Sunday Observer Online


Sunday, 6 February 2011





Marriage Proposals
Government Gazette

Sunburnt Home - an Australian-Sri Lankan novel

Letters to and from home:

[Chapter 11]

Dear Mother,

April has arrived but there are no erabadu mal or sounds of kohas. I am thinking of you everyday, and your preparation of ' kavum', 'kokis', 'arsmi', 'athirasa' [1] for the Sinhala New year. I can smell the aromas of food you may be preparing for the good part of the village and our relatives in Aluthgama and Kuligoda. But there is no such thing called Sinhala or Tamil New Year in Australian calendars. Therefore, we have no public holidays for Sinhala and Tamil New Year in Australia! Mid April is also the time for highly celebrated Pasku, and the Australians call it Easter.

Now I know how good and tolerable we Sri Lankans are for recognising the rights of all major religious groups and declaring holidays for Sinhalese Buddhists to celebrate their religion during Vesak, and Poson, and having national holidays for Deepavali for Hindu Tamils, Ramadan for Muslims, and Christmas holiday for the Catholics and Christians.

This means, despite the proportion of these religious or ethnic groups, Sri Lanka has declared public holidays for all religious groups. This will never happen in Australia as the Government can’t make public holidays for all national or religious groups. We have over one hundred fifty ethnic groups living in Australia! But, what I would like to see is Australia having a national day for Aboriginal people who are the original inhabitants of this land.

This is my first Sinhala Avurudu in Australia and what I regret most is my inability to celebrate an event closer to all of us and share the importance of this celebration with my children. Putha is too small to understand all these festivals and holidays, but when he grows up, I will tell him all about Sri Lanka and our good traditions that we can’t follow in Australia.

Malini says that it is okay not to celebrate Sinhala New Year in Australia! I heard her telling Duwa that she would buy “Easter goodies” such as hot cross buns and Easter eggs for Sunitha. But unlike our ' kavum' 'kokis', I don’t know what to tell or how to tackle all these alone. Malini says as we are in Australia for good, we should follow Australian ways! I don’t think that I can leave behind my Sri Lankan culture at any cost. After all, I was born and had my free education in Sri Lanka. How can I forget my country and my people?

I still could recall past Sinhala New Year days that have become a mere shadow in my vanishing memories. I still remember when I was five years of age, what you bought me; my first ever Aluth Avurudu gift; a brand new small T-shirt. In my mind, I could still smell of new clothes you bought for me. Then you and Thaththa were teaching at Piyarathne Vidyalaya in Padukka, where I attended both year one and two in that small, but pleasant school. I still remember the name of the road where we lived, Paththni Mawatha!

Sunitha turned five in February and she is picking up things very fast. I wonder what I could buy her for Sinhala New Year. Should I allow Malini to buy hot cross buns and Easter eggs? Sunitha is very clever, and if I talk about Sinhala New Year and Aluth Avurudu, she would ask thousands of questions.

Two months ago, she received an award at her primary school. This award was given as she had “adjusted” to a new environment. Sunitha was also given the opportunity to address the sabhawa which she knows as the school assembly. Now she speaks like an Australian kid. All the teachers and the principal of her school are very fond of her. I told them that my late father was also a school principal.

The hot weather we had during the last couple of months has changed, and Perth is a bit cooler place now.

I can’t write much about my work as I am really not happy, but I get a lot of money compared to my Sri Lankan salary! At the same time, I have to pay lot of taxes and more money to buy food in Australia. Electricity bills and petrol for the cars are the same.

We are still living in the same small house we have rented, and Malini is always asking me to buy a house. We need to save at least ten percent as a deposit, and we are saving every cent we could to buy a house. Sometimes I go to faraway places to buy cheap vegetables and groceries. Everything is expensive in Australia.

Talking about Sunitha, she speaks less Sinhala now. You may remember when we telephoned you last month, she only said: “Kohomada Achchi Amma, mama hondata innawa!” [How are you grandmother, and I am doing well!].

I of course try to speak Sinhala with Duwa, but she replies in English. She has started calling me Dad. One day, I shouted when she called me ‘DAD’ and she cried and said: “I am sorry Thaththa!” Malini spoke to me later and said not to create trauma in her tender mind. After all Malini is a doctor, so I could not say anything against her advice! So, I now allow Sunitha to call me ‘Dad!’

I have told you about Professor and Mrs Weerasuriya who are originally from Panadura. Both of them have been very helpful to us in Perth. Last month, Professor Weerasuriya got a top job at the International Rice Research Centre in the Philippines and left Australia, last month. His contract is only for five years, but we were told that he might easily get a job with the United Nations. We were very sad about their departure, but I think people need to do things they like.

I think his knowledge and experience would be very useful for a lot of poor countries around the world. They were like an elder brother and sister and had given us a lot of advice. When I shouted at Sunitha Duwa for calling me Dad, it was Mrs Weerasuriya who first advised me that we should not force children the Sri Lankan ways as now we live in Australia! How can you give up your Srilankanness wherever you live?

As you know, Malini is still not working and staying at home until Asela putha turns five, so that he could start schooling. We are both not happy to leave him in day care centers. Malini may have to go for some special classes to do her Australian medical exams. She had started some small business called AusWay, with a private company that distribute vitamin, laundry powder like things. She orders them through a warehouse and sells them to a few families and keeps her commission. As she is a doctor, I always tell her that these are not good things to do, but she just ignores me and do her own things. I think she has changed and is bit different to who she was!

You must be happy to learn that now I can cook a curry or two and also prepare rice. We bought a thing called a ‘Rice Cooker’ and it cooks rice automatically!

The other day, I cooked a parripu hodda and Sunitha said: “It was very tasty, Dad!” and laughed. Sunitha makes a dish called Lasagne, and I think it’s an Italian dish. She has learnt how to make this Italian food very well. The other day Sunitha asked: “Mum I can’t remember you making this food in Sri Lanka!”

Unlike in Sri Lanka, men have to do domestic work including washing dishes and clothes, as we don’t have dhobis and servants in Australia!

Talking about Australian food, Australians do a thing called barbeque which is just burning meat and sausages using a gas cooker in the back yard. It is a big thing in Australia. A week ago there was a party and one of our good neighbours invited us for a barbeque, and I was surprised to taste the food; just burnt meat with no taste, but people ate happily.

I don’t think that I could get used to the idea of inviting friends and offer them just raw burnt meat. This is not a civilized way to treat friends and family. I don’t like barbeques!

Our office also had a barbeque party in December and we all attended and both Sunitha and Malini enjoyed eating uncooked meat! I just nibbled a bread role and came home hungry. Both my friends and Malini reminded me that I should get used to Australian way of cooking!

I started the letter by talking about Sinhala Avurudu and this is the first time that I have missed this great festival of ours after 38 years of age.

I will try to tell Sunitha about Avurudu but I don’t know whether it would go to her head as she doesn’t know much Sinhala things and ways.

How is Sunitha podi Amma? Is she still teaching at Sri Pali Vidyalaya? As she is turning fifty-five this year, is she planning to retire? I always tell Sunitha that she was named after Sunitha nanda and she laughs. Some kids and Malini have started calling Sunitha, a Western name; Sue.

Australians are very good for shortening names and place names for whatever the reasons. I had a few problems at work as people call Afternoons, ‘Arvo’ and alright could be ‘okey-dorkey!’ They don’t say Christmas but Chrissie and presents are ‘Prezies!’

Sunitha Duwa asked me in December, “Dad, are we getting prezies for Chrisie or would Santa Clause bring ours?”

So everything is different in Australia and sometimes even I get confused.

The names are the same. If you are William they call you Bill and Robert is Bob. A lot of people wanted to call me at work ‘Jay’ instead of Jayadeva but I didn’t like it at first. But finally, I had to give up as many people cannot pronounce either my first or last name. They pronounce Gamage as Gum-ma-gee. So even our names may be changed in due course!

The letter is already long and I will write to you soon and try and give you a call end of the month again.

May the Triple Gem's blessings be with you!
Yours faithful Putha,

Jayadeva Gamage.
Guru Nivasa
Palathota Para

My dearest Putha,

I was very happy to receive a letter from you but most of the things in your letter were a shock to me, especially, Australians don’t have a holiday for Sinhala and Tamil New Year! I thought you went to live in a country where we can maintain our cultural traditions.

I am really worried about Sunitha Duwa calling you ‘Dad’ and you have not mentioned how she addresses her mother! Malini Duwa should use her head and make sure that she raises both children as Sri Lankn-Buddhist children, and not as Australian children.

I was not happy to read that you are cooking and washing plates. These are not work for men. While your father was alive, I have not allowed him to make even a cup of tea. On the other hand, what can you do, when there is no one to help you with work in kitchen? Can’t you find someone to help with cooking and washing in Australia?

Please remember to teach children to call both of you, ‘Amma’ and ‘Thaththa’. As far as I know, only Catholic children address their parents as ‘Mum’ and ‘Dad’. Remember that we are Sinhalese Buddhist and we need to follow our ways.

You must not change your name to Jay or our wasagama [2]. As you know our Wasagama; Godawattege Arachchilage Jayadeva Gamage De Silva says a lot about our caste and our origin, and you must be proud of your heritage.

Although we have dropped De Silva part of our Wasagama, as for generations, your father’s people have given up working in cinnamon industry, but the Gamage part of the Wasagama is important. That’s why when we arranged a woman for you, we found a good Salagama caste partner for you.

It doesn’t matter which caste you come from, if you are a Sinhala Buddhist, the Sinhala New Year is important. In any case, you must boil milk for New Year and remember our past and good tradition. I checked the Epa Panchanga Litha, [3] and this year, Aluth Avurudu falls on 14th April at 10.36 in the morning, and please boil some milk and think of Budda, Dhamma and Sanga!

May the Triple Gems protect you and your family.

Loving Mother,

Amarawathi Gamage


[1] Kavum', 'kokis', 'arsmi', 'athirasa' – Sri Lanka’s traditional sweat meats. The Sinhala New Year is usually associated with these traditional dishes.

[2] Wasagama – The Sinhala word for Surname.

[3] Epa Panchanga Litha – This is the national ephemeris and used by the local astrologers to calculate birth charts. It also provides important astrological and auspicious times, including the time on which the traditional New Year would commence etc.

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Disclaimer: This is a work of fiction. Names, places, characters and incidents either are products of the author's imagination or are used fictitiously. w



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