Saturday Magazine
Exploring Kandy

esala.jpg (28250 bytes)by Akane Furukawa
I was fortunate enough to be in Sri Lanka when the Kandy Perahera which enjoys world-wide fame as one of the greatest pageants took place. It was without a doubt one of the most spectacular events I have ever witnessed .The elephants alone was enough to intrigue; the brightly lit elephants which swayed like gigantic jewels was purely magical. On top of this were the dancers, drummers and torch bearers who lined the streets which were full to the brim with spectators all enjoying this marvellous display. The dancers managed to capture the audience as the rhythm of the drums got faster and faster. Defying gravity this managed to powerfully yet delicately manoeuvre in time. Walking and dancing in the streets for the duration of the parade must be tiring and sore on their bare feet and yet every single dancer seemed to be beaming, their white teeth glowing in the dark. It was the wonderful Sri Lankan smile which told the whole story of an united set of people parading their love for music, dancing and celebration. It was a truly splendid display well worth seeing.

My journey to Kandy was an experience in itself. Advised that the train took longer but was more scenic, we found our way to the Colombo railway station. The minute we arrived people began to approach us, like bees to honey. "Where are you going they ask "Hello, hello!" was the customary calling of these talented business men. Never having been to the station before, I was completely bewildered and needed a moment to compose myself. There was no time for that. "Going to Kandy?" "Over here, over here" they shout. Not quite sure what the hell was going on, we managed to buy tickets, still escorted by these men. We were down to two of the most persistent men who followed us onto the platform. On the one hand one tries to ignore them, you know what they are after and yet afraid of being rude, I seem incapable of denying their existence.

"You come from...?" "Ah...England". The conversation had started. They beckoned us to sit down on a bench and the real interrogation began. "How long have you been here?" "Have you been to the South?" "Have you got a place to stay in Kandy?" "Yes we do have a place to stay and yes we already have a tour booked to see the island suddhee. They were hinting that they could take us on a tour themselves. Apparently they knew very good friends with hotels in beautiful areas...but of course they do At this point I was thinking, as if I would go on tour with some man whom I don’t know from Tom, Dick or Harry. Then he produces a book. After he discovered that I could read Japanese as well as English, he was overjoyed. Flicking through his book, which was obviously his pride and joy, he turns to a page with Japanese on it. I start to read... "If you are reading this book, you must be sitting in the Colombo station wondering who this stranger is" Dam right I thought. The page goes onto describe what a wonderful trip this person had had and how he encourages anybody reading it to do the same. Flicking through his book, there was almost every language represented, all more or less saying the same thing. They all advocated that I should "Be brave and trust this man" It was a huge sales pitch. They spent over 15 minutes with us, handing us his card and pushing us to read. "There is more" "Do you read any other languages?" "I can show you the real Sri Lanka" It was hard to say no, these men were friendly and had this kind look upon their faces. We were not gullible enough though, and shook their hands and escaped. I am not sure whether he was a fraud. The writings of many looked genuine but however many pages he showed me, I do not think it would have convinced me to go with this man.

We finally got a moment to take a breath and look around. I loved the little touch of budgies under the stairs, tweeting away. It made me feel at ease a little "Hello! Hi", jolted from my moment of peace it is another man. "You go to Kandy?" "Stand over here, this is where the second class compartment will be." "Madam, come, come" This inability to say no again was beginning to annoy me as I moved along the platform. "You come from..?" "Ah.. England" The conversation starts again. "Lots of people today, you must be quick to get seats" "you going to see the Perahera?" "Got a place to stay?" "What are you doing in Sri Lanka?" "How long are you staying?" It was the same question and answer session. I almost felt like having a set of cards with the answers written on them to save me the trouble of answering "England" "6 months" "Yes we have a place to stay" were the answers Then came the important part. "You pay 50 rupees and I will make sure you have seats" When you are a foreigner in this country, it seems that you can pay for almost anything and it will be done for you. "No thanks, we will be fine", we politely declined.

By this time I was praying that the train would hurry up and come before anybody had the chance of approaching us again. "Hello!" Too late, it was man number three Less enthusiastically I sort of looked in his direction to acknowledge him but did not speak. He got straight to the point without the niceties which I was grateful for. He was collecting money for the deaf and blind school. By this time our resolve was stronger, "No sorry". We managed a feeble but definitely no. Horrified and shocked that we said no, "Why?" he asks. That was a good point. Why? The fact that he looked hurt made me feel bad. If this was in England and someone came up to me and asked for money for the deaf and blind school, I would gladly give but how could I explain to this man that I thought he was fraud? I had no way of knowing. If he was genuine I apologise but unfortunately scepticism had gripped hold of me. He still stood in front of us for what seemed an eternity holding out his hand. It was a battle of wills. I sat there pretending he did not exist feeling awful. I promise to put money in the next charity box, I thought to myself.