Public smooching is still taboo out here in the spiritually hygienic east. However hand holding by heterosexual couples is being tolerated in some progressive quarters. Of course the as foreigners are frequently reassured, the sight of same gender people holding hands is not considered as being sexual. Paradoxically (paradoxes are a requirement in Sri Lanka) there are a few public places where the sight of couples snuggling up is considered a traditional institution. Viharamahadevi park and Galle Face Green are the most well known. Though the “Leisure Island” in the middle of Beira lake has crept into the scene, Galle Face green is still Colombo’s public smooch king.
Galle Face’s nearest rival, Viharamahadevi park with its thick foliage offers the best camouflage for couples looking for free privacy. However the park (according to a news paper article I read a long while back) has its own ecology of voyeurs. Some of them are highly specialised, posing off as nonchalant newspaper readers with a peep hold cut in their newspaper.
“Leisure Island” sitting amidst the stinking bright algae green soup of Beira lake does a good job of keeping noisy family groups from hanging around. Or maybe its the stench. Either way, its a poor third on the list.
A forth might be the open ground outside the parliamentary complex. I haven’t gone there due to security reasons 😉
Galle Face green rules over its rivals for free public smooch spots not just by offering the best view and ventilation (I guess it can get stuffy under those umbrellas). It has a historical “understand” of tolerance that’s practised but rarely discussed. Its all in the details – to be observed from the corner of the eye rather than diagrammed.
Privacy is symbolic – usually a big brightly coloured umbrella (even on an overcast day). The shyer couples turn up in the blazing heat of the midday when the place is unoccupied (accept by other couples). At least that justifies the umbrellas. I remember driving to fort one afternoon and seeing them as dots of colour against the blue of the Indian ocean. Evenly spaced by the benches they were occupying.
The more adventurous/brazen/romantic Galle Face couples hang around into the glory of a Colombo sunset (or turn up specially for it). Even on weekends when the green was flooded with the rest of Colombo. Ignoring the kite-flyers, and the kids cricket matchers raging outside their umbrella. Inevitably a photographer would catch the amorous silhouettes with their umbrella colours against the sunset. They might end up hanging in a exhibit in the Lionel Wendt. To cause a chuckle or perhaps win a prize.
Lately Galleface has become yet another blotched “development” project. The couples like everyone else, are jammed along the thin promenade between crashing waves and a rusting fence. On more recent visits I’ve noticed that most couples have congregated towards the fort end of the promenade. Maybe its less crowded (if “less crowded” means anything in Galle Face on a Sunday afternoon).
Many have shed the pretence of the umbrella. There are quite a few lean sunburnt young men with military haircuts looking into the horizon. Their girlfriends holding tight and not saying much. Very cheesy Hindi tele drama stuff if it weren’t for the real lives involved. Then there were the merrier couples – some lounging amidst their motorcycle gear. All smiles, giggles and Bollywood eye gazing. (Ok so there’s more than that going on but do I really have to descriptive? All I can assure readers that Galle Face smooching etiquette require clothing to stay on).
The couples are ignored by the army patrol ambling by (the corporal in command had a sun umbrella jammed in webbing), Burka clad Muslim ladies with excited kids, baffled tourists, determined walkers and other yet-to-be stereotyped types. The only people who seem to bother the couples are roving soothsayers/palm readers. One of them started badgering a couple and was promptly chased off by a policeman. I doubt the same would have happened if it was anywhere else in the country. This post by Chennai blogger Nandhu Sundaram highlights the difference 🙂
I suppose there are more private, “romantic”, safer public places. But Galle Face still rules on within a decaying bubble of tolerance. Perhaps its the anonymity of one of Colombo’s few public spaces. I don’t know what it is. If you do the comment box is below. Symbolically smooching in Galle Face is an act of defiance, against the misery we manage to create in this island. Particularly in the face of constipated morality culture that bred the hate and stupidity of the last 50 years.
If that’s cryptic too bad. Its time to stop when the writing starts careening into the political.