Those Halcyon Days

those were the days....

There used to be an era, in the fifties and sixties, when all of Sameer’s large family gathered together, with their spouses and children, at 298 on weekends to enjoy a spirited game of cricket and a delicious preparation of buriyani lunch spread out on banana leaves on the floor of the house, accompanied to the favorite musical tunes on the Commercial Service of Radio Ceylon’s Sunday Choice program. This was usually topped up with Elephant House Ice Cream delivered by the three wheeled ice cream vendor of that time. Afternoon tea was always relished with the accompaniment of Muruku, Pakoda, Vadai from Ramjee Lodge on the other side of the street or even a hot and spicy mouth watering Babath filled Pasthol delivered by the famous Malay “Pasthol” vendor from Slave Island, who used to be a regular visitor to the house.

Many were the visitors who flocked to 298 in order to socialize or sell their wares. “Martha Akka” was a spritely fishmonger from Moratuwa, who brought her fresh fish carried in a basket on her head, for sale in the city. Sameer’s wife, Raliya Umma, was one of her favorite customers who bargained her to the limit in order to close the sale. In those days such domestic business dealings were done in Shillings (inherited from the old British Colonial Raj), where one Shilling was equivalent to Fifty Cents.

Another frequent visitor was Abdul Careem Noordeen, more affectionately knows as “Addu Kareem Appa”, youngest brother of Raliya Umma, who remained a bachelor until his demise. He was extremely popular and loved by all the kids at 298 on account of the fact that he used to bring along lots of tit-bits comprising “Murukku”, “Pakkoda”, “Masala Vadai”, “Ulundu Vadai”, and tea, from the Saiva Restaurant, Ramjee Lodge, across the street from 298.

W M Hassim, the famous business magnate of Colombo and manufacturer of Lion Brand Umbrella’s and Haslon Socks during that era, uncle (Mother’s sisters husband) of Raliya Umma, was also a very frequent visitor to 298, seen seated in the verandah diligently discussing various community issues with Mohammed Sameer.

Another special occasion that the grandkids enjoyed very much, during that era, was when month-end came and grand old Sameer Appa had to trudge along to the CMC to collect his pension. Usually one grandchild accompanied him. The trip to the CMC was made on a red double decker bus kindly provided by the CTB. The bus journey was always accompanied by much chatter and descriptions and explanations f the various streets, monuments, and buildings that were encountered along the way. At the Municipality, he met and chatted with many of his colleagues who had also come to collect their respective pensions. From here another bus was taken to Maradana and the Pettah where he purchased all his stationery from M D Gunasena’s and Lake House, Bombay Sweets and Faludha from the Bombay Sweetmeat mart at Keyzer Street, and even Jaggery and Treacle from the market. Sometimes, if it was getting a bit too late in the afternoon, grandpa and grandson enjoyed a delicious meal of Buriyani at Pilawoos.

The return journey was always by a Morris Minor taxi cab on account of the large amount of goods to be carried by the young lad, as well as the safety of the pension envelope, which was always pinned on to his inside jacket pocket by kind courtesy and strict instructions of his beloved and caring wife, Raliya Umma. On his return home the remaining cash in the pension packet was always delivered to his wife to manage the household, a job which she gallantly carried out from her bed, where she was confined to most of her latter life, on account of her Arthritis.

And then there were the boys of St Peter’s College and Hindu College, youth from the neighborhood lanes, lads from the Bambalapitiya flats, and urchins from the nearby ghetto’s who used to scale the walls of 298, pelting sticks and stones at the sprawling mango tree that stood majestically at its entrance, seeking to sink their teeth into the sweet and sour flesh of the delicious “Dampara” fruits. The screams and shouting of Sameer Appa shooing them all away will forever ring clear in the ears of his grandchildren who lived at 298 and 300.

And then there were those delicious days when Raliya Umma used to gather her daughters together to make “Dodol”, a sweetmeat made of Jaggery and Coconut, that everyone enjoyed and relished very much. It is still said and believed that none could match her quality of the product and we are yet to see anyone match her skills in this culinary art. There were also mornings at 298 when we used to kiss her goodbye, on our way to school, where she used to make sure we had a few mouthfuls of her salted Quaker Oats. There are moments in time when we still imagine hearing her little hand bell ringing, a device which she kept by her side and used to ring in order to seek attention from her many children and grandchildren.

The many wonderful memories of 298 will always live, in sweetness, in the hearts and minds of all those members of the Sameer family, friends, vendors and passers by, who had the opportunity to live there, enjoy and participate in those halcyon days of the great nineteen fifties and sixties.

The twin house, next door, at #300 was occupied by Muhammad Thahir and his family since 1943. Thahir’s in laws also lived here. The place was a sprawling 63.5 perches in extent and the house occupied about 8 perches on it leaving a massive garden at the rear which grew all kinds of fruits and vegetables. The backyard was also the home to cows, goats, ducks, geese, and chickens that enjoyed the vast open space and abundance of pasture that was afforded them.

Frequent Visitor to 298