Friday, 29 July 2011

Spring in Paradise

Spring in Paradise

The normal hot humid weather gives way in May to chilly but pleasant Colombo mornings. I wake up as usual to the toll of the Church bells at 5.30am. The cold makes me burrow into my pillows and pull the sheet up to my chin. My cat Choco stirs annoyingly as I have woken him up too. I lie awake listening to the morning sounds of the birds chirping in the Murunga tree outside my window, whispers of the domestic and my mother and the clatter of cups being washed for coffee in the kitchen. My internal clock is timed to wait for the prayers from the Muslim mosque at 5.45am followed by the chimes of the Temple at 6am. I live in urban Colombo and I am within short walking distance to these places of worship. Multicultural diversity at its best I guess. Today is a holiday and excitement slowly wells within me in anticipation of the day to come.

My niece’s day nanny has arrived early and she brings me my coffee to bed. As soon as I see her I spring out of bed. The nanny and I don’t have the best of friendships and I remember the three Vesak Pandols I have hanging in the living room fan blades. How last Vesak the nanny switched the fan on to get my goat, successfully. Despite sleeping late the night before I am full of energy as I turn the shower on high in the bath. Morning showers in Colombo are incredibly cold as only the rich and famous have hot water showers. Refreshing nonetheless and the best way to fully awake in the tropics.

The night before I completed the three pandols and they hang waiting the last touch of the fluffy kite paper balls for the corners. They are really intricate to make and the speciality of my third sister. Patience is required, none of which a 15 year old will ever have. I have also finished all the bulb holder streamers with intricate joints to couple with one of the bulb holders hanging in the living room. The joints and extensions are many as everything is connected to light up the colourful streamer with blue, yellow, orange and red bulbs and three extensions for white bulbs that light up the white pandols. So far in my memory although I have managed to set the trip off many times over I was never electrocuted. Not seriously anyhow. I quickly dress in my school clothes although it’s a holiday. Smart white shirt with the sleeves rolled up and white trousers. Waking my sister up and taking the fuse off for the living room fan I set off at a run to the temple down our road. The Mettaramaya down Lauries Road in Bamabalapitiya. A brief stop at my friends house and we arrive excitedly to the temple.

As we enter the tranquillity of the temple even calms the teen tempest within us. The Bo tree surrounded by the white wall sways softly to the wind. The yellow sand all over the temple grounds crunch beneath our now bare feet. It’s surprisingly cool to walk on. The innumerable jasmine trees that dot the temple glisten with morning dew and scent the cool May morning as if we were in heaven itself. As always we enter the Buddhu Mandiraya to pray for the blessings of the triple gem, the Buddha, Dhamma and Sangha. I wipe my feet off the sand on the big coir carpets outside before entering the big prayer room. A reclining Buddha and a sitting Buddha, larger than life size welcomes you. The tiled floor is cooling, flowers of every form and colour are on offer from Frangipani, Jasmine to Lotus. Mingled with the incense and the burning of coconut oil lamps the scent almost hypnotises you into a trance like silent meditative state.

After offering our prayer we run off to see our friend, teacher, advisor and overall psychologist the Reverend Mahinda. Never forgetting to carefully circumvent the living quarters of the Head Reverend of the temple who we are mortally afraid of. Reverend Mahinda as usual is sitting in his hansi puttwa (reclining chair) drinking a cup of plain tea. He carefully unravels the huge bunch of keys tucked into his robes and presents us with the key to his famous cupboard. The cupboard is famous only for the goodies it secrets. Every foreign chocolate, fresh fruit and all forms of biscuits reside in this cupboard. All offering from the rich Colombo ladies who travel abroad frequently. The good reverend uses this key to good effect to keep all of us well disciplined during Sunday school. Good behaviour is well rewarded by delicious chocolates from far away foreign lands such as England and USA.

After our snack and chat we are now finally ready for the day and what we have anticipated from last Vesak. About ten of us have collected now to be marshalled by Reverend Mahinda. As we are in the temple we are quiet and industrious. We break up into two groups, one to fetch the long bulb streamers and white bulbs that we’ll hang all around the temple, Bo tree and Chaitya. The others fetch the long bamboo stems, white kite paper and wheat flour to mix with water for paste. A basic vesak pandol is built by cutting 24 thin bamboo sticks to one length. Then you proceed to tie them into square of four. Finally these are tied to each other to create a hexagon shape. This is then hung on a tree at reachable height. The white kite paper is cut into squares and carefully pasted on to the hexagon frame. White streamers are added to the bottom and the four corners. White kite paper is preferable but people to build more colourful ones with different colours of kite paper. We hustle around attending to our tasks and are careful not to disturb the gathering of sil mathas (usually old ladies who celebrate Vesak, the birth of Lord Buddha by observing prayers to the triple gem all day and fasting).

Late lunch time and our stomachs begun to rumble. Hunger is secondary when you are a teenager on a mission, but as all teenagers are, food is a must. So we quickly break up to head home. At home I quickly eat my lunch. My sister has finished the pandol décor and I proceed to quickly hang the colour light bulb streamers and the pandols. Superstition and habit prevent me from testing the lights, a ritual left for late evening when darkness descends. All of us gather again at the temple late afternoon. Now we hurry, hurry to finish all our tasks before the thousands of devotees flock to the temple to celebrate the birth of Buddha and offer their prayers. As usual we finish at the very last moment. Tired and weary our white clothes are now drenched with sweat and all the dirt accumulated during the day with the entire cutting, hammering, tying and pasting. Finally the Reverend Mahinda arrives to cast his final glance over everything and switch everything on. The pandols sway in the evening wind, the temple is now brightly lit with all the bulbs and we all now run home to get ready for the night.

I arrive home, have a quick dinner and complete my own ritual of switching on the lights of my three pandols and the streamers at home. My family is all there to see and everyone commends me on a good job. I shower quickly and this time around dress in traditional Sri Lankan dress of a white lunghi and a long sleeved white shirt with a low collar. White flowers have been picked by my sisters to take to the temple along with oil for lamps and incense.

The temple is a short walk away. As we all leave I look back at my decorations at home in pride. Back at the temple all of us teenagers assemble again to organise the lighting and hanging of the coloured Vesak lanterns all over the temple trees. We are encouraged by the Reverends to involve all the children who are at the temple. Everyone excitedly runs around lighting the lanterns with the candles inside them. Finally it’s all finished. The core of us who laboured during the day finally takes time out to admire the fruits of our toil.

Even as a teenager I still remember how my heart would swell with pride at the beautiful sight of our temple and a small tear of joy would gather at the corner of my eye. The temple would blaze with glory in light, a pandols rustling and swaying gently in the wind. Our parents, the sil mathas, worshippers and the reverends would all smile and acknowledge us as the architect of the most satisfying aspect of Vesak – Decorating and lighting up our temple for Vesak in home to the Lord Buddha and blessing of the triple gem.

Wednesday, 27 July 2011

Nights in Paradise

Nights in Paradise

Nightfall is here and its pitch black. It’s slightly chilly as I wrap myself more securely in the blanket. I lie on the bed, scared to look out of the window into darkness, and spooked by the sound of insects. My only reassurance is the deep sleep breathing of my sibling fast asleep next to me and all the other cousins all scattered around us in what was called the kids room. I am born and bred a city kid, school term holidays otherwise when it was time for the families to visit my Grandmother in my village of Udispaththuwa, close to Kandy in the middle of farm country in Sri Lanka.

My fear of the darkness was aided more by the fact that I was also scared shitless of my grandmother. A tall stately lady, who used to wear long sleeved, white, lace jackets and a white Osari, the popular form of the saree, worn Kandyan style. We were to never venture to her room and my memories of her were glimpses of her smoking a cigar before bedtime or taking long walks down the corridor of her home. My siblings and cousins had better more pleasant memories and experiences but mine were these. The house itself was large with my vivid memory of the old but still working pinball machine and the brilliant actual Tiger skin hanging on the wall.

The corridor in the back starting with the prayer area leading to the huge smoke kitchen. The long table in the corridor where the less fortunate ate. A huge table in the middle of the dining room where the family would sit and eat. Memories of my father always saying that when he romanced my mother, he was entertained where the less fortunate sat, and how when he married my mother, all she came with was one pillow. Obviously one had to add about 750ml of alcohol into the pater to come out with these little gems. Warm goats milk for the children in the morning with jaggery. My aunt, Cheeti’s occasional forays to the kitchen area to cook us delicious tidbits. The much looked forward to evenings with my huge bunch of cousins, being one of the youngest and always being bullied. The fear of the dark coming from Sumith Aiya’s ghost stories. All of us going to temple. Wesak and all the decorations that came up around the house. Plucking the forbidden Coccoa fruit from the back garden. Thellija, (Honey distilled from coconut trees) each child getting a spoon each as one can become drunk with too much consumption. Walks through the paddy field for baths in the well. Our aunts screaming at the older cousins to ensure we do not fall in.

People, laughter, noise, pets, fun.

All of us have moved on now. Some of us to other lands far away where the ‘Sudhdha’ lived. Exploits of even how the house suffered slight damage in WW2 due to bombing. The house now quiet, locked up. The paddy fields unploughed. Only signs of life being the people hired by my aunt who live in the kitchen area. My grandmothers grave area with the jam tree and cement seat sits forlorn. My daughter I take whenever in my motherland for she must know this is her heritage.

Sinhala, Buddhist, Govigama people from Kandy. During recent years this is fast becoming a point of debate and looked down on. That we the Sinhalese subjugate the others into servitude. I am not ashamed to be Sinhala Buddhist. This is our motherland. Our roots, our culture, our heritage.

By choice my friends are of other cultures, multi-cultural or ethnically diverse Sri Lankan’s. My best friends and all of them Sri Lankan’s. They belong as much as I do. Especially the Tamils as they are part of our motherlands history and heritage. Not separately, in one motherland – Sri Lanka.

Tuesday, 26 July 2011

Waking to Paradise

Waking to Paradise

I wake to the slight chill in the air and the blur of bright sea blue as someone adjusts the pillow on my head and covers me with a blanket. The steady drone I hear is the aircraft engine and the bright blue morphs into a smiling stewardess. I have slept for over five hours on my flight to the Paradise Isle from London. I stretch comfortably and slowly meander my way to the back of the cabin for a fresh cup of Paradisian tea, a shining red apple and some Paradisian chat. The Malaysian Tamil female passenger reads the palms of the stewardesses and mine. I smile as the stewardesses ask her the main question in any single female Paradisians mind, when will they marry? We all cross the fortune-tellers palm with silver and I meander my way back to my seat.

It’s early morning when we land in Paradise. In the typical Paradisian way everyone pushes each other to disembark. I make my way through immigration; pick my bags up, quick stop at duty free and onwards to book a taxi to take me to the salubrious surroundings of Pelawatte. After a prolonged dismal English winter and dodgy spring, the April heat of Paradise overwhelms me. I long for the air-conditioned comfort of my sister’s home.

As always I am delighted by the sheer colourfulness of my Paradise Isle. The painted and gaily decorated public buses and scooter taxi’s, cars as old as 1950, the latest in luxury SUV’s all jostle and bustle with each other as they proceed at breath taking speeds down the airport road to Colombo. The only differences are the slow bullock carts, cows and street dogs that sedately share this road with vehicular traffic. I look forward to the three weeks ahead as I flinch and close my eyes inside the taxi that’s taking me to Pelawatte. I flinch because the taxi driver keeps taking his eyes off the road to talk to me.

I jump into the shower as soon as I get home. After five years, the solar powered panels that provide hot water still surprisingly work well. I set the water from hot to really cold as I wash the journey off me. I am wide awake as I jump off the shower and what seems to be ages, which it actually is as I put on a pair of my GAP shorts, a tee from Abercrombie, slippers as my friend arrives in his jeep to pick me up. Its post election day so the sale of alcohol is prohibited, therefore all the clubs and bars are closed. We head to another friends house and I start my holiday in earnest as I sip my first long ice filled glass of Absolut and Red Bull. Helped down smoothly at dusk by the freshly fried chicken and prawn rolls from Tasty’s. My thirst and hunger sated it is late night as I head back for a long nights sleep. My stay in Paradise has begun. I awake refreshed late next afternoon. Meeting family, seeking funding and partners for business, the Sinhala and Tamil New Year, the post new year procession in seeking the blessings of Lord Skanda in the deep south of Paradise, Kataragama, the wedding of one of my best buddies, catching up with college mates, clubbing, bar hopping, binging on drink and food all await me. I am truly in Paradise. As I have been strictly warned to not mention smoking material from Pakistan and Thanmalwilla I shall detest. Ask any Paradisian they will know.

I blaze my way through the two most happening nightclubs in Colombo. Mojo at the Taj Samudra Hotel and the Silk nightclub next to the CH & FC rugby club. Highlights at Mojo are meeting the former Blue Elephant DJ Naushad who spun one complete night of house music for me, helped along with bottles of Absolut, Moet and Grey Goose.

At Hambantota, just before we come to town we are sent on a detour due to construction of the new port. We drive down a brand new fully carpeted road. I get my driver to stop quickly to take pictures of the peacocks hanging out by the roadside. The peacocks are fully alert and as long as we stay in the SUV they stay put. The minute I get off the jeep they run away. We pass the new International Conventions Centre in construction. The sheer size of the structure leaves all of us in the jeep impressed.

Usually extremely hot in April, Kataragama is pleasantly cool, as rains have fallen at night. We visit the Kirivehera Stupa and Temple to offer flowers, incense and light oil lamps to seek blessings of the Buddha, dharma and sangha. Afterwards we walk to the scared temple of Lord Skanda to seek his blessings and protection. In April I usually time my visits to Paradise in time for the procession of elephants in ball gowns and dervish dancers in homage of Lord Skanda. Firewalkers, various forms of ethnic dancers in brilliant costumes are a photographers dream.

Back in Colombo, family and friends take me to some of the best fusion, Indian and Chinese restaurants in the world. Sunday and poya day dim sum at the Wok in the Colombo Hilton, Mango Tree for Indian food and the Peach Valley Chinese restaurant down Flower Road in Colombo are most noteworthy.

Meeting old school mates and friends at the members only private clubs and bars in Colombo and bacchanalia is a special treat that one must enjoy in Sri Lanka. A prelude of our colonial past and a memento of the British, clubs such as the Old Thomians Swimming Club (OTSC), Orient Club and the Swimming Club must be visited to see true friendship and bonding amongst Paradisians.

My holiday is fully completed with my attendance at a best friends wedding. Quick purchases of fresh spices, Paradisian Tea, and souvenirs for friends from Barefoot. A pair of perfectly matching pink sapphire earrings for my wife. All too soon it is time to leave. The cab arrives late night as my friends help me load my bags in. Hugs, kisses and goodbyes.

Intermittent lights of Colombo blink below me as I look down from the Srilankan Airlines flight to Heathrow. This time back I get a seat by the exit door with loads of leg space. I stretch out and allow the drone of the aircraft engine to lull me to sleep. Dreams, sweet dreams of my motherland, and another fantastic holiday.

Sri Lanka, the Paradise Isle.

Missing Paradise

Missing Paradise

Two days to Christmas. The DJ plays a soft bluesy number as the house lights come on. I look around with bleary eyes. The less inebriated amongst us have checked our coats out and the bouncers gently try to dislodge us to begin the journey home. As we stumble out the rush of cold air is welcome. Minus 10 degrees means none of us hang around and all bundle into the cab. Everyone’s still in high spirits and talking loudly.

No one notices as I sink into a corner of the cab and wearily watch the lights of London fly by. It’s early morning and the only one’s out and about are revellers like us, the East-Europeans heading off to their early morning jobs, milk and newspaper delivery trucks. I am looking forward to home, a hot bath and unwinding on the couch with a hot mug of coffee. Although tired I know that I will need that ‘me time’ to properly fall asleep.

Unconsciously my thoughts roam to the year gone by. As I grow older I have matured. My world has slowed down, while the rest of 2010 flashed by. My other four mates in the cab surround me but yet I feel tremendously melancholy. I call them my ‘mates’ as they are still not my friends. I am more than guilty as they think of me as a good mate, I take long to make friends, and again as I mature it’s harder and harder to change my Sri Lankanisms. I worry I am becoming a grumpy old man. Little things don’t worry me anymore, but the big things worry me more.

Christmas and Christmastime bothers me the most. To me it’s that specific time of the year you are sharply reminded of the income gap that bridges the haves from the have-nots. The homeless man I just saw sleeping under one of the Harrods shop windows as we pass Knightsbridge will haunt me like the ghost of Christmas past. How is he managing in minus 10 temperatures?

Last year I arrived in the Paradise Isle on Christmas day to party non-stop with my friends in Dickwella and onwards to 31st night at Galle Face. This year in the London-Elstree Holiday Inn Masquerade Ball. Actually my first 31st party in London. With my mates!

Non-Christian me will celebrate Christmas in our own special way. My wife’s relatives will come home early morning for mutton curry and milk-rice. Presents will be opened. Sash and San who are my sis-in-laws kids are still 2 and 6. They believe in Santa. One of the nice things about Christmas, Santa. Our kid is a teenager, she knows, but still expects as many presents under the tree.

I am home. The repeat of the Amir Khan fight’s on Sky Sports. I take a sip of hot coffee and snuggle under the duvet. Everything is ready for Christmas. As I drift to sleep I lay my soul for the good Lord to keep and pray I will not dream of the homeless man I saw earlier this morning.

Last call.

Life after heaven

Life after heaven

Lazy Sunday morning. The aroma of fresh coffee wafts into the room. This is enough incentive for me to roll out of bed. Everyone eventually showers. All of us take off for Dim Sum at the Hilton Emperor Wok.

Full as we eventually head off to my piece of heaven in Sri Lanka, The Barefoot Shop, Gallery and Café. We immediately leave the heat and humidity of the day as we walk into the Barefoot Garden. The splash of colour never fails to surprise me. Sunday Jazz Band in attendance and the crooning voice of Jerome Speldewinde entertains.

Christmas hols and it’s almost like back in London. I spot many of the Diaspora. Wave, grin and cheerful greetings shouted across. Many of us carrying around the absolutely necessary piece of Diaspora kit, a digital camera! Picture’s taken, hugs and New Year kisses. I quickly look about and spot in relief that my mates have headed upstairs.

The true beauty of the Barefoot garden is truly captured from the balcony. The Jazz Band forms the centrepiece to a bustle of colour. The religious statues from far off kovils in the north, ethnic Christmas trees, the wonderful painting hung on the bar wall, a fusion of colour in the table cloths, huge ceramic pots teeming with little orange and red fish.

The Tiger beer I sip feels colder, much better than anywhere else in the world. I am home, in heaven, in my Paradise Isle. The two Diaspora kids who run up to see me are impressed. They believe that broad upper floor over the Barefoot Café bar is where I live when I am in Sri Lanka! Reluctantly I set them right.

I give up on the uber cool image I am trying to project and click away with my piece of Canon kit. Dom the owner of Barefoot spots me from downstairs. Grin, wave and a huge thumbs up.

Some of us head into the Barefoot shop to do some shopping. I have already been. Sterling statue of God Gnanapathi, the famous Barefoot stone Buddha’s, compulsory Barefoot sarongs, Table Mats, Napkins and a load of knickknacks for the kid. All for just under £100! All in the unimaginably glorious Barefoot colours of Sri Lanka.

With the mildly amused acceptance of Nas and the obliging grin of Dom’s I take a few shots of inside the shop that you enjoy now. Normally a strict no the shop staff looks at me annoyingly and are still suspicious despite the fact that I inform them I have approval.

Dusk arrives and all too soon Jerome and the Band pack up for the evening. Few pictures, goodbyes to everyone and we head off. Getting into my friends monster sports car I take one last look back. It’s Sunday, I leave my Paradise Isle early Tuesday morning. My heart aches, the lump in my throat and teary eyes I hide from my friends. I console myself that I am back in April for a friends wedding.

It’s twelve inches of snow and minus eight degrees outside as I sit here typing this from the stix of England. But in my soul I hear the voice of Jerome Speldewine. Brilliant colours mix in my mind. I am full from the café’s fresh fusion food. I am wearing the bright gold Barefoot sarong mixed with shades of black. The warm tropical wind caresses my back. The scent of frangipani flowers scatters everywhere. Lord Gnanapathi gazes at me in benevolence.

Colombo’s wonderful oasis for every weary traveller. Barefoot.

Monday, 25 July 2011

My paradise isle

My paradise isle

It’s 30 centigrade and the sun blazes overhead. The humidity adds an extra dimension to the heat. Landing at the international airport in Katunayake I especially feel it as I had left cold miserable weather back in Heathrow. I have been dying for a smoke after the 12-hour flight and I quickly light up as I stand on the pavement in front of the airport passenger pick up point and look for Bandu and the car.

As soon as I landed when switching the mobile on I already had sms’s from my friends in Colombo welcoming me. Nice, very nice. Bandu rolls up and almost leaps from the car in welcome. As usual he tries to worship me and I stop him by giving him a warm hug. The sweat sticks to my body; my white linen shirt is covered with sweat. I don’t mind, I love it. I slide into the refreshingly air conditioned car but immediately roll the window down to light up another cig. Bandu helps the porter load my bags; I call out a warning to them to ensure none of the booze bottles purchased from duty-free break.

Finally as Bandu pulls out of the airport I just let the tension in my body, just let it all go and slide more into the car seat. I enjoy the incredible feeling of the suddenness of everything being completely right. I am home. Bandu wants to stop for a cool Thambili (King Coconut), I am more eager to get home, so we keep on. The school and work traffic has started and the goings slow. I greedily take in the sights and sounds of my Paradise Isle.

A fusion of bright colour.

The Buddhist priests standing by the bus stop.

The orange king coconuts in the wayside shop matching their saffron robes perfectly.

The little kid inside the bus on the way to school. Peering at me curiously and rewarding me with a brilliant white toothed smile and shy wave.

The private buses shooting recklessly by. Their coloured livery and signs make me smile.

‘Don’t kiss me’ stickers on Scooter Taxi bumpers.

The young lady in her pastel flowered Saree and umbrella to match walking to the train station.

The girls from the garment factories hurrying by, chatting one to a dozen. Pretty, very pretty.

Noise emanating from everywhere, the record bars littering the Wattala area blasts pop music from speakers placed right outside their shops.

A Policeman stands in the middle of an island on the road. His face in resignation to the chaos around him.

I am waiting to just get home and stand under the cold shower for hours. Wash off the dirt from the journey, all my trials and tribulations. For I know I am home. Home in my Paradise Isle.

I am surprised to find my cheek already wet as I wipe it. Jolted out of my dream I realise I am in bed snuggled under the duvet. It’s cold outside in my part of Hertfordshire, just 12 degrees this morning. The alarm from the mobile rings urgently. I quickly wipe the tears off my face and head downstairs to prepare my first cup of coffee for the day.

It’s OK, I am OK. I have my precious memories, my dreams. Home, my Paradise Isle.

Paradise calling. Weekends in Colombo. Friday!

Paradise calling. Weekends in Colombo. Friday!

Weekends in Colombo must start with a liquid lunch at the popular Colombo Swimming Club in Colombo 3. The late Joanna Miles our then Brit creative director loved the place as all Brit expats and any tourist do. A left over of the colonial era, this swimming club’s main attraction is it’s main building. An old bungalow still preserved in its original condition. A long verandah at the back serves as the spine to the club where one can sit and watch the trains go by frequently on the adjoining commuter train track that connects Colombo to the deep south of Sri Lanka.

All this capped by a magnificent view of the Indian Ocean that the club overlooks. Aunty Jo as we popularly called her was the epitome of the British expat. Single and born to be, she loved her drink and got on famously with all the boys from the advertising and marketing fraternity in Colombo. She would unfailingly arrive most Friday’s around one o’clock at our desks and off we would go. Fresh grilled seafood, the proverbial Gin and Tonic and the weekend is off to a brilliant start as we sway off back to office late afternoon. Wherever you are in the nether world Aunty Jo, rest in peace, we remember you with love.

Last copy checks of art works, sending material off to press, last minute frantic calls to clients for approvals and everyone’s done by late evening. The start to the debauchery is always at a sports club that dots Colombo’s landscape. These clubs, a hangover from colonisation of Sri Lanka by the British, range from exclusive Golf, Rowing and Swimming clubs to the bit more rowdy Rugby clubs and little more refined Cricket clubs. Most have huge lawns that are readied every evening with tables, umbrellas and chairs for relaxation and quaffing of alcoholic beverages after a hard day of sport or work. A wee different from the rest of the world, this does not mean a couple of drafts of beer, no, Sri Lankan men and women alike love their spirits from the local arrack to whisky, brandy, gin or vodka. Bottles of it are consumed, not shots, especially on a Friday evening.

Our club of choice was the Old Joes Sports Club within the premises of St. Joseph’s, a boy’s catholic school! The main attraction to this establishment was the incredible fried pork that was served with fresh buttered bread to deaden the effects of various alcoholic beverages. Late evening when the sun sets the view you see from the club is the lovely green cricket field, the old chapel standing grim and proud with wonderful shadows giving light to many ad man and woman’s imagination. Old Joes serves to encourage every one of us to reach the correct stage of inebriation for someone to start clambering to go play pool.

Allow me to meander from this weekend of mine for a brief moment. If the reader is wondering where are the spouses, partners, children, boyfriends, and girlfriends of these people? Under the guise of one’s profession, Advertising, these loved ones all over the world suffers in patience. Not all but most. Ad people are very good at hiding behind their profession. The creativity, short deadlines, demand what we call letting off of steam with the team!

Now back to a late Colombo Friday evening where darkness, any party animals friend has announced its arrival. Groups of us stagger into our respective cars and zoom away to one of Colombo’s best nightspots. Owned by the genteel Russell Fernando ‘Rhythm and Blues’ is a club that offers live music six nights of the week and pool at any time of the day. Popular amongst Colombo’s ad and marketing fraternity, young expats and tourists, R n’B caters to a slightly older clientele through a delicate balance of live rock music with covers performed of songs from CCR, Eagles, Santana and Eric Clapton to name but a few. DJ Ben takes over during band breaks.

If Ben is exceptionally ‘smiling’, smiling the operative word, he can be persuaded to play a bit of house, drum and bass late into the night. And if you wish to ‘smile’ too, Ben will point you in the right direction!

The atmosphere is uber cool and relaxed starting from Russell and his lovely wife. One is required to be in pants and shoes and adequately covered on top. Our noisy entrance is usually accompanied by grins from the doormen, bouncers and waiters, and wry smile from Russell. We’re regulars, so tolerated for our various vices and curiosities. Again explained by ‘Oh ad people, no?’ Fiercely competitive amongst some of us, games of pool begin. Unusually or usually one finds games of pool where suddenly it’s creative vs. the suits. It’s late Friday night as I usually wean myself from the pool and enjoy my Jameson on the rocks with live music from the band.

R n’B’s small dance floor is usually packed with expats dancing their cares away. The crowd is eclectic, from Colombo’s executives to tourists, musicians, journalists, and the worldwide mandatory Russkies and Thai girls. Everyone’s cool. Universal love is always in the air.

Late night and the stronger souls stagger off to Clancy’s. Another Brit Pub themed bar owned by Russell’s family. Here one finds live rock music from the more modern era performed and an edgier, younger crowd with many young couple on night outs or dates. Clancy’s like R n’B stay open to the wee hours of morning. Finally Friday ends on early Saturday morning. There is still no hurry-to-hurry home, everyone chats about and finally heads off to Colombo’s premier 24-hour night restaurant ‘Pilawoos’ for breakfast.

Sri Lanka formerly known as Ceylon was on a world spice route via the Indian Ocean. Colonised by the Portuguese, the Dutch and finally the British, the food influences are many. Especially through the Chinese and the Moors who continuously did and still do business here. The Muslim and moor culture is part and parcel of Sri Lanka. So are their food and the origin of many of these night restaurants called ‘night kades’ in Sri Lanka. The choice of food amongst Colombo’s night lovers is called a Kottu. A Kottu is cooked on a huge metal plate heated from underneath. Pieces of delicious roast chicken, beef or mutton, eggs, onions, leeks, tomatoes, garlic, herbs and curry sauce are all fried with cut pieces of leavened bread parotha’s on this metal plate. The noise accompanying the cooking of this dish is loud, and usually the cook does this right outside the restaurant, so one can watch this dish being prepared. All part of the night experience and the food washed down either with cool incredibly sweet chocolate milk or lime juice. For the more adventurous party people all one has to do is whisper in a waiter’s ear either for more of Sri Lanka’s home-grown alcohol, arrack or a neatly rolled spliff. The Kottu roti is a Mongolian dish adapted to suit Sri Lanka’s palette for spicy food and is the best food guaranteeing the lack of a hangover in the dawning day!

Finally dawn breaks in Colombo, Sri Lanka’s commercial capital. There is an early morning chill, little forewarning of the humidity and a median temperature of 96 degrees Fahrenheit in the shade during day. The restaurant Pilawoos is on Galle Road itself that links the capital to the south of the country. Morning commercial traffic, huge commuter buses, lorries carrying large loads of fresh produce to the city thunder down the road. Wearily but happily sated and plied with alcohol and food everyone meanders to their cars. The last cig is smoked, hugs, kisses and goodbyes. The end of a busy week, the beginning of the weekend. Saturday morning has dawned and what happens on Saturday, another post from me.

Partying every weekend in Colombo is a must. An experience any visitor to Sri Lanka must experience. Seeing is believing.

Sri Lanka’s best-kept secrets. Playing in Paradise. Kandy.

Sri Lanka’s best-kept secrets. Playing in Paradise. Kandy.

It’s Friday evening and darkness, a thick blanket has descended on Kandy. The only sound is the steady trickle of rain usually common to any late Kandy evening. We roll into home and my nephew springs out from the car to open the gate to our house. The spotlight brightens the gravel on the driveway, shining black stones shimmering. My mums rose bushes glimmer invitingly with dewdrops. Getting down from the car and stretching as the fresh mildly cold air hits you, refreshes you.

The kids run into the house screaming in youthful exuberance in anticipation to the week ahead. The dog jumps at you in welcome, pawing at you in impatience to be petted. Your home, in the city called Maha Nuwara (Big City) during the days of the Sri Lankan kings. Best known as Kandy, 72 miles from the commercial capital of Sri Lanka, Colombo. With evening traffic Kandy is about a three-hour absolutely wonderful scenic mountainous drive that really tests the skills of any adventurous driver. I usually successfully attempt to do in two hours.

Kandy, life is slow, uncomplicated there. Mountainous Terrain. Home to Sri Lanka’s dubious descendants of loyalty, sons of the soil. There is plenty of rain, so agriculture and rolling fields of paddy are common. The mornings hot with blazing sun and days that cools from the afternoon with a steady trickle of rain turning to majestic thunderstorms during the monsoon. Fresh produce in everyone’s backyard, an abundance of natural food, and a lifestyle very different from the rest of Sri Lanka, chilled would be the best word.

My friends in Colombo would always wonder why in the wide world I descend to this part of the world of perceived boredom every single weekend. But the secrets: the sights, the sounds and places of Kandy are many, waiting to be discovered, enjoyed.

I worship the statue of Buddha in our living room, then kneel in worship to my parents, say hi to rest of the family and go to my room to change in to Sri Lanka’s preferred choice of relaxing wear, the sarong. The domestic is awaiting my arrival and has a huge simmering cauldron of hot water heated by wood fire by the well in the back of our house. As I draw the first bucket of water and pour it on my head all the worries of the week from life and work in Colombo just wash away. I scrub the dog on his weekly bath and myself hard with Lifebuoy soap while chatting to the domestic. The dog loves it and splashes water all over us. Finishing with icy cold water drawn from the well and drying in the icy cold of the night outside feels wonderful with the terry cloth towel washed and dried in the sun. I head inside in anticipation for the night. Call my half Brit-half Sri Lankan gentile friend to check if he has made it home from Colombo too. Quick dinner and off to his house on the high mountains of Pitakanda, Kandy. About five minutes drive from our house in Wattapuluwa, Kandy.

We sit in his verandah overlooking the rolling mountains right above the Nittawella rugby grounds, home to the Sri Lankan champion team, Kandy Rugby Club. Infamous for its credentials of importing players from as far as Fiji and Samoa for an unfair edge in the national rugby league. A spliff is rolled, vodka poured into tall glasses filled with ice and we finally lay back on the antique long arm chairs famous only to Sri Lanka. The first sip of vodka with the spliff sends an incredible feeling throughout my body. We can’t help but smile. My friend’s partner is sitting on the cool tiled floor using his legs as a rest for her body.

We finally get out of our chairs lazily and head out to our favourite watering hole in the Kandy town, the Bake House. The feeling of euphoria and freedom is incredible as our trail bikes thunder around the Kandy lake to our destination, I can hear my friends partner screaming as we try to out do each other too see who corners the best. After the beers at Bake House we set off to one of the hotel discos or to hear live music in a hotel lobby. The choices are many but Mahaveli Reach, Earl’s Regency or the Tree of Life are personal favourites. Couple of hours in town and we are back at my friends winding down from the evening and weeks trails and tribulations of hot and humid Colombo. I am finally off home in early twilight to collapse on to bed for dreamless much needed sleep. Fresh cotton sheets, large white pillows filled with natural cotton all dried in the sun cocoon me in comfort. The dog flops into bed at my feet and I am too tired to push him away. I sleep by myself in the ground floor of our house in the annexe, the large Alsatian dog does give me a sense of comfort and security.

Wake up late next morning to hear the house hustling and bustling upstairs. A cup of coffee lies on the nightstand beside my bed, discreetly brought in by the male domestic. I open the door of the bedroom that opens out to our garden, quietly light up the first cigarette for the day and enjoy my coffee sitting on the step. My mothers jealously guarded visitor, a King Cobra glares at me from behind a rock in the garden. I acknowledge him nervously and hug the dog close to me. The Cobra is a venerated animal in Sri Lanka and it is believed that the gods send them to your home to guard you but also test your belief. Believe you me I have actually seen this Cobra come really close to my mother and just chill out when she ventures out to the garden.

I then use the bathroom; change in to shorts and t-shirt and head on upstairs to be greeted excitedly by my niece and nephews waiting for me to rise for the day. We eat a delicious breakfast of rice and mung beans soaked overnight and cooked in coconut milk with fresh-grounded chillie and onion paste and fresh river fish curry. Finally we all pile in to the car and head out to the Tree of Life hotel where we rent mountain bikes and go for a vigorous ride on the trails especially built by the hotel for hikers and bikers. Back after an hour and the kids all splash into the hotel pool. The Tree of Life hotel’s main section is over 100 years old and used to be the British Lord Mountbatten’s jungle hunting retreat and bungalow where as well as hunting for wild boar and deer, he sowed his oats as any good colonial sod did in Sri Lanka during the late 1800’s and as far as 1948 when Sri Lanka finally gained independence from British Colonial rule. Although much debated and unaccepted the bony Kandy lasses are amazingly beautiful. The tanned local heritage mixed with British blood and toned down over generations give these local lasses golden skin which contrast amazingly with their long dark tresses. It is not unusual to see some of them with light brown almost hazel or blue eyes. Beautiful is an understatement.

While the kids splash around, I head off to the hotels Ayurvedic centre for Herbal Treatment. Head, Face and Body Massage ‘Snehana’ (Oil Massage), ‘Swedana’ (Steam Bath), ‘Shirodara Kutisweda’ (Herbal Sauna), and Aroma Therapy. The hotel offers a genuine, reliable and traditional Ayurveda in Kandy, Sri Lanka. Ayurvedic therapy comes from an age-old formulation passed down from generation to generation of Ayurvedic families in Sri Lanka. After a good couple of hours I emerge a new man, now finally all the worries of the week massaged away.

All of us then head to the hotel buffet lunch. I stick to the traditional rice and curry from the buffet as the hotel maintains it’s Ayurvedic credentials by offering a range of Sri Lankan vegetables that sadly do not feature in the regular fare of Colombo’s home meals.

Afterwards we drive to the Kandy town for the afternoon. First visit is to the Dalada Maligawa, the former palace of Sri Lanka’s last king, Sri Wickrama Rajasinghe and now a Buddhist temple that houses the scared relic of Buddha, one of his teeth. Outside the palace the regular showpiece before entering the temple a huge tame elephant awaits the brave. It is believed that going under the elephant’s stomach and circling three times builds bravery and courage in children and also wards off evil! After offering the traditional araliya flowers and incense in the inner sanctum we head off to explore around Kandy town.

Kandy offers a labyrinth of streets more complex than those of New York City. Around every corner awaits a surprise, always pleasant. All though buyers must be aware as you may end up purchasing a useless trinket, for the discerning eye antique jewellery shops abound in Kandy. From genuine antique bracelets, earrings, and rings worn by the nobility of ancient Sri Lanka, one will find small shops selling silver rings woven with elephant hair for luck, leopard tooth pendants made from real leopard teeth from hunters of the past and various intricate jewellery items made from ivory. The elephant is a venerated animal in Sri Lanka largely, so buying ivory although needs to be at one’s beliefs and discretion, most ivory items are antique and obtained from elephant graveyards of old. I still remember the large leopard skin that adorned the games room wall at my grandmother’s home in Kandy. Gemstones and jewellery made from precious gems such, as rubies, sapphires, garnets and moonstones are a plenty. Unless you really can identify gems, I would advice a visitor to only purchase jewellery made from moonstones. These are really cheap and won’t be more than 10 to 20 British pounds maximum. All this and more such as local handicrafts made from brass, devil masks, and Sri Lankan drums and in the main though fare of Kandy, a Cargills supermarket and a KFC for a quick snack of chicken! Even a Pizza-Hut!

If visiting Kandy in July and August one has to book early to avoid disappointment as these months herald the beginning of the world famous Kandy Dalada Maligawa procession. A parade of over one hundred elephants in ball gowns brightly lit up very alike a Christmas tree with thousands of dervish dancers, firewalkers, whip crackers and traditional drummers. These processions are held to give thanks to the gods for life, gifts of nature that nourish and good health.

After our walk-about in town we finally head home early evening to beat the drizzle that gradually starts as small drops to steady. Fresh cups of tea for the adults and Milo for the kids, everyone crashes in bed for a nap. The kids head out to the garden for a noisy game of cricket. I switch the TV on and drowse off to the news and woken up again only when the domestic brings me a cup of coffee.

Darkness falls early in Kandy. It’s twilight when I wake up and refresh myself to head to Pitakanda to my friends house again for dinner. I have my dad’s driver drop me off as I plan to get properly sloshed at my friends. More spliffing, loads of vodka and a refined dinner. My friend’s family were restaurateurs in England. So we enjoy a refined meal of pasta with a lovely mushroom sauce all washed down with red wine. Chatting for hours with coffee made from freshly ground beans, the sun’s rising as my friend drops me off at home.

Awake unusually early for a Sunday morning and fast drive to the picturesque Victoria Golf Club for a couple of holes of golf, ride around the club complex on a trail bike and some much needed exercise. The English breakfast at the clubhouse later negating the benefits of the previous exercise. Then I head back to set off with the kids to the Polgolla dam a five minutes walk from our home in Wattapuluwa, Kandy. We have on our bathing suits underneath and carry fishing rods, as beneath the dam, in the flowing calm waters of the Mahaweli River is a perfect secluded spot for bathing and if one wishes to even fish. Not the hectic sport fishing, but the type that calls for calm patience with a line cast in the water and watching the world go by, not counting the seriously adventurous and curious Monkey families living on the trees by the banks of the river that glare at you for invading their territory.

The kids I take along with me as they provide the perfect credentials to my status as an uncle, therefore harmless to parents looking for prospective bachelors for their bony Kandyan female offspring. An insight to life of the people in Kandy, the girls are beautiful, respected and protected. Culturally with no real fuss or bother, they usually head off to school, socialise mostly with the family, an occasional chaperoned movie with friends. Otherwise home. On a Sunday the proud parents allow these girls to hang out by their front gate in the garden in their Sunday best. It is a very subtle way for parents to almost show off their offspring. Be proud. Believe you me the concept of an untouched virgin still exists in this part of the world. This was and still is the best eye candy I have seen any where in the world! And an important part of what makes Kandy, Sri Lanka what it is. One of it’s most jealously kept secrets.

Sunday evening dawns. Early dinner, worship parents and its time for the mad drive back to Colombo. This time more fun as driving in you climb, going back is downhill and much faster!

It’s early Monday morning. I am in office in London. The room is just 10’ by 10’, but I do have a large window that looks out. The winds howling outside, dark clouds make it seem like night, rain beats incessantly on the window as I type this post. The office tower blocks are foreboding, a Range Rover parked illegally is clamped as the owner runs up to it screaming. Traffic was especially bad this morning on the school run, the Jubilee line running late with the tube station closed and I had to get off and walk six blocks to work in the rain. Forgot my raincoat. Inside my mind the parrots with their lime green plumage and bright red necklaces call out to each other from the Mango tree in my parents garden in Kandy. I wipe the tears falling down my face, I imagine my clothes and my face is soaked from the fresh tropical rain of my country of origin, my Paradise Isle. I am OK.