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.
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.
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...
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.
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-t
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