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Bamba Flats, Bambalapitiya

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The famous, or should I say infamous, Bamba Flats were a vast acreage of land containing several three storeyed apartment blocks spanning from the Galle Road all the way down to the beach. The Bamba Flats land was the Seminarywatte (Seminary Garden), in which novice priests were trained to the order of SJ. The Seminarywatte was also a favorite cricket ground of the Bamba lads - mainly Peterites, who started nurturing their cricketing talents here - names H. I. K. Fernando, Pat Kelly, Dion Walles, Jayantha Fernano, Bin Mohammed, The de Silva Brothers, Conrad Ephraims, Tony Fernando. M.S.M.Ghouse are some of the names that come to mind of great cricketers of that era who distinguished themselves at Cricket at various levels.

The Abhayasinghes, of whom the father was the Editor of a Sinhala Daily published by the Lake House Group, and his son Kumar, who attended Royal and daughter Kumudini, who attended Visakha Vidyalaya, lived in the first block on the left viewed from the Galle Road. The Amarasinghams, comprising “papa” who was Director at Lever Brother Ceylon Ltd and sons Anton, Mano who went on to become a lawyer before migrating to Australia, and Gnanakumar, and daughters Evelyn & Edna, both migrating to and settling in the UK after the 83 havoc.The Miskin family headed by Papa Miskin of the “Latiff Miskin Combo” fame and sons Farook who played drums and Ahmed a great crooner who died early in life. A row of shops sprouted up on the ground floor of the building parallel to and facing the Galle Road.

They comprised, from left to right, The Milk Board, Koffee House, a coffee shop where the Latiff Miskin Combo played nights, Woolworth, a department store, Anoma’s Hair Dressing Saloon, Femina, another department store, and a Cooperative Store managed and run by the people of the area. Then there were the de Kretsers, on the third block on the left viewed from the Galle Road, of whom Nigel attended Royal and Rozanne & Rochelle attended St. Pauls Milagiriya. All of them have migrated to Australia.

In the same block lived the famous piano teacher, Ms Mignonne Kelaart, who used to shuttle between Rajasinghe Road at Wellawatte and the Bamba flats She too migrated to Australia where she died of old age. Many a young lady at bamba were her students who excelled in music in their latter years. Further down towards the beach lived Loranjan Dias Abeygunawardena, who attended Royal, and his sister, Shiromi, who attended Visakha Vidyalaya. They both migrated to LA in the USA. Shiromi married Rifky Mackeen, also an ex Royalist, who excelled in the banking profession at Citibank in Colombo and later on in the USA.

Lakshman Kiriella, who also attended Royal and then went on to politics to become the Minister of Plantation Industries in the UNP Government, was boarded at the flat occupied by Ms Jayatilleke.

Raja Rajapakse, uncle of Prasanna Mendis of Melbourne, Australia, ran the tyre dept of Rowlands, and his wife, aunty Violet, was a well-liked matron at the General Hospital, in Colombo, were prominent dwellers at the flats. Their boys -Lalith a medical representative, passed away early in life; Sriyantha Rajapakse played cricket for St. Thomas' College, Mt Lavinia and also for the Sri Lanka national team and was employed at The Maharajah Organization in Colombo. The other son is Ranil.

Shireen Deen, who married Furqan, of Royal also lived at the flats. Her sister, Dilhara has since migrated to New Zealand with her family. Khazeena Cassim and her Mum also lived at the Flats.

Thahir Fuard, who married Mueeza Sheriff of Davidson Road, also lived with his parents and siblings in "M" Block. Ms Coomaraswamy, nee Sinnathurai, ex teacher at St. Pauls Milagiriya and Muslim Ladies College, also lived at the flats. In her latter years, after retirement, she spent most of her giving private tuition, sometimes to children of her own past pupils.

The Solomon’s family of whom Pamela, Joan, & Kathy were very popular amongst the young lads of the area also lived at the flats. Their brother is David Solomans who married Zohara Uduman, who also lived in the Flats.

The very popular Ms Misso, whose sons attended St. Peters College also lived in the same block as the Solomons’ family, right behind the front block facing and parallel to the Galle Road. Aunty Misso's hubby was Donny. They have a son and a daughter both migrated to Australia now. The daughter married Ralph D'Silva, a Thomian (cousin of Lorensz and Roger D'Silva, Thomian cricketers) and presently a leading car dealer in Melbourne. The fun part of living within the flats or nearby was the daily morning meeting at the bus stop, waiting for the various school buses to take the young lads and lassies to their destinies. Life was a bustle at the flats where everything that could ever happen, happened, and life still moved on harmlessly.

The intrigues, relationships, events and other sinister going-on’s are voluminous in number and would make delicious reading if they could only be collected and compiled into a dossier.And then there was the Bamba Flats Welfare Society, housed in the far block by the seaside, which catered to the entertainment, amusement and general welfare of all its residents on special occasions, festivals, and holidays. Another glamorous inhabitant of the Bambalapitiys flats was Gillian Thorne. She attended Vivil Ludowyk's Academy for the Backward down 8th Lane, with the other students lounging around at the head of the lane, cigarettes dangling from their lips trying to make her acquaintance. Carl Fernando, last heard of in Switzerland, is another name that pops up at the Bamba Flats.

Penny White, who married Ravi Jayawardena, son of President JR Jayawardena, and her sister Melanie White, also lived at the flats. Elmo, Herman & Frank Gunasekera and their sister Helen who married the famous Rugby player Gamini Fernando also were flatters of great fame. Mr Samad, Rugby coach of Zahira who won the Schools Rugby Champiosnhip under his guidance was another resident known and loved by all who lived at the flats. Jan Vanden Driesen (the famous swimmer and Accountant) and his family also lived at the flats. His dad was in the Police. The Patternots were also another famous family in the Flats.

Roy Clogstoun and his family also lived at Block M. Roy migrated to Australia in 1969 and has taken up residence in Melbourbe. He joined the Australian Government Service. He has, recently, in June 2007, taken up an assignment as First Secretary at he Austraian Embassy in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia. He is married to Joan and has two lovely daughters, Isobella & Sophie. Upali Obeysekera, reading the Bamba blog in Toronto, in Canada, states that many names came back to his mind as people from the 59 & 60s era. He states, "I lived at the Bamba Flats from 1956 - 1962, E Block. There are many other names of people worth mentioning. Starting with Maurice Wanigaratne who lived in the same E Block, ground floor. Maurice was a prolific opening batsman for St. Joseph's College and later played for SSC. He became a diplomat and passed away a couple of years back. Maurice's nephew Nihal Kodituwakka also stayed with him. Dimunitive Nihal 'Kodda' played for Royal in the 60s and also won his national cap in Cricket playing against a strong West Indies XI. Then there was the Ranchigoda family from I Block - Winston (now in LA), Nihal (Australia), Lucky (still at Bamba Flats), Maurice (Toronto) and a whole bunch of others. I believe Nimal Ranchigoda played Cricket for St. Joseph's and NCC.

A Family colored with Tie & Dye

The Sunday Leader July 22 2007 - By Ranee Mohamed She discovered the art as if by accident and it became the craze of the '60s. The fashion world put a name to it, they called it `tie and dye.' And it raged on splashing colour all over the country. So bright was this riot of colour that the whole world stopped to gaze. But what the reality that the vibrant colours of 'tie and dye' overshadowed was the fact that this art was discovered by a frail young mother of three in a warm corner in her home at the Bambalapitiya Flats, Colombo 4. "At that time the Bambalapitiya flats were painted in pretty colours. The blue seas and the orange sunset gave me so much inspiration," said Swanee Jayawardene, the pioneer of tie and dye in Sri Lanka. Initially inspired by a famous designer of that era - Ena de Silva's creation of pebbles tied in fabric and coloured, Swanee's creative mind was immediately set off into a differently hued journey.

'No idea'

"I tied the fabric and put in the colour and had no idea what it would become. Then I discovered that there was 'no end to it.' With batik you know what to expect; with my new creation, I had no idea what to expect," recalled Swanee Jayawardene.

Jayawardene's new creation did not come as a surprise to those who knew her. Her artistic touch came from her heart and mind, and came in the form of not only tie and dye, but paintings and the way her rose garden at home bloomed.

The colours of her creation spilled on to her entire family. "My son was just five years old and he would help me with my tie and dye. He would abandon his friends who played various games with him on the staircase of the Bambalapitiya flats and join me to hold a saree or a piece of fabric for me," said Jayawardene fondly of her son Rohan who is now the 'man behind this colourful show.'

Jayawardene's tie and dye enraptured the world of fashion of that era so much so that several ladies involved their domestic aides in the tie and dye experiments they were doing at home on their not-so-new clothes.

It was a time when pioneers as Soma Udabage and Lena De Silva reigned supreme with their own unique creations. The tie and dye discovered by this celebrated art teacher of Bishop's College, also began to rage on. The high society ladies, the professionals and the politicians too were drawn to the colours as they were to the comfortable silks and cottons on which the colour seemed to have had their own way.

All over the world

Swanee Jayawardene's tie and dye crossed the blue seas and reached different parts of the world. It became particularly popular with the 'Hippies' of that era who basked in the comfort and simplicity that the art offered.

Jayawardene who taught art at the Bishop's College for 19 years soon found that she had to leave her job because she could not cope with the demand for her tie and dye. Swanee's Boutique then situated at Haig Road became the Odel of the 1960s.

As the years went by her son who held the edges of Swanee's fabric, shouldered the whole business. He became her representative, manager and the man who stood by her.

"We went to over 10 international trade fairs. My mother's creations took us to Italy, Germany, France, Japan, Egypt and several other countries. Her fashion show held in the early 1960s called Vilasitha, was the most talked about event in that era," recalled Rohan Jayawardene. "Once we received an order for tie and dye from the Mitsui Company in Japan. When they received the fabric, they decided to pay more than double the sum quoted by us because they insisted that the creation was worth much more," recalled the Jayawardenes.

Many items

The things that Swanee could do with her hands were limitless - from tie and dye outfits of exquisite colour to appliqu‚ dresses, sarees, sarongs and carry bags; she created with her hands, mind and heart. As if all that were not enough she later discovered another technique called 'explosion' in which she combined her tie and dye colour splashes with batik designs, thereby creating a wholly new and striking look in Sri Lankan women. Tie and dye, discovered by Swanee Jayewardene is still sought after in India and Thailand. And her three children Rohan, Manel and Menik who lived amidst all the colour, happiness and creativity grew up to be just that. Swanee Jayewardene's daughters recall their happy days in the Bambalapitiya flats. They speak of the their happy life with their mother and father. Their father Harry Jayawardene had been the sports editor of the then Daily Mirror and had also been a medal winner in sports and a great singer. Happily going back in time, they speak not only of the happy family life but went on to give vivid details of the delectable, home-cooked shorteats that they relished as children at the Milk Bar situated on the ground floor of the Bambalapitiya flats in the 1960s. "Everything I have done in my life, I have done well. I have known only success. I have no regrets and look back on life very happily. I still remember my students at Bishop's College. Though hundreds of children have learnt art from me I remember a few students for their talent, ability and creativity. "I remember Shiranthani Gunasekera and Vinu Hemachandra and Einlal. There were several more whom I cannot remember now," said the 77 year old Swanee Jayewardene, going back in time.

Students still in touch

"I particularly remember Sicille Kotelawala, a very beautiful child. Not only was she beautiful, she was very talented too. She could do a multitude of things remarkably well," recalled Jayawardene. Sicille Kotelawala too has not forgotten. She is still in touch with her old teacher. Though several decades have passed, she finds the time to telephone this teacher and take her down memory lane. The passing years have switched the roles - Kotelawala now guides the teacher, with love, care and gentleness, through her senior years now. It is amazing how a mother's creativity can extend to her children. Swanee Jayawardene is undoubtedly proud of her children. Her son Rohan brings her great happiness and confidence for Swanee's Boutique, an approximately 40-year old concern is still in existence. The business involves a special line of batik t-shirts and batik infused fibre glass tables, exotic umbrellas made of tie and dye and waterproof fabric attached to wooden framework. Their products are sought after by not only the tourists but also the tourist industry in Sri Lanka. Her creativity reached top hotels as the Tangerine Hotel in the south and The Citadel in Kandy. "We have been the creative link to several hotels and in these instances we work with the architects and decide on how best we can blend the colour with our own creations," explained Rohan. Daughters to the fore

Swanee's daughters Menik and Manel are described as 'fine designers.' While Menik takes the art form from her family a step ahead by making a name as a teacher of jazz ballet; her other daughter Manel creates exquisite tapestries and paints on porcelain. "I also work with young people in theatre," said Manel and went on to say that her work gives her great job satisfaction while giving her the freedom to improve her artistic talent. The way a mother lives her life can touch the lives of her children in the most unexpected ways. Swanee Jayewardene is the happy person who can look back to her youth and see only colour. "I am old and tired now. The past seems to have disappeared. I can only look back and admire the beautiful things around me," says Jayawardene. There is a tinge of sadness as she looks back at her happy life. Decades ago, she was the designer, the creator and the celebrity whose name instilled awe. Her's was a name that was linked with the great artistes of our times as Harry Peiris, Ivan Peiris, Richard Gabriel, Lionel Wendt, Collete, Beiling and Manjusri. Today, she lives in solitude at her beachside residence in Dehiwala. There are no coloured roses in her garden now, only the coloured memories, and the fragrance remains.

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