Letters From my Father Bennie: Travels with Rati

In an era where there was no email and when even an international telephone conversations had to go through an operator the letters from my father- Bennie (Bhasura) Kirtisinghe–were

my umbilical cord to the family. I used to get 3 letters a week in the period 1966-1969 from my father.They kept home sickness at bay and I would carry the last letter with me in my bag and take it out and read on the long bus journey to work in Liverpool.

One of the shoeboxes of old letters. 10 March, 2013. Nugegoda, Sri Lanka. Photograph©Chulie de Silva

Sadly, most of the letters from this period are lost but some remain from the time when we lived in Penang and then Kuala Lumpur and later in Brunei Darussalam.

The aerogramme of 3 April, 1983. Photograph©Chulie de Silva

The letters are a rich chronicle of family life that has faded from my memory, but to read again his scrawling hand writing is to relive the past.

He didn’t hold back when he wrote to me, and his frank writings often were hilarious. Photograph©Chulie de Silva

The box not only contained letter from him, but there were some from my sister Yasoja before she emigrated to Australia, my mother relating her anguish at finding her only sister had cancer and from friends too. There’s a wealth of family history archived in the letters. However, the most interesting were from my father, who was an inveterate storyteller. He would write to the edge of the aerogramme, and often sign as Father B or just BK.

He didn’t hold back when he wrote to me. I would wait eagerly for his letter and  I would even share his outrageous comments with friends in Malaysia who got to know him from these letters. His wanton imagination often went on wild romps. The letters I suspect were also an escape from the boredom of life that he often complained to me about as he aged. He knew however outrageous his comments were, that I wouldn’t censure. “Yes, I am now expensive. At 65 it has to be that. I am an unhappy man, nothing is done in this house (my house) as I wish.” In their marriage, power had shifted over the years to my mother, the matriarch. She very knowingly would say I am not sure what rubbish (in Sinhala the term she used was manasgatha) he is writing to Chulie. He would refer to my mother as his ‘(n)ever loving wife’ but close to death, he only wanted food cooked by my mother and would listen only to pirith chanted by my mother – as only she had the proper intonation that she had learned in her hometown of Panadura.

I plan to edit and post his letters on this blog. Today, I give extracts from a letter that was written on the 3 April in 1983 and is probably a response to my writing to him about the transcendental meditation I was practising and my inquiry as to whether he was meditating.

No, I am not meditating. Meditaion is not sitting stiff for 10 or (5mins) repeating one word & thinking of nothing (or trying). One day at meditation Mara sent her [sic his] cleverest & most sexy daughter “Rathie” to seduce me. In fact at that moment any female could have won me over. She took me back to my late teens and early 20s. She took me to all my girl friends. ..Some disported front opening brassieres & some did all the wiles of women. Little hands without rings on their fingers and with one or two gold bangles at the wrists. They went round my neck and some said “I won’t let you go.”

Rati-Goddess of love, lust and pleasure.

On the 19th I went on a sentimental journey to the past that Rathie took me as a voyeur. I went to see my ‘alma mater‘ Dharmaraja College, Kandy. Like a schoolboy I climbed to school hill (1000ft +). It was a Sunday, and I went all over my haunts with my camera. The swimming pools were abandoned. The tennis courts that were cut and laid by my friend and I were not there. Some classrooms were there. There were no trainer’s court at all. On the staff court was built a shrine room. ‘Our Principal’ a mighty man who married an English girl was not there.”

The Principal was his maternal uncle P.de. S. Kularatne and the English lady his “Aunt Hilda.” He has oft repeated stories of his time when he and my Uncle Bertie were boarders at Dharmaraja. It was while they were here they received a telegram of the passing away of their father, my grandfather K.H. Bastian.

My father seated in front of my grandfather and Uncle Bertie in front of my grandmother with the 5 elder brothers when the eldest P. Kirtisinghe (Loku Thatha in the middle) returned from University of London after obtaining his M.Sc. Left to right Uncle Ritchie, Uncle Albert, Loku Thatha, Uncle Lionel and Uncle Vinnie. Rephotographed from an original©Chulie de Silva

However, the obituary notice had mentioned only his five elder brothers, and left out the two younger children. Not sure what the logic of this was, but on their return to the boarding after the funeral they had been teased by the other children that they were adopted and not really nephews of the principal.

In the last story of his, he relates how an English couple sitting in front of him on the train journey from Kandy to Colombo lost their money and passports. He had explained to the railway authorities their lack of tickets at the exit point and given them Rs100/- to get them to their hotel. He says a week later he had a letter from them with Rs.150 in it and an invitation to visit them in London. Winding up he says ”I have no brandy” - an obvious hint  for a gift and reiterates “I don’t mediate but takes a ride to the past with Rathie.”

See also: Remembering Father B – Bhasura the lion of Hikkaduwa; Kirtisinghe Geeration1: Loku Thatha Comes Home.

Note on Rati from Wikipedia.

Rati (Sanskrit: रति, Rati) is the Hindu goddess of love, carnal desire, lust, passion and sexual pleasure.[1][2][3][4] Usually described as the daughter of PrajapatiDaksha, Rati is the female counterpart, the chief consort and the assistant of Kama (Kamadeva), the god of love. A constant companion of Kama, she is often depicted with him in legend and temple sculpture. She also enjoys worship along with Kama. Rati is often associated with the arousal and delight of sexual activity, and many sex techniques and positions derive their Sanskrit names from hers.

The Hindu scriptures stress her beauty and sensuality. They depict her as a maiden who has the power to enchant the god of love. When the god Shiva burnt her husband to ashes, it was Rati, whose beseeching or penance, leads to the promise of Kama’s resurrection. Often, this resurrection occurs when Kama is reborn as Pradyumna, the son of Krishna. Separated from his parents at birth, Rati – under the name of Mayavati – plays a critical role in the upbringing of Pradyumna. She acts as his nanny, as well as his lover, and tells him the way to return to his parents by slaying the demon-king, who is destined to die at his hands. Later, Kama-Pradyumna accepts Rati-Mayavati as his wife.