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Recollections of long ago Nugegoda – and recalling Linda Saparamadu nee Pieris

by Bona Ekanayaka - Sunday Island Jun 29 2003

Very Very long ago there was a quiet, peaceful, friendly hamlet named Nugegoda. And my father brought his family there years ago to a house named "Green Lodge".

Nugegoda had just one tarred road — Church Street — with only seven house, separated by cool shady jungle. Church Street went over the railway line to the one big shopping store — Simmon’s Store. How many of us will remember it now?

The only approach to Colombo on tarred roads were from Kohuvela via Pamankade on one side, and on the other side via Mirihana down the Cotta Road through Kotte.

Gravel paths led off Church Street to residences through the jungle, and one gravel path which we called "the Red Road" developed into the well known High Level Road devoid of all traces of jungle, and jam-packed with buildings both residential and commercial, teeming with myriads of facets of human activity.

And so, very very long ago, Linda Pieris and I walked down Church Street in a straggling group of girls and one boy - Linda and her younger sister violet (who had curls like wire springs) came from just round the corner from their father’s house — the house in which their father had been born. Our straggling group was led by my elder sister and her best friend Pansy Ingram who lived opposite our house with her widowed mother in Mr. and Mrs. Lucas’ house — their relatives.

The youngest Lucas girl, Esme, was one of our Church Street gang. Then Renee Solomons and her sisters came from across the Kohuvela junction on the Kalubovila side, Vincent Perera (who in adult years ran a textile mill) and his small step sister Lily joined us, and further on the road, the tall Pieris sisters Letty and Beryl stepped by my sister and Pansy. From the Red Road came my classmate Gnanapooshany and her younger sister Jayapooshani and from a side lane Mr. and Mrs. Walber Pieris’ daughter Doris joined us. (Lots of Pierises down Church Street!)

Mr. Abraham Pieris had a lovely house with open verandah and tall pillars much admired in adult life by architect Valentine Gunesekera. So led by my sister and her friend Pansy walking briskly with their lordly long-stockinged legs, we younger ones meandered leisurely on a road that was (in those far off days) all ours, to St. John’s school where Miss. E. Bultjens was the most amiable and Kindly principal.

From the shady road by the railway line came my cousins the Witanachchi girls — many of them. From the other side of the railway line came Lend Dissanayaka whose two elder brothers became I.G.P.s in turn in later years. They said they Walked to Royal College from Nugegoda!! — over paddy fields and through jungle — well — at that time Nugegoda had no buses or cars (we walked), no electricity (we used oil lamps) no pipe water (we had wells) and pits and buckets for sewage.

Lena’s younger sister Mildred in later years, came to my sister for piano lessons as did Linda’s sister Violet Linda learnt the violin from the well known teacher Adrian Daniel.

From the Nawala side came Sophie Chrissy and Consy Perera in their buggy cart. Many children came in buggy carts, and the carters were expert at avoiding accidents. Many came by train from Udahamulla and walked the short distance from the station to school, as did my classmate Decima Rabot who played "Springtime in the Rockies" on our piano.

I remember Pansy and my sister in the E.S.I.C. class. I remember the names of some of them Doreen Weerakkody (who as Doreen Wijewardena was a very efficient clerk in the school when Mrs. Aldons was principal), Lilian Siriwardena, Sophie Perera, Olive Nugara, Merlin Wikramanayaka, and two boys Willie Jayasingha and T. A. D. Alexanader (who naturally was dubbed "Tadpole" by his rude classmates).

I remember some of my classmates’ names — Agnes Weerasinghe — Edna Perera (whose children Dr. Nirmala Yahampath, Ruvani Mylvaganum and Tirath Lekamge are all living and working abroad), Joyce Nugara, Phyllis Bandaratilleke, Vemice Rozairo (who had an elder brother Malcolm in school and who emigrated to Australia after school) Sumana Cooray, Glady Witanachchi, twins Merle and Pearl Perera, Doris Wille, Mary Samaranayaka — boys:- Justin (who memorised chunks out of textbooks with ease), Trevor Lewis, Ivor Austin (who had two sisters in school, Phyllis and Gladys) Eustace Ranasinghe, Roland Fonseka — and many more I can’t remember. The boys were very polite to the girls.

On our walk to school we always looked at Miss. Edith Weerasingha’s house. It was set far back from the road in the middle of a vast neatly cut grass field, surrounded by jungle, with a large opening in the jungle for entrance and exit. As far as I remember there was no wire or Wooden fencing — only the jungle, — and no gate — only that wide entrance — and so very safe in those faraway days.

We also looked in at old Mr. Freddy Ratnayaka’s house to see whether he was up and about:- his feet swelled for six months of the year, and in those six months he visited all the people — his friends — down Church Street and in its by lanes. The residents were glad to see him and listen to his Cheery Chatter. (And he sometimes proclaimed "the most beautiful girl in Nugegoda is Esme Lucas"!)

The next six months the swollen feet went back to a normal size, and Mr. Ratnayaka sat all day silent in his verandah, unconscious of the world around him, attended devotedly by his quiet shadowy wife.

My father took my four brothers to Royal College in his car. He also gave lifts to the Henricus boys just round the corner (opposite to Linda’s corner) and to Stanmore Weerasinge from the Malwatta Lane. (The Henricus boys were later famous boxers and sportsmen).

Stanmore’s parents owned acres and acres of jungle land, and their house was in an enclosure in the middle of the jungle reached by way of the Shady Malwatta lane Stanmore’s sister Somie Weerasingha was my age and my friend. In much later years she and her husband Danny Witanachchi helped me with my car when my daughter and I lost our home people, and were alone in "Green Lodge".

The Weerasingha property was loaded with fruit trees — Mangos, Olives, "indi" Guava, "ugurassa", Ambarella, magnetic jungle fruits which the Weerasinghas so generously gave us. And the well — we simply bent down and scooped up buckets of clean fresh water for an outdoor bath — Lovely lovely jungle is no more. Malwatta Avenue became a tarred road chock-a-block with houses — houses with Tall gates and high boundary walls like prisons.

One day my sister’s class was "Kept in" — most unusual behaviour for kindly Miss. Bultjens; they must have been very rowdy indeed. As I hung around the half wall of her class room, waiting to go home for my rice and curry, Esme came along and asked my sister "Shall I take her home?" My sister gladly gave me over to her after that, all four trips to school and back were done in Esme’s and Linda’s company as they were classmates and friends. They were only a ten years older than me, (Esme emigrated to Canada with her children after her husband’s death and died only a couple of years ago. Until then we were in touch with her as she sometimes visited Sri Lanka).

Linda had innumerable relatives who were always busy with something or other, and her anecdotes kept Esme and me interested all the way to and from school. And through a lot of my years I have been listening to Linda especially in the last years when I lived alone in my father’s house.

Linda was very knowledgeable on all matters, and very reasonable and matter of fact. She and her husband were personal friends of S. de S. Jayasingha and staunch UNPers, but when Chandrika Kumaratunga won an election she told me "If Chandrika listens to her mother she will do well".

When Dehiwela-Mt. Lavinia was voting for a mayor, she told me "vote for Jayaratna Perera, he is a good man" — and I did, and he proved a good man in a matter which perhaps an important man would have ignored:- a student boy, living in my daughter’s annexe, adopted stray puppy (a poor thrown away female puppy). One day the Municipality garbage truck driver saw the pretty puppy running about, came into the garden and scooped away the puppy. The student was very upset. He almost wept and said "that’s my puppy and I love her"!! He gave me lots of telephone numbers to call and one number was the Mayor’s!! You know, the Mayor did not like his employees stealing puppies — looked into the matter and hey presto! the puppy was brought back the next day. The driver made a profit anyway as my daughter tipped him generously for returning the animal!!

Time passed after our days at St. John’s. We lost parents, family members and friends. People took various paths, local and abroad. Linda and Violet took up interesting hobbies — flower making and dressmaking — Linda’s flower making turned into a great venture and she had pupils learning the art. Violet too started dressmaking classes. Whatever Linda and Violet did was done perfectly. Her flowers and Violet’s sewing for my daughter’s wedding outfit were a kindly gift from them.

And Time was passing —

The only doctor 77 years ago was Dr. Roy Dias whose son Eardley practised Ayurvedic medicine. After him was Dr. Guy Paranavitana, a typical beloved G. P. of fiction. Then to Church Street (later given two long names) came the popular Dr. Olegesekeram — clever and kindly.

So very very long ago Nugegoda was full of simple friendly people, Church and Temple played an important part in social life. My parents were much involved in St. John’s church, As organist my father was supposed to be paid — but he refused a salary. The church committee told him they had to put it down as "paid" for the auditor’s scrutiny. So he took it — signed a receipt — and gave it back to the church as a donation. We learnt to "give" to church and temple — not "take". Nugegoda was full of "dear hearts and gentle people" with simple, plain, contented living. The atmosphere I recall was serene and friendly.

And Time relentlessly passed.

My eldest brother (later Director of Meteorology) gave me permission to start a Nursery in our home. He and my mother took a great interest in the babies’ activities and the end of year concert. A friend, Catherine Mahanama’s husband gave the class a name — "Kalindu Bilindu Pasala".

My old Church Street school going gang rallied round magnificently. Linda’s daughter came, violet’s grand children came, so did Letty’s youngest daughter and two grand-children, Vincent’s niece, Esme’s nephew and niece from just opposite my house, and Weerasingha little ones and others from other roads. My brother taped the children’s singing and played it back to them after the concert and they were so amused to hear themselves! My mother was happy to talk to parents. My sister, by then Mrs. N. J. A. Cooray, supervised refreshments.

The jungle had vanished. Nugegoda was a twin of the Pettah. The quiet and peace and fresh air had turned into noise, rush, restlessness and pollution. When my sister, brothers and I were very young, my father’s car was the only one on the road, but soon strings of traffic developed and vehicles, nose to tail, jam all movement today.

And time again took away family and friends and I was alone at "Green Lodge" — my only surving brother in Kandy with his family, my daughter in Ganemulla with her family and Linda just round the corner as of old — with her daughter Ranita and her family.

Linda would visit me weekly — sometimes twice. Sometimes on her way to see Violet she would step in for a few minutes.

She did not use her car, but walked. She would sometimes bring me cake or snacks made by her family retainer. Alice and I would make us tea, and we would talk — Linda telling me of radio programmes of people being interviewed, what was said and done by politicians — she was knowledgeable, and I listened. She would say "How can poor people live?" and she cut down expenditure and donated more to charity, especially saving cattle from slaughter. She would tell me how her Buddhist friends went on pilgrimages especially to a place called "Meethirigala". As Esme and I were interested years ago, I was as interested.

And then old age claimed us — stowed our foot steps, dimmed our eye sight, flawed our memory, and dizzyed our balance. We needed props, we had to be very cautious in our walking, so we cut out visiting. Linda who used to telephone me about T.V. interviews of people brought down her calls, She missed her independence — she had always been active. Now she said "we have lived too long". Walking from Nugegoda to the Thimbirigasyaya temple as she and her family had done in her schooldays, now seemed an unbelievable feat.

Then one day she asked me to write out her last wishes for Ranita and her husband Gemunu to carry out. Bisides some gifts to family and Alice, she wanted a very quiet and subdued funeral. And they respected her wishes on March 15th this year. She was an extra sister to me and I miss her.