At sunset rickety white plastic tables are commandeered on to the grass from the club house bar. Another waiter ferries the chairs. It is the only time some of this “athletic” club’s members get out onto the field. They sit in the cooling breeze of the club house shadow, table cloths flapping lazily. Golden fluids unpolluted by ice or soda steadily vanish from their glasses. Evaporation has nothing to do with it. Office ties are still neatly in place. They flow down from under faces with trimmed moustaches and double chins to rest on the mounds of prosperous bellies. I suppose the evening air is cool enough to wear such inanities.
When I start my evening run round the perimeter of the field they are sipping politely. Plates of yummy smelling deeply fried spicy “bites” of a pig or cow flesh and sausages soaked in spicy sauce are considerately passed round. Both conversation and body language around the expanse of table cloth are subdued. Tentative as teenagers before the first kiss. Each time I pass them, their voice are louder and argumentative. Gestures more forceful. I catch snippets of their talk as I run by the tables at a polite distance.
Problems of humanity and the country are decisively stated and resolved. Blame is assigned to the regular villains. A urine inducing slap on the face (choo yun-ner) seems to be a preferred disagreement resolution tool. Tales of one upmanship at work are abundant and are much celebrated. Invariably it’s a tale of a soon to be forgotten skirmish in the steamy jungles of office politics. In these heroic tales, the villain —”that stupid bugger” — always slinks away to be defeated another day.
Of the colourful language used the only consistently disturbing thing is the use of the Sinhalese term “oo”. A form of reference normally used to refer to animals (non human “lower” life forms). It has been popular in derogatory speech as long as I can remember. I don’t think there is an English equivalent.
It is a very dehumanising way to talk to anyone. It implies the ability if not a swaggering readiness to dehumanise others. An abandonment of empathy with a savage grin as a precursor to sadistic violence. I suppose a nonchalant veneer of potential casual sadism is an ideal tough guy image to survive the third world. Dehumanisation may be an easy form of self-empowerment. Yet it is saddening to see the fear and insecurity that causes it to be used so readily. Perhaps I read too much into things that are none of my business.
After an hour of torture I leave the field, in a bath of sweat under the cover of dying twilight. The tables are fuzzy silhouettes of slurry voices against the dim fluorescent glow of the club house.
The late night end of these sessions-are said to be messy. Indicated by dried vomit by the edge of the field and discarded paper napkins the next day. No doubt someone was hauled unconscious in a three wheeler or dropped off by friends to the care of an enraged wife.
Despite the tough talk, these are social institutions. Drinking friendships involve a significant amounts of trust and the excitement of inevitable betrayal. Liberating forces of Mendis, Johnny Walker, Smirnoff etc., tends to unleash regrettable words and actions. Ideal black mail fodder unless you’re drinking friends keep quiet. Inevitably there is one who will not and another piece of minor theatre explodes into the world. Thankfully I am spared from such drama. Though I do overhear outlines of occasional incidents from friends with drinking relatives.
There is a serious side to after work drinks. A far more exclusive serious world, to be revealed another day.