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!
On the first family trip to England, Mum had us pose in front of Buckingham Palace while she attempted to take a picture of Dad, Sister and me against the backdrop of the Changing of the Guards.
The guards had changed and gone their wayby the time the picture focused to satisfaction. Sister and I teased her about it for years to come.
Smile please …
Everyone was using pocket cameras.Sis and I were embarrassed by the ghastly contraption Mum still wielded with pride!
We flew on to Singapore where Dad bought us girls a Kodak Instamatic with disposable flash bulbs.
Colour pictures … yay, finally!
Shudder to think of the environmental impact from all the used flash bulbs we gleefully dumped in the trash can.
Mum discovered the joys of photography around age 12 when she got a gift of a Brownie camera.
She still had it when Sis and I were kids …
Mum’s crisp black-and-white photos display an instinct for capturing the ‘moment’ and an unerring eye for placing and composition.
When sister and I were little, Mum acquired the Yashica, also sort of box-camera-ish.
Sleeker, less ‘primitive’, more sophisticated …
It took ages to focus with Mum staring into the open Yashica ‘box’ in her hands, at an upside down image.
She’d murmur, “Smile, smile” through fixed grin and puckered brow, our features remaining in frozen limbo until we heard the click and a cheerful ‘thank you’!
Felt like forever!
Mum often said she wanted to get an ‘unawares’ shot.
Sister and I heard … underwears!
We hadn’t the foggiest notion what she meant.
She caught us unawares all right. The delightful album-memories bear testimony to the fact.
Mum’s was the era of stay-at-home mothers. Those who were in the professions were nevertheless the proud masters of the housewifely arts. They cooked, sewed, hung for hours on the telephone with other women, shared recipes, discussed the current price of important commodities like sugar, rice and eggs, wrote lengthy, polite letters and never forgot birthdays and anniversaries.
At family concerts we kids ‘did’ Mum and aunties talking on the phone …
When Sister and I got married, we each received a special gift from Mum. An album of photographs – mostly black and white photos and some washed out Kodak and Polariod colour pictures – each one tailored to document our lives from birth to early adulthood.
All meticulously labelled …
With Mum’s unexpected passing two years ago, I lost my best friend and discovered a treasure trove of old pictures while cleaning out cupboards and putting things in order for Dad.
Eyes popped out of my head as a pictorial record of family history unfolded …
Entered a new realm. Memories of bygone days surfaced from boxes, dusty files and disintegrating albums.
Mum’s voice recounting fragments of family legends echoing in the recesses of my mind …
The past came alive in a way that didn’t seem possible. Moments in time frozen on faded bits of glossy paper, pictures worth thousands of words.
”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!