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Saturday, July 13, 2013

Leaving Home

This article by ND was first published in the Sunday Island of 24th February, 2008.

Leaving home
By Dr. Nihal D Amerasekera

It is strange to look back and relive those heady days of idealism, bewilderment and youthful optimism. I was a final year medical student with the world at my feet!!
My father’s nomadic life of transfers as a government servant ended in Wattala in the late 1960’s. Those were difficult times. There were the stringent import restrictions imposed on us all. The roads were packed with ageing vehicles fit for the scrap heap. "Tighten your belts" was the favourite slogan of the Minister of Finance. It was austerity for the masses and prosperity for the politicians. We soon became accustomed to the vagaries and the intrigue of Sri Lankan politics far removed from the Westminster style Government prior to independence. During this chaotic period the country experienced a massive brain drain. Jobs were scarce and many left for greener pastures abroad. That was the scene when I embarked on my career in medicine.
We lived for a time on Station Road before moving to a house next door to the Urban Council at Wattala. It was a small but comfortable house. I was a medical student and travelled by train from Hunupitiya to Maradana with a happy band of medics. The train was always crowded and we never managed a seat. In our youth this was not a matter for complaint. Occasionally I travelled by bus to Pettah and changed to another to Borella. The red double decker busses were comfortable. I remember Mr.Jayasundera who sat next to me most days. He worked in Colombo and lived opposite our house. Mr. J was excellent company and in the 45 minute journey we put the world to right. I have often kept a lookout for his old house by the roadside during my many visits to Sri Lanka. The new highway has removed the old landmarks and I have never managed to find it. Mr. J if you are reading this note I recall those days most fondly and I wish you would contact me using my email address.
Final year examination
The final year examination hit us like a typhoon. As the dust settled I was making plans to move to the Kurunegala General Hospital for my internship. By now I had lived comfortably at home for 25 years. It wasn’t any hardship to live by the rules set out by my parents. Thus far I have lead a sheltered existence protected from the storms of life. I distinctly recall the day I left home to take up my new job. I feel deeply regretful for the lack of feeling and sensitivity I had shown for the occasion. It never occurred to me to reflect on the 25 years of care, love and generosity. Casually I said " I am going". There was a brief moment of stillness and a silence. I remember their glistening eyes when I waved my hand and stepped out of the house. They kept looking at me until I disappeared into the street. It may be the same in Sri Lanka now I do not know. My two sons were born and brought up in the UK. When it was time for them to leave the nest we had a last supper with plenty of light-hearted banter. We recalled the amusing moments we had shared together. Lavish amounts of wine helped to hide our emotions. They even had the good grace to give us a hug and say thank you. As parents we still cherish that moment. Watching them leave the home you've shared for all these years and the protection you've afforded them is painful.
As they spread their wings the best you can do is to implore them to keep in touch.
The house now seem so empty without their detritus and the constant mess. No loud music and no dirty cups scattered about the house. In those days it was thought there was no need to say thank you. The appreciation was implied by our body language. I regret very much not giving my parents that satisfaction of a proper farewell, a graceful thank you and a bear hug.
I left home totally unprepared to face the real world. My insecurities ran amok. Up until now all I have known was studies and examinations. I was now in control of my own destiny but was ill-equipped to handle its complexities. An intellectual background is sometimes a disadvantage. What I signed now became a legal document and what I said was taken seriously. I was too gullible and trusting and paid dearly for my errors of judgement. Those stories are best forgotten and buried deep. Good fortune was on my side and destiny played its part to turn my life around. It seems so unfair that decisions which affect our entire lives like choosing a career and a partner or deciding to leave our country of birth have to be made when we are still so young. In our youth it is the hormones and emotion that help tip the balance. The effects of our selections are as random as the throw of a dice. Sadly, before we leave the nest, no one can ever prepare us adequately for the storms that lie ahead.
Extraordinarily alien
I left home for the second time when I flew to the UK. In London everything then became staggeringly new and extraordinarily alien. I became yet another economic migrant in a vast country. They were more amused by my manner of speech than my accent. The personal freedom was refreshing and rejuvenating. Those were my days of wine and roses. I was young and took things in my stride. Soon I learnt my trade and acquired expensive tastes. Time passed swiftly when we raised a family and saw them grow up to be men. Although I am happy in my country home in the UK, the place where I was born has enveloped my heart to ensure it will always remain my real home. Despite the distance a complex and intricate knot seem to bind me to my parents. Being an only child the bond seems ceaseless.
My parents era was the time when responsibilities were more important than our personal rights. They gave their all to their children and took it upon themselves to look after their siblings and also their parents. We now live in an era when much is said about our rights and less about our responsibilities. I regret deeply not being with my parents in their time of need. We make important decisions in our youth which we cannot undo. We have to live with the consequences.. I was deluged with advice at the time which was lost in my quest for progress and personal glory. On looking back, we have disagreed on many occasions but in the fullness of time my parents have always been proved right. This admission is a little consolation after all these years. Writing about these events is a cathartic experience.
My father stayed on for a further two years at Wattala and retired. He lived for another 25 years before he was called to his final rest. My mother battles on enjoying the company of her grand and great grandchildren. There are the inevitable moments of loneliness boredom and despair. Visions of the past must haunt her sometimes, lying awake at night. We all hope old age does not erode our dignity and independence. At 86 she seem happy and contented and remarkably resilient. There is no worthwhile substitute to good health at any age.
It was only when I had my own children that I realised the sacrifice and the commitment shown by my parents. I will remember their love and affection always. Often, I do feel their presence by my side despite the distance and the passage of time. . Leaving the nest was the end of an era and the beginning of another. Sadly its significance struck home many years after the event.
Leaving home is a normal phenomenon and a part of growing up. There is no need for regret or remorse. It is for the parents and the children to celebrate this coming of age and make it a day to remember.


  1. What a heart warming and frank article by ND. I am sure a lot of us would relate well with his experience. It is a pity that he could not come for our reunion last year and I must redouble my efforts to make contact with him. He writes so well, he should write a book! I hope you will write directly on the Blog again and I very much look forward to reading what I hope would be many contributions. I found this quote by the American author, Melodie Beattie - " Gratitude makes sense of our past, brings peace for today and creates a vision for tomorrow" . ND, if you are reading this, you would have liked the quote- Speedy.

    1. Mahendra
      Thank you for the kind comments. The words of Melodie Beattie echoes my feelings at the time I wrote that piece.

      After we qualified how much we agonised about leaving Sri Lanka when many of our batch had already left the Island. I recall with nostalgia the discussions we have had with Lubber on various matters that were foremost in our minds at the time. WE last met at the Royal College of Physicians in the mid 1970's. Thereafter our careers kept us apart. How swiftly time has flown.

      It is wonderful to make contact again and please be in touch.