This afternoon, sitting in a quiet suburban neighbourhood in Santa Cruz, Mumbai, Sri Lanka came flooding into my thoughts. I grew up there for a significant part of my childhood, and a phone call from a friend who also grew up there untethered my spirit to send it flying towards the island.
Colombo, circa early 1990s. It was a time when the civil war was still raging in the north of the island, and bombs sporadically exploded in the capital city as a reminder of that. Life went on, but I cultivated a sixth sense, to pick up sounds, smells and sights that fell out of the ordinary and signaled trouble. An unusually loud cawing of crows, at a time of the day when they tended to be quiet. A low buzz rippling through the crowded streets, before people hurried inside. Figures running. These were the days before Twitter, and I relied on my brain to send alerts.
Despite these occasional disruptions, life flowed, peacefully. Bodegas opened their counters every morning to supply milk, tea and other breakfast supplies. Private coaches raced earnestly on the narrow roads, honking urgently to pick up waiting customers before another bus snatched them. Sellers rang their bicycle bells at 4pm as they rode up and down the residential lanes, announcing fresh bread loaves, buns and other pastries for afternoon tea. As the dusk hour set, food stalls turned out piles of delicate hoppers, ready to be packed in the day’s newspaper, along with fresh coconut sambol (chutney) and piping hot spiced curries. People returning from an honest day’s work stopped to pick up their food packet before walking back home.
It was a wonderful way to grow up. In the midst of these lazily swaying surroundings, I went through many experiences that turned out to shape me crucially. I will write about them soon because I want to acknowledge them and the people behind them. They are episodes of small, seemingly trivial gestures that mattered a lot to me.