13 Aug Meet Two Interesting Locals in Galle Fort
“Galle is a town of colour, texture and sensation totally unlike anywhere else in Sri Lanka. It is exotic, bursting with the scent of spices and salty winds, and vaguely familiar like a whimsical medieval European down unexpectedly deposited in the tropics” – from a visitor’s travel journal in the 1980s. He stumbled upon this charming, ramshackle town shortly after it had been inscribed into the UNESCO World Heritage List. Now, almost 30 years down the road, many of the old crumbling mansions have been renovated into boutique hotels, but the cobblestone streets with pastel-coloured houses are still as picturesque as a street can possibly get. What makes this place so unique? We talk to some locals to find out the stories behind these century-old buildings. We meet Shanthini and Jayanthi Mahadeva, who are sisters, and long-time Galle Fort residents. They serve tea on the verandah of their family house at 66 Leyn Baan street where they have lived their whole lives, and we ask them what it is that makes Galle such a special place.
Banking is in the Blood
“Our great-grandfather moved to the Fort from Jaffna to work for the Mercantile Bank on Church Street when it was under British management. During that time, there were about six Jaffna Tamil families living here. Our father gave us special encouragement in our careers – we both worked for the same bank until we retired so finance runs in the family! But more importantly than money, we have earned good people by living here, and we feel safe. We only need to leave Galle Fort sometimes because there are courts, banks, schools, and everything apart from a pharmacy and a nursing home. We would never sell the house – that would be burying our freedom for money. When we go to Colombo we feel lost – just seeing the Galle Road gives us a headache! Here we are known.”
“GALLE FORT LIFE IS INEXPLICABLE…WE ARE A VERY CLOSELY-KNIT COMMUNITY; THERE IS ONLY ONE RELIGION: THE RELIGION OF LOVE. THERE IS ONLY ONE CASTE: THE CASTE OF HUMANITY. THERE IS ONLY ONE LANGUAGE: THE LANGUAGE OF THE HEART”
Meet Shanthini and Jayanthi Mahadeva, who are sisters, Fort residents, and retired Mercantile Bank bankers
“When we go to Colombo we feel lost – just seeing the Galle Road gives us a headache! Here we are known”
A Cosmopolitan Mix
“We practise different religions in the Fort, but we all live together in perfect harmony, and with good will. What unites us is love, and food, of course! During Ramadan, friends send us chicken biriyani, a soup called ‘kanjee’ and ‘watalappan.’ At Sinhala and Tamil New Year we are delivered treats such as ‘kokis’ and ‘kevum’, and at Christmas our Christian friend brings us delicious Christmas cake. At Thai Pongal, we give sweet milk rice known as ‘sakkarai sadam.’ There has always been a friendly atmosphere.”
“We are nature lovers as you can see by our verandah. We have plants, dogs, and we like to leave food out for the sparrows. Our mother used to love sitting here in the evenings. She would often offer sweets and cold drinks to people passing by. Each morning, we walk the dogs on the ramparts and look over to Rumassala, which is believed to be a part of the Himalayas dropped by Hanuman, the monkey god. Jayanthi enjoys swimming off Sea Beach and I enjoy going to the library. My father was a member there for 70 years and I remember when Norah Roberts, author of Galle As Quiet As Sleep was the librarian. Today, I am still involved as an executive committee member. When we were growing up, Galle Fort was even calmer – we would play cricket on the streets and a game called ‘7 stones’ on the ramparts.”
Memories of place: playing cricket on the streets and a game called ‘7 stones’ on the ramparts
Leyn Baan Street where the Mahadeva sisters have lived their whole lives
Want to find the soul of Galle?
Discover more stories behind Galle’s heritage buildings in the iDiscover Galle Guide, an illustrated map that comes with a free navigational app. Curated by the passionate folks at the Galle Heritage Foundation with support from the Netherlands Embassy in Colombo, the App&Map guide features 3 handcrafted walking itineraries that help you see Galle Fort through the lens of locals. The map is an artistic ode to the heritage town, while the app helps you to get around and provides intimate portraits of long-time locals and know-how on the historical layers of the architecture.
Explore Fort through the lens of locals with the iDiscover App&Map, created and designed by locals
Words by Daisy Perry
Daisy is a writer who finds inspiration in everyday Sri Lankan life. She loves listening to and recording people’s stories. In the Fort, she is most likely to be found having tea with friends or having a swim off Lady’s Sea Bath Beach.
Photos by Atheeq Ifthikar
Atheeq is a photographer with a passion for Galle Fort. In fact, it is here that he learned how to use a camera. He loves capturing people’s unique characteristics. Atheeq is most likely to be found on the ramparts giving a walking tour or at his friend’s art gallery on Leyn Baan Street.
Map by Shehan Dissanayake
Shenan is a Landscape Architect. He seeks inner-happiness by colouring dreams with his hands.