Sunday, September 27, 2009

The Bostocks in Ceylon

Sunday Times Sep 27, 2009

Into the whirl of Colombo society By Elizabeth BostockI arrived in Ceylon, with my mother, at the end of December 1951, shortly before the tragic death of D.S. Senanayake, the first Prime Minister of Ceylon. Little did I foresee as I stepped ashore at the old Passenger Jetty in the Fort that I would spend nearly 50 years of my life on this beautiful island. My father had been appointed Senior British Naval Officer and Captain in Charge of the dockyard at Trincomalee and, like dutiful daughters were expected to do in those days, I was accompanying my parents.At that time Trincomalee was a thriving naval base with frequent visits from navies around the world and every year JET (Joint Exercises Trincomalee) was held there when the Pakistan, Indian and British navies assembled. Apart from the naval manoeuvres, there were fiercely contested games of hockey and football and it seemed as if most of the national squads from India and Pakistan were suddenly conscripted into the navy.

Having decided very early that I did not wish to spend the next two years in Trinco, I came down to Colombo and got a job as Personal Secretary to A.G. Mathewson (Sandy) who was a Partner in Heath & Company - a leading firm of tea buyers whose clients included Lyons, Tetleys, Twinings in London and the Tea Marketing Board in Australia and many others in the Middle East. It was in Sandy's office that I met my future husband, Mark Bostock, who was a frequent visitor on his broker's round. However, I did not abandon my parents entirely and made frequent weekend visits, catching the night mail on a Friday and returning on Sunday.

Mark and I were married nearly two years later, much to Sandy's delight, even though he bemoaned the loss of his secretary. We planned to announce our engagement while Mark as an R.N.V.R. officer was attending JET. A rather apt comment appeared in the Daily News - Full back, Mark Bostock, will not be appearing for the C.H. & F.C. as he is away in Trinco on navel manoeuvres. With a certain amount of trepidation we invited Sandy to give the toast to the bride, but he was very circumspect! We were married at Christ Church, Galle Face, by the Bishop of Colombo, the Right Reverend Archibald Rollo Campbell Graham. Our reception was held at the old Garden Club (now the Colombo Art Gallery) in Green Path. It was the last party to be held at the Club before it was taken over by the Lawn Tennis Club. We left there in somewhat unusual style, perched on a hackery with one of our groomsmen between the shafts while the bystanders set off a load of fire-crackers.

Being connected to the Bostock family opened up a whole new world. Social life having previously centred round the British Navy and visiting H.M. ships, I was launched into the whirl of Colombo society. Mark was a member of a bachelors’ 'chummery' and we all used to go off on wonderful expeditions to hockey, and rugby matches and tennis meets up-country. All rugby matches were followed by a black tie supper and dance in the host up-country club. We stayed overnight with planter friends and then usually turned up at the Nuwara Eliya golf course for a round of golf on Sunday morning. A good curry lunch gave us energy for the drive home, frequently stopping off at a rest house en route, for a cup of tea laced with whisky.

Mark was a keen shot and we often took off on shooting trips all over the island with a gang of bachelor men and girls. These continued well into our married days and one such trip took us to the island of Irainativu in the Gulf of Mannar. It was an eight-hour boat journey in a dhoni to get there and we set up camp in the home of the local Roman Catholic priest. We spent a very happy time there, shooting partridge and duck and going fishing. We were a great source of interest to the 100-odd inhabitants of the island. On our return to Colombo, our nanny remarked with great disapproval, "Lady is very dark". So much for my tan!

The chummery was well-known for hosting magnificent parties with the greatest one being a Bacchanalian party which was held as a farewell as by then two members were due to be married. We were all required to attend suitably attired and I was commissioned by my Boss to make an oriental potentate's outfit and even had to stick 'crepe' hair on to his chest to complete the effect. We left for the party by way of Havelock Road, with Sandy sitting on a bullock hackery with one of his junior staff (dressed as a centaur) between the shafts. I accompanied them as a dancing girl and thus we progressed from the traffic lights at Dickman’s Road to the far side of the Wellawatte bridge and on to the chummery.

That was not the only procession in which we took part, as it became a tradition for an exchange of visits between the Colombo Hockey & Football Club and the Ceylonese Rugby Football Club on Independence Day each year. The visiting club was required to come in procession as a topical event and we chose Prince Philip's 'durbah'. We hired an elephant from the Zoo and 'Philip' and 'Queen Elizabeth' rode in splendour, accompanied by six horses ridden by lancers. They were followed by assorted drummers, dancing girls and we even had 'Gandhi' being pushed along in a wheelchair. Thus we progressed from Reid Avenue and down Buller’s Road to the C.R.& F.C. where a game of soft ball cricket was played by all participants and a jolly good curry lunch made up the rest of the day. The C.R.'s return visit caused quite a stir at the Thunmulla roundabout when the 'corpse' in the Muslim funeral casket lifted the lid as he needed a breath of fresh air. Percy de Silva (the Legal Draftsman) looked out at the horrified passers-by.

Life in the early days was not all fun and games and a little recorded but most important episode affected our early married life. In 1958 there was a crippling Communist-led strike in the Colombo harbour which threatened to cut off the life-blood of the island, namely the export of tea. S.W.R.D. Bandaranaike ordered senior members of the tea trade to send a team to make arrangements to open up the port of Trincomalee which had never previously been used as a commercial outlet. Mark was in charge of this team, recruited from various tea firms, to start up the Trincomalee Tea Administration. So, together with our nanny and small daughter, we set off for the Sea Anglers Club. Mark had to start from scratch and find suitable ex-RAF hangars to convert into warehouses; establish a small office at China Bay and arrange for a local mudalali to provide lighters to transport the tea out to ships waiting in the harbour. Bringing the tea consignments from the railway siding to the jetty also presented a major problem as, very early on, the chap in charge of the 'shunter' managed to tipple off his wagon and run himself over.

Thereafter, the wagons literally had to be shunted by manpower with everybody lending their weight. It was all very hard work but a great team spirit built up and many problems were overcome and the tea export business was saved and the strike broken.

Thanks to the generosity of my father-in-law, Norman Bostock, we were able to have a family beach bungalow at Bentota and many a happy weekend was spent with friends and visitors. Our visitors' book included many illustrious names, headed by Earl Mountbatten and his daughter, Lady Patricia Braburn. We often hosted members of visiting sporting teams, including the M.C.C., London Welsh and Combined Oxford and Cambridge rugby teams, as well as many other visitors to Ceylon. It was indeed a very sad day for us all when our bungalow, together with several others on the 'Spit', was taken over by the government for a German tourist resort. Many years later we found another idyllic but very different spot at the mouth of the Dedru Oya north of Chilaw.

Norman Bostock bought and planted Aislaby tea estate and, with Mark's expertise and the hard work of various Superintendents, soon turned it into the leading tea estate in Uva with probably the most up-to-date factory in the island. Mark had a passion for all aspects of cultivating, manufacturing, tasting and selling of tea and he was devastated when his beloved Aislaby was nationalized in November 1973 under Land Reform. It was many years before he could even bear to visit the bungalow and 50 acres we were allowed to keep. We were thankful that, at least, his father did not live to see that day.

However, Mark was always a confirmed optimist and continued in his love of the island which he passed on to me and our daughters and even our grandchildren who love to visit Sri Lanka. A lasting tribute to his love of Ceylon/Sri Lanka is in the magnificent Victoria golf course outside Kandy which he pioneered in his retirement.

Many Colombo wives spent a lot of their time playing bridge but that was not my scene and I became involved in a certain amount of social work and served on the Committee of the Child Protection Society and even tried to teach spoken English to the children at their Girls' Home. This was great fun but I am not sure how much English the girls absorbed. Usually when I asked, 'How are you today?', the reply came back, 'Today is Tuesday'.

Each Christmas I combined with some of my friends and we hosted a coffee morning when all the guests were invited to bring with them a toy or gift for a child. These were then individually wrapped and named and distributed to the children in the homes we supported. To see the delight on the children's faces as they opened up their very own presents more than made up for the work involved. At the other end of the scale I helped Mrs. George R. de Silva with the Bishop of Colombo' Appeal for the Leprosy Hospital’ and each year we visited the patients at Hendala and once travelled to the island colony off the coast at Batticaloa. I also used to visit foreign seamen hospitalised in Colombo on behalf of the Missions to Seamen.

Our two daughters attended the Hill School until the age of 12 when they had to return to England for further education but they were still able to come out for at least two holidays a year and we all enjoyed family expeditions to the jungle, Trincomalee and up-country. Other families did the same thing and great friendships grew which spanned the generations and still stand. I think, possibly, Ceylon/Sri Lanka is unique in the number of associations which have been formed so that we can all meet and enjoy reminiscing on the 'Old Days'.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Firoze Salim Ibrahim 1948-2009: A Man for All Reasons

Firoze Salim Ibrahim - 1948-2009

Sitting quietly, reading a book, on a warm Thursday (Aug 13, 2009) evening, in my home in Riyadh, I was simply thrown of my feet and shattered when my mobile phone rang and I received the sad news of the passing away of Firoze Salim Ibrahim, who had suffered a heart attack while on duty at the Reverse Osmosis Water Plant, at the Prince Sultan Air Base in Dhahran where he had been employed as an expatriate contract worker for almost 7 years.

I met Firoze, for the very first time, way back in 1965, when I was preparing to sit for my A Levels in Colombo. We came together as members of the Students Section of the Ceylon Moor Youth League, a local community service and social club that was recently established in our town. Our friendship blossomed into a very close and strong bond through which many significant events evolved, later on, with time. Many were the wondrous days that followed where we, together with the rest of the members of the club, shared and worked together carrying out various social service and community based activities in the bustling town of Wellawatte in Colombo. The first and most significant project that we undertook, in those wondrous and peaceful times, was the screening of a benefit showing of the very first James Bond movie, “Dr No”, at the Savoy as a fundraiser for the activities of the club. Nine years later I was married to his sister, Shirani, and he became my brother in law.

Born at No 15, Mary’s Road, Bambalapitiya, in their ancestral WM Saleem home in 1948, Firoze attended Isipathana College, Colombo 5. Subsequent to the premature death of his beloved father, Husain Ibrahim in 1963, the family moved to Chitra Lane at Havelock Town from their posh rented home at St. Peters’ Place, Wellawatte. Later on they settled in their own home which their mother purchased at Vihara Lane, also, in Wellawatte.

Firoze’s many talents in music, art and drawing attracted him to Architecture which he pursued very diligently at M/s Thurairajah Associates in Colombo in search of a professional career. He then moved into building construction and civil engineering, successfully winning one of the Ceylon Petroleum Corporation bids as a sub contractor for the maintenance of their many distribution facilities throughout the island. Magic was also a great hobby that he loved and excelled in very much, inherited from his father, who was an active member of the Sri Lanka Magic Circle, together with other famous magic personalities like Mudaliyar ACGS Amarasekera, Mihilar the Mystic, & friends. He reached the pinnacle of runner up at one of the Sri Lanka Magic Circle Magician of the Year Contest, competing with many seasoned and mature magicians of that time.

We spent many a time, together, with the rest of the boys in the neighborhood, actively engaging in cycling, cricket, TT, carrom, scrabble, music, movies, swimming at Kinross, lending a hand to uplift the local community infrastructure, and even many enjoyable excursions out of town, during the early days of our youth. Those who knew him will vouch for this without batting an eyelid. Books were also a great passion of his and he read profusely gathering knowledge about every possible topic under the sun. He didn’t stop here. He even went out of his way to collect and send books to others for their reading pleasure. Just a week prior to his death he had filled a whole box with books on Islam, including copies of the English translation of the Quran for free distribution, and sent them to Colombo through a colleague, Sebastian from Negombo, who was leaving Saudi Arabia on final exit after completion of his employment contract. The breaking daily news of politics, on print as well as on TV, also captured much of his interest, discussions, and time.

One of his greatest qualities, that very few people posses these days, was the ability to smile with everyone, irrespective of their ethnicity, position or social hierarchy, and win the hearts of whoever he met and communicated with. Everyone, always, had a very good word for him, be it family, friends, colleagues, or neighbors.

His marriage to Bisreeya Zaharana Ahamed, daughter of SLMH Ahamed and OLMALM Sithy Raliya, in the late seventies brought forth his only child, daughter, and joy, Fathima Fawaza, for whom he dedicated all his energy, exerting every effort, skill and time in raising her to be a successful woman of this world.

It was sometime in the nineteen eighties that Firoze decided to step out into the oil Sheikhdoms of the Middle East and seek his pasture in the booming markets there, where construction was a significant contributor to the development that was enfolding, which also provided an ideal opportunity for people with his technical set of skills. Moving to Dhahran, in Saudi Arabia, Firoze spent many long years with an Aramco subcontractor providing operations and maintenance services to the largest oil producer in the world. By this time I had also chosen to move to the Middle East as an expatriate worker, with my family, and was located in the Eastern province of Saudi Arabia, and, his arrival made all our lives even more pleasant by having a close family member so near to us, so far away from home. Our two girls always enjoyed his company, storytelling, magic tricks, and were also very thankful for the many books and magazines he used to bring them whenever he visited. He sure had a way with kids with his ever smiling and pleasant demeanor. There was never a dull moment when Firoze was visiting.

His work took him to various locations in the Eastern region from Dhahran to Juaymah Camp, and even to Jubail City, in the north eastern corner of the Kingdom where massive road construction, power, and other infrastructure projects were under way. We had the wonderful opportunity to visit him at all these sites and enjoy the many luxuries that the well stocked facilities of that oil giant, Aramco, was providing for all its staff and visitors.

Later on, Firoze also spent many years with the King Khalid Military City Base at Hafar Al Batin, located on the Kuwaiti border with Saudi Arabia, where he moved his career, seriously, into the management and maintenance of the Reverse Osmosis Water Plant that was used across the desert Kingdom for water purification. Eventually, on completion of that contract, he returned home and returned to the magical calling of the desert sands to do his final stint with the Prince Sultan Air Base Project, once again managing the RO Water Plant, from which facility God decided to take Home.

Talking to his immediate superior, Engineer Qahtan, at the Dhahran Air Base during his funeral, it was most heartening to hear the gentleman say that he would remember Firoze for just three things, his gentlemanly manners (Ahlaaq in Arabic), his ever presence in the Mosque at all prayer times (Imaan in Arabic), and the exceptional quality of his work. All the expatriate workers within the Air Base, belonging to various different asian and African nationalities, had a very praiseworthy word to say about him and his relationship with them. Silva, a hardened Sri Lankan laborer, who hailed from Maradana, told me with tears in his eyes, “He used to call me Mr. Silva whenever he spoke to me”. Another batch of young workers stated that he would knock on their doors after his shift to inquire whether they had had their dinner. Most of the young workers treated him, more or less, like a Godfather on account of his age, maturity, patience, wisdom, knowledge and ever willingness to discuss and resolve other their personal problems and disputes at any time of day or night.

Another interesting feature about Firoze, that will surely reveal his humanitarian personality is his great love for animals and their welfare, a character that all the members of his family possess to date, and, which has even filtered down to my own two girls and two grandkids, through his genes. During my visit to the camp after his death, the next day, the boys told me that he used to feed three stray cats and one stray dog, diligently, every single day by collecting all the scraps, chicken bones, and left over food from the military mess. When I walked over to his mobile Portacabin accommodation inside the airbase there were three cats and one dog curled up in a huddle snoozing patiently at his doorstep. They were waiting for their master to bring them their dinner. Little did they realize that their master had received his final call and was on his way up to meet his Makerfor his final supper and receive his rewards for the magnificent contribution he had made during his short tenure of 61 years and 6 months on planet Earth. All I could do was hold back my eyes from watering and request the boys to carry on feeding the poor animals for as long as they could, ensuring that his kindness would be carried on, and also that the poor animals would not starve since their expectations were that their sustenance would always be served to them on time y Firoze at his doorstep.

Washing his body and dressing him up in the Islamic funeral garb (Kafan) of three non stitched pieces of cotton cloth, 6’ by 3’ clasped together by 4 strips of cotton cloth ties, in preparation for his burial, it was hard for me to take my eyes away from his sweet smiling face in death, each time I poured the water across his body. He looked as if he was simply smiling at me in his own special way.

Sadly, Firoze lost his wife, Bisreeya, in 2008, after she had been ill for a few years. His daughter, Fathima Fawaza, married in 2008, an occasion which he cherished very much and was proud of, and since moved to live and work in Bermuda where her husband, Rifath Nawaz, is currently employed as a Microsoft Certified Specialist Consultant.

Just take a look around and you will notice that is is pretty obvious, today, that They don’t make people like Firoze, anymore. Firoze, you have moved on. We will surely follow. May God Have Mercy on his Soul.

Fazli Sameer
Riyadh, Saudi Arabia

Monday, July 27, 2009

Budryn, Hassan & Dylan

Dylan, Budryn & Hassan
Playing music or singing is simple to the threesome
by Mahes PERERA

"Playing music or singing, should be as simple as drawing a breath" and to the threesome guitarist Dylan Lye, singer Budrin Musafer and drummer Hassen Musafer the saying couldn't be more true. It's their life, and the vibes they spread have always been exciting and entertaining. The three musicians were in Sri Lanka recently to attend to family commitments and in their free time met up with other musicians to rapport and exchange musical chords which gave pleasure to their audiences.

Guitarist Dylan Lye, singer Budrin Musafer and drummer Hassen MusaferDylan Lye guitarist/vocalist a former member of the famed Jetliners led by Mignonne Fernando, the band made a name for themselves for seventeen years in Hong Kong. Dylan continued his musical career in Hong Kong once the band disbanded and is now much sought after for recording sessions, concert shows and regular combo work in hotels and jazz clubs."Presently I have a four piece band at the Melting Pot comprising piano, drums and a singer. I play bass as well whenever the occasion demands it. Our sets are fusion, jazz, rhythm and blues, Latin and funk. We are hoping to release a CD in the near future and we have a keyboardist whose compositions are somewhat similar to that of Fourplay. There will also be a festival next year in February organised by the locals in Hong Kong and we are looking forward to it.Here in Sri Lanka I'm happy to comment that there's an improvement in the music scene content wise. A lot of youngsters are showing enthusiasm and commitment which augurs well for the progress of music. Unfortunately what is lacking are sax sounds and trumpet sounds. Majority of them are concentrating on the guitar", comments Dylan whose guitar artistry is in a class of its own and we are proud that he is one of us.Hassen Musafer who himself was the drummer for the Jetliners at the Regent, Hong Kong for two years before he moved over to play with a Trio under Tony Fernando's management, was happy to be back home to be featured at the Malay Club celebrations. "I came back after four years and I found that more new young drummers have 'been born'!That's good. In Hong Kong too, youngsters have taken to drumming and I teach students at their homes. To be a good musician, and I say this over and over again to all students, you have to be committed and disciplined. Then the rest will fall into place."Your sticks and cymbals language is fabulous. Who were your influences in the early years?"Here in Sri Lanka Harris Jurampathy was one, then there was Faleel Ziard and Upali Fernando. As for the foreign drummers Billy Cobham, Harvey Mason and Vinnie Coluta and I was fortunate to have met and talked with them at Hong Kong when they came in for festivals or concerts.Any CDs in the making?"I recorded one with Dan Lovell - guitar, Anthony Fernadez - drums, I played tabla, there was Mike Carr on bass, an African - American on piano and a singer Mia.We are in the process of fine tuning it and the CD will be released soon."Currently Hassen is playing at the Four seasons, Hong Kong on Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays and as he tells us he fits in a night with Dylan Lye at the Melting Pot.Budrin Musafer one time singer with the successful Spitfires is a compere too loaded with a delightful sense of humour. "I was looking forward to being in Sri Lanka for family commitment. I live in Paris and it was soul satisfying meeting up with the musicians. Especially Maxie Rozairo and Noeline Honter who were with the Spitfires.
I'm sorry I missed Dalreen, but then glad I met Laurence Manricks the bassist / keyboardist.

There was talk tossed around that a second comeback concert of the Spitfires is in the offing. Is it true?"Yes we are thinking of it. We have to get our act together and we are targetting February or so next year. We are hoping to include Ronnie, Chinti, Rodney van Heer and Rodney Rabot. The scene over here has progressed. Aquarius and Flame are great. Getting down foreign bands is not fair by our musicians. Our musicians on the other hand should bond together and be strong, should like what they are doing - which will bring out the best in them.You are here at a time when the world lost Michael Jackson, a musician who started off something new. What's your comment?"He was a perfectionist. His type of music has influenced many young musicians. He created something different. He was a singer, a dancer, a composer, a showman - he created a new style, a new way and made extremely creative video chips."

Fascinating Fort

General Post Office
The Fascinating Fort of Colombo

Colombo Fort was one heck of a place to be in the sixties and seventies. The business town was always alive, kicking, and buzzing with activity from dawn to dusk and even after through the midnight hours. Double Decker buses plied the route from the south on the Galle Road brining in the multitudes of masses to their work places and shopping expeditions.

Fort was the place for banking. Fort was the shoppers dream. Fort was also famous for its eating and drinking. Every foreign bank had its head office located in the Fort. There was The Mercantile Bank and Chartered Bank on Queen Street, Eastern Bank (later converted to the present Commercial Bank of Ceylon), National & Grindlays Bank and Bank of Ceylon on York Street, The Peoples Bank on Duke Street, Mercantile Bank (later Commercial Bank of Ceylon) on Prince Street, HongKong & Shanghai Banking Corporation on Prince Street, BoC Fifth City Branch on York Street, Indian Bank on Baillie Street, and eventually the Central Bank was also located on Queen Street. The banks were all in very close proximity to each other and there was a great sense of rapport and interaction between them and their staff members. Outside every bank, there sat a Nattukottai Chettiar, in his white Vetti, gold tooth, and smiling demeanor, on a makeshift desk and chair. He was the self appointed money changer for checks, foreign currency and whatever financial need one requested. He dealt directly with the banks to execute his transactions which he carried out for individuals for which he levied his handsome commissions to put food on his family table. He would cash anybody’s check for a price. He was also a great resource for quick credit for those who wanted to do a buy and sell to make an overnight buck.
Another interesting feature of Fort were the multitude of eating places and drinking holes scattered in every nook and corner of the town. Nanking Hotel, a typical Chinese on Queen street was frequented by the die-hard connoisseurs of good Chinese food, where a free soup on every order was relished by one and all. The Akasa Kade restaurant on the rooftop of Ceylinco building was a more elite eating place for the executives and families who frequented the place. Pagoda, run by Rodrigo Restaurants, down Chatham Street was always famous for its exquisite Chinese Rolls, Lamprais, Iced Coffee and Chocolate Cake. The Globe Restaurant, Lord Nelson, on Chatham Street and The National Restaurant on Queen Street, were the domain of the guzzlers of Fort of whom there was a multitude ranging from young bankers to ageing pensioners with only one thought in their minds. Nectar CafĂ©, at the corner of Baillie Street and York Street, erupted like wildfire by providing a self service menu dished out by young Burgher lasses dressed in neatly unformed short skirts and blouses. It was always a hive of activity in there at all times of the day. The food was tasty and cheap and the ambience of the environment was more like a university cafeteria. Then there was the hot rice and crab curry joint called Jaffna Hotel down Hospital Street that anyone shopping or working in Fort could never miss. The steaming hot crab that was served, Jaffna style, was found nowhere else in all of Colombo. It was just one of a kind. You wither had it or you’ve missed everything in life. Rice was served as much as you can eat while you only paid for the crab or other curries that you choose to order. The true five star lunch place in the town was in the restaurant at the Hotel Taprobane, located at the end of York Street facing the Port of Colombo. Previously known as the Grand Oriental Hotel (GOH) during the old Colonial times it was haunted by the rich, famous and glamorous folk who were always dressed to kill and also had lots of cash to spend. Many other smaller eating houses serving a wide variety of food and drink were also splattered around the York Street/Duke Street end of the Fort. There was always something for everyone in the Fort when it came to appeasing the tongue and tummy. Many of the watering holes also had their share of quickie apartment complexes located on the upper floors which were gallantly used by the hot blooded men and women for some wild skirmishes in their own special way. The rooms were small, dingy, dirty and used only for a single purpose by its occupants whenever required. There were also other similar locations that offered cleaner sheets and better service for the same benefits at a price, of course. In common slang terminology they were al referred to as “knock joints” by the flks of that era. Everyone knew but no one complained. Life, was a live and let live policy in the Fort of Colombo.

Businesses in Fort were so many, since ancient times, on account of its close proximity to the Port of Colombo where there was always an influx of sailors and foreigners looking for food, drink, curios, sapphires, jewelry, batiks, handicrafts and other knickknacks. Textiles, Travel Agents, Government Agencies and Corporations, and even large corporate Colonial Companies were all located here. The Velona showroom at the intersection of Chatham Street and Queen Street on the ground floor of the National Mutual Life Association building, provided a great array of cotton and textile products manufactured locally.

Within the Chartered Bank building alone there were many private sector corporations functioning upstairs, some of which I remember, were, Carsons, Bartleets, CIC, etc. A website titled CIC Evergreens has some great stories about the people who worked in these offices. See this link:-

Many were also the crummy corridors where illegal betting on horses running races in the UK were being accepted by mobile book makers acting as agents for the big Colombo Racing mafia. Towards the latter part of the seventies a very large Casino opened up on the corner, owned by the famous Aloysious Mudalali of gambling fame, opened up on the corner of York Street and Prince Street, opposite to Cargills. It was frequented by many of the hungry gambling folk in the Fort in search of some god luck to supplement their material needs. More often than not, many of them went home hungry, some even losing all of their pay packets on the month ends.

Of the private business houses that plied their retail trade along the streets of Fort, the very famous and frequented ones were, Hirdaramani, Lakshmi Silk Store, Marikar Bawa’s, all located on Chatham Street. While Hirdaramani and Lakshmi’s had a variety of textiles for men and women Marikar Bawa’s was a household name for men’s suits. Chands & Diana & Company were two famous sports stores, also located down Chatham Street. A large number of gems, jewelry, curio and tourist stores, having been in business for many decades since the time of the British Raj, were also crisscrossed across every single street in town. M C Zainudeen & Company, M C Ziard and Company, Le Toile, Vogue Jewellers, Birsam & Company, Deen & Company, were all well known for their knack in serving the many sailors, foreign businessmen and tourists who came to visit the island.

Cargills, Millers and The Colombo Apothecary, department stores were located on York Street and Prince Street, and catered to a multitude of shoppers from all walks of life. They were the premier department stores established in Sri Lanka during the old colonial British era, and in the old days catered to the expatriate and diplomatic population of the city. They sold everything from a pin to an elephant, mostly imported from the UK, Europe, and later on the USA and more recently, Taiwan and China. H W Cave and Company, referred to as Caves, located on Prince Street was the premier bookstore that all readers flocked to. Caves was another legacy of the old British Raj. They imported every possible novel, magazine, periodical and newspaper. Stationery was also another sought after item within the store. The Times of Ceylon Bookstore located in the All Ceylon Buddhist Congress building was also another famous place for books, photographic material and stationery.

The Colombo Customs, Department of Immigration, The General Post Office, and The Import Control Department of the Government of Sri Lanka were also located in the Fort.
An elite fishing club, The Anglers Club, frequented by a small group of fishing folk from among the rich and famous, was located on Galle Buck facing the new light house. It was also a drinking hole for the thirsty where the food was truly special.

The Corporate business houses of M/s E B Creasy & Company Ltd, Muller & Phipps, Carson Cumberbatch & Company Ltd, T A J Noorbhai, Nel Farm and Hatchery, Air Lanka, Ceylinco Insurance, Indian Embassy, were all located in the Fort in the sixties.

The buildings and structures that are found in the Fort are also a great legacy from the Colonial era as well as masterpieces of civil engineering and design in keeping with traditional Greco-Roman architecture. Queens House, now referred to as Presidents House, is the most handsome of them all. Located on Queen Street, opposite the Post Office, the mansion was the abode of the then Colonial Dutch and British Governors before independence in 1948, and later on the Governor Generals under local rule, and eventually the Presidents who came thereafter. The lone sentry at the gates and the changing of the guard are sighs that were extremely beautiful to witness in those halcyon times. The mansion itself borders a wide acreage of land with tremendous foliage surrounding it.

The General Post Office was built during British colonial rule and contracted to the famous Moor builder, Wapchi Marikar Baas, grandfather of Sir Razik Fareed, who also built the NMLA building, Customs Long Room, Colombo Museum, Victoria Memorial Eye Hospital at Maradana, and many other similar colossal structures that still stand tall today as a memory to those great times. The Chartered Bank building, adjacent to the GPO, is of a similar structure, standing on massive square pillars with concrete tusked elephant heads mounted on them.

The NMLA building, which houses the Import & Export Control Department, located on the corner of Chatham Street and Queen Street on the south west is another behemoth of the times. Many other smaller, yet strong and classical, buildings line up all the streets in the Fort, adjacent to each other.

Transworks House which was the home of the Central Telegraph Office has now been occupied by Sri Lankan Airlines and many other departments and offices. Bristol Building on York Street housed many small businesses on the ground floor while the upper floors were occupied by private sector corporations and departments. The whole building has been demolished now and will ake room for a public car park as planned since parking in the Fort is a much needed facility for those who live, work, do business, and travel there. Cargills and Colombo Apothecaries buildings located on York Street and Prince Street also boast of the great vintage of construction of those times. Hotel Taprobane, or the old GOH building, is another monument worth mentioning. During colonial times many were the Dutch and British families who lived in the apartments within many of these exquisite buildings in the Fort since most of the other towns of Colombo were not popularly inhabited by the rich, famous and elite. The Fort was a popular residential location on account of its proximity to the Colombo harbor.

The Fort Police Station, which used to be an old Dutch Hospital during the colonial times, lies on a lower leveled embankment on the south western side of the Fort, starting at the end of Hospital Street stretching out towards the lake House intersection. Lake House building is also another mammoth structure that has been a significant landmark on the edge of Fort leading towards Maradana on the south and Pettah on the west. It is at this point in the town that the southern railway wends its way towards the Fort Railway Station under Sir Chittampalam Gardiner Mawatha, formerly referred to as Lotus Road starting at the Slave Island Police Station, and, which is an extension of Sir James Pieris Mawatha, formerly known as General’s Lake Road, which begins in Colombo 3 and winds its way along he Beira lake towards Slave Island and The Fort.

In recent times, the tall Ceylinco building and Central Bank office building display a more modern aspect of architecture and civil engineering. The MICH building which houses the Peoples Bank and ACBC building are also significant structures on the western side of the Fort. Many plush, new, five start hotels have dotted the landscape of the Fort. The twin towers and the Bank of Ceylon tower are two of the tallest buildings in the area now. Some of the more popular and famous names are, The Intercontinental, Meridian, and the Hilton Hotels.
The Light House, located on Galle Buck Road, on the western most part of the Fort, used to be a wonderful place for families to relax and spend time, on Sunday evenings watching the ships pass by. In recent times, the place has been cordoned off as a security area and access to the light house is virtually impossible. The concrete base of the light house with its majestic stone lions looking out from its four corners, were much enjoyed as a play area by the kids of those times.

One could never complete an essay on the Fort without mentioning the clock tower that stood in the center of the intersection of Chatham Street and Queens Street. The structure has stood for many moons and even though the hands of the clock may have stopped at a quarter to four at some point of time in its history, the grandeur of its statesmanship still holds high for the town.

Great Pics of Colombo:

Wednesday, February 25, 2009



Once, there was a town,
Where we used to roam;
Through the straight and narrows,
Romping all the way home;
Skimming the beach sands,
Across Railway Lines;
Putting bat to ball,
On every street defined;
Ringing on every doorbell,
Scamping down the Streets;
Frolicking in the Sunshine,
Dripping in rainy beats;
The patter of small feet,
Those days were filled with smiles;
A child’s delightful retreat,
We’ve walked a million miles.

Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, Feb 25, 2009

The Bambalapitiya Flats Website

The Bamba Flats Video

Trains at Bamba

Sunday, January 04, 2009

The Tram Car Ride

Going back on a Tramcar ride
By Tissa Devendra – Sunday Times Jan 4 2009

What triggered my memory was an old (very) studio photo of my childhood self staring glumly at the camera while my infant sister timidly leaned towards me. Proudly embossed at the photo’s bottom was “Terminus Studio”. I seem to remember this venerable institution yet standing, till the early 1950s, on the triangular corner where Panchikawatta Road turned into Skinner’s Road towards Technical College.
The ‘Terminus’ of its name meant the end of the line of the very first tramway before it was later extended to Grandpass. The other establishment to honour this now-forgotten mode of public transport was ‘The Tram View Hotel’, a rather dingy tea shop opposite the Punchi Borella Bo tree. The name was probably inspired by the spanking new trams of the late 19th century as they first whooshed past the ‘hotel’ verandah.

The ‘hotel’ retained its name for many years after the last tram clattered to a nameless scrap-yard. As the craze for antiques had not yet taken root, not a single tramcar nor the hotel signboard remains to recall the trams that dominated Colombo’s roads, and carried many thousands of commuters, for well over half a century.

Tramcars seem to have been introduced into Colombo, not long after London, by a British Mayor in the late 19th century. This was an age when motor cars were unknown, the European elite sped to work in rickshaws drawn by wiry ‘coolies’ and ‘natives’ of standing trundled along in ox-drawn buggy carts. Electric tramcars would have been a sensation for the silent speed with which they moved large numbers of people to the far corners of the then ‘Garden City of the East’. Although the steam engines of the CGR carried passengers from town to town, there was no mode of public transport within the city till the advent of tramcars. It is difficult to imagine the sensation they would have caused and the panic they struck in rickshawmen and cart-bulls.

A few First Class seats up in front were reserved for Europeans – the Master Race. Henry W. Cave (Book of Ceylon 1908) devotes quite a few pages to tram travel as the best way of seeing the sights of scenic and exotic Colombo.

The reputed European (what else?) firm of Bousteads owned and operated tramcars under licence from the Municipality. A long arm mounted on the flat roof linked trams to the electricity lines that powered their silent progress. Trams were about the size of a small bus and came in two models. The earliest and commonest, illustrated here, had 10 or 12 long rows of wooden slatted benches in ‘toast rack-style’ facing forward.

The other was rather like a railway compartment with a doorway at the centre, benches along the sides and a ceiling rod for standee passengers to cling to. Some unique features distinguished the “driver’s cabin”. The driver steered the tramcar while standing. Steering was by an impressive metal tiller with a shining brass knob as a handle. At his feet was the button for the loud bell he clanged to announce halting places and clear the tracks of carts, cyclists and pedestrians.

Two broad footboards, one above the other, ran along the length of the tramcar – for the ticket collector’s progress and steps for passengers to mount and dismount.
Trams were very passenger-friendly and had very short runs between halts. I seem to remember about 10 halts between Maradana Railway Station and Punchi Borella. In the same tradition as the CGR, most tram drivers were burly Burgher gents in impressive khaki uniforms. Ticket collectors were drawn from the ‘lesser breeds’. Sadly, there has been no Carl Muller to document the rise and fall of these knights of the tramways.

Although I spent the first six years of childhood in Colombo I cannot recollect travelling by tram at all. So it was in 1946, when I left Ratnapura for a school in Colombo, that I first encountered them with goday wonder. But I soon got reasonably adept in hopping on and off without mishap and forking out the requisite five cents! for travel between two halts. Not long after, I experienced the camaraderie of frequent tram travellers.

As I clambered on to the tram, a descending traveller pressed an unpunched ticket into my hand as a gesture of solidarity. As the son of a school principal, and not yet wise to the ways of the world, I crumpled his gift and conscientiously paid my five cents to the ticket collector. As time went on I learnt the trick of slyly sliding along my bench seat to the end furthest away from the ticket collector working his way along the footboard on one side of the tram. But this manoeuvre could be accomplished only when there were no other passengers between me and the coveted ‘escape seat’. It has to be admitted that such luck was much rarer than the boasts we made of such escapades.

For some inexplicable mechanical reason tramway lines/rails were not above ground but embedded below the road surface.This gave rise to interesting phenomena.
One was the slippage of rickshaw and bicycle wheels into the embedded rails Once he off-loaded his embarrassed passengers, the rickshawman easily lifted his rickshaw out of the rut and trotted off to the clang of the annoyed tram driver’s bell and rude remarks of unruly passengers . The other phenomenon was when a bicycle on a slippery surface wobbled into one of these ruts. Extrication was followed, as usual, by clanging of the driver’s bell accompanied by passenger hoots.

My brother, who had borrowed my bike, fell victim to this misadventure. No sooner had he pulled his bike out than a cart ran over it to the vast amusement of tram passengers and passers-by. But for a bent spoke or two my sturdy ex-Army war-horse, a relic of jungle warfare gifted by an army uncle,was none the worse for the encounter.

My loveliest memory, however, was the wondrous sight when the trams travelled at night over roads that had just been tarred and spread with the requisite layer of sand. As the lighted tram scrunched over this sand it sparkled magically with a myriad sparks.
Somewhere in the 1950s, for some mysterious reason, the Municipality decided to scrap Colombo’s tramways. Some diehard romantics boarded the last tramcar to Grandpass, decorated it with streamers and balloons, and hired a Kotahena funeral band to dolefully belt out the Funeral March to the tramcar’s final halt.

Let this brief piece be a requiem for a charming mode of transport and a way of life long lost to belching buses, skittering trishaws and traffic-jammed cars.

I sometimes wonder whether, in the dead of night, one can faintly hear the clang of a ghostly bell as a phantom tramcar trundles past the Terminus at Panchikawatte and the Tram View Hotel of Punchi Borella on its way to rusty death.