Iddamalgoda Kumarihamy

She was an acknowledged beautiful lady of the highest lineage. She was well known all over the island where her name was often used comparatively, when on the subject of feminine beauty — "As beautiful as Iddamalgoda Kumarihamy". A colour photograph in my possession proves beyond all doubt that she was par excellence. When one is so well known for her pulchritude, elegance and charm, one is invariably the subject of risque stories and our Kumarihamy was no exception. In fact, she was the envy of most ladies of her time and the target of many beaux!

I happen to be related to the Kumarihamy through my mother, Florence Elapatha of Elapatha Walauwa, Ratnapura, who married Mike Ilangakoon of Maha Walauwa, Matara. Florrie as she was known, was the daughter of Alice Iddamalgoda, whose sister was Leela. Leela’s daughter Irene married Copleston Dias Bandaranaike whose son Lakshi and I are cousins, in fact, the only living relicts of Iddamalgoda Kumarihamy. That’s a long rigmarole, but it has to be recorded for the purpose of this story.

Being the envy of all the ladies of her vintage, the Kumarihamy was the butt of many of the rude and crude stories related by them about her. Witches ! Out of them all, one was outstanding and bears repetition here.

Spelling out Kumarihamy in full, is tedious, but I wouldn’t dare to abbreviate it to K’hamy or KH. Such is the awe with which we refer to her even today.

It would appear that the Kumarihamy who was a widower, lived in solitary splendour in her spacious Pelmadulla Walauwa. Perhaps a Merry Widow. Be that as it may, her house was the only house she owned, which was, in fact, a Walauwa, a mini palace of the day.

In more recent times, I remember Pelmadulla Walauwa which we used to visit quite often when our home was Devil’s Gap Kahawatte, as my mother’s sister Aunt Este lived there with her brood. The eldest was Gamini who stayed with us in our other home, ‘Minadel’ on Hotel Road, Mount Lavinia and went with us to S. Thomas’ College which was adjacent, separated by only a loose barbed wire fence, quite easy to creep through. Our other cousins, the Elapathas, Sam, Eddie and Upali also lived with us. Quite a crowd, substantially augmented when all our uncles and aunts came to Colombo for every family wedding!

Thinking back, it beats me how we all managed to squeeze in, sleeping on mats in the sitting room whenever the occasion demanded. Even more astounding was the fact that we shared a single toilet which was of the bucket type. We queued up for our turn each morning!

Returning to my subject, the story goes that the Prince of Wales, the heir to the British throne, was on one of his numerous tours of the colonies. It included this island which was a tiny fragment of the British Empire of the day. On his journey back to Colombo, he had passed.

Rakwana, a hill station, whence, he intended to go to Ratnapura, the city of gems and then on to Colombo, but fate deemed otherwise and while he was at the junction town Pelmadulla, his horse-drawn carriage broke down and needed repairs which would take at least a day.

The State official in charge of the Prince’s safety and comfort was the G.A., the Government Agent of the District of Ratnapura. He was in a quandary. Where could he arrange to lodge the Prince during this misadventure ? The only available option to measure up to the rigorous standards required by His Highness, the Prince of Wales, was the rambling home of Iddamalgoda Kumarihamy about whom the GA had already heard tantalizing stories He considered the opportunity a godsend and immediately arranged for the short detour to Pelmadulla Walauwa which had the essential accoutrements for the Royal visitor.

The GA sent an emissary to the occupant — none other than the renowned Iddamalgoda Kumarihamy who readily obliged by offering to lodge the Prince overnight while the carriage was being repaired. The GA was relieved, the Prince was peeved and the Kumarihamy was jubilant !

When the GA arrived the following morning in the carriage repaired and ready to continue the rest of the journey, the Royal Prince was ‘not ready’ ! Why ? Well, your guess is as good a mine. He sent the GA back to Pelmadulla town in the carriage to ensure that it was definitely roadworthy and that the horses were well fed and groomed.

The Prince of Wales was ‘not ready’ even the following morning. He sent the carriage back to Pelmadulla with orders to remain there, until summoned ! The GA was frantic. He had a schedule to follow according to the orders of the highest in the land, the Governor in Colombo.

"All good things must come to an end" goes the saying. It was only after two days and two nights that the Prince was reluctantly persuaded by the GA to recommence the stalled journey ! What excuse the GA made to the Governor is not on record, but it is well known that the Prince gifted his gold signet ring to the GA as a souvenir for his failure to keep to the schedule!

Having written this piece of recent history, I went across and had another look at Iddamalgoda Kumarihamy’s photograph hanging on the side wall of our TV lounge. I certainly felt my sympathy was with the Prince of Wales. Three cheers for His Royal Highness !

Sepala Ilangakoon


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