Colombo weather and identity politics of exile


I love the Colombo weather — particularly from a non air conditioned car stuck in the blaze of afternoon traffic. The people who cannot venerate such a glorious climate are obviously a bunch of ignorant ungrateful whiners. I say this without sarcasm and despite the risk of being lynched by an enraged mob. Because the many avatars of Colombo weather is a central symbol of my identity and love for this mad, wondrous island. Yes the explanation starts in the next paragraph.

I admit that complaining about the city’s heat, humidity, and rain has a critical social function. It is among the few remaining strands of shared ordeals that unites the city’s — perhaps the country’s — fragmented society. Weather whining is also a safer valve to let off steam than bemoaning another form of communal suffering we cannot change : politics. Consequently only the insane would attack such a fragile pillar propping up social order and public peace.

Yet too many (you know who you are) abuse the social utility of weather whining. I have no sympathy these self proclaimed victims of meteorology. I am unrepentantly deviant in my celebration of Colombo weather. I switch off the blasphemy of air conditioning whenever I can. I leave windows decadently open for the warm, sticky breeze or to share the sweet joy of YFM with fellow road sufferers. Let the ignorant whisper in the corridors about my sanity. I KNOW with almost religious fervour how privileged we are to sweat in the tropics.

I consider myself a tropically bred person. Colombo’s weather – particularly humidty and its associated reeks – is central to my identity. It packages the infinite facets of my sense of home into a single primordial sensation. A sensation that has been sharpened by centuries of exile in other climates. Alien climates have made the experience of weather into a painful short hand. Firstly for what a wonderful place Sri Lanka, and secondly how utterly saddening it is to be away. It is futile to transmit this feeling. It is clearly beyond the comprehension of exclamation welding symbol and slogan patriots. But let me try.

Non tropical climates pummels the tropical person with many intimate indignities. Dry air crack lips into dry river beds. It dehydrates skin into sandpaper. Rings fall off as fingers shrivel. For most of the year you have to put on extra cloths just to go outside. Winter demands a many layered space suit of sweaters, jackets, boots, gloves, scarves, LONG UNDERWEAR and hats to ward off frostbite, death or both. What a luxury it is to simply glide through doors into the warm moist embrace of Sri Lankan humidity.

The spoilt ninnies whining about puddles and monsoon floods need to slip on ice a few times. Perhaps savour the terror when their barely heated chariot slides spinning over snow covered black ice. Interspersed between the drama, frozen climes offer countless encounters of soul destroying drudgery.

The cruelest are the most banal. Scraping ice off windscreens and digging you way to the chariot on winter mornings. The oppressive weight of winter jackets. Waiting in freezing darkness for trains, trams, buses, or the ride that never comes. The despairing bite of windchill on the tops of your ears on days you forget/lose your hat (again). The slow march of the cold through gloves and boots. The stab of frozen mucus on your upper lip. The loss of sensation in a frozen nose. I can go on and on and on if not for this perfectly chilled Elephant House Ginger Beer.

These physical brutalities are amplified by shifting day light hours of the seasons. Winter’s late dawns and the mid afternoon sunsets are destabilising to rhythms cultivated by the climactic consistency of the tropics. Your relaxed tropical languidity is squeezed out of you by the dry air and replaced with rational frenzy. Punctuality, efficiency, and other inhuman qualities take over.

Summers bring their own horrors. Allergies are the most insidious. Triggering uncontrollable eye watering nose dripping sneezing that turns you into an antihistamine junkie. Add Weeks of 40C, 100% humidity days. When the sun burns exposed surfaces and cooks the shade. Stew it all in buildings insulated against long cold winters. Garnish with air conditioners that will die just before heat waves (after hibernating through winter). The irony of facing heat stroke in places better known for fatal winters offers no comfort. Between the cold and hot hells are the nether worlds of spring and autumn. Periods of cat and mouse games about what to wear. Which the befuddled tropical exile is doomed to lose and shiver coatless in a shirt or sweat into sweaters.

Naturally I have a low tolerance for complaints about the Sri Lankan weather. Particularly by the tedious who mistake it for conversation. Most of the time meteorological talk is a preliminary barrage. Meant to soften your defences for annoying requests, inconvenient favours, idiotic demands or unresolvable word duels.

This post was meant to justify my dislike for those who whine about my country’s weather. It may have made me into one. Never mind. When I seize power such people will be rounded up — along with people who take blog posts like this one too seriously. I wouldn’t have wasted the time writing it but The Voices must be placated so here we are.

May the sun shine and the rain pour. Drink lots of water and piddle often.

4 comments

  1. trully wonderful. reminds me of why i moved back to this wonderous island. When I lived in Switzerland i used to have a wallpaper on my laptop of a beach (somewhere down south) that I would stare at for inspiration when the view thru my office window was grey and i hadn’t seen the sun for days or weeks. Living in Bangkok just breathing the air was difficult at times because of the pollution – the breeze we get off the Indian ocean seems just fine to life to whatever we pollute into the air that it doesn’t stick around…

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