by Anura Guruge
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This is my adoptive father’s father. My grandfather — the only one I knew since my adoptive mother’s father, a Railway Station Master, died of a heart attack, while shaving, when I was 4 months old.
One of my cousin’s just posted a bunch of old pictures of Facebook. This was among them. I was glad to see it. It is a picture I remember well. My grandparents had it in their extremely modest, ‘tenement house’ in Kandy. We also had a copy at our house.
This was when my grandfather a postman — who walked and SWAM his route — was made a Justice of the Peace by the British. So this would have been prior to 1948. He is dressed in the Regelia provided, by the British, to denote his new office. Yes, there is a SWORD there on his left waist though you can’t see it that well in this picture. I, as a child, wanted that sword so bad! Right after this picture was taken, he not a rich man then (though he would go onto be one), and extremely pragmatic, sold the sword and everything else — but the jacket. He knew that he didn’t need the regalia to be a J.P.
OK. If you are wondering about the swimming — the swimming postman. He did NOT have to swim. But there was a river in the village where he had to deliver mail. I could be WRONG on this but I think it was ‘Baddegama‘, in the southwest, just east of Hikkaduwa. He, per the British style, rode a bicycle to deliver the mail. There was only one bridge in the village — and it was in the MIDDLE of the village. He had to deliver on both sides of the river. As the story goes, rather than backpedal to bridge, once he got to the end on one side, he, a very strong man all his life, would hoist the bicycle, with the mail, above his shoulder and then swim across to the other side. THIS WAS BEFORE MY TIME. But I grew up on this story of my swimming grandfather.
He lived to be 92 and died in the late 1980s. I last met him in 1983. He was in his mid-80s. He had walked 4 miles to the hotel that I was staying to meet him. He thought nothing of it. He walked everywhere — and died, on the side of the road, walking.
He was made a JP because he was a Community Activist. Helped the less educated with paperwork, claims, rights etc. He also fostered or adopted one child. He was very well known in Kandy — where he moved to. Upon retiring — now with a very famous son (my adoptive father) — he went onto sell insurance, and did extremely well.
I didn’t see him that often. We lived 72 miles apart, we in Colombo, he is Kandy. He visited quite often and we went to Kandy a few times a year. But they were all visits. I never spent that much time with him. Though he could read English, a requirement to be a postman, he refused to speak it though he understood English, perfectly. In 1983 when I had lost my knack to speak Sinhalese he and I spoke, for long periods of time, in this Sinhalese-English ‘transliteration’. I would speak in English. He understood what I was saying/asking. He would then reply in Sinhalese. I understood Sinhalese, it having been my other tongue. I would then reply in English and he would respond in Sinhalese. Most natural thing in the world and not that uncommon in Sri Lanka where, at least in my time, we spoke Sinhalese and English interchangeably.
This is my Grandmother. She had some Chinese in her, as you can see. She was very diabetic. Lovely lady.
I was brought up by my maternal grandmother — who was the most important person in my life, growing up. As a result and because of those 72-miles, this grandmother always played a very, very distant second fiddle. Looking back it was strange. My life revolved around my mother’s family — who all lived close by. I am NOT even sure whether my grandparents from Kandy came to my lavish birthday parties!
But, I wanted to share.
by Anura Guruge