Since the Ramar Sethu was closed to foot traffic, we took a Jetlite flight to Kozhumbu. Now, let’s assume that I am a Galle based self-made Tamizh businessman returning with loads of Saravana Stores maal to sell to unsuspecting Sinhalese with lots of disposable income and the only languages I spoke were Tamizh, passable Sinhala and some Butler English (What you want. I give. Low price – style basic functional english). So I am now seated, seat-belt buckled and listening to the all-important, life-saving safety instructions being explained, dumb-charades style, by mannequin-like North Indian air hostesses. and what do I hear? Hindi. Safety instructions in India’s national language on a flight from Chennai to Colombo where the cumulative knowledge of Hindi in all the passengers will probably amount to “Accha Accha. Indi nagi malum”.
But since I am not a Galle-based, Saravana Stores maal hawking Tamizh businessman (I am a Chennai based, IT services hawking Tamizh softwareman), this wasn’t much of a problem, although I couldn’t help feel that well over half the airplane was muttering “Enna solli kondu irukkiraargal?” (What are they saying?) in sing-song colloquial Sri Lankan Tamizh, while I was busy learning how to allow small children to panic and die while focusing on putting oxygen masks on oneself in an emergency.
Neer Kozhumbu (is not diluted, watered down lentil-less sambar)
We landed at the rather impressive Sirimavo Bandaranaike International Airport and were picked up by our amiable guide for the next 5 days, Kumar, who first took us to the Browns Beach Hotel in Neer Kozhumbu. Why the Sinhalese would choose to call it Negombo, when such a cool-sounding Tamizh name exists, I will never know. Neer Kozhumbu is a small, sleepy fishing village about an hour north of Colombo. Have you wondered why “sleepy” the adjective always prefixes fishing villages? Fisherman don’t sleep much, do they? Don’t they get up at the crack of dawn and hit the boats? But we digress.
Day 1, according to the package, was a leisure day, which meant that we were on our own. But before heading out, we had the all important breakfast. Important for 2 reasons – nutritional (We were raving hungry) and economical (it’s part of the package and therefore gratis/free/osee/mufth). But we took it fairly light and just snacked on Milk rice, Sweet Potato, Chicken liver curry, Egg hoppers, dhaal curry, Kattu Sambol, mangoes, lovi, mangosteens, wood apples, sour plantains, big green bananas, bread toast, baked beans, omelettes, scrambled eggs, papaya juice and a spot of Broken Orange Pekoe Tea.
After that light repast, we looked around for Taxis. Since the taxi drivers near resort hotels follow the Inverse square law of Fare, which goes
Fare = G x S/ (distance parked from hotel) squared
G = Geographical Constant, that varies across cities and countries.
S = Skin Color Index, where 1 = African black and 10 = Anaemic, Dracula-victim white
In simple terms, the taxis parked close to resort hotels charge exorbitant fares, especially if one is white. And being a 5 on the Skin Color Index, the taxi offered to take us to Colombo city for a paltry sum of 40 dollars. We graciously declined, took a tuk-tuk (the local term for an autorickshaw) to the local bus terminus and got on a local bus to Colombo. And since it was air conditioned and was playing Sinhala film music (and sounded like it was poorly plagiarized from Bappi Lahiri music), we fell asleep, only to wake up when we reached Pettah, the central bus terminus in the city. We then proceeded to a juice shop, had wood apple nannari and asked the friendly Tamizh proprietress what was worth seeing in the city. She suggested the Colombo zoo.
The Colombo Zoo
We saw Macaw conferences. Big cats taking afternoon siestas. Gymnastic, anti-social chimpanzees throwing stones, fruit peel and dung on the public. Male lion putting groundnuts on lioness, who was completely disinterested. Dancing elephants named Devi and Kema. Screaming Sea eagles. And
Yes. Monitor Lizards. And where?
In the middle of the road!
It was when my wife was considering informing the zoo authorities that dangerous, large reptiles had escaped from their cages and were terrorizing the general public that I noticed that apart from me trying to take paparazzi-style snaps from every possible direction, nobody else was paying any particular attention to these things. I was then later told that monitors are fairly common in Sri Lanka. I have always wondered why they were called monitors though. While I think the explanation that they used to stand in front of the black board in classrooms of Lizard High and write down names of students who talk/misbehave before the teacher arrives, is such an elegant theory, Wikipedia kills all the mystique by informing us that they get the name “monitor” from the Latin word for their genus Varanus which refers to their occasional tendency to stand on hind-legs and thus appear to “monitor” their surroundings.
Lunch at Red Chilly (a.k.a the Stomach Wall Removal Therapy)
There’s nothing like sampling local cuisine at a small, unpretentious, crowded lunch place popular with the natives. And Red Chilly fit the bill perfectly. The menu for lunch read “Rice and Curry” and we ordered it right away. And when we did, the waiter’s facial expressions and body language underwent the following changes, and I translate for your benefit
- Are you sure?
- You don’t look Sri Lankan.
- Do you have insurance that protects the mucosa, submucosa, muscularis externa and the serosa of your stomach?
- Are you really sure?
- The chillies in Sri Lanka, which we use in abundant quantities while cooking are actually rather spicy, you know? Unlike Indian chillies that we can eat for dessert. After dipping them in Tabasco sauce.
- Are you really, really sure?
We went ahead. And drank 2 bottles of Sprite, several glasses of water, and a complimentary serving of Wattalappan to salvage what was remaining of our stomach wall linings.
More coming up in Part 2 of Ceylon Chronicles. A few photos available here. More later.