An American Abroad

Looking for Arthur C. Clarke

I’m not a big science fiction reader. I average one sci-fi novel a year. But since I was in Colombo, I decided to make it my mission to find Arthur C. Clarke’s house. Clarke was the author of 2001: A Space Odyssey, Childhood’s End, and other hugely influential sci-fi novels of the mid-twentieth century. He died in 2008, so I knew he was unlikely to be home, but I’d heard that his partner Hector Ekanayake still lived Clarke’s house. I thought there was at least a chance I could get in. I read Childhood’s End on the plane to Sri Lanka just in case I needed to back up my story about being a huge Clarke fan.

Clarke lived in Sri Lanka from 1956 until his death. Reportedly, he was attracted to the country because of his keen interest in scuba diving. He is credited with discovering the underwater ruins of the Koneswaram Temple in Trincomalee. Then too, at the time, Sri Lanka had far more tolerant laws about homosexuality than the UK did (as anyone who has seen the recent film The Imitation Game can understand).

My first job was to find the house, which wasn’t easy in a country (like many others in the region) where street names and numbers can be haphazard and difficult to locate. Michael, the wise and helpful owner/manager of the Colombo Beach Hostel, suggested that I try at the institute that bears Clarke’s name. A web search located the Arthur C. Clarke Institute for Modern Technologies, so I hailed a tuktuk and off I went.

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Unfortunately, I had knowingly set out of my quest on the day of the full moon, which is a Buddhist holiday in Sri Lanka. The institute was closed. I talked with the security guards, though, and asked them where Clarke had lived. They made a few calls for me and presto, I had a street name, but no house number.

I took another tuktuk to the neighborhood near Colombo’s city hall and found the street. Then it was a matter of asking the neighbors and shopkeepers which house had been Clarke’s. My Sinhala being somewhat rusty, this was more difficult than it sounds. Finally, I found a woman who lived on the street who knew what I was talking about and directed me to the proper house.

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The house was surrounded by a wall with a gate at the driveway. There was a security guard nearby, presumably keeping watch on the whole street. He suggested that I ring the bell. Unfortunately, the Buddha foiled my plans again. Due to the festival, no one was home.

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Oh well. Even though I didn’t accomplish my ultimate goal, the process took me through more of Colombo than I would have seen otherwise and got me talking with lots of people. Maybe next trip I will see if i can be admitted to Clarke’s sanctum sanctorum.