Located in the mountains of Central Sri Lanka, and about 30 kms from the city of Anuradhapura, lies the ancient Ritigala Buddhist monastery. Dating back two millennia, the monastic complex is an epic work of mindful architecture connected via a continuous, forest-hemmed stone walkway.
The 1.2 km hike begins at the office of the on-site branch of Department of Archeology of Sri Lanka close to the foot of the Banda Pokuna, an ancient man-made reservoir with a circumference of almost 400 metres. Erected right down to the base are stone steps that circle the entirety of the reservoir. Here visitors to the monastery possibly completed their ablutions before heading on towards one of the many Padhanaghara – double platform structures made from massive pieces of granite linked together by a stone bridge; these served as meditation spaces. There are over 60 such double platforms over 120 acres at Ritigala. Among these structures are also the vestiges of what was once a “hospital” complete with root grinding stones and Ayurvedic oil baths with sophisticated drainage systems; the foundations of “floating air conditioned” rooms; and ornately decorated urinals to remind one of the fickleness of power and glory.
We began our journey at the Banda Pokuna into this ancient realm held as it was in the benevolent arms of nature herself. As soon as we started walking up the granite pathway, we felt the aura around us shift; take on an ethereal feel. The place manifests a melancholic trance in which one becomes completely cloaked, experiencing each of its elements in vivid sensory detail: The murmuring forest, the life force of its roots underfoot, the iridescent salamanders flicking between the stones and the continuous pathway like a silver beacon to venues of meditation and peace.
Trees, some old as age itself, their serpentine roots traversing the forest floor as far as the eye can see, shade the path with their green verdancy. As we hiked uphill, the atmosphere continued to thrum with their primal energy as one ancient one whispered and its murmur was carried like an undulating wave through the rest of the grove. Then all would be quiet except for the chirr of the crickets and the chorus of a songbird. It felt like we were witnesses to the sharing of a sage old secret; the trees of Ritigala retelling it among themselves and then quieting down as 21st century humans hiked up its ancient trails. Then whispering it again, until one stops to listen; and then the pulse slows down as the heart beats to the gentle rhythm of the humming trees. If ever there was a place where one can SEE one’s feelings, this mystical pathway held in the embrace of the ancients is that place.
Serenity is everywhere. The scene is mesmeric. The trees continue to tell their tales in the sun dappled patterns that shimmer on the path and on our skins; like golden runes that speak of the most profound quietude and peace.
To stand there and to take all this in is like absorbing the quiet energy of all that the monsastery once embodied; the tread of thousands of devotees; their quiet meditation, their rhythmic chants and even the ascendency of their consciousness. One can almost see the ascetics of old and the seekers of calm walk up the steps, their spirit energy conjured up again by the gentle cantillation of the trees. The experience rouses in turn, awe and an overwhelming humility; an acute awareness of the smallness of the individual and the profoundness of the collective.
We came away from Ritigala cloaked in the magic of nature that has continued to keep its erstwhile history vibrating through its quadrangles, pillars and its meandering walkway. The Ritigala monastery is truly a mystical portal through time.
Showcased on the New Ink digital forum in Colombo on July 23rd 2022. Introducing my book of short stories “The Girl with the Paisley Dupatta” and reading an excerpt from the Sri Lankan section of the book: “Serendib Lodge”.
Written amidst the mind-numbing perils of never ending curfew lockdowns. Read at your own mental risk 🤓
Tak taka tak - Tak Tak Kaun hai bhai bata ab tak
CHAI NA girana babu Bari tarpay tarpay tarpay Meri leg not so halkay halkay
Knock knockity! Knock Knock Who’s there, before I click back the lock
ZE BRA in France is black or white Practical and just hugging one right And if you feel the added zeal Add some colour, like lilac and teal.
Tap ti tap tap - Tap Tap Who is it? That was a fine rap
LIZ ‘EARD you call her “mighty stout” You really put your foot in your mouth! She may be big but she’s got style She’ll make you eat your words for a mile
Ding da ding ding- Ding Dong Who is it? Come sing us a song
RHINO! O-O! O…OOOO!
Mr. RAI, NO we will not do this Mrs Rai yes it’s all the craze Rainbow coloured hair for you And I will go for baby blue
Clap de clap clap - Clap Clap Who goes there? Who gives my door a thwack?
‘Tis me MAYNA!
MAY NA bhoolonga MAIN NA bhoolongi My nemesis is bharta de cauliflower And mine is garbanzo beans!
Open the door for salvation Open the door for your soul Who … who’s there? ‘Tis me your moral sense, Call me your conscience No punning, rhyming words here No weighty equations. Just you and me and clarity That’s been lost too long at sea
I’m deaf! I’m deaf! I can’t hear you Ps. I’ve not seen any clarinet either! (Hehe!) So the door stays closed, barred and locked Not opening any windows neither! Go elsewhere, go where you can be heard The (h)earless are quite rampant here Don’t come knockity knocking upon my door Amd I’ll pretend as if you were never here - dear!
The name refers to the “Garden of Lakes”, surrounding the property as the lakes are. The forest wetland around the hotel is man made and has grown to its current lush proportions over the last 15 years.
Surrounded by humming bamboo and the majestic banyan and Maara trees, the whole experience is truly like being ensconced in the arms of a tropical wilderness.
The hotel itself sprawls across 28 acres of reclaimed agricultural land and is outfitted with four types of villas: Garden, Paddy, Water and Forest with the latter being the top of the range.
The premises around the hotel are also the natural habitat of the extremely shy, retiring and endangered Slender Grey Loris. Visitors can go on a late evening safari led by the Hotel’s naturalist, to spy these tiny primates.
Definitely a worthwhile trip to get away from it all and to reconnect with the wonderful, wild side of nature.
This started out as a children’s poem and ended on a not so PG-13 note. (Or maybe I’m being overly protective of our 21st century babes who are not so much in the woods as we were!). Anyway, reproducing it here for my readers. Let me know what you think. Cheers.
There was once a teabag The orange pekoe kind more shy and timid little leaves Would be hard to find.
She sat in her little bowl With all her other tea friends Raspberry and Chamomile And Lemon tea with mint
They tried to talk to O. Pekoe But she would turn away Wrapping her little string around her filter-paper sachet
Then one day the tea bags saw The handsome Earl grey gent He sat in his aluminium foil Scented and Elegant
They looked at him in caffeine tones twirling their little strings While O. Pekoe sat primly there Now and then peeking out at him
Then came the lady of the house And put the kettle on The teabags rustled in suspense Who’d Earl grey have along?!
Earl grey sat in stately grace Inside the china cup Wearing his bergamot bouquet Waiting for his tea time love
And then out of the blue Orange pekoe was lifted up And placed alongside Earl grey In the pretty China cup.
They smiled at one another their strings entwined in love The perfect pair to ever make The nicest brew in a cup.
Their love suffused the teacup With the most divine of flavours Caffeine and tannins flowing forth In hot and steaming rivers.
Thus was spent their one time love To create sweet nostalgia A Tea Time special between good friends In the romance of the camellias.
To those who are blissfully wed, may no ones words or odes tear you asunder; to those who are still unshackled, forewarned is forearmed; to those who are in blissless contractual unions, here’s more food to ruminate, ponder and fret over 🤓
Someone asked me why we love, the way we love; Someone asked me, self-consciously, hesitantly of Traditional bonds of loving; of contracts galore, Of inviting in the government to tamper and explore That which is so personal; the workings of the heart; Of sanctioned forces barging in and prying it all apart.
I listened with a quickening of my own protesting heart I too had felt these candid rumblings from the very start; I had also walked down the same traditionalistic aisle; I too had been a part of its teeming rank and file; I too had signed on dotted lines, confirming legalese, That made a mockery of the love, respect and dignity.
It’s almost like Humanity is bound to slip and fall; To devolve into barbarity; to sputter and to stall. The only way to save us is to firmly bind us down In sacrosanct bondage; in virginal robes and gowns. Genuine love, self respect, honesty and choice Are not the sounds of virtue; nor the devotional Voice Of all the great faiths that in their wisdom divine Have instructed us exactly on how to walk the blessed line.
Someone asked me why we love the way in which we do So bound in ceremony; counter-intuitive to the truth. Someone asked me why we could not just trust Our own sense of right and wrong; our own moral compass. Marriage - I too wondered about this absurd and quirky norm That duly institutionalises us before we can be with someone. Is it well intentioned business that has sadly gone awry? Or is it another patriarchal construct; a powerful, pervasive lie? I’m still trying to discern its gameplan; its true wherefore and why But the enigma continues to survive; and we continue to comply.
Angela had planned their final exit from Mall Square with dignified efficiency, helped as she would be with the gracious support of her long time friends. But sometimes, the best laid plans can get washed down rutted roads that one has not seen nor ever imagined. And so it was that one after another, her carefully constructed relocation schemes crumbled shapelessly in the mire of undisguised faces and unfeigned intentions that had suddenly, unexpectedly surfaced. The sisterhood of Faith had gone careening down the hill, crashing into the emptiness below.
Of the four friends she had appealed to for help, only one had come through – partially. Rashmi’s guest house was occupied by a foreign friend of her daughter’s (that was a bald faced lie!); Sandali had three warehouses in Nugegoda but they were all also suddenly occupied with overflowing inventory (just last week that factory cupboard was bare!); Sarah had no help at home and her sister in law was laid up with a chronic condition (that hale and hearty woman who had never been sick a day in the last 15 years that she’d known her!); and Thilini had offered to have Dilshan and Angela over for a fortnight. After that they were going to finally begin the renovation on their house which they had been postponing for the last five years and which the Covid lockdown had somehow given the much needed impetus for.
It had been a week of revelations, teetering friendships, somber musings and a clarity about her world that had momentarily blinded her. Despite it all, she had taken each disclaimer, coated as it was in pots of sacchrinous sweetness, with calmness and poise.
She had just come back from the hospital where they had moved Dilshan from Intensive Care to a General Ward. It would be another few days before he would be able to come home. “Home” … the word now agitated her; made her nervous, clutching at her throat and stinging her eyes. She was not generally given to sentimentality or self pity and had gone through much in life, stoic and dry-eyed. But this was not like any other curve ball that the universe had thrown at her in the past. This was her entire world toppling down around her. Her sacred world made up of special hand picked individuals who shared the same ethos and the same moral high ground. It was like the ultimately twisted confession where the priest was found to be the greatest sinner. All those sophisticated, benevolent people – her friends – showing up, personifying everything that they had hated about the rest. It was a heartbreaking reality check and it took a lot of Angela’s self possession and control to not just sit down and cry.
Even if she was made of sterner stuff that allowed her to push the pieces of her recently fragmented world into some steely hollow of her mind, she still had the vacating of the premises to deal with.
On a whim, she spoke to the long time security guard of the condomninium. Did he by chance know of any apartment that was available for rent above the 8th floor? Mr. Surdheen did in fact: it was one of Bilal Rahuman’s apartments on the 10th floor. Angela frowned and then swallowed hard – controlling both, her anxiety at the mention of the Muslim name, as well as the long nurtured prejudices that now automatically sprang along with the nomenclature. When Angela didn’t say anything, Surdheen volunteered to speak to the apartment owner – if she wished. He had known the lady long enough to have gauged her jaundiced eye towards everyone really, except Mr. Augustine who managed the mini mart on the premises; he was Catholic. Surdheen himself was Muslim but like so many in his melting pot of a homeland, he lived peacably enough with his Buddhist, Hindu and Christian countrymen. This lady was different. The Mall Square staff had occasionally discussed Angela’s undisguised faith biases and had decided in their combined goodwill that she must have had a bad experience sometime in life to have made her like this.
These days, in the wake of all the recent events, Angela had seemed less and less devoted to her preferences of faith and community; and while she would not normally single out Surdheen to speak to of anything really, she had instinctively gone to him. She knew that he had been at the apartment complex the longest and usually had the most reliable information on tenants, landlords and even the shenanigans of the real estate agents. Usually she would tap into Surdheen’s fount of information via Augustine or one of the other Mall Square staff.
She accepted his offer, thanked him and went back inside. Bilal Rahuman … the name was vaguely familiar, flitting around the edges of her memory. No, she couldn’t recall where she might have heard it. Maybe it was just another Muslim name that she’d heard and while earlier she would have caught it through one ear and ushered it roundly out the other, sometimes these names did tend to stick. This must be one of those sticky Muslim names. That evening Surdheen came to her apartment to give her Bilal Rahuman’s number. She could call him whenever she liked, Mr. Rahuman had informed Surdheen.
Angela had a restless night. Random thoughts that had before evoked simple irritation or plain out ire, now went plodding through her mind like a herd of unhurried elephants – each large, clear and washed clean of the dust that had blurred its tremendous form: She recalled the unremitting distaste with which she’d always regarded bearded men in their “wahabi maxis” as she and her group had called them … thawbs* was the term wasn’t it …..; and the Muslim call to prayer that had always grated on her ears – she had even railed about its primitive, cacophonous quality in the condominium WhatsApp group; and Surdheen and the other two Muslim security guards at Mall Square that she somehow always managed to omit when she was giving the annual gratuity to the rest of the staff. And now she was going to call on one of them and ask for help because there was no one else to turn to. She cringed inwardly, not because of any vestigial aversion as she usually did, but because of a distinct throb of conscience. For the first time, she felt guilty. And wretched. And tired. At some point amid this moral onslaught of her senses, Angela finally fell asleep.
She woke up late the next morning, but feeling rested; surer of herself and what she had to do next. There were no more expectations left to crash and burn and therefore no more emotional turmoil to deal with. She’d experienced it in all its duplicitous ferocity with her inner circle and was already on the other side of it.
She sat up in the chair, fortifying herself with her purposeful stance, picked up the phone and dialled Bilal Rahuman’s number.
He answered on the third ring and greeted her cordially after she had introduced herself.
“How is Dilshan aiya* feeling? Surdheen was telling me he had got the virus”. Angela murmured something about her husband having thankfully turned the corner.
“He is a good man. My duas* for his speedy recovery. I remember meeting him seven years ago when he came to look at my 10th floor apartment at Mall Square. It wasnt quite the right choice for you folks at that time from what I understood. I haven’t changed very much in it but if it suits your requirements now, you’re welcome to rent it”
It so happened that Angela and Dilshan had liked Bilal Rahuman’s apartment seven years ago too; but the owner’s persuasions of faith had not sat well with Angela then. And so they’d gone for their second choice – the more appropriately denominated Mrs. D’Souza’s flat on the 9th floor.
By the fifth day of her telephone conversation with Bilal Rahuman, Angela had shifted to her new home. Her new landlord had instructed Surdheen and his team to help Mrs. Dias with the move.
It was 6 O’ clock in the evening. Angela and Dilshan’s entire 9th floor apartment now lay packed in suitcases and cartons in the two bedrooms of their new 10th floor home. When the last suitcase had been wheeled in, she thanked Surdheen and his helpers and tipped them somewhat self consciously; there was no familiar precedence of grace or gratuity there to take comfort from.
She sat down in the lounge and looked around her. The combination display cabinet and book case that both she and Dilshan had loved as soon as they’d seen it seven years ago, was still sitting there, in all its teak burnished stateliness. The setting sun filtering in through the balcony doors lit up the single item that lay on the third shelf of the cabinet – a Taj Mahal snow globe. A slow smile spread across her face as she picked up the new yet familiar weight in her hands and turned it over. The little pieces of silver flitter foil fell around the iconic landmark like crumbs from a pie … humble pie she thought unconsciously and reddened ever so slightly. She turned it over in her hands a few more times and then set it down gently.
Dilshan was coming home tomorrow. She would unpack her own snow globes and add them to the shelf. She would liven up the room a little to welcome her husband to their new home.
* Thawb: An ankle-length garment, usually with long sleeves. It is commonly worn by men in the Arabian Peninsula.
* Aiya: term for older brother/ older man in Singhalese.
* Dua: In Islamic terminology, duʿāʾ literally means invocation, an act of supplication. The term is derived from an Arabic word meaning to 'call out' or to 'summon', and Muslims regard this as a profound act of worship.
Angela was married to Dilshan, and one was hard pressed to find a more incongruent union that had somehow also withstood the test of time. So at odds was Angela’s marital partnership with everything that defined her now that she herself sat back in puzzlement over it sometimes. It was not so much that their personalities were so entirely different; for her it was the unassailable fact that he was a Buddhist and she a Christian. She had fallen in love and as things of the heart tend to do, they had led her down the one and only rabbit hole in the otherwise satisfyingly flat, burrow-free fields of her life. She was not exactly a devout catholic; she was just a formidable believer that her kind had got it as right as imperfect humans could get an ideology of faith, and that everyone else was paddling in karmically rough seas. The Dharmachakra* from her husband’s side was bad enough; but the Crescent and Star* that was always bursting into flames on the local and the global horizons was the very limit of her endurance: no she was not particularly fond of her Muslim fellow citizens and had made assiduous efforts throughout her life to stay as culturally and socially faithful to her Sri Lankan Christian roots as she could. That included giving a studiously wide berth to grocery stores, restaurants and neighbours that had even vaguely Muslim sounding names.
The most amazing part of this covert, no frills prejudiced way of life was the fact that Angela had embraced it in absolute good faith, asssured of the blessings of the universe. For she was, she believed, a straight talking good woman with a guaranteed one way ticket to whatever version of “heaven” there was atop the tropical rain clouds that floated perennially over their blessed island.
Dilshan was an old school gentleman and a good husband. Despite a regular stream of ample and compelling reasons to have nulled and voided the misadventure that was his marriage to Angela, he had persevered. Indeed, to anyone who knew them, it was stupefyingly clear that he had made it his life’s sole purpose to survive the partnership into old age or kick the bucket trying. He was a romantic at heart and time had also endowed him with an extreme myopia of mercifully both, his outer and his inner visions. He saw only enough of his wife’s lunatic biases that allowed him to smile indulgently followed immediately by a happy vacuousness. The haze in his mind had conspired with the love in his heart, keeping him true, enamoured and forgiving.
Life had been generally good to Angela and Dilshan.
They had two sons who were both living abroad and doing well. Angela and Dilshan had sold most of their assets to educate their progeny and now lived in comfortable rented spaces in the heart of Colombo. They had been at Mall Square now for seven years and with time the 9th floor apartment had become a haven for the couple, and a sanctuary for Angela’s formidable collection of orchids and snow globes and Dilshan’s more modest ammassment of mostly Nora Roberts and Stephen King novels. With time, Dilshan had lost the temerity for both genres and the books had glanced back from their glass cabinets like dowager lovers, sometimes giving him a wrinkly old glad eye and at others scaring him into the furthest recesses of his fuzziest thoughts.
It was June of 2020 – the Covid 19 pandemic was raging around the world with a virulence and a savagery that had shaken the planet. The little tear drop island was no exception and the city was just about emerging, beset and shaken from the first wave and a six week lockdown. It was at the tail end June in fact, when Dilshan had at first begun to feel listless and then been gripped in the throes of an unrelenting fever. He had tested negative for the virus, but he was nevertheless hospitalised and isolated. The virus was too new as were the diagnostics to test it. False negatives were far more dangerous than false positives, and so patients presenting with severe flu-like symptoms were administered the same quarantine protocols as were the Covid-positive cases.
Dilshan had been in hospital for a week when the call from Mrs. D’Souza came. Their landlady who lived in the UK was heading home to ride out the infectious wave that had brought her adopted country to its knees. She was in her 80s and the matriarch of her townhouse in Kent as well as the two properties she rented out on home shores. One of them was the Dias’s apartment. Mrs. D’Souza was coming home to roost and her nest of choice was going to be her Mall Square apartment. She duly invoked clause number 7 in their tenancy agreement and summarily served a two month notice to her tenants. Angela at first, indignant and outraged, was soon persuaded mainly by impassable legal obligations and to no small extent, by the christinanness of her landlady, to be mollified and to plead for a change of heart. Where were they to go at such short notice and under these horrendous Covid conditions? Mrs. D’Souza was polite but unyielding. Her other apartment was in a swanky new high rise and her Kuwaiti tenants there paid a premium which she was in no mind to sacrifice on the basis of a “shared faith”. She had been mildly amused at this last somewhat religio-phobic petition made by her tenant. Mrs. Dias had always been somewhat eccentric and time had obviously not been kind to her on that front. Mrs. D’Souza had always preferred to deal with the husband who was an upright, sensible man.
Angela sat in her verdantly riotous balcony that overlooked the park. It was just past 5 O’clock in the evening and her maid had brought her tea and Marie biscuits. She touched the head of one of her prized Foxtail orchids gently, distractedly while her mind was busy calculating, planning, fire fighting. She would have to enlist the help of some of her long time friends to help her pack up their apartment and to warehouse their belongings until they found another place. She and Dilshan would then have to move in with one of them. Staying with extended family on either side was out of the question since relationships on both sides had suffered the rigours of neglect and more than a few clashes of opinions over the last couple of decades. She picked up her phone to call Rashmi.
“Hello darling! Has that mean old crone allowed you to stay on?” chirped Rashmi as soon as she picked up the phone.
“No, we have to move. So much to do. I was wondering if you could help”, said Angela frowning into the distance, scanning the mental list she had prepared of the exact nature of assistance that she would be requesting from four of her closest friends.
“Of course darling. I can come by day after for a chat”, responded Rashmi.
“Can you come tomorrow?” asked Angela, “I don’t have too much time, and with Dilshan in the hospital, there is a lot to do”.
Rashmi had promised to come by the next day and help in whatever way she could. Angela had decided to ask her friend if she and Dilshan could stay for a few weeks in the guest quarters of their spacious Colombo 7 home.
Angela had actually begun to look forward to this little adventure: everyone would pitch in and get the laborious packing and storing work out of the way; and it might even be a vacation of sorts for her and Dilshan to stay at one of their friends’ homes in the city.
* DharmaChakra: Sanskrit for the dharma wheel, it is one of the oldest symbols of Buddhism. Around the globe it is used to represent Buddhism in the same way that a Cross represents Christianity or a Star of David represents Judaism.
* Crescent and Star: The five pointed star reflects the Five Pillars of Islam which are central to the faith, and the crescent moon and stars are symbols relating to the greatness of the creator.
This is a tribute of determination, hope and new beginnings not only for the Pakistani women, but for all the heroic women around the world who are speaking out and standing up for themselves against all manner of cruel and brutal patriarchy. It is also a testimonial and a resounding voice of support for those brave sisters of ours who are living from day to day, facing their detractors with courage and resilience in the hope of a better tomorrow.
I have grown in its shadow; I have felt its hot breath As it slithers around me; dogging my every step. I hear it jeer in the brightness of day On streets and in parks and in quiet cafes. I see it brazenly growl at my sisters too As it strides along its pernicious route. It thunders and lashes and speaks in strange tongues My head is reeling; there’s no air in my lungs! From quiet dark murmurs it’s upsurged to discord The brutal Patriarchy - our master and lord!
I’ve decided I won’t heed its vanquishing rail I’ve resolved I will fight it tooth and nail. And so I have become one of the “pariah” few Who is resoundingly calling for something new. I make my case; then await the backlash For sticks and stones; a bruise and a gash. There are more like myself who are throwing back the knives, We’re banding together to take back our lives. One more voice, one more person, one more protest We’re the Women of _____ ; and we’re up to this test.
From the farthest reaches of our blessed land We will raise our voices, our spirits, our hands; Let’s tell them, That’s it! That’s enough! No more! We won’t be your chattels, your “Islamic honour”. We won’t hide away so you can roam free With your hormones and lust; your uncontrollable needs. We won’t be degraded, threatened and shamed While you play out your age old tribal games. We, your wives, your sisters and your daughters Will be shepherded no more like lambs to the slaughter.
We are the tender, formidable half of our world We are the guides, the teachers and the nurturers We birth generations to carry precious legacies Of peace and love; progress and humanity. For too long have those reins been usurped by the men We are taking them back on every continent. We will be your equals in every way Step down from those pedestals; come out of your caves. Hold our hands as your partners as together we walk We have risen; we are strong; we are the Dome of the Rock*.
* Dome of the Rock: A holy site in Jerusalem which hosts the Al-Aqsa Mosque and the Dome of the Rock, a seventh-century structure believed to be where the Prophet Muhammad ascended to heaven.
I’ve seen the colours of loneliness I’ve seen their moldering faces I’ve seen them fill the keening voids Of our broken, scattered places. It’s the grey of the sky just before it descends In blinding cascades Of granite and slate While waiting for that one special friend of the heart Who’s gone an infinite distance apart. Gone forever; not coming back. It’s the darkening shades of smoke and ash Stifling and choking. It’s emotional whiplash.
It’s the curdled russet and clotted yellow Of dying leaves Still on the trees. It’s the hope that once blossomed, Now just a vanishing dream; Like fading delusions; And fractured illusions. Like wasting ivy, still clinging tightly To the mottled, purple-bruised spaces within.
It’s the decayed red of old blood That has flowed and then congealed From scarred old wounds In the fallow fields Of the innermost corners of your being. It’s the throbbing new cuts of remembrance-pain That sear you with their scarlet heat Scorching your insides until there remain Only the rust-dripping embers of defeat.
It’s these mottled hues and grainy textures Of mangled hearts and hurting souls Its the piercing, stinging, strangling tightness In the pit of the stomach; in the back of the throat. In the end, it is all of this That make up the tinctures of loneliness That fill up all our sad and desolate spaces.
Following from “Creatures of the Park” (link attached below), this piece is inspired by my varied experiences at the 2 or 3 cafes I frequent in Colombo city. As with my regular evening walk, I am also a devout tea and latte aficionado. And as a creature of habit, I do tend to absorb the full gamut of gastronomic, service and atmospheric experiences at the handful of places I go to. So here is my affable ode to the characters who, like me, are also found at the oft-frequented coffee places around town.
Angst, amusement and even downright vexation Are some sentiments that have inspired this particular narration. Because when my adrenaline is not racing haphazardly around, Yours truly can’t weave verse or prose that is suitably profound. So here’s a bit of a congenial ramble About coffee shop folks and their queer, quirky angles.
The first of this set that I chanced to espy, Was the gaggle of ladies who meet over coffee and pie. They are genteel and smiling and conversing lightly Of Ruwani’s boyfriend and Andrew’s new-found sobriety. Of weddings and parties and stand-out memorial services; Of yoga class affairs and other sexagenarian caprices.
Following sharply on the last set’s heels, Is the would-be Romeo who’s eternally spinning his wheels. While on his regular tarriance through the cafe, He’ll go through the motions, happily epitomising the cliche-Sauntering gait, wandering eyes, and obnoxiously loud! Because how else would this Adonis be noticed by the crowd? This one engenders both frustration and pity, Deluded sense of self; diddly squat in the mental kitty.
This next one (my favourite) is quite off the charts, The 93 year old with tremendous love in his heart! He’s delicate and fragile and yet undauntingly sure Of his libidinous vigor and marvellous allure. He speaks in faint tones, each gossamer vein outlined; “I want to make love to you”, he solemnly opines. [True story!]
There is also the resident troop of servers, With personas as varied as their gelato flavours. There’s the hero who averts a gastronomic disaster; And the shrinking violet who couldn’t have disappeared faster. You’ll also see “Lurch” on his tropical vacation Waiting tables, no doubt, for some fiscal augmentation. (Who’d have believed the fiendish frugality Of the profusely gilded Addams Family!) There’s also Happy and Dopey and Sneezy and Bashful- Each cafe with its own quirky take on the fairytale.
The likes of me, of course, continue to be, The nose-in-the-book kind, with the-tail-on-the-seat. Looking up only to rest remonstrating muscles, Perennially ensnared in the Introvert’s social tussle: Latte on standby, with napkins and spoon, I’m in a world of my own in the bustling tea room.
The rest of the coffee shop throng is assorted The foodies, the guzzlers, the loners, the courted. The suited and booted, the flip-flopped, the Collared* A theatrical cycle of life streaming onward. This gamut of movement, that with spirit is rife Is what makes modest coffee shops larger than life. And so I continue to frequent the tea rooms and cafes To reclusively delight in the milieu and lacteous lattes.
* Collared: priests, monks and other caffeine-relishing clergymen.