I worked and lived in Singapore for 20 years. The place is first world from head to toe and that too in the extra super grade, clinically clean and everything working to precision like a Swiss watch. Planning for the nation is at least a decade ahead and soft planning for much longer. Great place on many counts and deserves to be rated so.
Back home where I live is Koralawella, a little hamlet in Moratuwa, our lane is 200 meters long and ends in the Panadura Ganga. A hundred families are pigeon-holed here and they come from all walks of life. I know most of them by the nod and smile meetings and a little more when time permits.
Once a year there is a cricket match organised by the people of Cornelius Place (that’s my lane), great event, all to create unity among the residents.
There is a street party too for the denizens, for Christmas. I’ve seen the same in Singapore where they close a four-lane road and revel through the night with spot lights in neon. Out there in the Lion City it is all hi-tech and big dollars and opulence bright enough to nauseate. Our Cornelius party is a lot different, humble, wonderful and a great gathering of people from a pot-holed and muddied road made up of gravel, cement, kalu gal and sand, not a single even square anywhere, you know what I mean. The road may be so but those who live there are different, each doing his or her bit to collectively brandish the ‘power of people.’
The Koralawella event in spirit can more than hold its own with Singapore. Yes, the Lion City bash is lavish and loud and a well-controlled Mardi Gras where things are perfectly organised and rigidly controlled. Ours is so different, instant, impulsive, spur-of-the-moment raw spirit of the proletariat of Cornelius Place and on that count, Singapore would find it hard to match my ‘people next door.’
A make-shift stage, kids’ games and elders blowing balloons and local talent entertaining with the mike, that was the menu. Next was dancing, all beneath the diamond sky, not one hand waving free, as Dillon sang, but both hands, baila at its best, from the young to the old and the very old, gyrating, clapping and yelling on the pot-holed road of a dance floor. I saw an aged grandfather standing on the side with a walking stick and in the next minute he transformed from non-essential spectator to privileged performer, stick gone, dancing, moving flawlessly to the beat that was blaring from amplified speakers.
Mothers and grandmothers danced with children and grandchildren, immaculate swaying of hips and shuffling feet in perfection to Maala Giravi and the evergreen ‘MS’ litany; jingle jangling in inimitable baila rhythms they had not learnt but inherited at birth from Moratuwa.
It was great to be there, everything in super friendly mode, the female clan handling food and drink matters and men ambling to a corner and coming out making “ambul” faces, the Bacchus worshippers.
Everyone on Cornelius Place came and everyone contributed, the young took the lead to organise and the old supported and participated and the kids had a caramel time in an evening filled with fun and frolic.
What was all this about? It is the ‘spirit’ of the common man that has been resurrected in a little lane in Koralawella in spontaneous unity. That is what this country is made of, deep down we are lovely people in Sri Lanka, the corrosion came from above, from the loft of the leaders who separated the common man with politics and told him whom he is supposed to worship, to beg for what is rightfully his.
What we are losing today is that core value we always had. True the coconuts will get plucked from Kerala and the chicken will fly out of Mumbai and the mythology of Sri Lankan life takes new shades that shroud the common man’s simple comfort zones. But the pliability is there, to accept, survive and innovate a new way to come out with a smile with hopes still intact. That is pure Sri Lankan.
I wonder which Singaporean has it, street party or no party, first world or otherwise, we sure beat them hollow on the spirit count.
The lane gathering at Cornelius Place, Koralawella, taught me a lot more than what met my eye. In life it is not a place but the people that matter, irrespective of what the location is, be it a muddied pot- holed road or the razzle-dazzle of Singapore. The value is carried by the common man; it is with him we spend our day to day life and it is his or her spirit that makes the difference. Just like their rhythms of baila, people where I live are ingrained with friendliness, inborn with a camaraderie and waiting for a trigger action like a street party to come out and enjoy in technicolour. Nava gilunath ban choon; they have no kitbags to pack all their troubles, but they sure know how to postpone them.
You cannot take that away from a Sri Lankan, the hope of a better day that makes everything acceptable. The national progress coma since independence has not put him down. That is the resilient mentality here, ever present in spite of the recurring disappointments that are dished out constantly to the common man. It is one of the main themes that makes me proud to be a Sri Lankan and be grateful to where I was born and where I constantly long to belong.
Yes, good old Moratuwa and Sri Lanka, the hometown and the homeland, those are the words, where would I be without them?
Pot-holed roads and street parties and baila dancing, the combination is hard to beat.