Wild Elephant Reserve

After being absent for closer to 15 years, I returned to my Paradise Isle in 2005, feeling like an alien. Everything has changed, and I have changed the way I looked at everything too.

Things were different, things were difficult too. The red-tape, narrow-mindedness, hypocrisy, ignorance, sexism, racism, incompetent government sector, public transport system... irritated me. It was hard to come to terms with a nation that shuts down by 8.00 pm.

On my part, the worst thing was, I didn't have the desire to drink arrack anymore. I was a disgrace to the islanders, for I have lost the ability to cherish the beverage of the nation. And I felt horrible. I felt like Ranasinghe Premadasa dining at the Buckingham Palace – totally out of place – drinking vodka by the shot or gin n tonic while there were bottles and bottles of pure coconut arrack exchanging hands. Slowly, but surely, I acquired the taste for the golden syrup again. And guess what, here I am, about to reveal one of the best arrack drinks, ever.

I say, Vodka+RedBull, go fly a kite. For, we, the islanders of Taprobane, have something that can kick your nether-regions for good.

Say hello to Old Reserve n Wild Elephant.

Credit goes to Mash and Chintana for trying it out and figuring out the perfect, tongue ticking, lip-licking, sweet-mother-of-all, silky smooth combination, when we were in dire straits having run out of chasers towards the end of my birthday bash.

This is a yummy concoction, drinkable by the gallon, and has no known side effects. Since there is a clear difference between side-effects and after-effects, we assure you that there are absolutely no side-effects, at least not discovered as yet. After-effects, of course, are not guaranteed; as it would vary from the consuming gentleman to gentleman.

This drink is beautiful in colour too. Ideal summer drink, perfect to be consumed by the seaside watching the sunset, as one could possibly see the setting sun and the rising sun both in the same glass. If poets could draw, and artists can sing, this is the drink to make it happen.



The Lankan Gypsies

Driving from Welimada to Bandarawela, I saw a man walking along an isolated patch of road with a monkey. The little fella with a long tail was clad in bright coloured clothes and was kept by the owner in a long dog-chain.

Little did I realise that a few hours later both of them would show up on our doorstep.

The Sri Lankan nomads (gypsies/ahikuntaka) are a minority community in the country, slowly disappearing in their numbers. Threatened by the change and technology, they find it hard to fit in to the common culture even though some of them have successfully integrated in to the main Sinhala community. The gypsies are believed to have come from India, (when exactly not known) and some of them still speak Telegu while they are also fluent in Sinhala and Tamil.

These gypsies would travel from place to place with their donkey-caravans, set up camp in an abandoned plot of land where there is potable water, and able men and women would roam the countryside making a living by palm-reading and earning with their performing animals. Its the women who are conversant with palm reading, while the men stick to the animals (no pun intended). Usually, a gypsy man would carry a performing-monkey and a snake; and a python in his bag would be a bonus photo-opportunity.

The men would go from door to door sounding their snake-charmer’s flute – a trademark sound known to possibly every Sri Lankan kid. Hearing the flute, kids would trouble their parents for an opportunity to witness the “dancing cobra” or the “performing monkey;” and the whole neighbourhood would flock to join in the entertainment. At the end of each performance – which lasts less than half an hour – the monkey usually goes around and collects the “fees” from the spectators. The gypsies would prefer to negotiate a pre-agreed amount these days, they know not to take a chance at the end of a hard day’s work.

The women read palms, and there’s more entertainment value than truth. Most comments are generic, and universal truths, and when they say “Sir, something really good is going to happen to you soon,” one would, naturally, makeup one’s mind to double the tip. Gypsy men charm the snakes and their women charm us.

It is said that the gypsies wouldn’t camp in one place for more than seven days. Probably they couldn’t either, even if they wanted to – due to sanitary and hygienic reasons.

Over the years, the donkeys who used to carry the camping gear and the woven palm leaves that made shelter, have dwindled in numbers, possibly giving way to motorised transport and polythene sheets. The coconut shell that was once a drinking cup is no more, there’s a plastic cup instead.

The gypsies are, almost, a forgotten community. There are no records of them (such as births, marriages and deaths), or even addresses. Therefore, they never have most of the basic human rights, including the right to vote. Gypsy kids aren’t admitted to schools, for they lack any documentation. Public transport wouldn’t accept them in, at least not without frowning upon them.

However, recently there had been a few initiatives to improve their lifestyle. In one occasion, a Public Health Inspector helped a gypsy community of 18 families settle down in Mahakandarawa, and helped them send 18 of their kids to school. There has been some other such reports as well.

In a way, it is a blessing to hear that these people living in sub-human conditions receive the basic rights they rightfully deserve. At the same time, it would also be sad to see them get integrated in to the mainstream and see them disappearing from the face of the earth...


A generation later...

I grew up in the mountains and went to a Christian school for my primary education. They didn't mind me sitting with them in the little chapel, and I was fascinated. A Buddhist priest who was teaching at the school where my mother taught, used to have his mid-day meal at our home every school day. My mother used to take us to the Christian monastery when she visited her ‘friends’ and we frequently attended the evening religious offerings at the nearby Buddhist temple.

The Muslim merchant who supplied goods to the army camp was a good friend of my father. We eagerly looked forward to their fasting season, we knew we were in for a feast almost every evening during Ramadan. Dr Selvaraj was our family doctor – he could’ve given just flavoured water and any ailment would’ve disappeared; we trusted him, almost blindly. “Doctor Uncle” was the best doctor in the whole world; specially since he never ran short of sweets in his “medicine cabinet.” As kids, we didn’t know if he was Tamil or Sinhalese, and that didn’t really matter.

Life in Diyatalawa was a dream; we didn’t care who’s who and who believes in what. We were one and the same, it was a small town then, it was a happy little town. Everybody knew us, and we knew everybody. Except, perhaps the young infantrymen temporarily training in the camps.

Looking at the 21st Century Sri Lanka, my heart aches. Specially since this country will never see that harmony I saw in my childhood, ever again.

I left Diyatalawa when I was 10. I left the country when I was 20-something, and the dollar was 30-odd rupees then.

What did I miss while I was away? I missed the dollar sky-rocketing to end at over 110 rupees. I missed the political division taking place. I missed the Buddhist monk(ey)s contesting in general elections, instead of practicing what they preach.

And I returned to a hell-hole, where there is no respect for life – human or other wise – anymore. There is no respect for each other, there is no respect for anything. Where are all the values in life? How could a country deteriorate so fast, so soon, physically and morally?

Every time I drive past the town of Panadura, my heart fills with disgust as I see a signage that reads: “You are entering the Buddhist Township of Panadura.” What if Beruwala is labeled a Moor township and Haputale becomes a Hindu town – and erect massive sign boards to that effect? Would we, the non-Moor, non-Hindu, Sinhala majority of the country like it?

This country is divided, and divided to the bone. There are schools that do not accept non-Christian kids. I think this is the only country where education system is thus discriminated. Even in the Middle Eastern countries, non Muslim students could attend public schools where the only religion they teach is Islam. Non Muslim kids get to go to the library or study moral science. And, they don’t boast of a civilisation 5,000 years old.

Education, politics, religions and faith, race, cast and creed... the base for division itself is divided in to hundred different categories. As if we don’t have enough, we are even divided in to “up-country” vs “low-country” people. Next thing, my kids will be looking down upon yours, just because my hometown is few meters higher in altitude.

What a mess.


Back from the Dead

Lot of things have happened since I went in to oblivion.
• Google takes over Blogger and I get locked out. Changed the browser and Firefox lets me in. So here I am.
• Some of my ramblings appear in a newspaper. Didn’t know until I received an email from “anonymous.”
• I’m in love. Suddenly, there is not enough time to do anything else anymore.
• A litre of petrol hits 120 rupees. This is a trick to get people walking.
• Royal beats Trinity handsomely in rugby and gets trashed by the Petes. Happiness, short lived.
• Brown is new Blair.
• There is an airline called Mihin Air and Kimbula Banis rocks, I heard.
• Alcohol ban has actually increased the consumption by over 20%. Must ’ve been those Hela-Urumaya ones celebrating the ban.
• Sri Lanka has become a Shari’ah territory; the nice triumph boobs on billboards have disappeared. ;-(
• There’s a silver Maserati on the road. Or, is it an Aston Martin? I could still be dreaming.
• Hey, there’s something called the ‘Facebook.’
• “Thoppigala” is the new political mantra.
• There's Foot ’n Mouth disease in the UK, again.
I just woke up. There must be a lot more that I didn’t notice. Perhaps Blogger is dead.


One of those days

Today is one of those days.

I want to update my blog and I have decided to take the good advice and stay away from the politics. There are couple of things I want to write about, but my head is in a spin.

I’m in a dilemma. I want to decide whether to stick around here for good or to leave the island nation. Go back – to the familiar terrains of Dubai and the Middle East or some unchartered territory, perhaps down under, this time. I’m weighing my options and measuring the pro’s and con’s, but still I can’t make up my mind. I am restless. I hate these moments of indecision.

Perhaps it is the “island-factor” that pulls me back whenever I think of leaving. Life here is fantastic. There is no stress. There’s no rush, there are no deadlines. There is no threat to your livelihood. There are no clients breathing down your neck. (Of course they are there – but negligible, compared to some of the fast moving cities). There’s a war, there’s an economic crisis brewing, the prices are going up, but the merry life goes on in Taprobane, nevertheless. People here have the ability to very easily forget and adapt to new situations. Perhaps, that’s the God’s way of letting the islanders cope with the high number of deaths and casualties that take place on regular basis.

June 2005. I came back with my brains full of sparks – ready to change the world. Slowly, but surely, the islander-attitude has over taken my desire to do more. Day by day, I tend to do less, and learn to avoid the unnecessary headaches. I tried not bribing the cops and follow the rules – trust me, the system wants you to bribe the cop. That’s easier. You can’t fight the big brother. So I’m warming up to the idea of joining the rogues since I can’t beat them.

Looking at my future, my first option would be to stay here. I’ll become yet another islander and lose the fire in my belly. I’ll be content with life, and I'll be happy. I’ll watch the sunset and count the crows. I’ll find a way to share my life experiences and knowledge (the little that I have) with some disadvantaged kids in a rural place. Teach them maths, science and Sinhala, share with them the ways of the world... That’s what my soul craves for, after being in advertising for so long. I need to cleanse my soul, purify my thoughts and make-up for the lost time. But, would I ever be happy being a hermit? Would I be content with the very basics in life? Could I stay away from the ones that are near and dear to me..?

I don’t know.

Next option: I’ll join the rat race. Go back to the concrete jungle, work like a horse. Earn the dollars and spend the dollars. Have a flashy car, find a nice chick. Sell my soul to the demons and go the full circle again. Smoke Davidoffs, drive a Grand Cherokee, and be a slave to the brand names. Where would it take me, by the time I reach 50? Quite possibly, to the same place I am today.

I hate that.

But as the night looms, I miss the fast life. I miss the vultures that come-out in the night. As I don’t, and can’t, sleep more that four hours a day, I battle with time every night. I don’t know what to do when I’m awake at 3.00 in the morning – I can’t cruise around the city with music blaring in my car, they way I’m used to. Colombo is different. The whole island shuts down by dusk, except for a handful of hang-out joints in Colombo. I’m sick of seeing the same faces, I’m sick of not having a choice in anything.

The battle between the islander and the cosmo-guy goes on in my head every night. Who wins, only time will tell.


The Good-Spirited Game

The 128th Battle of the Blues is just few hours away.

There is no big match without alcohol, and thought of noting down some “alcohol facts” for the benefit of my fellow good-spirited sportsmen.

1. Alcohol isn’t Mama. As a well known doctor expresses it, maternal milk is man’s first anesthetic. In his infancy, the drinks were on her and they were wonderful – warm, satisfying and soothing – turning his wails into coos and making him feel comfortably sleepy. But comes a time when diet broadens out in the direction of solids such as beef steak and baked potato, and milord is supposed to be on solid ground permanently except for soups and something to drink now and then. Even so, the subconscious mind carries the memories of the simple life chez Mama which appeal nostalgically when cares and complexities get a man down in the middle. He yearns for consoling warmth that will soften up his troubles and make him feel good. Alcohol will do this comforting job, but it can't solve life for him “like Mama did.” It will take the cares off his back for an hour or an evening, but it can’t carry them by the day, week or month. Certainly it will never lick them for him. And if he is so infantile, so unweaned as to imagine it will, he is a psychic sissy.

2. Alcohol isn’t business success. It can be helpful in the form of diplomatic refreshments which build up aquaintance and thaw commercial ice. But that’s all, brother.

3. Alcohol isn’t a substitute for human society. The ingrown guy who drinks solitarily because “the bottle understands him better than people do” isn’t helping his troubles any. He is only thickening his shell. Doing so, poor hermit, with something convivial which, if normally used instead of misapplied for self-pity purposes, might have eased his shyness and gained him some friends.

4. Alcohol isn’t a solver of emotional problems. If your gal has turned you down for the other fellow, or your marriage has hit the rocks, don’t expect liquor to compensate. The label on the bottle makes no such promise.

5. Alcohol isn’t a cure for boredom.

6. Alcohol isn’t a stimulant. On the contrary, it’s a sedative, a relaxer. Upper story gets the biggest and quickest share, thereby shushing the Department of Don'ts and Restraints. Overdoses can unleash a whole pack of sleeping dogs, ranging from frisky to the ornery – which is a common sight at the match. Moderate doses can set the conversational ball rolling and coax introverts to come out from behind their false whiskers.

7. Alcohol isn’t a diet. It is a food, however, of a very special kind, an ounce of 100-proof whiskey contributing to about 100 calories, which the body uses as fuel. In an emergency, this prompt acting boost of energy is invaluable. But, alcohol can’t repair body tissues; only protein does that.

8. Alcohol isn’t a career. Not even a part-time job. It’s recreation. Tension relief; tested and trusted by many Royalists and Thomians alike.

9. And the last point: Alcohol doesn't mix with gasoline. We are not sissies, and we too have driven apparently better after having a few than before. Yes, you are more relaxed, perhaps in a better mood to make those positive decisions and direct movements that sometimes avoid an accident. But some State Authorities are physiological rather than psychological in their attitude. They say if you have had a couple of drinks, you'd better not drive. And they add – at sixty miles an hour your car is doing eighty-eight feet per second. This is the wrong time – facing a crisis – to be a split second – or forty four feet or so – slow on the brake.

In other words, when you drink, don't drive, and vice versa.

As for the rest, you know quite well how stupid and annoying and downright troublesome even dangerous a drunk may seem to you when you're thoroughly sober. So when you’re in your cups, try to tuck away in your mind somewhere that you are that undelectable drunken bum, and not the charming, daring, seductive, brilliant, lovable, heroic creature you seem to yourself.

A good rule, perhaps. Be merciful with other drunks. Don’t hit them, you may hurt them and be sorry. Don’t humor them, they may stay with you and you’ll be sorry.

Better advice. Avoid them.

Best advice. Don’t be one.

Said Cicero: “Let us drink for the replenishment of our strength, not for our sorrow.”

Long live the spirit of Royal-Thomian.


Source and Inspiration: The Esquire Drink Book


Making People Happy

Boycy sends me an interesting link at 2 am. Its a news item from BBC on how to make people happy. I of course have my theory on finding my arcadia (that's my definition of happiness), but this one is about planting the seeds of happiness. They list out 10 steps to happiness, and hope to change the psychological climate of Slough.

The 10 Steps to Happiness according to BBC:

1. Plant something and nurture it

2. Count your blessings – at least five – at the end of each day

3. Take time to talk – have an hour-long conversation with a loved one each week

4. Phone a friend whom you have not spoken to for a while and arrange to meet up

5. Give yourself a treat every day and take the time to really enjoy it

6. Have a good laugh at least once a day

7. Get physical – exercise for half an hour three times a week

8. Smile at and/or say hello to a stranger at least once each day

9. Cut your TV viewing by half

10. Spread some kindness – do a good turn for someone every day

Let’s hope it works, perhaps we could learn how to be happy from the people in depressingly grey weather.


Farewell, my friend...

Life in Taprobane

Maaduru Oya – that's where you go to see wild elephants. That too, is with Kumara Bandara – a forest officer who was fondly known as “vanaya” (man of the jungle) to us. He was an entertainer, a story teller and he knew every inch of the forest reserve. He would take us around the bush for hours, showing us the birds and the bees, and then finally when we’re about to give up, he’d come up with the goods – saving the best for last. Elephants, in numbers.

Once he took us to a place where we saw probably the largest herd in Sri Lanka: I stopped counting them at 140.

Anyway, we just heard that he has passed away about a week back. He was not even 50; he was healthy; he was a man who walked miles a day. And then, one day at work, he has a heart attack – and drops dead. Gone, just like that. The man decides that we have seen enough elephants...

Kumara, you were a good man. This note is just to say that we appreciate all you have done for us, and that we shall never let go of you from our hearts.

May your soul rest in peace.


Tree Tops and Mountains

Life in Taprobane

Paradise Isle had yet another long weekend – I escaped the city and went in to the jungle. That too, to the elephant country.

We stayed in this amazing place called the “Tree Tops” off Buttala, which is on the border of Yala National Park. Mud huts, tree-top pads, in one with nature. No electricity, just kerosene lamps. Switched off my mobile, ate country rice and bathed in the well. Life couldn’t get any simpler, it couldn’t get any more peaceful.

A trek along the tracks that wild elephants tread, we explored the jungle. It was a playground of the wild bears, as it was evident all over the place. A countless number of birds were singing their hearts out, and we reached the mountain top to discover a magnificent view of the area. We were on top of a rock on par with Budurawagala monastery.

That evening, we experienced the elephants. A young couple, on their way to taste the delicacies of the farms (chena), decided to hang around the place until it was dark enough and safe enough to make a move. They were a few meters away, in no hurry, just whetting their appetites. We too, sat there in silence, being part of the jungle, for hours. They’d mind their own business, as long as we’d mind our own. How beautiful.

Totally de-stressed, we were heading back to Colombo, and I couldn’t bear the hustle and bustle of Buttala town. That lazy, back-of-beyond place felt like like a bee-hive. At least, that's how I felt. I had forgotten the madness of ‘civilization.’

Back in Colombo, I’m cherishing the memories of the most beautiful moonlit-night I’ve even seen: in the middle of the jungle, from the top of a tree. The tree-tops were bathing in moonlight, with wild creatures breaking the eerie silence from time to time... Me, in a sleeping bag, peeping out in to the open, mesmerized with the fairy-tale-like beauty all around me.


a) One of the Chena farmers...

b) treated us to “Corn-a-la-Buttala”

c) The holy mother of all trees

d) Room with a view

e) The view from halfway to the mountain peak