Kandy is pretty much a cultural desert, beyond the traditional Buddhist cultural stuff aimed largely at the foreign tourist trade, of which currently there is very little. There is no regular English language cinema or theatre, no music venue, no proper art gallery and the bookshops are heavily biased towards educational texts rather than literature. One small beacon of light in the darkness is the Atelier Hotel, located well out of town up a side street opposite the Arpico supermarket. Rukshan, who runs it, maintains a programme of both permanent and temporary visual arts and sculpture and an occasional series of events from film nights to poetry readings. I’ve been several times – indeed, pre-pandemic we’ve run a quiz night and a Christmas singalong there, just to lower the tone a bit.
We were there again last Saturday night for a book reading. At least two of the four writers were introduced, or introduced themselves, by saying proudly they were born in Kandy. Ths is something I’ve got used to over the years at similar events. Educated, cultured people come from Kandy, but sooner or later – usually sooner – they all gravitate to Colombo which is where the action is. Fully half the island’s population lives in the Colombo travel to work area and nothing much of cultural significance happens anywhere else except in the oasis of Galle Fort down the coast. It would be wonderful indeed to have a few of the island’s greatest bards, thespians or musicians actually living in Kandy rather than just being proud to be from here. One can but dream.
Kandy is better served for sports than it is for the arts, however, and the rest of the weekend had more of a sporting theme. Having had almost no paying guests for ages, we were hosting a New Zealand family and a Sri Lankan one. The Sri Lankans were a very athletic young man and his parents. Dad was no slouch, either, and accompanied his son on a strenuous climb to the top of the mountains, a route which is more famous among the hiking community than we had realised. The young man participates in several sports including, bafflingly, downhill skiing. The first, and no doubt the last, Sri Lankan skier I shall ever encounter.
The Kiwi family had stayed with us at the beginning of the month. Brett, the Dad, is the physio for the Sri Lankan cricket team (these chaps are hired guns, they don’t need to be Sri Lankans). Mum and the two very adorable kids had come back for a further stay while Dad was with the team, in a Covid bubble, for the ODI against Zimbabwe at the Pallekelle international stadium near Kandy. I’ve meant to go to a match there ever since we’ve been living here but never got round to it, and suddenly one was dropped into my lap, a sitter even I couldn’t miss. Brett had organised tickets in the box reserved for players’ families for his own family plus Sally and me (posing, if needs be, as long-lost aunt and uncle).
“Just go to Gate 5, the tickets will be waiting for you at the gate” was the instruction. Our van entered the car park where security ordered the driver to drop us off and he duly left. Two separate signs for Gate 5 pointed in two different directions. We asked a security guard where we should go and were directed to the back of the queue for body and bag checking. At the front of the queue we were asked for our tickets. “They’re waiting for us at gate 5” we explained. “Sorry, you cannot pass through here without a ticket”. After a while we managed to speak to someone prepared to take a decision, who told us to walk about half a kilometre around the ground to the opposite side where we would find a VIP gate that would let us through. By the time we got there we’d missed the first couple of overs and, in typically Sri Lankan fashion, we were told to wait, but not told whether anyone was doing anything. Then we were told to walk on to another gate “not far away”. We headed off but could find no other gate and by now were in a wilderness some way from the ground, so we returned, hot and pretty angry. Long story short, we were eventually admitted. We never did see Gate 5 or our tickets, and neither our bodies nor our bags were searched. Security, Sri Lanka style. But it was bliss to reach the air conditioned comfort of the players’ families box, with free snacks and coffee and a great view of the ground. Treated as scum and as VIPs in the same afternoon, that’s Sri Lanka for you. We couldn’t stay to the end, it was a day/night game, but saw most of the first (Zimbabwe) innings.
Sri Lanka won by five wickets.