Acts of Faith, British Council, Days of Despair, Ena de Silva, Harin Abeysekera, Ismeth Raheem, J R Jayewardene, Mahasilawa, Nihal Fernando, Patanangala, Philippine People’s Revolution, Priyani Tennekoon, Richard de Zoysa, Romesh Dias Bandaranaike, Shirley Perera, Steve de la Zylwa, Tangalle Resthouse, Tissamaharama Resthouse, Waruna Karunatilleke, Yala
Work at the British Council prevented me from going on all the Yala trips that Ena and her troops indulged in that year. Richard joined them quite often, more than once having to travel in the back of the pick-up so he could stretch out a leg swathed in bandages or otherwise requiring special attention, after yet another motor-cycle accident. Once he was accompanied by Steve de la Zylwa, which prompted an exciting story of being confronted by a leopard when they had gone swimming at Patanangala, though the rest of the party were not entirely convinced that there had been any real danger.
I was actually only once on a Yala trip with Richard, in 1986 when the Philippine People’s Revolution was happening. By then he was very close to Waruna Karunatilleke, who was helping in his work for Lalith, and had brought him along too, though Shanthi disapproved thoroughly, and even Ena found Waruna not exactly sympathetic. His determination, which Richard indulged, to listen to the news as the drama in Manila developed, seemed perfectly understandable to me, but Ena and Shanthi thought it quite alien to the Yala spirit. Richard, who of course sensed what was going on, gradually then moved away from the group, though this may have been as much because of the political involvements that were beginning to grip him, which also moved him away from Waruna too by the end of the decade.
Wild life expeditions in fact changed character over the years, depending on the people we went with as well as the various bungalows we occupied. In 1984 we had had one completely eclectic group, when my oldest friend from Oxford, Richard, who had in fact been out also in 1980 on his own, brought his new bride Penny, who got on very well with Anila and Shanthi. Ena had acquired a new pick up for that trip, and we were greeted by a beaming Sena when we joined the group in Yala after a night at the Tangalle Resthouse. The bungalow was very crowded on that occasion, for Raji also brought his girlfriend – of whom Phyllis evidently disapproved, so Ena was as usual the champion of the unorthodox – but everyone got on very well.
I tried to repeat the experiment the following month when yet another recently married friend came out, but their stay was shorter than Richard’s, which was particularly disappointing because an excess of work had meant that I could not do as much for them during the rest of the stay. I had hoped to make up for this in Yala, but they left the day I got back to Colombo, having planned to take them down for a long weekend. Since I had to go on my own, I thought it not worth while taking a car, and travelled down in the Lake House newspaper bus, which was an adventure in itself for it stopped at every town to pass out that day’s papers.
Those were before the days of mobile phones, so I was not sure that an arrangement made on uncertain land lines would work. Having got myself dropped before dawn at the Tissamaharama Resthouse, I waited hopefully all morning, until finally Sena lumbered in, shortly before noon, on the regular shopping expedition following a long morning round. In those early days we used to leave the bungalow at sunrise and take breakfast with us, eating at any bungalow with no occupants in residence where the bungalow keeper was happy to give us space, or else on a friendly rock where the trackers, whether authorized or not, would let us perch. This meant we got back fairly late in the morning, just in time for a shower and beer before lunch.
Later, when we realized that we rarely saw anything after about eight, we would get back for breakfast, which was also probably much easier on the staff since packing things before dawn to take to eat and drink, however simple (and Ena’s simple meals were anything but simple), was not easy. This later arrangement meant a long and lazy morning at the bungalow, with a swim if we were at Mahasilawa or Patanangala by the sea. However, soon Ena developed a desire to go out for a late morning round as well, and that too became a ritual, with one or other of us accompanying her, with not much hope of actually seeing anything but simply enjoying the jungle. This also became a refuge when, as sometimes happened, we had people in the bungalow we did not find entirely sympathetic.
I had spent my morning at the Tissamaharama Resthouse working on my novel, Acts of Faith, in fact writing what to me is still the best chapter in the book, relating the adventures of Krishna, the character based on Mani, saving his sister from the clutches of the young Minister Mathew (who stood for a whole host of nasties in the Jayewardene cabinet), and from his even more sinister Black Shadow. That novel I think was written largely at home and at Old Place, where I would spend several weekends a year with Lakshmi, but in time I came to write too at Alu, where Ena built a shed for me on the hill above her house so I had a fantastic view across to the Gammaduwa hills. That was where I wrote most of Days of Despair, in which the Phyllis character, who had been married to the Presidential Tom at the end of Acts (to Ena’s immense irritation), makes up spectacularly for that lapse. Ena, who had enjoyed the first novel, despite its ending, never finished its sequel, claiming that the print was too small to read (which was true) but also I suspect because she could not bear the idea of her character having been paired with that of J R Jayewardene.
In the mid-eighties, Anila and her friends were often the principal components of Yala parties, and this extended into the period of courtship and the first years of marriage of both Anila and Priyani Tennekoon. I think it was on a trip that Anila told me she was thinking of marrying her former colleague at the Central Bank, Romesh Dias Bandaranaike, and from 1985 he began to join us on expeditions. Priyani’s courtship was slower, and for a long time we naively believed that Harin Abeysekera was asked to join us only because he had a superb four wheel drive, but soon enough that engagement too was announced.
In time though it became clear that so many different interests together simply did not work, or perhaps it was that we all of us became less tolerant as we aged, and soon we got used to smaller and more cohesive parties. There were also additions from an older generation, the photographer Nihal Fernando and his wife Dodo, and Ismeth Raheem and his wife Dilini, while Shirley Perera, who joined the Heritage Centre when he left the Wild Life Department, became a regular fixture on trips in the nineties.