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Features Island Sunday May 11 2003

Colourful Colleagues
Excerpts from 'My memoirs of the plantations of Ceylon' by Sepala Ilangakoon

Published by Vijitha Yapa, Price R.s. 400

Continued from last week
This was too much even for the normally sedate and imperturbable Sarath who did the next best thing by emptying his plate, eye, buriyani, chicken gravy and all, on Buster’s head!

Sriyani retrieves the eye

Sriyani and Garry de Saram had invited Sunetra and me and his then boss Buster and wife Betty to dinner. The preprandial drinks session put Buster in the wrath stage and as usual, he plucked out his eye and threw it at me. It missed the mark and went bouncing down the corridor to end up under the kerosene Electrolux.

The hostess kindly offered to retrieve it and was on her hands and knees peering under the fridge, when the domestics thinking she was trying to adjust the flame, offered to help. Sriyani responded in Sinhala that she was searching for Mr. Young’s eye. Not knowing about Buster’s eye, one of them remarked to another in an audible whisper. Ada nang nonatath wadhila! - "Today, the lady is also tight

Garry de Saram

Charles Edward Hartnel de Saram Jr. is known to his close relations as Edward and to his colleagues and associates as Garry. He was named definitely after Garry Cooper, the macho film idol of that vintage. Garry, even at S. Thomas’ College was the incorrigible joker. He was the bane of his teachers and the nightmare of his prefects. The Warden had more or less decided to tolerate him, through sympathy for those who will not learn.

His parents expected him to mature when he took to planting for Finlays. But instead, Garry’s sense of practical humour really blossomed on the estates which provided plenty of scope for this line of his psychological make up. His biographer will be laughing more than writing. A few of his prize-winning episodes bear recording here, if only to inject some comedy into this tract.


Garry’s wife Sriyani, the epitome of tolerance, was Sunetra’s good friend at Bishop’s College. Sriyani’s mother had refused Garry’s very honourable proposal of marriage and therefore, the only way out was to elope. Sriyani had agreed ! Sunetra was appalled. The dutiful, obedient Sriyani, modest and law abiding? Impossible ! Sunetra bet Garry that Sriyani would never elope and lost 25 cents which was the nominal amount of all our bets.

I received a telephone call from Garry to collect Sriyani and to be at St. Michael’s Church, Kollupitiya, ready to give away the bride. Knowing the wrath of the bride’s mother, I quailed at the thought, but could not possibly let down the side. So Sunetra and I were present at my cousin Romi de Saram’s home as ordered, and I drove with Sriyani to St. Michael’s.

The bridegroom’s side of the church was well represented, but the opposite side was empty, save the single friend, Sunetra. It was with trepidation and a prayer for protection that I led the blushing bride (she had good reason to blush more than other brides) up the aisle, surreptitiously glancing backwards to assure myself that no battle-axe was bearing down on us. All went well and the brave Rev. Thomas Balraj Daniel took the service, skipping the part - "If any know a just cause why these two should not be joined in holy wedlock, they are to declare it." Such was the beginning of a married life, packed with practical jokes and clowning. Maxim - "Brave heart wins fair lady."


Like many others, Garry had reason to loathe his VA, Jimmy Craig. He could not assault him, so he inflicted pain in a more subtle manner. Jimmy relished Sriyani’s champion cooking and helped himself lavishly. During the meal, Garry suggested that the Lasagne would taste much better, with a dash of tomato ketchup and proffered the bottle. Jimmy sloshed the sauce all over, before forking it down with gusto. The host and hostess saw him changing colours, but true to form, what Jimmy took he did finish - even though Garry had replaced the tomato ketchup with home made Nai Miris cobra chill) sauce !

Lamb stew

Garry had an affinity for chillies. He detested the Colombo Agent Robin Mc Michen as much as the VA. On the Agency Visit to Garry’s estate, he suggested that the lamb stew with white sauce went well with green chillie. Garry said he and Sriyani were quite used to the large, hot and stinging Malu Miris but Robin had better start with the tiny Kochchi Miris which Garry described as mild and much less pungent. Going by size and watching Garry munching the Malu Miris with savour, Robin was convinced, and chewed three together of the innocuous looking but dynamite Kochchi Miris. He spluttered and to make matters worse, got lock jaw ! He retired to his room and did not return. Later, he sent for Milk of Magnesia and lip cream. Garry was wondering what Robin would want for the following morning’s ablutions !

Garry reared four pigs and was delighted to name them after his pet aversions. The stud boar was Jimmy, two other boars were Hector and Robin, while the old sow was named after an in-law !