What to do? What to do? This is the life.
If you have spent any time in Sri Lanka, you will recognise this mantra which seems to be the question asked and the answer given in almost every situation. Whilst it provides temporary distraction – and amusement – when yelled back at you by your tuk-tuk driver who has just scraped past a smart diplomatic vehicle, I am less convinced by its use when the air con breaks down, as mine did last week. This is the very sticky life. I am sitting under a ceiling fan creaking its way out of existence, mulling over the past month. All that comes to mind is ‘What to do? What to do?’. My inner Brit rouses itself from the heavy languor of the afternoon to reject the far-too-chilled answer ‘This is the life’, in favour of ‘Write a blog’. Phew, something concrete. Enough of that keep calm and curry on stuff… (Also, I challenge you to find me someone who can keep calm eating Sri Lankan curry.)
Well, in many ways, this certainly is the life. Colombo 7 is the poshest post code in town. Think Notting Hill or Mayfair – with a few twists. Here, security guards strut, police patrol and mystery military men peer out of little huts on street corners, watching the women traffic go by. And as if that weren’t enough, nature seems to have a police force of its own. In Colombo 7 it’s the monkeys who are on the lookout for local mischief, swinging gently between trees and telegraph poles up above. (Well, it’s much nicer to imagine that they’re on your side, especially when you walk straight into one on your way home at dusk and it stares right through you.) What’s more, a monkey means money. Around here, a few monkeys gracing your garden is a sure sign that you’ve got a prime property with plenty of space and lush greenery. No doubt the Chelsea set will soon catch on – ‘Oh, yah, yah, totally dahling, we’ve got an absolutely stunning family of apes down by the tennis courts.’ It’s all about the monkey business.
Another difference is that twizzles of smoke rising over high garden walls are more likely to be from hundreds of incense sticks on a shrine than from a family BBQ. Oh, and another difference? Here, sunny days are for whacking on the air con, closing the blinds and staying indoors. Residents are never seen swimming in their pools until dusk, for fear of a getting a tan. In Colombo 7, a healthy glow is a no-no. Far better to look like me – pale, pasty and deficient in vitamin D.
I realise it just looks like I am spending my days people/monkey-watching – which is partly true. When that loses its charm, I’m working at the British High Commission. It’s all very interesting. There has been the odd moment of hilarity. For instance, when I pronounced the name ‘Thiranee’ as tyranny rather than ‘ti-rah-nee’; ‘Who’s in charge of that? Is it Tyranny?’ doesn’t make such a good first impression. I might have been the only person to find that incredibly funny.
I tend to get my daily recommended dose of chortling by about 9am given that most phone calls involve huge misunderstandings due to a combination of crackly phone lines, complicated names and impossible accents. Each hour brings new opportunities to think of fun words to help spell my name. ‘H for Harry – you know, like Harry Potter?’ somehow didn’t work a trick and the lady at the other end of the phone thought my full name was Harry Potter. ‘R for Road’ got confused for ‘toad’ which meant I was Hattiet – might catch on? I was particularly chuffed when, on the spot, I chose ‘T for tuk-tuk’. At last, a safe bet. Or so I thought. They had taken ‘tuk-tuk’ to be two t’s (Harriett) and I got a call saying I must have given the wrong email address. What’s in a name, eh. You might be thinking ‘Why didn’t you just take their name instead?’ Well, kind reader, I tried. I really did. But when you’re dealing with Priyadharsshini Thillainathans, it can take all morning. I am considering changing my name. Something everyone will understand. I’m thinking Priyadharsshini Thillainathan.
Coming soon: Beyond Colombo.
Thanks for reading! As always, please drop me a line with your stories…