Sanjiva Wijesinha, in Sunday Times & his own website where the title runs “Twilight Reflections 8 – You Only Cry Twice”
I recently noticed that the outgoing Italian Ambassador to Sri Lanka, Her Excellency Ms. Rita Giuliano Mannella, had made the following intriguing observation. “When I return to Sri Lanka’ she said, “I cry twice – once when I arrive and the other time when I leave.“
At first I did not quite understand what she meant (Cosa stai dicendo, Signora?) but when I carefully thought over what she said, I realized that her observation made perfect sense.
For someone who comes back to this country after many years overseas, it is a matter of sadness, of regret, of frustration and even of anger to see what has become of this country during the years that they have been away. It is a land they remember with fondness and which in their years of overseas exile they nostalgically called home. However, now they return “home” they find themselves strangers in their own land in surroundings grown unfamiliar with Time. The genteel Colombo of their childhood is no more, replaced by an ugly metropolis where the manicured lawns of stately houses are now covered with apartment blocks or worse still, garish shop fronts. The roads along which they cycled – sometimes even without lights after dusk or doubling a pal on the cycle bar – are now overflowing with cars, motorcycles and three wheelers that have forced the humble push-cycles off the roads.
It is enough to make anyone cry.
One of my friends, who left Ceylon before 1972 and is now a retiree in his late sixties, returned to Sri Lanka this year to visit the land of his forefathers. He went back to his home in Australia after spending over two months here. He and his Australian wife visited his childhood haunts and travelled around the country – not just to the well known tourist sites but also to outstation places like Batticoloa, Minneriya and Tangalle where he and his siblings had spent time as youngsters with their parents.
And despite his initial shock at seeing what the country had come to in his absence, when the time came for him to go, he was loathe to leave here. Like Her Excellency the Italian Ambassador, he was almost ready to cry.
Of course there is a lot in Sri Lanka that can make one unhappy if one dwells on it. But during the time my friend and his wife spent here, he retracing his roots and she experiencing this country for the first time, they learned something of what makes the rest of us love this land we live in despite all its drawbacks.
My friend and his wife had seen at first hand the verdant green of the upcountry tea plantations, coloured lanterns strung up over the edge of the Beira Lake during Vesak, beautiful sunrises on the beach at Passekudah and glorious sunsets from the ramparts of the Galle Fort. They had experienced the kindness of strangers –the folk who had shared their mas-paans and Chinese rolls with them on the train, the woman who left her roadside stall to walk 500 metres with them, in the blazing sun, to make sure they reached their guest house safely, the many invitations to home cooked meals they received from old friends and long lost family.
Having to go back to the start of a cold Tasmanian winter, it was with great reluctance that they packed their bags to leave. When I bade them good bye before they left for the airport, they were already planning their return to Sri Lanka next year.
And now, sitting here in my balcony in the cool of the early morning, the sounds of pirith chanting from the local temple being wafted to me by the breeze, in my hands a cup of steaming coffee which I am about to savour – I reflect on their visit and consider myself fortunate to be living in this country.
Each morning when I wake up, I find something different to be happy about. I have the sun to warm me and the sea to gaze upon. I have reasonably good health, enough food and drink (but not too much!), a library to delve into, a garden to enjoy – and a little corner of the world that I can look upon as my own.
One: “Thanks to Her Excellency, Ms Rita, for inspiring your heart-warming response, Sanjiva. What I found particularly touching was your mention of ‘the kindness of strangers’. This is often described as ‘Sri Lankan hospitality’. Those who have experienced it would know very well how extraordinary and unique it is.
It is a joy to read your writing, Sanjiva. You choose to describe yourself as a ‘Writer and Physician’ rather than the other way round. The English Faculty and your teachers at school must also receive a generous tribute for inspiring you to become the writer that you are. Thank you for sharing your beautiful article, Sanjiva…………. Errol Fernando in Melbourne, 19 September 2023
Two: “Thanks Sanjiva. I enjoyed this latest literary effort..” ….. Justin Labrooy in Adelaide 19 September 2023