Expansive though the downstairs of Lakmahal was, and made me in describing it, the heart of the house lay upstairs, in a layout that had been designed especially for the family that moved into it in January 1937. My grandmother must have been looking forward to this enormously. For the last few years she had had to look after a dynamic collection of children who, charming though they all were, must have been intensely demanding.
Something of what she must have gone through was suggested to me only towards the end of her life, when she was in her nineties and I realized that my mother was worried not just about her physical condition. Only my mother was left to look after her by then, for all her brothers were dead, Tissa the second in 1961, the youngest Lakshman in 1983 at the age of 56, and the eldest Esmond two years later. After Lakshman died my mother once suddenly said that he was the only one who had understood – once, sometimes twice, a year, he would take my grandmother to Kurunagala, and grant my mother relief for a week at least of what I sensed she saw as a tremendous responsibility.
Apart from the natural tensions between two strong personalities, there was I later realized something more. My mother mentioned once, in passing, and could not quite remember the dates, though it seems to have been sometimes in the thirties, that – overwhelmed perhaps by her own responsibilities for four lively children, needing also to spend time with her husband in his various increasingly demanding stations of work outside Colombo- my grandmother had suffered a nervous breakdown. My aunt Ena provided further evidence of this, in that her mother, my grandmother’s cousin, had once mentioned the enormous amount Esme had to do, rushing about by rickshaw in Colombo to supply her brood and the vast quantities of friends all four attracted.