The Beatles sang about how the more one travels, the less one knows. And in the clutter of social media, Wikipedia wisdom and Google ga ga, we’re surrounded by a constant barrage of everything that’s nothing.
Though we know it’s all pretty much meaningless, it often seems like we’re conditioned to let this online world in. And this Easter Sunday came the numbingly tragic events- all the evil that struck Sri Lanka with that mystery train of those online and texperts with their own agendas and conspiracy theories.
Having been born in Colombo, I’ve been making frequent visits there by myself, with my ex wife and our family, and with girlfriends from Europe and Hong Kong who immediately fell in love with Sri Lanka. Why? Though I have no family there anymore, I absolutely love the country. Everything about it. Sri Lanka, or Ceylon as I knew it, shaped the person I am. The child in me is there and it’s where I go to visit this inner me. It’s not so much a cleanising ale, but a truth serum. Plus the best food in the world is there.
Around a year ago, while writing a song and a rare moment of being honest with myself, the line, “The mind is such a fragile place” started the journey through the past darkly.
It was a series of mental snapshots which have made me who I am. The child within. The only son born on his mother’s birthday which somehow consumed me with guilt. That coming into this world on this day was the worst possible birthday present I could have given my mother. Her telling me over the years just how many hours she spent in labour before I finally popped out apparently with a head that resembled an aubergine. It wasn’t a great visual. I felt like Eraserhead.
And so began growing up and going sideways and down dark alley ways hearing that my favourite aunt- stunningly beautiful with green eyes and Rita Hayworth sensuality- decided to leave her miserable existence of living with an alcoholic husband who was her first cousin and three young children, two being deaf and dumb- by downing a bottle of arak and placing her neck on the railway track and waited for the 6pm train to come and take her away. Suicide is painless.
Her leaving this world was fast and furious. My family never talked about it. Being Burghers- a mix of Dutch and Portuguese settlers from the Spice Island Wars who intermarried the locals- it was how we were brought up to live. To be comfortably numb and accept family secrets born during the dark side of the moon.
It was what made those early years so f***ing weird. David Lynch could not have understood what I saw and accepted as normal.
Close by to where we lived and where we had one servant to cook our meals and another to do everything for me- feed me, play with me, be my mother figure as my parents were both working as stenographers- was often a weird travelling carnival from America.
It’s where I secretly visited at night to see the jugglers and clowns and freaks. But mainly to see the faith healers force the devil out of so many who had the most ugly bulbous growths called goitres.
Colombo must have been the goitre capital of the world. These faith healers would place their hands on The Goitre People’s foreheads and they would faint and be carried offstage.
Away from the visiting circus of carnivals, there was the day when I watched an old man who would every day bring his bull for a walk in front of the house where we lived and who made the time to play with me, being flipped in the air and gored to death. I never saw the bull again. Nor his master. It was never explained.
This was all part of my formative years in Colombo. We never showed our feelings. It was off limits. I never had a birthday party. Still don’t know what it means. My parents thought these celebrations to be insincere. What Christmas tree?
Time was taken up playing marbles by myself, playing cricket with my servant Podi, digging for earthworms, seeing bandicoots attack my father’s precious birdcage, going to church on the pillion of my father’s Vespa, being carried by Peter Finch and Elizabeth Taylor, meeting the original Dave Brubeck Quartet, and one memorable Sunday afternoon, watching my rugby playing uncle chop off a chicken’s head and which made for a great curry lunch. Running around like a headless chicken is something I saw. Literally.
Then around 1958 came the civil unrest. The Prime Minister at the time, Mr Solomon Bandaranaike, was assassinated by a Buddhist monk, who embraced Christianity before he was hanged in 1962.
Our house in New Bullers Road was pelted by eggs, Burghers were no longer welcome, and soon we were on a ship for two weeks and bound for Hong Kong. Who was I to reason why? One went with the flow.
All this and much much more “live” with me whenever I visit the motherless “motherland”.
I meet some of the younger local entrepreneurs there and feel a sense of quiet desperation. And frustration. They know they’re trapped with no where to go. And how if they’re going to be in Sri Lanka, there’s a need for the country with so much to offer needing to attract foreign investment. Foreign thinking.
For some reason, this never happens. The locals will tell you about all “Chinese money” rolling in. But how much of this is investment is a strategic show of strength to India?
The foreign money poured into a cluster of five star hotels within walking distance of each other? But what about the occupancy? As for the upmarket apartments that are part of these hotels, work has been started. When will they be finished? In a few years. Everything will happen in a few years. But after the events of this Easter Sunday, nothing will.
Will I visit Sri Lanka again? Of course I will. Hell, I might even retire there and write a book about the weirdness of it all. How an island with such beauty, natural resources and some of the nicest and kindest people in the world should never ever be what it is today- the latest target of zealous evil in the name of religion that keeps unraveling throughout the world.
It breaks my heart. It tears me up. It tears me apart. But it makes me stronger.
#SriLanka #SriLankabombing #HansEbert #Colombo #DavidLynch