Tissa Devendra's reminiscences in the Sunday Times of May 16, prompted the thought that the reminiscences of one who has passed four score years may interest some readers. Coming from a large family of five boys and four girls, all my memories are of fun-filled days.
My father, the late Chevalier I.X .Pereira was a State Councillor (equivalent to our Members of Parliament), and had to attend State Council meetings every day at 3 p.m. Dinner parties for the politicians were a weekly affair, and I remember peeping from behind the pantry curtain, as our knowledgeable servant boy rattled off the names of the politicians.
In the beginning, my father would order a dessert from Elephant House, very often Kulfi Ice Cream. But later, after I was about 14, he entrusted the making of the dessert to me. Maybe that was the beginning of my choosing puddings as my specialty. At these dinners, the finale for the dinner was always a silver cutwork sweet dish filled with Italian Perugina scorched almonds for which my father had the agency. There were also the sweets in the shape of apples, cherries and oranges filled with marzipan also from Perugina. Then we had liqueur filled bottle shaped chocolates and when we bit into one, the liqueur would dribble down our chins. The remaining sweets I used to take to school the next day , and distribute very generously to my friends.
I remember the time Lord Soulbury and the other members of the Soulbury Commission came home for dinner. I also remember Jawaharlal Nehru coming home for a meeting and the stupendous crowd that gathered just to get a glimpse of the great man. There were people climbing all the adjacent trees. My father got permission from our neighbour to break down the wall that divided our house from his, just to accommodate the expected crowd.
The present property of the Jesuits at Lewella, Kandy, was once owned by my father and was originally called "Glen-Helen". One year, while we were there, we got the message to say my father had been appointed acting Minister of Commerce, as the incumbent Minister Sir Claude Corea was going abroad for some months. My mother and all of us children rushed back to Colombo and soon a steady stream of visitors came to our house to offer their congratulations to my father.
From the time I was about 14, the task of making a pudding for Sunday lunch was entrusted to me. I was 13 when I tried my hand at making a Swiss Roll for my newly acquired brother-in-law's birthday, and it was a success. The next I tried Macaroons and that too was a success. For Sunday morning breakfast, the cook used to make hoppers and very often this was accompanied with a very nourishing mutton broth made with marrow bones, and tinned Sheep Tongue fried up with onions.
When I was about seven, I had to recite a specially composed poem on the history of the Bharathas at the Bharatha Conference held at Galle Face Green to a crowd of over 5000.
I remember the nuns at St Bridget's who inculcated in us the spirit of honesty and fair play and of sharing in all that we did. And the teachers, who can forget them? It was they who moulded our lives in ways we could
not then fathom. Mother St. Agatha, Mother St. Ligouri, Miss Elsie Gonsalvez, Miss Nita Perera, Miss Helen Orme, and all the rest.
When I was seven, my parents went to Europe and the Holy Land, and they put the three of us in the boarding at St .Bridget's, saying it was for one term. But we ended up being there for two whole years because my father was of the opinion that it would do us a world of good. Whenever our parents visited us in the boarding, all the girls would gather around, knowing full well that they would get their share of the goodies they had brought. I would recommend boarding life for every student to help them become independent beings.
We used to buy Ice Palam at five cents at the school gate as soon as school was over, and Snow Palam for seven cents. We would play hopscotch after school . Does anyone play hopscotch now I wonder? On one day of the week, when I had to wait after school for Girl Guides meetings, my mother would give me a parcel of sandwiches to tide me over. When we returned home from school at 2.30 p.m., we were ravenous. There was always something quite substantial like Bibikan, Bread pudding dripping with strawberry jam, vadai, lavariya or pani pol filled pancakes etc, for us to devour. Since we lived opposite the Police Park, my brothers would take my sister Mano and me to the Park to watch rugger matches in the evenings.
At my eldest sister's wedding in 1940, there was an enormous crowd. All the bedrooms at our house in Vajira Road were utilized for guests. My father ordered 1000 pieces of wedding cake at the ridiculous price of rupees one per piece. All the remaining cakes were stored in a suitcase which was kept under my brother's bed, and I used to take the extras for my friends. F.X.Pereira and Sons and the Rupee Shop both belonged to my father. I remember all the European clientele would come to F.X. for their hats and for the tailoring.
I too remember Vimto. Crates of Vimto used to be stacked in our pantry, because my father had a long line of visitors to see him every day. Yes, I too remember the "Blanco", with which I had to clean my tennis shoes every night, when I was in the boarding. I too remember the awful stuff "Agarol" which was poured down our throats at intervals. But, as Mr. Devendra says, the Kepler's Malt, and Radio Malt and Virol were welcomed, because they were deliciously sweet. If ever I had to make a custard to pour over a pudding, I would always refer to it as Bird's Custard, because that was the only custard we knew.(Motha's custard was unheard of then). Memories are made of these. Yes, our teenage years were indeed years full of laughter, years that nothing we can do or say can erase from our minds and hearts.