There’s an aphorism which avers that Sunday clears away the rust of  the entire week. Seated at a beach in Colombo with a book in my lap and a  sunset streaking the sky, I’m inclined to agree. Judging by the number  of people thronged at the beach, I’m not alone in this belief. When we [...]

The Sunday Times Sri Lanka

Off to collect sunsets by the shore


Lost in the bliss of sand play as the sun sets

There’s an aphorism which avers that Sunday clears away the rust of  the entire week. Seated at a beach in Colombo with a book in my lap and a  sunset streaking the sky, I’m inclined to agree. Judging by the number  of people thronged at the beach, I’m not alone in this belief.

When we were younger, my parents took care to establish a weekly  beach ritual and every Sunday evening we’d head to the beach for some  vitamin sea. Younger and brasher, I would often despair at these  mandatory beach visits. Perhaps it was a yearning for more glamorous  outings or perhaps I was simply at that insufferable age where  adolescents are in a hurry to grow up. Somewhere over the years the  ritual receded, undone by hectic work schedules, family commitments and  life in general.

One of the epiphanies of adulthood is a realization of the value of  certain lessons you once spurned. It’s a humbling process, reaching this  full circle. Among the many things I’ve rebuffed and relearned, a  renewed appreciation for the beach and the family time it brings,is one  of them.

Now on most Sunday evenings, I try and rekindle the very ritual I  once disdained. Nudging my family and armed with a few snacks and a  book, we head to the beach to collect sunsets by the shore. If Sundays  are for clearing away the metaphorical rust of the previous week then  the beach is an excellent and affordable place to do this.

In one sense, it’s easy to see why most tourists opt to skip  Colombo’s beaches when they make a pit stop in the city and why (with  the exception of Galle Face) it’s an afterthought when describing  Colombo’s attractions. There’s an occasional tendency for litter to  accumulate after the hordes have disappeared and there are few public  amenities. It lacks the cerulean blue and beach activities of Weligama,  the pristine and solitude of Passikuda or the still, clear waters of  Trincomalee.

But the sea which hugs the city has its own charms. It’s one of the  few spaces in the city which welcome you and not your purse and is a  democratic public space which has thrived organically in the city. A  book titled “Public Space and Quality of Life: A Case Study of Mount  Lavinia Beach” was published in 2013, as a result of a research stemming  from the very inclusivity the beach offers and the need to preserve  spaces like this.

It’s fascinating watching how people interact with the beach and  despite my best efforts, I keep getting distracted from my book. Have  you seen a toddler step into the sea for the first time? A few withdraw  immediately to the safety of their parent’s arms in agitation. But for  the innate water babies, the initial confusion when first encountering  the sea gives way to an expression of excitement which is beautiful to  behold. A child and her mother are oblivious to the noise around  them,their hands filled with wet sand, intently digging a hole in the  sand with all the solemnity the task deserves.

Two kaftan clad ladies carry on a conversation sitting at the edge  of the surf, unperturbed by the waves which lap over them and have now  drenched them from neck to toe. The beach is punctuated with transitory  sand fortresses which will be washed away at high tide and further  towards the land, an enterprising person has tied an umbrella to a stake  and driven it into the ground – making a readymade sun shade for a  serene grandmother. Joggers weave their way past ‘umbrella lovers’ and  games of tap rugger and cricket continue in the background.

It’s been a sweltering day and as evening envelops the city, the  crowds thicken. While the rest of the city simmers, the beach is  delightfully cool in the evening and is a welcome respite from the  humidity. Stray dogs sigh and flop belly-down on swatches of wet sand,  deigning to open an eye and survey their territory. There’s occasional  friction whenever a street dog encounters the domestic dogs which  playfully gambol in the open spaces under the watchful eyes of their  owners, but these tensions are short-lived. In another corner, a group  of teenagers make friends with an eminently pettable golden retriever  who obliges with handshakes and poses with panache for pictures.

The key to truly enjoy the beach is to find your favourite version  of it. Beaches like Mount Lavinia and Galle Face have mutated to meet  the needs of tourists and travellers, offering dining options which vary  from fine-dining to chilli-laced accharu and touts selling everything  from paper pin wheels to shell necklaces. If that’s not your scene, look  out for other stretches such as Dehiwela which surround the city.  Colombo’s beaches are by no means quiet or isolated but they do offer a  sense of quietude even in the midst of crowds.

My favourite thing about the beach is watching the sun set – the  city may have its flaws but it knows how to put on a good sunset. On  some evenings the sun sets quietly, slipping away with little fanfare  like an introvert at a loud party. On other days, it goes down in a  blazing swansong of orange, pink and purple. It’s the kind of sunset  which makes you stop in your tracks and make you feel grateful you’re  privy to this performance and are a part of the city. As dusk descends  we gather our belongings and set off home, a little more refreshed than  we were when we first arrived and ready for the week ahead.

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