Taking A Vacation To My Past

You can go home, but you can never return

My mother grew up in a village, in a walauwa on a hill. They didn't have electricity for years, didn't have a phone line, and still cook over a wood fire. When Amma came back from boarding school she was given Ayurvedic medicine that made her copiously shit herself. Now people pay money for this experience. Who knew?

Hence I, in 2021, go to a 'hotel' which is essentially my grandmother's house with yoga. The very concept baffles most Sri Lankans. Why would you take a vacation from electricity? Why would you go back to the place you left? And yet this is the paradox of 'development'. In our mad rush to get ahead, we have left some terribly important things behind.

And so we return.

What we got away from from becomes the getaway. We check in where our ancestors checked out. Luxury is thus a loop, you finally end up right where you began. Back at your grandmother's house, having a madeleine or manioc, whatever takes you back. It's a literal vacation, in the vacant sense of the word. You return to a place once occupied, a place you can visit but not stay. Not without splitting yourself in two. As Robert Frost said:

Two roads diverged in a yellow wood,
And sorry I could not travel both
And be one traveler, long I stood
And looked down one as far as I could
To where it bent in the undergrowth;

As much as we might like to visit the road not taken, that is not the road we took, and it's too late too turn back now. You can feel it as you leave the place, the muddy ruts leading out of camp, then gravel, then asphalt, onto villages, towns, and then the city itself. You can feel the gravity of modernity pulling you in, as inescapable for us as the past must have felt to our ancestors. To invert Frost: