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  • Arthur Max

Reflections on 20 Years

Updated: Sep 19, 2020

How things have changed in two decades — almost a generation at the Wadiya. We see the passage of time in Ranjan’s three children who live on the grounds. He was just a boy himself back then, and worried he would never marry. Now he has a burly 17-year-old cricket enthusiast, a studious 13-year-old and a 10-year-old chess champion.

The towering old palm trees are mostly gone and, sadly, also the parrots that roosted in them. The birds have moved farther down the beach. We miss their racket when they settled at dusk into the tallest branches.

Some palms died of old age. Many were washed away by erosion in the early years before we protected the shore line with a gabion wall deep under the sand. Others were stricken with death blows by lightning — the frequency of such storms has grown exponentially because of climate change. But we have steadily replaced them. The saplings have grown tall and robust, with bushy young crowns and sweet fruit. Of our 63 trees, only 11 are old-timers, probably approaching a century in years. From my blue suite balcony, where I sit from dawn with a thick book and watch the sunlight splash the palms, the jungle of fronds blocks the view of the shore, but not the gentle drumming sound of the waves.

The 30 meters of land from the beach to the turfed garden is covered in sand several centimeters thick, the result of a tidal surge in the last monsoon. An area once covered in prickly wild grass and bothersome stones is now a comfortable carpet underfoot and looks like an extension of the beach. At first I was appalled at the loss of greenery. Now I like it. And the wild grass has begun poking through again.

Every time we come, which is once or twice a year, the garden looks different. Ranjan tinkers with the landscaping, cutting back overgrowth where snakes and rodents can nest and planting flowering shrubs native to the coast. The bougainvillea arching over the gateway, (recently replaced) is in full flower, as are the pots bordering the back turf. The living fence around the pool is now neat, trimmed, bordered and full of color, with no visual barrier to the turtle hatchery and the sea.

We have doubled the size of the hatchery with more turtles arriving every year. This season we have bought nearly 3,000 eggs. We are most proud of our modest turtle conservation project. Over 10 years we have rescued eggs from the fate of a morning omelet and released 13,000 as living creatures into the Indian Ocean. Maybe a dozen or a score or a hundred survived to adulthood. Just think, a few turtles now laying eggs on our beach were hatched here since we came 20 years ago. It takes that long to reach sexual maturity.

As I write, the coronavirus pandemic is throwing the world into chaos. We were fortunate to slip in before Sri Lanka sealed itself off. We are here under self-imposed lockdown, but I can think of worse places to be in isolation. This, too, will pass. For now, it’s a good time to reflect.

With all that’s changed, some have not. The beach is still broad and beautiful in season — and still dirty with washed up plastic and debris. Only now, students and volunteers from Ambalangoda come weekly to clean it. The lights of fishing catamarans twinkle on the horizon at night, and coastal fishers haul in their nets in the morning.

On our last evening of our 2020 visit, just as we were about to release the last group of hatchlings, the green parrots came back. Not in the droves that once clustered in the tall branches. Perhaps only a dozen. But my spirits lifted to hear their chaotic noise once again.

Most important, Ranjan and Indika have been with us from Day One. Chandima, orphaned in the 2004 tsunami, is still here. Like Ranjan, Indika and Chandima were almost kids themselves, and now both are married with growing families. The “newcomers,” Harsha, Prassana and Tharindu, are now veterans of many years. They are all our Sri Lankan family.

As for us? We were a hardworking middle-aged couple living in New Delhi when we bought the antique furniture showroom on Galle Road. Over the years we invested labor and treasure to make it a special place of refuge. Now we are, euphemistically, in our senior years. I am long retired from international journalism, though Ruth still directs this place remotely. We travel, we play bridge at our London club, we attend theater and concerts, we visit friends and family around the globe.

Life is good.

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