Though as I noted our ambassador in Moscow and his family were enormously kind during that 1975 visit there, the most support was provided by Piyadasa, who had worked at home and then been found a position at the Attorney General’s office where my father worked. The first trip round Sri Lanka that I remember well, when we took our Indian friend Mohan Bhatkal on a tour, was with Piyadasa, ten years earlier, and he drove and looked after Mohan and my brother and me very capably. Unlike all the other staff at home, his first allegiance was to my father, and over the years he and his family became fast friends.

He had been in Moscow in the embassy in the sixties, but had come back before my first visit there, in 1972. He married while in Colombo, and later went back to Moscow with his wife Lily. She had just had a baby when I got to Moscow, prematurely so the child was in an incubator for months, and likely to have died had not the Soviet system, as Piyadasa put it, provided excellent care.

Despite his worries about his wife and the new-born baby, Piyadasa had got me a train ticket for Tiflis as I had requested. As I wrote home in a letter after I had got to Oxford, ‘I had a 4 berth compartment with two large Georgian ladies, who insisted on feeding me – with appalling effects on my stomach – and showing me pictures of their offspring, and an old man who snored but got off at Rode, and then a young man who kept buying me beer and wine. It was all very pleasant, though communication was non-existent or rather monosyllabic, and most of those trite. In addition a Muslim from Azerbaijan rushed into our compartment at frequent intervals and embraced me, crying ‘Mussulman’ to the horror of the rest of the compartment who insisted that I was a Christian (Cries of ‘Nyet, Nyet Mussulman’). 

The landscape itself was spectacular, though regrettably we missed, if we did pass them, the highest peaks as they must have been at night. However, I saw them on my return, ridges of thickly packed snow. Tiflis itself wasn’t particularly exciting, and I left in a day, but it was fun walking round for a bit, the local population being very friendly, summoning a car once when I asked directions, putting me on the right buses and even buying my opera ticket – I went to ‘La Traviata’ by the Georgian State Opera in the evening.  Friendliness here reached an unfortunate depth when a rather slimy man attempted to place his hand on my knee (‘I didn’t know they had those in Russia,’ said Leslie).  It was in the 2nd Act as well, which was unforgivable. I still regret only changing my seat and not screaming and upstaging Violetta who, one must admit, did a good job despite having to sing in Russian, which has more syllables than Verdi had music, and suffered from changes of scenery that took longer than the acts themselves. Indeed, at one stage the conductor failed to appear for 10 minutes after the lights had gone down. It was still good fun though, and a pity the theatre was just 1/3 full.

The pictures are of the opera house which I went to on this visit for a rousing performance of ‘Manon’. I do not think this was the venue at which I saw ‘La Traviata’ in 1975, for I have a memory of that having been outdoors.

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