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Sri Lanka: A Land Like No Other (Part 1b). Visiting Sir Arthur C. Clarke

Part 1a of this blog series discussed the city of Colombo.  This post focuses on its most famous resident, Sir Arthur C. Clarke



(Sir Arthur, at a desk.  An email addict, he loved the power of computers)


Much of my time in Colombo was spent at the home of Sir Arthur C. Clarke.  Arthur’s contributions to science, science fiction and space travel are well known, and if you want to learn more about these I recommend you visit the Arthur C. Clarke Foundation website.  Probably the most important achievement of Arthur’s life was his landmark description in 1945 of the concept of a series of communications satellites in geosynchronous orbit (now known as the Clarke orbit) that provided the fundamental concept to the global boom that has revolutionized telecommunications and shrunk the size of our planet.  Arthur was always a dreamer, and he never thought that in his lifetime any of his dreams would come true — space travel, man’s walking on the moon, the exploration of the outer planets, etc.  He lived to share in and experience so much — an intellectual life in full.



 (Arthur C. Clarke on the phone -- he liked to stay active throughout his life)


Arthur was a busy man, even well into his 80s.  He moved to Sri Lanka in 1956 from England.  At the time he arrived in Ceylon, it was a “tropical paradise”, still an island at peace and was cited by many as an example of how people of different religions could live together in harmony.  Arthur was an avid diver and the scuba diving off the coast is terrific in many places.  After the cool weather of the UK, the warm tropical climate appealed to him and he was genuinely fond of the Sri Lankan people.  The move to Sri Lanka seemed a perfect fit for Arthur. During the early years life here was quite isolated, but as telecommunications improved Arthur became wired to the world, an addict to faxing and e-mail.



(Arthur was always very patient about signing the piles of books I brought each trip)


While I, your humble narrator, was growing up Arthur was my favorite author.  I loved science fiction — one might say my ABC’s were Asimov, Bradbury and Clarke.  I enjoyed his entertaining writing and the way his words stimulated my mind.  Among my first exposures to his work was 2001: A Space Odyssey, a story he co-write with director Stanley Kubrick while they were making their film of the same name.  It's a story that opened my imagination to the endless possibilities of the universe in a way nothing else ever had.  Never as a child did I think I would ever get to meet this man, much less be welcomed into his home as a friend and have dozens of conversations with him – a dream come true to a SciFi geek like me.  In the last decade I have been surprised at how many people I have met had a similar reaction to this film, ranging from physicians, space scientists, astronauts to entertainers.  As an aside, Wayne Houser and I were fortunate enough to be guests to the 40th anniversary screening of 2001 at the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences in 2008, shortly after Arthur had died.  We had the great privilege of meeting many of the people behind the making if the film, including its star Keir Dullea and his wife, Mia Dillon (wonderful people!)



(Arthur enjoyed playing table tennis and was very proficient it)


It was always a great joy to visit with Arthur, talk about current events, what’s new in science and space, and what was his latest writing project.   And he would always patiently sign the many books, etc. I brought with me.  It was a unique treat to be able to share my love of his writing with him, pick his brain about plot points and his mechanics of writing, and sit around, sometimes in a comfortable silence, over tea, lunch or dinner.  Arthur, raised in England, liked bland food like toast and tomato soup, and never developed a taste for the delicious curries and spicy foods of Ceylon. I on the other hand very much enjoyed the wonderful homemade Sri Lanka dishes his staff prepared.  I could spend hours talking and writing about these visits but this does not seem like the right venue.  Suffice it to say that I grew to love this kind, gentle and optimistic man.  I respected his brilliance and achievements.  We genuinely enjoyed each other’s company.  Like many, I mourned his death.



(Three dear friends, from (L) to (R), Sir Arthur, Hans Monheimus and retired US Ambassador, James Spain.  All 3 are now gone)


Through Arthur C Clarke and Wayne Houser, I got to know several other expats who lived in Colombo.  Of these I became friends with one man in particular, Hans Monheimus.  Hans was born in Holland and worked most of his life for the tropical hardwoods division of Unilever, mostly in Indonesia.  He retired to Sri Lanka, an island he had visited as a young man.  He was a close friend of Arthur’s, a patron of the arts, a collector of fine paintings, and a lover of beautiful creations.  Hans was also a superb amateur photographer, and I spent dozens of hours in his “photo room”, studying his beautiful work which he had crafted into magnificent “trip albums”. One might even say that Hans inspired me to try my hand at creating this blog — creating a sort of hi-tech album to share with others.


So for me, Colombo was much less about tourism and much more about visiting friends.  Unique and precious friends.   I still cherish all these memories.  The following blogs in this series deal with destinations I visited while in Sri Lanka.


 For an extended high resolution slide show of Sir Arthur C Clarke, please go to this link.  The slide show is at the bottom of the post.  Click on the right sided icon of the slideshow's toolbar for full screen enlargements.



Images (24)
  • Arthur C. Clarke as I often remember seeing him.: An e-mail addict, sitting at his desk dealing with "the global village" he'd envision many years earlier
  • Entrance to 25 Barnes Place, Colombo: Sir Arthur's home
  • Entrance to 25 Barnes Place, Colombo: It was named in honor of Leslie Ekanayake, a dear friend who died tragically in a car crash at a young age.
  • Driveway to Arthur C. Clarke's home: He loved his red Mercedes, the only one like it in Sri Lanka so far as I know. It was always a lot of fun driving thru the streets with Arthur, as the vehicle got much attention.
  • 25 Barnes Place, Colombo: Some of the many awards Arthur had receive over the years, on display in his outer office
  • 25 Barnes Place, Colombo: Award to Arthur C. Clarke from NASA
  • Sir Arthur C. Clarke in his office, Colombo: He received many phone calls.  His private number was listed in the Colombo phone book.
  • DrFumblefinger with Arthur C. Clarke: The bookcase behind us holds all the books Arthur has written. He told me his private collection of his books was small compared to mine -- which is true.
  • DrFumblefinger with Arthur C. Clarke
  • Sir Arthur, relaxing with friends in his office
  • DrFumblefinger and Arthur C. Clarke: Arthur was always very kind in signing my books for me. Dr. Lester Thompson helps out (far left)
  • Neil McAleer and Arthur C. Clarke at 25 Barnes Place: Neil wrote the definitive biography, "Sir Arthur C. Clarke.  Odyssey of a Visionary"
  • Sir Arthur with his good friend, Hans Monhemius: At their mutual friend Jim Spain's flat.
  • Backyard of Arthur C. Clarke's home: A lovely green oasis
  • Colombo -- Arthur's little dog, Pepsi: His most beloved pet was also his smallest
  • Epitaph to Sir Arthur's pets, Colombo: Arthur loved his pets dearly and was heart broken at their passing. A frequent theme in his writing was the unfairness of our pets relatively short lives when compared to our own.
  • Epitaph to Sir Arthur's pets, Colombo: Beautiful loving tributes to his animals. Each epitaph written by Arthur.
  • Epitaph for Pepsi, Arthur's Chihuahua: His most treasured and beloved pet was his last. It broke his heart when she died.
  • Arthur doing physical therapy in his backyard: Arthur suffered from post-polio syndrome, which left him weakened and ultimately wheelchair bound
  • Colombo -- Otters swimming club: Arthur came here every evening to relax, play a few games of table tennis and enjoy the sunset. It was where he unwound at the end of the day. Even into his 80s he was a good player. DrFumblefinger watches him play.
  • Sir Arthur, Hans Monhemius, Ambassador James Spain (L to R): Three friends having lunch at the Colombo Swimming Club -- all gone now
  • Arthur C. Clarke at the Colombo Swimming Club
  • Arthur C. Clarke at the Colombo Swimming Club: What he described his million dollar pool.  Many of his writing ideas came to him while swimming here.
  • Farewell dinner at the Galle Face Hotel: Arthur enjoyed coming to this hotel.  Here with friends Neil McAleer, Pam and Lester Thompson.

Twitter: @DrFumblefinger

"We do not take a trip, a trip takes us".  John Steinbeck, from Travels with Charlie

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Thanks, TravelandNature!  Arthur was a wonderfully kind and sweet man.  He was probably the most intelligent person I've ever interacted with one-on-one, but always made me feel very welcome and comfortable with him.  We had a nice chemistry between us that I believe we both enjoyed.   He was the one who nicknamed me, "DrFumblefinger" and encouraged me to write about my adventures.  So here I am now --DrFumblefinger writing about my passion for travel!

Nevin posted:

Hi Dr. Fumblefinter, I was wondering if you knew the location of Arthur Clarke's former residence, or perhaps his grave? I'll be visiting Colombo for work next month and I'd like to make a visit, even if just outside of the walls of the house.

Hi Nevin,  

Nice to hear from you and thanks for your interest in Sir Arthur.  Arthur's home is at 25 Barnes Place in Colombo, which is near the popular shopping store Odels.  A taxi or even tuk-tuk should be able to get you there.  His former business partner and best friend, a SriLankan, still lives at this home.  You won't see too much from the outside as it is a walled compound.  If you contact the home and come during business hours, it is likely that someone will take you to see Arthur's office, which has not changed since the day he died.  Every book, photo, honor, plaque etc. are as they exactly were when Arthur passed away.  If you provide me your email via private message (click on right side of tool bar to see this option), I can give you the contact information but I don't want it to publish it online in this comment.

Sir Arthur is buried in the Borella Kanattha Cemetery.  His grave is a little hard to find, but if you ask one of the attendants at the cemetery and give them a small tip they will likely be able to take you to the gravesite.  Here is a photo of his tombstone, inscribed exactly as he wanted it to be.


Twitter: @DrFumblefinger

"We do not take a trip, a trip takes us".  John Steinbeck, from Travels with Charlie


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