I used to walk down to the SLBC in the early eighties for my programmes. The sleepiness of the streets round ‘Lakmahal’ had diminished with the construction of Duplication Road, but Colombo was still pretty much a quiet place. Though it was a longer route, I preferred to go down Queen’s Road, which in those days did not have the schools that have now made its upper reaches a mess, first Sujata Vidyalaya which Goobai Gunasekara started in emulation of the great days of the national schools her mother had presided over, later Wycherley when International Schools became the vogue.
On the right, after Duplication Road, and the built up areas that had once been the gardens of Maalyn Dias and his sister, Ira Fernando, were what we always knew as Bank Houses. They were ensconced behind bright red brick walls, which I think I have only penetrated once, for a wedding, if I am right in thinking that Ranmali Pathirana’s reception was held in one of those, her aunt’s husband then heading the Commercial Bank.
On the left were old mansions that were open to sight, including the grand edifice that had belonged to Sir Marcus Fernando. Fascinated as I was by the early electoral politics of Sri Lanka, I knew the name well. It was Sir Marcus who had lost to Sir Ponnambalam Ramanathan in the first election in which Ceylonese took part, that for the Educated Ceylonese seat on the 1912 Legislative Council, constituted under the McCallum Reforms. Ramanathan had got a great preponderance of Sinhalese votes to win, and one reason advanced was the caste factor, the Goigama Sinhalese preferring a Vellala Tamil to a representative of the Karawas.