Colombo is the City I call home, it’s where I was born, where I grew up and went to school. The city has endured everything from decades of colonization, an ethnic pogrom, a youth insurrection, claymore bombs, suicide attacks and a bloodcurdling tsunami. But underneath all of that bump-da-bump mess, Colombo remains a beautiful, (relatively) clean, safe and welcoming city. Last week, my friend Ama and I accompanied Helen, our friend and fellow Global Changemaker from Hong Kong and two of her friends around Colombo. This gave Ama and I a unique opportunity to rediscover the city for what it has become.
In Galle Face miniature boats the size of Cigarette boxes sail away at the cocoa brown horizon. The sun was burying its head in the sea and its many colours were dissolving in the electric blue ocean. The salty breeze blew across our chests. Turquoise sea waves crashed the feet of overzealous youngsters at the shore under the vigilant eyes of lifeguards in scarlet red t-shirts. Every inch of the parking lot was covered with vehicles and the CMC lady was busy issuing yellow parking tickets. In a country where public displays of affection are otherwise frowned at, under big brightly colored umbrellas, couples: young and old, were love cuddling and merrymaking.
Both Colombo’s richest and the poorest are seen at Galle face. Those living in the luxurious suites of star class hotels opposite the Galle Face Green come there for their evening jog, snobbish executives that sit in lush boardrooms of Colombo’s sky rise buildings that house big business conglomerates come there to break free from their rat-race lifestyles and Colombo’s biggest socialites come there after their decadent high teas and charity galas at Galle Face Hotel. Moreover, those from the slum areas in Fort and around Beira Lake that live the stark reality of abject poverty come there for their daily wash, vendors come there to sell various delicacies and earn their living while street children rummage through rubbish bins to find leftover food. Galle face was where the two worlds met. Galle face is full of vendors that sell all kinds of goodies: popcorn, isso wadey (deep fried shrimp fritter), inflatable toys: kadala thel dala (stir fried chickpeas), green gram, souvenirs, manioc chips, sweet corn, bombai motai (the local substitute for candy floss), king coconut: everything.
The Sun Set at Beira Lake is beautiful: orange, yellow and purple. During the colonial era of the Portuguese, and the English the lake was used to transport goods within the city. The Gangarama which is an eclectic mix of Sri Lankan, Thai, Indian, and Chinese architecture; is an architectural personification of what Buddhism is all about: spirituality, tranquil calmness and inner peace.
At the Independence Square the Statue of D.S. Senanayake, the Father of the Sri Lankan Nation and the First Prime Minister of the Dominion of Ceylon condescendingly looks on. The Independence Square houses the Independence Memorial Hall: the national monument built for commemoration of the independence of Sri Lanka from the British rule with the establishment of Dominion of Ceylon on February 4, 1948. The monument was built at the location where the formal ceremony marking the start of self-rule.
What’s more? Colombo is growing up. Public displays of affection don’t drop jaws, short skirts don’t turn heads and Colombo doesn’t care if you’re Sinhalese, Tamil, and Muslim, black, white or yellow. Porches and defenders aren’t rare sites anymore. And there has been a steady decrease in beggars. People are learning: cars stop at junctions till traffic lights turn from red to orange to green. More often than not, pedestrians cross roads at zebra crossings, drivers gladly make way for them and tuk tuks have meters. But still, unlike large metropolitan cities, most people you bump into still greet you with a smile, and if you want to know directions they will always be half a dozen people offering to help you.
The roads around Diyawanna, and Parliament grounds are dashing. People who were hitherto stuck at households watching dubbed Indian soap operas are now coming out during the weekends. The sporty and the health conscious are jogging in newly constructed walkways, newlyweds are going on picnics at parliaments grounds and kids fly kites at Galleface Green. Colombo is the ‘concrete jungle where dreams are made of.’