Sunday, October 13, 2013

Grand Opening of Kandy Ismail Clock Tower

Copyright  Charith Gunarathna ( http://charithmania.blogspot.com/ )

Copyright  Charith Gunarathna ( http://charithmania.blogspot.com/ )

Copyright  Charith Gunarathna ( http://charithmania.blogspot.com/ )
Copyright  Charith Gunarathna ( http://charithmania.blogspot.com/ )

Copyright  Charith Gunarathna ( http://charithmania.blogspot.com/ )

Copyright  Charith Gunarathna ( http://charithmania.blogspot.com/ )

Copyright  Charith Gunarathna ( http://charithmania.blogspot.com/ )

Copyright  Charith Gunarathna ( http://charithmania.blogspot.com/ )

Copyright  Charith Gunarathna ( http://charithmania.blogspot.com/ )Copyright  Charith Gunarathna ( http://charithmania.blogspot.com/ )

Copyright  Charith Gunarathna ( http://charithmania.blogspot.com/ )

Copyright  Charith Gunarathna ( http://charithmania.blogspot.com/ )
Copyright  Charith Gunarathna ( http://charithmania.blogspot.com/ )

Copyright  Charith Gunarathna ( http://charithmania.blogspot.com/ )

Copyright  Charith Gunarathna ( http://charithmania.blogspot.com/ )

Copyright  Charith Gunarathna ( http://charithmania.blogspot.com/ )

Copyright  Charith Gunarathna ( http://charithmania.blogspot.com/ )


The Ismail clock tower was built in 1947 by the Ismail Family ( Haji Mohomed Ismail) in memory of his beloved son Mohomed Zacky Ismail who lost his life in Kadugannawa on the 14th Aug 1947. The tower was opened by the then premier of Sri Lanka Hon. D.S Senanayaka and the mayor of Kandy in the presence of the family members. All the machinery and equipment needed for this project was imported from the United Kingdom and the land was acquired by the Kandy Municipal Council. The clock tower is a historic monument and marks the center of the Kandy city, which is located right opposite the Ismail Building.

“Today we take having a watch, a mobile phone with digital clock for granted. However, less than fifty years ago, such things were a luxury and everything was set to the town’s central clock tower,” explains the Ismail family. In Kandy’s case, the town clock tower is the king of clocks with a magnificent trim of the yearly Temple of the Tooth’s nightly procession of elephants, all set in gold, to remind all that visit the city of the golden age, and the splendid Temple, all of which can be reached on the same road.


The story behind this clock tower is a tragic one. A Classic Austin 7 car left Kandy on a Friday in the 1940s with four people including one young man, Zacky Ismail, who was expected back on the Sunday. No sooner they left Kandy, Sri Lanka’s worst ever rain hit the area and the torrential downpour continued for days; so much so, the Peradeniya bridge and the botanical gardens were under water around the 12th of August 1947.


The Ismail family expected them to come back from Colombo on Sunday night and due to the communications being so poor those days, only Morse code worked through the post office and there were a handful of wind-up phones that mostly did not work. Everyone in the family started to worry by Monday when they did not appear, and late in the evening - the same day, a policeman turned up with a small parcel and said we found a number plate of this vehicle floating at Kadugannawa, is it yours?


Zacky’s father, shaken by seeing it, smashed the box and said “My God, this is my vehicle. What happened?” The policeman explained a tragic accident in which a landslide pushed the Austen 7 down the mountainside. So the following day they realised a huge boulder come from the hills and the vehicle was buried under it. His son, his son-in-law, his driver and one of his sales assistants had all died it seemed, instantaneously. The family were very close
to all of them, and some days it was almost too much for the father to bear. For Mohammed Ismail, the only answer was to create a memorial to the four people who meant so much to him so he researched the matter and found Kandy was desperately in need of a clock tower; as at the time there was not one.


The death had taken place on the 14th of August, so in memory of his son, he commissioned the architect who had already built Peradeniya University, Shirley de Alwis, considered at the time to be the best in Sri Lanka, to do a blue print that included all the Kandyan traditions and culture.


Incorporated into this charming structure, you will discover, walking around it; the Temple of the Tooth and the palace of the last King of Kandy on its facade. Three years later, the Mayor of Kandy at the time - E. L. Senanayake, laid the foundation stone at the anniversary of Zacky’s death.


It was gifted by the family on the 23rd of December, 4 months later, to the people of Kandy and accepted by the prime minister of the time, when the country was still called Ceylon. Everyone from Kandy came to this historic event, in which the prime minister turned up in a Rolls Royce, and the crowd was one of the biggest ever seen to celebrate such a generous gift. Inside the clock tower there is a spiral Hitchcock-style staircase to attend to the repairs of the clock mechanism, which was specially designed and ordered from Britain.


Talking to his surviving brother, he says, “I am very sentimental about the clock and also appreciate what my father has done for the people of Kandy. I often look at it, and think of my 21-year-old brother, as I walk into the office across the road to run our family business.” It has been a place of work for the family since 1927 when his father constructed the magnificent Ismail building in true 20s style. Originally a vehicle spares, bikes and car tyres business, as his dad loved classic cars, and then moved into a whole range of other products such as baby and mother-care items.



The Ismail business will continue with Arshad, the grandson, who is 33; who knows where he will take the business next? But like the clock tower, this old Kandy family will always be there. The shop houses the original blue print for the clock tower and goes as the Ismail building, where all are welcome to come inside and see the beautiful drawing.


Going back to the 1940s, people did not have wrist watches so this was a very useful contribution for the workers of the city and for buses to be on time. Today, it’s still used as a meeting point and people set their watches and meetings by it. For travelers, it is as beautiful an icon as the University and the Temple of the Tooth; built on the road leading to this incredible religious complex, originally known as Ward Street after a British Governor.


After Independence in 1948, the name changed to Dalada Veediya, which means the road to the temple, where pilgrims can be seen going, daily, past the iconic site, that means for all time Zacky Ismail and his family will live on as a historic centre and talking point of the town.

Special thanks to Arshad Ismail & Family.

Copyright  Charith Gunarathna ( http://charithmania.blogspot.com/ )