Independence Arcade : Feels like a white elephant

Panorama shot, Arcade Independence Square

Independence Arcade is the hottest thing in Colombo when it opened. I finally got around to going there in October 2014. It felt like visiting another white elephant. A wound from one more politically connected racket. Its a nasty of me to say. I don’t have any evidence to verify evidence of illegalities. Its just a strong subjective feeling that goes beyond the whiff of corruption.

Visually the place is clean and lets admit it, beautiful. Even if lunch time on a week day is not the best time to go. The place is devoid of customers. Packs of school boys roam the hot corridors. They are not out to buy Tommy Hilfiger. Maybe to ogle the occasional couple trying to grab a quick smooch in an archway. The fountain with the lions is a magnet for group selfies. The posh shops are empty. In more than one, bored staff are lost in Facebook on their shop’s computers.

I came wanting to be impressed by the place. Feel the pride, if not the impressed glow, others emit when they talk about the place. All I found was the feeling of entering a familiar empty sham. The easy explanation is to blame on the time of day, my cynicism and a subconscious revulsion to consumerism. Yet life is never about easy explanations of anything.

I’m also not much of a “mall” person. Whether in Sri Lanka or any of the countries of my exile. “High end” shopping in a messy third world setting. An imitation of what first worlders take as high end. It always felt empty. Masks of prosperity too thin to hide anything. Something nameless felt – dare I say it – wrong.

An honest look at “problem” is not about ideology. I’m neither a socialist nor a consumerist. I just cringe from acquiring/buying stuff. Which means you have to put up with more things. More things lead clutter. Clutter create the hassle of having to constantly reorganise junk you rarely use but can’t dump “IN CASE” you need to use it.

Worse, buying one thing creates needs to spend more time dealing with other “needs” it creates. “Accessories” are a classic symptom of this plague. Buy a TV and you’ll be hunting for furniture to keep it on. Things break down. They have to be repaired, replaced – DEALT WITH. I have enough priorities to spend time sort out other competing priorities. All on a tread mill of increasing complexity.

I prefer to wait till something needs to be replaced. Then ideally find a way to do without the “need” the thing originally fulfilled. If that failed, buy something that lasts. Take for instance television. While in exile, my TV set died on the day George Bush Jr invaded Iraq. I happily lived without a TV for years. Despite having one now, I’ve managed to avoid turning it on.

My aversion to acquiring stuff must come from being a nomad for too long. Where one more dish, book, thing means one more to pack and lug. In the process I came to dislike the ugliness of defining oneself by the things you buy. The madness of self identity through brands. The need slather oneself with logos to claim some sort of silly identity/affiliation.

All things to think about when you looked back at your new year shopping.

It could be that this dislike of gathering stuff applies to retail spaces. By extension the Arcade. Which make me sound like an ungrateful arty snob. I don’t care if I am. It’s certainly not promoting retail economic activity. Good thing my nutty personal preferences have no influence on the matter.

I think if I was more relaxed about these things, I would see the place as the YAMU review did. The easy parking, the clean wide spaces didn’t do much good to my view of things.

Has anyone felt this away about the place ? Or is it just me?

Wish you all a belated prosperous non consumerist new year.

Happy 10th birthday

According to my calculations Sri Lankan Blog aggregator is 10 years old today! The domain name was first registered on March 17, 2005 though that’s not an indication of a “launch date”. has certainly come a long way it lurched onto the scene. Some of us oldies certainly have fond memories of it.

Head wear off to the grand old man of the Sri Lankan Blogosphere for keeping it chugging at his personal expense. I thought I could have the nostalgia marinated post I’m writing for Icarus ready by now. Sadly my writing time is brutally strangled so this is all I could manage.

If you got memories of the old days please share them before they fade. May be the old top Sri Lankan blog posts page might kick off some memories.

2 Sri Lankan bloggers worth your time

One is a photographer. The other is a poet. Each I feel has a rare mastery of her medium. Your attention to their work will be well rewarded.

The photographer is Aamina Nizar. I blogged about her years ago. She sort of “went” off line for a while. She’s back with a new blog. The photography is literarily mouth watering. If you are trying to contain your gastronomic lusts (dieting) I suggest you brace yourself. All those shots of tarts, cakes and other high calorie sins will test you. If that’s too much of a trial I suggest her views of Ladakh in her previous blog as a starting point.

The poet is Shailee Wick. Her poetry blog has regularly been at work since 2012. But I only found it this year. A treasure of a find. Her words are heavy artillery rounds fired with the precision of a master sniper. In my opinion it took Bukowski a life time of boozing and brawling to pack this kind of punch. The themes of her work broadly reminds me of the recently rejuvenated Green Tea Diaries.

Enough introductions. Go visit these blogs yourself. Tell them that I (and the voices in my head) said Banzai! Banzai! Banzai!

Book recomendation: War zone travel reading

If reading is a form of travel, Ryszard Kapuściński’s “Travels with Herodotus” is a multifaceted journey. A fund read. An insightful non academic introduction to a literary classic – the “Histories” by the Herodotus. A travel book through the painful days of post colonial Africa. A meditation on the nature of journalism via an ancient text. An autobiographical story of a kinship between two people who lived centuries apart. A story that makes Herodotus, who lived in the fifth century BC (c. 484–425 BC), someone from our time. Those are a few obvious facets in this gem of a book. Each time I think about “Travels with Herodotus”, it reveals another.

As with all of Ryszard Kapuściński‘s (pronounced Rye-zard ka-poos- CHIN-sk) previous books, “Travels with Herodotus” was written in Polish. Thankfully the translation I read (wish I jotted down the edition) carries what I felt was an east European sensibility. Exactly what this means is hard to describe.

Kapuściński was one of the few Warsaw Pact foreign corespondents in Africa. Sent to tropical Africa from frozen post war Poland with a copy of Herodotus in lieu of training. On assignment in war zones, Kapuściński escapes from the horrors around him in Herodotus’ stories. Consequently he becomes intimately familiar with the nuances of the ancient author.

In the process the battered book becomes an avatar for Herodotus. Kapuściński sees Herodotus as a companion in his 20th century wonderings. The type who joins him across a war torn Africa in a battered car. Dodging machete welding death squads, and interviewing wandering nations of refugees. Herodotus’s catalogue of brutal kings, tragic historical figures and empire wrecking wars becomes a bizarre envelope of normalcy. A reflection of the chaotic violently changing environment.

You experience this throughout the powerful of immediacy of Kapuściński’s writing. His credibility as a writer rests on consists of demonstrating his trust in the reader. He does so by entrusting you vivid details as if they were confessions. They leap off the page and superglue themselves to the brain long after you have shelved the book.

The sight of Duke Ellington slumped exhausted and defeated in a Khartoum hotel lobby. Or the sensation of desert sunrise evaporating water off your face on a roadside in Iran. Later on I realised that these descriptions operated at two levels.

  1. They give you the immediate sensations of experiencing a particular moment
  2. They echo the emotional tone of that stage of the book – the changes of which gives credibility to the entire narrative.

It is this trust that makes the kinship between Kapuściński and Herodotus feel credible. Both are nosy travellers by profession. Kapuściński depicts Herodotus as a prototype of Samuel Clements (Mark Twain) who made quite a packet giving lectures on his travels. Herodotus lived in the age of oral culture where a “lecture circuit” was main stream as TV.

Kapuściński is inspired by Herodotus’s patient, persistent, stoically focused detailed reporting ethic. He is in awe at the way Herodotus milks the locals for specifics. Then winnows the plausible from the suspiciously tall tales with careful phrases. Parallels with the ideals of journalism are too obvious to ignore. You get the unavoidable feeling that Kapuściński regards Herodotus as a mentor. We in the mystic east may detect a guru/pupil aspect to the relationship.

The strongest bond I noticed between Kapuściński and Herodotus is the desire to leave their know worlds. Travel into the unfamiliar uncomfortable places. Live nomadic lives often at great personal risk. Chase stories whose context they can barely understand. Then try to make the people “back home” understand these other worlds. All traits familiar in the tribe called foreign correspondents. You absorb these realisations by the experience of reading the book. By the way each story, encounter and random asides connect themselves in the subconscious.

Kapuściński does admit the original text of the “Histories” is tedious reading if you are not “into” the classics. Thankfully he saves us from the ordeal by putting things in context with a very contemporary touch. The writing, as I remember it, is not as dreamy and allegorical as his book about Haile Selassie’s downfall

It’s been years since I last read Kapuściński’s “Travels with Herodotus”. I started writing this post about the time I began this blog. Yet years later I can still taste the flavour of this book. Which pushed me to finish what I started. Its been a while since I wrote about a book that actually exists. Give “The Travel” a spin. You might even like it. I did.

Classic beauty abandoned in the dust

Photographed this abandoned MG convertible in the Kia Motors garage near Hyde Park (Colombo) a few years ago. Her roof was down. Every inch under a layer of dust. She had been left in the grim cavern of the work shop a long time. Yet she defied her neglect with wordless dignity. Amplifying an air of sadness that only a stiff upper lip could fend off. Despite the gloom, grime, and shiny modern economy cars (or perhaps because of those things) this MG looked beautiful.

The sight of her flashed a memory of those uncle’s tales. 1960s Ceylon. Adventurous types driving from London to Colombo. In my mental 16mm black and white imagery, it is in the kind of car they would swerve through the Khyber Pass. A speed demon in a slower time. Tales of my parent’s road trip days expanded the picture.

I must have been lost in the dust of this thing for quite a while. Summons to sign for my chariot dragged me back in the world of hurrying. I just had time to snap this picture before I looked too eccentric. Then scribbled on a blur of forms and scurried off to what ever I was late for.

I consider myself indifferent to cars. All that mattered was the Rolls or the Maserati or the custom built Lambo fitting into a parking spot at Hotel De Pilawoos. Even that no long matters. In the maelstrom of life I abandoned the memory of this MG. Just like the criminal who was its previous “owner”. Then I saw David Blacker’s classy shot of this Porsche 356 Coupé. It brought back this photo and related memories into the post you are reading.

Got any Ceylon MG tales? The comment box would like to hear them. So would I.

Logo of an abandoned MG convertible, Colombo Sri Lanka