Colpetty People, the real thing
By Rajpal Abeynayake
Ashok Ferrey’s new book Colpetty People is never to be found, nowhere in Colpetty. Every search of dinghy bookstores and new fangled book Mecca’s proves futile.

Then I come across it in a bookshop that doubles up as a café. It’s on the seaside of Colpetty, or is it Bambalapitiya?? That’s the side where everything is supposed to happen, according to Ferrey.

This café has books to match the sarongs on display. It has ambience; it’s about as nice a place as you can find to read Colpetty People, I figure out. So I turn the pages, hoping to have a typical Colpetty experience. Two tsunami scares a week even, cannot dampen that enthusiasm by the seaside.

Ferrey has a wry sense of humour. His Kumarihami’s are referred to as Rumy Tatamis. The back flap of the book says he lives in Colpetty (or is it Colombo?) now, having failed at most things he tried. It adds he lives with his wife and his cholesterol.

But I don’t see many Colpetty people from the coroner of my eye. The gentleman over there must be British, I think. He sounds as if he is an embedded Colpetty person, though. The talk is very British, something like Blair in fast-forward, but the sarong betrays a Colpetty proclivity.

He must be a Colpetty person all right. The waiters are all over him. Here I am reading Colpetty people, and hoping at least that single act of empathy will qualify me for some Colpetty like hospitality.

I read on. One of Ferrey’s stories is about a white woman who buys a house in Colpetty and doesn’t pay her rent. She is persuaded to leave by the local landlord, not having paid a cent’s rent - - but she leaves a massive unpaid phone bill. But the authorities never cut her telephone line. If you are white in Colpetty the authorities do not do that sort of thing, the author suggests.

So this is a bookshop that not only gives ambience -- its one that gives virtual reality. You can have the authentic experience here… The waiters are all over the embedded Colpetty people. Before you walk through the door they thrust the menu at them. “What do you want sir? Can I get you a beer sir, Calrsberg??”

I try to attract the attention of at least one waiter who doesn’t look as if he is transfixed by all the embedded white Colpetty folks -- men in purple sarongs, and women in sarongs that make them look like the line of cardinals at the Pope’s funeral.

But as he walks past he says something in Sinhalese. I discover he is singing the last embedded tourist’s order to the other waiters. They go into conclave. It appears they can’t quite get the beer he wants – the white fellow is even looking at me with piercing eyes, as if he wants me embedded. Me, the only person without food there -- and reading Colpetty people, must have thought I’m the Manager no??

Now I’m almost through reading Colpetty people. It has sketches of Colpetty houses; nifty looking ones. They look every inch like this café bookstore. White people pepper Ashok Ferrey’s creative space also, like in this place..

In fact everything in the book is almost exactly like this café bookstore that’s it s not like reading a book – it’s like watching the movie. Michael Ondaatje became famous after his book was turned into a Hollywood movie. But Ashok Ferrey doesn’t have to bother. This Colpetty People theme café offers you a better experience than the movie. It’s like the theme park after the movie. This is Colpetty people in fast-track.

It’s almost closing time now. The table next to me has had a rapid turnover of embedded white Colpetty people. The last person sitting there is a woman looking like the fat lady that sings last in the opera. In a sarong wrap, she looks like the back of two buses. Her tip must be even fatter. The waiter treats her like she is Jennifer Lopez squared. The food in front of her piles up on a similarly logarithmic scale. If it were to be measured on a Richter-like gauge, we ware talking a tsunami here. And I haven’t eaten anything. These are embedded Colpetty people.

I can even manage the sarong with some trying, maybe, to get myself embedded, but never the other part. So I give up - - to the sounds of some other Sri Lankans – real Colpetty people, trying to sound like they are embedded Colpetty people, British accent and David Beckam hairstyles and all. The waiter looks like he might have some Col-pity and serve that crowd of Sri Lankans after all - - after he is done with the white lady in purple who is presently giving him the Cardinal’s outburst over some spilt beer….

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