Saturday, September 10, 2016

Ceylon Dreams VIII: The Day of the Camera

Sometimes, I make mistakes.

Our fancy hotel turned out to be more expensive than budgeted because of a stupid asterisk that I hadn’t paid attention to (taxes exclusive. Whoops.) We scrambled through our finances and made a few mental calculations (my mental calculations are on an actual calculator). The last leg of our trip was going to be in Colombo, where Fahad had his work conference. Which is why we were to check in to a proper hotel there the next day, which also meant that a significant chunk of our over-utilized budget was going to be spent on this uber-fancy place. I quickly checked the prices online and gulped – “I hope you get some company discount, buddy.” The little imps of stress quickly climbed onto our shoulders and stayed there for the rest of the day, every now and then pulling our hair and whispering in our ears to remind us of how we might be in a little bit of trouble.

We had decided to go with our tuk-tuk driver’s brother, who had a taxi, and was giving us a better price than the TripAdvisor registered taxi companies. The car was clean and compact and soon we were on our way to the Dutch fort in Galle, about 45 minutes from Bentota. The plan was to head to Colombo after Galle, about 2.5 hours away.

It was a very bright sunny day. The ride to Galle – we chose the scenic longer route over the tolls of a highway – always, always choose the scenic longer route in life – was lovely. We passed quaint little towns with shacks selling rubber sandals and adventure, tourists strolling around in bikinis with sarongs wrapped around their waists and everything from sprawling resorts to tiny cheap inns for the tight-budgeted folks. And every now and then the towns disappeared and the coast appeared, racing alongside us with its shimmering beach and towering palm trees.

Galle is a sweet old town with Portuguese, Dutch and local inspired architecture.
What I loved about Sri Lanka was how they had preserved their history and somehow made the colonial buildings their own. The stations and offices might have been built by the Europeans but now it all belonged to the Sri Lankans; they had taken care of it and they dwelled and ruled within (as opposed to our beautiful buildings that corrode in Saddar, Karachi, slowly being eaten up by the ravenous Time, home to pigeons and ghosts).

The Galle fort was cool, right by the sea and stretching on andon along the coast for miles. But we didn’t find a guide and it would’ve been nice to have a guided walk along the ancient ramparts. Also the sun shone bright, browning our arms and faces.
There were lots of cafes and restaurants nearby, and our driver told us that some of the richest people in the country had acquired the property there and had sprawling mansions. But even they hadn’t been allowed to tamper with history and the new constructions were bound by law to respect and complement the old.
If we’d had more time I would have loved to spend a night in a quaint b’n’b in Galle. It had an enchantingly desolate feel about it despite the people milling around everywhere.

After Galle, we retraced our steps and drove by the little beach towns again. The towns became less beachy with more mechanic shops and restaurants as we moved closer to Colombo. We stopped for lunch with our driver at a small restaurant – where we had Chinese food and bright sodas. We entered Colombo late afternoon and headed to our next and last AirBnb which was in a great location near the city center, about a 15-20 minute walk to the Independence Square.

I remember seeing a beautifully pale rainbow in a cloudy blue sky right before we turned into our new neighborhood. I have always loved rainbows – one of my favorite science facts was how to spot a rainbow and whenever there is a shower with the sun still out, I get super excited and run to the nearest terrace, situate myself accordingly and 9 times out of 10, am rewarded with the sight of a light band of colors arching across the blue. Something magical about the colors in the sky; makes me feel special, makes me think there are good things to come.

Anyways, I remember seeing the rainbow and fiddling around for my camera but we had already turned by then so I decided to let the photo opportunity slip.
By the tie we finally pulled up in front of the right house, after a couple of missed turns and the wrong entrance, we were pretty harried. We lugged the bags out and as our hostess stood by the gate, we paid the driver, dragged our bags and the many little items that always seem to multiply in car rides (why aren’t we as neat in a car as we are on a plane? Something about all the space at our feet and behind our heads that makes us scatter all our stuff in three different plastic bags and a box). I asked Fahad to check if we’d left anything in the car, his head disappeared for a millisecond and returned with a ‘yeh yeh’.

Our bedroom was on the first floor, which had two other rooms, empty right now but also lent out in AirBnb, a nice living room and our host’s office space. The room was very cute, a white bedspread with the customary soft mosquito nets tucked away on the sides, a large white bookshelf that covered one entire wall and a window that led into a small balcony-kind of space that looked out on the courtyard where a solitary tree grew as the center piece.

Like our other rooms, it was a no frills kind of room with dim lighting, cemented floor, sparse furniture but comfortable and sweet, with stories quietly hiding in the corners. And the shelf of books! It was a great collection with a lot of English books that we were encouraged to peruse.

The fan whirled slowly and we opened the windows, the temperature was pleasant enough that we didn’t need the AC (which was there – at an extra cost) and we were finally able to lay out flat on the bed, with books from the shelf.

About an hour or so later, I heard the sound of fireworks and I went by the window to peek out. I couldn’t see much so I asked Fahad if we should go for a walk. It took a little prodding but he agreed and it was about now that I looked for my camera. It’s a Canon DSLR and in its own bag so not exactly that difficult to spot.
“Fahad. I can’t find my camera.” I said with that horrible sinking feeling that indicates that something horrible has happened, hanging on a silky spiderweb thread of hope that maybe we’re wrong.

To cut a sad stressful story short, we couldn’t find the camera anywhere and I guessed that we had left it in the car. “But I told you to check the car!” I was distraught and poor Fahad was guilt-ridden. “It must have rolled under the seats…”
We went down to our hosts, who had the driver’s number on their phone because he had called them to understand the address. But the driver was adamant – there was no camera in the car.

I could actually picture my faded old camera bag lying in the backseat, perhaps on the floor, and I was about 99.9% sure that it was in the car because I clearly remembered fiddling with it when we saw the rainbow. But it was not meant to be. All my beautiful photographs of hills and tealeaves and waterfalls and turtles …


I am not a crier but I admit there were a few tears. I loved my camera, ashamedly because it is of course an object. Common sense took some time but it finally won over after a thought-aloud battle along the lines of “I can’t be so materialistic that I’m letting a thing ruin the rest of my trip” but for the rest of the evening (and a few days) every time my mind strayed, the little gnome of sadness sitting heavily in my stomach, sighed loudly.

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