A hailstorm at Dankotuwa – By GEORGE BRAINE

A hailstorm at Dankotuwa – By GEORGE BRAINE

George BraineThe sky is a cloudless blue, but the ground is covered in snow and ice. The temperature has plunged to -15 centigrade. The landscape is searing white. I have returned home after shoveling snow off the driveway, my fingers numb with cold. I am in Sapporo, in Japan’s northern island of Hokkaido.

My memories go back to 1956, when I first saw ice. My father was the superintendent of Carrington Group, a coconut plantation at Dankotuwa, in the NWP. The plantation also had a large dairy and a piggery. The bungalow was on top of a hill, with “sweeping vistas” (as my father later wrote) on all sides.

One morning, around 10am, we were startled by the crashing of rocks on the tin roof. On rushing outside, we were dumbfounded to see, not rocks, but a storm of ice falling from the sky. (We didn’t know the term hailstorm then.) The bungalow did not have electricity, so there was no fridge. I may have tasted ice cream on visits to town, but don’t recall ever having touched ice.

Soon, the area was covered in fist-sized rocks of ice. Silence descended, the birds having fled. Even the dogs were quiet. The lovely garden, my father’s pride, was destroyed. The ground was no longer green, but a glistening white. Was the world coming to an end?

Then, we witnessed another strange sight. Estate laborers, followed by their children, were walking up to the bungalow, balancing white enameled washbasins filled with ice on their heads. I still can’t imagine why they did this. They, like me, had perhaps never seen or touched ice before, and confused, didn’t know it would melt, and were coming to my father for advice.
A hailstorm at Dankotuwa - By GEORGE BRAINE

Around the bungalow, all we could see a field of ice under the coconut trees, beneath a clear blue sky. The temperature had dropped. My brother and I, along with the children of the laborers, ran everywhere, picking-up and throwing fistfuls of ice at each other. Even some adults joined in.

Soon, the ice melted and the temperature returned to normal. We heard that some damage had been caused to the roofs of laborers’ cottages. The huge mango tree in the garden was missing all its leaves. The plantain trees were completely shredded.

I was six years old, but the memory is still vivid.

GEORGE BRAINE

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