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. 

Tuesday, February 2, 2016

The call of a sharpened pencil

There is something inviting about a sharpened pencil. It calls out to me, "Write, draw, assemble words into verse... or at least,  doodle. Cover this page with my life-blood. You can do it!"
But nowadays,  the pencil is wrong! Sadly.