Monthly Archives: April 2012

It is indeed a desirable thing to be well-descended, but the glory belongs to our ancestors. (Plutarch)

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Tried to go back in time today to learn about the people who made me the person I am today. Although my family history can be traced back by almost 200 years to my great great great grandfather and I have yearly family reunion for all those descendants attended by close to 500 individuals, I see the greatest influence on my life stemming from my great grandfather a man by the name of Edward . He was an aristocrat who’s brother was the first speaker of the Sri Lankan parliament. Under colonial rule our family prospered immensely and it was from him that the large portion of our wealth descended. However it was his kindness that really affected my life he adopted my grandmother and raised her as his own, and passed all his wealth and love through to her and this was seen in a bad light by the rest of his family who saw her as an outsider but he didn’t care and because of his kindness I am able to stand here as I am today. A quick visit to his grave was my way of thanking him for what he had done for me and continues to do for me.

His kindness has left its lasting mark on society in so many ways, firstly it has instilled a sense of responsibility in my family we understand all too well our status in society as privileged family and that we are a very wealthy and proud lineage especially in Sri Lankan terms. However we see ourselves as having the responsibility of using this  wealth to help our fellow man, just this month my father sent close to $3000.00 to a woman he had never met for an ear surgery, and this in not a one off occurrence. It’s a way of life for us and yes some people do take advantage of us, but those we help are eternally grateful and their children have come to see us when they’ve grown up to thank us as well. I remember once as a child asking my father why he kept giving lifts to strangers when he was driving, and he said it was because he had a car and that made him responsible to fill as many seats in it as he could or he wouldn’t be worthy of having it. A physical legacy left by my great grandfather is the maternity home he donated to the local people in the 1920’s before this building people had to travel almost 30 min  to the nearest hospital. It’s no longer in use now but the inhabitants refuse to tear it down as a sign of respect.We then set out to meet someone who my father described as very special to him, it was his childhood nursemaid named Matilda. When I met her it was love at first sight, she was so emotional at the sight of my father her eyes filled with tears as she embraced him and she glanced at me and said I looked just like him and smiled. I began talking to her and she gave me so many revelations about her and my father. My father was the third born in the family of five and according to her was my grandfathers favourite child. She was a former nun who had to take of her robes in order to take care of her family, while a nun she was member of the sisters of providence a french order, and so spoke fluent French, English and Sinhala and she had even visited France. My grandfather who was a high court judge at the time realized that well brought up children should be worldly hired her as a french teacher and live in nanny. She said my father had little time for french lessons and was the naughtiest one of the lot, he was more interested in, “playing the fool.”

As I looked at her I could tell then in her heyday she would have been quite an attractive woman so I asked to see pictures of her. As more often than not, I was right and she blushed when I said she looked beautiful. I asked to take picture with her at first she was shy but relented. As I held her it was like holding someone I had known my whole life. She looked at me so keenly and said, “you really are a Swarnadhipathi, thin like a stick but will one day be just as great as those who share your name.” This took me by surprise because for a long time I was thinking of changing my name saying it’s outdated and not fit for Canada, but me and my brother are now the last of our lineage if we do as we planned there will be no more Swarnadhipathis. A friend back in Canada did go on about what a nice name it was too it means something like “lord of gold” and she said it had the impact of sounding very regal, I laughed at her then but now in this place I see what she meant.

I kissed Matilda’s forehead as I left and she grabbed onto my hand and wouldn’t let go as I walked with her to the car. As I said my last goodbyes she told me, “I can’t do much for you my son, but I will pray for you every night.” I didn’t have the heart to tell her I was an atheist so all I said was that, “it was more than I deserved.”

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We shall not cease from exploration, and the end of all our exploring will be to arrive where we started and know the place for the first time. (T.S. Eliot)

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Arrived in Sri Lanka after a terribly long flight that saw me spend almost 10 hours in Heathrow. You realize immediately that your worst  enemy might as well be the heat and humidity in this country, from the moment you step out of the airport it feels like you are breathing through a wet handkerchief you always feel short of breath and feel as though you’re in a sauna.

If I thought the first day was going to be easy I was in for a rude surprise, my father having heard of my intentions to spend at least half a year in the country has become determined to make me leave, in his opinion, “I’m wasting my time.” so he sent me a message to get on a bus and come to the family estate in Kulliapitya located some 60 km away. Having an extremely basic knowledge of the local language and an even worse sense of direction when it comes to Sri Lanka I set out like a lamb to the slaughter.

The buses here are not what I’m used to they’re more ancient relics than buses, and they leave little to safety and security. I wish I could have posted a picture but I had to first reach my destination to get the camera. The trip would cost me 69 Rupees or about 50 cents. On this journey I looked around the bus to get a sense of the people I was with, none of them seemed the least bit happy and nobody made a sound on the bus except  for the conductor shouting out to potential passenger on the side of the road the bus itinerary.

At one stop a lady came in selling activity books for the children and a man with all sorts of snacks including what looked to be like smarties but they were individually packaged. At this same stop a man got in and started asking for money I initially couldn’t tell what his ailment was but then he took of his shirt to expose what could be best described as half a chest, it was then that I realized he was the victim of an electrical accident. Being from Vancouver all this took me by shock and so I let the man have 200 rupees he was very grateful.

The buses here don’t seem to have scheduled stops they seem to pick and drop of people at will, I couldn’t help thinking what a logistical problem this might create. Yet this was in no way as a big a concern as the quality of driving in this country, which can best be described as madness on wheels. An example if you will, a lane capable of only 2 rows of cars can magically fit 4 or 5, either Sri Lanka is way ahead of the rest of the world or we leave much to be desired.

I was lucky that mine was the last stop on the bus and I was able to see my father from the window, “how was your trip he asked me with a smile?” I replied with an even bigger and sarcastic smile, “peachy”! We then set out to rent a car, and came to a dealership the owner though seemed to be missing something and no it wasn’t the vehicle’s but his legs. His story in short form was he was an officer in the navy and he was in a claymore explosion. Looking at him was hard for me, as a youth my parents would take me on visits to orphanages to give donations I still remember taking one look at the kids before sneaking out to cry in a corner somewhere. This mans immobility is a sign of the dark history this island has endured with a civil war that lasted over 2 decades.

We finally arrived at the estate, I was exhausted and looked forward to a long rest. But as fate would have it there is always one more thing left to do, and that was clean the bedroom. Sounds easy but it’s not, I had to dispose of 2 dead mice and various other creepy crawlies, that I do have picture of. You would think it hard to sleep in a room that once had such tenants as the vermin I cleaned up but when you’re as tired as I was you would sleep just about anywhere. so ended my first day in Sri Lanka.