The Localist

Memories of Orwell Estates

Whenever I think back on childhood, there are some memories that always make me smile. Almost all of these memories are from time spent in my father’s ancestral home. Situated in the hilly regions of Orwell Estate, Gampola, it was a sprawling British colonial bungalow overlooking the famed Mahaweli River. While the verandah, with its white picket gate, gazed out upon this scenery, the kitchen backyard competed with its own tiny brook and hillock after hillock of rolling green tea plantations.

School vacation meant a whole month of this idyllic scenario, with new places to explore and new adventures to embark on every day. As if nature’s bounty wasn’t a good enough playground, there was also the farm with cattle, goats and hens. Add in a whole load of cousins, aunts and uncles and you have a sure shot recipe for epic holidays.

Mornings generally started with waiting in line to shower, and then waiting in line for breakfast. Large crowds meant that this scenario was inevitable. Once these rituals were over, the kids had playtime until lunch with pretty much minimum adult supervision. Though our tummies were full, we’d all still scamper to the garden to gorge on jumbola, veralu, jumbo, jam fruits, guava and anything else we could lay our hands on.

My cousin’s brother took it upon himself to climb the large trees and harvest the fruits, while the rest of us took turns scoring the chili powder and salt (perfect on these fruits). Condiments that had to be brought in securely from the kitchen without the knowledge of grownups. Mid-morning meant that we’d stop pigging out and go fishing. Invading the brook, we’d all sit on the small wooden log that was laid across it, exchanging stories and soaking are feet in the cool water. Whoever was in the mood for catching fish would crouch low and sit with an empty jam bottle, waiting patiently until tiny little fish swam right in. Then they were scooped up.

Lunch was always followed by naps, something that all parents insisted on, we refused, and they won anyways. But evenings were the most exciting time and meant only one thing! It was the time that the tea pluckers would come in with their daily harvest. They would dump sack after sack of fresh green tea leaves on the floor and until the lorry came to collect them, they were all ours. Roll about, jump, bury, we could do anything we wanted. And the best games of hide and seek or unexpected surprises were always played here. Once the collection lorry arrived we would ditch the leaves and rush to watch the animals being fed and the cows being milked. This was also the time to play with our favourite goat kids.

While these were the regular routines, festivals meant the fun just increased. New clothes, sweet meats, visits to the village temple and social calls from relatives who brought along their kith and kin. So many stories would be told of the mischiefs that my father, his siblings and their counterparts got up to. The older generation would talk about times before independence and their travels from India. It seemed like every one had a fascinating tale to tell… who wouldn’t? When they had also spent their childhood in my most favourite place – Orwell Estates.




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