Off to collect sunsets by the shore
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.