OF JAZMINES & JUMBOOS
by Grace Mackie



Grace Mackie born in Colombo 1929. Came to London in 1963. She worked for Liptons Tea in Colombo. She was married to Percival Henry Bartholomeusz a Radio Ceylon announcer for whom she had three children. In London she became a Jazz singer and sang for the famous George Firestone Orchestra. After the death of Percival she married James Mackie a Scotsman who was born in Ceylon and whom she met in London. Unbeknownst to her James was the son of her former boss at Liptons Tea. Grace Mackie died in March 2000.

Book excerpt 1 of “Of Jasmines and Jumboos”

Going Back Home

The plane banked as it circled, preparing to land. “Thank goodness I have a window seat” I thought. Looking out at first all I could see was the sparkling blue Indian Ocean and there, there it was – my first aerial view of this magical land – a land that had been haunting me for the last ten unhappy years. When I left its shores those many years back, the thunder crashed and even the skies cried buckets at my last few cold dreary years, the snow, the shoulders that ached from bracing themselves against icy winds.

A flash of sparkling sea and then, bathed in golden sunshine, I could see banana trees, a familiar lean cow tied to a coconut tree, oblivious to the silver bird overhead, steadily clipping away at the short grass as if her life depended upon it – as indeed it did. The oh so familiar sight brought a lump to my throat that grew bigger, the hot tears, but most of all the gush of sheer gladness that filled my heart to bursting. The intervening years were suddenly blotted out – it was as if I had never been away at all. I WAS HOME AGAIN! What joy! What anticipation – I couldn’t wait to see old faces, old places and to feel warm all over once more.

Book excerpt 2 of “Of Jasmines and Jumboos”

My Mother

My earliest recollections of my mother are of a slim, young woman with short bobbed hair, standing against a darkened doorway in a sleek black V-necked evening dress, flared at the knees and studded from the knees down with shiny flame coloured sequins.

She was full of fun, life and song; bridge parties, sing-songs round the piano, moonlight picnics on the beach where the grown-ups played beach ball and danced to an old gramophone propped up on the rocks, and swam. Little me – falling asleep in someone’s arms and being carried home on Elmo’s shoulders…

Occasionally, my parents would go to the races – Governor General’s Cup Day and my mother in picture hat and gloves. The Colombo Turf Club boasted the best turf in the East at the time. … We lived in Florence Rhue then, which was the venue for many dinner dances. Lying in my bed, I used to fall asleep to the sound of the music, laughter and voices, and wake up at dawn the next morning to find a few stragglers still around, draped over chairs; Lonnie de Jong still tinkling away on the piano. Fernandez, my mother’s violin teacher, on the violin – swaying, almost asleep but still fiddling feebly; sleepy-eyed servants dishing out a breakfast of hot egg hoppers and large cups of coffee.

Book excerpt 3 of “Of Jasmines and Jumboos”

My Decision to Leave

… Seeing that flight of concrete steps (entrance to my home) brought flashing across my mind the fateful day that turned out to be the deciding factor in my battle against emigration - long had I refused to leave my beloved land.

It started on a warm, happy Sunday afternoon that was to turn into a nightmare and change the whole course of my life. The radio was tuned to “Sunday Choice” and I was listening to my husband’s voice as he hosted the teatime request programme. His being an announcer on Radio Ceylon ensured me of at least one favourite melody. I was busy getting my two little daughters ready for Sunday School, when a shout from the road outside and a sudden growing buzz of voices made me realise something was wrong. I went out on to the verandah to investigate. On the road below was a Tamil man, dressed in sarong but bare chested fleeing from a gang of about 8 or 9 others, carrying sticks, clubs and rocks. Their sarongs were tucked up to their knees for easy running. .. As he drew in line of my house, the man looked up and saw me standing at the top of these steps. Quick as a flash, he turned and ran up the steps towards me.

 “A-ee” I said in Sinhalese. “You can’t come in here. ..

putting his hands together as if in the act of praying he silently pleaded with his eyes. The frightened haunted look in his eyes decided me. A staunch supporter of fair play .. I stepped aside to let him pass .. at the same time shouting to my daughters to run next door to Mrs Smith. ..

The gang was purposefully coming up the steps and I barred their way… They tossed me aside like a scrap of paper. … Then all hell seemed to break loose. My vision was blocked by a mass of heaving bare chested bodies and flailing arms and the victim’s blood curdling yells told only too well what was happening. …

During all this time, the gang uttered not one word, which made it all seem more weird and dreamlike. They looked like robots answering some invisible master. As silently as they came, they left – leaving their victim under the table in a pool of urine and blood. …

It seemed like an age but in reality it took a few minutes. I looked round the place – the walls had just been freshly white-washed for Christmas… now there was blood everywhere…

What I hadn’t realised was that my elder daughter (aged 9) had not left my side and had been standing behind me on the steps all the time … she had witnessed the whole murderous attack. ..

In the ensuing months little Fran’s torment was to continue. … On one occasion the school bus in which she was returning with her ayah (nanny) was stopped by a gang of Sinhalese who pulled the Tamils out to chase and beat them. She witnessed two of the Tamils falling down at their attackers’ feet and begging for mercy. One was stabbed to death, whereupon the other jumped into the canal and was drowned. On another occasion also in the bus coming home, a man came towards her, knife in hand poised to strike. She says she closed her eyes and bent her head, ready for the blow but he leant over her and stabbed the Tamil man in the seat behind her. … Only a street away gangs of Sinhalese invaded Tamil homes while the men were at work, raped their women and burned their homes. Men who protested had petrol poured on them and burned in front of their families. I began to long to leave this once serene and civilised land.