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 Shadrach 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.

Shadrach 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.

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