I was rarely at home during the two years after I left USJP, not only because of work requirements and my travels, but also because I was finding the situation unbearable. My niece and nephew seemed a nuisance, not least because they were clearly a strain on my parents. My mother shouted much more than was good for her, so much so that I even once remonstrated with her on my niece’s behalf, only to be told sadly that she was doing her best to get her straight, but did not think she would succeed.
Upset though I was by the children’s presence, I realized too that I could hardly blame them, certainly not the little girl, who was too young to understand why she had been sent away from her parents, and naturally reacted badly. When finally the whole family was together again in Australia, she seemed to settle down, which suggests that the trauma of separation is something that should be avoided. But by then it was too late to tell my mother that a refusal in 1994 to take on the responsibility might have served everyone better.
When in Colombo I found refuge at Nirmali’s, in the office that had been used for the various book production programmes the English Association had taken on when the British Council decided it should not take bread from the mouth of British publishers, as one memorable directive went. Initially we had had an office in Bagatelle Road, when the Association worked for the Council on the first CIDA book project, and we had used the place also to house Scott Richards when he came out for various workshops. This led to entertaining stories about what he claimed was attempted seduction by the caretaker the Council had put in place, but all this had to stop when the Council withdrew.
The Association was then kindly given space in Nirmali’s annexe, where she also conducted classes, and I produced several books there, helped by my old Secretary at the Council who worked for us for very little pay at weekends. We also had the Thalgodapitiya girls, whose mother ran the Lionel Wendt, two noisy but extraordinarily efficient characters. Between them all they taught me to use a computer, which I had long resisted on the grounds that I was too old. The result was a stream of prose, including the novels ‘Servants’ in 1995 and ‘An English Education’ in 1996. Since then, I fear, I have never really been sociable.
Though work and travel were fulfilling, and it was salutary to discover the joys of solitude, 1995 was a bleak year in Colombo. In May my aunt Lakshmi was murdered, at the house she had built for herself in Bagatelle Road. She had moved there to be reasonably near us while also guarding her independence, which she had cherished for well over a decade and a half at the Old Place, my grandmother’s childhood home in Kurunagala. Continue reading