Street kids bathing at a roundabout near Odel
My friend had a dream about some island where his ancestors were buried, so we went looking for it. Modera, Crow’s Island, at the edge of the Colombo Port, near the Leper Hospital. Abouts. The city is my new fascination, only becoming a destination after the war. It makes Colombo cool again. I realize I’ve spent all my time in the suburbs. It’s nice to explore the slum beaches and alleyways of the city.
On the way we spot some street kids bathing in a fountain near Odel, the effective downtown during the war. This is what makes Colombo so great. Unlike India, the city is lived in without being urinated on. They’re splashing around and jumping in within sight of Town Hall, a mosque and the main department store. A statue of some Silva lectures, but in another direction. It’s hot. I feel like joining them.
Old colonial building, Whist House, I think
The Kelaniya River flows into the sea around Crow’s Island. If you turn off before the bridge, down Madampitiya Road you can get going parallel to the coast. Past the Fisheries Port, past the kovil, just past the kovil really, there’s an old colonial relic of a building. It used to be a drug den but has since been repurposed as a sort of wedding hall, in Sri Lankan modernist style.
Like the kovil, modern Sri Lankan architecture basically consists of converting every space to a bathroom. Lots of tile. Why so much tile, I don’t know. It seems like every upgrade turns the place into a toilet. But I digress.
Crow’s Island Beach
If you walk over the piles of plant garbage you get to one of the better beaches in Colombo. Everybody goes to Mount Lavinia, which is nice, except that the rips there actually kill you. I know of a few people who died there and I rarely venture beyond my knees. The beach at Crow’s Island, however, is coved in by multiple breakwaters and quite swimmable.
There were like a thousand people there, like Galle Face Green. Except I’d never heard of the place. The local kids were playing football, rugger. Women were there in traditional swimwear, i.e., whatever you wore to the beach. Sari, jeans, burqa, whatever. There was a bit of garbage and an occasional malodorous waft, but not bad. It’s a decent beach like 15 minutes out of the city.
Dudes are lounging. Can get some corn, ice cream. There’s a bit of security, a barbed wire enclosure near a playground. It’s a small pen manned by Navy chaps. Nothing ostentatious or obtrusive, just there. Planes fly overhead, big silver at first, fading into the orange clouds of the sunset.
Head down the road to the kovil, catch some pooja, people pressing fire to their hearts. I paid my respects to Vishnu’s guards and we went down the road. Head down the Fisheries Port road into the slums. Walk back towards the beach through alleyways. I wouldn’t even call this a slum, more like middle class housing with dodgy deeds. A woman is braiding a child’s hair. Some guys are blasting Snoop Dogg louder than I thought humanly possible.
Down at the water people are gathered at the shore, fishing. Seems to be decent catching. I fear it is the preponderance of human effluent, but one tries not to think. The sun is setting blood red near the harbor. It’s another day in Colombo. Not a bad one.