The Magic of Our Dusty Lane:

Memories of a Ceylonese Village

Denzil Jayasinghe
3 min readFeb 23, 2024

Ayiyoe! (අයියෝ) polishing brass was a pain worse than the midday sun beating down on your neck! Every week, I was armed with a tin of Brasso and a rag, rubbing those old pots till they gleamed like the eyes of the gods they sat beside. There were four or five of them, some fat and round like my mother’s cooking pots, others tall and thin like my grand uncle’s walking stick. They arrived with my aunt and uncle and took their place on the pedestals, silent witnesses to our family’s goings-on.

Outside, our dusty lane buzzed with life. Vendors peddled their wares on their trusty steeds — bicycles, foot-pedalled trishaws, even bullock carts. With his tinkling bell and khaki shorts, the bread man had a metal box overflowing with crusty loaves and soft buns. Kadayamma, our grandmother, always bought from him, remembering him from her days running a shop on Kandy Road.

Then there were the fish vendors, their cries of “Maloe, Maloe!” (මාලෝ මාලෝ) echoing through the air. Their wooden boxes held treasures from the sea — kingfish, prawns, all shimmering fresh. Sometimes, when a trip to the town centre wasn’t possible, their catch became our dinner.

The firewood vendors rumbled by in their bullock carts, laden with mountains of wood. Eight stones of firewood, a measure fit for a giant, promised warmth for our clay oven nights. Firewood was gold in our village, and their arrival was always a welcome sight.

Kerosene vendors, too, rode in on their carts, their red cow-driven browsers contrasting with the dusty earth. They sold the fuel that lit our lamps and stoves, a precious commodity in those days.

But bullock carts weren’t just for selling! Back then, before fancy cars became commonplace, they were our wheels. The rich folks might have had their thirikkales (තිරික්කලේ) and bakki karaththes, (බක්කි කරත්තෙ) sleek and comfortable. But for us, it was the humble barabage (බරබාගේ), pulled by our faithful bull, that carried our paddy from the fields. And when I visited my grandfather in Kadawatha, his proud bakki karaththe, with its basin-like seat, was my chariot. Even the school run, with other kids piled into a shared bakki karaththe, was an adventure on dusty roads.

Our lane wasn’t just a marketplace but a recycling centre, too! Folks with bicycles and carts would call out, offering to buy old newspapers, bottles, and anything they could reuse. It wasn’t just about money, though that was always welcome. It was about making the most of what we had, a lesson we learned without realising it.

Then there were the thorombal vendors (තොරොම්බොල් කාරයා), those magical men with boxes balanced on their heads. Inside, they had everything a housewife could desire — ribbons, buttons, needles, thread, even the occasional brassiere! They spoke Sinhala with a funny accent, these South Indian fellows, but their smiles were broad and their prices fair. Kadayamma would haggle with them, her eyes twinkling, and always come away with a treasure or two.

And let’s not forget the Chinese noodle man! His sun-baked face and rickety bicycle were a familiar sight. The box on his back held a secret — he made crispy egg noodles. My mother loved them in her stir-fries, and Kadayamma’s noodle soup was legendary.

Image created by Bing/CoPilot

Those were the days, my friend! Our dusty lane was alive with sights, sounds, and smells. A world where brass pots gleamed, bullock carts rumbled, and vendors brought their magic to our doorstep. A time I wouldn’t trade for all the polished pots in the world!

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Denzil Jayasinghe

Lifelong learner, tech enthusiast, photographer, occasional artist, servant leader, avid reader, storyteller and more recently a budding writer