Sunday, March 11, 2018

Shot Gun Funeral

image aptly titled "our packages" from 

I didn't know till recently how much a coffin costs in Sri Lanka, it hasn't been that high in my "need to know" list. But this year I found out that it can be anything from 20,000 to 400,000 LKR.,and at each end of the spectrum the damn things look the same! They are shiny polished OBLONG WOODEN BOXES with handles! They have some shiny white material inside. The 400,000 one doesn't look 20 times as posh as the other one, it just looks the same but a bit heavier. I was told that monks get the high quality send off. Of course that makes sense, burning a box that costs enough to make a small home for a destitute family, just because they are a Buddhist monk. Just what the Buddha ordered!

As each year starts we look into it and wonder with new hope, if finally this will be the year we waited for, if this year we will find what we were looking for. None of us imagine that this may be the year in which we die.

My own 2017 started with rescuing a cow of all things under Gods sun. and of course it wasn't the usual rescue from the slaughterhouse, no this was me and this is Sri Lanka so this had to involve more drama and fright and bribery, corruption, violence and skullduggery and a predictably feisty hellcat cow that finally ran away into the sunset of Hanwella- that is a completely different story. But someone told me at the start that I would be blessed, that the universe would reward me. I waited with bated breath all year.

Then 2017 was the year when my father fell ill, mysteriously and irreversibly becoming bedridden in a series of events designed to test the limits of our endurance and of our belief. For various reasons I have written about in other places, I have no sentimentality about my father, and merely considered him sympathetically as an unwell elderly person in need of care.

My mother had taken care of him for many years now waiting on him hand and foot and we had watched as he played the merry devil with antibiotics, randomly self medicating according to his warped medical knowledge, and also binging on eye popping amounts of sugar, in spite of the fact that he was a diabetic and had a continuously suppurating foot wound. On the pretext that he needed sugar because he felt as if he had low sugar, which he did not. The difference between minors and criminally negligent adults is that of course you can't force elders to do anything, even if you can see that they are gradually killing themselves in front of you. My brother and I, his only children, were used to this self destructive behaviour after watching him chain smoke for 30 years, and then completely speculate his wealth away for another 20 years, we had given up expecting him to take any advice from us. Our mother had given up arguing around 50 years ago and instead lived in an alternate reality, based on her knowledge of astrology. Father was supposed to die in 2020. So we braced ourselves for a long and interesting relationship with elderly care institutions in Sri Lanka.

The extent of the care needed by this heavy tall bedridden and incontinent patient, was such that after no less than 23 calls to elderly care homes in Sri Lanka only four agreed to undertake his care. Two were unregulated budget homes for poor villagers, in Homagama and Padukka, salubrious areas of the country, but conditions within them were reminiscent of concentration camps with softer bedding and better ventilation. One was a budget home which looked like a hotel and charged a higher amount and one was a decently registered nursing home in Colombo run by doctors, where his expenditure would add up to more than our combined monthly incomes. We went through three of these different experiences in traumatic sequence.

In the first budget priced home in a rural area called Pitipana, we left our father only one night and returned to find that he had been threatened, starved, and traumatised and his catheter had been tied so he could not urinate. He was actually crying for water and did not let go of his plastic water bottle for many days afterwards. He began to speak only in Sinhala, and he would not recount what had been told to him to make him so terrified. We withdrew him from this pretty place and later my husband paid them a visit with about ten of his friends and indulged in a little summary justice, because we didn't have time or evidence to report them to the authorities. Proper revenge was taken Im happy to say, Sri Lankan style, because frankly we were in a state of emergency and really did not have the patience anymore to be classy and genteel about things.

Its difficult to concentrate, when you are holding up a very heavy and large man who has completely lost the use of his arms and legs, and is continuously incontinent. You try keeping your job, keeping your head and doing this. Adult Diaper bills for the month came to about half my salary, medication bandages and catheter changing added to that exceeded the combined income of my brother and myself.

I asked my husband what rural people with lower than middle incomes did. He said they would take turns. But he admitted he had never seen such a case. Occasionally a frail old lady might get paralysed but still she was the size that could be safely hauled to the loo for cleaning. My neighbour an elderly lady in her late 70s said that she had looked after her husband for eight years, by keeping him locked up at home, without clothes. He would crawl around the house soiling the corridors as he went. My father could not even crawl. It took two people to lift his torso high enough for him to be able to eat something.

Then a relatively expensive interlude in Colombo brought us physical relief, although at the expense of our financial and psychological stability. Cheerful, chubby nurses took care of everything, we could visit him and cheer him up, his long lost relations were allowed access, he seemed to be accepting his pitiable fate at last. But we were steadily notching up debts that we could not have dreamed of, and against our principles, sending pleas around to family members and to people we didn't know, to help father as we wanted to keep him in comfort, till we could sell the family home and finance the rest of his medical and palliative care. Life was disintegrating into a nightmare before our disbelieving eyes. True to Sri Lankan human nature one of our cousins threw it crudely in our faces that we had asked for help, although he had not contributed a cent towards helping us.

In the middle of this all, father himself had a small amount of stashed away money, which could pay for about two months of the nursing home, but he was being typically tight fisted about it. He could not walk, or stand or even sit up unless two strong people placed him upright, but he was stubbornly hanging onto his cash, saying that he would release it if we took him to the bank. To take him to the bank would need a stretcher, two strong men and an ambulance and was completely unnecessary as the bank has confirmed that he only had to sign a form and they would release it to us. There was a deadlock here which was difficult to believe. We could not afford to keep him indefinitely in the Colombo nursing home.

The pretty hotel like home in Homagama agreed to take him in for about ⅔ of the monthly fee. For the third time in three months we arranged to take him away. This was not before sending out another plea this time to the professional institute of which he had been a course director in his proud heyday. They did vaguely commit to sending some money but only a small amount actually materialised and this was enough for one month in the new place. Transporting him took an expense for two strong men to lift him and an ambulance to cart him to the new location. You may not have noticed it in the heat of an emergency, but ambulances are bloody expensive.

Two days later he was dead.

And the new elders home owner panicked, and placed an entry in the police station she claimed covered her jurisdiction, which was a place 30 km away called Horana; the police stampeded over clearly intent on finding some fault with her, 1 for not being properly registered 2 for not having a doctor in attendance and 3 for him having died just two days after arriving. There you had a entrepreneur lady living a horror story. She had just opened an elders home where lots of quiet little old ladies could be bullied into behaving themselves and giving her solid cash, and here she had accepted this bedridden old man and he had gone and died on her. She had the look of someone in a bad nightmare who just wanted to wake up. And it was Christmas day.

Our van transport on the day of the post mortem was no less than 300 km, which is the distance from Colombo to Trincomalee, - this is the amount of zigzagging from pillar to post that we had to go through, the vehicle being with us for no less than 36 hours. We went to the police station, waited for two hours for a constable to join us (there were no other people at the station) went on a detour because the constable wanted to have a look at his three wheel which had been given to a garage to repair,(this is how we spent the first few hours when we should have been quietly grieving for our dead father) then went to the Horana hospital where we waited standing for an hour till the JP came in and told everyone that he was doing us a massive favour by officially releasing the dead bodies of their loved ones, (he lectured us that not his job but he was doing social service)and we had to humbly and worshipfully listen to this (without screaming at him to sign the damn papers because our honoured beloved father was starting to disintegrate in the tropical heat in the mortuary van) then we had to wait another twenty minutes till a half witted nurse found the keys to his room, because they had forgotten the keys, then he took our statements (all three of us, mine, my brothers and the elders home owners) and tried to insist that my mother join the fray,("the spouse should claim the body") and became abusive when i said that she was mentally retarded, and hinted that he could issue a warrant and force her to come here. To this I shrugged, because by now i was ok with anything they did, I was just numb. This was just the beginning of the bureaucratic abuse and obstacles hurled at the family of newly bereaved.

More worshipful humility required of us as we stood near the mortuary for 4 hours, (stood because the Government of Sri Lanka wont afford seats for grieving family whose members are being dismembered) and waited experiencing various abattoir noises and nauseating smells, until at long last the doors opened and a misshapen bundle on a stretcher was exposed and the attendants asked us, rudely of course, where the polythene was. Which polythene you may ask? No one had said anything about polythene, not even our funeral house van drivers. So if you see Hollywood films where the deceased is neatly stitched up in a Y shape and handed back in a body bag, that's not how it's done in Sri Lanka due to our poverty or insensitivity or both. According to the embalming boys, my father's body had been sliced downwards on both sides of all four limbs, his skull sawn off and held in place with a long rag, and his innards emptied and flushed with so much water that the cadaver kept dripping continuously until it was cremated. Furthermore the main arteries had been torn out of their positions and lost, so the embalmers had no way of injecting formaldehyde. Gleefully, and so as to get some more money for their alchohlic bribe, the funeral boys showed me the photos. Morbidly curious as we humans sometimes are, I made the mistake of going through his smartphone file on our father.

Through this haze of insanity only one rational voice spoke to us reasonably, humanely and kindly and that was the JMO, Dr Prasan who first questioned the constable on the suitability of mangling the body of a 78 year old heart patient who had not one but at least four conditions which could kill him of natural causes at any instant, and told him in no uncertain terms of what he thought of his time being wasted in this manner. Constable 80100 did everything he could to obstruct and cause distress to us, including pointing out that the elders home was not registered, (it was under probation for one year which is reasonable in the circumstances) and that my mother had not arrived to claim her spouses body (to which the JMO replied that the children were here and that was quite enough) however the police entry meant that the body would have to be subjected to post mortem, it was beyond his power to stop this procedure at this point.

End of Part one

Part two- the horrors of old folks homes in Sri Lanka.



Saturday, February 03, 2018


Glue traps are a gruesome way to die for little animals, and this is Tinkerbelle a stray kitty who was caught in one, her front leg also breaking in the effort to release her, which is a common occurrence in victims of these inhumane devices. Tinkerbelle's rescue was funded by a private animal rescue fund named NO CAT LEFT BEHIND SRI LANKA.  This FB page based fund was initiated in 2016 by Dutch national Anouk Gaastra who was also the founder of Cat Protection Trust later taken over by animal rescuer Indira Sahadevan. The objective is to sterilize street cats and the cats of poor owners who cannot afford it, so as to prevent/reduce overpopulation and suffering among stray cats.

Locally resident animal rescuer Marilyn Wouters, who runs a shelter for disabled and paralysed cats in Negombo now helps raise and manage resources for this fund too, personally contributing to the fund on a monthly basis. With the kind support of a team of dedicated vets who work at subsidsed rates, the NO CAT LEFT BEHIND page helps spay, neuter, and treat injured and wounded street cats. Marilyn is also the author of "Picking Up the Pieces" a vivid memoir of life in a number of countries, sales of which also support her charities.

"But some people even abuse our fund, they say they cannot afford the operations but they drive up in cars, clearly they are not poor, this is stealing the chance from another poor person/animal," says Marilyn who emphasised that this fund is setup to help lower income animal supporters, overburdened "street feeders" and also helpless ownerless cats. "Some cases are very expensive to treat as they need long term hospitalisation"

​Beautiful Tinkerbelle now

To date 225 felines have been sterilised and 70 have been treated with funds of around 1.5 million LKR collected by Marilyn and her friends. The Funds have gone towards saving very pathetic cases such as neglected cats with chronic maggot infested wounds, dog bites, and broken limbs. "An estimated 90% of the money was from foreigners," adds Marilyn who works tirelessly on social media to raise awareness of the plight of the stray cats of Sri Lanka. "Since my outcry in December some donations came from Sri Lankans and I hope to be able to pay these bills and continue this work," To help support wounded and injured cats please join and support the FB page  and buy a copy of Marilyn's book "Picking Up the Pieces," You can help support this feline emergency fund directly by sending donations to Dr Asanka of Royal Vets Clinic in Maharagama.TP 0779470047

Safely spayed cats in a row

Sunday, January 28, 2018

The concise Looney Planet guide to:…..Wellampitiya

Wellampitiya… rocks! No seriously, I'm not saying this because it happens to be my home town, and I want to help 'jack up' the land prices in the area. Its just that I find it one of the most colorful, interesting, downright adventurous places to live in .And its not that I have lived here all my life, no: I do hazily recall comparatively civilized places like Nawala, Manchester and even exotic Nairobi and they honestly bore me, they are refined, predictable , really sane compared with this joint.


Getting there 

Located in the suburbs just outside Colombo, beyond Dematagoda on the Kolonnawa Road, you can reach it by making use of that overcrowded very slow, roundabout bus numbered 140 which heads in from Colombo 3, : I am constantly surprised to not hear yet that someone has been found suffocated to death in those buses, frozen clawing rigidly at the straps… I think they must be two of the poorest, smelliest, most overcrowded buses in Colombo. 164 and 166 too go in that direction but there is a danger of falling asleep and ending up in Angoda. This has happened to me. It is also a mere 15 minutes drive away from Colombo's Town Hall – that's a maximum of $ 3.50 in a Six-Eight-Eight Cab if you can actually convince them to go that way ( we face the same problem with fast food delivery unfortunately- I cant think what the natives have subjected them to, they do not give reasons, but those cute delivery chaps would rather run their bikes off Lovers Leap than agree to deliver anything to us although we are technically within their allowed mileage: Sad)


The Local Economy

 A substantial number of average Wellampitiya blokes do not actually attend day jobs but send their womenfolk out instead. Since I have a day job I too am not really sure what it is the employed ones do but I'm guessing its very macho and involves a lot of noise. Welding, masonry, truck driving – that sort of thing. And of course its more or less a homeland of tuk tuk drivers, those hairy, honest epitomes of lower middle class moral rectitude. Even the comparatively more effeminate Wellampitia bloke who ends up in the local "Chinese" food outlet, makes a lot of ruckus about it , chopping kottu roti as if it's the necks (or worse) of rival gang members and actually manually assaulting the stir fried veggies which lends it that wonderful so called "umami" flavour.


Regional Hobbies

Most male Wellampitians have excellent roofing in their homes but spend their lives on the road. The crack of dawn finds these ernest over-zealous early birds walking up and down the main road in banians and towels or gym shorts , brushing their teeth, drinking kola kanda and waiting for the morning newspaper(no doubt for updates on the latest local throat slitting incident ).


Safety : Dusk finds numbers of male Wellampitians squatting in little pow wows by the road side, chatting , slapping each other on the back, drinking from strange murky bottles and generally taking their civic duty seriously by monitoring all traffic, particularly the younger female citizens who happen to be returning from a days work.  Wellampitians take this very seriously- more as a job than a hobby. The result is, its actually very safe for local women to walk the streets at almost any time of the day or night. Women spend the evenings in temples or walking up and down between houses swapping dishes and retrieving children who have got slightly dispersed during the day(See "Youth Activities)


 Organised Crime (we're talking really organized)

 But it's a different story if you are a stranger in Wellampitiya. The silent looks of calculating concentration from the locals and the decidedly hostile snarling of about 15 under-sized, blotchy but vicious looking stray dogs per average road will send any but the most determined intruder back where they came from within a few minutes at most. I am personally convinced that thieves, rapists and criminal elements do not stand even a remote chance here unless they have actually agreed through prior bookings with some locals on whom to rob/plunder/molest and to what extent, etc. I also suspect aspiring criminals from other towns are sent here for final year training and if they ever do get out alive it means they are ready to graduate. Most of these resultant "honors" students leave minus superfluous appendages like noses, thumbs, eyeballs and the occasional stretch of epidermal insulation, but then those are the subject of good drinking stories later on (plus you get landed with short, pithy names like Blind Manju or White Nihal and get to write autobiographies with titles like "With One Foot in Sedawatte"). A very good friend of mine, an ex-Wellampitian who has subsequently moved to Nugegoda and reformed (honest!) recounted to me that after being attacked by half a dozen knife welding rivals, he regained consciousness in a ditch on the "Bundt" at 3 am with his scalp partitioned into three distinct flaps, and thought to himself- "hey- this isn't my bedroom"


You have probably heard about all kinds of vice emanating from Wellampitiya – murders, shoot outs, bus arson(oh joy) and occasional hauls of moonshine: well, speaking from the inside I must tell you these people are not really evil ,mostly they have merely given up with pretenses and dislike beating about the bush and hypocrisy. I personally approve, I mean - instead of the malicious gossip ,backstabbing and subtle under-cutting you encounter in so called "civilized" joints, I suggest it would be much more straight-forward to challenge someone you have a grudge against to an open shoot out and have done with them- it's crisp and uncomplicated. Also being shot cleanly in broad daylight would really be a blessedly quick end to all those vague anxieties about the cost of living, the ozone layer and whether mobile phones damage the few surviving brain cells you do have...


Endangered Fauna

High on the endangered list is Picky, a local dog canine citizen I met about a decade back. Among other unspeakable eccentricities, he has a compulsion to pee mark territory on piles of coconuts laid for sale at the local Pola. This would make even the gentlest of meditation-practicing Buddhist grandmothers understandably miffed but we are talking about hairy, tattooed underworld beefcakes, whose nuts are thereby devalued so I really don't know how he has survived this long. True to local tradition, he sports deep scars of different levels of freshness on his skull and neck and is blind in one eye; I swear I have seen him chase smaller rivals into the paths of oncoming buses; at the same time, he is very gentle with children and kittens and just yesterday I found him walking around inside a neighborhood pediatric clinic , looking silly and unfocused.

 Apart from bats ,kabarayas, visiting troops of grey langaurs, wading birds, water fowl, hoethamboowahs, bandicoots, porcupines and mongooses, I am rumored to personally harbor a white cobra at the bottom of my backyard, but I have never heard of it harming anyone. If it does exist, it is welcome to stay there. If not, it would mean that the natives have smoked it out, doused it in kerosene and given it a fiery send off, something they do to hapless reptiles, centipedes, scorpions and anyone they suspect of having an alternate sexuality, on the days they don't attend temple.


Youth activities 

Little Wellampitians (or Wellampettes as I like to call the precious darlings) are short,brown, shiny and very cute but have sturdy constitutions since their mums went through pregnancy dodging batons, brickbats and bullets and fortifying themselves on exhumed moonshine, instead of regular stuff like cows milk: they have fine tuned survival to a happy art, spend the afternoons playing Catapult-The-Town-Idiot, setting fire to the tail tufts of wondering cows and cheerfully riding their tricycles around dodging (and occasionally under) the 40 foot Maersk container-trailers that head in from Orugodawaltta to Peliyagoda.


 Garbage Disposal Is an issue here, which the local cattle sadly cannot handle all by themselves though they do try. Some of my neighbors have crossly demanded to know why I carry my garbage long distances and dump it in the local Urban Council collection bins (which are overflowing and stinky) instead of, like them, putting it in my own land since I live on a comparatively large extent of land. I have had to point out that really, I don't like them putting their garbage in my backyard, either, so will they please stop. This article completely ignores the huge mountain of garbage the size of Adams peak which slowly erected itself in our background, because its a contentious issue which has been dealt with so many times in the newspapers. At the time of updating this article, it has been "sorted" 



The road watching Wellampitian males are patient and take the security watch matter quite seriously staying up sometimes till about 1 am , doing pretty much nothing except discussing politics ,cracking lewd jokes, chewing things and occasionally hoisting their sarongs into strange arrangements the better to properly air themselves by. There is always a vague air of expectancy but what exactly they are waiting for I'm never really sure. In conclusion-Wellampitians don't pretend:if they think someone did something wrong, they tell him so, while ramming his skull rhythmically into a "blokgal" wall and making him chew on knuckle sandwich.


If they like a woman they appreciate her loudly and enthusiastically.


If they like you as a person you get to attend every festival they can afford to invite you to viz age comings, home comings (after honeymoons or after a stint in jail), funerals and the-after-funeral-but-before-the-anniversary party, you name it, you are welcome. They take Sri Lankan hospitality to new levels. And trust me, as with usual Sri Lankans, there is some darn good cooking at each of these (particularly the funerals ) . 


For those of my friends who think this is an article aimed at policy makers,and the local Urban Council I honestly don't mean it that way and personally wouldn't suggest changing a thing, except perhaps the mosquito situation. The writer in me thrives on such excitement as neighborhood flood-outs, vigilante revenges and extreme exorcisms : this beats watching WWF on cable any day. I'm just sorry my article cant be larger, perhaps with a photo supplement..:)


In case anyone is interested in buying land over there, do let me know. :D

Wednesday, November 01, 2017

My Darkest Secret

(Art courtesy Daily Mirror )

Its been up on two years now but the guilt of it has kept me silent so far. Even now I will not tell you who I am, for your author, dear gentle reader, is guilty of having broken the law, violated the penal code and /or acted unconstitutionally to boot and what's worse now intends to crow about it too!

The cause of this was a beady eyed, near comatose bundle of black feathers I found on Greenpath , one Monday evening last July on my way back from work.

This creature was later named Pokey and he * was seriously ill; birds of his feather had gathered around thoughtfully and were noisily discussing their intention of putting him out of his misery.( Hint: this would involve being summarily pecked to death because they do not want to Leave you to the Cats. They obviously give a lot of thought to this sort of thing, crows.) Pocky did not have enough strength to so much as lift a wing but lay abject and lifeless waiting for his fate to be finalized.

Well, you know me,(or you should by now if you have been reading what I write -) I cannot walk past a creature that desperate, with my eyes wide shut- so I called up a passing tuk tuk , demanded a polythene bag from the surprised driver and placing the uncomplaining black mass in it, hired a lift home.

The local Vet and I have an excellent understanding: he maintains a straight face and does not burst out laughing (or screaming hysterically) when I bring the latest case in – and I provide him with lots of useful On the job experience. This was no exception.

Pokey was examined closely , his drooping wings flexed , his rigid, gnarled claws gently but forcefully unclenched, and his throat shed light into with a good torch, after which dear ole Dr Perera decided that the paralysis could be treated by modern day anti-biotics. He showed me how to take a "karala"(capsule) and divide it into eight parts one of which I was supposed to administer at 6 hourly intervals.

So there was I saddled with a limp, dying crow, a 3 day course of tetracycline and a cardboard box which I hastily requisitioned from the nearby supermarket.

The next challenge was to smuggle said refugee into our residence without my father noticing.

My father is the serious, strict, Decision Maker person at home, the king of the Castle so to speak, who gives a lot of thought to possible calamity in life and solidly disapproved of anything with feathers on the basis that "they can have all kinds of dirty germs" and this ,mind you , was in the seventies, decades before bird flu was even invented, and in spite of the fact that he practically grew up on something like a farm.

This therefore had to be a quiet back door entry kind of thing and so it was that I managed to sprint my unresisting secret up to my bedroom before the gate man could even turn around, and shut the door firmly against inquisitive family members to take a deep breath and really think about what I had just done.

Im a working girl, out from 9 to 5, and I have a small carpeted bedroom about 8 by 10, a very peaceful feminine pad furnished in pastel pink d├ęcor with lots of stuffed Disney characters- and now I had a large heavy rude black bird convalescing in it. Just how rude he could be I was about to find out.

The first dose of tetracyclin was a breeze because I d found a needle – less syringe and mixed the dust with honey, and Pokey was not expecting this , neither had he enough strength to object. Down the hatch it went, with nary a rustled feather.

And within an hour or two , it was working ! The listless doomed look was replaced by a suspicious calculating look, the head was beginning to stand alert. Even the feathers were glossier, I swear . It was one of those good moments in a pet rescuers life. It was also when the problems really started because Pokey began expressing his opinion, in a harsh and unlovely tone, probably listing his constitutional rights demanding freedom of expression and movement etc …

7 or 8 hours and two doses afterwards, Pokey was visibly transformed :From being a limp bedraggled black heap of feathers with an obvious death wish- he was now walking around in his cardboard box bobbing his head critically up and down like a hygiene inspector, testing his wings for flightworthiness and emitting short , trial croaks, which in the confines of my pad, sounded like background sound effects from Jurassic Park ….

The challenge was now to get him to shut up, because I was just not supposed to harbor crows in my bedroom. Leave aside the penal code and the neighbors, my dad would have a fit. My mother came around as she usually does on her evening -bringing-the-tea-walk, and I opened my door about three inches and had a bright chat with her after which since she knew the funny look on my face was anything but innocent she began pushing very gently at the door and saying sad things like ' is something the matter? I know you are hiding something. Im your mum. You can talk to me, you know," that sort of thing.

Subterfuge had always been pointless with her, so I pulled her into the room and shut the door firmly – subsequent dialog went something like:

"You can't hide a crow in your bedroom, darling.
" I know"

"Puthey, First of all you tell this to dad,"
"No but he will Start Shouting -"

"You are not thinking you can hide a crow in here –its like having a man under the bed, with his shoes sticking out- !"

"He ll be better in a few days and Ill put him out. Do you think Thaththi has to notice??"

(Would he notice all the raucous shrieks, flapping and thumping and the steady build up of guano on the windows –let me think, YES! )

And Pokey chose this moment to burst noisily out of the cardboard incarceration he was supposed to be quietly recuperating in, emit a loud huffy protesting squawk, and go for a preliminary test flight around the room which ended in a loud and negative thump as he connected with the window pane.

Mom was right about this. It wasn't going to be as easy as I thought.

Next week: A crow's got to do what a crow's got to do.

* Neither the vet nor I ever did find out if it was a he or a she , but I prefer to think of most crows as masculine: Compared to other regular birds, they are dark, solid and make a lot of noise so, its obvious they are discussing politics, cricket or the Milanka index.


What followed was about 40 hours of wild and total chaos. Pokey's condition improved exponentially and he gorged himself on papaws and salmon, which he naturally had to expel pretty soon; crows either have short digestive tracts or this one was so starved that whatever he ate went right through. Pretty soon my beautiful bedroom was covered with a series of artistic streaks of half digested muck which I did not want to analyze. My bed, carpet and walls, in fact any patch of room I did not cover with newspapers and polythene was liberally decorated with guano. My monitor and keyboard were favorite areas as well as the dressing table where Pokey would land near my deodorant collection and preen in the mirror.


At some stage in the proceedings Mom reported on me to Thaththi and he mercifully adopted a "Wait and See" approach since it was a bit late in the day to worry about germs. This meant if anything went wrong (or wronger than it already had) I could probably look forward to  a humbling lecture on how I should be more responsible and not Do Nonsense like this  etc. The rest of the family came by to see things for themselves and were rudely judged by Pokey. The Persian cat gave me a look I wont forget and stayed outside a radius of 30 feet from my bedroom.


Within 24 hours Pokey had learned two tricks. To come when he was called, and sit on my mouse pad if I tapped it(perhaps it looked friendly and familiar  like an helicopter launch site?) and the Silly Cotton Bud Trick: Cotton buds were to Pokey what a red flag is to a bull- you showed him one, he would take it as a personal challenge, and grab it from you, yank it angrily out of your fingers and place it on the ground. Then he would give you a beady-eyed look as if challenging you to touch it. If you did try to touch it, he would hold your finger very threateningly in a strong black beak and push your hand away. But there was a glint of mischief in the beady eyes that spoke of smiling insides.

This then is why it has been outlawed to harbor crows, their intelligence is incredible and I believe uncharted, I'm sure if they had opposable digits these little black suited gentlemen would be running the show. This was a wild crow that could not possibly have known a word of human, let alone English and here he was answering to a silly name I had given him within a matter of hours.


The worst challenge was catching hold of him for long enough to force-feed the tetracyclin as per the six hourly course. This was an exercise in guerrilla warfare that took about 2 hours for me to win, and helped me lose a lot of weight. Pokey did not want to have a bitter powder shoved down his throat and freely expressed his disgust in no uncertain terms. From the strangled objections it was pretty obvious that I would soon be hauled in by the Wellampitiya Police, not just for harboring a crow but for general breach of peace, environmental pollution, and if Pokey had his say, animal rights violations too.


48 hours of this was the giddy limit. SO two days after I had rescued a weak droopy lump of crow on Greenpath, I opened my windows in Wellampitiya and told Pokey he was free to go.


The croak he let out was definitely something like "that's more like it" and out he flew like a large black torpedo, but characteristically he did not disappear at once, but sat on a banana leaf outside my window and I swear he looked at me and said a lot of Crowish things which were not totally unflattering.


I  safely assume it was something in the lines of  "So long and thanks for all the fruit!" or he could have been warning me about the plots my cats were hatching , or telling me to go easy on the deodorant- I do wish I had confirmation.

Either way, within a minute, he was soaring off into the wild blue yonder and I was sitting smiling in a room which needed cleaning.


Pokey may have left me in favor of freedom but I have I have memories, which I treasure, of two days spent hiding a little black suited refugee in my bedroom and I have a 15 minute video clip which I show to my friends and relations when they come to visit.


 Now that's something I'm going to take with me to old age!



Possible tactical uses for well-trained ravens –

·         watch the defense lines/ act as early tsunami warning systems,

·         fix electrical wiring, paint the exteriors of tall buildings and of course spy on locations of cheating spouses—

·         report on traffic snarls  and advise on alternative routes..

·         in well-organised flocks, help in crowd control, break up mass rallies by dropping guano on unruly crowds/boring public speakers

Things we could really ban in Sri Lanka along with or instead of, crows:

  • Wheedling, forging things and perjuring yourself to get your kid into a famous school
  • Making bullocks carry more than 1.5 tons of stuff at a time.
  • Performing horn cantatas in front of Maternity hospitals/funeral parlors
  • Cramming more than 350 people into a 25 seater bus at a time

Tuesday, October 17, 2017

Grandma Issabelle


And so , since all stories must have a beginning , my life story probably starts with this  wonderful ancestor, grandma Isabelle.

        Now if that name makes you think of sweet, genteel colonial ladies with delicate fans, parasols and elbow length white gloves, partaking of "Tiffin" or groping tremulously for their smelling salts, let me bust the bubble because Grandma Isabelle was – different. [1]

        I remember her looking sternly at me over her thick spectacles and saying "are you sure you are wearing decent knickers, child? Otherwise  skirt going up and people will laugh- big shame,  no"

        I remember looking back at her and nodding humbly "yes, nana" ; I dare say your own grandma probably told you stuff like this too, when you were a kid, but the difference here was probably that I was 30 at the time, and had come to visit her, riding a small Indian Yamaha, without a valid license. …(ouch!)

        She boasted of language that could out-swear the hairiest Pettah drunkard and was not afraid to use it. Words like thoe, yakoe, and bung, and rolled off her tongue with as much dubious ease as the lyrics of Edelweiss and old Nat King Cole numbers…

        She was maybe a tad over five foot high and as light as a thistle but ate like a Marine, and knew how to enjoy life to the fullest.  I remember she loved anything packaged in England (peaches, tarts, wheetabix) for the same reason that children do, that its bright , flavorful and generally not locally  available, and she would cheerfully guzzle chocolates, fig biscuits  and apple tarts with a devil may care "to hell with the diabetes" attitude.(Blood sugar, predictably, didn't dare to rear its ugly head and try cramping her style, because I suspect she would have told it to go take a hike)

        My art, writing and sense of esthetics I believe I owe to her side of the family and she taught me, I remember, how to paint ostriches in the African Savannah. I can still mix the exact color of an ostriches butt feathers which are a "bluish greenish black with a slight touch  of yellow in it for depth".

        It was later on that I actually learned that Colombo's"Morotuwa" people are somewhat famous for the arts, (art, music, sculpting and writing ) and that "down south"  people sometimes don't really value this much because they are way more practical in useful talents like cooking and making broods of exemplary offspring…intermarry these two and there will always be gentle disdain from both sides about what the other cant do.

        Grandma Isabel's favorite movie was "Colomba Sanniya " which although I have never seen in my life, I have listened with delight to the detailed accounts of,  since I was 7 and thus can actually picture clearly in my minds eye, right down to the white scratch marks on the movie.

        The hero was played by Freddie or Eddie someone  who won a lottery as the story was repeated to me on torpid tropical Ceylon afternoons, which along with ambul bananas , large Marie biscuits(no longer produced) and good Ceylon tea, makes me now realize how ancient I must be…it is  classic 1940s style comedy about some village godaayaas[2] who get a luxury house in Colombo that they don't know what to do with. Around the point where they start doing their laundry in the commode, grandma falls into numerous microsleeps and I have to start nagging her for the balance.

        By 90 and bordering on Alzhimic, Grandma Isabelle had a distinctly selective and very volatile memory, something computer junkies would have called "Need Only Memory" because she remembered things only if they suited her, and otherwise resorted to a an extremely blank and innocent expression of pleasant non recognition which she had perfected down the years.

        So questions like " would you like another piece of angel cake ?" would be met by a carefully worded and vague " what angel cake ? did I just eat a piece?" which meant of course but don't tell anyone I ll be having two.

        I don't believe Nana worried about death at all, even thought she was past 90 when it got her. Although she sometimes discussed passing concerns like globalisation, deforestation and whether young Tushi was having an unsuitable affair in her office , she accepted inevitable eventualities like illness and mortality with the calm don't care attitude of a tattooed underworld thug.         

        In fact quite predictably she went down singing and joking and her last recorded words where a cracked baila very loosely translated as "shall I tell you of the love I have for you? In the afternoon come to the bathing pipe-and ill tell you" and I know she went laughing all the way.

        Grandma was a rebel in her age, like I am in mine.

        They say that each person will somewhere be duplicated in her ancestry or among her descendants, and if so I wonder if I will someday have a pixie faced, happy go lucky tomboy of  a grand or great grand daughter, who will write about me.

        Just maybe she will be called Isabelle, too.

[1] This sort of explains me, but not fully

[2] Pardon the haughty colonial reference.

Wednesday, September 20, 2017


Dear Santa,


Firstly, I would like to thank you for visiting us once a year and giving us presents. That's really sweet of you.


In all my early letters, I have asked for things like "elimination of pollution" and "increase of moral values in mankind" and "better treatment towards animals and women" but I think none of it has happened.


Men, women, children, animals, plants and earth herself is dying of starvation, wars, abuse and all sorts of nasty things. So I take it that you probably have a lot in your plate and that's why it's still going on. I hear God is pretty busy too. I don't read the news or watch television much but from what I hear Daddy say, the world has become pretty much a poop hole. But not in so many words. Id have to put a penny in the word jar if I said the word he used. That and I probably wont get this years present from you too.


I wrote a letter to God asking why he hasn't looked into all these stuff that's happening. I didn't get a reply yet. He's probably busy looking into it. So I thought I'll try you.


There is this picture I saw on the internet. It's very sad. I love animals and I even have a rescued kitten . Seeing this doggie like this made me wanted to cry out and hug my poopsy. I don't understand why anyone could do such a thing to a sweet soul like this. I mean, look at those eyes. What wrong has this doggie done to receive such treatment? What moral misconduct has he done to be treated like this? I don't know the whole story behind it but maybe he stole a loaf of bread or something and he was kicked out on to the streets. He has all sorts of wounds in his body and I cant for the life of me imagine what would have made such horrible wound. Doesn't anybody know that it hurts the same way whether they're humans or animals? I hear people throw gasoline at doggie's backside so that they wont get more puppies. Is that true, Santa? Do they really hurt these defenseless animals like that


After several months of poor treatment like this, someone had come forward to rescue this soul. It had been a group of people who go looking for injured animals who had taken this poor animal to their shelter to try aand help them in any way they can. This would have been difficult as nursing sick animals back to health is quite expensive. ( I should know, Poopsy was bitten by my doggie, Mickey and had to be nursed back into health. Poopsy cant use her right leg now but apart from that she's perfectly fluffy and happy. Daddy paid quite a lot to get her better again)


Apart from rescuing puppies they also hold sterilization camps. I think what they want to do is reduce the number of puppies on the road so that poor doggies don't have to starve and suffer a lot. But some people don't like that too. Because apparently it is against God and it is his will that girl doggies have babies without being stopped. I don't think God will mind . Because at the end of it all, they are helping the doggies by eliminating the beginning of suffering. 


Some ask them why they do it for animals, and why not human beings, like children in the cancer hospital. Yes humans should be given priority compared with animals but don't animals feel pain and distress just like we do? Don't they also feel hunger like we do? Don't they like to get a decent bone or two to munch once in a while? Don't they feel pain and sadness when pelted with stones when they try to make friends with you? I think love and compassion should be felt towards animals as well as humans because we both feel the same things in the same way although we don't communicate it in the same way.


This group of loving and caring people did come forward to help this dog. Not just him, but many many doggies on the road. Some with terrible wounds like these and others who have been dumped on the road by mean people. What's more, these aren't those fancy wooly doggies you on magazines and TV. People dont hesitate to take them home even though they are very expensive in buying as well as maintaining. But what about the street doggies who have no one? They need someone to care for them too.


So maybe God does send his angels on and off to help around. And he does show that whatever someone does, may it be a giving a biscuit to a cat whose starving on the road or offer a ride to an old lady, if they do it with a good heart and in the genuine hope of giving someone a helping hand, it makes a difference.


Maybe it doesn't have to impact a whole group of people or create a huge announcement in mass media. Maybe it'll just touch one soul in a way that makes that his or life a happier place even if its just for that one day. A small group of thoughtful people can make a difference.


It is a fight for them. Money is a major issue. Social opinion is another. But I don't think they are willing to give up just because they don't have any money. They cant help all the sick doggies in this country. But they are trying by beginning somewhere. They know what they do will change the lives of atleast one soul that is need of help and comfort. They cant do it all by themselves. They are called Adopt a Dog in Sri Lanka. And they need your help.


I'm sorry if my letter is too long but I needed to tell you everything. And for this year's Christmas  it would be make my wish come true if you could help them out.


Whenever you can. With whatever you can. It will make a difference. I promise.  J


--visit their page on fb on

and explore how you too can make a difference for a street pup this Christmas.

Monday, July 24, 2017

A Vow for Munchi

Its six months since Operation Munchkins, when we ran after a little stray heifer for 4 hours in a tropical thunderstorm, trapped her, jumped her and got vets to cure the hideous nose wound made by a rope that was eating into her flesh.

We didnt know where she was from - there were two theories that she was an escaped slaughter house cow, and the second theory that she had been releasaed in fullfilment of a vow as is done by some Buddhists and Hindus. I personally go with the slaughter house story because the "Vow Cows"in Sri Lanka usually have a little branding saying PINg so that people know they are sacred or whatever. Munchi dosnt have the branding.

Thats a psychedelic camera phone image of a photograph of Munch after the rope was cut away.​ Belongs to Zeenath Amanath my partner in crime

 A neighbor of mine named Zeenath and I became the best of friends as we sat in the evenings after work, looking after her, swatting mosquitoes, bringing her kilos of food, dancing about after her trying to spray maggot repellent on her sore nose which she thoroughly resented. 
Then there was the incredible Christmas eve drama of how we had to work around the clock to get the government papers and transport ready to whiz her out of Wellampitiya which was not safe, teaming as it is with druggies and abbatior lorries ready to get hold of a vulnerable walking beef. 

We spent another tense couple of weeks watching over her as we tried to integrate her into the rural environment more suited to a lady of her vegetarian requirements...and she very literally dragged a number of strong men over drains and ditches in her stubborn attempts at escape. Our ideas of her gently grazing while tied to local trees were rudely shattered by a stubborn little barrel of bovine determination who insisted that she would not be tied, would not live in anyone's backyard and damn well wanted to go whereever she wanted.

So for the next three months as we trailed uselessly in the background biting our nails
​, falling in ditches and getting lost in the jungle (me mostly, and thats when my husband said, "the cow I can find, but where the blazes did you go!")​
and whatsapping photos of her latest exploits, she managed to integrate herself with a little herd of fellow 
​bovines, in a small community of newly developing houses, there to retire gracefully... or so we hoped.

​This month July was incredibly difficult for me. Not only did my beloved mother in law pass away,(peacefully and gracefully as was her way) marking the end of a chapter in my life, and bringing me closer to my mortality...but an incident of wanton cruelty resulted in my favorite cat dying a gruesome, ghastly ​death after prolonged suffering due to someone having thrown boiling water on it. Biscuit suffered for days and his dying took hours, and hours of agony. 
I was with Biscuit all along and the worst part is not every one will understand the pain this process caused me, as after all, Biscuit was a cat. 

the adorable chubby Biscuit so named because he liked eating said confectionery 

IN the midst of trying to recover from this difficulty came the news that Munchi was missing, and, when we followed up, some of our more smart ass young neighbours insisted that she must have been "taken"
Now you know what I mean, "taken" as in kidnapped by a passing lorry of cattle smugglers, to be sold at the nearest abattoir for a quick buck and some beef. My mind imagined ways in which parts of Munchi would be roasted, grilled, boiled, fried...for the alcoholic evening enjoyment of groups of loud local three-wheel drivers (you have probably picked up that I hate this entire sub section of society.) It was like imagining gang rape. 
I could not stay calm.
I went blind with rage at the whole idea.
There were seven cows in just the herd she belonged to, and there were about twenty cows i personally recognised in my neighbourhood, black ones, brown ones, white ones, spotty ones, grainy ones etc and who the HELL were these people (including my husband) to stand there and calmly suggest that Munchi alone had been taken ?? for that is what they did, as if they knew it all. There was supposed to be a white van of all things, taking cows. 
But why Munchi? 
Because she was fat looking? gingerly suggested my cowboy husband, and got a truly poisonous look from me...
I didnt know what to do. 
Spent some time actually crying.

I had been playing with being a vegetarian for a couple of months, but this time I decided to put my foot down on it and reject any temptation this filthy universe sent my way. No I would not be part of a system which tormented innocent beings the way this world did. No I would not put innocent misery in my stomach again.

I hated the world, hated nature, hated the whole of Godforsaken Hanwella including my husband who I insulted and bullied as much as I could, implying that his manhood itself was to be doubted if in the whole of his hometown,where he was such a figure, only his cow got lifted out of the dozens I could see. 

He refused to be insulted but was genuinely sad about the lost Munchkin. 

the kovil inside- not sure if its allowed to take photos though

Then some village woman suggested we make a vow at the local Hindu Kovil, which was actually a place with a large stone cow kept as an effigy- supposedly a vehicle of the Gods, or a favorite of the Hindus or some such thing. I liked the idea. I loved the kovil as i had earlier visited out of curiosity, and this time I was here on business.
Making a vow (not to be confused here with the original vow made by the people supposedly releasing Munchi from a slaughterhouse death) means you promise to do something that the Gods want, and ask them to grant you a favour.  
I had to resist the impulse to ask for uncounted riches and fame, helicopters and a yacht as well as food for every starving cat and dog in the world,- and instead tied a modest 5 /= coin and lit some lamps and joss sticks and reasonably asked instead that the Gods please please look after this stubborn BITCH of a cow and keep her safe into her old age, and also send us a sign soon that she was ok. 
My promise was that I would bring them a fruit basket (big deal?) and also incidentally, by the way, if anyone cared, that I would be vegetarian for the rest of my life. (apparently this could mean something)

Pretty colorful pooja items, fruits, and coconuts, innocent stuff that Hindu Gods seem to like

I loved the camphor and the joss sticks, and the Swami was actually a rather dishy young dude though very full of himself, and principled I understand as he had put up a board saying he would not do magic and curses, but for other matters to contact him ( I guess he would do the vows thing) He made us buy a ticket for the upkeep of the kovil, and also told us to walk three times around the place with the burning coconut and wish hard in our minds for what we wanted while he also said something very iconic in some other language, which is presumably how he communicated with the deities...and I was supposed to break the coconut and make the wish.
I did, and the coconut broke at once, meaning that the wish would be successful.
I hoped so and I felt good.
I dont know.
I didnt know what to think 

And yet, just a day afterwards, just this morning the message reached us from the village that Munchi had been spotted and was fine.

I like to think it was my vow and my prayers, but  I also feel it was the luck of one very blessed little street cow.
Ive decided Im not going to look for her any more, but I will trust in the Gods, the goodness of the universe, and her own powerful destiny to keep her happy wherever she is until the end of her time and mine.