in this exam in Sinhala. Subsequently, she became one of our teachers, and I was among the first of her pupils. The school also performed several stage plays in Sinhala, Saliya & Asoka Mala(popular legendary Sinhala Royal love story) being one of them, with Marceline Wijesinghe as Saliya (King) and myself as Asoka Mala (the Queen).
In the kindergarten, brother Harry excelled himself as the Wolf in Red Riding Hood. These years were really happy times where we, boarders, were like one big family. Sometimes our Uncle Arthur’s wife Aunt Daisy used to come and see us during the visiting hours. She being a good pianist used to play popular songs of the day at the request of the older girls. After playtime in the garden we were allowed to spend our time between then and dinnertime as we wished. What many of the girls in my class and some juniors liked doing best was getting me to relate stories to them as I was an avid reader, and they were too lazy to do any reading themselves!! Some of the stories took more than the time allotted to us before dinner per se, as such long stories had to be serialised!!
The most exciting event was the commencement of the Guide Company with Miss Pearce as our Captain. I was the leader of the Lotus Patrolwith Emily Jayewardene (sister of MD.H Jayewardene (a former Cabinet Minister of the UNP Government) as my second. We had a lot of outings than the rest of the boarders, and we took part in several contests, very nearly beating Bishops College in English folk dancing. We had several tennis courts too, in which seniors and teachers used to play. Games, however, were not much in my line so, whenever possible I vanished into a quiet corner with a storybook.
Around 1926, the school had a stroke of fortune as a philanthropist, lady Mrs. Jeremius Dias, donated a land and money for a brand-new school in Vajira Road, Bambalapitiya where we had a very spacious hostel and large classrooms plus tennis courts. It was after coming here that the Venerable Narada became our religious teacher. His sermons were a complete contrast to the ones we heard while in Turret Road, and the children listened to him in rapt attention as he preached in the simplest of language.
Three of my brothers, Frank, Harry, and Noel were now boarders at Ananda College, and the two younger ones Lloyd (who later became the Permanent Secretary to the Minister of Finance) and Barkey (Planter), were with us girls at Visakha. The entire family of nine was now boarders in Colombo schools and father had a tough time to meet all the school bills. I was to have left school, but our Manager, Sir. D. Baron Jayatilleke wrote to our father and persuaded him to send me back by offering me a free scholarship for two years. We had very little pocket money, unlike most of the other boarders who came from rich families, but this did not trouble us in any way.
Dad often told us that there was absolutely no disgrace in being poor and that shame would only come of trying to get rich by unlawful or underhand means. This constant conviction, I think, has stood us in good stead all our lives. In spite of our living in such an isolated place, father saw to it that we were all supplied with plenty of good books and music. We had no radio in those days but had a gramophone with an excellent selection of records. After the lamps were lit in the evenings, we had music until dinner time, and our bed time was early as Dad had to leave home by 6.00 a.m. to see to his hospital patients.
During our holiday time we often went for long rambles soon after breakfast specially when our aunts, uncles and cousins were visiting us. Some of them used to relate to us incidents that took place when they were young. Mum’s youngest brother Donald once related to me that he had gone to Nuwara Eliya when he was doing nothing at home in Colombo and was assisting in a Chemist’s shop started by Dad. Our Uncle Timothy told him that if a customer came in and asked for something in particular, and if it was not in stock, he should persuade and sell the customer a substitute instead of saying it was out of stock. On one occasion an English lady had walked in to the Chemists shop and asked if they had any ‘walnuts’. His reply had been “no ma’am, but we could give you some coconuts”! The lady had given him a hard stare, whereas he returned with a face of absolute innocence. Uncle Tim gave him a pep talk over this, but he maintained that he was only performing according to the instructions he received, by offering another kind of a nut!
Another annual event that dad very much looked forward to was the annual horticultural show held in Nuwara Eliya in April. Dad was usually the one who carried away most of the prizes for vegetables. This made him very happy and so became ‘the labourers’ who worked for him. They all got presents from dad. In return they gave him the same devoted service every year. Something I find it very rare in the present day.
By this time, cars, buses, and lorries were increasingly replacing bullock carts. The time was also drawing near for me to leave school as I had sat for my Senior Cambridge. The Second-year scholarship was also over, and it was not possible for dad to keep me in school any longer. As it was going to be very lonely for me, dad bought me a piano, since I was so fond of music. Playing the piano, reading and going out for long walks in the evenings with my mum kept me going. Dad started a Volleyball club among the staff and each Saturday, a member provided the tea. They all looked forward to dad’s turn as mum and I made patties and sandwiches, something they could not cope with.
Months passed by as lightning, and before long my engagement was to take place to marry a lawyer from Kalutara, who was a nephew of Aunt Roses’ husband uncle William. After this, most of my time was spent in sewing and painting, as I received a gift of a painting outfit from my fiancé who visited me once a month. Time passed in this manner till one day in early December 1930 an event occurred, which shook the whole estate. Dad had returned from his usual evening walk and called us for a game of cards. Being school holidays, the family were all at home. While we were at the game, the telephone rang screamingly and Dad rushed to answer the phone. During the telephone conversation, from his manner of speaking, we guessed that something serious was afoot. When he finally put down the receiver he answered our questioning in a sombre voice, saying that it looks “Mr. & Mrs. Cantlay have been shot”. With these words, he rushed out of the house, and we spent long anxious hours awaiting his return, until the early hours of the morning.
What had happened was that Mr. & Mrs. Cantlay were returning from Colombo bringing the salaries for estate staff amounting to Rs. 12,000 – Rs.15,000. When only about half a mile from their bungalow at a sharp hairpin bend, an obstruction had been placed across the road. The driver of the car had stopped and got out to remove it. Mr. Cantlay also had come out of the car in order to help the driver when gunshots came flying in all directions from behind the tea bushes. A bullet had grazed Mrs. Cantlay’s her arm too injuring her, but she had just managed to drag her husband along through a short cut to the senior Superintendent’s bungalow. Her act of courage saved both of them.
After the incident, it was Mrs. Cantlay who got the message across to Dad. Dad, in turn, promptly gave them first aid to stop them bleeding, which saved Mrs. Cantlay’s life since hers was a bullet that just had escaped entering her heart and deflected towards her arm instead. Mr. Cantlay was savedby swift action by his wife. It was, however, considered nothing short of a miracle that the wallet in Mr. Cantlay’s breast pocket of the jacketdeflected bullets from directly striking his heart.
In the morning dad had to take them both to the General Hospital Colombo on the advice of the D.M.O (Divisional Medical Officer) Nuwara Eliya. He had to return home by the next train in order to help the Police in their investigations. The days following these incidents were hectic for us as our house was full of police inspectors and officers whom we had to put up with, there being no other place on the estate. The scene of the crime was searched thoroughly but revealed no clues except for a long iron rod found in the tea bushes. On being shown this to my dad, he suddenly remembered where he had seen such an object before. It was the during that time of the crime that he met a man who was a stranger to the estate and, out of curiosity asked him what brought him there? The man had said he was from Welimada (down south of the country) and was going back there after meeting the person he came to meet with, and that his name was Siyathu. He carried on his shoulder an iron rod similar to the one found by the police in the tea bushes. Dad informed them of this, and they at once phoned the Welimada police to investigate about that man and to bring him along for questioning. When he was brought to the police station he denied everything but when confronted by my father and threatened by law, he had to come out with the facts.
During a subsequent identity parade, he pointed out the persons in the plot behind as the chief clerk, cook of the estate and tavern keeper, who had hired him for the job. On searching his premises at Welimada, the police found a pot containing Rs.2000 buried in the compound. All these people were charged, while off Siyathu received a long term of imprisonment; the other suspects lost their jobs. After a short while, Mr. and Mrs. Cantlay were back home from hospital completely recovered. Mrs. Cantlay’s only reason for accompanying her husband on this occasion was to buy me a wedding gift!
On the home front, there was hustle and bustle and excitement over my approaching wedding, which was to be held at the Y.M.B.A. Hall, Borella, Colombo 8. A few days later we were all on the way to Colombo by train and expecting to stay at our Uncle Victor’s place in Manning town. When we arrived there, we found out that my brother Frank’s suitcase containing the suit he was going to wear for the wedding was missing! Mum was thoroughly upset, and while some of the men folk went back to the railway station to look for it, Mum kept walking up and down the path between the rows of houses. She was so upset that she did not notice, that after a while in her panic-stricken state, she walked into a neighbourhood house and sat down, not realising it was the wrong house! She suddenly wondered at the silence of the place and realised her mistake; fortunately, not a soul saw her coming in or going out. However, after some time, the missing suitcase arrived to everybody’s relief. We all had a hearty laugh at Mum’sexperience.
My sister Celia and cousin Sybil from Nuwara Eliya were to be the bride’s maids and two little cousins, Lorna and Rosemary Abeyratne, the daughters of my uncles’, Victor and Edward were the flower girls. Mummy’s sister Eva made my wedding cake and all the refreshments and for days her house was a hive of activity.
In early January 1931, I came to live in Kalutara, after spending a little time after the wedding, with my family who were very sad to see me go. I was sad too, leaving the house where I had been so happy. My husband’s hometown was Kalutara where he practised as a lawyer in partnership with Mr. H.A. de Abrew. My husband had two brothers, one elder, who was also a lawyer and the younger one in the survey Dept. There was one sister and a niece, who was the daughter of his elder sister who died at childbirth. This was the niece who was being brought up by them. His father had died when they were young and they had to, more or less, look after themselves.
My husband taught at Zahira College, Colombo, in order to pay for his law studies. He practiced in partnership with his friend and lawyer Mr. de Abrew. The Kalutara was a small town and did not have so many shops and buildings as it has today, but to my mind it was a cleaner and better place then. The health facilities too were better and health inspectors and nurses were a familiar sight on the roads, as they went around attending to their duties. There was also a dental clinic and child welfare Centre, just around the corner. Electricity was introduced a couple of years later when Mr. U.A. Jayasundera was appointed as the Chairman of the Town Council. There was a good library too, and at that time I was one of the few females to patronise it. I had all the time in the world for reading and I made the most of it.
The Kalutara Bodhiyatoo was not what it is today, but then there was an air of peace and sanctity about the place that is absent today. There were dim lights of coconut oil lamps and all one could hear was the gentle rustle of the Bo leaves. Once I sat there, I found it very difficult to get up and leave, such an effect did it have on one’s feelings. Today, progress in the way of buildings have made vast strides and the Bodhiya has become a show peace for tourists as well. But give me the good old days when one walked there with reverence and tranquillity.
After a while, my brother Frank entered Law College and came to live with me. I was happy to have him for more reasons than one, the main reason being that Dad would have had to pay boarding fees for him too. I don’t think the boys ever realised what a big sacrifice our parents had to make to educate and keep us going. Our mum probably did not have a good night’s sleep in all the years we were growing up, or even a real holiday. When we were away in school, Mum spent a lot of time collecting all the fruits in the garden and made jams for us to eat during the holidays. How well I remember our journey home from the station. As the car came to a halt in front of the flight of steps leading to our bungalow there was Mum standing in the garden to watch for our coming, and as we raced up the steps she took us all into her arms in one big embrace. On the first night, dinner was a very noisy meal, with everyone talking at once, relating all the happenings at school during the term. These happenings were now a thing of the past, never to be recalled, but not to be forgotten.
I now started a new era and life that went on smoothly and harmoniously. I often had my sisters Sita (Rajasuriya) and Belle (Sirimanne) for school holidays. Two of my husband’s lawyer colleagues Hector Obeysekera and Arnold de Abrew came to our house in the evenings after work to have tea and a chat. The only disappointment was the absence of any children, and I spent most of the time reading, sewing, and gardening.
The elections came around about this time and causing much excitement, but I had no vote at the time and didn’t see much of what went on. We had no electricity in Kalutara, but when Mr. U.A. Jayasundera was appointed as Chairman of the Town Council, we got the much-desired electricity supply, and what a difference it made. We also got a lovely park, but sad to say, this park can no longer be described as such. The new Town Hall too came up during the time of Mr. A.B. de Fonseka, inaugurated by Governor Stubbs.
Sometimes when my sisters were with me, we had a lot of fun. Belle once got the old cookie dressed up in a sari, and having found my old wedding veil, which had been faded into quite cream, put it on her head and marched her round the house carrying a bouquet of cannas. The old dame rose to the occasion and walked round the house coyly, much to the amusement of the neighbours, as the bride didn’t have a single tooth!!
Every Christmas time we all went home to Dunsinane for the holidays and always spent a very happy time with my parents and brothers and sisters. I was very interested in gardening. I went out often with the boys hunting for ferns and wild flowers, which grew in abundance under the tea bushes. We often went for long walks too and our favourite spot was by the stream where mum’s brothers practiced their law speeches.
Time passed by, and soon my sister Celia was also to be married to Percy Vitarana, the Excise Inspector attached to Pundulu Oya. He was a frequent visitor to our house and went out with dad during the raids. Dad was a member of the Excise Advisory Board and he organised the raids. It was during these visits he fell in love with my sister and sent his proposal of marriage to the parents. After due consideration, he was accepted as a future son-in-law and the wedding plans began to take shape.
The wedding took place once again at mum’s sister Eva’s house, and she made all the refreshments too. After the wedding they went to live in Minuwangoda, which was Percy’s station. Another event took place the day following the wedding, which was our parent’s 25thwedding anniversary. This was celebrated at the house of mum’s brother Arthur, and didn’t everybody have a lovely time! Uncle Hans who was a person, whom everybody stood in awe of, was also in a mellow mood and turned a benevolent eye on the merry makers. A few months after these events, Celia was to have a baby and I too found myself in the same position much to everybody’s delight. Celia had her baby on 15 April 1935 in Uncle Han’s (Dr. H.M Peiris) Nursing Home. He was married to Aunty Eva and the best-known Gynaecologist at the time. After retirement he started this nursing home, which was a homely place.
Celia’s (Vitarana) baby was a boy was named Lakshman who was very bonny little chap where all the aunts cooing over him. Then my brother-in-law Percy Vitarana was transferred to Kulyapitiya, which at that time was a hot bed of malaria. Owing to this Celia and the baby stayed at Dunsinane with Mum and Dad. When ‘Lucky,’ as we all used to call the baby, was 6 months old, Mum came to stay with me in Kalutara bringing him also with her as my baby was also due at any time. Celia came too and little Lucky was the pet of the entire household. Then next to no time, I too was at the same nursing home, where I had a daughter whom we called Chitra Elaineborn on 14 October 1935. I had a fancy for her second name after reading about King Arthur and his Knights of the Round Table. The father just doted on his little daughter not to speak of my mother-in-law and all in her household. My parents were equally delighted and my cup of happiness was full.
During that time, we lived in a house called ‘Weerasthan’ on the Old Road, Kalutara. When Chitra was almost two years old, her father’s sister Mona had a proposal of marriageand very soon the wedding was to take place in our house. I was asked to help choose the bridal attire and see to everything in general. The niece of my husband’s elder sister, a motherless girl called Lina, who was brought up by her grandmother, was one of the little maids together with a niece of the bridegroom. The wedding of Mona took place in august 1937 and once they were married they went to live in Maharagama.
Once all these events were over, we settled down to our routine and turned our thoughts to building a house of our own on a piece of land given to us by my mother-in-law. Soon after the wedding of Mona, our building operations started taking shape. By this time my sister Sita also became engaged to a police officer named A.J. Rajasuriya and his name was Dunstan. As my sister was often with us, he came to Kalutara to visit us, with the result our little one became very much attached to both of them. When the house was coming up almost to roof level we decided that Chitra and I should spend some time at Dunsinane with my parents so that the building operations would be quicker if our household expenses were cut down. Arthur, my husband, had his meals at his mother’s place and only our servant boy was at home to look after the furniture etc., and for which reason we had to keep on the house. By this time my brother Frank got through his law exams and also won a prize in the Intermediate exam. On the day he took his oaths, dad threw a party for him at the house of mum’s brother uncle Arthur, who was also a lawyer. Dad’s closest friend, Proctor Sam Kadirigamar gave him his first fee. He started his practice in Gampola and established there while we were building our house.
When we went home to stay in Dunsinane, Celia’s little son, about 7 months old, was also there as well. Sita left school and for a while was a pupil teacher there. Her fiancé Dunstan Rajasuriya used to come and see her whenever he could obtain leave. We took the two little ones out in the early mornings, and they enjoyed going out in their prams. Then one day we had a letter from Uncle George’s daughter Marcie asking if she and husband Robert Nicol Caddel could spend a holiday with us. We were only too happy and I looked forward to meeting my cousin Marcia after a lapse of years. Dad wrote and asked them to come, but only Robert made his appearance. He was a journalist and spent hours in his room typing various articles about his life in Ceylon (Sri Lanka). He stayed with us for about a month and we found things easy as his manservant was a good cook.
In the meantime, I had reports from Kalutara that our house was up to roof level and we could hope to return in a couple of months’ time. In the meantime, my brother Frank got engaged to a girl he met in Pussellawa, whose motherwas connected to dad in some way. There was no function as such as mum and dad were unable to make the trip to Pussellawa to visit her, so my husband Arthur and myself took it upon us to do the honours on our parent’s behalf. She was a very pretty girl. I was quite taken up by her, but Arthur thought it was Frank’s duty to have consulted his parents before committing himself. Being a man of more experience of the world, may be he saw in her something not quite as charming as we saw, and later he was proved to be right.
Before we knew where we were, the house was complete and Arthur came to take us back home. As usual I collected a whole load of plants and ferns with Dad’s help and was soon getting up the garden of the new house, where already there were some flowering trees. It was now a time of excitement for everyone as it was decided that Sita’s wedding was to take place in our house. Mum, Sita and Bella came down a month before the wedding as there was much to be done, such as sewing new curtains etc., and also getting ready for the Pirith chanting ceremony and Dhane(Alms to Buddhist priests), which was the usual custom when moving into new residence. We had the Dhaneabout the end of July and the wedding was fixed for 31 August 1938. I spent a long time making a giant white silk umbrella, stitched on a bamboo frame to serve as a canopy for thePoruwa. It had trails of white flowers down each of the spokes and looked quite enchanting. Lucky was to be the pageboy and Chitra the flower girl, while Bella and Padmini, (Dunstan’s sister) were the two brides maids. The cake structure was a giant shamrock, hollow inside to hold the wedding cake. This was chosen because of Sita’s connection with the Girl Guide Movement and the shamrock was the Guide emblem. The wedding went off very well and all the family members on both sides were present. Everybody had a fabulous time and after the couple left, singing and dancing took place till late into the night. Then less than a fortnight later, Frank too was to be married and the wedding took place at the bride’s residence in Kotahena on the 12 September. Lucky and Chitra were again the pageboy and flower girl for this wedding too.
After all these events were over, we concentrated on the finishing touches to the house and garden. Everything was fine as far as we were concerned, but from time to time I began to be obsessed by some vague sort of fear of impending doom, which could not be accounted for. The weeks went by and then it would our little one, Chitra’s, 3rdbirthday on 14 October 1938. As usual my mother-in-law and members of Arthur’s family came to celebrate. My elder brother-in-law Peter lived only a few doors away from us and his son Nelum was two weeks younger than Chitra.
We usually went to Dunsinane to my parents for the Christmas vacation, but that year we thought of spending Christmas in our own new home. By now, my unfounded fear began to increase and in the middle of January 1939, Arthur fell ill and though the doctor did not think it was anything serious, I was far from satisfied and sent for two of my doctor uncles, D.H.M. Perera and Uncle Lloyd Abeyratne and my cousin Enid’s husband Dr. Shelton Karunarathne also, to come along with Aunty Rose. After a consultation, they did not agree with our local GP’s verdict and decided it would be best to remove him the very next day to the General Hospital Colombo. Aunty Rose stayed back to help me. On thefollowing morning we took him to the hospital. We were lucky to get a room in the Merchants’ Ward, and I was the only visitor allowed in. The doctors all did their best, but there was not much improvement and on the 14thday he started having haemorrhages, and it was discovered that he was suffering from the worst form of typhoid fever. Blood transfusions were given but to no avail. The doctors did not hold out any hope, and on 9 February 1939 he passed away in an unconscious state. My parents came down and the body was brought home to Kalutara from where the funeral took place.
The days that followed these events don’t bear even thinking about, as seven days after the death of my husband, my mum was taken ill and died before we could reach her bed side. We had just had the seventh day alms giving when this loss befell us. Three of the boys were still teenagers and Isobel the youngest sister was still in school. All at once the future that promised to be so bright and rosy turned dark and gloomy. I did not know which way to turn. It was Mum’s wish that my brother Frank and his wife should come and live with me and take over Arthur’s practice. His partner Mr. Arnold de Abrew was willing to agree to this for my sake, and they decided to move to Kalutara.
For a few months all went well, but gradually a change began to take place. My sister-in-law chose the right weapon to ‘hit’ at me and that was through my daughter. Many people, both friends and relatives began to guess that all was not well. Consequently, two of my uncles, Edward and Lloyd made special trips to Kalutara to see if they could do something to put matters right, but they felt after talking with Phyllis that she resented our presence in our own home,after I had given over the house management to her and she really had nothing to complain about.
My daughter Chitra, who was now just over three years old, felt the difference in our position, but there was nothing I could do about it. My friends especially Mr. & Mrs. Edward Cosme were very kind to me and took me on trips to Anuradhapura, Polonnaruwa and Sigiriya and included Frank and his wife Phyllis as well. I left Chitra with my sister Sita (Rajasuriya) as the trip would have been too tedious for her. On our return journey we visited Miss Kamey’s House of Joy at Talawila, a wonderful place for young and the old. This lady devoted her life to this cause and spent a fortune on running this home.
We stopped for a little while at Polgahawela at my sister Celia’s place. Though they urged us to stay the night due to signs of bad weather, Mr. Cosme was very anxious to get back to Colombo as he had to attend a court case. He was, however, doomed to disappointment, as when we reached Kelaniya, the road was impassable. We had to spend the night in an estate bungalow that belonged to friends of the Cosme’s. The following morning, we crossed the Kalani Ganga (River) on a raft carrying our belongings in bundles and on reaching the opposite bank were lucky enough to find rickshaws to take us to the Cosme’s house in St. Sebastian Hill, Maradana. When we got back to Kalutara after collecting Chitra, we heard that the place was flooded and the brother of Donald Wijesinghe, Excise Inspector and a friend of Dad’s had drowned in the flood waters behind the house he was occupying whilst trying to go boating there.
After a few months of these events, life with my brother Frank and his wife did not work out as expected. Sita came to spend a couple of months with us after the birth of her first baby and she noticed for herself that all was not well. After ascertaining if I would consider working somewhere, she spoke to Mrs. Motwani, the then Principal of Visakha Vidyalaya, to see if there was a chance of fitting me into the hostel. Being an old girl of long standing, the Management made no difficulties, and very soon I was installed in my old school with my daughter Chitra also there with me. So once again back to the scene of my childhood. Had it not been for the circumstances that sent me there, I would have found life quite pleasant since many of the staff was my old schoolmates and even teachers who taught me. Thus, it was with a sense of some trepidation that I took up my residence there.
Things were a bit strange at first, and the little one took some time to adjust to the changed conditions and not being used to large numbers of people, which would have found it quite bewildering to her especially when she came back to the hostel from school and not to find me on the porch waiting for her. Anyway, as time went on, we both got into the routine of hostel life and everything began to take on a new look. My sister’s little son Lakshman was also a boarder there and up to all the mischief going. I was put in charge of the little ones where he was also among them. There were two other boys besides him, and the three of them led me a merry dance!!
It was part of my duty to sit in the visitor’s room in the evenings when the boarders had people to visit them. I also had to accompany the girls on outings and when they were taken to see any films, lectures etc. During the vacation I sometimes stayed at my sister Sita’s place and during April holidays went home to Dunsinane.
About 1941, the war began to take a serious turn and the school authorities started taking some precautions and the dormitories were being prepared as air raid shelters. I myself spent a lot of time pasting black papers over the windowpanes. Air raid drill was also practiced in the school hall. There was a certain amount of unrest in the country at this time, and there was a big drop in the attendance of the boarders as parents were nervous to have their children far from them at that time. When Japanese took over Singapore there was real panic. Mrs. Motwani kindly gave me permission to go home because she said she understood that it would be difficult for me to leave in a hurry on account of the child. So, I packed up all our belongings and with the help of my old teacher Mrs. Agalawatte who sent me her car to take us to the station, we were once more homeward bound. At the station my dad with a car to take us to Dunsinane met us. My sister Isabel and brother Barkey were there and we settled down to life until such time as I was called back to school.
At this time Celia and Percy were stationed closed to Jaffna, and Lakshman (Lucky – as we used to call him) was a boarder at Trinity College, Kandy. So, he was quite safe there, but the second child Savitri was also in Dunsinane along with Sita’s daughter Lilamani and Chitra. After a while our Aunt Grace also came and took refuge with us as she was nervous of living in Colombo alone as her son Douglas was away from home at his place of work for most of the time. She was a great favourite with the children and the early mornings found them all perched on her bed waiting to hear the stories she was never at a loss to relate.
Sita, who was with us, made a trip to Colombo to attend the wedding of a close school friend and also to do a bit of shopping in the early part of April. Though she managed to do both, she had to come back in a rush as there were indications about Colombo would be attacked. So, Lloyd and she were packed off in a matter of a few hours to catch the up-country night mail from Veyangoda where Dunstan’s parents were. They got away just in time and many were the anxious hours we spent until they reached home.
It was a restless time for the whole country and Army soldiers were everywhere in the towns, but to us in Dunsinane we hardly felt there was a war on. We spent most of the time out in the open walking and amusing the children who were quite happy playing around. Dad was happy to have us with him. Since Mum’s death home was never the same for any of us, and Dad had nobody to see to his health and comfort except when we were at home, which was not often.
During this time, Harry was in the Anuradhapura District and Noel without Dad’s permission had joined the Army and gone off to the Middle East. Dad was very worried about him, but there was nothing that anyone could do. In this manner the months went by. Life on Dunsinane went on smoothly and uneventfully.
One amusing incident stands out in my memory, connected with the wife of the chief Clerk Mrs. Joseph. She came home one afternoon looking very agitated and scared to ask if dad was at home. When dad came and asked her what the problem was, she said in almost a whisper, “Mr. Silva, they have come”. “Who?” asked my dad, and her reply was “The Germans have come and my husband is talking and talking, please come”. Dad got ready and went with her while we waited impatiently for his return. When he finally returned home, we asked him what took place. To our amazement he said that her ‘German’ turned out to be none other than some dark skinned Indian congressmen’. We were so tickled over this and it was a long time before we could stop laughing.
In April we celebrated the Sinhala New Year as best we could and the days slipped by. One day around June, I had a letter from Mrs. Motwani to say that the school was evacuated to Bandarawela, and wanted to know whether I would consider taking charge of a second hostel that was to be opened? I gladly accepted the offer, as I was worried about Chitra’s schooling. By this time, all except Bella, Barkey and Lloyd had gone back to their respective homes and things were more or less normal.
I had to get ready with some warm clothes for Chitra and myself and left for Bandarawela accompanied by Lloyd who left us at the hostel and returned home. The new hostel was a little distance away from the main one where the older girls were housed under the vigilant eye of Mrs. Perera, the Head Matron.
The school buildings too were adjoining the hostel; every morning I had to accompany my hostellers to school. After some time, they were accompanied by one of theayahs(chaperons). Every weekend I went to the Sunday market place with the male domestic to buy the week’s vegetables that took the best part of the day. All food items such as rice et cetera were rationed as such, it wasn’t an easy task to feed the children! Water was scarce too, as it was rationed as Bandarawela being a dry zone. Owing to this, I would take the girls in batches to a spout quite some distance away for their baths. All told, the children did enjoy themselves going out for long walks. At the end of terms, I organized a concert and invited the staff and older girls of the main hostel. Once we had a big Pirithceremony and the religious instructor Ven. Narada Thero participated in it. He did not read out long Pali texts to us but his teachings were focused on how to live our daily life, including how to treat our domestic helpers. At the end of the Pirith ceremony all the young ones who had quarrelled with their friends made up again under the eye of the Venerable Narada!
Days passed by smoothly, and when the holidays came round I went to Dunsinane to spend my holidays there. Bella and Barkey were still there; we all went for our usual rambles. There was one particular place that was invariably polluted by the urchins on the estate. When we were approaching the spot one of the boys, Barkey or Lloyd gave us a warning shouting: “You are coming to pudding avenue, look out”! During those school going years the boys were playing as Red Indians amongst the tea bushes as their favourite past time. We used to get quite startled on hearing wild yells and screams, which they said was their (Red Indian) war cry! Our garden was dotted with little ponds for watering the garden and many were the hours spent by Harry and Noel fishing for tadpoles that they kept in a bottle and later put back into the pond. There was also a waterspout where the boys bathed, which Noel named it St. Slippers Falls, because someone slipped and had a fall there.
One day Noel came all excited to tell Mum that he saw a crab laughingand was quite indignant when we ridiculed him and exploded with laughter. Almost every little nook had a name given by us and some of our cousins too were familiar with them. We always had cats and dogs and a favourite was a white woolly terrier given to us by one of the Assistant Superintendents. We called her Princess, and she was the favourite at home and followed mum wherever she went. The gentleman who gave us this dog returned home to England and some years later came to Ceylon and passed through Dunsinane. My mum happened to come down to the road followed by Princess when a car just passed them slowly, and the dog leapt into the car having recognized the old master! My mum said the man was so overcome with joy that he almost wept. After petting Princess for a while he took leave of my mum and thanked her for looking after the doggy. It goes to show how faithful a dog could be. Princess died after a few years and we had another one called Billy, who was attached to my brother Harry. Unlike Princess, Billy had a wild streak in him and vanished like a flash of lightening as soon as he was let off the lead.
When Chitra and I spent our holiday in Dunsinane only Barkey and Bella were living at home with Dad, but sometimes Savitri and Lila, Celia’s and Sita’s two little girls were also there and made much of their grandfather who spoilt the three of them to his heart’s content. Occasionally Chitra and I spent a holiday at Sita’s in Colombo or at the home of mummy’s sister Rose. That was the pattern of life during those few years.
In 1942 the news of the death of my sister-in-law Mona came as a great shock. She died after the birth of her second child. I could not attend her funeral as it took place in a place called Waduwaand not easy of access.
One day in the hostel I woke up in the morning overcome by a dream during the night. The dream was that my father had died and this seemed very real to me. My friends asked me if anything was amiss and I related the dream to them. They of course made light of it, and when the morning post brought a letter from dad, my fears were somewhat allayed though not quite. The morning passed and after the hostellers had come back from school and had their lunch, we all retired for the afternoon rest. I was just dozing off when an ayah (domestic) tapped at my door and announced that there was a telegram for me. When I opened it, it read that my father had passed away and the funeral was to take place in Nuwara Eliya at my uncle’s house. The next few hours were a nightmare, but my friends rallied round and helped me to make ready for the journey, which I did, accompanied by one of the male domestics. I left Chitra behind not knowing what the situation would be.
A cousin met me at Nanu Oya Railway station with a car and took me to my uncle’s residence where the rest of the family had all gathered. After the funeral, we all went back home to Dunsinane to prepare for the seven day’s Dhane (alms giving), which would also be in Nuwara Eliya. Aunt Grace also came with us to help, and once the Dhane was over we came back once more to settle things before leaving for good. It was a very sad homecoming and we sat and talked far into the night, bringing back memories of the past. I will always remember the things my father used to say to us when we were still in school. He often said to us “there is no disgrace in being poor. The disgrace will be if you try to get rich by underhand and unlawful means”. This did have an effect on us and we never felt inferior because we did not have as many clothes or pocket money as the more affluent girls had.
Our parents gave us all they could after a lot of self-sacrifice, which we girls realized more than our brothers who took everything for granted. We walked around the garden a lot in the last few days. There was the Guava tree with its spreading branches under which Uncle Edward made a tent and read our palms whenever he spent a holiday with us. There was the Honey Suckle bower with a seat beneath it. The Orange trees were loaded during the season and all the flowering shrubs and red geraniums under the long French windows. There was a large flowerbed right in front of the garden and here we used to see Chitra walking from plant to plant talking to the flowers and butterflies, which abounded there, quite unaware that we could see her. Our conversation was full of “Can you remember this or that”.
It was a sad time for us all to leave the only home we knew. My father was there for 40 years and proved to be guide, benefactor, and a friend to one and all on that estate. We, children, were free to walk about the place without any fear as nobody would dream of hurting even a hair on our heads. ‘The doctor’s children were loved by one and all’.Soon it was farewell to Dunsinane and all we held most dear. There was nothing we could take away except our memories. Farewell it was to Dunsinane where honeybees hum melodies and orange trees sing in the breeze.
Courtesy: Suranganie Gunawardena (Fernando)
(Olive’s youngest daughter)