Colombo, Peace and Conflict, Reconciliation

What must it be like to live behind these Kovil gates?

[Authors note: This is something I wrote a few months ago, that still resonates I believe with our society today.]

I was on my way for practice yesterday, when I passed the Bambalapitiya Kovil, all lit up, and people thronging the entrance. I was a bit early, and also realized that I’d never set foot into a Kovil in Colombo before, so I thought, why not? Having criss-crossed past the entrance three times or so, I asked the flower garland kade man if there was some sort of special festival going on at the Kovil. He said, yes, that there was a Pooja going on. I asked if anyone could walk into the Kovil, to which he promptly nodded a ‘yes, of course.’ So, I mustered up some courage and walked in.

I watched the ladies in front of me leave their slippers at a certain point, so I followed suit. I then proceeded to walk towards the entrance of the Kovil and there I was, back-pack and all, standing at the entrance of the Kovil wondering, ‘What now?’ One side of the Kovil was alive and bustling with people worshipping and praying fervently, the other, had a lone man seated on the floor against a wall and three Kovil musicians making their contribution to the Pooja, whilst seated against the opposite wall. I opted to seat myself in the general vicinity of the lone man and observe my environment.

An environment where I wasn’t sure what to do, how to act, who to turn to? An environment where I couldn’t understand the language being spoken, the rituals taking place, the customs and traditions being practiced. A cursory glance or curious stare in my general direction was as much recognition as I received in the forty-five minutes I was there. I knew no one and no one knew me. No one said a word against me, (there was even a friendly old lady who told me which hand to hold the thread in, for the Swami to bless it), but somehow I felt like a fish out of water. You know how sometimes, nobody really has to say anything to you directly, but, you just feel as though you don’t belong? It was as though everyone just knew I wasn’t one of them. I saw their quizzical looks. I felt like I was encroaching on someone else’s terrain.

I guess I felt like I was a minority.

It was a new and strange feeling. I felt a bit discomforted, a bit unsure. And most of all, it all felt so real. Even though I knew that once I walked outside of those Kovil gates, things would be back to “normal.” I’d feel like I belonged again. People would know me. Accept me. Everything would be familiar again. I would be more confident of myself. No one could question my presence or my existence. Even though I knew all that, I just couldn’t let go of the feeling of absolute vulnerability I had felt before, (as fleeting as it might have been.) And that’s with me knowing full well that my reality lay very much outside of those gates.

What then must it be like to live your entire life from inside those Kovil gates?