VERSE| CREATURES OF THE COFFEE SHOPS

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.

Read “Creatures of the Park” here: https://theroamingdesi.org/2021/05/11/the-creatures-of-the-park-2/

TRIPPING GOALS| CALAMANSI COVE VILLAS

HOTEL: CALAMANSI COVE VILLAS BY JETWING
AT: Wijerama Road, Balapitiya 80550
TYPE: LUXURY BOUTIQUE HOTEL (with 12 villas in total)
DISTANCE FROM COLOMBO: ABOUT 2 HOURS DOOR TO DOOR

In the spirit of getting away from the urban milieu for a bit and taking advantage of the south western coastal season, the Calamansi Cove Villas visit came about. This was our first time at this little gem of a place in Balapitiya and it was serendipitously refreshing.

OPPORTUNITIES FOR IMPROVEMENT:

-We were served our meals in the alfresco dining area overlooking the coastal side of the property.  While the other meals were delightful, dinner was fraught with a militant army of mosquitoes that were bent on vanquishing the enemy!  There were no coils or other repellants in place.  Thankfully, the much travelled, much beset duo that we are, we’d come prepared with our own cream repellant and citronella incense sticks. Once we lit the sticks and slathered ourselves, the meal became lovely.  Would be a good idea for the hotel staff to light a few mosquito coils or the Lanka Sumeda citronella/ cinnamon/ lemongrass incense sticks (priced at ~Lkr 250/- for a 100 sticks).  They are very effective and make all the difference between having a memorable outdoor meal or becoming an aperitif and an entree for the entire resident vampire-insect population.

-There was a body wash and a shampoo (which felt eerily the same) but there was no little tube of hand lotion. And so, the palms of my hands and the soles of my feet remained in uncomfortable arid limbo post our splash in the briny sea.

-The Calamansi is a small, contained little place with 12 villas in total. As such, there is not too much ambient lighting from any surrounding hotel recesses/ areas, and so towards the evening, the place had taken on a dark, deserted look. We had to request the staff to switch on the lights in the garden/ pool area which the dining hall overlooks. It completely changed the atmosphere, making it more welcoming/ lived in.

-The check-out area was also outdoors. There was not even a pedestal fan, and in the heat of the afternoon (the usual check-out time), by the time we were done paying our bills, we were drenched. Settling the bills somewhere inside or at least having a fan outside would make for a fitting end to the entire experience.

THE GOOD STUFF!

-The entire property is beautiful.  Small and contained, the Calamansi is perfect for getaways in our current Pandemic-stricken times where big places with teeming dining areas and pools pose a hazard all their own. 

-The villas are reminiscent of lovely, airy little apartments, each with its own little garden and the structural amenities that come with an outdoor area: a beautiful veranda opening out into a private little garden. The beds are made for hours of beauty sleep and then some! The pillows were perfect too. (Having, on a number of occasions, lost many hours of sleep in the dubious intimacy of a hard/ lumpy bolster, I appreciate the head-hug of a plump, downy pillow).

-The Calamansi definitely has one of the better ocean views/ feels. The beach is absolutely gorgeous with its powdery fine sand and gentle undulation into the water. The February waves were perfect for body boarding or, for the more gentle of demeanour, a walk along the lapping, foamy edges of the water.

-The food was quite palatable and was part of a set menu with 3 or so main choices to select from at every meal. There was a combination of local and continental cuisine to choose from. Because of the set menu, we also had the flexibility of having our breakfast quite a lot later than the usual 10.30am meal time limit.

-The piece de resistance at any of the resorts is really its people and their expertise and service. On that front, I have to commend the Calamansi for having a lovely set of people on its staff. From the life guard, Sujith, who had more than a few palpitations as my partner and I gambolled in the sea, turning inadvertent somersaults in the cresting and waning waves; to our main server, Chandana and the chef who obliged us on more than one occasion with fulfilling the little culinary requests that we made that were not a part of the set menu.

-The villas are perfect for an intimate getaway or a little holiday with the entire family. Suffice to say that the Calamansi Cove Villas has already become a favourite and we’re already planning a subsequent trip in the next couple of months.

FEATURE|THE ENIGMA OF LEISURE TRAVEL IN 2021

When I thought of travel 5 years ago, images of copious, laborious intercity bank visits always came to mind. Job related travels to metropolises, townships and little rural outposts were the sum total of all my hours logged on the road.

Then I embarked on my sabbatical and the whole meaning of the word Travel changed for me. It embodied everything from a leisure trip to Europe or the Middle East, to amiable walks along my own city’s tree-lined, sun dappled walkways. My journeys, big and small, slowly but surely morphed into trips of not only the body but the mind and the soul too as I roamed around and smelled the gardenias, the araliya and the roses. The mind-numbing fumes of business travel were a distant memory in my newly acquired state of finally being free enough to follow my own heart rather than the terse instructions on my work day scheduler. And so it came to pass, that yours truly went from being a reluctant traveller at best, to feeling a rush of endorphins at the very idea of a trip away from the (not entirely unloved!) sweltering bustle of the city. I had become the quintessential Leisure Traveller and I basked in the glorious serendipity of the role.

I also came to realise that Leisure Travel does not have to be limited to trips taken during time away from work. The astute traveller with a love of roaming, can quite successfully combine business and leisure travel with some strategic pre-planning.

-Do a little homework on your destination.  If you’re visiting the place for the first time, it’s always a good idea to take in the top 3-5 tourist attractions.  Take a guided tour for the maximum bang for the buck.  If you’re the intrepid, adventurous type, pick a couple of the places that interest you the most and go it alone.  Some pre-planning on the most optimal modes of transport will be helpful to ensure you don’t find yourself woefully light of pocket post your very first taxi ride.  

-Consult your hotel/ motel concierge. These personages are surprisingly wonderful founts of knowledge on the best, most budget-friendly local sights, sounds and tastes. I have visited some of the nicest little local hot spots and had some of the choicest local cuisine at the behest of their friendly bidding!

-Come prepared with sturdy walking shoes (preferably waterproof), a lightweight umbrella and a light jacket. Whether you’re in the sultry tropics or the cool alpine heights, you’ll be prepared for that unexpected monsoon or seasonal shower.

-Carry a basic medical kit with bandaids, pain killers, anti allergies, mosquito repellant and oral rehydration salts (foreign cuisine can be dicey!)

So what does Leisure Travel look like in 2021?

In our current lives, buffeted as they are with uncertainty on so many fronts, I would define leisure travel as any trip that allows you to relax and/ or rejoice; to realign body, mind and soul to attain some semblance of inner peace and quiet. Whether it takes a solitary retreat in the middle of a forest, or a full moon party at a crowded beach, the purpose of leisure travel is to rejuvenate the traveller. To revitalise the trip-maker to get back into the fray of life, feeling less burdened and more prepared to take each day as it comes.

Given the pandemic and the far reaching limits on travel generally, leisure trips need to become increasingly more creative and out of the box. After a year of enduring pandemic-fuelled lockdowns and curfews, people are more than ready to get away from it all.

Leisure travel can be as simple as a day trip to a spa or a hotel a little way away from home. Little bubbles of rest and relaxation that allow one to get away from the milieu of every day life while also keeping within pandemic defined geographies.

Another increasingly popular avenue of holidaying is to rent a bungalow or a villa somewhere. This is a fortuitous remedy for larger families allowing for both, a change of scenery as well as ensuring pandemic health protocols are observed. There are no busy hotel lobbies or crowded pools or overflowing dining areas to contend with. It’s a pandemic leisure traveller’s dream come true; a kind of “home away from home” holiday.

For the intrepid travellers with dogged wanderlust, there are still places around the world where life goes on undisrupted. With the addition of certain basic health obligations like a negative PCR test, wearing masks in all public places and observing state postulated social distancing rules, these places continue to welcome visitors and indeed have much to offer in the way of travel experience. Some tropical destinations fall into this sphere of venturesome travel.

I, in the meantime, vaccinated and boosted, am content with traveling to my neighbourhood cafe and escaping into the world of abundant imagination across vast spaces through the keys of my iPad. And for the occasional temerarious shock to the system, I and my partner in all crimes of high adventure, pack our overnighters and get away to a nearby beachy or green locale, all the while basking in the simple pleasure of the journey itself.

Leisure travel during the pandemic really is akin to living by the compass and not by the clock, as we tend to our bodies and our spirits in the overwhelming tenuousness of our current lives.

OPINION | A POST PANDEMIC FEIERABEND*

2020 has induced a knee jerk reaction all its own. The instinct to be glad to have seen the back of it as it goes careening into the past, swept along by our combined tsunami of emotions, is palpable in the various conversations had around it. I have tended to hesitate making my voice one with the rest of the inflamed clamour. I have tended to warp speed away from the present to take a far and away, Space Odyssey-like view of the last 300 odd days, and counting. If you ask me then, it is almost like a universal recalibration of the important things in life, presented to us in cosmic fable form; Aesop and Arthur C. Clarke hitting more than a few psycho-social home runs in the timorous expanse of our current life-space.

I have a couple of friends, lovely people, who, simply put, have been bested by life mentally and emotionally. Who have, over the years of “living a productive life” been inextricably caught up in undefined little crags of disquietude – one could call it manic depression on its bad days. Occasional bouts of frustration and anxiety have, over time, taken permanent space in their psyches. So insidious and sly has this psychosis been, that its backlash of exasperation, rage and the unrelenting need to fit in just so, are now synonymous with the spirit of enterprise, success and community. Caught up as we all are in this crazy limbo between life and the final farewell, the essential catharsis comes in the shape of frequent and voluble sounding off on one another. We rave and we rant about the government’s woeful ineptitude, the kilos that just keep piling on, the hijacking of our religion by the crazed Right and the lack of a glass of wine when you need it most to get just a little comfortably numb. We are, one and all, veritable shrinks; roles we have inadvertently taken on, given the stigma (and cost!) attached to the clinical psychological recourse. But when we’re talking of a chronic mental pandemic, everyone pitches in to do their bit in braving a dear one’s purgative assault on their senses. We absorb until our own cups brimmeth over, and then, we return friendly fire!

The truth is, we have all been existing in some version of a survival mode.

And then the pandemic struck.

As it took root and raged, these friends, through no impetus of their own or the social and professional structures they so meticulously occupied, were suddenly left to themselves. Their ties to the lives they’d lived, severed for a few months. And so, left with no choice, they sat back and healed. The transformation has been stunning. They appear happier, calmer and at peace – at least for now. In all its perverse, blood thirsty ravagement, the Pandemic has somehow also helped to heal in the simplest, most unexpected way – by enforcing long bouts of time-out on us in the (mostly!) safe havens of our abodes, enabling us to once again understand and appreciate what it is like for the mind, heart and soul to realign.

I can make the above keen-eyed observation if you will, with some level of distance from the malady we call a “Successful Life” because 5 years ago, i decided to give a bit of a flying kick to what had become my reality – work, workout, dinner and bed – ad infinitum. I may even have, over time, transcended in some modest way, to a higher plane of mindfulness and centredness: Each new day is a blessing, I value my health, I cherish my peace of mind and the sum total of my acquisitive aspirations now boils down to experiences rather than material appropriations.

This past year of being forced to sit back and smell the Araliya*, has been just about long enough to bring us as a species to that critical crossroad. The question before us is that when we do re-embark on the bandwagon of industry and undertaking, how do we proceed from there? Do we continue to live with each day blending insipidly, blandly and sometimes aggressively, even militantly into the next, underscored always by burgeoning bank balances and power mongering? Or do we embrace the timorous quality of life itself and the need to re-evaluate and make it really worthwhile?

For my part, I have this instinctive gut feel. Gone are the days (or very nearly) when bosses evaluated one’s productivity as being proportional to the number of hours that were spent in the hallowed Halls of Slog, empty and fruitless though many of those hours might have been. The new generation workforce impelled by the way our conventional workplaces and work lives have been altered over the past year, is looking for ever smarter, ever shorter, ever more flexible ways to get the job done. In another decade or so, the look and feel of Human Capital will itself undergo a sea change: it will be about new ideologies, epiphanies and insights rather than the sum total of man hours spent on a project, that will determine success. The workforce will be intrepid, and driven on a whole new level – explorers of the very frontiers of the human equation.

And that universal affliction – that global psychosis brought on by the bullheadedness of the 21st century that our lives are so woefully beset by – that may just finally find its nemesis in a post pandemic Feierabend.

“To create the new, we must first de-create the old, and the reality of de-creation is as strong as the reality of creation”**

Feierabend: A German term meaning the time of leisure and relaxation between the end of the work day and bedtime. It denotes a connection to one’s core, of family, friends, hobbies and ones mindspace. In the context of this feature, it means a whole new ideology of how we gauge progress and success as we more fully embrace our humanity.

*Araliya: The colloquial term for the fragrant Frangipani or Plumeria flower/ tree

**Quote by Helen Vendler, an American literary critic and Porter University’s Professor Emerita at Harvard University. 

FEATURE|FROM TROPICAL URBANIA, WITH LOVE

Maybe it’s the naive rambling of the blissfully ignorant, or the intuitive musings of the arduously life-initiated, or maybe it’s just the endorphins doing an extra merry jig in the face of our pandemic-crippled times – but here goes in the vein of the duly afflicted: I am Mahvash, and i am a true blue urbanite!

Almost daily, I experience some gently euphoric moment in my current tropical metropolis. Gentle because that is the nature of all lovely things experienced in copious repetition; if one’s lucky, the pleasure remains while the mad rapture of the initial days, fades into a fond familiarity. And so it has been with so much of my urban roaming and rambling.

My morning jo – such a simple start-of-the-day ritual and yet so filled with happy anticipation for me. I make an event of it as I tuk tuk it down to my favourite cafe and while sitting ensconced in all that caffeine-warmed intimacy, I absorb the ethereal substance of my environment. I sit with my latte, sipping it hot and gulping it tepid, as i take in the sun-kissed beauty of the Island Downtown. Soaking in the sweet lethargy of a tropical metropolis as it gently undulates into the late morning hours, like a cat languidly treading a much-loved, oft-frequented promenade. Even the busy intersection which the cafe overlooks has the air of the transiently hurried, as the pervasive lagurousness of the place seeps right back into every interval in the automotive street tumult. The verdant green of the Indian Almond and the white-flowered Plumeria trees amplify the constant harkbacks to the tropical abundance of nature even in the heart of the cacophonous city. Two mugs of lacteous latte and my daily dose of spiritual enrichment later, I’m propelled into my daily routine. This early afternoon energy is vitally palpable no matter how late the hour was when I retired to bed the night before – yup, night owlishness is second nature to yours truly!

Most days, I will try and make something of my 11am to 2pm time slot – a much neutralised/ tropicalized throwback to my 9am – 6pm corporate rigour. And in those specially designated hours, i will make my calls, pay my bills online and mostly write. The combined alchemy of my surroundings, the mental vigor bestowed by the caffeine and the relatively recent unleashing of a creative urge long suppressed in the throes of corporate enterprise, has been serendipitously empowering. I write to facilitate not only my flow of self expression, but also to tick-mark the “Productive” box in my day – I realise I’m innately enterprising and even in the midst of time off, i will inject some semblance of stringency to balance work with leisure. I think sometimes, that I might actually have been an industrious worker ant in some not so distantly-elapsed past life. A shining example for my colony, of the love of labour, as I hoisted choice burdens of nourishment 5000 times my weight in the dappled canopy of some tropical fruit tree…. a fruit tree home-base because I would like to believe the spirit of industry came with some smarts too!

Some days, I will give myself a break such as that is when you’re on a never-ending sabbatical, and roam the city. My roaming days tend to be cloudy and therefore more conducive to long, rambling walks across the city’s tree lined avenues. These sojourns extend over a few hours and I may end up circuitously walking 9 or 10 kms. Usually I will detour through shady back lanes laced with copiously flowering trees and creepers nodding their bright-hued heads in the breeze; or strewn almost in staged perfection with all pink or all white or all yellow petals; or adorned with pretty little balconies nurturing their own abundance of foliage, dropping their resplendence across their railings in exuberant, meandering bunches of cats claw yellows and purples.

Six days a week, I will also go for my run in the picturesque surroundings of the neighbourhood park, tree-lined as it is with the Indian almond, the Mara and the Neem*, all casting long eventide shadows onto the flagstones. On quieter evenings which are brought on mainly by a preceding short but animated tropical storm, the beauty and the tranquility of the place are especially sublime. There are only the few weather-intrepid out and about in the aftermath of such a downpour (of which I am one). The trees glisten, the sky clears to reveal entire twinkling constellations and the whole atmosphere is scented with a rich post-rain petrichor*. In the absence of the regular milieu of running, walking, strolling, cycling and otherwise in all manner contorting humanity, the sounds of dusk also find their place in the quietude of nature with the chirp of the crickets, the end-of-day calls of a tardy lapwing and the flapping of occasional wings as nature’s aviary settles for the night.

The weekend also brings with it the cheerful, spirited calls of Downtime for the industriously employed swathes of urbanites. In my tropical metropolis, this translates to an abundance of celebration in the happy torpor of music and tipple as families, friends, frenemies and foes gather to renew love, acquiantanchip, gossip and rivalry. I’m one of those introverted types who surrounds herself with a bubble of solitude and ventures forth to partake of the party; a psychical phenomenon, I have realized, only the reclusively outgoing can relate to.

The beauty of Tropical Urbania* is its rare ability to hold on to its earthiness while manifesting its contemporariness; its deeply organic feel while delivering on its urbanity; and its infinite capacity to feel like nature’s embrace in the midst of all the metropolitan milieu.

This is the city that I love.

De Khudai pe aman

*Neem tree: Indian lilac or mahogany

*Urbania: related to, or of the city

*Petrichor: the smell of the earth immediately after it rains

OPINION|THE STATE OF THE (B)UNION VS. THE REST OF THE WORLD

There has been a tumult of below the radar conjectures and hypotheses about what a post Trump world will be like for us in the global backwaters. I had earlier, in a fit of existential optimism imagined a continuing Trump administration and its increasingly casual/ diluted semblance of global diplomacy (read: Deal vs. War making interventions) for another 4 years, toxic as his local politics have been. And so, painful as the transition to a Biden presidency is unraveling to be, it is apparent that the majority of the State of the Union has trumped national divisiveness and hate with its version of good old American collectiveness. Just about, though.

Good for the Americans! Maybe not so good for the rest of the world!

(Read here my blogpost on why another 4 years of a Trump administration would have been beneficial for a lot of the rest of the world: (https://theroamingdesi.org/2020/08/19/featureenter-the-dragon/).

The way i see it, there are a couple of ways American foreign policy can go over the next few years:

Kind of diluted as the new administration focuses on licking the wounds inflicted by the socio-ideological scrapings and abrasions of the Trump era; or a good old hark back to the days when the American war machinery was going about its well-oiled way on every continent of the world. Because, although it was inadvertent and there was no moral authority at work on this front, Trump does have the honour of being the “zero war” president. He focused instead on his Art of the Deal to deliver for America and quite completely relinquished any assumptions of America being EVERYBODY’S Uncle Sam whether they liked it or not.

The last four years in fact, have been like nothing the Americans or the world has seen in the last 50 years. The Trump administration has whittled, nay thunked away at a democracy and a social collectiveness/ cohesiveness that was damn near perfect, on the surface. Of course, little malignant glimmers of inequity and distrust did come through every now and then when the first world mantle of sophistication became a little worn out. That was then followed by some casual/ oft-rehearsed political tussle between red-neck septugeneraians in Congress that was meant to appease the community that was feeling particularly marginalised or disenfranchised at that point in time – taking political turns to play the Cop and Robin Hood. There was also that much touted freedom of self, and opportunity for all, that was the perrenial bandaid, the ultimate panacea that made America the greatest country on earth. And so it had gone on, the brain washing and the socio-economic glossing over until every last American was convinced that he/she was a part of some elusive greatness even if one third of them had never ever known how it is to actually be First Class Citizens in the country of their birth (70% of the country is white; the rest, not so much). And so the Black and Hispanic communities still have that toxic coming of age conversations with their progeny on how to survive in a basically white supremacist America. The women too, have made little progress beyond the right to vote. It took racist, patriarchal America 250 years of independence before, in a surprising twin-reckoning of race and gender, they elected an ethnically diverse woman to the second highest office in the land. (In a fitting paradox, developing nations like Pakistan, India, Bangladesh, the Philippines, Indonesia and Sri Lanka have had female heads of state decades ago). And the American nation still seems to be reeling from this historic event as illiberal/ dogmatic America fights tooth and nail to hold on to the comfort of its whiteness and its maleness in the aftermath of the most recent election.

Trump embodied all the above and to his credit, showed it up for what it is. He didn’t create anything new – he only exposed the unwholesome underbelly of a nation that was already pernicious at its core. He was copiously helped along in breaking down that painfully erected veneer by the volubly chirpy right wing media machine. And thus it came to pass that the greatest country on earth became the union of divisiveness and hate. That is the 4 year national legacy that the Biden administration has inherited.

The million dollar question keeps popping up like a whack a mole*: will the next 4 years of the American administrative effort be predominantly spent in rebuilding some semblance of its erstwhile national socio-political window dressing, or will it be outwardly focused as before to regroup, repair and recover America’s (un)gentlemanly swagger on the international front?

If the Biden administration takes the former route, that gives the rest of the world that supremely advantageous space to fill in the power vacuum thus created. This has already been evidenced by the signing of the recent RCEP* – the world’s biggest free trade agreement in modern history, connecting approximately 30% of the world’s people and output. With the withdrawal of the US and India, it is also emphatically catalysing an intra East Asian collaboration around China and Japan. This is momentous in that it has the conspicuous absence of the regional giant – India, and the (hitherto!) global super power -the USA, from the helm of a major global undertaking. Another 4 years of lacklustre American interference will surely cement the newly burgeoning bi-polarity of our world.

How effective this route will be to repair, even on the surface, the socio-ideological damage done by 4 years of the Trump administration is very moot, but that is a debate for another blog post if the inspiration overtakes me.

If the US, however, decides to reinvigorate its foreign policy manifesto such as it has been for the last 100 years, then there is the very real chance that the RCEP and other such intrepid Asian exploits into the economic stratosphere, may be manipulated into losing the steam necessary for them to bi-polarize the globe. It will take grit and extraordinary determination to keep these regional alliances alive and kicking and working.

We, the world, will just have to wait and see whether the 100 year jinx is still playing out** and whether that together with all our stars aligning right will do the ultimate alchemical trick of shifting the global balance of power.

The not so distant time will tell.

*Whack a Mole: a popular children’s game where players keep whacking moles that appear at random across a perforated board.

*RCEP: Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership

**As per Wade Davis (writer and anthropologist) “No empire long endures, even if few anticipate their demise. Every kingdom is born to die. The 15th century belonged to the Portuguese, the 16th to Spain, 17th to the Dutch. France dominated the 18th and Britain the 19th. [By the 20th century], the torch had long passed into the hands of America”.

SHORT STORY|A TWILIGHT IN TAPROBANA

Some background to this piece is essential I feel, to give it that bit of relatable relevance. Felicia’s character is based on an old family friend in Sri Lanka who is as lovely as she is absolutely, delightfully eccentric. Donald Rajapakse is a more sinister inspiration, based on the character of a man whom i know nothing of but who has been in my coffee shop writing space for the last 6 months – loud, obnoxious and a bit of a hassler. (I had to have the cafe management intervene to have him back off). Ruwani is a happy figment of my imagination, introduced to bring life and depth to the madcap machinations of my 2 main characters.

(I)

Felicia looked around her with the air of the resident matriarch, her gaze more acicular than that of a quality control inspector at a pharmaceutical manufactory. She noticed everything; from the brand of shoes on a toddler’s little feet to the caliber and concentration per square inch of a counterpart’s cosmetic applications. She sniffed delicately, her scan of the Cinnamon Grand lobby complete, and picked up her mug of double chocolate drizzled mochaccino.

She turned to Ruwani, her friend of 60 years and a bulwark of a woman in bearing and bulk.

“I’ve had a new salwar* stitched for the next meeting of the International Ladies’ Club. It’s from Pakistan. That Shihani thought she looked like a beauty queen with her Janpath market purchase. Did you see the cheap gold lace on her shawl?” She rolled her eyes as she spoke disparagingly of her social arch-nemesis.

Ruwani laughed her high tinkling laugh, delicately belying her ponderous mien. Her eyes twinkled as she said, “imitation is the purest form of flattery darling. She’s always looked up to you as her role model”. She laughed again at the mental image of Shihani looking up to Felicia as a role model of any sort. The two women could barely coexist in a social environment, and when they did somehow manage to come within six feet of each other, there was almost always a thrilling finale to the affair. The stuff of Page 3 high adventure.

Felicia frowned and took a slurpy swig of her saccharinus coffee, letting the heady brew course through her body, giving her the mental vigor to “drop it for now”. She had recently been diagnosed as a prediabetic and on the behest of her Ayurveda* guru, she had begun meditating to “will away the extra sugar” as she called it. She had also realised more recently that her willpower increased dramatically when her blood was fortified with caffeine or spirits. Still, she gave a last withering look to Ruwani before allowing the sugary caffeine to whisk away the wisecrack into some not so obscure recesses of her mind; the memory to be retrieved later, brazen and embellished, when she needed stirring reinforcements of lividity in the wake of an especially karmic day.

Ruwani watched Felicia’s face as expressions of resentment, detachment, reanimation and a final ferocity played out in the fond encore of an oft repeated act. Despite the bluff and bluster, Felicia was a good sort. The kind that needed copious scratching of the surface before any glimmers of goodness shone through though; a diamond in the consummate rough. Felicia Pelpola and Ruwani Edirisinghe had been friends for 50 years now and had had their fair share of fall-outs and run-ins. But time and grace (mostly on Ruwani’s side) had brought a bristly tenderness to their equation and their friendship had triumphantly weathered multitudinous storms in teacups and the occasional tsunami.

Felicia had, in her heydays, been quite the social starlet. She was the debutante that had changed the norms of the party circuit with her boisterous manner and her delicate anatomy. Her demeanour and her countenance were at such odds with each other that the resulting befuddlement of the senses became her piece de resistance. She provoked a serendipiptius sensation of attraction and discomfuture that pulled at all the male heart strings and incensed, in equal measure, the traditional ladies of leisure. Ruwani looked at her now robustly girthed friend and chuckled. Time had diminished her beauty yes, but had also compensated her unsparingly with a persona that strode into most rooms before her person did. She was absolutely, delightfully formidable!

“Oh look who’s here!” Ruwani, still grinning, looked towards where her friend was gesturing. Donald Rajapakse had just walked in, behatted and bellicose, loudly berating someone on his way into the coffee shop.

“Donnie! Donnie! Aney!* He’s getting deaf as a door nail!” crowed Felicia.

“DONNIE!”

There was startled hush in the cafe which neither Felicia nor Donald noticed as the one shrieked back a “Hellooo!” and the other cackled in what was meant to be a guileful titter. Donnie came towards them, swaying from side to side in his quintessential rheumatic lurch.

“Hello my beauties! How are my favourite ladies?”

Felicia smiled affectedly and in the high pitched, adenoidal voice reserved only for eligible men and her hair dresser, she quipped, “We are fiiiine! Having cappuccino. You want? Come sit aney!”

Donnie sat in the chair that afforded him the best view of his surroundings and looked around. Felicia continued to smile like a loon and shifted her bulk at a precipitous right angle towards Donnie’s chair, her hand delicately supporting her chin. But Donnie was already distracted by a solitary woman sitting two tables away, engrossed in a book. He stared hard, only half hearing what Felicia was chirping into his ear. When his hypnotic stare didn’t get the creature to look his way, he devolved in his trademark manner into Neanderthal mode and then there was a bustle and a frenzy as he guffawed, bellowed and produced all manner of primitive-man noises to hassle the object of his current coffee shop infatuation into acknowledging his presence. She did finally, by calling for the bill, casting a disdainful look towards the voluble, senior party of three and sauntering out into the sunshine. Donnie was woebegone as his buoyant hat came off and he sat there with an inadvertent twinkle on his bald head. But not for long; you can’t keep a socially catastrophic but tirelessly optimistic man down for long. And so the next couple of hours were spent sipping coffee and annihilating plates of mutton pies and smoked salmon wraps over boisterous conversation.

At 3pm, Donnie left the group to join another party at the 70s Club. Felicia took back command of her person and her surroundings and the next thirty minutes were spent in a focused wardrobe and character breakdown of the other coffee shop patrons. All in all, it had been a charming afternoon!

(II)

On the way home, both women were thoughtful mostly because of the stupor of all the food consumed and partly because of the waning day…. Life. Ruwani glanced at her friend who had leaned her head against the seat and closed her eyes, blocking out the world perhaps, after spending an afternoon in its fervid embrace. Ruwani looked outside her window. They had stopped at a traffic light. A young man on a motorbike was arguing with his female pillion as she pushed away from him clutching a Beverly Street bag to her chest. A snot-nosed boy ran across the road with a dripping ice cream cone in his hand, following a hassled mother. A tuk tuk driver looked at his phone in distressed anticipation while glancing every so often at the red traffic light. The only quietude in the scene outside surrounded a duo of mynahs promenading along the sidewalk in perfect creature harmony.

(III)

Back home and post a shower, Felicia sat at her dressing table looking at her reflection. She brushed her hair slowly, the once lustrous strands now feeling meagre and inadequate in her grasp. She looked at the lines in her face; each had become a more avid companion as the years had gone by. She looked away and out of her bedroom window. In the waning twilight she saw a pair of mynahs, frolicsome and songful, performing a last little dance before being blanketed by the stillness of the night.

*Salwar: local colloquialism for the Shalwar Kameez, the long shirt and loose pants indigenous to the northern subcontinent

*Ayurveda: An alternative medicine system with historical roots in the Indian subcontinent. 

*Aney: a colloquial Singhalese expression meant to show mild irritation/ concern.

VERSE|I Am Dystopia!

WHEN NATURE ROARS

2020 dawned on us, full of the goodness of even numbers,
Of existential vision perfection, insight, wisdom; all symbolic rumbles,
Of good things to come, of new beginnings and of blithesome continuity,
Of travel and adventure, of togetherness and sunny opportunity.

Just when the new year smile from our lips spread,
To brighten the providential gleam in our eyes,
Mother Nature stepped out of her wooded grove
And resolved to cut all 7 billion of us down to size.
She waved her hoary Staff of Life and brought it down hard to the ground,
And created a little critter amongst us, virile and ergonomically sound.

And then around the globe it traipsed as gleeful as a clam,
Across hills and valleys, fields and plains, aeroplanes and trams;
It skipped across the hot asphalt, into neighbourhood grocery stores;
Hopping along trolley handles, even dancing across binned apple cores;
Nestling onto careless hands, touching sun-kissed faces,
The Covid critter had VOA* for a whole gamut of places.

And then it was a few weeks on, late March, early April
That the malignant, morbid pong arose from the places it had traveled.
Sick and sicker people got, with the older crowd being hit the hardest,
It picked at folks everywhere, taking the killing-spree route that was fastest.
It advanced, armed with its axe and it’s murdering scythe as it went for the weakest,
Ravaging not only bodies, but spirits and souls at its absolute bleakest.

The Covid death knell continued to be tolled as the weeks turned into months;
On and on it butchered and killed on copious, disparate fronts.
They say there’s an existential kind of omen in the raging of this pandemic,
Like a paradoxical panacea for even worse killers that are fundamentally systemic.
Like racial biases, climactic atrocities and economic ills,
They say the Covid has descended upon us to collect on Mothers Nature’s bills.

We owe her for the oceans that are perishing by the hour,
For the dwindling woodland space and the raging forest fires,
For tearing into her lungs with each metric tonne of CO2 emission,
For killing and maiming and cruelly placing her creatures in wretched submission,
For all the unkindness, the hypocrisy and the bigoted beliefs,
She finally stepped in from the depth of the earth to deliver some relief.

While she’s imperceptibly taking back the reins of this planet we call home,
We continue to be caught in the toxic harvest of what we’ve already sown.
She’s spreading her roots like gnarled old ivy across our cities and towns,
Reclaiming, repairing, reviving reforming the blues, the greens and the browns.
Soon her deep dark tendrils will wind around our greed-beleaguered throats,
Choking out the poison, the malady of the spirit that has taken such firm root.

It will be the end of an epoch, but also the start of something new;
An honesty, a tenderness, a Oneness with Nature will slowly start to brew.
For Humanity to thrive again, a death of The Now is essential;
The dreams and motivations caught up in that Now will also become inconsequential.
As Nature beckons us closer to her, one lesson at a time,
The world will poise on a transformational brink while she scours off the grime.

2020 will indeed be the year when Humanity attained perfect vision,
When Mother Nature drew copious blood to finally change our Human Condition.

De Khudai pe aman.

*VoA: Visa on Arrival

PANDEMIC 2020|The Journey to Calmness

Acceptance, Grace and Tranquility

It’s been tragic, arduous, bizarre and even downright dull in the wake of the Bacillus Extremis. It’s been stressful and emotionally draining. The novel Corona, in all its microscopic might, has turned the world as we knew it, radically upside down and even inside out. It’s left many of us wondering if life as we knew it, is an epoch now past and if we are indeed on the threshold of a new kind of world. An existence underscored by a uniquely new approach to community, sociability and even intimacy with our loved ones outside of our nuclear families. The anticipation of what is to come is tremulous with disquietude. Glimmers of hope are rare and are constantly shrouded by the ever-burgeoning core of this malaise we are calling the novel Corona.

I have over the long, sometimes interminable hours of the last month had ample opportunity to think, remonstrate, deflect, clamour, feud, conjecture and concede. Most times, with myself; sometimes with the screen of my LG television and also via a few unpropitious encounters with near and dear ones. Like many out there, i went through the whole gamut of emotions experienced in the aftermath of a trauma. The degree varied but the angst was much the same and it took the whole experiential sequence for me to attain my post-Covid calm and the almost existential approbatio* of whatever will be will be. Here’s my journey:

  • Shock and bewilderment – just as i was ready to come out of corporate hibernation and re-enter some semblance of a working environment, WFH* becomes the new standard. So it was back to a sketchy hibernation much like a wide awake, ready-for-a-big-fat-spring-meal bear who has blundered out in a blustery January.
  • Hypervigilance about the future – a zombie apocalypse was bound to follow and the only skill i could bring to the “Walking Dead” In Situ was an uncanny ability to multitask and a canny capacity to write farce…. facts, pithy historical facts…. who am i kidding, Farce with, I’m hoping, a bit of heart.
  • Intense anger and irritability – the cabin fever coincided very nicely with the PMS peevishness, so the beloved familial circle was hardly the wiser. They all took the usual ‘shelter in place’ when the spillways of tetchiness and petulance sent forth their monthly rush of acidity.
  • Sadness and depression – the biggest contributor here was the woeful lack of my mid morning caffeine ‘jostle’, imbibed in the form of a very anaemic latte in the wistfully clammy, alfresco environs of my neighbourhood bistro and wine bar. The atmospheric withdrawal has been excruciating…. “Oh Sugar! Honey honey! You are my candy girl and you’ve got me wanting you!”
  • Apathy and emotional numbness: This phase consisted entirely of tremendously long hours spent tuned into the CNN, the BBC and Aljazeera. I watched these unblinkingly, unemotionally, waiting for the penny to drop. At their end. For the media parody to finally end so i could go back to buying lacteous lattes and sipping them pensively while i waited for epiphanous writing plots to excitingly unravel.
  • Recurring nightmares – Saturnine, spine chilling horrors. I dreamt of being chased by the spectral detritus of every spider and gecko I’d ever cursed or quelled in my life – may the universe keep the arachnid and reptilian populations in its blessed, all encompassing (read: inescapable) embrace. It was terrifying and worse than any human zombie herd, bearing down on me with its gnashing assortment of acid-corroded teeth.
  • Acceptance – And then the essential provisions/ food trucks started coming with a reassuring frequency so we knew with a measure of confidence that we weren’t going to starve anytime soon. In their nutritive wake, we also got the bearers of big and little treats like ice cream, cheese, cold meats and cakes. And that’s when the tide turned on all the under-the-breath utterances from across the spectrum of condominium dwelling humanity. The “Myth of the Super Luxury condos” was in the happy throes of being nullified, debunked, annihilated- at least in this episode of Man vs. Corona. The Myth of Super-Luxury Condominiums – Part Deux; The myth of “Super Luxury” condominiums
  • Moving on – Many of us have harnessed our new reality and even temerity of our existence and moved on the best we can. Some have embarked on halting but brave attempts at reviving a hobby or honing an aspirational skill; others have revisited their approach to health with new fervour; still others are taking the time to unwind, meditate, introspect and heal. While we make our individual post-Covid journeys of renewal and self discovery, we have, as a species, also stepped back so that our battered planet can recover, revive and renew.

I leave you with the below lines from Carl Sagan:

“Look again at that dot. That’s here. That’s home. That’s us. On it everyone you love, everyone you know, everyone you ever heard of, every human being who ever was, lived out their lives. The aggregate of our joy and suffering, thousands of confident religions, ideologies, and economic doctrines, every hunter and forager, every hero and coward, every creator and destroyer of civilization, every king and peasant, every young couple in love, every mother and father, hopeful child, inventor and explorer, every teacher of morals, every corrupt politician, every “superstar,” every “supreme leader,” every saint and sinner in the history of our species lived there-on a mote of dust suspended in a sunbeam“.

De Khudai pe aman.

*Approbatio: Latin for approving, assenting, acceptance

**WFH: Working From Home

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