Home Is Where The Food Is

After a 3-year study stint in India, I thought I was done with all that jazz. I nestled back into my comfy cosy spot at home, Colombo, Sri Lanka, surrounded by my beautiful friends, a great job that paid me to do what I love, and a man I’d unexpectedly fallen in love with and married. But then BAM, a letter came in the mail, calling me to Hogwarts JNU, a great university — the catch was, it was miles and miles away, back in New Delhi, India. The city was calling me back and I could not refuse.

The first two months here were hell. My subconscious was still sulking deeply about being far from my awesome life back home, I was in the classroom but my head was still looking down at the green carpet that was Sri Lanka from the aeroplane, and also long-distance-ing with the guy for two months was more challenging than I thought it would be. I was tired and I was lonely and I rushed back home screaming and flailing after just 60 days for a short holiday. It was the most blissful one week of my whole year. I literally savoured every conversation and every meal, like someone who’d just been handed a gourmet meal after years of prison.

It puzzled me though — I asked myself, had I really gone that soft? Was it my age – was living away from my folks and my Colombo beaches so hard that I couldn’t just man up and focus on this kickass opportunity that had fallen in my lap, my dream degree?

I flew back to Delhi a little conflicted and apprehensive. Was I going to be miserable again? Am I living a shitty chick flick where the girl pursues her dream career but then halfway realizes her happiness is actually back home – cue super inconvenient life-changing epiphany?


I had another epiphany instead: Sri Lankan spices = life.

Sure, back when I was doing my Bachelors degree abroad, I somehow managed to survive on a steady diet of cornflakes, McDonalds burgers, the occasional half-assed home-made plate of ‘everything lazily thrown together in the pot’. But I’m older now and my stomach, it seems, has become much, much more demanding. As a last minute thought, my sweet, sweet mother – bless her soul – filled my luggage with a bunch of Sri Lankan spices, freshly ground-up in the house of some beloved Sri Lankan aunty.

Very innocently, after arriving in Delhi, I bought some chicken, put it in a pan, and blindly tossed in 1 teaspoon of every spice my mother had packed for me, and closed the lid. What I smelled and saw when I opened the lid was PURE MAGIC. It was mouth-wateringly delicious. I was suddenly my favourite chef, thanks to the magical spices in my bag. Mother darling had also packed me an obscene number of packets of Sri Lankan coconut milk powder — also magical. (Mum-in-law added a block of amazing Dodol, to hit the spot right after dinner.)

The point of this ridiculous tale is that — no, I wasn’t down in the dumps here in India because I was having an existential crisis, I missed my friends and my family, I longed for the clean, beautiful roads and the smiling people of Colombo, I missed the lap of the evening tide on my toes — no, the root of my profound misery was my lack of Lankan cooking ingredients.

It’s been a week now and I’m a new woman. I love Colombo but I feel great here too. Delhi is my oyster. All thanks to Sri Lankan chicken curry. It’s ridiculous. Imagine what will happen next week when I make Parippu.

Art at the Rio Cinema

The Rio Cinema is an old crumbling relic from the 1980’s. It remains mostly unchanged since then, and has seen a lot happen on the streets around it, especially the madness from our communal riots and civil war. Maybe because I’m only in my 20s and have not been exposed to much art outside Colombo, or maybe I shouldn’t blame my naivety, Cinnamon Colomboscope’s Shadow Scenes at the Rio completely blew me away.

I’m no art critic. I love art though, I paint, and I studied literature so I love stories, so this is just a review of my personal experience while trudging through the discoloured, slightly damp corridors of the Rio.

A few people had mentioned here and there this week ‘go check out the exhibition at Rio, it’s nice.’ It sounded like any other art exhibition and so I put it off lazily, but Ruvin’s photographs on Scroll.in caught my interest and I decided to go today, the last day.

I really wish people hadn’t called it an exhibition – if only I had known what it really was: a festival, a wonderful maze, of not just one but countless kinds of art in conversation with each other – I would have spent all week calling everyone I know and didn’t know to go experience it. In broad terms, the art discussed Sri Lankan identity in relation to our rapid urban development and to our history of civil war. The Rio exhibit, curated by Natasha Ginwala and Menika Van Der Poorten, is only one part of the entire art festival that is Cinnamon Colomboscope, which apparently has hosted festivals twice before – this is my first time checking them out – and heads-up, they’ve got a Facebook page. 


This ‘exhibition’ was a staggering 7 glorious floors worth of art. 41 different artists – painters, sculptors, photographers, musicians – all came together to orchestrate the journey to the 7th floor, and though this is a huge number of cooks working on one pot, they were all somehow on the exact same wavelength, and the execution was exactly on point. To me, one big way that art is successful is when you manage to convey what you have to say through your medium, with clarity. All the art pieces in the building screamed powerful, with interpretations of identity, conflict and human emotion, and every room – each floor had about six or seven rooms – conveyed a singular story, or at least produced a very distinct feeling in the visitor. 7 floors, 7 rooms each… that is a lot of feels. I was exhausted when I left Rio.


Thinking it would just be an ‘exhibition’ I took my camera and foolishly thought I could capture the art and show it to others, but this is one of those ‘you had to be there’ things. Before going into some of my favourite exhibits – I have to mention that the best part about this was the location of the exhibition itself. The location, Rio Cinema, with its damp floors, musty old smell, and mossy but resilient walls, participated in the art. Its broken windows and its dark corridors had brushed shoulders rustily with time and with days that would be recorded forever in Colombo’s history, and like the artists, it told its own story and helped to tell theirs too. Rio Cinema isn’t new to art, it was the location for a theatre production by Mind Adventures too (which is a group who once, in a spectacular move, took their actors and audience onto a moving bus). It’s refreshing to me that the art is being moved out of the clinical walls of the gallery and the theatre, into real living spaces. Genet is grinning in his grave.


I liked the exhibit at the entrance – something very simple, but striking: a wall covered in newspapers with the taped words: IT COULD HAPPEN TO YOU. Looking closer, you find they are newspaper clippings from 1983, the year of the July riots in Sri Lanka when thousands of Tamil civilians were slaughtered on the streets and in their homes in cold blood. After Rio I visited a close friend of mine in Slave Island and she told me stories of how her father and uncle, Muslims, had been shot at in the crossfire on the streets in ’83. And how she had hidden under the furniture as a child in 2001, when the LTTE used rifles and grenades to lead an assault on the Katunayake airbase. These are important turning points in our story as Sri Lankans. It was incredibly unnerving to me, and also strangely beautiful, how the art here imitated real life – it was not just a lovely story or message, but a very real recollection of our lived past.




Many of the rooms played generously with texture and colour – walls covered in patterns, or a giant sculpture covering most of the floor. These were my favourite kind of room, because the room was a part of the art, not just a container for it. So you were very close to the art when you stepped inside. A wall in a dark room covered in black tar, a wall with squiggly red patterns with a crime-scene tape across it, a wall dripping with gold paint, a wall plastered with a collage of broken CDs and Lion beer cans, a wall covered in eerie shadows – they each made you feel something very distinct. For me, what was different about Shadow Scenes at Rio compared to other exhibitions was that instead of critiquing the work from outside the frame, I felt myself thrown into it, and made to feel, than think.


One room that made an impression featured pillows and bags hung from the ceiling, strung together in strange shapes, throwing shadows on the walls and the water below – you got the eerie sensation that you were standing in a dark room in a butcher shop, and these were animal (?) parts hung from meat hooks.

Another fave was an exhibit called ‘De(Generative) Processes’, by Asvajit and Lalindra. It was a room that only admitted one visitor at a time. Once the door is closed behind you, the walls come alive with moving scribbles and shapes from a projector, with an emotive cacophony of sounds playing in time to their movements. This one is obviously one of those subjective things, but to me it was extremely intense, to be standing at the center of a dark room, flooded with visuals and sounds – I loved when at one point the white visuals disintegrated little by little and it all faded to black, and I felt myself standing in a kind of nothing.


There were much calmer exhibits too, photographs of Slave Island’s changing landscape, from ghetto to high-rise capital, and photograph collages that discussed war, and abstract paintings that spoke in subdued tones. There were a few very personal stories too – I remember a room of belongings that seemed to belong to the dead uncle of the artist: a pair of polished shoes, a folded shirt, a jar of bottle caps, a box of old cassettes, newspapers. Very frightening and very poetic and very, very real. Again there was this feeling of the art getting uncomfortably close, it was not just an exhibit to stand apart from and critique with the occasional name-drop of Monet or Dali, in a pretty vacuum – but it was this clean mirror held close to your very pores.


After what felt like ages, only an hour in fact, we reached the 7th floor, the terrace of the Rio. The exhibition was beautifully timed, open between 4.30 and 5.30, so once you reach the top at 5.30, there is the view of the yellowing evening sky over the ocean, and the mishmash of Slave Island itself, from the cluster of houses to the construction cranes. Two Greek statues still stood on the Rio terrace after all this time, holding up the concrete columns above us. Here I took a seat and was given a pair of headphones and looked out at the view that seemed to almost be staged now – cool breeze, golden sun, slow-moving kites.  Pedro Gomez Egana spoke in a slight accent into my ears over soft piano music, taking me on an imaginary journey from the 7th floor of Rio through the Colombo landscape, from Galcissa to Maradana and back to Slave Island. And along the way we saw siyambala trees and calm rivers, and we explored quietly like a little insect in search of plants and flowers, glancing around from east to west, before ending our journey, whimsically, inside a flower.


The trip through Rio was very weird and fantastical, and I feel like I felt and gained so much, and saw so much – through the art – of my own real life. It sort of re-acquainted me with Slave Island, with Colombo, with my past. I’m extremely excited that this kind of art is happening in Sri Lanka, that art is entering real spaces and discussing uncomfortable, gritty subjects in a clear, loud voice. I think it would be interesting to see if next time there could be even more interaction with the Sinhala and Tamil languages, because it blows my mind to even imagine – what these ideas and spaces could do if they played with Sri Lankan mother-tongues, and also what would happen if they interacted with the average man off a Slave Island street.


I’m so sad that the show is over and no one can experience it after today – I literally shouted ‘I’m so sad!’ at my nonplussed friend on leaving Rio. So I’m crossing my fingers and toes hoping for another spectacular collab by the Colomboscope artists and EUNIC Sri Lanka soon. It’s an exciting time to be in Colombo.

Children are tiny drunk people

They are, if you really think about it. They waddle around, giggling and crying at random, and if you don’t hold them steady they bump into things, they sing incoherently, they suddenly lie down on the floor and wave their arms around, occasionally puking, streaking or losing control of their bowels. I actually know a five year old who acts exactly like an adult on cocaine, flitting back and forth, hyperactive and fidgety, suddenly falling flat on the ground then getting up and going to the nearest potted plant and sniffing its leaves. Quite mad really. Catch a grown up following the same motions and you’d put him on meds. I envy them in a way, that they get to be utterly unabashedly coo-coo on a regular basis and nobody bats a lid.

2015: An Update Yo

Wow it’s been a really longass time since I sat down to write a blogpost hasn’t it? I guess I’ve been half too busy, half uninterested in talking about my life to the world. I remember when I thrived on the stuff back in school, making blogpost anecdotes out of my aunties and Muslim stereotypes. Since I’m not even on Facebook, I wonder if anybody even reads this anymore. Hello?

Anyway, I know some of you still do, for some unfathomable reason. Hi. Here’s a hug. The writer in me is thankful towards anybody who reads what comes out of me, even if it’s occasionally, on a silly personal blog.

Today I’m sitting on the balcony of our new house, we moved in recently, it’s a mess, but that’s a story for another time, with some free time on my hands, listening to my friend Kygo, and thought I’d drop a meandering, going-nowhere-really post as I tend to sometimes do. This year has been the best year so far.

Two incidents really marked the great trip I’m on now: the first I can’t really go into it without incriminating myself! BAHAHA! But let’s just say I have seen some amazing out of this world things and at one point I felt like a third eye grew out of my forehead. Yeah. I’m going to just leave that to sink in. The second is that the unbelievable happened – I fell in love with somebody. I would actually put the Colombo Design Market as a podi third reason, because it’s encouraged me to really paint and think of myself as an artist.

I think this year has been the best not just because it’s been good to me, but because I’ve grown. Don’t get me wrong, I’m still that girl who marvels at aunty politics and likes being a hobo on the grass at the park and is trying to figure out how her weird little self fits into things, but I think I’ve gotten a tiny teensy bit wiser, a wittle bit closer to wherever I should be heading.

I’ve learnt that we talk way too much, man. Seriously. I used to talk a lot, I mean I’m still the chatty type but I like to think I’ve reeled in the jabberwocky, and there’s actually a lot of stuff you start noticing and savouring when you’re quiet. I’ve also learnt that I don’t ever want to get into advertising – I’ve met a lot of wonderful, chilled out, creative people in Colombo’s ad circles, but truly put, it is where writers go to die. Because it’s not at all about what you write, it’s about how the words can be salesmen, and if you can’t sell the product, the words become valueless. I bet some people can handle it well but I know if I stepped in there, it would suck my soul up and chew and spit. I’ve decided to stick to my guns, and write or at least work with literary writers, paint and photograph, no more indecision.

Being in love is a pain in the ass sometimes. I know they don’t cover this part much in the romcoms but it’s true. I’m usually a very independent person so suddenly somebody having an impact on my mood can be a hitch. On the other hand, it actually is as ridiculously amazing as they say, they weren’t exaggerating even a bit, take it from me, someone who used to hysterically laugh at people who gaga-ed over this thing. It’s actually one of those strange stories – three days after we met each other, we kind of just knew this was it.

Anyway enough of that gay shizz (apologies to the gay community, it’s a poorly placed expression). This is ruining my street cred so I refuse to explore this topic further. In conclusion, I irrelevantly implore you to follow Mystic Tamil, an excellent Jaffna-born UK-based comedian, but you need to know some Tamil to get some of the best jokes. Pure gold. Until next time, dahlings.

Of Men & Mistrust

The other day I was in Galle, enjoying some downtime by myself in the evening, strolling through the sparsely crowded old Dutch Hospital building and thinking why do Sri Lankans go to sleep so early. This guy was like ‘hi, excuse me, are you Maldivean?’ (which is a totally other subject that you can read about here), and I replied in the negative and he made some conversation and I didn’t mind, he seemed just like any of my friends back in CMB.

Then I made a move to leave and he asked if he could walk with me, and I stopped for a second…

You know, I watched The Voices (great movie btw). Ryan Reynolds seems so adorable in it, I could easily be gullible Anna Kendrick, going ‘oh Ryan, you’re such a cutie’ and then bam, he chops her head off and puts it in the fridge. Yeah. Not taking any chances.

…’I just met you, sorry’, and he was all ‘Oh! Come on! Sri Lankans are always mistrustful like this…’ I didn’t budge though and joked ‘Yes, I guess now you know I’m not Maldivean!’ and ‘Heh heh’ed myself away. On the walk back to my guesthouse I was wondering if maybe I was being unnecessarily mistrustful. If all the fear mongering on TV and reading so much about crime in the papers had conditioned me to double-guess a simple friendly gesture. Halfway through my walk I turned around and noticed the guy had been following me, and he abruptly walked off in another direction when he noticed I noticed. IDK, maybe it was the strangest coincidence he had to walk all this way to get to his place, but it gave me the heebiejeebies.

I was thinking about this paranoia-syndrome that a lot of women experience in public spaces, because it’s not a total fallacy – women do get attacked. But still, sometimes I bet we build it up in our heads so much that we probably brush off a few ordinary, well-meaning men in the process. Just when I was being all sympathizing and thinking about all the awesome, not-creepy-at-all guys I actually know, and walking down Marine Drive today, this loser on a motorbike stops near me and leers in Tamil ‘Hey, do you want a ride? Where are you heading?’ and not in a good samaritan I’m-just-a-kind-stranger kind of way either. My instinctive reaction was to flail and run away because WHAT IF HE HAS CHLOROFORM. He circled the block again on his bike eyebrows-a-waggling and I was relieved to find a tuk tuk, in which I sat with a huge scowl on my face, in case the chatty tuk tuk driver became a bad sequel. You know, this would be a funny anecdote if this had happened just once, but it’s happened quite a few times now, and to other girls I know as well.

First of all, I’m thinking maybe I’m looking at this the wrong way. Do girls actually fall for this line? Are there women who actually go ‘Oh, well okay, I’ll get on your motorbike, kind leering stranger’. Secondly, what’s stage two? Is he going to ride off into the sunset with this random lady? Will he chloroform her and sell her to a brothel like in the movie Taken? (Latter is totes likely according to my heavily caffeinated paranoid little brain.) Am I dressed like a hooker maybe and thus influencing a certain reaction? Hmmm let’s see… hooker blogpost

I must be the poster-child for ‘it has nothing to do with what she’s wearing’.

Anyway this is just a ranty post to express how grossed out and confused I am about the weirdos out there that seem to be a dime a dozen lately. I know that the next time, I should stop being such a chicken and actually ask the guy what his deal is (while wearing a surgical mask in case of chloroform attack), like, hey man, why are you offering girls rides in your vehicle? Are you just socially inept? Or are you secretly part of a creepy underground human trafficking racket? And then I’ll kick his bike and run away.

Lessons In My Twenties

I really like being in my 20s and personally think that these years can be the best time of your life. It’s that limbo between responsibilityless teenhood and grappling with becoming a grown-up, and it’s infinitely interesting because it’s a period of flux and creativity, of feeling your way around and figuring out what will define you.


And for me at least, it’s also been a period of lessons and introspection. I don’t know about other 20-somethings, but from 18 to 25, my friends have dwindled from about a gang of 30, to a humble handful. Is that a thing? Well it just hit me recently that that’s what has happened, and the con is that ‘how sad, where did all those people drift off to and why?’ and the pro is that the handful I’m left with are very, very special. So that’s one new definition I’ve arrived at in my 20s, that I’m not the social butterfly I was (although I’m a riot around my friends, won’t deny it), and that I actually enjoy one-on-one conversations instead of massive meetups, and a healthy amount of alone-time with my music.


Another thing I’ve been exploring these years is my identity as an artist. I’ve always defined myself as a writer all my life, but lately I’ve put aside my books and pens (which I will always be in love with regardless), even set aside my camera which I mostly just use for work now, and picked up my paintbrush and headphones. Music has become all consuming and almost like a basic requirement. My current obsessions are Stromae, Kygo and Olly Murs (the former two for obvious artistic reasons, and the latter just because he’s adorable). Ever since the months leading up to the Colombo Design Market in February, I’ve been painting and painting, every day almost, trying to turn the music into images in a way. I’m most proud of the painting I did for a book cover, because the book is an amazing read – you can buy it at the AK Lit Fest.


The other thing I’ve learnt in my 20s is the most interesting of the lot. I’ve learnt that if I ever get into a committed relationship, it has to be with somebody whose entire universe does not revolve around me. Yeah you read that correctly – I said does not. Long story short, I’ve had three men in my life who have in all dramatics claimed that they were in love with me – the first was an unfortunate slight, I just didn’t find him attractive and the poor, well-meaning fellow had to angstily deal with that, the second was nice but friend-zoned quite early on, the third I made the poor decision of entertaining, but he was the one who taught me this lesson. I didn’t know it before, but apparently I’m not the type to hold your hand and stare into your eyes 24/7 – I have a lot of things to do, and it would be nice if the other person had a thriving, active life too. Romantic gestures are nice and all, I will even admit that I love getting flowers, but love is a magical force that can turn all our problems into prettyful unicorns so let’s go tattoo each other’s names on our foreheads and then run through a paddy field in slow motion? I’m sorry, The Eagles, that’s a nice song but will totes lead to starvation and death.


I’ve also learnt that everything you learn comes in handy, some day. I think that’s a really valuable lesson especially here in South Asia where everybody is in a great big hurry to get somewhere – hurry up and get a job, hurry up and get married, hurry up and have babies. So we’re always left wondering if we’re wasting time, if we’re not up and off our seats and following the ratty footsteps of the rest in this race. I ‘wasted’ a lot of time between 18 and 25, at least that’s what a typical Lankan aunty would say – fresh out of school I just blogged, did some cub-reporting for newspapers, I took a random lesson from a friend on Photoshop, and I committed a whole year to architecture school only to drop out at the end of it. The Photoshop lessons helped me set up my university newspaper from scratch and continues to help me in my current job, the experience at newspapers gave me a media network that will always remain useful and it gave me some of my closest friends, I’ve been selling my old blogposts to publishers ever since, and the art lessons in architecture school are a big part of how I sell my paintings today. So things have a way of coming together on our timelines, even if we’re too short sighted to see it yet.

Living In Racist Lanka

So there’s been a lot of haa-hoo about the Sri Lankan national anthem now being broadcast in the Tamil language. To put it in a few lines, just check out the comments under this YouTube clip.

People are not pleased. Sinhala is the *official* language of the country, how dare they pollute the national anthem by having a Tamil version, etc.

I remember being in school and memorizing the Tamil version of the national anthem, and I enjoyed singing it more since I’m more fluent in Tamil than Sinhala. I grew up listening to my aunts and my grandmothers speak in Tamil, my friends talk about their Tamil movies, and wasn’t exposed to Sinhala much till I was about 19 and in a college with a majority Sinhala student body. So, the national anthem just made more sense to me in the language my brain was wired towards. This post is less a social commentary and more a personal account about my own experience in coming to terms with the country that I consider myself a citizen of. If you’re reading this and can relate, I would love to read about your own take on the same subject.

Firstly, I’ve lived in a bubble most of my life, sheltered and privileged, and so until 2014, I was under the impression that Sri Lanka was a special country, where Sinhalese and Muslims and Tamils at the core of things, could get along, and that all the bad stuff was just the government goading a sleeping bear. This was specially because I was lucky {?) enough to be insulated inside social groups that have been educated, liberal minded and quick to draw the gun against the slightest hint of ignorance.

Then 2014 happened to me, and when I wailed against that uprise of the BBS and its followers, my mother literally said to me straight, ‘wake up and smell the coffee, honey, racists have been around in the country for ages, it’s just that you only noticed them now.’ Sri Lanka is a Sinhalese country. It is a Buddhist country. It is not a multicultural one like I was taught to believe when I was a child.

Yes, different cultures and different religions exist here, but that’s not what makes a place multicultural. No matter that I happen to personally enjoy equal social and economic privileges regardless of my race (and I really do), I am still ‘a minority issue’, whose language is secondary, spoken by less than most, whose culture is outside the main, who must bend out of shape to fit into the Sinhala national anthem in the name of tradition. Of course I get all this from word of mouth, comments on the internet, whispers on a bus ride, because how do you create a survey on racist thinking? Measure the racism inside a 30×30 office space on a weighing scale, divide by the number of ‘thambi’ comments poured into cups during tea break, if only it were so easy.

Anyway, I don’t know what the statistics on evil intentions are, but I suspect that maybe a lot of Sri Lankans are racist. And they are not all country bumpkins either, some I’ve encountered have been highly educated. Some of them I’ve met are just racist in different ways, like smiling when someone passes a spiteful comment about someone’s race. Most would not take part in burning a shop down in Aluthgama, but may watch it happen and change the channel without flinching.

Am I just creating a myth of the big bad Sinhalese Sri Lankan majority? Looking at it through the horse blinders of my subjective experience? I don’t know. Maybe. Maybe it’s a myth and I’m wrong and most Sri Lankans are tolerant people. Or maybe I’m right and most of them want a streamlined, homogenous, unilateral Sri Lanka and fear/hate anything that upsets that form. How do we know? The point is that I’ve thickened my skin now and I am prepared against the possibility of the latter.

And I suppose that’s all you can do at the end of the day; prepare yourself.