Image → Lionel Wendt (1900-1944)
Yesterday echoes in me; traces of its faces and voices sweep in through my seaside window, retelling stories and laughing. Like a song, they lift me to heights of rapture at times and cease altogether at another moment, dropping me back to Earth, only to begin again. I had been let into a secret world on this island so far from my home.
It was when I visited a house named Alborada in Colombo—my first social gathering since moving to Ceylon eight weeks ago. Taking a liking to my writing, Alborada’s owner had invited me to an evening of drinks. Upon entering, I was transported by a goddess statue framed between the leaves and roots of a philodendron creeper climbing the walls of Alborada. Her ethereal form—atop a lotus, holding an instrument of music—shone through the earthliness of the red clay that it was crafted from. She emanated a beauty that I can only describe as sanctified—beyond the grasp of human desire. It bathed the world in a light of sacred delight. I walked from room to room, drinking cooled tea and arrack insisted upon me, drifting between the many paintings of seascapes and the wilderness that are as exuberant as they were sincere. I shifted dreamlike between photographs of beautifully sun-coloured men and women—their skin more akin to bronze than flesh—and meeting their real-life counterparts visiting Alborada that evening. Artistic savants, oriental misfits, musicians who pronounce your name like a song, writers, actors—all resting comfortably between east, west, classical, and neoteric. They befriended me with ease, opening new layers of the quiet, natural extravagance inherent to this place. I realized that, along Albarado’s leafy verandas and courtyards, I’ve encountered Colombo’s bohemia—a secret island within an island.
Back here at my house by the edge of the sea—where my only companions are Muthu the cook and Kalu the feline—the brief world at Alborada seems like a daydream. I long for my next invitation to revisit. But, in a sense, I remain part of that world with its allusions overwhelming me still. Outside my window is the miracle that is the sea. In the way the sea rebirths old rocks and sand trembling anew with its salty fluids, I remember the textures of a particularly beautiful painting at Alborada. The way the sea glimmered this morning—with fish throbbing in bright yellow, ultramarine, streaks of sanguine, and gleaming fertile greens like forests come alive—left coloured stains on my mind. The curves of the woman selling fruits blended gracefully with those of the mangoes, guavas and sapodillas in her basket; the rhythm of her walk and the rise and fall of her breasts were timed with the chorus of the ocean. Watching the fishermen—their browned muscles as taut as the ropes pulling their sails— I recalled the many nudes pinned up in the photography studio room of my host at Alborada. I can no longer help seeing a sense of natural innocence in everything that is sensual.
I think of the goddess at Alborada. Someone said she was Saraswatī—a divine symbol of life’s ever-persistent will to create beauty. I feel her again and again in the call to absorb sights, chroma, taste, and scents that flood my senses and in the revel of pouring it out through my pen.
I realize how much the encounters at Alborada had changed me. I no longer feel like an outsider on a faraway island; I’m no longer limited to a house by the sea and the work of the embassy. Instead, I find myself an unwitting devotee of Saraswatī who had chanced upon her playground. It makes me feel like a child and a king, all at once.
Although I’m alone, the colors of the fish, the taste of tea, and the memory of being made part of a secret world surround me. I allow myself to get lifted with the smell of frangipani, scatter in the rustle of palm leaves, and melt into the call of Saraswatī.
The story, all names, characters, and incidents portrayed in this production are fictitious. No identification with actual persons (living or deceased), places, buildings, and products is intended or should be inferred.