EXPERIENCES – 1 –Aviation.. Early days..(circa 1932)
Posted on September 2nd, 2010

Email – Ray Wijewardena speaks to D L O and Agnes Mendis-

ƒÆ’-¡ƒ”š‚ I was then about 8, and beginning to feel my ƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ”¹…”wingsƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ¢-¾‚¢. I had long indulged a romance with flight, and with anything capable of flyingƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ”š‚¦mainly butterflies, birds, dragon-flies and bats. I just longed to be flitting about the skies with them. Not constrained to walking the earth on legs ..or even through waterƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ”š‚¦ the St.ThomasƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ¢-¾‚¢College swimming pool having recently come into my life.

ƒÆ’-¡ƒ”š‚ It was then still ƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ”¹…”pre-WW2ƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ¢-¾‚¢, and I had been taken to see a Charlie Chaplain film at the Regal Cinema. I do not recall much about the film, but what HAD enthralled me was a ƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ”¹…”British-MovietoneƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ¢-¾‚¢ short on some experiments in England of the early days of parachutingƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ”š‚¦ then considered not as a sport but as a means for escape from a doomed aeroplane. The ƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ”¹…”shortƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ¢-¾‚¢ showed intrepid aviators dropping from a tower under the new form of flight using an umbrella-shaped parachute. One or two briefs even showed a man dropping while suspended from two parachutes and landing on the grass, safely on his feet.

ƒÆ’-¡ƒ”š‚ I was truly enthralledƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ”š‚¦ Here was a simple way to fly which even I might try if only I could locate a parachuteƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ”š‚¦ I could think of nothing elseƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ”š‚¦ all the way through Charlie Chaplin.

ƒÆ’-¡ƒ”š‚ It was raining and blowing heavily as we exited the cinema, and I saw just what I was looking forƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ”š‚¦ masses and masses of up-held umbrellas ƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ”š‚¦. All of them trying (as far as I could see) to lift the people crouched under them. Eureka (I had recently learned the story ofƒÆ’-¡ƒ”š‚  Archimedes) ƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ”š‚¦ all I needed was to locate an umbrellaƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ”š‚¦or perhaps a couple of them!

ƒÆ’-¡ƒ”š‚ The next day, Sunday, was an ƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ”¹…”almsgivingƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ¢-¾‚¢ ceremony at my GrandmotherƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ¢-¾‚¢s residence in Kollupitiya ƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ”š‚¦now used as the USIS Center and located on the Galle-Road adjoining the Galle-Face Hotel. I had observed the Hamuduruwos as they descended from their vehicles and had even been coerced into the ritual of washing and drying their feet before they entered the mansion to walk along the two-foot-wide strip of cloth laid from the entrance and into the hall. They all left their umbrellas outside the door, – some of traditional palm-leaf, and others, more modern, of conventional circular black cloth with stout wooden handle. These I thought would be ƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ”¹…”just the jobƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ¢-¾‚¢, and certainly the monks would not be needing them for a few hours while they chanted in prayer before the dhaneƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ¢-¾‚¢ commenced.

ƒÆ’-¡ƒ”š‚ There were several people outside who looked on with curiosity as I collected two of the large stack of umbrellas leaning against the door and walls, and as I took them inside with me and up the central flight of stairs. They were all too occupied with prayer,ƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ”š‚¦ palms pressed together and following the chanting. This would precede the ladling out of food into the bowls cradled on the knees of the monks now seated against the wall all round the hall. I knew the ritual and was well bored with itƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ”š‚¦.not understanding a word of the chanting as I suspected was the case with most ofƒÆ’-¡ƒ”š‚  my (better Sinhala tutored cousins inside the hall!

ƒÆ’-¡ƒ”š‚ The upper-floor led to the balcony over the portico under which the monks had earlier entered, and I peered over the stone-pillared railing which circuited the balcony. Far below (well, it might have been about ten feet, but it felt farƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ”š‚¦ and about right for my first flight!) stretched the drive-way to the Galle-road and around the gardenƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ”š‚¦ then a feast of flower-beds between green strips of grass. The scene came to mind of the parachutes landing, on the turf at the base of the tower in the Movie-Tone film-clip, as I clambered onto the railing (it was quite wide ƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ¢¢”š¬…” about a foot! – and I had occasionally chanced an un-observed walk around it during earlier visits to my Grand-mothers residence.) On this occasion there were, however,ƒÆ’-¡ƒ”š‚  quite a few chauffeurs and others assembled below with their vehicles, .. and their presence served only to strengthen my determinationƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ”š‚¦.. at lastƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ”š‚¦. to fly!ƒÆ’-¡ƒ”š‚  When they saw me unfurl both umbrellas, and hold them above me, one in each hand. Perhaps they then realised what I was planning to do and did not sound at all sympathetic in their calls to ƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ…-Baby-hamu, paresam-venna, veteiƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ”š‚ƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ”š‚¦ ƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ…-Hamu, bahinda-ethening!ƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ”š‚ƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ”š‚¦

ƒÆ’-¡ƒ”š‚ I must admit that the ground then felt awfully far away, but I was determined not to lose this first chance of flight .. the occasion of the two umbrellas, (parachutes) the high-balcony, and no-one in the near vicinity (not on the balcony anyway) all too good to be lost if I now faltered. Raising my hands, I felt the wind lifting the umbrellas (well.. sort of !) and I well recall stepping out ƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ”š‚¦ hopefully to drift in flight to a gentle landing on the turf (in the garden) as with the parachutes I had seen in the film.

ƒÆ’-¡ƒ”š‚ Things didnƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ¢-¾‚¢t seem to be working out quite right as I felt a rush of air, and the umbrellas both blew out and upwards as we (I and the umbrellas) landed (crashed?) into the bed of palms just below, and stopped with a severe jolt. I shall always remember this, the first ƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ”¹…”sudden-silenceƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ¢-¾‚¢ to follow a collision with mother earthƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ”š‚¦. with terra-firmaƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ”š‚¦. whatever! My efforts to pick myself up were totally spoiled by swarms of drivers and other servants trying to ƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ”¹…”liftƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ¢-¾‚¢ me. I didnƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ¢-¾‚¢t wish to be lifted. I had read that WW1 pilots always claimed that it was a ƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ”¹…”good landing if you managed to walk away from it,ƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ¢-¾‚¢ƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ”š‚¦ and I was determined to walk. The drivers were determined otherwiseƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ”š‚¦ and I guess the loud voices and commotion all round did not auger well for the occasion as the successful ending to a first flight!

ƒÆ’-¡ƒ”š‚ My father ƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ¢¢”š¬…” a doctor ƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ¢¢”š¬…” was furiousƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ”š‚¦ not only had I disturbed the alms-giving going on in the hall, I had probably broken my legs!ƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ”š‚¦ I kicked out widely, determined to show there was nothing wrong with my legsƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ”š‚¦that I could walkƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ”š‚¦ and walk I did (ƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ”¹…”ƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ”š‚¦. Anything you can walk away fromƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ”š‚¦ƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ¢-¾‚¢). Then followed a spanking, despite my protestations to my father….

ƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ”š‚Daddy, I really did fly!ƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ”š‚ ƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ”š‚¦. And I was bundled into the car to be taken home in disgrace.

ƒÆ’-¡ƒ”š‚ I could never ƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ¢¢”š¬…” all my life ƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ¢¢”š¬…” understand what the fuss was aboutƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ”š‚¦ The only thing broken was a flower-pot and I was made to replace that as a gift to my grandmother with apologies for having disrupted the alms-giving. My dear grandmother Helena invariably had an amused smile on her face whenever I was taken before her to apologize for yet another of my mis-demeanoursƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ”š‚¦ She, above others, certainly understood my proud claim ƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ”š‚¦.ƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ”š‚Achchie, I really DID flyƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ”š‚

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