Arankale, Bogowantalawa, Circuit Bungalow, Ena de Silva, Habarana-Trincomalee, Herbert Tennekoo, Iris Rambukwelle, Jaffna, Kalpitiya Fort, Kalutara, Kantale Resthouse, Kegalle, Kurunagala, Mullaitivu, Panduwasnuwara, Priyani Tennekoon, Puttalam, Rambukkana, Ritigala, Semita Wijewardene, Vakarai Resthouse
In addition to expeditions to the Wild Life Parks, we also during the eighties had various communal holidays in various parts of the country. On several occasions we stayed at Priyani Tennekoon’s family home at Rambukkana, which included wandering over her paddy fields – she had no idea how much the family actually owned – and expeditions to Arankale and I think Panduwasnuwara. One expedition was however halted when Romesh had an altercation with a CTB bus, entirely its driver’s fault, though when we finally heard from the police, it was to be told that they had decided not to prosecute Romesh out of kindness. We had to spend a long day at police stations, to no purpose it seemed, though I suppose the entry was required to make sure the repair to our vehicle was on insurance.
In that delightful fashion which I suppose was what Sri Lankan high society was all about a century ago, Ena and Priyani were connected, in that her father’s brother George had married Ena’s cousin Iris Rambukwelle. Another brother was Herbert Tennekoon, former Governor of the Central Bank, who had married my mother’s cousin (in the inclusive Sri Lankan sense, as she was the daughter of my mother’s father’s cousin) Norma. Priyani’s mother was Semita Wijewardene, cousin of my uncle Esmond’s wife Nalini.
I found all this fascinating, in particular the connections that had been established in the early part of the 20th century between the Kandyans and the less exalted but better educated lowlanders. Sadly I think Ena was the only other person in the group who shared my interest in geneology, though Priyani was I think well aware of family connections, albeit too modest to take them seriously.
One other glorious holiday I remember Priyani arranging, at the Circuit Bungalow near the Kalawewa tank, on the weekend of my birthday in 1985. The site itself was beautiful, and we were able to take a boat across the tank to an island which was a magical haven for birds at sunset. We also had expeditions to Ritigala, and to Puttalam, where some kindly naval personnel allowed us to explore the technically off limits Kalpitiya Fort.
On the last day, when the others wanted a rest, Ena and I decided we would wander in the bye-lanes, and had a delightful morning simply driving through the countryside surrounding the tank. We both shared a deep affection for the small villages and their denizens who form the backbone of the country, and she often told me about the concern of her husband Ossie, when he served in various police headquarters through the country, Kurunagala and Kegalle and Jaffna and Kalutara, involving circuits to distant areas of responsibility (I remember her mentioning Mullaitivu, when I finally got there just a couple of years ago), that the police should also contribute to the life of the community.
People needed entertainment, he had said, and that was why, during his tenure, the police would organize festivals and competitions. I feel something of the same urge, in efforts now to set up cultural centres that can encourage performance and also present films very easily, in these days of advanced technology – but sadly administrators now see their jobs as simply tasks to be fulfilled, not responsibilities to contribute imaginatively to the communities they serve.
Before all these focused and settled expeditions, Ena and I had also done one more trip, in 1984, similar to the two that had so enthralled me the previous year. This was again with Nigel, who had accompanied me up to Alu again for the Wesak holiday. This time we set off northward, because Ena had heard that there were herds of elephants on the Habarana-Trincomalee road.
We saw a few in the distance, though nothing like the large herds she said Chari had mentioned. But it was a splendid trip, memorable too for tea at the Kantale Resthouse, during the last days I believe in which it offered hospitality, though I cannot remember now whether it was taken over by the army because of terrorism or to provide a base for relief operations when the dam collapsed, a year or so later. Sadly there seems no sign of it coming back into public use, though at least you can still see its old structures, unlike Elephant Pass which the Tigers destroyed, or Kotmale, perched high up over the Ruhuna plains, which has vanished without trace, or Ambalangoda, a beautiful old building destroyed very recently by the greed of developers and their supportive political friends.
We drove on after that, and ended up at the Vakarai Resthouse for the night, where a couple of youngsters greeted us enthusiastically, and provided reasonable bedding and food. It was only when they produced execrable coffee after dinner that we recognized them as the pair who had served us similar coffee at Bogowantalawa during our first Vesak expedition a year before. I sometimes wonder what happened to them, for soon afterwards Vakarai fell into the hands of the Tigers, and was only conclusively liberated in 2006, after heavy fighting, the most intense in that brilliantly planned campaign to take over the East. In the intervening period, during my frequent visits to the East on university work, though mainly to the southern Amparai District, I used to ask about the situation in Vakarai from the various army personnel to whom I gave lifts, but no one could give me any clear idea of who controlled the area and its environs at any particular time.
I would like to go back and see if anything remains of the Resthouse, and the little pool which I recall as stretching out beside the verandah, fed by water from the lagoon, an earlier version of the more exotic pools next to the sea that Bawa used to design, at Ahungalle for instance. Our own swim was memorable, for after Nigel and I had been frolicking for some time, he suddenly became worried and said he had seen a snake in the water. We hurried out and, though I did not see it myself, he was corroborated by one of the boys, who said sea serpents were not unusual there. I thought we had had a lucky escape, though they were quite nonchalant about it.
Coming back the next day, though tired, Ena and I decided that we would take the route through Corbett’s Gap, turning right soon after driving up the 17 hairpin bends on the Mahiyangana Road. Nigel was not enthusiastic, thinking about getting back to work the next day, but we assured him it would not take much longer. We were wrong, but the drive was fully worth it, fantastic views on all sides before darkness fell and we finally staggered back to Alu.