One Week in My Colombo

Drinks and an empty box of space cake at Bu Ba on Mt. Lavinia Beach (Sunday 23rd July, 2006). It was good to see you too, Channa.

Last August, I started documenting the last 7 days of my July. It turned out to be a very long post, and I left it unfinished. I rediscovered it recently, and here it is, slightly edited, but otherwise unadulterated.

People who say Colombo is boring do not know the city well, or just have not adjusted to its craziness. Colombo is mad, sometimes sad, occasionally even horribly bad, but it is never ever boring.

Unconvinced? Here are the highlights of the last seven days of my July. Even by Colombo’s standards, admittedly, this was somewhat of a wacky week. It was one of those weeks that makes you think that your guardian angel, who I now believe to be a kassippu-toting narcoleptic, is sleeping on the job.

Sunday, 23rd July

The week starts off fine with Sunday. I go to Barefoot at lunchtime and meet Manolo, Brazilian Stephanie and two of Stephanie’s American mates. Turns out there is no jazz, because of Dominic Sansoni’s 50th birthday party in the evening, so we head to Mt. Lavinia after a beer. I stop off quickly at Colombohemian’s place to pick up Liz’s herbal gifts from Arugam Bay, and I rediscover the meaning of serendipity: Timothy’s generosity with a freshly-baked ooey-gooey chocolate space cake. 

That sets the mood for the rest of the day. We get to Bu Ba on Mt. Lavinia beach and the usual posse, about 10-strong,  is there with Channa, who is on holiday from England with his British mates. We sit inside this huge mangrove tree for shade, and then later at sunset we sit on the beach, drinking and chatting, amid fits of uncontrollable guffaws induced by the afore-mentioned cake. 

Later, go for dinner with Dias to Sakura for sushi and a DMC*. The whole day, including beers at Barefoot, space cake (free), drinks and bites at Buba, and dinner at Sakura would probably have cost me less than SLR1500, (USD15, GBP8). 

Monday, 24th July

Normal day at work. NavRat is ill and cannot host the Clancy’s pub quiz**, so Stephanie steps in. I promise to drop her back in Moratuwa afterwards. After quiz, I discover that there’s a petrol strike in full force and that there is no petrol to be had anywhere. My tank has been near empty for two days of running, and there’s no way I can make it to Moratuwa and get back home without getting stuck without gas. I decide to drive home and get mum’s car. I call my mother from 5 minutes away after driving like 80% of the way home. She’s asleep and annoyed and refuses to give me the car for some bizarre reason only mothers would ever understand. I go home anyway, hoping to convince her. Thaathi’s up (surprise, surprise) and offers me the car keys. On way to Moratuwa, I my change my mind and join Manolo and Speldewinde at RnB for a quick drink. End up staying until 4am. I get back in the car. I discover 17 missed calls and 3 messages on the phone. I have a fight with my paranoid, hysterical mum on the phone. She sounds like she’s dropped some speed. We leave for Moratuwa. Stephanie cant find the place. We delay, going round and round in circles in Moratuwa.

Get back home at 5:30am to Mum yelling, and to find that Dad has gone out looking for me. I can’t understand it. There is no logic to it: they don’t stay up worrying about me when I drive my own car, and the only thing different about tonight is that I took my dad’s car. So, they must have just stayed awake worrying about the car. The logic of that is unsurmountable, and the staggering extent of their apparent materialism confounds me, until I realise that bringing Stephanie home, even for those five minutes, was also something different about the night.  I stop trying to understand my parents and go to sleep.

Moral of the story: 27 year old men should not live with their parents, even if it is the cultural norm. 

Note to self: Move out ASAP.

Tuesday, 25th July

Worked in the field today with Loki. Met Loki’s driver, Peter, for the first time. Relatively uneventful day, except for massive fight with mum in the morning about the previous night. Can’t go out, because I don’t have any petrol, due to petrol strike which is still on. Spend early evening taking photographs of birds in the garden: parakeet, Ceylon spotted dove, drongo, barbet, red-backed woodpecker, kingfisher, mynah, babbler and something I’ve never seen before with a surprsingly yellow arse. 

Wednesday, 26th July

I spent the morning and early afternoon trying unsuccessfully to save Peter’s life while he had a heart attack. This episode deserved its own post, but in short, we thought it was an asthma attack, rushed him to a doctor, who told us to take him directly to hospital. In hospital, he went into cardiac arrest in front of us, while the doctors tried to revive him. They succeeded in keeping his body alive, and I was happy at first,  but it turned out eventually that he had gone into a coma, and two weeks later, he died without ever regaining conciousness. Loki and I were the last people he spoke to. Weird feeling.

I spend the afternoon talkng to shoppers and mudalalis in the Pitakotte area, trying to understand the way people buy noodles. I kid you not.

In the evening, I meet up with Manolo, Indi, NavRat and Sophist at the Infoshare meet up – small crowd, but interesting, lots of blogger / NGO types and some people from the Enough group are there, and also Dom and Naz. 

Thursday, 27th July

I take a three-wheeler to work because I still have no petrol. A cow decides to cross the road and then changes its mind. It decides to turn around and cross back right in the middle of the road. The car in front of my threewheeler screeches to a halt. The driver of my three wheeler brakes, then skids, then slams hard into the car in front. Crunch. Crunch. The car behind us slams into the three-wheeler from behind, sandwiching us between the two cars. The cow escapes. I survive. I’m shaken – not stirred – but, I’ve got a bruised knee. I don’t hang around. I hop into another three-wheeler and rush to work. Late again, but at least I can blame the cow.

In the evening Dias, NavRat and I do stand-up comedy between Brass Monkey Band sets at H20. It’s the second time of done it and this time, I am well-prepared. We are hilarious. People love us. Girls want to do us in the ear-hole. I kid – the petrol strike is still on and only forty people turned up, mostly friends. Still, they seemed to enjoy it. Maybe, I’ll post the script of the stand-up comedy routine we did sometime. Or, on second thoughts, maybe I won’t, since I don’t want Anura Bandaranaike to bump me off, or sit on me, whichever is the slower death.

Timothy, Christine and Ryan are there and they’ve been having more of that space cake. Go to RnB later with them after gig, and there is a police jeep parked right opposite the entrance. Timothy wants to share some of the space cake with the cops. I am all for it – it is a comedy night after all. In the words of Timothy, “Ralahami, adha magay upan dinay. Cake kallak kamudha?” [Officer, today’s my birthday. Would you like a piece of cake?]. We feed the cops in the jeep the rest of the space cake. We do not stick around to find out what happens, but I imagine it would have been groovy: we probably created the most chilled out cop car in the whole of Colombo, and probably also the most hungry. I bet they got the munchies and went for a Police Kottu to Pilawoos***.

At RnB, Timotei and I meet Sunil from the Gypsies, nearly a year after we interviewed him for The LT. We sit down and have a drink with him. The great man is hilarious. Yet again, he tells us things that I can never ever publish. Dammit. 

I meet some interesting people, dance a little bit, have a political discussion with some guy I think is going to bite my head off, and go home in a three-wheeler. I give the three wheeler driver an anti Mahinda Chintanaya spiele about fertilizer subsidies on the way home. He loves it, and cracks up. I go to sleep feeling glad I can be funny in Sinhala.

Friday, 28th July

I drive to work thanks to petrol from a can Thaatthi had brought home last night. After work, I go to the Ceylon Hockey and Football Club (CHFC) for an early drink and the usual hot butter cuttlefish, tempered chick peas, and devilled pork with Loki, Bigbookvillagehouse and NavRat. At about nine o’clock, Bigbookvillagehouse drops me at the Jaic Hilton and I head for apartment 305 where I think Migs’ bachelor party is going to be. It turns out the Jaic does not have a room 305. I’m in the wrong building altogether. I head out and to the right place -Global Towers.

The stripper turns up at about 10pm. She’s a Moldovian called Elina. She does not disappoint. All the usual boys are nice decent chaps (not the sort that frequent prostitutes) and are kind of unsure about what to talk to her about, because it is our first stag party with a stripper****. So, people try to break the ice by making small-talk. Most buggers’ imagination does not serve them well past the inevitable “What’s your name?” and “Where are you from?”, but Yapa outdoes himself with the phenomenal “Which part of Moldova?”. The stripper just stares at him and snaps, “You don’t know” in a thick Eastern European accent. 

Go for party at Bu Ba afterwards. Great music, great venue, but a sausage fest. The boys from the stag were there, so it was great anyway. I used Timothy’s fire dancing equipment on the beach. Back to Global Towers and we all crash by 6am, after getting hot egg rolls from Thaj Hotel in Bamba with Channa and Sophist.

Saturday, 29th July, 2006

Wake up at 11am at the stag night flat at Global Towers. The boys are all nursing hangovers and are watching the cricket. It looks like Sri Lanka is doing well. I get home by 1pm.

Have lunch. Write a communication brief for racial unity. Go to Colombohemian’s place. Show him the brief. Chill out there for a bit, play with the kids. Go to the Neelan Thiruchelvam memorial lecture at BMICH by former Managing Editor of the Washington Post and two-time Pulitzer Prize Winner, Steve Coll. Chat to some interesting sorts in the foyer and… 

…and honestly, that’s all I can remember of the last seven days of my July. I know when I started composing this post in the first week of August last year, I even wanted to include Sunday the 30th, because something great happened on Sunday the 30th – but I just can’t remember what it was. Did I go for a drink to Bu Ba again that Sunday, and have a rather eventful walk on the beach? And, on the evening before, did I get copped for suspected drink driving, get taken to the police station and come out negative? Yep, I think those may have happened that weekend, but I can’t quite remember now.

Nevertheless, I hope it conveys what Colombo and I were like at the time. In comparison, I feel that Colombo is a lot more dull now. I think the resumption of the war, the long-term presence of the check points, the reduction in tourism, the closing down of certain bars and pubs, have all had their effects. Colombo is not comfortable with itself partying as heavily, understandably. Certainly, the heady hedonism of the Wickramasinghe years are gone, and we do not see the entertainment and leisure industries developing as rapidly as they used to between 2002 to 2004. If anything, I’d say that there are in decline. And, I, too, am also in a different place now, calmer and more collected. I probably couldn’t stomach another week like that one last July.  

*DMC = Deep and Meaningful Chat

** In September, the pub quiz moved to Inn on the Green on Wednesdays.

*** Police Kottu – a (usually free) kottu roti especially made for the cops. Usually contains various disgusting ingredients surreptitiously blended in to the dish, depending on how much the catering establishment dislikes cops.

**** Since that first stag party in July, we’ve had many more because so many of our circle got married. I was even bestman at one wedding, and therefore, I am an now a self-appointed authority on how to organise bachelor parties in Colombo. Maybe I’ll do apost on it, but for the moment, there’s one of two numbers that come in useful if you are organising a stag. Nora 0724161516 or Neil 0777533223, depending on whether you prefer Moldovian or Uzbek… er, dancing. Enjoy.     


8 thoughts on “One Week in My Colombo

  1. wicked post ! super read.. thank you !

    i hope i can rediscover the Colombo u describe.. think it’s gonna take some time i still feel like a tourist when i come down every 1.5 years 😦

  2. I haven’t read your blog for too long! That was indeed superb, and I don’t know how you can say “admittedly, it was a wacky week” – as I remember it, shit like that happened to you most of the time… 😉

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