The text is Chapter 7 in Juliet Coombe and Daisy Perry’s absorbing Around the Galle Fort in 80 Lives alas presented here without Coombe’s imposing camera work … so that readers have to make do with one family snap and my amateur ‘flourishes’
Behind the unassuming door of Number 15, Parawa Street lies a unique collection of family antiques that have been passed down through five generation of the Goonewardena family. The door opens and the visitor feels an immediate allure as their eyes are met by dozens of quirky, individual treasures. The most striking feature is the collection of animal horns that are mounted on the walls around the entrance room – the antlers of a stag, the giant, thick, curving horns of wild buffalo and the small tusks of wild buffalo and the small tusks of a wild boar. Both the Sri Lankan jungle and the country’s colonial past seem to be emblemized in these trophies that Mr, Goonewardena’s gran father was given as a gift when he was working in a public works department in Batticaloa. In the 1950s Queen Elizabeth awarded him a medal for his public service but unfortunately he died before he could receive it.
Moninna, Dilum, Piyum and Ranjit at their very best
After pausing on the animal trophies the eye becomes eager to alight on a new object – perhaps a pristine collection of ebony chairs or sofas, an old Dutch chest with the original lock and key, or a small “Behind the unassuming door of Number 15 Parawa Street lies a unique collection of family antiques that include an Ansonia” clock from America with ceramic decoration of a wild duck surrounded by reeds and bulrushes below the timepiece, which is over 125 years old. Mr. Goonewardena may draw the visitor’s attention to two large blue and white patterned china plates, which were used to serve the rice on his father’s wedding day. He suspects that they are probably 19th Century British items. The family antique collection is juxtaposed with many of Ranjit and Moninna’s own tourist souvenir purchases including Sinhalese comedy masks, landscape paintings, and a black and white photograph of their daughters dressed as Red Indians on a family holiday in Canada, which all add to the eclecticism of the house.
Mr. Goonewardena’s father worked as a clerk in the English Mercantile Bank on Church Street, which is now the Commercial Bank. Through his connections he was able to get his son job and that is where Ranjit and his beautiful wife met. It is a surprise to discover that Moninna is not originally from the Fort because she is fiercely loyal to the citadel and says that she would be “the last person to leave”. However, she admits that when she first moved she had to adapt to an almost completely different culture. The formalities of the village were practically non-existent and people would just wander into her house to visit, sometimes barefoot and dressed casually in sarongs. Now she celebrates this wonderful, unstuffy social environment and described the Fort as being like “ a small island. It is homely and everybody is a friend”. Ranjit enjoys Fort culture because even though it is very social he feels that it is like Europe in the fact that everyone also has their own privacy and people that come to live in the Fort from all over the world aren’t interfering.
As the visitor moves out into the house’s open courtyard, the Goonewardena’s present history becomes more apparent with a collection of wind chimes strung from the various trees and bamboo plants. One tree is decorated like a Christmas tree with ribbons, small paper lanterns, gold baubles, and pine cones from Nuwara Eliya. A tortoise munches happily on a handful of green beans in a leafy enclosure whilst fish swim in a rocky pool. This outside space is typical of the Dutch houses within the Fort and it also lends credence to the belied that the building may have had a stable attached to it. When Moninna first came to the house, before it was restored she remembers that there were large hooks on the walls of the entrance room perhaps for tying the animals to or hanging the bridles. Being a corner house it has two different entrances into different streets, which may in the past have been separate for the house and stables. A ladder leads up to a small roof terrace, which puts the gazing viewer on the same level as the Fort coconut trees, with their large bunches of orange thambili. There is a splendid three hundred and sixty degree view of the Fort; the white church steeples, the Buddhist stupa framed by the blue Indian Ocean beyond and a patch work of red terracotta round-tiled roofs. It is this that seals the visitor’s agreement with Ranjit that “the Fort is the nicest and most scenic place in the world.”
two pet tortoises … longtime resident
For a video presentation of Juliet Coombe’s book in You Tube Video see https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=l6KawacXe_g
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