1983 then began bleakly in every way possible. It got worse over the year. But I had in fact a relatively pleasant six months, doing largely what I wanted, with a freedom I did not have afterwards, until the time when I became a Member of Parliament.
My occupation, if one could dignify leisure by such a term, was giving tuition in English, largely for the Advanced Level Exam, though I had a few degree students too. Richard and I worked together, in a lovely old house in 8th Lane which belonged to Maive Outschoorn. My father looked after their affairs in Colombo, and kept the house for their not very frequent visits, until he was finally able to sell it for them at the end of the decade. There was a delay about this since there were a couple of tenants who refused to move, paying a meagre rent which was all they had been charged by Maive’s mother, Mrs Kelaart, a great friend of my grandmother’s, another pillar of the Anglican Mothers’ Union.
Meanwhile the house was looked after by Piyadasa as we knew him, who had been the boy at home when my parents got married. He had moved on to the Attorney General’s Department, when jobs went by personal recommendations, and then had made a romantic marriage to the ayah of my Wickremesinghe cousins. Then he had worked in our Embassy in Moscow, where he made all arrangements for the two visits I made, in 1972 to join my father on a Parliamentary Delegation and in 1975 when I flew Aeroflot on my return home between degrees.
I had stayed with the Ambassadors on both occasions, acquaintances rather than friends of my parents, but both sets had been marvelously hospitable. On the first occasion it was the old Marxist C D S Siriwardena, brother I believe of Regi, on the second Dr Soma Weeratunge whose son had married my cousin Kshanika. On the first occasion I had been able to accompany the delegation on the cultural programmes they had been exposed to, including glorious performances of ‘Swan Lake’. I had even been able to join them in Leningrad, arriving in a disreputable state by train, to the astonishment of my father, who had not really thought I would be able to join them.
The state was so disreputable that Richard Udagama, he who had been jailed by the previous UNP government on suspicion of plotting a coup while he was army commander, very graciously gifted me with a pair of shoes. He claimed they were spare, but as a solid spit and polish man I think he had been horrified by the pair I turned up in, which had done hard service over the summer, and then on a memorable train journey through Budapest to Kiev, from where I had taken a plane after a day of hard exploration.
The rest of the delegation too, a distinguished lot that included Speaker Stanley Tillekeratne and JR as Leader of the Opposition, were also gracious, and the Russians were delightfully hospitable, glad I think that someone adored the ballet and the museums.
On the second occasion, Piyadasa had bought me a train ticket to Georgia since, after much reading of Anthony Hope, I was determined to see the old Tiflis. I only had a day there, but rushed round the city and even managed to get to the opera, to see a preposterous production of ‘La Traviata’. The journey too was a joy, an overnight sleeper through steep mountains. The Georgians on board fed me generously, fiercely telling the Muslims who looked in at intervals, and claimed me for their own, that I was ‘Nyet Mussulman’. It was only many years later that I realized the significance of all this rivalry, when all hell broke out in the Caucasus after the Soviet Union broke up and old religious tensions came out into the open.
After his stint in Moscow, Piyadasa came back to a job in Parliament, and was duly installed in the main section of 8th Lane, where he and his wife Lily had to bear the insults of one of the tenants, a Burgher lady called Mrs Perumal who deeply resented them having taken old Mrs Kelaart’s place as chief householders. I never heard her while Richard and I were there, but it seemed she would mutter imprecations that increased in volume in the evenings.
Our pupils were few but rewarding, including Maithri who later married Ranil, Jeevan who now heads the Consortium of Humanitarian Agencies, a girl who became a lecturer at the Law College, and a boy whom I felt very protective about since Illangakoon had removed him from the Prefectship to which he had been appointed while the Archdeacon was in charge. It was claimed that the appointments had been irregular but, since he reappointed practically everyone we had selected except for Indra, I think it was just pique. Indra however benefited from this, since I made arrangements to send him to the University of Alabama, since I had got on very well while on the American University ship with a Professor there who had asked me to recommend some good students. I don’t think he quite expected someone who needed a full scholarship, but he managed to find one when I recommended Indra, and indeed sent me a letter of thanks for sending him. Indra went on to a distinguished academic career, and became a Professor in Norway, where he proved very helpful when I visited as head of the Peace Secretariat. I thought then that Illangakoon’s malignity had at least one positive result, a perception that took on added irony when he became Warden of S.Thomas’.
We taught the students at leisurely intervals, and I wrote much of the rest of the day, setting down my account of what had happened at S. Thomas, and producing a few short stories too. Richard would read and comment, and also write himself. I had only recently discovered that he was a marvelous poet. This was after he had shown me some poems rather shyly, claiming they had been written by a friend, confessing they were his only after I kept praising them and asking to see the prodigy.
He also acquired a new identity of a sort, in the form of a motorbike. Despite our very leisured existence, this was the first time he had had anything that approached a regular job, so he decided he could celebrate by making himself mobile. Many of us chipped in to help him get his bike, and he would practice roaring up and down sleepy old 8th Lane on it, falling off regularly and getting spectacularly bruised. In time he proved an adept, charging about all over the country, including once to Wilpattu to join us for a day, but he never stopped falling off.
We had told Lily we would bring our lunch, and Richard introduced me then to the joys of Rost Paan, with lashings of butter. Lily however thought this most unsuitable, and insisted on providing us with one or two curries, so we really ate very well. We also had a sort of social life, with the occasional visitor, Willy Pinto who always brought something to eat or drink, Michelle Leembruggen who brought me her poetry to look over and then declared that she had known the house as a child, since it belonged to some of her relations. I still remember her walking dreamily round the garden, lost in childhood memories.
The house is long gone now, sold after Mrs Perumal was finally persuaded to go into a home, with Piyadasa and Lily moving to a house in the Parliamentary complex. The site is now occupied by a high rise building. But I have fond memories, of Michelle did, of an idyllic six months of creativity and leisure.