I recently read an interesting piece about Colombo.

After having read the article, I felt like searching for flights online to purchase a plane ticket with money that I don’t have. Then you realize what an unrealistic idea it is, spending a week in Colombo right now, at least with my own money anyway. So, instead of going to the American Airlines webpage to search for flights, you travel back in time. You look to the wealth of memories instead. You live vicariously through yourself.

There are few thought experiments quite as unpredictable as wholehearted daydreaming. The mind wanders, but it’s not alone. Those things that make your heart flutter, those might be the ones in charge.

From 2010 to 2014, I was in and out of Sri Lanka quite a bit, though I was mostly in. I used to go back to the U.S. to see friends and family every now and then. I went to Thailand too. At the end of those various trips, as I was preparing myself to head back to Sri Lanka, I was preparing myself to go “home” or at least what I guess I considered home at the time. I was heading back into my comfort zone. I was looking to get back into my routine, or at least some semblance of a routine.

Now, I think that’s one of the things I miss most about Sri Lanka. Without question, the people matter and the culture matters and the food matters and other stuff matters. But feeling like you’re home, like you belong, even if it’s in an ephemeral and sort of strange way, that’s a nice feeling. And there are all those simple and small things that make up one’s lifestyle.

For reasons I won’t go into here, in 2011 I spent Christmas in Colombo alone. It was the first time I’d ever been alone on Christmas and certainly something I’ll never forget, not that I’d like to repeat the experience. Nevertheless, if one’s going to properly contextualize and appreciate the highs, it’s helpful to not disregard the lows. My lows don’t own me; they don’t define me. Yet they’re a part of me, a part of life.

There’s such joy in the small stuff. Walking around Beira Lake. “Yes, I really am walking for exercise,” I would say. A lot of people were genuinely curious. Clearly, it all looked a bit odd to them. What is this suddha doing? He’s wearing jeans and walking around the lake in circles? And what’s with that stretching? He’s here almost every day. What a strange man he must be.

I walked all over the city, but Beira Lake was different. That was the (usually two-hour) block of time I would set aside for exercise. Any other walking outside of that was just a bonus. In 2014, there were even days when I’d get up really early and walk before I went to work. I usually had a lot of trouble waking up at 6 a.m., though it was worth it when I did. After I got back to my apartment and before heading off to the office, I’d have coffee and some short eats from Perera and Sons. On most mornings, I’d have pol sambol and bread, but the place I’d usually buy that was in Colombo 3, right across the street from the office. Since I was living in Colombo 4 at the time, I needed to modify my routine and Perera and Sons became a part of my early morning walking plan. Vegetable roti; that’s what I’d go for. (If I exercised before work, I needed to eat breakfast right after that. I couldn’t wait until I got to the office.)

Here in Maryland, I’m far from the island. Yet it doesn’t always feel that far. In the Washington, D.C. area, more than a few people are talking about Sri Lanka these days. For starters, there’s been a lot of lofty rhetoric from the Barack Obama administration. There’s quite a bit of optimism. There’s also been some misinformation floating around. The kind where commentators speak authoritatively about how Sri Lanka’s just hitched a ride on the reconciliation superhighway. This is what genuine democracy is about, they tell us.

There are others who think differently, who aren’t as sure about all this hope and change stuff. I’m one of those people. And I’ve got my reasons. Recently talking to a human rights lawyer in Colombo about the issue of Tamil political prisoners, for example. Really understanding that this is something that the administration of Maithripala Sirisena should stop dithering on. There are numerous other reasons for skepticism. However, this daydream has taken a sharp policy-oriented turn, which might merit another article.

Walking the streets of Colombo. Beira Lake. Pol Sambol or vegetable rotti for breakfast. Enjoying the small stuff. And then somehow we end up at Sirisena’s stalled reform agenda. Dear reader, when I was living in Colombo, I always remember hearing about how everything in Sri Lanka becomes politicized. Does that apply to daydreams too?

  • srivanamoth

    You are NOT alone in your musings! Incidentally, have you tried egg hoppers and plain hoppers with “seeni sambol”, a bit more expensive than bread and pol sambol, if your purse permits, an then you may realise it is “paradise food”! Happy X’mas and a more wonderful New Year!

  • Kailas Pillai

    Taylor’s first visit to Sri Lanka was in 2011 and he muses. Further back there was a time when the people of the then Ceylon (now Sri Lanka) were Ceylonese (now Sri Lankans). But today we are Aryans or others and one of Sinhalese, Tamil or Muslim together with one of Buddhist, Hindu, Islamist or Christian. Politicians have lived off the ethnic/language divide. There was a time when the people took justice for granted. There was a time when appointments were on merit. All these are gone and unfortunately the new generation take corruption for granted.

    Is racism a thing of the past? No last week a British family was denied a dream trip to Disneyland because they were Muslims. Australia cancelled the visa of a British lady because she was born in Syria – she had lived in UK since she was four.
    In Sri Lanka since independence in 1948, the ethnic divide is hard currency. Inflation proofed, it can be resurrected at the right time – oxymoronic!