Short stories, Travel and Health Information
“You can go through life and make new friends every year –every month practically –but there is never any substitute for those friendships of childhood.”
-Mma Ramotswe (in Alexander McCall Smith: The No 1 Ladies Detective Agency)
A few months after we returned from Australia to live in Sri Lanka, I decided to pay a visit to my old friend Nimalsiri at his home in Panadura.
Now Nimalsiri and I have been pals for a long, long time, having first met in primary school in what he describes as “our jungi days”. In fact a few years ago he once introduced me to a colleague by saying “Meet one of my jungi pals’!
From those far away days we have been classmates and friends – in the primary classes, then the senior school and subsequently in medical college – so we share a lot of memories. What is significant about Nimalsiri is that he has preserved records of many of these memories in a large filing cabinet in his study that he calls The Archives. Neatly filed in alphabetical order – one file for each of his friends – are letters, cards, newspaper-cuttings, photographs and other items of information about each of us. It is not the stuff, I hasten to add, that a blackmailer would find useful – rather it constitutes as permanent a record as it is possible to maintain about the people with whom he has shared his life.
The drive down to Panadura that evening was an ordeal, because I made the novice’s mistake of leaving Colombo around 6 pm and heading straight into the southbound evening traffic along the Galle Road. The 15 kilometres from our home to his took over one and a half hours, as I inched my way along the Galle Road in the company of innumerable other cars, buses, lorries, cyclists and three-wheelers. I finally reached the Panadura bus stand and the famous clock tower built by that great philanthropist Mr. Lambert Dias (I wonder: does the clock still chime “Lambert, Lambert”?) and at last managed to reach the street leading to Nimalsiri’s house in one piece.
After I had a shower and changed into a comfortable shirt and sarong, he poured us each a drink and we settled down on the cosy chairs in his sitting room. His wife produced bowls of cadju nuts and banana chips and joined us.
I reminded them of the first time that I met her, when Nimalsiri took me along to visit her at her parents’ home soon after he was granted “visiting rights”. He never told me why he selected me of all his friends to accompany him on his first ‘official’ visit there – I fondly believe it was because I was the best behaved of his friends and the one least likely to embarrass him that day in front of his intended parents in law.
Anyway it was a pleasant evening as I recall. Because the two young lovers had eyes only for each other, which put Nimalsiri’s garguantan appetite on hold for the evening, I was able to engage in polite diversionary conversation with Nirmali’s parents while I diligently polished off three large slices of the Green Cabin chocolate cake that had been brought for us.
Now, thirty years later, here I was seated in the living room of their home. Nimalsiri carefully pulled out my file from The Archives. The folder was bulging with a variety of items: some photographs of a class trip to Horana when we were about ten and of another trip to Uswetakeiyawe when we were in university, a Christmas card I had sent him during our O Level days, a group photo of our class taken in our first year of medical school, the invitation that we had sent him and Nirmali for our wedding. There were letters I had written to him from various parts of the world, the letterheads constituting an undeniable record of free picture postcards from the airlines I had flown with, posh notepaper pinched from hotels in which I had stayed and official looking letterheads from hospitals in which I had worked.
Each item evoked a story, an anecdote, a memory of ‘way back when’. These were souvenirs of chapters in our journey through life – and it is only with a precious few that we can share these memories.
As Mma Ramotswe so wisely observed, “You can go through life and make new friends every year –every month practically – but there is never any substitute for those friendships of childhood that survive into adult years.”
If you liked reading this story, more such stories can be found in my book Tales From my Island – available as an e-book from Amazon.com or from Bookbaby.com