I think the Sri Lankans those who have emigrated and those who work abroad are a much neglected species in their own land. They are bound by several invisible bonds. I wish to discuss about them in future blog posts.
One of those most important bonds is to be back on the scheduled date. As lot of things ride on that, they deliberately avoid situations that could end up in,... say specially courts. They drive more carefully than the others. Never argue with the cops, if it can be helped.
No matter how careful I am, I pay a fine or two every vacation. Mostly for speeding or overtaking. One vacation I was busted at 12.30 a.m. in the middle of Kurunagala City for speeding. I had to return to Kurunagala to pay the fine and retrieve my driver’s license, which we made into another family Road Trip and visited Anuradhapua, too.
One major problem a driver who returned from abroad faces in Sri Lanka is the changes made to the traffic flow and the roads. In most developed countries it’s no big deal to drive through a strange city because the bold road signs give proper guidance. In Sri Lanka, it’s not easy to know which is the one way and which is not. You have to check before you enter one particular road which way the other dudes are driving. Then you follow. In the night, it’s a different story because you get to know quite late because of the absence of traffic. And you learn it the hard way being fined.
Even my fellow blogger Jayya had very recently written about an incident he had faced in Sri lanka where he reversed his car all the way out of a one way street. As he accuses, we have a method of baiting and lying in wait to bust when the law is broken. They don’t seem to believe in warning people not to break the law in the first place.
If you want to drive in a Sri Lankan City, you need to case the joint first. You have to make a full survey and study about the traffic flow, the streets and the works, first by walking, or taking a bus or a taxi or being driven around by someone else. Then only you should attempt the feat yourself.
Some people I know never drive in Colombo. They leave the vehicles with a friend or relative in the suburbs and take the bus into the city. All this because they can’t cope with the Colombo city traffic regulations.
One vacation, on a weekend I was driving with my family in a Colombo street. I came from Kollupitiya along Dharmapala Mawatha swung right at the roundabout near the War Memorial and on to the public library street street. This used to be a dual carriageway. We had planned to visit the Girl Guide Headquarters Building which was a popular venue for various bargain sales throughout the year. As this was situated opposite the library I had to drive all the way to the next roundabout and return.
So, I drove down to this Green Path roundabout and made the 180˚ turn and tried to enter opposite lane of the road I came when I noticed some vehicles were coming on that lane heading towards me on the wrong side. I realized something was wrong and continued till I was blocked by the traffic cones.
I hadn’t realized that they had made this a one way street because it was the weekend and there were no traffic on that lane for me to see. I looked for a gap between the cones and steered towards it so that I can make another swing and enter Green Path. Then I heard the ear piercing police whistle. There was the traffic cop standing patiently near that statue near that unused library gate. He waved at me as if waving to his best friend. I steered through the cones and drove near him.
“Park the vehicle over there and come with the documents, sir” the cop said kindly.
I parked and stepped out with the documents, the typical Sri Lankan way.
Even my son followed me to taste a new experience live which he gets everyday on Need for Speed.
The cop was dark sknned Dude just like me. He welcomed me with a broad smile.
“Ooo a very fair skinned gentleman, just like me. Come on sir”
I couldn’t believe my ears. He looked at my son and asked, “Is this your son, sir?” I said yes.
Then he said very lovingly.
“Son, you go and sit in the van. I’ll have a chat with your dad and send him back in ASAP!” Amused he returned to the vehicle.
“You and I both are the handsome dudes of the same skin tone!” The jovial cop said, laughing. I was wondering what the hell this cop was up to.
“Where on earth you were going over there?”
“Officer, I didn’t know it was a one way street.”
“Why sir, it was published on the newspapers. It has been a one way for some time now. Are you new in Colombo?”
I avoid mentioning that we work abroad because we believe if we do so everything would be overcharged, including the fines. People seem to believe that we are on the gravy train. Only we know the bitter truth behind.
“Do you accept that you committed an offense.”
“Well officer, do I have a choice?”
“Come on sir, don’t say like that.”
“I didn’t know it was a one way street.”
“Why my dear sir, didn’t you see those traffic cones?”
I had never met any other police officer who talked like that. This was quite contrary to what most of us had experienced. So I also made some extra enthusiasm in talking to him. Still a doubt was lurking in my mind about his unusual approach. After some time he asked me if I wasn’t working abroad.
I plead guilty.
“Which country is that, sir?”
I told him which.
“Ah. Your president was here last month.”
I lost my composure for a moment.
“Look Officer, that is not our president. Our president is the same one as yours. We are Sri Lankans, though we work there.”
I got a bit angry because I felt the same hurt I feel when our friends and relatives make such remarks to the effect that we are no longer citizens here making us lose our identity that we cherish so much. The cop loved my attitude. He said it never occurred to him that I would be hurt to hear him say so.
“Ok sir, most of the people who return from abroad circle that roundabout just like you did.” The cop laughed.
“No doubt about that, ‘cos there’s no way to know. No signboard, nothing!!” I said.
“Ok then. What do you prefer? A court case of a spot fine?”
“A spot fine is much better.”
“Ok then a spot fine.” He opened his book.
“How big a fine?”
I was flabbergasted. I gaped. He was smiling enjoying himself.
“How should I know that, officer?”
“You and I being handsome dudes of the same complexion...How can I say it?” “If you think so you can let me go without a fine.” I said with raised hopes.
“No, no let’s have a verrry small fine… as a good luck charm.”
He opened the clip of the pen and got ready to book me.
He pouted his mouth.”Oooh what about five hundred rupees?”
“Five hundred rupees isn’t a small fine.” I protested. “You do anything you want.”
He closed the clip of the pen with a snap, shut the book, too and looked at the van.
“Is that your wife and the kid in the van?”
I said yes.
“So you are going shopping?”
“Yes, we have an idea like that.”
“Okay sir. You are my fair skinned mate. You can go.”
“What?” I thought but didn’t say it.
“Okay sir, then you can go. Drive carefully. You know sir, so many dudes who return from abroad, go around that roundabout, ha.. ha!!. Ok then God Bless You!”
I thanked, shook hands and walked to my van. I started the engine and drove along the boulevard behind the Viharamahadhevi Park and swung around the roundabout at the very end near the Horton Place.
When I was driving past him on the opposite lane, now to enter Green Path he was questioning another driver. I tapped on the horn. He looked, gave me abroad grin and wave before he returned to the new dude.