Ceylon Chronicles, part 1

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

Where,

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

monitor1.jpg

Yes. Monitor Lizards. And where?

monitor2.jpg

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.

14 Comments

Leave a Comment

  1. Je to the Indhi on Jet.

    I was on the 2nd or 3rd MAA-SIN flight when Jet started that leg around four years ago. A quick look around the sparsely populated cabin and you could tell that there were no kapoors at all. Yet the spiel was along the lines of “…is udaan mein aapka swagat hai”.

    Waiting to disembark at SIN, I was telling the chief host-ini that they may need to re-think this ramming of Hindi down the throat (politely of course, plenty of smiles). And to her credit, she listened in all wide eyed seriousness with plenty of ‘of course sir, yes sir’ etc.

    Four years later, it is still SNAFU.

  2. OHMYGOD. How could one possible create humor out of a flight safety instruction that advises you to wear oxygen mask??

    I must give you a seven gun salute. dhishkyon… (just one sound since all guns were fired at once)

  3. Whaateeee lite breakfast that was…..pothuma? innum konjam venama? valarla pula… ipadi kammiya saapta yepadi…

    Monitor Lizard nu yen paer vechaangana… Oru Full bottle Monitor Whizkey ye tasmac la vaangi …raw va ulle vitaa manusan mathiri..athu thavanthu thavanthu….(crawl crawl) poguthula… thats y..

    Sleeping lions foto is really cool…. lookin forward for next part…

  4. Darn… I was hoping u would give some exciting atleast cooked up stories of how u were kidnapped and taken to jungle and then the government of Sri-lanka secured u r release cos u r were a IT hawking salesman out there to revamp their IT systems..

    sorry watched Roja yesterday..coupled with Kannathil Muttam…vagaira stuff…. 😉

  5. I hate how they assume that everyone in India speaks Hindu. It’s very annoying for the rest of us. That they would do it on your flight route is just oversight on their part. You should have made a fuss and demanded that they repeat everything in Tamil.

    Whatever do you mean by ‘Male lion putting groundnuts on lioness, who was completely disinterested.’?! Oh wait… right… kadalai… sheesh.

  6. What an amazing post! I wouldn’t go to SL for 2 reasons 1) I may get killed 2) I watched Kannathil Muthamittal 5 times.

    I would thoroughly enjoy that light breakfast that you had. I wanted to seriously ask about the how they charge for taxis? Is that really true? Seriously!!? I would paint myself black if that were the case. The zoo episode was funny too, animals are let out on the loose, should have been called a safari rather than zoo.

  7. I join the erudite readers of this blog in applauding this splendid post. I propose that your next holiday be sponsored by your blog readers. One rupee per head should fund the next trip to HongKong.
    Just my two rupees!

  8. So funny 🙂 waiting for the subsequent parts….

    “…while I was busy learning how to allow small children to panic and die…” i always wondered about this too..its ridiculous!

  9. i still remember those grainy video cassettes of tamil films songs being danced to by sinhala tamil couples in various parks of ceylon.crickey stuff.
    ippadi breakfast details kudutha yeppadi? ore jollu ba.

  10. anna! sooper blog! I came across this blog when I was surfing and loved it.Esp, the Lankan episode, being a ilankayar myself see..! anyway aiswarya seems to have misunderstood the zoo post. the monitor lizards aren’t on show. they are just wild overgrown palli’s.they don’t bother people. I should know…we get 7 footers and more in our backyard ..seriously.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s