Saturday, November 22, 2008

Impressions of an island

As part of a collaborative architectural workshop, I was part of the Triloka programme involving students from the University of Moratuwa, Sri Lanka , Muenster University,Germany and R.V.School of Architecture, India.Thus I got an opportunity to glimpse the beautiful Sri Lankan landscape as part of 12 Indian students who went to the island for the 2007 workshop. Here are some first hand impressions of the fortnight I spent there. 

The flight Air Lanka took just over an hour to reach destination. Hence it hardly felt like an international trip. The flight was cramped with food that was not so great. Since it was our first international flight, Rachana , Harshavardhini and me , the youngest trio of the lot seemed to be the most excited about the take off! Seated in the middle aisle , I couldn’t help envying those who had got the window seat. But soon after take off, I wriggled out of my seat and politely but demandingly asked Naveen if I could sit at the window for some time. He, unwillingly, complied. The most unearthly experience of watching the Indian map  in real scale overwhelmed me. As we drifted away from the east coast, I watched the crisp lines where land ended and the ocean began, glistening in the sun and looking like a slimy reptilian wriggling underneath. The air hostesses looked reptilian too,with their green skimpily designed versions of the Sri Lankan saree.

The “foreign land bubble” burst at the Bandaranayake Airport. We landed into the typical warm humid suffocation that I’m welcomed with in Mumbai or my native place Gokarn on the coast. Only this air seemed to hover with lot more humidity. After the long procedures to get us legally into the new land, with our luggage and visas and immigration, we sat outside by the luggage trolleys at the entrance portico, waiting for our host who apparently had got lost! It was a whole two or more hours before the representative from University of Moratuwa arrived with the minibus and whisked us away as quickly as he had come.

All along the journey from the airport to Mt. Lavinia where we were accommodated, I glimpsed an old Goan colonial ambience out of the window with the women in lovely skirts and umbrellas.The small town architecture being very similar or rather the same as our tiled lean to roof houses.

The initial food forays in the island proved disastrous for us both pallet wise and money wise. Only later I was made to know that we chose to eat at a wrong place most probably!What struck me also was that while having lunch, three ambulances zoomed by in a row silencing every ongoing activity around.With red , blue, green coloured rikshaws, old ladies in lovely skirts and frilly native sarees, and the sea forming a constant backdrop, it only felt like an extended realization of India.

Only, here there was a statue of Lord Buddha at every road junction, a welcome relief compared to our  incongruous circle ganapatees or political emblems. We could spot orange and maroon clad Buddhist monks in the buses, at the stations and completely blending with the people around.Our cottage , Ratna Inn,  was an adorable domestic guest house with good old Uncle Perera and his cook as the caretakers.

In the evenings , our individual explorations through the streets around , took us to the usual malls , boutiques and superstores. I personally found the apparels there quite reasonable , especially the lovely simple skirts and bought myself one!These forays were tinged with several humorous incidents, including one where one of the students fell into an open sewer while walking on the dark pavement! And ended up changing into pyjamas in one of the stores! And there was another where we thought some thing was an eatable in a shop and it turned out to be only an exhibit made out of wood!The beach was a few minutes walk away .The railway track was laid right alongside . So everytime a train passed we could feel the sand beneath vibrate.

This train track laid all along the coast upto Galle in the south seemed to be, a wonderful journey with the sea. But we did not get a chance to get on the train ride. 

The symposium on Green Buildings followed by the workshop , went on for four days with student teams from the countries working on certain architectural projects conceptually keeping the overall green building concept in mind. I would not really term it as a complete success work wise, as it is with all short themed workshops, but we made really good friends with our fellow Sri Lankan students and to an extent the German students. The ice breaking moment was when during the tea-break on the first day, the host students made us all play interactive, and otherwise childish games. So after the break we could see every nationality sitting with the other as opposed to the grouping of before the break! The second thing we had to make an effort was to remember the names!They sounded so sweet yet, of course,  quite different. To mention a few of them, Lahiroo, Tharinda, Chalendra, Chamara, Chalana, Dananjaya and so on.. among the girls, Sayurika, rasika, Erendi and others…In general I surmised that the SL students were masters in hand skills, sketching and emotionally driven by the design, while the German students were more technologically driven into their design approach using more computers and poor in hand skills. We Indians , I feel are stuck somewhere in between where we are emotionally driven but at the same time, dapple little into every other field and in turn end up with a collage of ideas some deep and many not so deep. So much for the workshop.


The Sunday trip

On a Sunday, the Indian and SL students arranged a bus trip visit to most of Geoffrey Bawa’s designed hotels along the Galle coast.

Pitstop1:The Blue Waters .. sheets of still water at the entrance porch. Pergolas and reflections into the water. The pebble pools. Flat Clean lines. Receding elevational profile. The infinity pool. The jackfruit leaf embossed onto the concrete pavers.

Pitstop2: Bewis Bawa’s Garden House. Geoffrey Bawa’s big brother. Interweaving paths and puzzling patterns. Lots of books. White walls and black oxide flooring. Many antiques and motifs.

Pitstop3: Triton hotel, Ahungalla Heritage. The porous entrance portico that frames the infinity pool. The old time steel elevator exposed in the foyer.

Pitstop4 : to drink coconut water by the road side at Paraliya. We saw just plinth level remnants of tsunami devastated homes along the coast. Our SL friends told us that the waves of the Tsunami rose higher than the lamp posts and uprooted the railway track along the coast.

Pitstop5: the lighthouse hotel , Galle. The fortress ambience. Portuguese bunkers.Waiters in checked sarongs. The spiraling atrium after the entrance woth the fortress warrior sculptures. The landscaping on the other side facing the sea reminisces of the steps of Machu pichu.

Pitstop6: Fort Galle and the lighthouse at Galle.The Dutch Reformed Church ; the infant child ‘s tomb and that of the Bengal infantry colonel who died of cholera on the shipment from Trincomalee . Moses explains the advent the Muslim population to the area. We hear children singing in the mosque nearby. Typical Dutch whiteness everywhere.

Pitstop7: Unawatuna Beach ,the 9th best beach in the world. The turquoise blue ocean water contently swaying with no waves. The sea is full of corals and I pick one as a souvenir. It starts raining. The rain glistening as dots on the sea surface gives the wonderful light overwhelming feeling. I stand in the rain with my pink umbrella doing little to keep me dry.

End of the day.. all wet happy and exhausted.!

Poye day is observed every full moon day when the whole island goes for a day long siesta ,people spend the day resting, gathering along and in general giving work a break. It’s a wonderful reminder for each of us to look up and watch the beauty of the night. 

The political situation and unrest could be sensed when we went to Colombo city where all along the Galle face, we could see armed gunmen and army trucks. We were warned by our SL mates to not click pictures in the city as it could be snatched away by the soldiers for security reasons. Only here and in one place in Galle , could I see a Soldier’s statue replace the Buddha at road junctions. It poignantly spoke about the change of the general feeling among the people about the ongoing war.

We further toured the island with the official worskshop participants to many iconic places including Anuradhapura in the North, Sigiriya, Dambulla, Kandalama, Kandy and so on. These were the places that truely stand to represent the history and evolution of the land, its culture and forming inspirational models for the new age thinkers and designers and space makers.. including Geoffrey Bawa who is highly revered by many  in the  land.. (while i have also come across people who describe him as selfish!).While the details into each of these could get cumbersome I would sum it up as a revealing and educative sojourn ,which only strengthened the emotional ties with our new friends. 

I believe that any journey besides externally enriching to the senses always enriches internal ties and leaves emotional figments of memories that propels one to go further from there.What I took from this small sinhala dweepa is warmth, grace and humility.The old movie songs we all sang together in the same tune but different languages, always ring in these ears .

Deewana hua baadal..  


rachana said...

hey u jus freshened all the nice memories of lanka... yup of the most memorable time v spent.. made new friends an njoyed wit our seniors too:) and i cannot forget the hospitality the lankans showed..
v did learn abt the way "architecture" is learnt , taught and practised in 3 countries.. we did have a healty and fruitful interactions during workshop too..
and hatsoff to your narration... i relived every moment.. yup only we can know the real essence of the place, the people and the work which uve just described... IT ROCKS!!!!!

Tharinda said...

Hi five for the bog Sraj..
It brought all the memories back. all the moments we shared together...
Relived every second..

those are unforgetable memories ya. speclially those silly childish games we played. they still linger in mind..

keep up the good wrk gal..