You are likely to see them all over the place in Sri Lanka. Other than the war zones. Lets say the mostly in the green humid parts of the south/south west. They are post middle age men amazed that they have made it this far beyond 50. Virtually all of them are sun burnt and blessed with basket ball pot belly. Wrinkled skin is tightly wrapped around balding skulls and scrawny arms. Hair – a longish dishevelled vague reference to the 70s. A majority sport valiant comb-overs. Their long wispy strands of greying hair carefully arranged in denial of the inevitable. Moustaches and beards are rare occurrences.
Yet it is their kit that marks them out. Timeless grey or brown trousers of some artificial material. Shirts always a pale colour — faded greens, blue and uncertain shades of white. Most tend sensibly to wear sandals. A minority might slip on shoes despite the heat.
They could easily be (or are) those slumped over file loaded desks in a dim and grimy government office. Or waiting patiently in a line somewhere humid, polluted and overcrowded. In places like government hospitals, bus stations or security checkpoints. I have seen them take it in a spectrum of emotions usually clustered around resigned submission. The rage underneath exploited by political organisations for rallies and demonstrations. Despite all the placard carry, slogan shouting, scuffles with police and politicians’ goons things have not got any better, only worse. All their political heroes become luxury vehicled manicured courtiers, hooked on the heroin of political patronage.
The happiest I have seen them is the pair sitting at a corner table at the Kurunagala rest-house. The source of their joy — a near empty bottle of amber liquid on the deep red fake velvet table cloth. The eyes of both men seemed to light up when the second bottle arrived. Offers of ice and soda shooed away like flies. Conversation halted for the serious business of pouring. After the initial sips, postures relaxed into contented slumps with matching far away smiles. Lunch time sunlight backlit the mildly dishevelled comb-overs.
Spousal unit prudently warns me I shouldn’t stare. We are done with lunch anyway. The road to Dambulla awaits baking in the afternoon sun. Time to unleash some Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan through the speakers. Even Mrs C likes Ganj-E-Shakar: