Sudath Pasqual,** 2 November 2014, courtesy of http://forum.lankaninvestor.com/t2644-gota-stole-my-city-and-i-m-good-with-it
Six years, one month and a few days. That was when I was in the Old Country last. Didn’t take me long to realize that someone has done a job on the old place. It started with the airport. Hardly any dust, clean, duty free area brilliant, porters in uniform, no misplaced luggage (last time it took me 4 days to get my luggage) and nobody ransacked my baggage asking whether I had anything to declare. It was a very pleasant landing in the Old Country after a long flight and 9 long hours in transit at Heathrow. What a cheap ass airport; you only get 45 minutes of free Wi-Fi time at Heathrow.
Then we hit the airport highway; the scenic route via Muthurajawela marshes. I kept looking for moonshine (kasiya for the initiated) stills, but was told that Gota has got to them. That’s too bad because the local kasiya is (so I’ve heard) the best one can get outside the Appalachia in the US. Hell, the Muthurajawela kasiya should have been declared a national treasure and marketed under the banner; “It’s the other white liquor”.
As soon as we got off the airport highway we hit gridlock. Ah, that’s more like my Sri Lanka. I was told that I was in Maradana/Dematagoda area, but I think I was lied to. Didn’t look like anything like the grungy Maradana/Dematagoda I knew. It was sleeker, cleaner and wider. Only the impossible traffic and maniacal trishaw drivers and motorcycle riders belonged to Maradana of old. And hardly any blaring horns. The silence was deafening. But this was only the beginning of my long and torturous re-acclimatization process. The next stop was Chitra Lane, Colombo 5. I had lived and hung around that area most of my life. Yet, I couldn’t find Chitra Lane. That bloody Gota has moved the lane somewhere, I kept muttering to myself. Found it by happenstance, dumped some luggage and headed to find my temporary home on Thimbirigasyaya Road. I was staying a few days at my friend’s mother’s place. I have only known her for about 40 years and visited her house maybe a 100 times or more in that time. So, it was not exactly an unknown location. Well, it was not where it was supposed to be. That bloody Gota has done his Rasputin thing again; making places disappear. He has moved her house as well, I thought. Isn’t anything sacred in this city anymore? The house used to be next to the nurse hamuthuruwa’s temple (he’s the head of the nurse’s union; really).The temple was there, but the house had moved. Had to call my friend and get the address and some landmarks. Took some doing, but after doing the dog chasing its own tail routine, we found the house. Seven perches of her old garden were now Thimbirigasyaya Road and the sidewalk. No bloody wonder I couldn’t find the place. Gota dude, I really could have done without looking like a first timer in Colombo.
The next stop; my old haunt Sri Lanka Cricket (SLC). I was in my brother’s vehicle with his driver Tharindu. We were to pick him up after an Ex-Co meeting at SLC. It’s a relatively short drive from Thimbirigasyaya Road to SLC even at rush hour. I was fine till we came to bottom of Jawatta Road. Right turn to Bauddaloka Mawatha and then a few hundred metres and a left to Maitland Place and that should do it. Noooooo; that would be way too uncomplicated. Suddenly there was this lovely colonial type arcade on my left with a giant LCD screen. I got the Deja Gota feeling, again. My mind went blank and I asked the driver where we were. He told me that we were just about to turn to Maitland Place and the sleek arcade was the other side of Independence Square.
I asked the driver; “Did HE move the Independence Square to Hambantota?” The driver looked at me and calmly explained that the Square was still in the same old place, but the surrounding area has been upgraded and beautified. I think HE stole some buildings from Singapore or Burma and planted them here, I said. The driver laughed and said I sounded just like my brother. We headed to Sri Lanka Cricket. Well, the area surrounding Sri Lanka Cricket and Independence Square may have been beautified and yuppified and gentrified, but SLC was not having any of that modernization nonsense. In spite of wasting billions on numerous white elephant projects, SLC headquarters was still the same old barely functional drab block of concrete. Calling it ugly would be considered an act of charity. Held together by U-Hue and a pirith nula was more like it. I also noticed that a fair number of vehicles parked inside the SLC premises were burgundy in colour. Burgundy is the colour of choice at SLC if you are interested in lasting there more than a few months (apparently). There must be some weird relationship between the colour burgundy and longevity at SLC. Arjuna Ranatunga didn’t have a burgundy colour vehicle and he didn’t last a year. There you have it. Still, I was extremely grateful for the lack of vision thing at SLC; for that meant the old visionless order is still alive and well in some places in Sri Lanka. Take that Gota and chew on it.
The next destination; the Race Course. We get there and I see that the place has been converted to The Coliseum. I was half expecting chariots (or barakarathas) to streak out from underneath the grandstand. Totally cool…..Next door, Bloomfield grounds looked lush and green and open. Hopefully, the drainage has been improved as well. In the previous life, Bloomfield drainage was so bad that if 10 people urinated simultaneously on the Planetarium side, the ground would flood.
Town Hall obviously had a fresh coat of paint put on it and looked deceptively serene from the outside. Inside, it’s still the early 1900s. I kept thinking Kafka and Orwell would have a ball here. Should turn the place into a haunted house during Halloween. Workers can act as themselves and scare the living crap out of the citizenry. Gota, over to you; just a thought to scam some money from the gentiles.What’s with Vihara Maha Devi Park? I mean it’s like clean and nice and safe and so unlike the old sleazy; pervert infested; exotic tropical disease in every pond and lovers in every bush place that we took for granted. What have you done with the budget sex workers, Mr. UDA?
Nomads Sports Club cricket grounds is no more. The ground that was graced by the likes of the de Silva brothers, Anuruddha Polonowita, Daya Sahabandu, WL Withanage, and Amita de Costa has been taken over by a space ship/giant maaraka linda. It was like been on the set of Close Encounters of the Third Kind. Immediately opposite is my wife’s convent. Weirdly cool with great natural hallucogenic potential.
Battaramulla has been transformed into a livable, cool and artisan kind of place. That is in spite of the house of horrors sitting in the middle of the Oya. Ummm, talk about a year round Halloween attraction. Obviously the effect would be optimum when the house is in session. I don’t think even Transylvania of Count Dracula had so many blood suckers under one roof.
Oh yeah; the solar lights. Beyond cool; and Green we have become. Thanks for the War Memorial, Sir. Touching and long overdue. While I am trying to recover from the sensory overload of the new Colombo, I received a call from my friend who is running an anamalu plantation for one of the major multi-nationals in Monaragala. She of course said that it was NOT anamalu and the banana was called Lord Cavendish by Avon (a lady and not the river) or something equally obnoxious. I said whatever. Then she said, let’s meet for lunch at the Dutch Hospital. I am like “the Dutch what?” The Dutch Hospital, silly, she said. I guess I am the only one in Colombo who is squeamish about having lunch at a hospital without a doctor forcing you to do so. Anyway, I bit my tongue and went to lunch at the Dutch Hospital in front of the World Trade Centre in Fort. Chic doesn’t even begin to describe the place. Stunningly simple in its elegance with cobble stones and a courtyard centered on a set of impossibly expensive restaurants. I think the place needs a giant mango tree in the centre, to complete the illusion of being in a different place/era. At least, the local Rasputin had not converted Joseph Fraser hospital, where my children were born, into a food court. All’s copacetic.
Overall, the visit was awe inspiring in a disorienting kind of way. All said and done, I do have a few bones to pick with Ras the man.One, cleanliness maybe next to godliness, but I want the old greasy spoon Piloows back. I was there late night as usual and the bloody place was clean and orderly! Luckily all 3 of us were inebriated for it may have led to bloodshed (likely mine). I went to a buriyani house near Zahira College (Maradana not Gampola); same doo doo. All spick and span. We got a spoon and fork with the buriyani, for crying out loud! No self-respecting local foodie will put up with that crap. I think I was profiled; taken for a Kalu sudda (the local version of the Oreo; black on the outside and white on the inside). So, we need to get a sense of proportion. Too much of a good thing is not good.
Don’t even think of messing with Hotel Nippon for the next two years. I am talking about the section that makes the best mutton Chinese rolls in the world. Blow up the section that political types hold press conferences and get beat up for all I care; but the Chinese roll section is off limits. If you have already closed the Nippon for whatever reason; it needs to be reopened; pronto.
Colombo needs a pooper scoop law. Its fine to spay and neuter stray dogs but it’s another to let them use the newly laid sidewalks as dog toilets. Kind of defeats the purpose of beautifying the place if one has to dodge dog poop to enjoy the city. Animal rights advocates need to take ownership. If you must have animals roaming around a modern metropolis, let loose cows for at least the poop can be used as fertilizer or cooking fuel.
Enough McDonalds, KFC, Pizza Hut, Dominos and Burgher King. Let’s have polos and ambulthiyal; appa; kotthu; buriyani; kiribath sushi and lumprais drive throughs. Get the Chinese who own us to open some Wok joints (then work on a proper China Town). Oh yeah, at least one drive through for Elephant House hot dogs with the secret wattakka sauce (according to my friend Shamma, who says she got the recipe from an old lover at the E-House, the base is wattakka). Lastly, Colombo needs public art. There are lot of space available for this. Art for art’s sake please; and not political statues and garish Jayalalitha type cut-outs. Get the younger generation to express themselves. Wall graffiti has its place in the urban landscape. Its hip; it’s the in thing and you can really piss off the uptight Colombo 7 types. I also think Thuparama Chaitya will look good in front of the Archives (opposite Cinnamon Garden cop shed). It will go well with the Coliseum.Order and beauty has been created from chaos, disorder and decay and my old Colombo is largely gone. That’s ok. Actually, it’s better than ok; it’s hip. Thank you Gota and go break a leg (or keep breaking legs); figuratively speaking, that is.
** The writer Sudath Pasqual was a star Royalist Cricketer who was picked straight from school for the Sri-Lankan Cricket Team for the 1979 World Cup in England.