Wednesday, March 16, 2016

52 (Or, the Full Deck of Life)

52 cards in a pack. 52 weeks in a year. But my thought a few days ago on turning 52 was, "Does this mean I now play with a full deck?" The thought makes a strange kind of sense because at this point, you've probably got yourself together more or less. What-what (as we say) can you see, learn, think, do, experience in 52 years?! A lot! I thought I might write about those things but I cannot.

As my birthday comes to a close, I am filled with great gratitude for the abundance of affection that has marked these weeks, this day in particular. People who did not need to have taken the time to think about my birthday, about my being away from home and about my tastes and preferences, and put together a day that I will not forget.

From the birthday cake that friends brought upstairs early this morning (and I do mean early!) to the phone calls people took the trouble to make--trouble for local friends because I am not usually around for them to call and trouble for friends and cousins who had to figure out a new location--to the profusion of balloons and handmade cards that greeted me at work, every single act was performed with caring. The plan for lunch, the careful and secret scheming and the office cake and song ceremony. There was no need for any of it but people thought about me and went out of their way.

The real birthday present tucked away in the middle of this warmth-filled day is to be able to start this new year feeling that abundance is real and grace is infinite and expressed in countless small acts of giving. The real celebration is a day when your heart brims with gratitude and your ego is diminished by the generosity others show.

My heart is too full to pontificate about anything.

(And maybe 52 means that even though our blogpact is stuttering, I can still embark on a scheme to write at least one blogpost a week for the next 52 weeks--all of which will of course, count towards the blogpact 100!)

A little art and beauty

I have come to Colombo a few times over the years but I have not really taken the time to be a tourist here. This time, I wanted to make that effort.

I learned online that Colombo has an art street. I don't know much about art, but I was curious. The "Art Street" is right across from Vihara Mahadevi Park and its offerings compete with the magnificent trees on that road for one's attention.

The stretch actually begins with the National Art Gallery which is a crying shame. It's a medium-sized hall with about 30 paintings, mostly portraits that are dusty and in disrepair. There are a few landscapes towards the end of the collection, almost like someone forgot to pack them when they moved. A few busts stand in a row in the centre of the room. Really, Southasia's museum spaces, the official ones, are something we should be ashamed of. Of course, there are exceptions but they really only prove the rule.

I have been reading about all sorts of interesting art movements and moments here since Independence, but if I were to judge just by the art gallery, I would think this was a country with zero visual arts sense.

Anyway, you just have to walk a short way away from the gallery, which, by the way, has some pretty flowering trees along its walls, to arrive at a stretch where artists bring and display their own work.

Again, I should say, I don't know much about art. Hanging out with my sister and brother-in-law, I am marginally less of a philistine than I ever was. 

The paintings on display vary from fairly stock images of perahera elephants and fishermen perched on poles against a twilight background, to what seemed to me more interesting work. Why it is interesting, I do not have the depth of knowledge or the vocabulary to tell you. But I chatted with the artists, and then took advantage of their generosity to take a few pictures so I could share them here. 

 I loved these. I loved the colours and I found the technique eye-catching. They are by Rohana Kumarasiri (Rohana Kasthuri Arachchi on Facebook).

I also really liked these lotus paintings by Rajakaruna B Ananda.

Both artists are on Facebook, and you can contact them that way.

But a walk down this little stretch is totally worthwhile, even if you feel intimidated by "art" as I sometimes do. It opens up another person's creativity. In their desire to do something creative and expressive, you find reflections of your own. You are refreshed by the memory of that desire even if you walk in sweltering heat under the scorching sun.

Go. Look. If you like something and can afford it, buy. At the very least, you can ask the artists about their work, and learn something you didn't know before.

And these are the young artists who were indulgent enough to chat with me and answer questions during my visit.

Tuesday, February 9, 2016

This land is mine...

These words were written for the musical, Exodus, but they really apply to the insects and reptiles of Sri Lanka. This land does not belong to the Sinhalese, or the Tamils, or the Muslims, or indeed, any other life forms than insects and reptiles.

I have, over the years, hardened my mild, polite 'eeks' to an utterly robust horror of these creatures who traipse around, going about their business, uncaring that I cower and very occasionally, seek to stalk them with a can of anti-insect spray.

At a thousand times their size and weight, I am afraid of them, and yes, I appreciate that this can be funny.

I know ants, roaches, lizards, etc. are as important--more important--to the ecosystem than I am, but even so, I must confess they gross me out. I think about where they've been as they hover around kitchen counters and I shudder to touch books they have walked over.

The other day, one strolled in through an open kitchen window and looked up with interest as a rice-cooker sent off fragrant steam. I could not scream, and I knew boycotting the rice was not an option, so I said gently, "There is a lizard next to the rice-cooker." "Oh, it must have come through the window." Indeed.

In other places, I am sometimes allowed the conceit that they walk through my space. Not so in Sri Lanka. Vividly recalling evenings in Delhi when I would watch as two lizards wander upside down (my perspective) on the living room ceiling towards the speeding fan and imagine with dread their falling on those blades and the resultant debris, I monitor the movement of each lizard with anxiety here. My very intelligent friend makes some very intelligent observations and I note that there are three identically sized lizards running around on the opposite wall. I am the only one who cares.

As a curmudgeon utterly unenthused by most animal forms, including increasingly the human, the only space left for me is inside a discreetly ventilated but sealed plastic (okay, make it posh: fibre-glass) cube with wifi and pictures of plants on the walls. Food, water and other supplies will be supplied and waste removed by some magical system of osmosis invented by some clever but compassionate dog or lizard lover who wants to lock me up. There, I can indulge in still life photography that expresses my mystical philosophy of love for all life-forms... at a very safe distance. 

Saturday, February 6, 2016

Coming home to Colombo

It's almost one week since I landed in Colombo. It's been a long time since I visited, since I stayed here. Yet, this is a familiar place--one of my cities. 

That sea. Tranquil--no doubt deceptively so. Everywhere. In so many shades of blue, that consort with as many different shades of red at twilight. Suddenly visible from the most unprepossessing street corner on Galle Road. 

That light, harsh and gentle, at the same time. Or maybe it is harsh all the time, but my affection for this place and its people makes it seem gentle. Gentle in recollection, that must be.

Those trees. Old trees. I still haven't been past Reid Avenue where my most favourite trees used to stand, and I hope the flowering trees in BMICH have not given way to parking or another building. 

The narrow lanes that wind everywhere, like secret passages
between houses, whose trees hang over the walls, to catch the word on the street--or so it seems. Especially the bougainvillaea, so curious to know who's coming, who's going, who's saying what to whom about whom. Curiosity kills the cat but leaves the bougainvillaea flourishing, it seems!

I'd forgotten how hilly Colombo is, especially suburban Colombo. Up, down, twist around, then down you go, then twist again and look, it's an uphill climb. I arrive with every intention of walking to work, remembering a more-or-less flat Colombo 4, but these hills are daunting. How will I climb Sigiriya?

Of course, the Sigiriya staircase will have nothing like this monstrous vehicular traffic. I used to laugh that traffic jams in Colombo were caused by everyone leaving early to avoid the rush-hour (and school-bus time). But today, there are so many cars on the road that they spring up everywhere at all times. The hills are more daunting when you sit in their narrow lines, with single-file traffic crawling. It seems as if the car is moving slowly because the hill is hard to climb, and your faint-heart says, "I can't do it." 

And the food. Okay, let's not write about the food. Except to say that it makes me very sad to know I will never again eat karavila in the many different ways that Lorna made it, nor her cashew curry, nor her kola kenda. 

It's the people. Colombo has always felt like home to me because of the people I know here. And too many of them are gone. With each loss, this town feels a little less like the home it used to be. I become more of an outsider than they ever let me feel. 

Still, I am happy to be here. For now, this is still a homecoming.