My Obsession with Cars – Part One
Cars that ruled the roads of Kattankudy and Batticaloa in the 50’s, 60 and 70’s
An article titled Car of the 50’s by Vijaya Jayasuriya and published in the Island newspaper of 14 September 2013 inspired me to write this piece of weblog with the hope that it (this article) will be sitting permanently in my blog for posterity. The pictures accompanied by the description will surely bring nostalgic memories to everyone who read this blog piece, especially my close relatives and kith and kin.
The pictures of the cars were captured by googling and they are not the actual ones owned by the persons (Relatives, friends, acquaintances) mentioned. I consider myself fortunate to have learnt internet browsing and google to capture the exact images of the cars they owned in the period referred to. Persons still alive or their immediate family members who are in possession of the actual photograph of the vehicle (showing the original number plate) owned can send such pictures scanned to me. I will be glad to replace the googled images with the actual picture and edit the description accordingly. The photos of the owners too could be sent which will be published along with the vehicles they owned and used.
VauxhallIn the early 60’s there were two Vauxhalls of the above models in my home town Kattankudy – a black one and a grey one. My maternal uncle turned further-in-law P M Mohamed Ali who was a prominent businessman and popularly known as “Paiyanna Moona” or PM used to hire one of these cars on Sundays to meet his customers from Thalankudah on the Batticaloa-Kalmunai Road up to Akkaraipattu not leaving Sammanthurai and visit his acres of paddy fields scattered throughout Karaitivu, Sammanthurai and Akkaraipattu.
The hire paid then was just Rs 35/-. We would start at around 6.00 a.m. and return by 6.00 p.m. in the evening – a stretch of more than 50 miles that included by-roads and rugged roads to reach our paddy fields. I was then in my early teens. My uncle would ask me to join him (rather forcefully) in the trip as a way of precluding me from joining friends and playing pranks on Sundays. The car was owned by one Abdul Cader the eldest son of Kattankudy’s popular Imam and founder member and life time secretary of Jami-athul Falah Arabic College Abdul Gaffoor Hajiyar. Both the father and the son are no more with us. Son Abdul Cader who later turned to be a leading businessman in Kattankudy (First as a wholesale textile merchant and then as a motorbike dealer) had passed away recently.
The other black one was owned by one Ismail who happens to be my daughter-in-law Fathima Jerosha’s grand uncle. Jerosha became one of our family members in September 2009.
In the early late 50’s and early 60’s there was an Education Official from Jaffna. His name was Seeman Pillai (meaning Rich Child). He was a tall pleasant hefty gentleman. He had a massive and rugged-looking Vauxhall. I can still vividly remember the model. I am now fortunate enough to live in this “Net Age” to google it in the internet and reproduce it here.
A gentleman from Mannar/ Jaffna (I cannot remember which town exactly he was from) named Kathiraiya who was a Government Contractor and landed proprietor in Batticaloa owned a Woolsley in the 1950’s and 1960’s. I had known this gentleman who was a friend of my two uncles and later at Hotel Orient which he frequented. I was then volunteering as a part-time receptionist. The owner H M Abdul Rashid was my cousin’s husband.
He (Kathiraiya) was an honest government contractor who built the main block of Kattankudy Central College which was opened in 1954 by Sir John Kothalwala when he was Minister of Transport. The plague tells it all. I was four years old in 1954 old and I read the text in the plaque in 1961 when I got admission for Grade 6 there. It was the very first upstairs building which I happened to climbed as a four year old boy with my mother and her friends when they visited the building to have a look. It may have been opened for public to see the first ever massive structure in Kattankudy then. I still remember I refused to climb the stairs as I was fearful and my mother had to carry me.
I must mention here that this building has withstood three major natural disasters – 1957 floods, 1978 cyclone and recently 2004 tsunami – that hit the Eastern province not to mention frequent whirlwinds and storms. Many buildings put up thereafter were shoddy and crumbled during the 1978 cyclone that hit the Eastern Province (Patriotic contractors!). The perimeter wall whose length I estimate would be more than 1000-2000 metres was put up in 1977 by the contractors appointed by the then MP for Batticaloa Fareed Meera Lebbe crumbled like dominoes in a few months in the November 1978 cyclone. So much for the present-day contractors. The people of Kattankudy must be thankful to Kathiraiya for the strongest edifice ever to be built in the town of Kattankudy.
The Woolsley he owned resembled the Austin Cambridge my younger uncle P M Omardeen used in the 70’s except its front. The other who used this model of the car (Austin Cambridge) was Mudaliyar Sinna Lebbe (in the 60’s) who was the MP for Batticaloa in the late 40’s or early 50’s (I do not remember. It was told by my mother. At that time (1968/69) Devanesan Nesiah was the Government Agent of Batticaloa District.
The other vehicle my younger maternal uncle P M Omerdeen who was an inventor, entrepreneur and owner of Batticaloa Sarees Printing Works (Now defunct) used was a VW passenger van. One Sarath was its driver. He was a jovial happy-go-lucky guy whom my uncle treated as one of our family members.
Mudaliyar Sinna Lebbe’s son Latiff Sinnalebbe who was the MP for Batticaloa shared the seat with C. Rajadurai from 1965-1970 (It was then a Multi-member seat) during Dudley Senanayake’s tenure as PM. Unlike now, it was the period when Parliamentary debates are read enthusiastically with interest in the newspapers by the young and the old alike to improve their general knowledge. Latheef Sinnalebbe when his was MP used a modest rear-engined Renault whose model you see here. It was a green one.
A model of a Renault you see here was the official vehicle of Dr Williams who was head of the Family Planning Unit of MOH Office, Batticaloa in the 60’s. I later heard that he bought this vehicle at a depreciated value from the Department.
There were about five to ten Morris Minor cars in Kattankudy in the 50, 60, 70’s mostly used by businessmen. My son-in-law’s late father Samsudeen had a car of this model whose registration series was EY.A Miller and Landed-proprietor named AK Hajiyar had a Morris Minor which he never sold and preserved it until his demise. Its registration number was 1 Sri 1045. It had been parked in his Rice Mill Premises (Ayesha Rice Mill) until his death somewhere in the early 2000’s. He died at a very ripe age. One of his grandsons is now the General Manager of Mackwoods. This car was popular in Colombo as Taxi until it was superseded by the now ubiquitous Three-wheeler also known as trishaw or auto. David Gladstone who was British High Commission in Colombo and made persona-non-grata in 1991 by Premadasa for interfering in local politics shipped a modified Morris Minor as a souvenir when he left Sri Lanka’s shores.
A wealthy farmer in Kattankudy known as Aawanna Manaa Hajiyar owned this model of Bug Fiat. He used it until the middle of the 80’s and kept it permanently parked in his house compound. He was crowned Govi Raja of Batticaloa District during the tenure of affable Prime Minister of Dadley Senanayake under his Green Revolution Scheme. I hear this car is still being preserved by his children with great sentiment attached.
There were two cars (also Bug Fiat) of the model seen here. One was owned by my mother in law’s maternal uncle who was Kattankudy’s first Post Master and the other was owned by a mill owner and a landed proprietor – Sulaimalebbe Alim.
Fiat – Standard
Another model of Fiat a famous farmer, miller and landed proprietor in Kattankudy Mohamedali Hajiyar used owned was this. Premier Padmini manufactured in India. It was a popular car used by in the South Indian Tamil Films in the 60’s and 70’s.
Hilman – Minx
Hilman of the 60’s. This car was so popular in Sammanthurai and Kattankudy in the 60’s and early 70’s. I still remember Division No 4 Kattankudy Co-operative Society had a White Hilman Minx whose driver still lives and drives a Three Wheeler. It was a trendy beautiful Car. The driver Sultan (meaning prince) was also such a handsome stylish bloke then. His comes from a family of drivers. One of his nephews (Jameel – pictured here) happens to be the driver and personal Chauffeur of the chairman of British College of Applied Studies where I work as Liaison Officer.
The picture you see here is of a previous model of Hilman Minx which late Majeed (Nicknamed Carkara majeed meaning Car man Majeed) owned. He was an expert driver and one of the first to obtain car licence in Kattankudy. He is closely related to Sultan who is referred to as the handsome bloke as the driver of model of Hilman described in the previous paragraph.
There were three or four cars in Kattankudy in the 60’s and early 70’s shuttling between Kattankudy and Batticaloa competing with CTB buses. It is a roomy car and can accommodate seven to eight passengers with some comfort. There was a driver then nicknamed “Bulb”. He used to pack 10-15 passengers for a trip. The fare was just 50 cents which was a princely sum for school boys then. The Indian Ambassador is the exact replica of this car. One Nagoorar who was a friend of my younger uncle had the same model of car for his private and family use. It’s licence plate number was EN 786.
I still vividly remember the family picnic in this car in 1974 to Vahaneri circuit Bungalow. It was the very day the famous Tamil actor Chandrababu kicked the bucket. All along the trip in the evening his immortal songs were played in by the SLBC in the car radio as a tribute. He studied at St Joseph College and Aquinas College, Colombo.
J P Chandrababu
Proctor David our family lawyer whose wife was Batticaloa’s late mayor Tissaweerasingam’s sister (or his sister -in-law). The lady was very fashion-conscious those days in the 60’s and a trend-setter for other women. She used to visit Madras very often to purchase saris. This model resembled the late version of Austin Cambridge.
This is “Austin Cambridge” of the late 50’s.
My aunt ( now 85) who is still alive (She passed away in 2013) has told me that my late uncle and father-in-law P M Mohamed Ali bought this brand new car for just Rs 10,500/- in 1959. He used this car only for about 02 years and sold it to one Sinnathamby of Arayampathy who was his loyal friend. I still remember my uncle took all of us to the Shivaj’s black and white film “Irumbithirai”. He would later hire the car from Sinnathamby. My uncle expired on the Independence day of 1981, that is, 4th February 1981 when my wife Jameela was seven month pregnant with my elder son Ifthikar Ahmed. He is more an uncle to me than a father-in-law as he was my maternal uncle who looked after my mother and myself following the death of my father in 1958.
The other who owned this model of the car was late Mohideen of Modern Radio Service. He was from a wealthy family and a playboy. He also served as the 6th Division ward member for Kattankudy Town Council and expert radio technician. He owned a shop renting generators, speaker system, etc.
Three prominent people of Kattankudy had this car and my uncle PM was one of the trio. He incidentally bought this car in 1979 from the proprietor of Colombo Drapery Stores who was his best friend from Kalmunai. He (my uncle’s friend) was shot dead by the Army as he failed to stop his car during the height of Ealam war somewhere in the late 80’s.
The other user of this is one Hayath Mohamed founder of Rasheediya Hotel Batticaloa and father of Abdul Rashid who took over the business following the death of his father in the 50’s and pioneered tourist industry in Batticaloa by establishing a tourist hotel named Hotel Orient in 1965. Yet another person who used this model was late M I Ibrahim (miller and landed proprietor, garage owner) who happens to be the father-in-law of the Chairman of British College of Applied Studies where I work as Liaison Officer.
There were two 404’s (above) were in Kattankudy in the 70’s and 80’s. The late Businessman A A Razik and Professor Careem owned this model of Peugeot 404 in the 1970’s. The last car Businessman Razik used was a 504 which is seen here.
This was the car Srimavo Bandaranayake imported for his cabinet of Ministers in the 70’s and the late and respected Dr Al-haj Badiuddeen Mohmud (Buddy) the then Minister of Education used this Car when he contested in the Batticaloa electorate in 1977 against Fareed Meera Lebbe (Please wait for Part Two of this article for the description of the car he used then)
There was a kind driver living on the way down the Batticaloa bridge and his name was Thambirajah who died of paralysis about 20 years ago. This man had a fleet of old Ford Anglias which he used to self-drive to transport school children (girls and boys under 8) from Arayampathi and Kattankudy to Batticaloa’s leading girls schools – Vincent Girls’ High School and St Cecilia’s Convent the two girls school in Batticaloa where all my cousins studied up to OL or AL for what my uncle considered as “Marriage-qualification” .
The cars would be parked in his vast compound. He would never take his car to the mechanic or garage for faults or snags. Since he had a fleet of about five to eight cars he would interchange the parts and keep the cars in perfect condition.
My wife and all my cousins turned sisters-in-law and eldest sister-in-law’s daughters and even my own daughter travelled to their schools to Batticaloa in this model of car only. It’s a two-door model as seen here and Thambirasa would carefully stuff the children into his car – about 10-15 per trip. He would personally take care of their school bags and other school paraphernalia and put them into the boot. For each child, he would get down and ensure everything was ok. Never did he meet with an accident. He would go at a slow speed and when the children ask him to drive a little faster he used to say “Thah….Thah…..” as if his car was a bullock-cart to the laughter of the little ones. The girls who travelled in his car to their schools still reminisce about this man and recall his gentle and kind qualities.
There were two Triumph Cars in use in Batticaloa. One was used to be driven by a young lady and other was hood-collapsible one. I do not know who were the owners of these cars. If my memory serves correct the lady driver was either a lawyer or a government officer. (This young lady according to my friend Zahir Moulana is Ranji Ellayathambi and she is still alive he says) *The hood-collapsible Triumph was used by a son of wealthy gentleman of Batticaloa.
* My friend Ali Zahir Moulana of Eravur who lived in Kattankudy with his parents during his boyhood has reminded me after seeing this article that one of the Triumphs was owned by none other than his late father-in-law Cannicious Paiva. So it was Not the son of a wealthy gentleman as I have mentioned – blame my bad memory. Paiva was the Manager of Ceylon Brewery Ltd’s, Batticaloa Branch which incidentally had been housed in one of the ground floor shops of the Hotel Orient Building owned by my late relative H M A Rashid. Paiva used to come in this car for work and would visit either me or Rashid for a chat to update about the happenings around the country in general and Batticaloa in particular as a first thing in the morning.
I reproduce the relevant extract of Zahir’s email:
“…………………………..Further, for your information that the “two Triumph Herald what you have mentioned one was driven by a lady named Ms. who was a Lawyer by profession still living in Batticaloa down Athikar Road and the other one was driven and owned by none other than my father in law Late Mr Cannicious Paiva in late 60’s & 70’s………”
The Model Dr Faiz used
There were two Holden Cars in Kattankudy in the 60’s. One of them was an older model which was used by a then leading textile merchant who had shops in Batticaloa and Badulla. An immediate next model was used by one Dr Faiz who had a lucrative practice in the town. He was from Matale whose father in law was a magistrate in Batticaloa if my serves me correct.
This was the model Samathu Stores Hajiyar used
This Holden luxury model limousine was imported for the non-aligned summit of 1976
For the 1976 Non-aligned Summit the then Simavo government imported a fleet of luxury Holden Cars which were later sold in auction. There lived one Sana-koona’s son who had a love for cars and he would bring the latest model to the town and show off. This is was one such car he brought to Batticaloa.
There was a solitary Singer car in Kattankudy (or in the whole of Eastern Province) which resembled Hilman Minx. It was owned by one MBM Hadjiyar of Kattankudy who was the father of Hameed one time partner and brother-in-law of the Nolimit Chain Chairman Mubarack. He was a gentleman par excellence. A soccer enthusiast he was he used to sponsor the inter-club football tournaments in Batticaloa and would watch every match played. He was best loved by Tamil and Burgher communities of Batticaloa for his philanthropy and social service.
To be continued