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The way we were - an Autobiography

by Fazli Sameer, Jan 2002 (last updated - Dec 2015)

February 4, 1948 was an eventful day of great joy and happiness for the people of Ceylon, the former British Colony for almost 500 long years. It was also doubly so for my Mum, who, in the warm comfort of her bedroom at our home in Bambalapitiya in the city of Colombo, for, amidst the jubilation of this momentous year another joyous event was unfolding; she was delivered of her first son on the 16th, twelve days after independence. Together, we took our first breadth of independence.

 

According to Mum, who updated me much later on in life, it was a bright and sunny Monday afternoon around 4:30 pm on the sixteenth day of February, 1948, that I first got a glimpse of how beautiful this world we live in looks like. I wish I could remember but I cannot. The house where I was born was located on the seaside at No 300 Galle Road, and until the 1990’s it stood tall, over a hundred years old. It was a sprawling patch of 65 perches of salubrious real estate with a large old house standing, surrounded by so many fruit, vegetable, and coconut trees spread across, both, its front and back yards. The room where I was born, was the Master Bed Room of the house where I did have the wonderful opportunity of sleeping many a night even when I was a grown man, until 1974 when I moved out into married life.

 

My maternal grandparents and their children, two uncles and an aunt, lived with us. The house next door, No 298, a twin, was occupied by my paternal grandparents and their many children, my aunts and uncles, nine in number. The two houses were always filled with lots of people and activity that made it a great place to grow up. Never was there a moment of silence or quiet as all sorts of people, comprising relatives, workers, vendors, friends, and extended family used to stream in and out throughout each passing day.

 

The first grandson to my maternal grandparents must have, surely, been a great moment of delight and pride in their lives. Grandpa, Rasheed Appa, was a strong burly 6 footer involved in the business of indenting for the import and distribution of goods from Europe. His firm, “Kingston Agencies”, operated from No 300 where his sons, Zubair and Faiz, assisted him with the correspondence and administration. The company indented all varieties of barley, pulses, soft toys, and household goods on behalf of local import companies and had very fruitful business relationships with famous exporters in the west. Our garage at the back of the house used to be filled with crates of “Pearl” barley and other imported assortments waiting for delivery to customers.

 

Rasheed Appa hailed from a famous Ceylon Moor family whose nickname, as it was the custom then, was “Shothian”, meaning “handicapped”. Apparently one of the more famous senior elders of the clan suffered from a slight deformity in one of his hands which prompted this nomenclature. Nicknames, amongst the Ceylon Moor community was a very common practice and it was always accepted in a very cordial, humorous, and open manner by everyone, even if the name didn’t sound that respectful. Some nicknames were based on the professions, manners, habits, food consumption, and even significant events that had taken place amidst the elders of the respective families. There were also respectful names like “Alim” meaning “religious scholar”, while most others were not so very patronizing. “Poskoppa” (large rice bowl), Goradiyaal (a delicious Moorish sweet made from cashew and sugar), Matta (coconut husk), PeeAma (tortoise), Kaksa (lavatory), Bauthawali (stomach ache), “MuttaAppa” (egg hopper), “UppuKatty” (Salt Crystal), were some of the other nicknames that were quite famous and accepted in Colombo. Members of these families were referred to by their nicknames for easy identification which served as a reference within the community. With time, these nicknames, however derogatory they may have sounded, became a sense of pride to the various families they belonged to and has come to stay. In recent, of course, times they may not be known by many and even used across the board, especially by the younger generations, as much as they were before.

 

Grandma Ummu Thahira and her family owned rice farms in a town called “Bammanna” in the North Western Province where we used to visit often in groups and enjoy the splendor of the vast green paddy fields, food, lakes, and fishing. She too hailed from the same “Shothian” family as Gramps and the two were first cousins. I still remember I caught my very first cat fish from one of the lakes nearby using a “Kitul” rod and line. It was so sad to see the creature struggling for air that we gently unhooked him and put him in the well nearby where he lived for many long years as was told by the villagers later on. Grandma (we called her Umma), was a lady of absolute patience, piety and prowess. She virtually ran the whole house managing the kitchen department and the dining according to her methodology and needs. Grandpa used to bring in the provisions and dump them in the store and she and mum used to take over from there to keep the rest of the family fed and satisfied. 

Two of my maternal uncles, Muhammad Zubair (JumMama) and Muhammad Faiz (FaMama), “Mama” being the tamil word for “uncle”, also lived with us. JumMama worked for the famous E.B. Creasy & Company Ltd, who were the agents for Globe Brand butter from New Zealand, while FaMama worked at the Port Cargo Corporation located within the Colombo Harbor. An aunt, Ummu Naseeha, who was a young lady then, also lived with us. She later married Muhammad Ibrahim Muhammad Sahill from Matara and moved to a house at Canal lane, Wellawatte, and then, much later, to their own home in Kiribathgoda, Kelaniya.

 

Mohamed Sameer, my paternal grandpa was a tremendous influence in my life in taking a serious interest in Ceylon Moor history and genealogy. He used to seek my assistance in typing his documents during the latter period of his life when he was too weak to do it himself and the material that came my way aroused much of my interest. Since his death in the mid seventies I have subsequently taken up his hard work and ventured to create the Sri Lanka Genealogy Website, online, on the Internet where all hs work and also much of my additional research thereafter are currently archived and available to the public.

 

My paternal grandma, Raliya Umma Noordeen, hailed from the famous Abdul Cader Noordeen family. Dads father’s mum hailed from a family who had their roots in a place called Konya, in Turkey.  Her father was C.M. Ahmed Ali whose ancestors were mainly physicians who had come to the island at the invitation of the Kings of Ceylon at that time to work for them as Royal Physicians.

 

Dad and Mum were married in 1943 and I already had an older sister, born in 1945 at the same location. A younger brother was also born in 1950. Dad was a descendant of the famous Alim family in Colombo and his paternal grandfather, Haji Ismail Effendi, had attained the great distinction of being an Islamic Scholar (ALIM) who had traveled to the Middle East and Turkey, by ship, seeking Islamic knowledge. Ismail was also well known for being the first Sri Lankan Muslim to wear shoes in Sri Lanka based on an interesting story that my grandpa always used to relate. He had purchased a pair on one of his travels and wore them when he returned, much to the scorn of his fellow Muslim brothers in the Island. It was the normal practice that Muslims wore wooden sandals with a leather strap covering the upper part of the toes or leather slippers at that time. In defiance of this western innovation of dress the Muslims used to empty the contents of their spittoons into his shoes whenever he visited the Mosque and left them outside. They also gave him a nickname "SAPPATHU ALIM" meaning "Shoe Scholar". Such were the days of the antics of our ancestors in sunny Ceylon. 

 

Dad’s siblings had a total count of 34 children while Mum’s side had only 10 providing us with a grand 45 cousins to swing with. Two of dad’s sisters ended up living next door at 298 while the rest moved to their own homes in and around Wellawatte. Mums family also moved out after marriage and we were left with our maternal grandparents and the servants only. All of a sudden, with time, the place became so quiet and lonely. It was a tremendous metamorphosis from the busy bazaar it used to be.

Life at ‘Bamba’

Living in Bambapalitiya (Colombo 4) was fantastic. The sea was only a stone’s throw away where we used to spend many a splash on sand and salt. Cricket was another favorite passion of almost all the young fella’s in the neighborhood. The Wellawatte Canal was a great hunting ground for ornamental fish like Guppies and Gourami’s. The Bambalapitiya Flats, just a block away from our home, was another sea of apartment buildings filled with people that played a very significant and important role in all our lives. The Milk Board, Coffee House, Woolworth, Femina, both department stores, Anoma hair dressing saloon, Gemrich Shoe Company, and the Marketing Department Store were the many businesses that were located within its premises where we used to spend many an interesting moment with the rest of the “flats” gang. 

 

The town itself, affectionately known as “Bamba” was notorious for its miscreants. St. Peter’s College, a typical Catholic boys school, situated smack bang on the Galle Road within its perimeter, was even more notorious for its Burgher populated community of students and their acknowledged antics within Colombo society. No doubt the many other girls schools in the locality had their own share of notoriety and fame. I shall not elaborate any further.

All the streets, starting from the Galle Road and winding down towards the Indian Ocean on the Western Coast, were famous for their very own cricket teams that were never weary of the fierce competition that prevailed whenever they played each other. Starting from St. Peter’s Place at the southern end just before the Wellawatte Bridge, and moving on to St. Peter’s Place, Ridgeway Place, Kinross Avenue, Mary’s Road, Castle Lane, Sagara Road, Frankfort Place, Milagiriya Avenue, Melbourne Avenue, and so on all the way up to the Bambalapitiya Junction- Bullers Road Traffic lights.


The young boys and girls, and their wonderful families, who lived down all these streets at Bambalapitiya, hailed from all the different communities in Sri Lanka, then Ceylon, and were very close friends of our families. We always treated each other with great respect, honor, and love and enjoyed visits to each others homes without any inhibitions. All religious and cultural festivals were celebrated by all and enjoyed to the fullest with complete participation from every single family in the neighborhoods. Cricket was always enjoyed by the boys, down the streets and in the backyards, while the gals came to watch and cheer. The camaraderi that existed between all of the people is something that I will always be proud of based on the many sad and tragic events and incidents that have occured in the island in recent times.

The shopkeepers in the locality also hailed from all communities and were extremely friendly and kind. Most homes bought their groceries on a monthly payment basis where the goods were delivered to the door. The many Sinhala, Tamil and Muslim restaurants that pockmarked the town provided an appetizing menu for all palettes at all times, sometimes even way into the night for those late movie buffs, night clubbers, and danceholics. Thosai, Vaday, idli, Sambhar, Biriyani, Kothu, Hoppers, String hoppers, Puttu, Gothamba Rotti, Pol Rotti, Buth curry, Thala Bola, Musket, Kalu Dodol, and other delicacies were abundantly served and relished by one and all.


Four main bookshops, KVG de Silva's, Asoka Book Depot, Dharmadasa Bookstore and Rohana Book Shop, provided an array of school books, magazines, comic books and novels for the voracious readers and students. Barber shops, Laundries, Grocery Stores, Jewelry shops, Oilman goods, Watch Repairers, Department Stores, Textile Shops, Milk Booths, The Cycle Bazaar, and other trading establishments flourished in the town by the demand of the many middle class families who lived within.


Government and private schools were also plentifully available for the many children who lived therein. Of the boys schools the most prominent and famous are St. Peter's College and Hindu College, while the girls schools comprised Holy Family onvent, St. Pauls Milagiriya, Muslim ladies College, & Visakha Vidyalaya. Most mornings would see a myriad of school children, boys and girls, dressed nattily in their neatly ironed unforms strolling to take the bus or even ride a bike to their respective schools. The scene was truly nostalgic, charming and beautiful whenever the town woke up each week day.

Nursery School

As a four year old, in 1952, I still remember my paternal grandpa, dressed in his best, colonial style, beige jacket and tie and gold watch,  taking me by the hand and walking along the sidewalk all the way to the Wellawatte junction then taking a right turn towards the sea down Lily Avenue in front of the market, where I attended a nursery school run by a wonderful old lady called Mrs. Fay Poulier. She was the spouse of a retired Railway gentleman called Mr. G. Dick. The school was housed in her garage and we had a bright bunch of youngsters attending class there. Mrs. Poulier was such a wonderful lady who cared so much for all of us that she made us feel so much at home away from home at her school. Sadly enough I cannot remember a single one of them today. Right next door to Mrs. Pouliers school at No. 45 and No 43 lived two of my paternal aunts and their families and gramps used to go over and rest his limbs there with his two daughters until my classes were over. After that I still remember him walking me back home along the railway track by the beach. I also remember asking him a thousand and one questions which he answered diligently and truthfully. The trains, the railway station, the ocean, the Wellawatte bridge, the canal, the rocks, people, fishing boats. Who wouldn’t want to know about the trains and the trees even at age 4?  

Dad & Mum

Dad owned a crimson red Ford with footboards and all and it used to be a shining piece of his pride parked outside our home. He later drove many different cars and I remember the dark green Skoda (CN 7522), and, later on, the Hillman Minx (EL 1468). I never got a chance to drive any of them though. He worked as a Buildings Inspector at the Colombo Municipal Council after having matriculated and passed out as the nations youngest Surveyor at the age of 19. He was a math wizard as I later found out with many an aching back. He also had the great gift of writing and poetry and was a genius with his Kodak box camera which won him many an acclaim and award. 

 

Mum was a quiet shy homely lady who spent most of her time indoors attending to the kids and the household chores. She also used to spend lots of time knitting, sewing, and crocheting on a bright new Singer sewing machine that she had bought and owned in great pride and possession. We were not even allowed to touch her massive cutting scissors or thimble for fear of being reprimanded severely.  We had several domestic helpers attending to the kitchen, garden, vehicles, and other functions. 

 

Aunty Shireen, who was an Indian Hindu lady who reverted to Islam in the fifties used to live two blocks away from our home. She came to Colombo to live her life in Sri Lanka to date. Being a graduate in English Language she was a contributing factor in our ability to grasp and learn the language to a great degree of perfection. She later spent a large part of her life as an announcer at the Sri Lanka Broadcasting Corporation announcing on the All Asia Service radio programs in several Indian languages in which she was very proficient in. She also worked at the Indian High Commission in Colombo.

 

Our Home

 

The house itself was a very old one built sometime, circa 1900. It was located between Castle Lane and Sagara Road on the seaside of Bambalapitiya and was named "Sukhasthan". We referred to it as "300" being the assessment number given by the Colombo Municipality. The adjoining house, bordering Sagara Road, a twin of 300, where two of my paternal aunts lived, was referred to as 298 for the same reasons.

 

It was narrated by my maternal grandpa that the house was built by the grandfather of my Grand Uncle Sir Razik Fareed, who was known as Wapchi Marikar Baas (Sinhalese word for builder, contractor, mason etc.) with the rubble and remnants of a building he had to demolish in the Fort where he was contracted by the government to build the General Post Office which still stands tall as one of the majestic old buildings in the city. Most of the outer walls were made of Kabook (a large rectangular shaped brick made of small red stones and sand). They were the abode of many a termite colony during our stay there and we used to enjoy watching the little white headed insects carrying on their masterly work of building and moving particles of sand to and fro within their nests. The house had three large bedrooms, a verandah, Hall, Study, Dining Hall, Store Room, and two kitchens located at the far end and a pantry. There were only two toilets, one in the center of the house and one at the far end which was used mainly by the servants. The roof was spread with local (Sinhala) tiles and stood high above the floor unlike many homes of modern times. A wooden ceiling shielded the tiles and coconut rafters from the inside. Windows were all wooden with glass panes and fan lights in the bedrooms. It is also worth mentioning here that the very same Wapchi Marikar Baas was the contractor who built the Galle Face Hotel and the Colombo Museum which still stand tall today. The Governor of Ceylon at that time requested him to seek any favor during the opening of the Colombo Museum and the humble Wapchi Marikar Baas had requested that the place be closed on Fridays so that the members of his community would not spend their time in there and concentrate on their weekly Friday prayers at the Mosque. The Colombo Museum is closed on Fridays until this day.

The Garden

The garden at 300 was a place full of joy and wonders that one has to experience to understand. I used to dream of being buried underneath it someday after I pass away. The serenity and calm it provided beneath its shade was something out of this world. The backyard had its wondrous share of fruit, vegetable and nut trees. Guava and mango were the main delicacies. It was quite a trauma keeping the bats away at night and the urchins away during the day. Jak and Breadfruit were also mouth watering delicacies that our garden grew. Grandma was always fond of the delicious pomegranate fruit that she claimed had great medicinal value, especially for expectant mothers. A sprawling umbrella like Jam Fruit tree adorned the center of our front lawn adjacent to a tall and magnificent Sapodilla tree that was always attacked by passers by for its fruit. Coconut and Tambili (King Coconut) were sprinkled all across the estate, mainly in the back yard. Two monolithic Tamarid trees stood side by side somewhere about three quarters of the way down the backyard and I still remember the tone of the old Owl hooting from its lofty branches. All kinds of old wives’ tales, based on devils, demons and ghosts, were wound around these magnificent plants to keep us away from the garden at sunset and after dark. A sprawling Kottang (Almond) tree was located almost at the left hand corner of the end of the garden bordering the fence that separated the yard from the neighbors. We used to go picking almonds each morning from what the poor bats had missed out the previous night. Banana trees, of varying flavors, were also waving their shady arms across most part of the garden. All in all it was a beautiful shady grove for any form of relaxation and slumber. 

 

Both my Dad and my maternal Grandpa, who lived with us with Gandma all their lives, taught us to care for and love pets and animals from our very young days.

 

Our home at Bamba was 65 perches in extent with a backyard of around 40 perches of beautiful estate with all types of fruit, vege and nut trees. The main house and front yard occupied around 25 perches, facing Galle Road on the seaside.

 

We had a pair of deer, a pair of goats named Laila & Majnun, plenty of chicken running helter skelter everywhere, Turkey, Ducks, Muscovy Ducks (they used to fly up to the roof), plenty of cats, An Alsation Dog named Rex, Fish Tanks and also a Fish Pond where a lone Kingfisher used toi enjoy his breakfast each morning from the branches of the Ambaralle Tree that stood tall by the pond. Parrots, Mynah Birds, Koha, Bats, Squirrels, Lizards, and even Bandicoots used to roam the garden. Two huge Taramind Trees stood side by side at the far end and enveloped the whole estate like a canopy. A Kottang Tree was also closeby and proivided ample shade and lots of raking for us on Sundays.

 

We enjoyed Sundays cleaning up the backyard. Especially lighting up the bonfire with all the raked up dry leaves and dancing around it like elves. Watering the plants was also another enjoyable feat that was tiring but still so filled with fun. We used a long hose pipe from the garage tap all the way to the back and also carried buckets with a pole in between and held by my younger bro and me.

 

Those were the most glorious days of our lives.

 

Gramps had a great green thumb and knew exactly how to tend the foliage. Mango season would erupt with all 5 trees bearing fruit and Gramps collecting them diligently in baskets for distribution to friends, neighbors and family. Breadfruit was also another delicacy that everyone relished and the fruits used to fall to the ground when over ripe and bats attacked them.

 

Ahhh! What I would give for just a sniff of one of those Sundays?

 

The twin house at 298 also stretched far back into Sagara Road to almost halfway down to the sea and possessed almost the identical features of 300 in most ways except that it had an extra bit of land on the side bordering Sagara Road for road expansion purposes. 

Cousins & Friends

On Dad's side we had almost 34 cousins while on Mum's side there were only 10. Weekends was a time when all of my cousins gathered together at Bambalapitiya and enjoyed a weekend together. Cricket was always on the cards followed by a splendid lunch prepared by the girls.

The many young boys and girls in the neighborhood used to join in the fun too. Of them, some names that come to mind are, Noor Hameem, Nimal, SL de Silva, Asoka Weeratunge, from Sagara Road, Rizi Kuthdoos, Claude de Pinto, Tony, & the Rasheeds from Clifford Place, the Shaideens, Hameeds, Skandakumar, Quassim, Jiffry's, and Mrs. Spillers, from Castle Lane, the many famous gangs from the Bambalapitiya Flats comprising Lucky Kiriella, Sunil Abhayasinghe, Loranjan & Shiromi Dias Abeygunewardena, The Solomon's, Misso's, Miskin's, Uduman's, Amarasingham's, De Kretser's, and Rajapakse's.

Further away, in both directions, on Galle Road was Suzanne & Russel Bartels from Dhammarama Road, Firoz Nilam from Charlemont Road, The Maharoof's of Ridgeway Place, Affan's from Kinross Avenue, Sharkers and Rizans of Kensington Gardens, Ariaratnam's of Razeendale Gardens, Tanya Wanigasekera from Hildon Place, the Wijeratne's from Galle Road, Aner's from Nandana Gardens, The Dickman's Road, Melbourne Avenue & Milagiriya Avenue gangs, and the boys and girls from Wellawatte.

Alvis, our Driver

G.C. Alvis, who came over to work at our home at #300 in Bamba, after being an employee of Mr. S.S. Issadeen, Government Agent, Matara, was our driver and lived in the garage at the back of the house. He had a great talent for pencil drawing and the garage walls were all filled with his wonderful works of art, call it graffiti or whatever. He also tended the garden and the fauna. He used to drive the light grey Austin A40, CN786, that my grandpa owned and used for his business. In later years, Alvis married Nancy, a Sinhala housemaid who used to work for a Moor family down Dickman's Road, and the two of them continued to occup the garage at the back of #300. They had one daughter.

Abu comes to Town

Sometime in 1958 my maternal grandpa, on a visit to his cousins estate in Rakwana, in the Ratnapura District, brought back with him young lad to say with us. The boy was about my age and his name was Hameed. We called him Abu for short. He was a child of one of the estate families in Rakwana. It was the first time Abu had left his village and come to a brisk and bustling city like Colombo. He was so scared at first but settled down slowly to live with us like one of us. I still remember when we took him down to the beach to the sea the ocean and it overwhelmed him so much as it was the first time in his life that he had seen such a large volume of water in one place. We enjoyed playing and working with him in the garden where gramps used to spend lots of time, especially on weekends, weeding, gardening, watering, trimming and keeping the place neat and tidy. Abu lived with us, grew up, learned some English as at that time he only spoke Sinhala and Tamil, and went on to become an expert as an electrical technician, skilled in house wiring, laying electric cables, and domestic and industrial electrical maintenance. He, initially, worked as an electrical technician at a nearby electrical maintenance shop and then later established his own electrical business at Wellawatte which had its ups and down but provided him the means to keep himself self sufficient and alive. Gramps arranged for him to be married to a daughter of a lady who used to visit our home and the marriage was a wonderful event that we all enjoyed. Abu had two daughters who are both married and having their own kids now. Sadly, he passed away in 2001, suffering a heart attack. His family and grandchildren are all doing very well now, thanks, to his hard work and perseverance in establishing a good foundation fro them. 

 

Sometime after Abu came to live with us gramps made another trip to Rakwana and fetched another two of his younger brothers, Shareef and Deen, who also came to live with us and continue their lives in a totally different environment in the big city of Colombo. Shareef went to spend his life with my maternal aunt, who was married and settled down now at Kiribathgoda, while Deen lived with us and to after his older brother, Abu, in learning the electric trade and assisting him in his work. Shareef and Deen are also married and having their own families now. Shareef works as a chef at a tourist hotel in Anuradhapura, in the North central Province, while Deen continues the business his brother, Abu, established and lives in Panadura, about 10 Km. south of Colombo. 

Royal Primary School

Royal Primary School, from 1953 to 1958, was a world full of joy and wonders that lingers sweetly in my memory for all its beautiful moments and times. The boys in the class comprising mainly of Burghers and Muslims carried on together for six wonderful years as mates through some of the best times of my life. My first teacher was Ms Croning of 1C, followed by Ms Pereira, Ms Dissanayake, Mr Pinkamage, Mr David, and finally Mr J E de Silva. The annual Sports Meet was another memorable occasion that everyone of us enjoyed. The school magazine was a pride to take home and the Headmaster and teachers were people to be truly proud of and cherish for all times. A quick game of cricket during the lunch break or strolling around the large grounds was a daily routine for most of us after having enjoyed an ice lolly or some gram from the vendors, Bella, Achi or Kadalay at the gate.

 

An event that lingers, very much, in my mind of that era was the picking of snails from the drains behind the classroom and smashing their shells against the walls. Not  a very nice thing to do but it did seem like fun as youngsters. The maypole, mat-slide and seesaw that were located on the perimeter of the school grounds were also patronized all the time by the class. Mr A F De Saa Bandaranaike, the then Headmaster was a loved, and notable mentor in everyone's mind. He was strict yet loving and caring as a Principal aught to be. Leaving Primary to enter College was a momentous occasion as it brought in the joys of growing up and moving into the higher echelons of Royal College where the big guys roamed.

 

Other teachers of note who had a massive impact on my upbringing were Ms. Nicholas, the Music Teacher, Mr. Piyasena aka "Vathey" whose son was also a peer in the Sinhala section, Mr. H D Sugathapala (Sugar) who went on to succeed Mr. De Saa Bandaranaike as Headmaster in 1958, and Mr. M D F Jayawardena. They gave us their time, love and knowledge in the best of spirit and commitment. May they be Blessed for all time.

 

Dad was an old Royalist, even though gramps was a Thomian, and, come 1953, when I was five years young, I was marched to my very first interview in life at Royal Primary School for entrance to Class 1C English Medium. For my good fortune the Daily News reporter clicked a picture of me being interviewed and there I was in the next mornings news answering my interview diligently, shorts et al. Dad had saved that picture and it still remains in my files somewhere deep within I am sure. 

I remember every single face and name in that class even until today. The majority of the class comprised Muslims and Burgers on account of the medium of instruction being English. The Muslims had the free choice of opting any of the three languages and my dad appropriately chose English. Our teacher was Mrs. Croning. Wow! wasn’t she a toughie? It was sad to hear that she had passed away recently as I found out from an obituary in the local press. She sure must have lived to a ripe old age. Some of my closest associates were Allan Ebert, Philip Stork, Graham Koch, Brian Lieversz, Maurice Chapman, Mazher Fazleali, Mohammed Iqbal Najmudeen, Mohammed Hassim, Premasiri Guruswamy, Jezley Hussain, Jeremy Pereira, Nigel de Kretser, Arooz Sheriff, Imthiaz Jaffer, William Solomons, Ramlal Gunewardena, Aubrey Willis and Rodney Vanderwall. Other names I can still remember are Alwyn Anthinisz, Dallas Grenier, Cedric Ernst, Michael Gray, S.T. Aziez, S.J. Bahar, Nihal Canagasabey, Monty Cassim, Suren Chitty, Bryce Fernando, Eardley Foenander, and Anthony Walpola. Grandpa Sameer used to take me to school by rickshaw and stay at school in the huge cage like structure erected for waiting parents, guardians, and maids, until it was time to go home. I still remember peeping out of the class and calling out to him “Appa, Appa!”, the Tamil equivalent of “Grandpa, Grandpa”, to the screeching of Mrs. Croning shouting at him to go away and not spoil his grandchildren. They have both passed away. May God Bless them.


Although the classes were divided into the three language media the boys still gelled together as one community since they did come together very often during music, sports, games and breaks. The enthusiasm for sports, music and other extra curricular activity during this era was a tremendous factor that united the boys into one single unit of humanity. Cricket was the main sport of interst although althletics and other events were also sought after on account of the grand sports meet that was held at the end of each school year.


The boys at RPS from that era were as follows:-

English Medium

Tamil Medium

Sinhala Medium

ANTHONISZ, Alwyn J.

M. Balakumaran *

Abeysena *

AZIEZ, Shirzard T. *

Suren Cooke *

Abeysinghe, Sunil (S. K.) *

BAHAR, Shah Jehan *

M Devakumar *

Bamunawala, Hema (H B) *

CANAGASABEY, Nihal *

C Krishnarajan *

Chandra Prasad, *

CASSIM, Muhammad  Monty *

S Muthulingaswamy *

Chandrasoma, Parakrama (P T) *

CHAPMAN, Maurice *

A P Ponnambalam *

Colombage , Christopher 

CHITTY, Suren *

P R Puvanendrarajah *

Cooray, Thusitha *

DE KRETSER, A. Nigel F. *

R Rajaratnam * (1999) *

Dandeniya, Ranjan *

EBERT, Fredrick Allan *

R Rajasooriyar *

de Silva, Gamini *

ERNST, Cedric *

M Ratnathicam *

De Silva, Jayantha (S J) *

FAZLEALI, Mazher *

S Sambandan *

Dharmadasa, Upali (U R M) *

FERNANDO, Bryce *

J Satchithanandan *

Fernando, Sarath  (M S ) *

FOENANDER, Eardley *

S Satchithanandan *

Godamunne, Vipula (V B) *

GRENIER, Dallas

S R Sellamuttu * (2008)

Gooneratne, Nimal (A.N.) *

GUNEWARDENE, R. S. Ramlal *

S P Sellayah *

Gunaratne, Panini (P N) *

GURUSWAMY, Arthur Premasiri

S Sivasubramaniam *

Gunaratne, Shiran (S N) *

HASHIM, Mohamed * 

S Skandakumar *

Gunasekare, Nihal (N P R) *

HUSSAIN, Jezley

S Sridharan *

Gunawardane, Buddhapriya (B C) *

IQBAL, M.N.M.

V Tiruchelvam *

Jayasinghe, Mahinda (D M) *

JAFFER, Imthiaz A, Dr. *

K Velupillai *

Jayasinghe, Senaka (S R) *

KOCH, Graham E Cecil *

R Vigneswaran *

Jayasundare, Chandrakeerthi (C.P) *

KOCH, Wilhelm *

N Viswalingam *

Karunatillake, Sunil *

LIEVERSZ, N. Brian L *.

 

Kiriella , Punyasiri  *

MOHIDEEN, Irfan Shibly *

 

Kulasinghe, Upul  (U E) *

PERERA, Jeremy *

 

Kulathunga, Bandula *

SALEEM, Mohamed

 

Lathpandura, Lakshman (L P) *

SAMEER, M Fazli H. *

 

Madanayake, Ranjan *

SHERIFF, Muhammad Arooz *

 

Mallikarachchi, Ananda (D A) *

SOLOMONS, William Boyd *

 

Manchanayake, Palitha (P. A.) *

STORK, Phillip

 

Mendis, Prasanna (D P G) *

VANDERWALL, Rodney E.

 

Palihakkara, Nanda (N D) *

WALPOLA, Don V. Anthony *

 

Perera, Ravi (M R) *

WILLIS, Aubrey 

 

Perera, Ravindra (K P R) *

 

 

Perera, Premalal (P V ) *

 

 

Piyasena , Surath *

 

 

Rajapakse, Naveen (N D) *

 

 

Ratnapala, Kamal  (K.G.) *

 

 

Ratnapala, Suri (A S) *

 

 

Ratwatte, Charitha (J C) *

 

 

Salgado, Geethapriya *

 

 

Samarajeewa, Rohantha *

 

 

Samarasekare, Harindra (H D P) *

 

 

Senanayake, Athula (M D A) *

 

 

Senerath-Yapa, Sarath (S C) *

 

 

Seneviratne, Keerthi (A M R K B ) *

 

 

Silva, Nihal (N K N G) *

 

 

Silva , Milan *

 

 

Soysa, Preman (H P N) *

 

 

Suraweera, Upali (A U C) *

 

 

Suriyasinghe, Sarath (K S N) *

 

 

Thevarapperuma, Dixon 

 

 

Thurairatnam, Indran  (I R) *

 

 

Warusavithana, Sarath

 

 

Weerasekare, Daya   (D C R ) *

 

 

Weerasinghe, Asoka

 

 

Wickramarachchi, Sisira (S G M) *

 

 

Wickramasinghe, Gamini (D G) *

Deceased as of April 2012

 

Wickramasinghe, Panini (P H) *

* Moved to Royal College in 1959

 

Wickremaratne, Daya  Jasenthu *

 

 

Wickremasinghe, Git (R G) *

 

Dad and the CMC

Dad was attached to the Buildings Department of the Colombo Municipal Council (CMC) as a Building Inspector since he passed out as a Surveyor at the tender age of 19 and had excelled in this profession until his demise in 1989. We used to visit his office in the grand old white CMC building at Town Hall which was more or less a mini White House like structure. Dad boasted of a vast knowledge of the city of Colombo, its homes, streets, culverts, drainage system and geographical layout which he acquired during his tenure at the CMC. Many real estate organizations and householders used to visit our home during dad's retirement to seek information about house and property in Colombo on account of this knowledge he possessed. A large street map of Colombo always hung on the wall of his office room at #300.

 

It was some time in the mid/late fifties that I remember Dad contesting the Municipal Council seat of the Pettah Ward. His election symbol was the wheel and I remember the posters and flags with his pictures and symbol being displayed on walls and cars during that campaign. Dad lost the election and then went into private practice at home thereafter. He was quite famous and renowned for his profession as a Surveyor, Leveller and Architect, especially amongst the elite Muslim community who owned much land and real estate. I still remember how my brother and I used to join his surveyor gang and visit many interesting sites where he conducted his work. Kangani, a dark skinned Sinhalese man, sporting a bushy grey moustache and wearing baggy khaki shorts and short sleeved safari style jacket with flaps et al, was the supervisor of this gang. He was a strong man who knew his job well and managed his boys effectively. We used to be mortally scared of the man. 

R-O-Y-A-L!

Moving to College in 1959 was a tremendous change for everyone. Some of the Burgher boys were in the process of migrating to Australia with the Sinhala only policy coming into place. Some didn’t make it having failed the entrance test. New guys joined us from various other schools. We had a batch of over 200 in the first year at Royal College in 1959 spread out into seven classes classified as Form 1A to Form 1F. I was in 1E and my class teacher was Mr Justin de Silva, affectionately known as “Abraham Lincoln” for his tremendous love and respect for the former American President whom he used as a role model in every possible way. He even sported a beard and tried to look like old Abe in the best of his own inimitable style. Form 1A was taken by that wonderfully dynamic teacher Capt. MKJ Cantlay renowned for his activities and contributions with the Scout Troop and the Cadet Corps. I also remember Mr MM Alavi taking one of the classes in Form 1. My Form 2 class master was Mr Sivalingam, Mr JH de Saram taking Form 3, Ms Samarasekera taking form 4 and then Mr Canegaratne also taking Form 4 as I had to spend another year in the same form in 1963 on account of an eye injury I suffered while playing “Elle” or Rounders (the local version of baseball) and had to spend six difficult months warded at the Colombo Eye Hospital from June to December 1962. The one whose bat hit me on the face was KC Fernando, now practicing as a doctor and living in Australia, and it was the last “pitch”of the day before the bell rang to end the lunch interval. I was rushed to the Accident Service in an unconscious state after having been taken to the hostel for immediate attention to the cut above my left eye that subsequently had to have three stitches implanted to close the gaping wound. 

 

Taking the College Bus every morning from the Bamba Flats bus stand was the norm. Several guys used to congregate at the stand, chatting the morning away, ogling at the girls of Bishops, CMS Ladies, Lindsay, Visakha, and St. Bridget's Convent, waiting for their own buses to take them to their schools. The regulars whom I remember are Lucky Kiriella, now a Member of Parliament and representative for Kandy, Sunil Abeysinghe now in LA, Loranjan Dias Abeygunawardena who lives in Ireland, and Nihal Canagasabey from Frankfort Place. Of the gals there were Siromi Dias Abeygunawardena (Visakha), sister of Loranjan, Tania Wanigasekera (Bishops), Vasantha (Edna) and her sister Evelyn Amarasingham (CMS Ladies), The Solomon girls from the Flats who used to walk by to St. Pauls Milagiriya which was just a few meters away on the land side, and Susan Bartels (Lindsay). The Bamba Flats was one hell of a hot place to live next to.

 

Cycling was a great pastime in those halcyon days and I remember buying my own second hand bicycle from Podisingho's cycle shop opposite our home for Rs 50 which I had carefully saved up from my daily school allowance of Rs 1. Ahhh what a bike she was. A Raleigh. Old man Podisingho had cleaned her up and given her the spit and polish and she looked beautiful in the noonday sun. Riding along the sea side streets at Bamba was fun. Eventually I started riding to school too with some of the other chaps in the neighborhood. How can I ever forget my first ever vehicle?

 

Some of the teachers at Royal whose names I can remember and who gave us their best were Mr. J H Rupasinghe (Ruperty), Mr. V Arasaratnam (Arasa), Mr. E C Gunesekera (Kataya), Headmaster of the Lower School Mr. Abeysinghe (Cowpox), Mr. JH De Bruin, Mr. Gunaseelan, Mr. Gulasingham (Thosai), Mr. Menon (Pope), Mr Ratnayake (Ghandi), Mr. Arulanandan (Arul), Mr. Ratnathicam (Rat), Mr. Thillainathan (Liston), Mr. Viji Weerasinghe (Duckie), Mr. Devapriya, Mr Sherriffdeen, Mr. CE Belleth (aka Bella, and who had taught my Dad too in his time), Mr. Rajaratnam, and Mr. Tennekoon (Librarian).

 

Some of the cricketing greats whom we all treated as hero's of Royal during my time were, EL Pereira, Brian Pereira, Michael Dias, M Velle, SC Samarasinghe, Darrel Lieversz, Sugi Rajaratnam, L Thalayasingham, M Sivanesarasa, CAP Fernando, S Waranakulasuriya, Ranjan Madugalle, K Sockalingam, Brian Lieversz, Nigel de Kretser, and Eardley Lieversz.   

The Eye Hospital

The six months that I spent, on the second floor of the Men’s Ward, at the Eye Hospital, having being diagnosed with a Retinal Detachment in my left eye, was one of tremendous trauma and difficulty, both for me as well as my parents and family who spared no pains to make me happy and comfortable throughout that period. The eye surgeon who treated me was Dr. R Pararajasegaram, one of the top eye surgeons in town at that time, who operated on my left eye, thrice, unsuccessfully. I remember Dad staying the night over at the hospital, seated in an arm chair, on the three occasions I underwent surgery. He also used to feed me my meals as both my eyes were bandaged shut throughout the six month period I spent at the hospital and were only opened for medication and examination by the surgeon and house officer each morning. When I was finally discharged from the hospital in December my left eye was totally blind.  Some of the people who had an impact on my life during that traumatic era were, little PodiNilame, another patient from Polgahawela who had suffered an accident to his eye, Thenewwahandige Sumanasiri from Ambalangoda who was in the next bed to me in the ward and also suffering froma Retinal Detachment like me, his father and paternal uncle who usually kept vigil over him most of the time, Perambalam, another patient in another ward, Adwin the erstwhile attendant, and sister Ms Fernando, one of the nurses in the ward. Little Podinilame was about 7 or 8 years old and used to take great delight in pushing the meals cart at lunch and dinner time down the hallways. It was a totally different world in there. There were patients who used to keep coming back to the ward after having deliberately hurt themselves even after having been discharged because they were so poor they had no place to go to. There were so many intrigues and stories that were whispered round the wards. On one occasion a young patient jumped out of the window of one of the wards and committed suicide. Dad had my bed moved away from the window since then. We had four beds in our ward two of which were rarely occupied and used mostly by Sumanasiri’s Dad or uncle whenever they came from Ambalangoda to visit and stayed over the night. Even though my eyes were tightly shut al the time I knew exactly what was going on all around me. Sound, actually compensated for sight. 

 

I had to wear dark tinted glasses for a period f time and this caused many a head to turn at me, especially at nights, wherever I went. That was the end of my sporting career at school. 

 

Once back at home, again, life slowly began returning to normal for me as I started attending school once again in January of 1963. I had to have a blood circulation problem attended to as lying flat on my back for six months without any physiotherapy at the hospital had caused my circulation to go haywire, no thanks to the hospital authorities for their inability to recognize that. My feet had to be raised, in the form of an exercise, so that the blood would flow back up to my upper torso and return to normal. I still feel the ill effects of this shortcoming, almost 40+ years later, in constant cramps and numbness in my legs, thatcould have easily been avoided had the good sense of the medical people of that era prevailed. That was the “devil may care” Ceylon in the sixties I guess? 

Secondary School

Returning back to Royal in 1964 I was able to move through my GCE (O) Levels with six credit passes and one simple pass (Sinhalese Language) offering all three streams of Mathemtaics (Pure, Applied & Advanced), Physics, English Language, & Islam. I flunked Chemistry, the bane of all my academics. Never liked it. Never still do. 

 

Having attained proficiency in all three maths the trend was to move towards engineering sciences and Dad was very keen that I follow in his shoes. 

 

Moving to the upper echelons of Royal in the Lower and Upper Sixth Class was a very prestigious era in my life. Life was rather serious, filled with studies and extra hours in making sure I could get over the hurdle of University entry. Appeared for the GCE (Advanced) level examination in 1966 and came out successfully with two credit passes (Pure and Applied Mathematics) and one ordinary pass (Physics) obtaining a large enough aggregate mark to get entry into the University of Ceylon, Colombo Campus, for a degree course in Physical Science. 

University of Colombo

University life was a different kettle of fish.  Never expected it but had no choice but to take it by the horns and squeeze through. My very first day at University was one filled with student unionism and strikes. The name was to be changed to University of Colombo and the current students union decided to protest, violently and vehemently. We freshmen were inducted into the union and guaranteed there would be no ragging of we supported the strike. So we did. What a way to step out into the echelons of higher education. The commie leaders were at our doorstep every day urging us on with rhetoric speech to carry on our student struggle with fervor and fight. The authorities decided to close the campus. The students union decided to sleep in to prevent the closure. It was a time to remember. The going-on’s inside the campus by night and by day could be put into a whole new separate novel.

 

Playing Bridge at the Campus Canteen was a great pastime with all the lovely lasses standing and watching behind us. The guys were so engrossed in the game that they even kept the ladies waiting on occasions when dates were arranged for special outings. Goren, Schenken, and Blackwood were the conventions used then. Later we migrated to Precision after CC Wei won the World Championships in the 70s.

 

I spent about a year and a half and then decided to drop out for many reasons of my own. There didn’t seem to be a suitable and tangible future in a Physical Science degree to me at that time. I was proved very right much later in life.

 

Towards the end of 1968 I quit. 

The Music Scene

Royal College, in the sixties, initiated a western music band, managed by Mr Amerasinghe who had just returned from USA, and purchased several musical instruments in order to kick off. The band, initially comprised those greats like, Ishan Bahar, Gabo, Arooz Sheriff, William Solomons. I also played started my musical career here by playing drums for the band.

Another interesting musical escapade of those times was the "jing-bang" that used to take place at the Ibrahim residence down Vihare Lane at Wellawatte. Several of us, comprising Rizvi Kuthdoos, MHM Ghouse, Rumi Bathusha, Uncle Athas Kuthdoos, Firoze Ibrahim, Jamshed Ariff, Fazil Rilla, and myself used to jam during the evenings singing many of the oldies ranging from Jim Reeves to the Beatles. Rizvi migrated to Canada and has passed away since. Rizvi's rendition of "River of the Roses" was fantastic while Ghouse used to belt out his famous "From a Jack to a King", Rumi his theme song "Proud Mary" and Uncle Athas many wonderful Jim Reeves tracks. My favorite was Frank Sinatra's "Strangers in the Night".

Later on I joined up with the Lye brothers from Borupana and formed a band called "Spiritual Recipe" and we played mostly at functions of the Malay Club. The members of the band were Ezmal Lye (Bass Guitar), Rasmar Lye (Percussions), Dylan Lye (lead Guitar), Rumi Bathusha (Rhythm Guitar and vocals), Dr. Nalin Jayatunge (Sax), and myself on drums. We practiced, mostly, at the Lye residence in Ratmalana on weekends and enjoyed playing at family get togethers and domestiuc parties most of all.

I also played for a while with the second band at La Langousterie night club on the beach at Mount Lavinia. Later on I extended my musical career by playing with the SAMBA Band in Saudi Arabia and also doing some skits with a bunch of expats on weekends.

The World of Computers

It was during one of the math lessons at University that I started taking an interest in Computers which was, then, only a figment of science fiction dreamers. Professor Karunaratne, who had recently returned from the USA, had written a book on Fortran Programming and recommended it to any of the students who were interested in trying to understand the world of computer programming. I opted for a book and also started taking a keen interest on the subject very seriously. My main sources of information and learning were the British Council Library at Kollupitiya and the American Center (USIS) at Galle Face Courts. I spent lots of time at these two magnificently equipped locations in reading about Computers and all that went with programming, analysis, design etc. It was a wonderful world of science that fascinated my innermost emotions. I was even writing computer code in Fortran for kicks just to satisfy my own desires even though none of those program were ever compiled or put to the test. They were simply written on paper and run on paper. They worked. That’s as far as I understood their intricacies. The desire inside me to pursue a career in Computers was so immense but there was no means of fulfillment within the confines of the country at that point of time. 

 

The Ceylon Moor Youth League

Sometime in 1966 a group of young Muslim lads in the Wellawatte area were rounded up by the Muslim elders of the town, who belonged to a social service Muslim organization called The Ceylon Moor Youth Leage (CMYL), and banded together to form a Students’ Section of the body with a view to train and inculcate the spirit of leadership and community welfare amongst the youth. I was one of them. Most of the chaps involved were already known to me as fellow members of the Bambalapitiya and Wellawatte communities.

A meeting was held at Wellawatte and a committee was appointed from amongst us and I took up the position of librarian managing a small collection of books that were collected from amongst the community and housed at the headquarters of the organization located on the Galle Road at Wellawatte. The activities of the CMYL grew from strength to strength and the membershiup and interest amongst the community also swelled with time. A monthly newsletter titled DAWN was published and I was also involved in assisting the able editors, T.M. Deen and M.H.M. Hamza, who were respected journalists of that era. The President of the adult body of the CMYL at that time was Aamir Sheriff, ex City Coroner and MMC Mutuwal. He was succeeded by Advocate Marleen and then by Dr. Fazli M. Nizar. Many of the others who were involved with the organization were, Messers M.H.M. Dhahlan, Uvais Sufi Ismail, Alavi Sheriffdeen, M.S. Moujood, M. Z. Ghouse, A.B.A.C. Jiffrey,  Jeff Hassen, M.H.M. Rafiudeen, M.H.M. Hussain, Mohideen Rajabdeen, and Farid A Cader. Amongst the student members were, M.H.M. Ghouse, Haseeb Hameed, Firoze Ibrahim, Fairuf Ibrahim, Fidha Salih, Shahul Hameed Salih, Faariez Salih, Rizvi Kuthdoos, Ifthikhar Kuthdoos, Rumi Bathusha, M.Z. Lameer, M.N.M. Azad, Faizal Zavahir, Faiz Nizar, Rizvi Thahir, Fenuzi Hamid, Jamshed Ariff, N.M.M. Shibly, and N.M.M. Nazim. 

The members of the Womens’ Section were Ms Haddad, Ms Badrunnisa Sheriff, Ms Khair, Ms. Jaleel, while the females in the student section were, Zainab Hamdoon, Fathima Rajabdeen, Zulaiha Rajabdeen, Maharooma Rajabdeen, Fathima Mazahim, Shirani Ibrahim, JasMina Ibrahim, Fakhriya Kuthdoos, Mumtaz Kuthdoos, Farahana Kuthdoos, Fareena Shahabdeen, Zulaiha Thaha, Shiraz Salih, Moreena Salih, Sithy Nizar, Huzaima Hameed. 

Browns Agricultural Division

Immediately after I had completed my A levels in 1966 I had the good opportunity of getting my first taste of the corporate world when I was offered a temporary assignment at Brown & Company Agricultural Division, located at Forbes Road, off Darley Road, in Maradana. Close friends Arjan Mahadeva (now Arafat Mohamed and located in Canada), Fenuzi Hameed, both from Wellawatte, and I were assigned to collect tractor and trailer statistics from the Registrar of Motor Vehicles in Colombo for a marketing study that Browns was doing. The assignment took three months and we were paid by the amount of data we were able to collect. While it was fun, working together in the air conditioned climes of a powerhouse corporation, the experience of swinging with adults in the big world of business was also very satisfying.

The time spent at the RMV was even more educational in understanding the mentality and culture of the lazy Government Service machinery in sunny Ceylon. The cafeteria at the RMV offered some great delioghts in pastries, cakes and steaming hot tea which we all relished with tremendous satisfaction. Meeting the people there and understanding their way of life was also most illumiunating. The many fancy relationships that were going on behind the scenes between the RMV staff, under closed doors of course, was another event to understand and digest for three young school leavers waiting to hguit the big time.

The only name that comes to mind at Browns was the luscious lady secretary, Sonia Moraes from Charlemont Road, Wellawatte. Mr Panchadcharan from the distribution center in Trincomalee was also a frequent visitor to the office whom I met and came toi know closely. Meeting and getting to know him was funny because he mistook us for senior management since we were occupying one of the top management executives room within the office on a temporary basis since the big man was away, overseas, on vacation.

The Chartered Bank

It was in 1969 that my uncle AWM Ghouse, who was married to my Dad’s oldest sister, Sithy Rameela Sameer, suggested to me to take up a career in banking. He was then attached to The Chartered Bank in Colombo. I agreed after some persuasion from Dad and was invited to the bank for an interview and test. My banking career started on Feb 16 1969 when I signed up an employment contract with the bank. This was another ball game in my life that I will always remember.

 

It was here that I learnt of the tricks of doing business by hook or by crook, to hell with all the ethics and decency that we were taught back at school that was condidered most precious and obligatory. Working life was a dog’s life. The style of Employer-Employee relationship was one of master and slave, each trying his best to hoodwink the other in every manner possible. The staff union that was very active and strong was hell bent on attacking the organization at every single turn. At the same time the organization had the least respect for its employees. It was a very sad experience which I will probably remember for all my life. Discrimination, based on ethnicity, race, religion and favoritism was the order of the day. We Muslims, as a small minority, had very little scope of career success in such a hostile environment. I was sure that this was not the place for me. 

 

We were initially taught the usage of the “in”famous NCR Class 32 Accounting machines by a burly old Burgher lady called Ms. Swan at the NCR office down the road at York Street. My first assignment was with the Current Accounts department under another burly old Burgher gentleman whose name was B.N.R. Raux.  Although he was a very humorous man he was also most fearful of the management and would bend in fives to appease them at any cost. The young guys working for him also feared him for the simple reason that he could make or break their career and lucrative future that they all had in their hearts and minds. Some of my colleagues within the department at that time were Jeyaraj Fernando, a senior from whom I learned most of my work, Stanley Fernando, the two Ronnie de Silva’s, one from Ragama and the other from Wellawatte, N. Jayasooriya, Canicius Leonard,  Thomas, Premadasa, Stanley Fernando, Tyronne Candappa, Eddie Melder, Mervyn Alfred (Mama), who was later drowned in the Mahaweli while returning from a trip to Adams Peak, Nihal Fernando,, son of the Union boss, Brian Wickremasinghe, Arambawela, Weerasooriya, Paiva, Subash Chandra, and some others whose names I may not distinctly remember now.  Of the seniors there were Steuart Kuneman, Siddiq Ghouse (my cousin), Ronnie Henderling, Douglas Ingram, S.M. Yehiya, Anslem Ludwig, BNR Raux, V Gulasingham, SC Dias-Abesyinghe, Rex Wijesooriya, Gerry Carvalho, N.D. Perera, and RAD Parera (who became Accountant after Cameron). Of the staff who were seconded for service from UK I remember the names of Manager, PJ McNamara, SC Buchanan, MC Cameron (Accountant),  and NP Davenport. The only lady amongst the staff at that time was Ms Muttiah, who was the secretary to the Accountant. It was totally a man’s world at The Chartered Bank in the early seventies. 

 

The majority of the staff belonged to the Colombo Chetty community while there were also Burghers and Sinhalese staff members on the payroll. Top management consisted of good white men from Loindon as Manager, Sub Manager and Accountant as the pecking order was, in those banking days in Ceylon. We also had a “white” Londoner managing current accounts.

 

The politics that pervaded the entire staff, top down, was most appalling, and, certainly not the best way for me to start my life in the deep end of human behavior. Yet, that was the working culture that prevailed across all sectors of the corporate world in Ceylon. The many clashes between the management and the clerical union was like a war that could see no end. The internal intrigues that went on between managemnent and their “blue eyed boys” was another lesson that I learned the hard and uncomfortable way. Favoritism was the order of the day. You could never get anywhere near the top unless you pleased your bosses in whatever way they wished. Racism was inherent in the hearts and minds of people. I just wanted to get away from it all and run away to some far off distant land.

IBM

About a year after I had joined the banks service my heart and mind was still revolving around computers and automation which I was never able to seek and fulfill within the totally manual banking environment. IBM World Trade Corporation in Colombo, in collaboration with the Rotary Club of Colombo West, initiated a program to teach Computer Science to a selected group of students in Sri Lanka. I applied eagerly in response to an advertisement they had placed in the newspapers. An aptitude test and examination was conducted and I was most fortunate to be selected within the 30 odd finalists amongst a bunch of over 600 who had sought a place. The course was exciting and went on for two years. I qualified with excellence. I must convey my thanks to Mr. Santhiran, General Manager of IBM and Mr.Sha Razaq of the Rotary Club of Colombo West for their kindness and enthusiasm in assisting me to embark upon this lucrative career. 

 

The bank never automated their operations or systems and I was truly frustrated at not being able to utilize my Computer skills positively and learn the ropes of the IT industry. 

 

It was during the early seventies that both my maternal grandfather and paternal grandmother passed away at their respective homes in Bambalapitiya. The first two leave us was my maternal grandpa, MCHM Rasheed, whom we affectionately referred to as "Rasheed Appa". He suffered a heart attack and was taken to hospital where he passed away peacefully. My paternal grandma, Raliya Umma Noordeen (wife of Muhammad Sameer) passed away soon after that at home and was buried at the Dehiwela Muslim burial grounds. This was our first exposure to death within close members of our family who had lived with us all our lives and it was very traumatic for us to accept their departure that left a deep void in all of our lives. My paternal grandfather, Muhammad Sameer, also expired soon after in the mid seventies. The many examples and teachings that they shared and taught us in life are so very valuable to us today. May their souls be blessed and may they be granted entry to the Garden of Paradise!

The Lions Club of Moratuwa-Ratmalana

A group of young adults, mostly living in the Wellawatte area, decided to join the Lions Club of Moratuwa-Ratmalana, with a view to getting involved in social service while also having a ball in the process. Amongst them were Narasimhan Sadasivan, affectionately known as "Sada", an old Thomian, Sriyan de Silva an old Trinitian who worked as the factory manager at Usha Industries in Ratmalana and lived in Borupana, Nihal Samarasinghe aka "Sam the Man", a great Jazz musician, the late Jamshed Ariff, Mohideen Rajabdeen, Sam Fernando from Moratuwa, and several others. Being the youngest among the lot the gang roped me in to join the club too and we had lots of fun traveling throughout the island, visiting other clubs, participating in various social service projects and having fun too. Eventually, I was elected Secretary of the club and we went on to be declared the best club in the District that year. That was some fun we had with the Lions.

The Malay Club

It was after I started working at The Chartered Bank, in 1969, that I met and made friends with a group of young Malay youth in Colombo who became my closest friends during this era. They comprised of people like Ezmal Lye (Australia), Shiraz Lye, Rasmar Lye, Dylan Lye (HongKong), all brothers from Borupana, Ratmalana, Haji Rasseeddeen, Bolly Johar & Branu Rahim (cousins from Udahamulla, Nugegoda), the late Zahir Mohamed & Kerima Musafer, Roshan Sukhla (who married Ranjit Fernando later on), Sherwani Rahim (who married Mani Seneviratne), Hamza Deane (who married Mumtaz Aliph), Reza & Ameen Deane (brothers, musicians), sisters Shineer & Gunasmin Amit (who married Ezmal Lye later on and migrated to Australia), Mumtaz Aliph (who was married to Captain Anil Rambukwela of Air Ceylon), Firdousi (Maiyo), Yasmin, Yolande, & Sayang Aliph (siblings of Pendennis Avenue, Colombo 3), Shireeni, Dicko & Tito NoorAmith of Nawala, Patsy Dole (who married Branu Rahim later on) of Moratuwa, Dani & Lilibeth Bahar (who married Rumi Bathusha later on) of Wattala, and Lahan Samsudeen & Shirani Musafer of Ratmalana, Parum Samahon. Another notable member of this gang of friends was Dr Nalin Jayatunge a great sax player and medic, and his lovewly wife Carmelita Gomez of Nugegoda. I also had the privilege and honor to have met and known some of the elder Malay folks belonging to their families, viz; AW Musafer and wife, TJ NoorAmith, and The Lye family parents.  

The Bridge Gang at Bamba

A favorite pastime that I initiated at home during the time I was attending University in Colombo was the game of  Contract Bridge. It was much later, in the seventies, that a group of young men in the locality started playing the card game more seriously on weekends at our home in Bamba. Sunday mornings were all Bridge mornings. %The group consisted of Sada, Sumith Siritunge, who ran a Safari Jeep Service at Yala National Park in the Ruhunu, my brother Firoze, cousin Rizvi Zaheed who lived next door, Lal de Silva from Koswatte (now in Canada), an old Anandian and nephew of Dr Colvin R de Silva, and Haji Rasseedeen. On some evenings the group used to move to the Colombo Colts Cricket Club and enjoy an evening of Bridge, Billiards and Snooker, within the club premises. 

Marriage & Kids

Having spent almost 5 years at The Chartered Bank I decided to get married and start a family in 1974. I married Fathima Shirani Naleefa, daughter of the late Husain J Ibrahim (ex HM Customs) and Hibshi Mazaya Saleem. Shirani was an old girl of St. Pauls Milagiriya at Bambalapitiya and also excelled in music (piano), ballet and drama. She was also a fully qualified and experienced Montessori Teacher. The wedding was held at the Dutch Burgher Union Hall on March 31, 1974 amidst a gathering of friends and family under the austerity laws that prevailed at that time which limited the guests to 150. A dinner followed at my Shiarani's place at Vihara Lane, Wellawatte.

Our first daughter, Fathima Melina, was born on Feb 4, 1975, to the joy and happiness of all the family. She attended St. Lawrence's School at Wellawatte during her early years until we moved to live and work overseas in the Middle East in 1979. Many are the memories of taking her for long walks along the beach every day after work before the sun sank into the blue waters of the Indian Ocean. Answering all her questions about the trains, ships, waves, sea gulls, and people was a scintillating experience for a young first time father. Melina attended Mrs. Roses' Wise Owls School in AlKhobar, Saudi Arabia, where she started schooling overseas. She then spent a year at Manarat Al Sharkiyah in AlKhobar and subsequently moved to the Saudi Arabian International School (American Section), in Dhahran, to continue her studies following the American education methodology. When we moved to Riyadh in 1985 she continued her education at the Riyadh Section of the American School until we returned back to Colombo in 1987. She then continued the final part of her secondary education at Stafford International School, Colombo. On returning back to Riyadh, in 1992, she continued her University education at the Riyadh Campus of the University of Maryland offering Human Biology and Child Education.

Our second daughter, Fathima Nadia, was born in 1981 while I was away in Saudi Arabia. It was only 3 months after her birth that I was able to see her and be with her before taking her back with me to send our lives in the Middle East. Most of her education was at the British School in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, where we moved to in 1985. She too then continued her education at Stafford International School, Colombo, after 1987, when we returned to Colombo for a short stint. On our return to Riyadh in 1992 she continued her studies at the British School, and, later on, at Manarat Al Riyadh.

Metropolitan Agencies & HP

 

In 1979, M/S Metropolitan Agencies Ltd, a private sector office equipment company dealing in electronics, secured the local agency for Hewlett Packard Computers in Sri Lanka and ventured out into establishing a Computer Department. Having been introduced to the Director responsible for this new business, Mr. Mahendra Ambani, by the husband of my wife, Shirani's, friend, I was given a stiff interview and interrogation and offered a lucrative position as Systems Analyst/Programmer. I didn’t blink an eyelid but decided to quit ten long years in banking for an IT career. My dad and the rest of the family were furious. No one in Sri Lanka quits a banking profession after ten long years. It was sheer madness to give up such a lucrative career with all its finery of fringe benefits and retirement pension plans etc. My mind was made up and I quit. Ironically, I started work at Metropolitan Agencies on the same date as I had joined the bank, Feb 16, in the year 1979, exactly ten years after. 

 

I was initially trained by a Singaporean Consultant in analyzing and programming a Ledger Card Computer called MONROE marketed by Litton Industries, USA. This was an extension to the Class-32 Accounting machines that most banks were using at that point of time in that it was electronically run and was also programmable using a simple Assembly Language that was directly programmed on to EPROMS (commonly known as micro chips in this age and time). The programmed machine was sold to many of the banks in Sri lanka in automating many of their functions. 

 

Then came the first ever HP PC into my life. It was something out of this world. It had a memory of 64KB, two high speed cartridge tape drives and no hard disk whatsoever. The monitor was green. The programming language was HP-Enhanced BASIC and the Operating System was an HP Proprietary one very similar to IBM’s MSDOS which came much later on to the IT arena. Life was beautiful. It was also hectic. Work was so exciting. I never had it so good. The customers were, once again, banks and some interest was also shown by some of the research organizations in the country on account of the massive statistical power of the machine. This was the beginning of my professional IT career. I wrote program after program, working night and day, and delivered effectively and on time enjoying every moment of it. The company was also very pleased and we hired two more staff to assist me in my work. One was Faleel from the Central Bank and the other, a very young lady called Shashikala who came on board as a trainee programmer having completed an AFS scholarship in the USA. Faleel was a veteran office worker and took care of the sales and other business relationships with the customers. Shashi and I did all the technical stuff, writing programs, testing them, debugging them, and finally delivering them to very satisfied customers. It was a learning curve for her too as much as it was for me.

 

During my tenure with Metropolitan Agencies in 1979 my maternal grandmother, Ummu Thahira Shareef (wife of MCHM Rasheed) passed away one morning after having been admitted to the Sri Lanka Nursing Home at High Street (WA Silva Mawtha), Wellawatte. I visited her that morning on my way to work and had a chat with her and she looked so wonderful and happy. Sometime, a little bit later God Chose to take her away. She was the one person amongst the elders in the family that I was most closely attached to having lived all her life in our home as far as I can remember. May she be blessed with the Garden of Paradise!

It was sometime in October 1979 that I was made an offer of employment in the Middle East and the lure of the desert and its fantasies did not let me continue the joy of analysis and programming at Metropolitan Agencies in Colombo. The job was administrative but had some elements of IT in that it involved the preparation of statistics and the programming and usage of a portable computer using Assembler, Fortran and BASIC language. The company was involved in road construction in Saudi Arabia and my point of employment was based in the Eastern Province in the city of Dammam. I signed up and left Colombo for Saudi Arabia on November 13, 1979. I had to transit in Karachi and take another flight to Dhahran on November 14.

Saudi Arabia

The first thing that hit me in the face when I arrived at Dhahran Airport was the hot air and the dust all around us. I was met by a representative of the company, M/S General Agencies Corporation, a member of the Shobokshi Group, and driven through town to my initial accommodation in a small town called Rakah adjoining the city of AlKhobar. It was Wednesday and the beginning of the weekend in Saudi Arabia which is Thursday-Friday as opposed to the Gregorian weekend of Saturday-Sunday. Hence I had two full days to regain myself in the new environment and get a feel for the place before commencing my first day at work on Saturday, Nov 17, 1979. There were many other Sri Lankans also working for the same company and they came over to greet me and give me an update on life in Saudi Arabia. Initially, I felt really homesick, missing my wife and my 4 year old daughter very much but as time moved along things became more settled and busy and active.

 

The road construction contract that GAC were executing was the construction of the Dammam-Ras Tanura Highway under the supervision of an Italian consulting company called T.E.C.N.I.C.S. My residence was moved to the camp site on the highway being constructed and this made travelling much more easier for me. I was also given the additional task of managing the day to day accounting and cash management functions of the work site. Some of the people I met and worked with during this employment contract were Engineer Simeon Torralba, a burly Filipino who was the Chief Engineer for the consulting company, Eng. Masoud Abdul Qadir, Eng. Fakhri Ahmed Abu Gaben, Paolo, Hussain, Fazli Jiffry, Bari, Mukthar, ABM Shafeek, Osama, Farook, Matthew all hailing from various different countries across the globe. The experience of desert life and a multinational community was most educative and exciting.

 

In addition to producing the required statistical analysis and results for the voluminous amount of data that used to pour in from the field engineers I was also responsible to assist the Chief Engineer, Mr Torralba, to prepare his monthly status reports for the government Ministry who had contracted the work. This was a very important exercise as all payments to the contractors was based on the correctness and accuracy of this monthly status report.

 

The management of both the consulting engineers and the contractors were extremely kind and nice to me and gave me all the possible assistance and encouragement to adapt and progress with my work. We worked a five and half day week commencing Saturday and closing on Thursday afternoon and Friday. The majority of the construction workers were from Sri Lanka and we had a smattering of Indians. Pakistani's, Filipinos, and Koreans amongst the work gangs too. All the project staff used to live on camp, either at the site itself or at the companies accommodation at Rakha in AlKhobar. Some of the Arab Engineers who had their families with them chose tolive in apartments in the town of Dammam. Consulting Engineering staff lived on site in porta-cabins (pre fab houses) with their families. A common public bus service was provided for all staff to do their weekly shopping and jaunts into town. A large number of the Sri Lankan work gang were from the Central Province, mainly from the town of Akurana.

 

Life in a road construction work camp was something new to me having lived all my life in a warm and cosy home in a busy city in Asia. All the residences were equipped with the basic utilities of electricity, water, toilets, kitchens and air conditioning. We had to cook our own food and that's how I first started learning how to cook. You got to start somewhere, I guess? And, necessity heeds no bounds!

 

It was in 1980 that my younger brother also joined me in Saudi Arabia having signed up an employment contract for two years with M/S Al Gosaibi Cold Stores as an Accountant. His arrival brought in many a good cheer to my life as having family with me was a tremendous blessing in such a lonely place as the desert. His work place, a furniture wholesaler called REYASH managed and run by the family of Muhammad Khalifa Al Gosaibi, was located in AlKhobar, about 20 Km away from my camp site.

 

We used to exchange notes on mail sent and received to and from home and also spent a large amount of time browsing through book stores and reading, a valuable habit that both of us had nurtured since our youth. Books were expensive in Saudi Arabia and we used to pool our resources in buying what we needed most and sharing them accordingly. The International Book Store in AlKhobar was a grand place to browse and shop for books as they had a wide array of everything that was available in the international book markets.

 

A paternal cousin of mine, Kamal Sameer (son of my paternal uncle, Ismail Sameer), also came to work for the Electric Company (SCECO) in the Eastern Province. He was located in Dammam, a sleepy fishing town that lazed in between my work camp and AlKhobar. The desert family was growing. We also met and moved along with several other Sri Lankans who worked in many other companies and camps in the region. Amongst them were several relatives, neighbors, and friends from home. This created a small family community for us which was enjoyed mostly on weekends (Fridays) when we used to meet up at someone's place or camp. Among this gang were people like Masrur Mahboob, Firoze Ibrahim (my older brother in law), Fazal Farook from Sagara Road adjoining our Colombo home. Later on we were joined by many others, some of whose names I remember as, Nazeer Rasheed, Fiaz Hameed, Shah Mihilar, Fairuf Ibrahim (my younger brother in law who died at the early age of 46 in a fatal car crash in Riyadh in 1996), Fareed Mohideen, Dr. Ziaudeen Abdul Cader, Professor of Pharmacology at King Feisal University, Dr. Rasheed and Dr. Ishak of the University of Petroleum and Minerals, Ismet Zaheed (an uncle, son of Proctor NM Zaheed and brother of Hamza, Fareed, Kamil, & Thahir), Rumi Farook (brother of Fazal Farook), Reza Ashroff (Bawa) & Family, and Zarook from Dematagoda Road.

 

The Pilgrimage of Hajj

 

The Pilgrimage of Hajj, the Fifth Pillar in Islam, comes during the last (twelfth) month of the Islamic Hijri calendar and was round the corner sometime towards the latter part of 1980 and the company decided to provide a bus and other required necessities for the staff to perform this pilgrimage. I joined the group and we ended up with 50 Sri Lankans in one yellow American school bus. The Akurana boys did the driving which encompassed more than 3,000 Km. to Makkah and back from Dammam. The journey was an unforgettable one for me trekking through the desert sands and mountains, stopping at wayside villages for food, water, and prayers. My brother also joined in the Hajj together with a smaller group of Sri Lankans from his company in a separate bus. We agreed and hoped to meet at Makkah, Mina and Arafat although the chances were rather remote in such a huge place with millions of pilgrims all dressed alike in white, God Willing!

 

Having left Dammam a about 4:00 pm one afternoon on the 6th Day of the month of Dhul Hijjah, we traveled almost 1,500 Km, through Buraidah & Onaiza in the Central Region, to arrive at Makkah in the early hours of the morning on the 7th Day. Although the journey itself was a tiring one the many stops along the way at various small towns and villages were truly exciting. The scenic beauty of the desert sand dunes, mountains, shrubs, and even animal life was also very educative and interesting. I made notes of all the points we stopped at and some descriptions of the many things we heard and saw along the way. I also traced a rough sketch map of the route we took as it was my first ride across the Arabian desert from East to West. Thoughts of the Empty Quarter and its crossing by Philby came to my mind as the bus rolled across the asphalt that was spread on the sand like a winding serpent.

 

We crossed through strange places, for the first time in my life, through the desert and came across towns and villages with names like Unaiza, Buraidha, Sael Kabeer, Sael Sageer, along the way. Arriving at the Taif mountain plains we disembarked to perform our ablutions and change into the Ihram, the two pieces of white unstitched cotton cloth garment that every male pilgrimage has to adorn. It took another 2 hours or more to reach the Ka'bah at Makkah. My first glimpse of the Holy site was most traumatic and tears sprang from my eyes to remember the Creator and His messenger (peace be upon him) who strove to preach the religion to the pagan Quraish of Makkah almost 1400 years ago.

 

The pilgrimage began with the performance of the lesser pilgrimage of 'Umrah first. I was the leader of the group and had to lead the rest of them holding a flag staff carrying an identification flag raised on it in my hands in order that nobody gets lost in the crowd. We first made ablution and proceeded to perform the rites of Tawaf, or circumambulation, seven times around the Ka'aba. Having completed that we made two rakaats of Prayer and proceeded to carry out the rites of Sai, running seven times between the hillocksof As Safah and Al Marwah, emulating the running of Prophet Abraham's wife, Hagar, in search of water for her thirsty baby, Prophet Ismail (peace be upon them). Clipping a part of ones hair completed the lesser pilgrimage and we were now free to change our clothes back to ordinary ones prior to traveling to Mina for the commencement of the Hajj.

 

We rested awhile in Makkah, spending the night in the Holy City, and woke up early next morning to begin the rites of Hajj. Changing back into Ihram once again we started out in the bus to the tent city of Mina where we had to find a suitable location to park and rest with the intention of spending one night there. The plains of Mina were filled with tents and people in their millions settling down in their abodes, preparing for the pilgrimage rites. We had no tents or Mutawwif (Hajj Guide) and had to manage with the knowledge of the rites of hajj as we had read and understood. The boys were very well disciplined and listened to me diligently. They were also all first timers and hence were full of enthusiasm to carry out the rites of the pilgrimage correctly and well. We survived on meagre meals of biscuits, fruits, milk, juices and water as we did not have any means of cooking and preparation of meals. The boys were also not so concerned with food at this time.

 

Nightfall was serene in Mina and we went to bed after having completed the night prayer. The next morning was a very busy one with everyone scampering to get on their buses to proceed to Arafat where the main rites of the pilgrimage would take place. On arrival we parked close to some utilities that would be beneficial to us during our stay there and settled down to the rites of the pilgrimage. Noon time came and the Mosque at Arafat came alive with the sermon of the Hajj being delivered by the Grand Mufti of Saudi Arabia followed by the Noon and afternoon prayers combined and conducted in two rakaats each. The sun was hot but a cool breeze across the plains gave us some consolation amidst the heat and dust. We performed al the rites of prayer, supplication and submission to the Creator during the rest of the afternoon after having partaked a small meal. As soon as the call for the sunset prayer was heard the pilgrims began to get into the or vehicles to start moving back to Muzdalifah, adjoining Mina, in order to rest the night there as ordained by the Prophet (peace be upon him) of Islam.

 

Muzdalifah was quite cool at night and we picked up stones there during the night for the ritual of stoning the devil which would commence on the next three days. It was here that I bumped into my brother and his group amongst the throng of pilgrims who were gathered for the night. It was a great emotional moment for us notwithstanding the fact that it was like finding a needle in a haystack. We decided to stay close to each other with both groups moving together for the rest of the pilgrimage so we could enjoy each others company.

 

The next day was the day of Eid, or Festival of Sacrifice, and we proceeded to slaughter our share of sheep as is required. Seven of us pooled our resources together and slaughtered a camel as is permitted as an alternative to a single sheep per pilgrim. The meat was distributed to the poor and needy of Makkah. Nowadays the meat is frozen and immediately packed and shipped to Africa, Asia, and other third world nations for the benefit of the poor. More than a million animals are sacrificed each year during the pilgrimage. The next three days were spent in stoning the three concrete pillars at Mina which represented the three stations when Satan tried his best to entice Prophet Abraham (peace be upon him) to refrain from adhering to God's Command of sacrificing his only son, Ismail. The significance of the stoning is the rejection of Satan, and, thereby evil, and the acceptance of adherence to God's commands and rights.

 

Back in Mina I also met my cousin Siddiq Ghouse, who had come all the way from Colombo to perform the pilgrimage, at the Sri Lankan pilgrims tent there. There were several others whom I knew too amongst their groups and we shared some moments of discussion and exchange of news and information with them.

The pilgrimage was now over and we were able to change back into our normal clothes after taking a shower at Mina. The cool water was very refreshing after the harsh conditions of the desert sands and heat.  We proceeded back to Makkah for the final rites of Tawaf and Sai and rode our bus back home through Madinah where we visited the Mosque of the Prophet (peace be upon him) where we performed several prayers during the time we spent there.

 

There was a great feeling of humility, submission to the Creator, and elation in the hearts and minds of everyone having accomplished an event that is very significant in the life of a believer. The boys took turns in driving the bus, taking time to rest, and share the tiresome task of the 1,500 Km trek ahead.

 

When we returned to Dammam we were all totally exhausted and rested our limbs for a day before we returned to work at the end of the Hajj seasons holidays.

 

SAMBA

 

Saudi American Bank, the local subsidy of Citibank NA, USA, was planning to open up their offices and branches in the Eastern Region and were in the process of head hunting during the end of 1980. Having contacted the authorities responsible for IT Operations I approached them for a suitable interview for a job in technology. In interview and test was conducted and I was selected right away with an offer of a very attractive salary and benefits package that most banks in the Middle East offer. I accepted.

 

Returning to Colombo in December 1980, I proceeded to prepare my paperwork for returning to SAMBA on a new contract of employment. My visa was issued at the Saudi Embassy in Bombay and I had to travel to India to have it stamped on my passport.

 

The homecoming was a scintillating reunion day for all of the family. My brother too joined me on his annual vacation and we took an Air France flight out of Bahrain Airport to Colombo. We were met, at the airport, by our families and it was wonderful to be back.

 

Melina, my daughter, was 6 years old now a little lady too. The family were all delighted to have both me and my brother back together.

 

The visa issuance process at Bombay was another saga that is worth mentioning here. The Saudi Embassy wanted proof of my qualifications as a Computer Systems Analyst and refused to accept the certificates issued by IBM in Colombo as they were a private sector commercial organization. I had to meet with the Sri Lankan Trade Commissioner in Bombay and have my IBM certificates ent back to Colombo through the diplomatic bag and certified as authentic by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Colombo after consultation with IBM. This whole process took about 3 weeks to complete and I enjoyed a fully paid holiday at Bombay during this time. My stay at Bombay was in a small town called Ville Parle at the home of Aunty Usha, who was the sister of my step mother, Aunty Shireen. I was taken care of well by Aunty Usha, her sister in law, and her two nephews, Bhujan and Madhav. The days were occupied with trips to the Saudi Consulate at Maker Towers and finally the visa was issued. I took a Saudia flight from Bombay to Dhahran, finally.

 

Arriving at Dhahran I settled down in my new job at SAMBA, Eastern Region, which was located at the Fluor Arabia building on the Khobar-Dammam road. Initially, I shared my brothers accommodation and later on established a place of my own at Shawan Building in the heart of AlKhobar. The furniture was made to measure by a specialist Pakistani carpenter called Ghulam Rasool who worked at the carpentry shop of my brothers company. He made a complete bedroom suite, and also a utility cabinet for the living room. It took me a few weeks to have the visas for the rest of the family ready and I flew back to Colombo to fetch them in December of 1981 returning to Dhahran in February 1982 having spent some time in Karachi, Pakistan, where the visas were issued. In Karachi we stayed at my wife's paternal uncle Dhahlan Ibrahims place. They were most hospitable to us and afforded every assistance in applying and obtaining the visas without any difficulty.

 

Settling down, back in AlKhobar with my wife Shirani and the kids, was a new lease of life for all of us. It was winter and very cold at nights. We had a wonderful selection of neighbors in the building who came to our every assistance to make the family comfortable and happy. Of them the Maimany family from Saudi Arabia, Saiqa and her family from Bombay, Khadija and her family from Hyderabad,  and the Ahmed Rageh family from Egypt were the closest to us.

 

This was the time when I purchased my first car in Saudi Arabia. It was a Mitsubishi Galant 200 cc Sedan that was owned by a colleague of mine working at SAMBA. he had used it for about 6 months only and hence I was able to purchase it for a very reasonable price of SR 10,000. It was silver grey in color and served us well until and even after we moved to Riyadh in 1985.

 

Schooling in Saudi

 

Melina, initially attended a private school run by a Spanish-American lady. It was called "Mrs Roses' Wise Owls". Mrs Rose was a wonderful American lady who was much loved by her students and their parents. The school was located very close to where we lived and hence was very convenient for us. Shirani, with her teaching experience also involved her skills with Mrs Rose's school and proved very successful in her activities.

 

Later on, Melina obtained admission to Manarat Al Sharkiyah International School and subsequently moved to the Saudi Arabian International Schools American Section at Dhahran where she continued her education up to 1985 when we had to move to Riyadh.

 

Nadia was too young to start schooling yet and spent most of her time at home pampered by the wonderful neighbors we had in AlKhobar.

 

Moving to Riyadh

 

Up to this point of time SAMBA was totally dependent of the Citibank Middle East & North African Software development unit located in Athens, Greece. In 1985 they decided to set up their own software development team in Riyadh and we had to move there in July of that year. Moving was traumatic but had to be accomplished. The bank took care of all the logistics and we simply took a local flight from Dhahran to Riyadh and established ourselves in a town caled Sulaimaniyah in Riyadh. Our new house was located right opposite a travel agent called Transad Travels where many young Sri Lankans whom we knew closely lived and worked. Of them the noted characters were Fazal najmudeen, Riaz Zaheed a first cousin of mine), Hussain Buhary, & Terrence Thomas. Later on, Iqbal Hassen, a cousin of my wife, who took up a job with DHL in Riyadh, also came to join the gang. This was a tremendous help for our initiation and settling down in such a large and bustling city.

 

We moved to a newly constructed apartment block that had two floors and 6 apartments. Our immediate neighbor was a young Saudi who was married to a European lady from the UK. They had two little kids, a daughter and a son, who eventually became buddies of my two little ones and offered great company for them amidst the tussles and the brawls. His wife also proved to be wonderful company for mine and we got along very well together and are still friends at the time of writing this (2002). The third apartment on the ground floor was vacant, initially, and then later occupied by a British couple working for the Military Hospital in Riyadh which was just a few blocks away in Sulaimaniya. The upper floor was occupied by three families from Palestine.

 

Life in Riyadh was rather hectic at the start as the city was very large and the highways were some of the widest and largest in the world. Getting used to the Riyadh culture was another lesson in human relations management. Riyadh summers were also very hot sizzling up to 50 degrees Celsius in July/August and freezing cold in the winter dipping down to almost zero Celsius in January/February.

 

Work at SAMBA was also very strenuous as we had many projects of software development for delivery and had to burn the midnight oil on many occasions to deliver. SAMBA was, and still is, the leading bank in technology service to its customers across the Kingdom. Some of the software that I wrote for the bank are still (2002) running online real-time and it was a treat to learn of this when I bumped into some of my ex colleagues at the banks technology center.

 

Head of Technology at SAMBA at that time was an Englishman called George White and we had a headcount of more than 120 staff within the department. Some of the names that come tomy mind now are, Tasos Kouverianos, John Kladitis, Dimitri Monos, Dimitri Tsiridakis, Jim Hristidis, Lysandros Panogopaulos, (all from Athens, Greece), Khalid Khan from Pakistan, Narayanan, Anup Kumar Das, Natarajan Sivakumaran, from India, Selman Al Fares, Abdullah Al Salamah, Abdullah Al Hozaimy, Hala Kudwah, all from Saudi Arabia, Hugh Amos from the USA, Derrick Sham from Singapore, Chris Cassidy from the UK, Muhammad Basheer and Aslam Ahmad, the two erstwhile Secretaries from Pakistan, and Vic Vargas, the office automation expert from the Philippines. I was the only Sri Lankan in the team until a migrant from UK, Bernard Jayasundera, joined us sometime in the late eighties to work on the state-of-the art ATM project that was just blooming in the region. A wonderful team of real software specialists who shared and worked in unison delivering banking automated products  that took SAMBA leaps and bounds ahead of its nearest competition. Most of the software was written in COBOL while some special utility programs were written in Assembler. The system used was a custom built Citibank Software System that was originally created in Athens, Greece, where the Middle East technology hub of Citibank was located.

 

Later on the position of technology head was held by another Englishman called Keith Wilson, and then was localized to Saudi's like Ahmed Bajunaid and Selman Al Fares. Working with all these fine people from varying nationalities was a tremendous insight into foreign cultures, mannerisms and behavior patterns and also inculcated muc patience, caution, and understanding between all concerned.

 

In addition to Systems Analysis and Programming I was also involved in delivering basic IT Introduction Training for end users at the SAMBA Training Center. Later on I took up Project Management, Business Process Management and Team Leadership for specific products and projects.

 

Relocating to Sri Lanka

 

It was sometime towards 1988/89 that we made a conscious decision to relocate back to Sri Lanka as our older daughter, Melina, had reached the age of 13/14 and would not be able to continue her future education in Saudi Arabia on account of the non availability of higher education for girls in the English Medium at that time. The decision was tough but it had to be made taking into account the needs of the family to be together and binding. I submitted my resignation to the bank stating the reasons for wanting to leave and they were quite understanding of my position and graciously accepted. Preparations were made for the family tro leave first on account of commencing their new school year back at Stafford International School in Colombo and I had to stay on for a few more months in order to complete some of the outstanding projects before leaving to Colombo for good. Parting was very sad. Leaving a home away from home was difficult. We had made so many new friends and associations with a varied bunch of families and groups and it was quiote painstaking to break away from the style of living we had cultivated during the past 10 years.

 

Having packed all our baggage and even loading a container full of our household goods we set sail for sunny Sri Lanka once again. Initially, I established a small IT Training Company called "Bits and Bytes" and started off an IT Training Business for teaching basic Office Automation tools like WordProcessing, Spreadsheets, and Database Management. Life was quite hectic back at home on account of the congested traffic, humidity of Colombo, and the aftermath of a local civil insurgency that the country was undergoing at the hands of a communist rebel group called the JVP. At the end of 2 years managing Bits and Bytes I was offered a short term IT consultancy assignment back in Saudi Arabia for the implementation of a Hospital Information System in Jeddah and Madinah for a private sector Healthcare organization. This time I had to return to Saudi alone as the children were now fully engrossed in their studies back in Sri Lanka. I spent 3 months in Jeddah and another 3 months in Madinah fulfilling the contract and implementing the Hospital Information System in both places successfully. Having completed the assignment I was also able to secure a suitable employment position for one of my maternal cousins, Ejaz Rasheed, as Systems Manager of the hospital at Madinah in order to continue maintenance of the implemented system there.

 

Citibank NA, Colombo

 

On my return to Colombo in 1989 I was offered the position of Information Technology Manager at Citibank NA in Colombo and signed up a contract with them for two years. This job kept me quite busy for the next two years as I had to manage a one man department and also chip in some of my time to managing some of the Human Relations Management and Advertising for the bank. Work was quite hectic as I had to be the first one to start the working day at the bank and the last one to leave as the whole computer system was under my custody and Citibank security and audit required very strict controls and methods. Sometime towards the second year I was so exhausted with work that I collapsed at my desk while at work and was rushed to the Intensive Care Unit of Nawaloka Hospital with a possible heart attack. Two weeks of severe tests and observations came up with a diagnosis of "Unstable Angina" and I was given some time for rest and recuperation. I had no other choice but to resign from the bank and seek some other more easier type of employment.

 

During my employment at Citibank in Colombo some of the people who worked closely with me were, Nihal Welikala (CEO), Eran Wickremaratne (Corporate Head), Rajan Arulanantham (Operations Manager), Derrick (?), Kapila Jayawardena his wife Preethi, Tyronne Paiva (Treasury), Samarasinghe, Praneela Fernando, Ruwini Perera, Christine de Niese, & Samsudeen.

 

It was during my tenure with Citibank NA, Colombo, that my dear father suffered a stroke and passed away. The bank had organized a seminar on Treasury Management called "The Bourse Game" which was being conducted at the Galadari Meridian Hotel. All the loca and foreign banks in the country were participating in the program and all the representatives, including myself who was responsible for the automated requirements of the program, were resident at the hotel for a week, being the duration of the program. Previously, the IT part of the program was scheduled to be conducted by the Citibank Singapore technology representatives who were qualified and very experienced in conducting and managing this internationally acclaimed event. The event itself was sponsored by USAID in collaboration with the Central Bank of Sri Lanka and Citibank Technology. The uneasy civil tensions within Sri Lanka at that time, on account of the JVP insurrection that was going on in the island, gave rise to the Citibank Singapore representatives refusing to travel to Sri Lanka for security reasons. Since all plans to hold this event were already finalized and publcized throughout the financial sector in the country, Citibank Colombo decided to send me and Tyronne Paiva immediately to Singapore to take a crash course on how to manage the IT/Treasury sector of the program. We spent a week in Singapore and returned back to Colombo well prepared to deliver the program at the Meridian.

 

It was on the penultimate day of this program that my father, while tending to the front garden of our parental home in Colombo, suffered the stroke and was rushed to the intensive care unit of Nawaloka Hospital by my wife and rest of the family. I was immediately informed at the hotel by about 5 pm and rushed myself to see his condition which was rather bad. I was able to talk a few words with him as he recognized me and acknowledged my presence as soon as he saw me. Having discussed his condition with the rest of the family and the medical staff at the hospital I had to return back to the hotel that evening in order to wrap up the final days program of the Bourse Game which was almost on the verge of completion. It was at about 3:00 am in the morning that the telephone beside my bed rang to inform me that Dad had died.

 

I rushed, immediately to the hospital and had all the necessary arrangements to have his body released for burial and handed over some of the tasks to my brother and other family members to handle for burial at 10 am that same morning. However, I still had a commitment to return to the hotel by 8:00 am in order to make sure the final days program was successfully live and running. It was quite hectic, yet, everything went with clockwork precision and I was able to initiate he final days proceedings and get back home to my parents home at Bambalapitiya in order to attend the burial which took place at 11:00 am as planned. Having completed the required rights I had to rush back to the Galadari Meridian to ensure that the final proceedings of the seminar was completed successfully. The management of the bank and all the participants at the seminar were most kind and appreciative for my commitment towards completing the program amidst the sadness of losing my dear father. May he attain Paradise!

 

Operation Desert Storm

 

It was at this juncture that the storm in the desert between Iraq and Kuwait was brewing. However, I was bold enough to take up a short term consultancy assignmet for implementing a Local Area Network Accounting System for a private sector company in Bahrain.  I left Colombo for the assignment in Bahrain in September 1989 and it was right in the middle of the work that President Saddam Hussain decided to invade Kuwait. The war began and all exits from Bahrain were closed with immediate effect. We continued the work amidst severe tension and uneasiness within the small Island of Bahrain and it was in January that the allied forces began the assault on Iraq. Scud missilies were flying all around us and the instability of the environment was very precarious. CNN was broadcasting live, minute to minute, coverage of the war and we were all glued to the television set from dusk till dawn, gas marks close at hand, fearing biological or nuclear war.

 

I lived in a small western expatriate compound in a town called Adiliya in Bahrain. We had a mixed group of residents within the facility and spent most of our time sharing and discussing the worsening situation day in and day out. It was here that I met Bill and Cindy Fahrenbruck with whom I have lost total contact since then and would love to get in touch once again. Bill was a member of the US Naval crew on board the warship La Salle actively engaged in battle in the Arabian Gulf. His wife, Cindy, was a Bangladeshi ex stewardess who had worked for Gulf Air and quit after her marriage to Bill. She was of European (British) descent and the two of them were expecting their first set of twins at that time.  Bill was on duty and used to visit the compound only when he was able to get some leave off work. There was also another Filipino and a Moroccan family who used to gather every evening at Cindy's place to chat and share the days news and experiences.

 

The roar of fighter aircraft and helicopters right over our roofs every night was deafening and frightening. We could hear the aftermath of Scud Missiles hitting the ground and then were updated to its details live on CNN. There were many occasions when we all felt that we were going to die. Yet, something within our hearts and minds pushed us to be together and move along, doing our daily work chores as planned, and living until the rise of each new dawn. My family in Colombo were devastated and were frantically trying to use all their influence with people in high places to reach me or even get me out of Bahrain. It was of no use. I was able to talk to them on the telephone from time to time and assure them that I was alright. We were all given gas marks as a precautionary measure against biological or chemical warfare that was very much in the air at that time.

 

I met a Sri Lankan family in Bahrain who were very kind to me and accomodated me for meals at their home on many occasions. The lady happened to be a sister of one of my wife's first cousins husband. It was a tremendous relief for me to have them nearby. I have not mentioned their names here as I do not have their permission yet to do so. May God Bless them for their kindness and hospitality.

 

The war was finally over in February 1990 and I was able to take one of the first flight to Colombo from Bahrain, having completed a major portion of my project and leaving the remaining to be carried out by in-house resources at the company. It was great to be back home safe and sound with my family once again. May God be Praised!

 

The Sultanate of Oman

 

A few weeks after my return to Colombo I was introduced to an Omani gentleman called Yahya Al Mauly who had arrived in Colombo to recruit senior IT staff for the Ministry of Defence in Muscat where he  wascurrently holding the coveted position of the Director of IT. After some mutual conversation and exchanges he offered me a job as Deputy Director of IT with the Ministry of Defence in Oman on a contract for two years. I accepted as the terms and conditions were quite lucrative. The only drawback was that I had to take up this new assignment on single status as my family were not ready to move on account of the children's education.

 

I arrived at Seeb Airport in Oman one evening in April 1990 and was picked up by Yahya himself who drove me back to my residence at the Seeb Military base. I was recruited at Grade 19 of the Omani Ministry of Defence in the position of Major with the Chief of Staff Sultan's Armed Forces (COSSAF). This was to be my first exposure to military life in a modern fully equipped army camp that was typically British.

 

My role with the Directorate of Data Processing (as it was then called) was to be a backup for the Director and manage all the required administrative and technical activities of the unit. We had several programmers, two office automation executives, and a team of operations staff that manned the IT Directorate. Some of my colleagues who assisted me with my work were Saud, Hamed, Fathima, & Sa'adiya, all Omani Programmers, Reffai & Faleel, two Sri Lankan programmers, Abdullah and his team of Computer Operators, Habeeba the active and agile Secretary of the unit, Khalifa, an Omani, and Paul Grace, a Brit, who were responsible for office automation. Paul had to leave the MOD service in a hurry as he got himself into a situation where he could not stay any longer. Saud took over from me, after some initial training about the type of work involved, when I left in 1992.

 

I was assigned military quarters and provided with a military car and driver as per MOD policy. All messing was conducted within several officers' messes within the military camp. My favorite mess was the Jebel (Mountain) Mess right next door to where I was resident. The camp occupied a vast extent of land and was fully equipped with all facilities for comfortable living. Other Messes that I frequented were The Khanja (Dagger),  and the HQ Mess which were all located within reasonable distance from one another inside the camp. The camp itself was located about 20 Km away from downtown Muscat and Ruwi.

 

Oman is one of the most beautiful countries in the middle east bordered on the east coast by the Arabian Gulf. It's mountains are green and black rocky unlike the sandy brown and white clay like mountains of the other middle eastern nations. The Omani people are also a very friendly type who have a very cordial and warm attitude towards Asians on account of their historical trade and social relationships with Pakistan and India. Working hours at the MOD was from 8:30 am to 2:30 pm which gave us the whole evening to ourselves. The messing facilities offered books, newspapers, video's, indoor games, billiards & snooker, and swimming which were all extremely useful to spend ones time effectively.

 

A large contingent of British Officers also frequented the messes on account of the fact that the British MOD was actually managing the Omani MOD in many aspects of its development and progress based on an agreement between the two countries. I had the wonderful opportunity to meet and know many of these British military officers. Two of my close associates were Major Jim Woodman (Military Surveyor), my Bridge partner, and Major Peter Cross (Architect) and his lovely wife Anne from the UK. Colonel Geoffrey C Parkes and Lt. Col Chris Rowland of the Defence Engineering Services were also a very close associates with whom we spent many a wonderful moment in the deserts and beaches of Oman. Many of the others who come to my mind are, the wonderful Ms Colleen Ouseley and her Engineer husband, Bill & Christine Young who represented the IT Consutling firm SCICON who were supervising the implementation of their software on our mainframe system. Of the Filipino officers within the mess some of my close associates were Flor Pilpil and Rod Habana (both in Engineering Services). Amongst the Sri Lankans I spent many a happy moment with Dr. Kamal Magdon Ismail (Dental Surgeon) and Dr. Ranjit Fernando who were, both, attached to the Military Hospital. Dr Ranjit and I used to partner in Bridge on some occasions too. Amongst the Indian officers was Derrick Misquita. Of the non MOD Sri Lankans in Oman I was most fortunate to meet and know Dr. Firazath Hussain, of the Royal Hospital, who is also a relative of my wife, and Rezano Rajap, a travel manager whom I previously knew in Colombo.

Of those whom I met and knew at Sultan Qaboos University Hospital are, the erstwhile Emie Manabat, Cynthia Badana, & Rose, all from the Philippines, & Nelum Fernando from Sri Lanka, who also happened to be my neighbor at my home in Colombo.

 

Two years passed by me like lightning and I visited Colombo at the end of each year on my annual summer vacation. At the end of my contract with the MOD I was given the option to renew for another two years but something new emerged in my life and I chose to take it instead.

 

Back to SAMBA in Saudi Arabia

 

SAMBA in Saudi Arabia had ventured out into developing and servicing its expatriate customers with a brand new concept in money transfers overseas and was looking out for resources to manage this project. They had already contacted Citibank Colombo looking for me and subsequently obtained my contact in Oman through my wife in Colombo. They made me an offer that was too good to refuse as Manager of the SPEEDCASH development project that was projected to deliver a novel innovative way of transferring money back home for expatriates working in the Middle East.

 

I signed the contract, returned home, and this time took my family along with me too back to Saudi Arabia in November 1992. Settling down back in Riyadh was a piece of cake as it was already another home to all of us. The girls had grown now and Melina was 17 years old while Nadia was 11. They resumed their education in Riyadh with Melina obtaining admission to the University of Maryland, Riyadh Campus, and Nadia attending the British School in Riyadh. We moved into an apartment complex called SRECO at Sulaimaniya in Riyadh where many other SAMBA employees were already housed. Our first month back in Riyadh was spent at the Swiss Movenpick Novotel Hotel which was located adjacent to the head office of SAMBA in Riyadh. This time I bought myself a brand new Toyota Corolla 1992 1600 cc Sedan which was midnight blue in color. I am still (2002) using the same vehicle having done more than 250,000 Km on it during the past 10 years.

 

Life in Saudi Arabia was always pleasant for us and the return was most warm and pleasing. Work at the bank was also very heavy as we had to prepare and deliver the new products of the remittance system in double quick time before the competition could get ahead of us. The Speedcash system used a new technique of registering a customer one time with all his static data in country and all relevant information of his beneficiary in his home country. This data was recorded on an Oracle database and shipped off to another database in the destination country correspondent bank. Every time the customer wanted to make remittance all he had to do was to provide his reference number (RAN - Remittance Account Number), Beneficiary Number, and Amount of remittance and the money was transferred to the door of the beneficiary in his/her home country within 24 hours. The system was brilliant and caught the attention of a large volume of expatriates who flocked the bank counters to enroll and use it. Several new features for payment of insurance premiums and other regular direct payments were also introduced and the product was a winner from day one.

 

After spending three years with the Speedcash department, which was called Transaction Banking Group, I moved to take up a more interesting position as Unit Head, Production Quality Assurance, within SAMBA technology in 1995. Abdullah Al Salamah was my direct supervisor and he was a Saudi colleague from my previous programming days with SAMBA technology. We had a great relationship and understanding between one another and were able to deliver effectively and successfully during this period.

 

Melina managed to secure a place at the University of Maryland, Riyadh Campus, and started a course on Human Biology and Child Education. The campus was located within the premises of the King Feisal Specialist Hospital Research & Development Unit in Riyadh city and was only a few blocks away from where we lived in Tahliya Street, Sulaimaniya. Nadia was unable to gain admission to the American School in Riyadh on account of the large number of American families living and working here due to the post Gulf War situation and hence had to continue her education at the British School in Riyadh. She settled down well and went on to be very successful in her educational career excelling in English writing skills that spurred her on to take up journalism as a vocation.

 

Melina gets married

 

It was sometime during this period that another Muslim family living and working in Riyadh, Dina and Afulal Salih, approached us with a proposal of marriage for Melina. The intended groom was Dina's brother Ahamed Yousry Sheriff who was a migrant Canadian living and working in Toronto, Canada. After preliminary discussions and thought the marriage proposal was accepted and plans were now afoot for a grand marriage ceremony in Colombo in 1993. The date for the wedding was fixed for December 13, 1993 and we travelled to Colombo for the big occasion which was held at the Colombo Hilton Hotel amidst a gathering of family, friends and well-wishers. The ceremonies went off successfully and the new couple left for Toronto to start a new life in a new place. Shirani, Nadia, and I left Colombo for Riyadh to continue our working life there. In 1994 we received the wonderful news that Melina was pregnant with her first child and it filled all of us with great delight and joy. The due date was September and new plans were afoot now to visit Canada to be present at the birth of our first grand-daughter.

 

It was one bright autumn afternoon, on September 22, 1994, that Maria Admira Sheriff came into this world at the Sick Kids Hospital in Toronto, Canada, amidst the joy and happiness of all the family present around her at that time. One of my wife's aunts, FK (Fathima Khani) Aunty, was also present at the birth and this strengthened the family ties even further. Maria was a beautiful bundle of joy with dark hair and fair complexion. Subsequently Melina, Yousry and Maria came to live with us in Riyadh and Yousry was able to secure a job with SAMBA and settle down comfortably with us. Subsequently, in 1997, he changed jobs and moved to UPS in Riyadh.

 

Since the family was growing steadily we decided to move to a larger villa in Riyadh, in 1996, that provided more play area, garden space, and even a swimming pool. It was during our stay in this new house at a location called Hayya Al Malik Fahd (King Fahd Quarter), in Riyadh, that our grandson, Abdullah Yousry Sheriff, was born at The Dallah Hospital on Mar 25, 1996. His arrival into this world and our lives brought tremendous joy and happiness to all members of the family, both in Riyadh and in Colombo, as he was the first male progeny that God Blessed us with. Maria and Abdullah, soon, started hitting it off in the usual manner that most brothers and sisters do, enjoying each others company and also fighting with one another. The house was now alight with sounds and laughter throughout the days and nights.

An uneventful turn of events then took place in 2004 when Melina and Yousry wee divorced since they were unable to manage themselves together as a family and the Shariah Court in Riyadh granted her custody of the two children who then came under my custody as the male Guardian. Melina, since then, started working as a teacher at Manarat International School, where the grandkids also attend and have performed exceedingly well in their studies.

 

ACS

 

It was sometime in January 1997 that I decided to quit the banking sector once and for all for good and submitted my resignation at SAMBA. It was a difficult decision to make at that time but it happened somehow. I took up a new position as General Manager, Software Quality Assurance, with a private sector Saudi IT service provider called Arabic Computer Systems (ACS) on a 2-year contract on Mar 1, 1997. My main tasks with the new employer was implementing ISO9000 across the company and also attending to Year 2000 Solution projects with prospective clients. ACS was heavily involved with supply and service of IT hardware, software, communications and networking solutions to prime clients in the Middle Eastern region. They were also the sole representative for BaaN ERP Software solutions in the region. This job took me on many an interesting business trip to Jeddah, Dammam, AlKhobar, Dubai and Sri Lanka, in search of new ventures, partnerships, seminars, conferences, and meetings. The company was run and managed by the Managing Director, an enterprising young Saudi Engineer and ex Military Captain, Muhammad Al Ballaa', who eventually became a very close friend and associate in my sojourn in Saudi Arabia. His brother, Dr. Sulaiman Al Ballaa', who was responsible for Operations Management within the company also became a very close friend and associate and we developed a wonderful personal relationship that has flourished to this day.

 

Nadia gets married

 

On one of the occasions when we were on holiday in Colombo, Sri Lanka, a proposal of marriage was brought for Nadia, our second daughter, and within weeks all arrangements were made for her marriage. The marriage took place in January 1999 and Nadia and her husband, Abdul Qadir Hussain, son of Ashroff Hussain & Maria Haniffa, moved to Riyadh to start a new life in the Middle East. Incidentally, Abdul Qadir is also the nephew of the current Minister of Western Province Development, MH Mohamed, of the UNP Government (2003) and former Minister in several previous UNP Governments of Sri Lanka.

 

It was during this period that we moved house to another large 3 floor villa in Hayya Al Morooj at the intersection of King Abdul Aziz Street and the cross road leading to Exit 9 on the International Airport Road (East Ring Road). The house was a very large one with a garden and swimming pool that the grandkids and their friends enjoyed very much. The owner Nasser Al Ghamdi, who used to work for Nissan Motor in Riyadh, was a amiable person who eventually became a very close friend until such time as he decided to sell his house and thereby compelled us to move again, back, to Sulaimaniya.

 

Al Faisaliah Group

 

On completion of my contract with ACS in 1999 I chose not to renew same and moved, once again, to another local conglomerate called Al Faisaliah Group (AFG) on June 1, 1999 and took up a position as Manager, Software Quality Assurance. It was here that I had another opportunity to serve under an old colleague and Manager from SAMBA, Mr Selman Al Fares, Group IT Manager. Our very first project was the Y2K implementation which took us smoothly through the new Millenium into the year 2000.

 

It was in 2000 that AFG decided to implement SAP ERP across all its 18 subsidiaries and I was automatically thrown into the project as Quality Assurance Manager with the aded responsibility of Training, Documentation and User Authorization Management. The project was a massive eercise n Software Implementation and concluded successfully in January 2002. Thereafter Al Faisaliah chose to establish a new business unit for implementing SAP and providing IT Consultancy, called FBTC, where I was given another responsible role as QA Manager.

 

It was in January 2003 that I moved, within AFG, to the Group HR & Administration Department as QA Manager with the objective of establishing a new process mapping system, business process re-engineering, coupled with the implementation of ISO9001:2000. A comprehensive new Pay-Grade program was implemented of which I was able to contribute significantly and realize a successful implementation in April 2003.

 

Many of my colleagues at AFG are P H Subramani (General Manager FBTC) from India, Ahmed Khattab (SAP Consultant) from Egypt, Khalid Al Shamlan (Project Manager), Khalid Shangiti (development Manager), Abdul Aziz Al Saab (Change Manager), all from Saudi Arabia, Shabir Ahmed, Alastair Campbell, Gerrit Olivier, Mark Breda, Abdul Samad, Rory Richards, Hans Greeff, all SAP Consultants from South Africa, Abhay Bhatter, Babu Prasad, Arshard Muhammad, Muhammad Abdul Aziz, SAP Consultants from India, Khalid Al Herran, Taha Madani, Adel Abdul Salam, & Adel Abu Haimed, all SAP Consultants from Saudi Arabia, Tariq Alvi (Internal Auditor) from Pakistan, Sa'ad Al Sabty (Audit), Khalid Al Hathal (HR & Admin), Ziad Tunisi (Finance), all AFG Directors from Saudi Arabia. 

 

AFG is a large corporate business owned and managed by the family of the late King Feisal of Saudi Arabia. The current President (2003) is Prince Mohamed bin Khalid bin Abdullah Al Feisal, great grandson of the late King Feisal of Saudi Arabia. The company deals in manufacturing, distribution, IT Projects & Services, Medical & Measurement instrumentation, Plastics, Petroleum, Multimedia, Home Electronuics, Food, Dairy Farming (Al Safi, the largest integrated dairy farm in the world as recorded in the Guiness Book of Records) and Internet Service Provision in Saudi Arabia.

 

2004 saw a move back to Group IT department to join the newly formed shared services Contracts & Customer Services department that would be the coordinating unit for all IT services to the AFG businesses. The job involved preparation of SLA's, management and maintenance of IT contracts with AFG business units and external vendors, project management, management reporting, audit compliance reviews, training for Group IT personnel, cost allocation and invoicing business units for IT services and quality assurance. The department was renamed Business Quality Assurance in January 2005. July 2005 gave me the opportunity of taking over as Manager of  BQA on the resignation of Osama Al Hodaithi who moved on to join Capital Markets Saudi Arabia in order to further his career.

 

October 2006 saw a merger of AFG Group IT business unit with another IT development subsidiary of AFG called Faisaliah Business & Technology Services Company (FBTC) into a newly formed subsidiary also named FBTC as a profit center.

 

After nine long years at AFG, I finally quit in April 2008. And that was my eventual retirement from a regular day job after 39 long years.

 

Hayya Al Falah on Exit 7

 

It was also in 2008 January that we decided to move house from Sulaimaniya to Hayya Al Falah at Exit 7 on the North Ring Road on account of the proximity to Manarat International School which was located on Exit 8 at the next intersection. The town is brand new located on the northern border of Riyadh city and provides many an open space unlike the downtown areas. The infrastructure is also very modern and up to date in keeping with new technology and development.

 

Private IT Consulting

 

Moving on to a more freer life of independence and Consulting, in the evening of my life, I took up the challenge of spending seven months with a new investment and brokerage house called Watan Investment. My work was devoted mainly to compliance, corporate governance and the audit and certification process mandatewd by the local Capital markets Authority, Tadawul. An ex colleague from SAMBA, Tawfiq Al Gargoush, was the CIO and we worked together and successfully achieved our objectives with the organization trading in the local stock market sometime in the mid 2008. The company had implemented a share trading system called "OMS" developed in Sri Lanka by a Saudi owned organization called "Mubasher", a subsidiary of Arabic Computer Systems owned and managed by the Ball'aa family in Riyadh. Most of the consultants implementing the system were from Sri Lanka and the work environment was more or less very homely and reminded me of my old times back in Colombo.

 

Come October 2008 and the Consulting business becomes even more lucrative. I tied up with a local Audit Office called "Al Mudaiheem", in Riyadh, and was involved in their Consulting area providing customers with Corporate Governance, Compliance, Risk Management, Business Continuity and other related services. Having completed this assignment I embarked on an Oracle ERP/Hyperion implementation project for Muhammad AbdulAziz Al Rajhi & Sons Industrial Holding Company, a private corporation, since July 2009. The project has been live since Jan 2011. In addition, I am also managing the IT operations of the Holding Company for the duration of the project until it is handed over by mid 2011. Final hand over completed by September 2011. Completed and delivered by end 2011.

 

AlMalath AlArabia Ltd


Spent some time at home concentrating on domestic chores and family during Oct/Nov 2011 and have initiated a new consulting assignment with AlMalath AlArabia, a new holding company in Riyadh, in December. The Group will manage several subsidiary organizations involved in training, real estate, investments, IT consulting and implementation, and certification process.
 

December 2011 and I team up with an old colleague from my SAMBA days, Selman Al Fares, who I have known since 1985 in starting a new consulting company in Riyadh called AlMalath AlArabia Ltd. Malath in Arabic means refuge or sanctuary and the objective of the organization was to provide comfort, relief and assistance to companies needing business and technology functionality to survive. Our first project has been initiated in 2012 in providing a large leading retailer of household goods implement an ERP solution for their business across the Middle East. Other projects are also in the pipeline and hope to get busy with them during the course of 2012/13.

 

The first project at AlMalath is the project management of an SAP ERP implementation at SACO, one of the leading hardware and home depot retail store network in Saudi Arabia. Several other smaller projects were also carried out simultaneously.

 

Maria goes to University

Our grand daughter, Maria, was accepted at the University of Toronto, Scarborough Campus, to pursue a career in Neurosciences, starting Sep 2012. The news has delighted all of the family and Maria moved to Toronto in July 2012 to start her University life there. She completed her Cambridge GCE A2 examinations in Riyadh in May 2012. Good grades at this examination which has given her a first year exemption and reduced her university course to 3 years.

 

Maria has now moved to her own apartment in Scarborough Town Center where she has to fend for herself and commute alone to the campus. It will certainly be an excellent learning curve for survival for her and we hope she learns the ropes and manages herself effectively. Shirani and the girls have been visiting her each year during the summer and this keeps her morale up at least for a few months every year.

 

Maria graduated on June 2 2016 with a mention on the Deans Honor Role.

 

 

Abdullah goes to University

 

Abdullah, our grandson has just completed his Cambridge IGCSE Examination in May, 2013 and obtained 6 A Stars and 2 B's successfully. Taking him for his tuition classes and external activities has taken quite a load of my time these days which has been an exhilarating experience at the age of 65+. Having obtained 3 A’s at the Cambridge A2 exams held in 2014, Abdullah has also moved to start his University career in Toronto in 2015. He joins Maria in her apartment in Scarborough and the two will have to lean to manage and support each other through their career.

 

Shawirni


Shawirni is a new project that has come up through AlMalath in developing and delivering a web portal for the Middle East, similar to www.yelp.com in the USA. Development work on the portal commenced in 2013 and the solution is planned for roll out in 2015. Several delays hindered the prokect progress, both from the client side and the developer shortcomings. New developers from India  were brought in to clean up the mess in 2015.

 

The App is almost completed and waiting for final testing before going live.

Raxworldhotels


Another hospitality consulting company has engaged me in delivering all their IT needs since June 2015. The work is simple but interesting and involves management and maintenance of all the email, web development and other IT requirements that the organization requires.

BSW


Business Systems Weaver, an IT & Business services company, owned by the Al Hindi family based in Jeddah, have contracted to give me consulting work which I am now carrying out based in Riyadh. The work is interesting and very convenient to deliver.

Jeddah


Moved to Jeddah on June 1, 2016. Melina starts a new job in education at Nun Academy in Jeddah. Staying at Al Salam Compound in Al Rehab District.

 

My Working Career through the Years


1967-68: Brown & Company Agricultural Division, Forbes Road, Colombo 10, Sri Lanka - Temp, Collating Statistics of Massey-Ferguson Tractor/Trailer Sales from the registration records at the RMV

1969-1979: Chartered Bank, Colombo, Queen Street, Fort, Colombo 1, Sri Lanka - Banker

1979-1979: Metropolitan Agencies Ltd, Ward Place, Colombo 7, Sri Lanka - IT Manager HP Division

1979-1980: General Agencies Corporation (GAC), AlKhobar, Saudi Arabia, - Camp Manager, Dammam-Ras Tanura Highway Project

1981-1988: Saudi American Bank (SAMBA), AlKhobar Branch, Saudi Arabia – Data Center Operations / SAMBA Technology Unit Software Design/Development

1988-1989: Al Mutabaghani Jeddah/Madinah (New Jeddah Clinic/Madinah National Hospital) – Implementation of Gerber Alley HIS Application as a private consultant

1989-1989: Bahrain (6 months) – Al Mulla – LPO Management System Development

1989-1990: Bits and Bytes – IT Training

1990-1991: Citibank NA, Colombo 7, Sri Lanka – CIO

1991-1992: Ministry of Defence, Seeb Camp, Sultanate of Oman – Deputy IT Head, Department of Data Processing, COSSAF

1992-1998: Saudi American Bank, Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, Unit Head Software Development

1998-1999: Arabic Computer Systems (ACS), Riyadh, Saudi Arabia – Head of QA

1999-2008: Al Faisaliah Group (AFG), Riyadh, Saudi Arabia – Managing IT Consultant/SAP Team

2008-2009: Watan Investments, Riyadh, Saudi Arabia – Unit Head IT Audit/Risk Management

2009-2009: Al Mudaiheem, Accounting/Audit Company, Riyadh, KSA – Head of QA

2009-2012: Muhammad AbdulAziz Al Rajhi & Sons Company Ltd, Riyadh, KSA – Oracle ERP Implementation Project Manager

2012-2012: ANN Company Ltd., Riyadh, Saudi Arabia – Senior IT Projects Consultant

2012-2014: Al Malath Al Arabia Ltd., Riyadh, KSA - Senior IT Projects Consultant

2014-2014: Shawirni, Riyadh, KSA – Portal Development

2014-2015: Saadeddin Pastries, Riyadh, KSA - Senior IT Projects Consultant

2015-date: Raxworld Hotels, Riyadh, KSA - Senior IT Projects Consultant

2015-date: Business Systems Weaver, Jeddah, KSA - Senior IT Projects Consultant