I adore the chaos of Colombo. Somehow this ramshackle city appeals to me in a way that’s hard to describe, much less explain, even to myself. It’s not a beautiful city, though some lovely old buildings and magnificent trees survive into modern times; it’s not majestically sited like Sydney, Cape Town, or Rio; it’s not stylish like Paris or full of history like Athens or London. It has none of the mystery and enchantment of Venice, nor the chutzpah of New York, and it’s certainly not a city renowned for the amenities provided to its inhabitants – though that is changing. I guess it’s just my city, and I love it here – which might help explain why I seem to be dragging my feet and not getting on that plane!
I love it in the cool of the morning, and in the shimmering heat of mid-day. I love to watch its inhabitants go about their lives, or unselfconsciously take a rest from them; I love to hear the muezzin’s call floating out over the rooftops, or the chanting of monks in the still gloom of pre-dawn, the drums from a kovil at the end of the day.
I’m fascinated by the cries of the itinerant vendors, selling their fresh greens, or fish, vegetables, brooms or monkey tricks; the women selling blessings in return for rhythmically chanted hymns on their way to the temple. It’s interesting to realise you’ve recognised that peculiar thwank (sic) of a sweetly hit cricket ball, as boys and club cricketers practice in the back lanes, or at any of the hundreds of sports grounds dotted around the city. I’m always amused, watching the school children – the junior school boys in their blue short pants, otherwise all in immaculate whites (I’ve never seen a mud-streaked uniform!) – as they congregate and claim the latest ‘in’ place after school.
I love the city especially at dusk, suffused by the golden light of gentle apricot and mauve sunsets, the dust of the day and smoke from cooking fires setting the air alight.
Sometimes though, even I crave a respite, a little peace in the city. If it’s an urgent need, no matter where I am there’s sure to be a temple around the corner, or up the street. The almost monotone palette of most Buddhist temples – with their fresh white dagabas and Buddha statues, residence buildings and meditation halls, the pale sand and silvery green bodhi trees – provides balm to overwrought senses. A monk, mindfully raking the sand – the sound of each slow, deliberate stroke like a gentling hand, releasing one’s sense of agitation; the quiet intimate movements of an old woman performing her pooja, or stretched out on a mat in the shade. Always shade: the deep shade of a heavily recessed mediation hall, or the dappled shade from the perpetually dancing leaves of the Bodhi tree.
Or I might head toward the city, where the Seema Malakaya floats on Beira Lake – three pods of peace and tranquility.
It’s a place to take time out, to just be; to sit and meditate, to pray, or watch a bird fishing in the glassy water below,
or the pelicans, or simply to dangle your fingers in the water for a while.
But what I like best is to find a patch of grass in a park somewhere – or the beach … somewhere where I can stretch out on the ground, and look up into the infinity of a wide expanse of sky.
I don’t ever remember a moment, looking up into the sky, when the magic of the world and our place in the universe didn’t offer the utmost peace – of respite from myself or the chattering in my mind. To just look – let go – disappear into the air …
This post was inspired by Ailsa’s challenge to find Peaceful photographs this week. .