9th April 2000
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Rhythm in our lives

'Life's a beach' - it's a popular postcard saying and one I've probably overused in my own correspondence back home throughout my stay in Sri Lanka. Funny then, how I forget sometimes during my busy working week just how pertinent that statement is.

Being a resident of Mount Lavinia, the beach plays an important part in my everyday life - so much so I almost take it for granted. A week or so ago, entertaining a new-found friend from Israel - here to take in some meditation en-route to India, a few of us sat on the beach soaking up the sun outside our favourite beach hang-out 'the Happening Restaurant' and watching the weekend beach-life at its most impressive. 

As the sea glistened spectacularly and silently in the midday sun, the sand was alive with human interaction - work and play. Fishermen hauled in a vast net of sparkling silver treasures and people gathered, children first, followed by their parents, then what seemed like the rest of the beache's patrons, to take in the spectacle. No pushing or shouting, no elbowing for more space, just silent awe, everyone engaged in these energetic little slips of silver flicking back and forth in the sunlight, the sea, Mother Nature's finest representative - delivering the goods yet again.

With lunch - quite literally - in the bag, the beach went back into action. Boys practised backflips on the sand, couples strolled hand-in-hand, families took to the waves, sarees and shorts ballooning out in the water, children laughing in the bubbly surf and the odd pack of life-guards - a streak of efficient-looking yellow youth - racing by. A couple of hours went by as they tend to here; I chatted to the local beach sellers and dwellers that I've come to know so well during my stay. 

I pondered over the price of pineapple and other seasonal fruits with a couple of my favourite 'pineapple ladies' and passed the time of day with several familiar faces. People offering anything from brightly coloured conch shells to dancing cobras, who have realised by now that I have more time but less money to waste/spend than most sudhas they meet on their patrols of the beach. Our visitor from Israel, looking on wide-eyed commented on this familiarity, the friendly nature of our beach interactions and the variety of life intermingling here on this large patch of sand - 'a great example of interdependence' he noted. 

This theory was proved to us last weekend when our household was struck by a particularly nasty strain of the flu. 

Inevitably we went down like flies, one by one, the nursemaids becoming the patients and vice versa in a vicious viral circle. Eventually the normally sunny disposition of our household was overtaken by gloom. It didn't help then, when the heavens decided to open all day Saturday, adding to our melancholic states. We sat sulking on our balcony watching the rain drip off the palms and sniffing into our cups of health-giving Peyava.

By evening we were stir-crazy and starved of both conversation and care (we'd all given up on all our Florence Nightingale aspirations by then). Wrapping up our fevers in extra layers we eventually found the energy/inspiration to stumble down to our favourite ('Happening' - whatever the weather) haunt, where owner Nandana and his staff greeted us with smiles and offers of bowls of soup. Sitting watching the sea bubble and boil against the moody sky, we sipped our soup, watched the world go by and let Nandana entertain us with his tales of Lankan life and love (that somehow always has Buddhist metaphors!) - salves for both our sick bodies and tired souls.

After a brief but therapeutic moan with the same beach sellers and dwellers about the lack of business and the bad weather's effects on trade, we stumbled back to our sick beds as Nandana et al were making the final preparations for that evening's 'bad weather' party. The next day the clouds had cleared and the beach was brought back to life with the regular Sunday activities. Even the 'feverish few' managed to make it out of their apartment to put in an appearance and partake of a restorative combination of a mixed fruit juice or two and some late afternoon sunlight and chitchat on Happening's veranda.

The moral of this week's story (like so many of Nandana's) has certain Buddhist overtones, 'interdependence, warmth, openness, compassion' and other such essences of life and love are all apparent. Most significantly however, it serves to illustrate the ebb and flow of our existence - like the tides of the sea or the sunset me and my flatmates often rush back to view, putting paid to yet another day, ready to start the next afresh - providing rhythm in all our lives. Sometimes it rains (even out of season) and sometimes - more often than not in Sri Lanka - the sun shines and bleaches worries out to a paler shade of insignificance. Either way it might be deemed a cliche used elsewhere, but life for me here in Lanka is unarguably 'a beach'.

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