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We used to come to Colombo periodically as Rani & Lali were going to school at Bishop’s. We stayed at 317 Galle road which was across the road from the sea. I would have been 5. We were taken for an early morning bath by Georgy seeya who was an Aponso related on my mothers side I believe. It was deeply embarrassing for Daya and me as he would wade out to waist deep and do an ah-gudus with a bucket he brought along for that purpose. There were other bathers around including school friends. Daya and I would spend many hours catching fish in a huge drain that brought out the waste flow from Kollupitiya and were not deterred by the sight of floating faecal matter. Amazing that we survived to run an aquarium and earn money at the age of 10 and 11. We would loan money to my mother when she was broke at the end of the month. We also discovered that Julie amma to whom we entrusted our earnings was quietly giving it to Evan and Nimal to buy cigarettes.
My brothers Evan and Nimal were ten years older than I. They would send me periodically to the “Saivar” kade to buy them a cigarette. This kade had South Indian music blaring out from the radio which sounded to me like someone gargling his throat. One day something clicked and I was thenceforth fascinated by South Indian Karnatic music. My brother Nimal was fond of music and was always singing in the bath. When I was eleven or so he took me to see Walt Disney’s Fantasia. One of the sequences was an animated accompaniment to Stravinsky’s “ Rites of spring” which immediately entranced me and I became soon addicted to contemporary classical music. My musical taste in classical music since has been Bach and backwards and Stravinsky and forwards.
I was fortunate to have my mothers brother, uncle Roy and his family stay with us for some years. He had a hand winding gramophone on which we listened to Fritz Kreisler and other violin maestros perform. He told me a delightful tale of Kreisler. After a performance an elderly gentleman visited him backstage and Said “ magnificent maestro ! you must play at my funeral. Kriesler kindly inquired “and what would you like to hear ?”
Gramophone needles were expensive but I discovered that lime thorns could be used to play one record, so I had an unlimited stock. Uncle Roy was a teacher of science, and I found out many interesting things from him. Chief among these was how to make a magic lantern. This lead to my early interest in animation and films. His first child was a daughter, and returning from school he would lean over her crib and say “hullo”. Soon the little one was calling him “ Hullo” and I realized that little children use Dada or mama as a proper name and not as a name for their relationship. This became infectious and all his children following called him Hullo and all of us would refer to him as Hullo. This resulted in such curious questions as “where is Hullo ? or “has Hullo returned ?”. He also had a baby son, and as he and his wife were both teachers I spent a considerable time with the little fellow and did several paintings of him asleep in his cot. This was my first experience of keeping track of a baby and has stood me in good stead in dealing with several others later in life.
The first baby I had to deal with on my own was my own daughter, Mintaka. My wife and I had separated when she was one and a half years old. As my wife was migrating to the United states of America, she asked me if I would look after the baby. I was delighted and relieved as I didn’t see any possibility of a judge granting me custody. So suitably equipped with Dr Chumley’s handbook on bringing up babies and several bottles of pasteurized milk I set out on what turned out to be the greatest adventure of my life. She is now 47 and has an 8 year old son and this is sufficient to establish my claim to knowing a thing two to about bringing up babies.
She was given her name by my friend Reggie Sirwardena who apart from translating Russian poetry, writing Sinhala film scripts and studying Boolean algebra, was also an astronomer and had a 10” reflective telescope. When I asked him for a name he rushed into his room and came out with a large star atlas, and said “this is it. Mintaka, the third star in Orion’s belt. And it will look good written calligraphically” this was sufficient reason to convince me. It turned out to have been a good choice. Many years later when I was designing a series of currency notes for the central bank, I told my daughter that I will give her an exceptional birthday gift, by making her the only little girl to be featured on a currency note. I achieved this by including the constellation of Orion in the night sky of the fifty rupee note. This note was featured on the cover of a massive volume on the “Paper Currencies Of the World.”