The mechanic

1 montage + 3 audio

Mr Thenuwara left Galle for Colombo in 1965 and apprenticed as a mechanic. After early obstacles he achieved his goal of running his own garage. He talks about his customers and his specialism, the VW Beetle. Photography by Kannan Arunasalam.

Join the discussion: 5 comments

  • Kannan Arunasalam says:

    I didn’t have to travel far to meet my final character for the “I am” project. Mr Thenuwara or “Beetle uncle” as I call him, is the mechanic that looks after my 1971 Volkswagen beetle.

    He moved from Galle in 1965 to work for Car Mart in Colombo. After that he decided to strike out on his own and fibally ended up with a garage on Lauries Road. Many VW Beetle owners I’ve met in Colombo all believe that he is the expert on repairing these unusual cars.

    Uncle’s garage is only a couple of streets down from where I live. A good thing too. Anyone with an old Beetle or “Volkswagen” as they are called in Sri Lanka will know that there is always something that needs mending and although most of the time you can still get along, with uncle’s garage so close, I often drop in. I’ve spent many hours there over the last 4 years and through these visits we’ve become friends.

    I’ve found uncle to be honest about what needs repairing and what can wait. If a repair is vital, he will tell you when a Mexican part will do just as well as the more expensive German ones. I trust his judgement.

    It’s a joy to watch Mr Thenuwara at work. There’s a genuine admiration for these old cars, as with many longstanding Volkswagen customers. There are always one or two vintage Beetles in his garage, usually the second or third cars of wealthy doctors or lawyers. You often run into owners of different backgrounds and their cars become conversation starters.

    But there have been misunderstandings between us too, largely because of the language barrier. But over the years, through gestures, my tiny bits of Sinhala and uncle’s leaps in speaking English, we get by.

    Over the last four years I’ve grown very fond of my Beetle. But Mr Thenuwara doesn’t believe that’s enough. He often jokes with Benjamin his assistant that ever since I got married, my attention has shifted and the car has suffered. “You don’t love this car enough,” he often scolds me when I turn up with an unwashed car or bruised from recklessness on my part.

    The opportunity I had to interview Mr Thenuwara with the help of Gayathri my researcher gave me a different perspective into another aspect of my friend’s life, and what he really thought of me! For me, his portrait shows that you don’t have to go very far to find a story.

    Reply
  • Helga De Silva Blow Perera says:

    EXACTLY. Push the right button… All have stories to tell.
    Much enjoyed. Thank you for all these great posts. Love the ‘storytelling’ portraits.

    Reply

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