Ambepitiya, Anderson Lodge, Ena de Silva, Horton Plains, JVP, Lucy Wood, Nihal Fernando, Raji Ratwatte, Rapp’s Lodge, Richard de Zoysa, Shanthi Wilson, Sheran Fernando, Suren Ratwatte, Wasgamuwa, Yala
The most unusual wild life trips were those to Horton Plains, where Anderson Lodge still provided log fires and a certain amount of hot water. I have strong recollections of a couple of trips, though there may have been more. One was with Nihal Fernando, and we actually saw a leopard darting across the Plains early one morning.
The other I remember for a radiant full moon, which kept bobbing up over the clouds when we had stayed out late one evening, and we saw sambhur silhouetted in the distance in its light. That I think was when we entertained Ambepitiya, who must have been quite bemused at the conversation, Shanthi being at her sophisticated best. I was reminded then of a glorious holiday we had had in Cornwall when I was at University, when we had decided to thank the lady in the cottage next door who had helped us find our feet.
Ian decided to cook her a gourmet meal, which included gnocchi which even I had not had before. He proceeded during the meal to talk all about Italy and Venice, which he had recently visited, to the bemusement of Miss Salt, as I think she was called. At one point there was a pause in the conversation, and she said timidly, with true British sociability, ‘We’ve had a lot of rain here recently.’
Ian paused for a moment, and then declared, ‘There were the most awful floods in Venice last year,’ and went on from there into a disquisition on the damage caused to the artwork. Bruce, who had been at school with Ian, and loved him dearly but understood him better than all of us, choked and left the table, and I could hear him having hysterics next door. The rest of us battled on, and were rewarded later when we were told by the people who owned the cottage we had taken that Miss Salt was looking forward to our next visit. Alas, that never happened.
It was on that trip to Horton Plains I think that I took Sheran Fernando, one of Richard’s protégés from St. Joseph’s, who was great fun and also, perhaps more importantly, had a pick up. I needed that, for I had to join the party late. When we got there, we found the ladies all grumpy because Suren had decided that he had no idea what sort of a person I was bringing, and would not share a room with us. He accordingly had arrogated one room to himself, leaving another for Sheran and me, and Ena and Shanthi and a couple of other girls including Suren’s girlfriend had to share the third room, much to Ena’s irritation. Ironically, Suren and Sheran later became the best of friends, and Suren was actually persuaded to join and become a pillar of the Arts Centre Club at the Lionel Wendt, which was Richard’s favourite hangout, and rather an object of suspicion to Colombo High Society.
I have to admit that I was rather parasitic on all these trips for the most part, leaving it to others to organize the bookings and the food and the vehicles. My one practical use was a capacity to do accounts, and at the end of the stay I was usually entrusted with working out exactly how much was owed by everyone. As the years passed, and costs rose, we kept saying we needed to economize, but this was impossible with Ena, who catered hugely, and for everyone remotely connected to our party. This was a large number, for Raji would love playing the lord of the manor, and was surrounded outside the Bungalow of an evening by several trackers and other denizens of the Park, and they were all fed royally.
Sometime in the nineties, when peace had returned after the JVP disruptions, and bookings became more difficult to get, Raji took on a house near to Yala, which provided us with many happy holidays. It was for some reason called Rapp’s Lodge, and looked out towards the sand dunes, where once his nephew Pevinda, grown up by now, camped with a host of his Royal College schoolmates, while Ena and Shanthi and I and a few others had the house. It seemed that Pevinda was a vegetarian, along with his friends, having been converted by a zealous scoutmaster, and we were rather depressed to see the strange concoctions the boys ate while we pigged ourselves on Ena’s wonders.
It was only very recently that I actually took on the responsibility of arranging bookings myself, mainly to take friends from abroad. The first occasion was when Lucy Wood visited, and for old time’s sake I asked Nigel too, along with Raji’s wife Mali, from whom he was by now divorced. He was not best pleased that we kept up with her but, as Ena put it, she had been a part of our life for a long time, and though we were all delighted that he was very happy with his new wife, Mali could not just be forgotten. She was in fact a very kindly soul, and still for instance drops in to see my father on occasion.
More elaborate were the trips I arranged after I had become head of the Peace Secretariat, and needed security. Ena was I think not entirely happy at the full entourage, but she coped with them gamely, and fed them indulgently as well. Both trips were to Wasgamuwa, once with my friend Christine, and her Indian husband and their two beautiful children, who were all suitably enthralled. Ena got on particularly well with Himmat, who would not be outdone by her knowledge of nature, and shared her fascination with abstruse details about birds and beasts.
Finally, shortly before the Peace Secretariat closed and I lost my security squad, I had a long trip with Felix, the son of two old friends, who did a short assignment at the Secretariat. Following a fairly intense tour, soon after the war ended, we had a couple of days off in Wasgamuwa, for which we picked up Ena who had kindly arranged the catering. We saw lots, and the squad had later told my driver that the trip was the best they had ever done. I suppose only in Sri Lanka could you have activity sessions with former terrorist combatants, a swim at sunset at Trincomalee, a long journey including ferry crossings to check on the site where patients had been disembarked from the medical evacuations we had arranged during the war, and tuskers at dawn, all in the space of a few days.