In December 1949, my parents, Teddy and Fernie, travelled to Ranna in the deep south, to spend the Christmas holidays with Eddie and Bridget (Bee) Wambeek. Bridget was my father’s sister, and Eddie was the local PHI. At Ranna, they met Dr. Tissera, and his wife. My late father wrote about this visit, so I’ll borrow his words for a first-hand account.
“Dr. Tissera suggested going into the jungle to watch wild elephants. The three ladies in the group – Mrs. Tissera, my sister Bee, and my wife Fernie – were all in an advanced state of pregnancy. But they readily consented to go on the trip without realising its gravity.
Having walked about half a mile into the thick jungle (munching various sour fruits) and laughing at Eddie’s jokes, we finally arrived at the foot of a huge “palu” tree which had a rough platform called “messa” built at a height of over 30 ft. A ladder made of jungle creepers was the only way up. It was getting dark, the time being about 6.30 pm, when the guide said we had to climb up to the platform before the elephants appeared. Going back was out of the question because we might run into the elephants making their way to the water hole. But the ladies refused to climb and wanted to go back. It was only on hearing the trumpeting of the elephants approaching at a distance they consented to climb through fear.
Bee (the tomboy she was) said she would go up first helped by Eddie and me; Fernie went up next with a lot of pushing and swaying of the ladder; Mrs. Tissera had to be virtually carried to the top with much difficulty as she was fairly stout.
At last we were seven adults high up on the crude platform looking very silly but grateful to be above the elephants. But the elephants took their time, and Mrs. Tissera kept repeating “enawado, nathido” (coming or not). Much later, a herd of elephants with young ones entered the nearby water hole in full view from the tree, and enjoyed themselves for over two hours in the moonlit night. It was only after daybreak that seven hungry souls came down to stretch our benumbed limbs and walk back to the car, then home and straight to bed. In due course, the three ladies were blessed with three sons: Premalal Tissera, George Wambeek and George Braine.”
Incidentally, Premalal, George, and I became schoolmates in Negombo, around 1960. But, we were not aware of the event that took place at Ranna, so never talked about it.
My aunty Bee, a wonderful raconteur, never tired of repeating this story. I must have heard it dozens of times, while egging her on. She especially relished repeating Mrs. Tissera’s immortal words, “enawado, nathido”, with varying stress and intonations.
Years later, around 2005, I accompanied my father on a visit to Mrs. Tissera at Marawila. It was their first meeting in more than 50 years, but she recognised my father at once. Mrs. Tissera was over 90 years old at that time.
Everyone who climbed the “palu” tree have passed away. The last to leave was Aunty Bee, in 2013.