Visiting the houses of famous writers is always a fascinating experience, and our trip to the birthplace of Martin Wickramasinghe was no exception.
The house survives by a quirk of good fortune. The British authorities demolished all similar houses in the neighbourhood (of Koggala) to make way for an airbase. The wife of an officer however took a fancy to Martin Wickramasinghe’s house and as a result it was preserved. The house is now a museum dedicated to his life and works.
We entered the house at the front into his study. The desk at which he wrote faced the inner wall while a steep ladder led up to the loft.
“They kept food up there, coconuts,” said the guide, a kindly white-haired old man who seemed eager to offer information. “And this is where he and his wife slept.” He gestured at a narrow room to the side where two beds stood end to end. Then he showed us a tiny room at the back where Martin Wickramasinghe was born.
In a large extension at the rear of the house were dozens of photos of the writer, from a serious looking young man of twenty-four through to his latter days as an octogenarian. In his wedding photo, he embraced his bride. In another, he was bestowed with the Order of The British Empire by a young Queen Elizabeth II. And in a third, he stood next to Mao Zedong of China.
He was a prolific writer. Copies of his one hundred and twenty books were laid out in display cases, many in Sinhalese, but a few in English and other languages. Various framed letters of commendation from adoring scholars and readers hung on the walls.
He wrote about many things: Sinhalese language and culture, stories set in Sri Lanka, even a book about the tantrism of D H Lawrence.
In his photos, he appeared very learned, always wearing the same rectangular glasses and wielding a probing stare. Yet he seemed to have been enormously respected and well-liked, by other writers, by world leaders, and by his extensive family.
I bought three of his books (written in English) from the bookstore by the ticket office. One is about Sinhalese literature, another a collection of short stories, and a third a novel entitled Madol Doova. Hopefully they will give me more insight into Sri Lanka, and I look forward to reading them.