I firmly believe that unless you have visited a country, refrain from making any comments on that nation’s socio-economic situation. Yes, we can form an idea about a state based on what news we get on the media, but, honestly, a few news items can never give the real picture.
Just before I left for Sri Lanka for an official visit, asked a neighbor if he wanted something, to which he just responded, with a slight hint of denigration: What can you get in Sri Lanka?
I was hurt.
This is not the first time such a derogatory comment was made by someone about a South Asian country. Some time back, when the Maldives was still not officially stamped as a high-end tourism spot, one of my acquaintances called it a third world country.
The belittling tone in her voice was too pronounced to miss.
Once someone asked me: “How is Bhutan?” I told him that if there is one place where peace prevails with immaculate mountainous beauty, then Bhutan is it.
A Switzerland in South Asia, I added, to give more potency to what I had just said.
Of course, that person would rather visit Switzerland because it’s in Europe and once you are in Europe, the region of wealth, the impact of the photos on Facebook is bigger. Sri Lanka, I found, to be a country where politeness is inextricably mixed with discipline and cleanliness.
And yes, since many will want to compare, the country is just as attractive as any first world state.
As part of the official tour, we were taken to the sea side city of Hambantota; “Ambalantota” in their language.
Long time ago, read about this place in the Masud Rana book: Bisshoron, which was later adapted for the big screen in 1975, starring Sohel Rana in the eponymous role.
There is much happening in our South Asia. I came back from Sri Lanka feeling that they have discarded many of the habits that add unnecessary stress to modern day living
With foreign filming unheard of in the early days after liberation, Hambantota was recreated on the Cox’s Bazar beach.
So, naturally, I had a special interest in seeing the actual place.
Windy, cool, filled with coconut trees and tranquility -- these are the words that come to mind in describing this city kissing the sea.
On the way from Hambantota to Colombo, the first things to admire were the perfect highways and noiseless traffic.
Hardly anyone honked, and, when needed, our bus used a very mellow form of horn, which did not startle others on the road.
During our four-hour plus bus journey to the capital, passed several small towns and noticed how immaculate they appeared.
Everywhere there was a sign of order. No, not the clinical sort, but the type associated with pristine living, or something which we call “chhimchham” in Bengali.
The churches, mosques, temples looked as if they are cleaned regularly, the CNGs, in a variety of colours, added exuberance to the towns with the suburbs blessed with an air of serenity.
They say, if you want to find out about a nation, go and take a look at their toilets. We stopped at a large highway shopping area and there were two types of washrooms: One, which charged a fee, and the others, which were free for all.
In the latter section, one could sleep near the toilet.
The same has to be said for washrooms at malls in Colombo.
Colombo is a mixture of old colonial period architecture and the new, which means that the city retains much of its historic character.
Once more, I was struck by the small things that make a city first class -- neat steel scaffolding for construction sites, adequate public warning through fluorescent signboards, placards, horn-free traffic, and general cleanliness.
Modern amenities that make a cosmopolitan city are there along with plenty of religious spots for all faiths.
Near the port, large construction was underway. Again, in such orderly fashion, that even looking for faults in storing building materials, I failed to find any.
It’s amazing that nowhere could I find anyone lamenting the ill impact of the long-drawn civil war. Either they have decided to forget a turbulent past or are too busy making a better future.
As for a future, from the capital city, it becomes clear that this country is moving forward fast. Many top range hotels are found in Colombo with more coming up -- a sure sign that there is demand for luxurious accommodation.
Gastronomically, this city is adventurous, with an array of fresh sea food available from the high to the affordable end.
Colonial impact is visible with many fast food stores selling devilled kidneys and liver.
As I said earlier, there is a common (bizarre) trend to look at South Asian successes with disdain and, in some cases, without even seeing these achievements.
For shoppers, this country offers gems and spices. Those who are impressed by large shopping malls with brand names won’t be disappointed either.
There is much happening in our South Asia. I came back from Sri Lanka feeling that they have discarded many of the habits that add unnecessary stress to modern day living.
By the way, there are foot and head massage centres everywhere with glass windows, so rest assured, the happy ending is purely spiritual.
No wonder, these people seem so relaxed.
Incidentally, their lager is terrific; far better than the imported European ones. So, as an impressed visitor, I would suggest: For once, leave the common preferences and drop over at Colombo by the sea. Or, should I say, cathartic Colombo?
Towheed Feroze is a journalist currently working in the development sector.