It’s my first visit to Colombo since the terrible Easter Sunday bombings. The nation has been here before – for 26 years of civil war they lived with troops on the streets and soldiers manning roadblocks. I am fearful of what awaits.
First impressions are positive. Saman, my faithful airport taxi driver of many years is chatty and animated. He is down on the local politicians. He scathingly proclaims that many of them are thick, most are incompetent, and all are corrupt. Saman has unwittingly described the global political class.
The summer tourist season was poor, but the (European) winter season looks hopeful. Bali took two years to recover from a similar terrorist incident. Saman is glad to see me – he takes my visit to be a good omen. On a previous visit he took me home to meet his family. He shows me photographs of his new son. I have gifts for his family.
As evening beckons I wander down to Park Street Mews, a former stables block, now home to a buzzing row of restaurants and bars. All of Colombo’s society gathers here – it is a good place for gossip and for taking the pulse of the city.
It’s a hot crowded room at the Curve nightclub, on the Park Street Mews. The ten piece band is laying down funk standards. The crowd is on its feet, dancing. The constant staccato drip of moisture from the overworked air conditioners adds a sort of backbeat to the music.
There’s a gloriously multicultural mix of people of all ages heaving to the music. People keep stopping off at our table to say hello. Someone introduces me to a woman who is apparently a second cousin of mine. She seems nice. In a corner, a chap with a magnificent Hare Krishna afro and a sumptuous beard is standing on one foot, a fierce expression on his face. He blows kisses at anyone who approaches.
The trumpet players looks to be about 14 years old. His mother frets that her son is attracting attention from the “wrong kind of woman”. I start telling her that sex with older women is a useful learning experience for an adolescent – and then realise that is not what she wants to hear. I buy her an Espresso Martini and move on.
There’s a knot of suspicious looking middle aged men smoking outside. I recognise a few of their faces – classmates from high school. Their wives have sent them out to protect their daughter’s virtue by standing guard outside the nightclub. Their daughters are inside, necking on the dance floor. I share a cigarette with my old mates. They are cheerfully resigned to representing a lost cause.
We head out to Pilawoos, a favourite haunt for late night street food. The Trip Advisor reviews say “good food, but lacking cleanliness”. True that. Pilawoos makes kottu roti, a wafer thin roti, chopped up and mixed with vegetables, cheese or meat, to die for. The waiters run around delivering roti and loose joints to patrons double parked along the Galle Road. A group of Muslim men in white garb and traditional caps are digging into kottu roti on the sidewalk. They are here for a global Bohra Summit – a gathering of over 20,000 Shia Muslims. They pass around a joint and chat amiably with other diners.
This is all reassuringly and delightfully familiar. This is still recognisably the city I grew up in. Colombo is saddened, but seemingly unchanged by the attacks. The people remain resolutely friendly and determinedly multicultural. The beer is cold. The curry is hot. Every aspect pleases. Visit!