Return to Hikkaduwa 7 years after tsunami

Unlike many of the other tsunami anniversaries my heart is lighter this year. We have moved past a threshold of pain. Maybe we are propelled by a natural release of energy that they say happens every seven years
, which encourages you to move forward and make changes. Seven years after the tsunami of December 2004, the Kirtisinghe family seems to have found this energy to move back to their much loved home Siriniwasa. Built a century ago in 1911, by my paternal grandfather Kaluappuwa Hennidige Bastian de Silva the main house had stood the wrath of the tsunami. However, the tsunami had taken away the last Kirtisinghe son born in that house, my beloved brother Prasanna.

Siriniwasa. Hikkaduwa 2011. Photograph© Chulie de Silva

Today when I spoke to my younger brother Pradeep, there is a very positive lilt to his voice. They are out shopping for the almsgiving for the seventh death anniversary and the first to be held at Siriniwasa in his memory. Like last year, it pains me to be in Dhaka. But in my minds eye I can picture the event, the extended family, Rev. Tilaka will give his sermon and praise my mother and remember the dialogues on Buddhism that he had with my  father. The photos and memories from the past are potent potions to ease  the loneliness of being far away from the family centre.

Prasanna in sunglasses and I in happier times with cousin Athula, and friends at the old rest house, Hikkaduwa. Photograph©Aruna Kirtisinghe. Hikkaduwa circa 1963.

It is impossible to count the number of people who had trickled in and out of the house over this last century, to enjoy the sea, listen to my father’s yarns or call as relatives did unannounced in the good old days. Tea was served, fresh young coconuts were plucked from the trees to quench the thirst, an extra pot of rice was put on the hearth and my mother would somehow dish out a scrumptious meal. For us children, the sea was always our private pool.

Wallowing in shallow water Prasanna wearing goggles with cousins Aruna, Athula, Anoma, Hemal, my sister Yasoja and I. Photograph by Benny Kirtisinghe

Some days, we will all troop off to have a picnic at the family estate. For that we had to cross a small river on a catamaran. We had to park the jeep in the village, trek across a cinnamon estate to get to the river bank. Once there we kids will cup our hands and holler “Hoooo” to the boatman. In old Sri Lanka a “hoowa” (the yelling shout) was a measure of the distance — i.e. if someone was close by one would say he is only one “Hoowak” away — or ”Hoowak dura.”

Left to right standing Aunt Phoebe, cousin Punya and my mother, while Prasanna, Cousins Anoma, Hemal and Neomal, my sister Yasoja and I with the boatman in the rear. Photograph probably by Dr. Bertie Kirtisinghe

On 13 March this year I had a mail from a Dr. Bernd Hontschik who left a comment on the blog I had written about Prasanna on the 3rd year anniversary of the tsunami.

Dr. Bernd Hontschik in the garden at Siriniwasa in 1979. Photograph© Dr. Bernd Hontschik

Dear Chuli,
 in november 1978 and 1979 I was a guest in the house of your parents Manel and Benny for many weeks. Both visits were the most sunshiniest times of my life. Both visits I shared many hours with your brother Prasanna. Once I travelled through the whole island with him as my chauffeur. I am very very sad that I must read now that he was a victim of the 2004 tsunami. I will never forget your parent’s house, Manel’s meals served on the veranda, and the tiny garden house, which was my home at that time. And I will never forget Prassana. All the best for you, sent from Frankfurt in Germany, and please put a candle from me and Prasanna’s German friends onto the grave of him, if possible.

The garden cottage at Siriniwasa, that collapsed during tsuanmi killing Prasanna. Hikkaduwa, 1979. Photograph©Bernd Hontschik

Prasanna with his beloved Audi and Tom and Julia. Sri Lanka, 1979. Photograph©Bernd Hontschik

Thank you Bernd for the good memories and here’s to lighting some virtual candles to remember Prasanna, Chrishanta and many others who died on the 7th anniversary of the tsunami.

Candles at Madhu Church, Sri Lanka. March 2010. Photograph©Chulie de Silva

2005: Ashes of thoughts what the tsunami took away
2006: A look back twenty four moons after the tsunami
2007: Tsunami 3 years on: Remembering Prasanna Kirtisinghe
2008: How Blue was my sea at Hikkaduwa
2009: Tsunami 5+: the longest day, the darkest night, memories that linger
2010: Tsunami musings in Dhaka