Sanjiva Wijesinha -writer and physician

Short stories, Travel and Health Information

Twilight Reflections – 4

“Home-Coming” Friends

The month of April this year is very auspicious for us in Sri Lanka because our traditional New Year (Aluth Avurudu and Puththandu) as well as the festivals of Easter and Eid-ul-Fitr all take place within this month.

In Sri Lanka one does not need to have any religious label attached to oneself to celebrate this month – one just has to be Sri Lankan!

From what I can see, the situation in our country is not as good as it could be – but it is certainly better than it was at this time last year. With fertiliser and diesel being available in quantities greater than we had last April, farmers are now able to farm and fishermen able to fish – and things (including gas and petrol) are available. These of course cost more than they did in the past- but we must be aware that increasing prices are happening all over the world, not just in our little island.

Things in our country are not marvelous but at least they are slowly getting better – so much so that the president is even beginning to start to think about the possibility of running for office again!

With the post Covid relaxation of travel restrictions, I am having the pleasant opportunity this month of meeting several friends of my childhood, now domiciled overseas and retired, who have returned home to visit. Air travel having been at a standstill since the beginning of 2020, these folk are now making up for three years of enforced isolation in their adopted countries by flying over for longer than usual holidays here.

 Many of these people have spent long years overseas but retain very fond memories of their childhood and youth in Ceylon/Sri Lanka.

But sadly, when they return home after living abroad for many decades, they realize that the pleasant tropical city that they were wont to idolize during their exile in harsh and colder climes was simply an illusion of memory. Colombo today is very different to the small city of the sixties and seventies that my now expatriate school-friends remember with rose tinted nostalgia.

In those days, Colombo, having been a colonial backwater for a century and a half of British rule, was still – in comparison to the big cities of the Indian sub-continent — just a small country town. R.A de Mel Mawatha with its indisciplined stream of cacophonic vehicles did not exist in those days – it was just a collection of small roads with quaint English names like Selbourne Road and Edward Lane, separated by blocks of land (known as road reservations) that were waiting to be taken over and asphalted to create the main road. Intended to ease the congestion along the Galle Road, this “Duplication Road” now has so much traffic that Colombo has since required a third main road (fortunately called the Marine Drive rather than Triplication Road) to be constructed parallel to the Galle Road and Duplication Road.

The creation of Duplication Road provided an opportunity for a road to be named after R.A de Mel – the former Mayor of Colombo and Member of Parliament. Interestingly, in 1948 Mr. de Mel lost his parliamentary seat after he was found guilty of corrupt practices by the courts. Politicians indulging in corruption is a practice that has been going on since the dawn of political time – but these days, politicians who are found guilty of corrupt practices continue to remain in parliament and are rewarded with ministerial positions!

The memories my “home-returning” friends talk about and want to revisit are the simple pleasures we used to enjoy when we were young – such as having a thosai feed at Greenlands Hotel or Saraswathi Lodge, “hitting” the Nippon Hotel or the Otters Club for a beer and a bite or going to the CR or Havelocks grounds for a rugger match.

In those days a favourite hang-out was the Fountain Cafe in Union Place – where there actually was a quaint fountain with tables set out in the lawn around the fountain. How much we used to enjoy the cafe’s signature hot dogs with their unique sauce followed by iced coffee with ice cream or the exotically named dessert Knicker Bocker Glory! When the Union Place site was sold (for “commercial development”) the Fountain Cafe moved (without the Fountain) to Slave Island – and when Elephant House in turn sold that site (for “commercial development”) the cafe was shifted, I am told, to a spot within the Keels supermarket in Union Place.

From the original landmark venue with a traditional fountain to a small stall inside an impersonal  supermarket – what a comedown!

It is a sad reminder that Colombo has become a prey to aggressive “development” – and  has lost its sense of antiquity.

I hope my visiting friends, coming ‘Home’ after decades, are not too disappointed.


4 comments on “Twilight Reflections – 4

  1. Kenneth Reeves
    April 19, 2023

    Dear Sir, your post is very factual and interesting.
    When it comes to street name changes, I believe Sri Lanka is the most prolific and it not only confuses
    It annoys. Ones people who live in a street for generations and become accustomed to a name, they even get melancholically attached to it. Also I can imagine the paper work, expenses for new name boards and maps. I also find that the names replaced are that of politicians who invariably become unpopular after a short time and in most cases even hated by the public, then another change becomes desired but not forthcoming
    Imagine still having a Street named after Hitler in present Germany or Polpot in Cambodia
    It happened in Iraq too, Saddam Hussein statues were toppled overnight. In Colombo and the provinces I saw Bandaranaike statues and name boards vandalized or desecrated

    Liked by 1 person

    • Dr. Sanjiva Wijesinha
      April 19, 2023

      I agree, Kenneth. Road names which were so familiar to us during our childhood – like Baseline Road or Green Path or Flower Road – get swallowed up with long names and longer name boards!


  2. Roger Thiedeman
    April 19, 2023

    Thank you for your refreshing, candid ‘take’ on the current ‘state of play’ in Sri Lanka, tempered with an overlay of nostalgia that most of us from the era you describe can easily – and happily – relate to.


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This entry was posted on April 14, 2023 by in Reminiscences, schooldays, sri lanka and tagged , , .

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