The Lankan In Me

Forgive me but sometimes I need my solitude to create, said somebody who had their priorities right many years ago and some attribute it to the life and work of Geoffrey Bawa. A man possessed by perfection, order, a lack of colors and an insane desire to make memorable pieces of brilliance but worked effortlessly to be forgotten. Yes, I know it’s a strange start to a travelogue of my first of many trips to Sri Lanka, but this trip in many ways felt like a tribute to a man that should have eternity beckoning him, at some point, if not already.
The idea was to find a place that we could get lost in for a few days. A holiday, lived at the pace that I wanted life to be for a brief few days, which was slow, and to allow my mind to think and to be surrounded by company that was both calming and appreciative of the holiday I wanted. And that’s exactly what I got which allowed me to truly breathe in the air of this fascinating country that is less our backyard and should be more, our inspiration. In many ways upon touching down in Colombo I expected very little different from my everyday here in Bangalore, just possibly a little less noise and a generous shortage of traffic. We worked our way through some humidity and faultless roads to reach the holiday retreat of Geoffrey Bawa, Bentota. A quiet beach town unfazed by a Tsunami that ruined its surrounding towns for miles but for some reason stopped short of even touching the first house on the coast here. If there was some magic in this town, it far preceded my arrival. As the day woke up on us and the sound of the sea grew on us, our holiday began to unfold in the midst of one of Bawa’s most tasteful contributions to the country in our little beachside hotel. The desire for perfection extended all the way to the kitchen in this dreamlike existence that we had stepped into. Fresh butter, bread baked a few seconds before it hit the table and an in-house passion fruit jam that deserves attention at par with the stunning use of scale in some of the ornaments that litter the many corners of this hotel. And this was just the start, as the food, both regional and global continued to astonish us, I started waking up to what I have begun to feel might become a new normal; an uneasy restlessness to aspire to something greater. Because both in Bawa and in what the hotel was trying to deliver through the combined experience of phenomenal architecture, service as warm and smooth as their bread and a place in time where they had decided to set this place up, they had created something greater than any award winning hotel experience. They had created luxury with a taste of home and the ease of your most wonderful escape. As the hours and days passed, and we made our way to nearby Galle Fort to discover its hidden cafes and cobbled streets, descended upon the gardens of the Bawa brothers that adorn two sides of Bentota and finally sank into the colonial expanse and flavors of Colombo, we discovered that the way the hotel made us feel was just an extension of what Sri Lanka does to you. It sucks you into a warm embrace and much after returning from its hold, many distinct parts of you remain there and the rest are in the constant search of all that was experienced in your immediate atmosphere.
Bawa lived alone till his death. Keeping aside his reasons for doing so, when you walk through his gardens and his way of life, you begin to recognize his need for order in a well- designed state of chaos, but never at any point losing control of his idea of beauty. With stories of him changing a villager’s roof from an obscene zinc finish to a subtle tiled roof, he was a man possessed with a good view, of life and the structures that make it. He would have been a quite spectacular creator of worlds if he was the ‘architect’ in Inception. He may have created a world that would have forced the creators of the movie to replace the intrigue with a lazy romance. Much for my need to romanticize him, but in seeing his work station in a café in Colombo and the beauty that he demanded to be surrounded by, you discover that when a man’s purpose far exceeds his will to just be satisfied, you are immediately presented in a world that is unforgettable even years after he leaves it behind. You see, as I mentioned earlier, this ceased to be a travelogue the moment I started this post because I’m far from done with Sri Lanka and it will be a tragedy to put a bow to this wonderful country as there is so much more to discover. But in this journey, right from Nuwan who drove us around in his car and tuk tuk with stories of Japanese largess after the Tsunami to his commentary on the merciless killing of cows to Chaminda who stayed awake all night and set up beds for us right next to the pool on our first night, to Damana, the wonderful bartender who made the third best cocktail I have ever had with the first best name (Dr. Feelgood), to Dharshan, the creator of Ministry of Crab and Kaema Sutra which are some of my top food experiences in the last two years to Gayatri’s beautiful Airbnb with breakfast at her table to unending energy of the people dancing on the streets near the Dutch Hospital late into the night; these and the sum of them is what the country is about and will continue to be. In Bawa’s vision of creating beauty across the land and in some way, every ordinary citizen’s execution in creating a beautiful and spotless country not withstanding their many trials, my holiday was elevated from a getaway from reality to a walk through what I believe life should be made of.
To a country I shall return to, to that bread basket I dream of at breakfast everyday, to that cocktail designed to hypnotise, to lovely people, a great holiday and the best travel mate ever, I shall return soon! And even though you live so close to us, in living with you it felt like I was transported more miles than I have ever before.

The Lankan In Me

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