Sunday, March 08, 2009

It was the babblers' nest - Conrad Felsinger

I just finished skimming Juliet Coombe and Daisy Perry’s ‘Around the Fort in 80 Lives’. I saw this book while wandering around Galle during the literary festival. I was tempted to buy it but (luckily as it turns out) I did not. I discovered later that a friend owned it and borrowed it from him.

I was rather disappointed by the book; although it starts off with a good theme and has the potential to become interesting it seemed rather shallow and naive. A coffee table book with insufficient pictures and too much text; rather unsatisfying on the whole.

My mind was then taken back to an altogether different story of Galle, EFC Ludowyk's charming autumnal reflections on growing up in Galle. Deeply felt and beautifully written it is a lovely memoir of a way of life that no longer exists.

This is turn brought me to the other beautiful memoir, from an even earlier era which is the title of this post. I'm not sure how many people have read this splendid work, but if you can get your hands on a copy (I would suggest you try raiding the second hand book shops on D.R.Wijewardene Mawatha, if the last copy on Amazon gets sold) it is something that I think is a must read for anyone interested in this land. It is a highly entertaining account of schoolboy life at the beginning of the twentieth century, when a catapult was a regular part of any boy's armoury and birds the usual victim. It is a book of schoolboy life; of outrageous pranks and elaborately organised trips made in bullock carts. A vivid portrait of life in another era.

I get rather sentimental reading stuff like this and perhaps not just because I am a sentimental fool. I feel very alienated by the politics in Sri Lanka today, but deep down, I think I still retain a love for this land.


N said...

Thanks for the info...just ordered a copy of the babblers nest off Abebooks...signed paperback from '72 for $13.00, not bad:)

I feel you on the last line, but I personally try my best to separate the country and the good people in it from the idiots in charge. I guess the optimist in me still clings to the hope that change will come slowly.

T said...

thanks for the recommendations. i just finished reading shyam selvadurai's cinnamon gardens and have been trying to get my hands on other books in colonial times. it's such a fascinating time to read abt.

Jack Point said...

N, T a my pleasure entirely, hope you enjoy it as much as I did.

Felsinger wrote another book, it is listed in the Babblers Nest but I've never been able to find it.

T: EFC Ludowyk's Long Afternoons, the other book I mentioned in the post is also fascinating.

A superb account of civil service life is to be had in V. L. Wirasingha's "No Cousin, I'll to Fife"


Anonymous said...

it was very interesting to read.

Anonymous said...

When I was 17 (1979) I spent a year in Sri Lanka. Someone recommended that I travel to meet Conrad Felsinger. After a very long ride I came to his home. I forget how old he was...possibly 75 or 80. He was standing in his doorway about to run errands. I told him who I was and my interes in his writing. he droped his day plans and spent the nex 7 or 8 hours talking about birds and the history of his life. His book, "It was the Babbler's Nest" had a deep impact on my life. You had to be there. He and his wife were some of the finest people I have ever met.

Jack Point said...

Thanks a lot for that comment Anon, must have been lovely.

Sri Lanka in 1979 was a very different place, glad you saw it relatively unspoiled.

Dan Sanford said...

I have a photo of him. If you can get me an email I will forward the photo.

Jack Point said...

Sure Dan, just send it to jackpoint627 at gmail.