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When it was known as the Harley Street of Ceylon

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The Homes in Ward Place in its early days,

by Hugh Karunanayake, Dr Srilal Fernando, and Avinder Paul

Ward Place in the heart of Cinnamon Gardens is a roadway linking the epi centre of the Colombo Municipality with the eastern area of metropolitan Colombo. Two centuries ago, there was no roadway in the area, which was part of cinnamon plantations established during the Dutch period of occupation of the maritime areas of Ceylon. When a road to the area was first built in the nineteenth century it was named Borella Road, later to be named Ward Place.

Arunachalam Ponnambalam was a man of foresight and great acumen. Originating from the village of Manipay in the north of the island, he sought opportunities for work in Colombo during early British times and won the confidence of British Governors who appointed him the Chief cashier of the Colombo Kachcheri which was the key government instrument in the administration of the dominion of Ceylon. The Kachcheri together with the early Legislative Councils were the local institutions that set the pace for the administration of the colony. Land throughout the country was made available by the new rulers of the island at ome to five shillings per acre to pioneer British settlers, and also to a few natives who had won the favour of the Government.

Arunachalam Ponnambalam was one of the latter, and by the mid 1850s the owner of two cinnamon estates, Rajagiriya, and Borella. While Rajagiriya Estate was sold after some years, to Mrs Cornelia Obeyesekera whose son Donald established a township still known as Obeyesekera Town, Borella Estate disintegrated into building blocks for residential housing. Ward Place of today represents a part of the original Borella Estate.

Ward Place, named after British Governor Sir Henry Ward, became an elite residential area not long after the Ceylon Medical College was established in the adjoining Regent Street in 1870 with Dr Edwin Lawson Koch as its first Principal. This was followed two decades later by the Victoria Memorial Eye Hospital built through the munificence of the legendary 19 Century philanthropist Sir Charles Henry de Soysa. Another landmark event in the progress towards enhanced healthcare was the establishment of the De Soysa Lying-in-Home (the LIH) on December 13th, 1879. The hospital owes its beginning to a philanthropic gesture by Sir Charles Henry de Soysa.. He was deeply touched by the plight of women of poor socio-economic status who were deprived of the facility for safe care in a hospital during childbirth. He proceeded to establish a hospital by personal donation of property and funds for their care, the De Soysa Lying-in-Home which is the second oldest maternity home in Asia.

Since then it has played the lead role in providing for all aspects of healthcare for women and in the training of staff in all grades for this field of work. During the initial years, maternity services was the main thrust of activities at De Soysa Lying-in-Home. At its commencement it consisted of 22 beds and provided for 52 births during its first year. A decade later the hospital was providing for 425 births annually then on to 1051 in 1909 and 2000 in 1921. The bed strength had now increased to 100. In later years it provided care for over 14,000 maternity cases annually, most of which are of a high-risk nature. Today it is a Teaching Hospital.

The Victoria Memorial Eye Hospital stands on a property formerly named Mango Lodge which was said to have been a hunting cabin during the time of the Dutch occupation. The two institutions viz the General Hospital and the Eye Hospital served as the pioneer medical institutions of the country, and attracted most of the country’s medical specialists for service there. Consequently, Ward Place became the most sought after location for residence for medical specialists and by the beginning of the 20th Century was the most popular residential location for leading medical specialists., and regarded as the Harley Street of Colombo.

The General Hospital (as it was then known) was established during Sir Henry Ward’s governorship (1855-1860), with 3,000 pounds sterling being earmarked for the project. Until then, government policy had been to contribute to locally operated charitable health organisations. However, after the establishment of the General Hospital, this policy was abandoned. Furthermore, the General Hospital also succeeded the Pettah Hospital, since the latter’s capacity to treat patients was very low.

Accordingly, the General Hospital was opened in Longden Place in 1864, under the inaugural administration of Civil Medical Officer Dr Parsley .It was later moved to Kynsey Road. named after its first Medical Superintendent, Dr WR Kynsey. The location of the General Hospital added to the demand for specialist medical services, which in turn created a soaring demand for residential accommodation to which Ward Place was considered the prime locale.

Perhaps the best known resident of Ward Place was Former President JR Jayewardene, who lived in a house named “Braemar” at 66, Ward Place. The property was originally owned by his father-in-law, Leonard Rupesinghe whose only child, Elina, was married to JR. It is on record that he bought the property from a previous owner, most probably a Scotsman, who had bestowed the name Braemar on it. C Brooke Elliott the lawyer lived there as a tenant, when he published his book “Real Ceylon ” in 1938. Since then the original house had been demolished by Rupesinghe, and by the Jayewardenes who built a modern residence for themselves, retaining the old name Braemar. The house has since been ascribed to the Inland Revenue Department to offset income taxes, but is being managed by the JR Jayewardene Cultural Centre.

Another famous resident of Ward Place was Sir Ponnambalam Ramanathan, the national leader of the early Twentieth Century. His stately home named Sukasthan was demolished several decades ago to give way to the construction of many large homes on the property which now have the address Sukasthan Gardens. It could be speculated that Sir Ponnambalam built his home on land inherited from his father Arunachalam Ponnambalam from the Borella Estate.

The list of names of residents of Ward Place in the early 20th century would read as a list of the most eminent personae of the medical profession in Ceylon of the time. Names such as Dr Simon de Melho Aserappah, his son-in-law, Dr SC Paul, the latter’s son Dr Milroy Paul, possibly the only holder of the Master of Surgery qualification from Ceylon. There was the reputed eye surgeon Sir Arthur M de Silva, gynaecologist Dr PR Thiagarajah, Dr Percy Kulasinghe, Dr SL Navaratnam, Dr Jackie de Silva, Dr DP Billimoria, Dr W Balendra, Dr AC Arulpragasam, Dr A Sinnatamby, and Dr LAP Britto Babapulle are names that readily come to mind, and were household names of mid Twentieth Century Ceylon. There would of course be many others.

The residents of Ward Place were the elite of Colombo’s society and the medical practitioners living there commanded the biggest practices and were considered as the crème de la crème of medical specialists in the country, with a few exceptions of course.

At the intersection of Ward Place with Alexandra Place stood the two storied home of Dr Alles on a 120 perch block of land. It was for many years subsequently leased by the government of the day as the head office of the Department for the Registration of Motor Vehicles. The Alles property was next to the original home of Cargills Pharmacy which later moved to the opposite end of the De Soysa Circus .For the past few decades It was operating as a retail fashion centre named ODEL , a concept new to the country and successfully owned and managed by Ms Otara Chandiram, herself a granddaughter of two eminent medical personalities of the past, ENT surgeon Dr HCP Gunawardene, and Cardiologist/Radiologist Dr HO Gunawardene. Having disposed of this successful venture, Otara is now preoccupied with animal welfare (in an honorary capacity), a subject close to her heart.

(This originally appeared in the Ceylankan)

To be continued next week



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Pop crackle, gulp and gasp

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Pani Puri: India’s favourite street food now available in Sri Lanka

Pani puri occupies a special place in Indian hearts and stomachs, so it’s no wonder that the treat has been one of the country’s most poplar street snacks

On any normal evening in India, in the bustling markets and noisy main streets of big cities and small towns alike, there is a familiar sight: the corner pani puri wala (seller), surrounded by a gaggle of eager customers.

His hands seem to fly as they dip the puris (fried discs of dough) into various bowls of fillings and chutneys and passes them out to people waiting impatiently. The vendor’s customer base stretches across age groups and social strata, with people stepping out of plush cars or families walking over from their homes. For the love of pani puri, and indeed of all chaat (fried snacks), unites Indians in a way few other things do.

Chaat is a catchall word – from chaatna, meaning “to lick” – that covers a wide range of street snacks, where different ingredients are usually tossed together to create a sucker punch of tastes and textures. India loves these small, satisfying snacks because they fill the perfect hunger moment, that is to say early evening, when lunch is a distant memory and dinner has yet to be cooked. And of all chaat, pani puri occupies a special place in Indian hearts and stomachs.

At first glance, pani puri seems like nothing special. The word itself is a combination of pani (water, which in this case, refers to the diluted chutneys) and puri (the fried discs of dough). The crisp, thin puri, which is about the size of a circle made by your forefinger touching your thumb, puffs up upon frying to create a hollow core.

However, eating a pani puri requires much attention and no small amount of skill: poke a hole on the surface of the puri with your forefinger, load it up with your chosen filling – such as mashed potato, healthy sprouts, finely chopped onions or mushy peas – and then dunk the whole thing into sweet-and-sour tamarind and spicy green chutney waters (both often kept iced) in quick succession. Finally, pop the whole package into your mouth and wait for the explosion of flavours, as the puri – ever so slightly soggy by then – crumbles inside your mouth with the sauces flowing out, all while filling the soul and clearing the sinuses at the same time.

Indeed, to eat pani puri is to be prepared for liquid dribbling down the sides of your mouth and tears streaming out of your eyes – an experience that is far more pleasurable than it might sound.

For those few moments, everything feels alright

It is no wonder that the pani puri is one of the street snacks that many indians love. Many home cooks have taken to recreating some of the magic at home, partly to satisfy chaat pangs and partly to feel the freedom of being able to walk the streets again

As education advisor Meeta Sengupta from Delhi exclaimed over email, “Pani puri is pure fun! Pop, crackle, gulp and gasp.”

Mumbai journalist Karishma Upadhya explained, “I think my craving came from a place of wanting something that made us feel happy and ‘normal’. When everything around is in such flux, it’s reassuring when you taste something that your mouth and mind instinctively know. When you put that pani puri in your mouth, you know you’ll get the perfect mix of cold, spicy, tart, sweet and crunchy. And, for those few moments, everything feels alright.”

While some brave cooks such as food blogger Amrita Kaur are making puri from scratch by kneading the dough to a perfect tight consistency, rolling out dozens of small discs, frying them in batches and preparing the fillings – most have used store-bought puris, purchasing them during careful grocery runs or utilising their pantry stocks.

There are many stories about the origins of pani puri. Culinary anthropologist Dr Kurush Dalal says that chaat (likely a predecessor of the modern pani puri) was first created in what is now the northern Indian region of Uttar Pradesh around the time of Emperor Shah Jahan’s rule in the late 17th Century. According to Dalal, royal doctors advised the general population to consume more fried and spicy snacks (and yoghurt) to balance the alkaline quality of the water from the Yamuna River, on the banks of which his new capital, Old Delhi, was built. The puri, which was to serve as “bite-sized containers of the chaat masala” (with fillings such as potato mash), spread to the rest of the country through migrant workers who moved to large cities like Mumbai and Delhi in the last century.

Like the most sublime chaats, pani puri is best enjoyed on the streets. And while upscale restaurants have started serving it in the last few years – with modern twists such as replacing the chutneys with spiced vodka shots and, shudder, guacamole fillings – their offerings rarely hit the spot. This is partly because street vendors know the palate of their customers and tailor each pani puri order accordingly – “Only the sweet-and-sour tamarind chutney”, “No sprouts please”, “Pile on the spice” – and each claims to have their own secret mixes of fillings and flavourings.

Food writer Anubhuti Krishna, who hails from Uttar Pradesh, loves pani puri but has not attempted to make it at home because, as she says, “I know I cannot replicate my favourite flavours at home, and they are sacrosanct for us UPwalas [people from Uttar Pradesh].”

Another reason could be that pani puri is best (or perhaps only) eaten by hand; there is no room for forks or finesse here. Kalyan Karmakar, culinary consultant and author of The Travelling Belly, a book on Indian street foods, describes eating pani puri as a “foodie adventure sport”, adding that “restaurants cannot recreate the thrill of standing on the pavement, unperturbed by people jostling past. Your eyes are focused on the pani puri wala. You have to be ready to pop it in [your mouth] when your turn comes.”

And even though pani puri is a perennial favourite across the country, it is by no means standardised or even similar everywhere. In fact, the name itself differs by place: pani puri is a Mumbai term, whereas in Delhi it is known as golgappa. In Kolkata, it goes by the name of puchka, and in Uttar Pradesh, it’s pani ke patashe (or batashe). The difference comes from the puri base ingredient – semolina, whole wheat or refined flour – as well as the fillings. And like with politics and cricket leagues, Indians like to argue about which kind is the best, and in each town, which pani puri wala makes it the most chatpata (lip-smacking).

Sengupta, who uses a ready-to-fry puri (a recent innovation found in stores), told me about her own Bengali-Punjabi household where the pani is “gingery sweet, with loads of hing (asafoetida) and pudina (mint)” and with “layered textures”. And Krishna, while noting that such food fights are silly, also adds that the Lucknow variety is her preferred version “because of how the softness and blandness of the matar (mashed peas) contrasts with the spicy water and the crisp and khasta (flaky) batasha.”

“It is [an] explosion in the mouth, yet it is soul food,” Sengupta said wistfully, perhaps summing up what millions of us Indians think of pani puri. – BBC

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Sri Lanka”s most sophisticated wellness facieity for medical and holistic healig

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Rejuvenation of mind, body, and soul

Christell Luxury Wellness -Sri Lanka’s most-trusted aesthetics centre- celebrated over the weekend the grand opening of its pioneering new venture: the Christell Wellness Villa.

Last Saturday the 28th of January, the luxury health and wellness hub for preventative health solutions was unveiled at a private event at the centre’ state of the art central location at Lauries Lane, Colombo, introducing invitees to the wealth of cutting-edge medically approved treatments in store.

Christell Wellness Villa’s portfolio of non-invasive immersive treatments features skin rejuvenation, anti-aging, nutrition, fitness and ayurvedic programmes therapies which seamlessly fuse ancient holistic disciplines and integrative medical therapies with the keystones of modern and traditional Western medicine.

Guided by the belief that good health is the ultimate luxury, Christell Wellness Villa is also the first in Sri Lanka to offer a Sensory Deprivation Pod (floatation therapy) experience, reputed to provide four hours of deep restful sleep with just one hour of floatation. Providing an unmatchable deep state of relaxation, in addition to helping improve sleep patterns, this effortless therapy also contributes towards pain relief, improving daily performance and concentration, alleviating symptoms of depression, while also strengthening the immune system.

Diagnostic assessments and consultations at the Christell Wellness Villa allows the centre’s specialists to curate a bespoke portfolio of medical treatments and holistic therapies designed exclusively for each client’s unique health profile; providing customised result-driven pathways for optimum wellness, backed by both state-of the-art technology and also the very best of what nature has to offer.

At the launch event, Dr. Shanika Arsecularatne Medical Director of Christell Luxury Wellness, spoke of the vision behind the Christell Wellness Villa, stressing also on the importance of not taking one’s health and wellness for granted. “I assure you, Christell Wellness Villa is not ‘just another spa.’ We have on board doctors, scientists, specialists, and trained therapists who are able to curate time-tested, medical treatments and holistic therapies specific to each individual need -man or woman – that promote greater well-being, health, fitness, and longevity.”

A safe haven in the middle of the city to heal, recharge, detoxify and recalibrate your bodies in a healthy sustainable way; enabling you to live a longer life, better lived. is our focus said Dr Shanika

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Blossoms of Hope 2023

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Over the last fifteen years, the Ikebana International Srilanka Chapter, has brought about greater awareness and appreciation of Ikebana art of flower arrangement to a wider audience, through their numerous exhibitions.

The exhibition “Blossoms of Hope 2023” will be held at Cinnamon Grand hotel, Ivy room on the 19th and 20th of February. The chief guest will be the patron of Ikebana International Sri Lanka Chapter, the Ambassador for Japan to Sri Lanka Mizukoshi Hideaki.

There will be more than fifty exhibits by the members who have tirelessly pursued their interests and love for ikebana. The arrangements are categorized into different themes this time – straight lines and curves, repetitive forms, intertwining plant material, colours in contrast, using unconventional materials, complimenting an artwork, miniature arrangements and free style.

Visitors could also witness demonstrations by teachers of Sogetsu School on both days at 4 p.m. free of charge.

Each year, the society supported children with cancer through the medium of flowers. This year too, part proceeds from the show will be channelled to the paediatric ward of Apeksha Cancer hospital.

Date: – 19th Feb; 11 a.m. to 7pm

20th Feb; 10 a.m. to 6 pm

Venue: – Cinnamon Grand – Ivy Room

Demonstrations: – 4 pm (both days)

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