It is the age-old theme of boy meets girl, nay elderly man meets woman, they find love and marry, to live in contentment thereafter. So what is special about this novel titled, ‘Spring came late’. While many have commended the book which although in English has some dialogues in Sinhala, the more interesting tale is [...]

The Sunday Times Sri Lanka

Threading the many strands of her life at 85


Charlotte: First mission accomplished, many in the pipeline. Pix by M.A. Pushpa Kumara

It is the age-old theme of boy meets girl, nay elderly man meets woman, they find love and marry, to live in contentment thereafter.

So what is special about this novel titled, ‘Spring came late’. While many have commended the book which although in English has some dialogues in Sinhala, the more interesting tale is about the author.

From handwriting the rough copy first, re-writing the copy to be presented to those who had willingly offered their type-setting skills, then shuttling back and forth in trishaws with the computerized copy to the printer, proof-reading several sets and then finally, personally taking the novel to the bookshops had all been done by none other than the author herself.

And the author is Charlotte Perera nee Garumuni Charlotte de Zoysa, who has donned the ‘mantle’ of published author at “nearly 85”. She was born on February 15, 1932 and is originally from Madampe in Ambalangoda, but now lives with one of her two daughters in Boralesgamuwa.

Having been a dutiful daughter, sister, wife, mother and now grandmother, her love of reading “anything and everything” — particularly literature and her scribbles of Sinhala kavi and short stories and English poems she never thought were fit for printing — has now culminated in the publication of her first book.

The tale of how it happened unfolds over tasty lavariya she herself has prepared. Early morning it may be but Charlotte is meticulously clad in saree with accessories to match and her hair tidily tied up in a bun for the interview.

Giving us a glimpse of her childhood in Madampe as the youngest and only daughter, with a brother much older, she says, “We weren’t rich. But we had enough money to live.” For, her father Simon owned a four-acre coconut estate and theirs was the biggest and most beautiful home in that area. Sally, her mother was very talented, having never gone to school but been tutored at home and skilfil in good housekeeping as well as crafts such as sewing, crocheting, beeralu and tatting, a talent passed down to Charlotte.

The family faced much sadness as seven sons had been born before Charlotte, with only one surviving, the second, while the eldest had lived up to just three years and all the others had died in their infancy.

Her parents were desperate for a daughter and undertook a pilgrimage to Anuradhapura to stand under the gently rustling leaves of the Sri Maha Bodhi and walk around the Ruvanweliseya to make numerous vows to be blessed with a baby girl. Their ardent wishes came true and Charlotte distinctly remembers how as a toddler of three she was taken to the ancient city to re-visit these shrines in fulfilment of the vows.

Life was simple for little Charlotte, who went to the “gamey school” run by the Buddhist Theosophical Society. Having passed the Junior School Certificate (JSC) in 1946, two terms she spent at Siddhartha College in Balapitiya, an English school run by “my father’s people” and later moved to Colombo in 1947 to the Government Girls’ School (now Gothami College) in Borella.

It was a case of creeping through the fence to school, not using the gate, as she was boarded in her adopted brother’s home which was right next door.

“Do you know that I was in the first batch of students to sit both the Ordinary Level (OL) and Senior School Certificate (SSC) examinations and got the best results,” laughs Charlotte, recalling how earlier the “gamey kella” was looked at with derision by the more posh and English-speaking Colombo classmates. She was also the first in class every term from the time she entered this school until she left after the OLs and the SSC.

The results would be out only during the holidays when she was back home and clever Charlotte never came back to Colombo as her old-fashioned older brother, Hubert, frowned upon higher education for his sister. He too was an author with more than 20 books on history and Buddhism to his credit, Charlotte mentions in passing, adding that he is no more.

The hunt for a “suitable” marriage partner began then. Many were the proposals brought by the kapuwa but only two potential grooms were invited to Charlotte’s home “as my parents were very choosy”……..and she married one of them, Ashley Emmanuel Perera from a background similar to hers, who was the grandson of Mudaliyar John Perera of Aluth Mawatha Walauwwe in Mutwal.

A bright smile wreathes her face. The wedding in September 1957 was a grand affair, held in a home her family had bought in Jawatte and it was the only wedding of those times to be videoed as the Japanese Embassy wanted to film a traditional Sinhalese marriage to be telecast back in Japan.

The wedding took place a long two years after the proposal was finalized, says Charlotte. The groom-to-be was working at the Central Bank of yore when employees were not pensionable and her brother was not in favour of a future without the nest-egg of a pension. So they waited and tried not to fall in love in case her brother forbade the marriage.

Life took a different turn then – the young bride and groom living in his home at Zaleski Place, Punchi Borella, along with his mother and two unmarried sisters. “I was the youngest among the whole lot,” she laughs, “but I knew how to manage them.”

Time caught on, with Charlotte’s own family growing with two young daughters, Indrika and Renuka, moving out of the in-laws family home to live independently, abandoning this lifestyle of managing her own home, returning to the in-laws home, running a boarding for little Nalandian Grade 5 Scholarship winners from distant villages and looking after their parents whenever they were in town and then being gifted with half-an-acre of thousands of acres owned by a relative of Ashley and building their own home in Katubedda. “We always did our duty by our in-laws,” she says.

There were many threads running through this busy lifestyle – Charlotte not only kept on writing but also crocheting and while many are capable only of crocheting in one colour she was adept at mixing colours and producing stand-out items. She was also able to re-kindle the love of astrology, with her prowess in mathematics aiding both her astrology and astronomy.

For 60 long years Charlotte has studied and read horoscopes and never charged, but now says that she is “too old” to do that, looking forward to engaging in meditation and also spending more time with her grandchildren, two of whom are in Sri Lanka (she lives with them) and three in England.

She will not, however, give up her passion for writing, which she took to seriously after the death of her husband 18 years ago, writings which never saw the light of publication until this year. Now the 400-page book that she ventured into last year at the auspicious time of ‘weda allema’ (starting work) has turned into the printed word. There is, however, a tinge of regret over mistakes due to the type-setting in some sections being weak even though she has pored over two dictionaries.

Already, the second book is with the printer. “This book, ‘Athithaya Mese Viya’, which is in Sinhala is about my childhood,” smiles Charlotte the octogenarian. With her father dying at 83, her mother at 89 and her brother at 86, she wonders when her time will be up but until then she will keep writing “for pure pleasure”.

More power to your elbow, is what we wish her as we bid goodbye to Charlotte.


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