trip to kovil

5th November 2011.
“So, you are a Hindu?” my supervisor had asked. “I am a Hindu-Buddhist”, I had replied. “But you go to a Kovil, don’t you?”I was bewildered. “Kovil? No, I go to a temple”. “We call it Kovil there, the Hindu temple, where Tamils go?” he had added with a smile. This conversation was almost a month ago, during our first meeting in Thailand. He had said that there were many Kovil, less than Buddhist temples of course, but quite many. The nearest one was in Welawatta and it was the most famous one in Colombo. “But I don’t want you to go alone,” he had added,”It’s not safe for girls to go around alone, especially the foreign girls”.
This was the cautionary statement that he added in our every conversation about Sri Lanka. He is scared; concerned for me. I wondered if he is worried so much because I act too immature for my age or just because of the fact that I am a foreign girl. I am after all his responsibility in Sri Lanka. Humph!
Anyways, I had a long weekend and there was no one to take me around Colombo. I had wasted my previous weekend too due to the similar reason. So, I decided to go alone at least to the Kovil, despite my supervisor’s concerns. My supervisor is a nice guy; a wonderful guardian and a good-hearted fellow. I didn’t want to lie to him, so instead I talked to my co-supervisor, convinced her (in a way) and then went around. I had searched for the place in Google map, learnt the routes by heart and written all the place names in my book (the names are pretty hard, I must say). My flat-mate had suggested that I take an AC bus. But I wouldn’t exactly be feeling Colombo, with the AC around me now, would I? She still warned me that I should not go alone, but I didn’t listen. In fact everyone whom I told of my plan had said “Oh! So you are going? Alone? Do you know the way? Don’t talk to anyone. Take an AC bus and come back soon.” So many warnings, as if I was on to find another America! So, I got out of the flat at 3:30 pm, with all the warnings and cautions, and waited for the bus. But no bus came. So, I walked to Katubedda junction and got on the bus to Colombo. It wasn’t an AC bus and though it was hot, I kind of enjoyed it. Luckily, the bus conductor could reply in English as well. So, I get off at Wellawatta but the conductor said that the Kovil was still a stop away. The Kovil was actually in Welawatta- Bambalapitiya border. So, I got on the bus again, people were nice. They smiled at me and asked me if I was a tourist. Some of them even drew maps for me voluntarily to show me the directions. I got off the bus, at the correct stop this time, and across the road I could see the Kovil, Sri Manika Binayakaga Kovil.
It was huge, quite tall and made in South Indian fashion. All the deities were carved on the outside, many of them in their human forms. There were many shops outside selling flower-garlands, coconuts and other offerings. Inside there was a big parking lot. It was very different from the temples we have in Nepal. In Nepal, the temples are quite ancient and though they have modifications and arrangements, the feeling you get while entering is different. This was more of like a church. The temple opened only at 5 in the evening, so I went around the streets, chatted with the temple people there and roamed around more. I could see women wearing saree and bindis in the forehead like married women wear in Nepal. They were probably Tamil Women. And then I met a guy there, inside the temple, who was chatting with me. He said that the temple was only 100 years old.
He is an engineer and he also shared his sad story of the 30-year-old conflict with me. He was settled in Jaffna, he said, and was doing quite well; till the conflict broke out. He was displaced and had come to Colombo. Now, he works in the Kovil and arranges shoes in the racks, while devotees go inside. There were numerous Arial attacks; many Tamils were killed and displaced and many, in the area here, are conflict-refugees. He said, “Though now the war has ended, there’s still negative peace prevalent in that area. The scars of conflict are everywhere.” But, every story has two sides, doesn’t it? After all, War is a sad affair, where both sides lose in the end. And who am I to judge them?
After 5pm, the priest opened the temple gates. I took off my shoes, washed my feet and went inside the temple. It was again like entering into a church. Temples in Nepal are not so clean; we are messy even while showing our respects. Our idols are colored with red vermilions and there are rice grains, flowers everywhere. But here, it was so clean and arranged; it felt like entering into a museum or something. Unfortunately, though the temple gates were opened, we still couldn’t pay our homage. “No photos”, the head priest said. He was weird. He would look at me as if I had tails and would stop me from doing anything. “No touching”, “Don’t tilt” and comments like that. I understand people have different customs everywhere, but he would comment even if I simply stood there. I thought he was treating only me like that maybe because I was a foreigner but then I met another Tamil girl inside, and she said that the priest actually is weird. “He acts as if the god belongs to him, and he doesn’t want to share him with others, “she complained. I laughed. What else could I do?
So, I went outside, took a few pictures outside. My Tamil refugee friend asked me to visit again. I thanked him and got on the bus back to Katubedda.
On the bus back home, I sat next to an old lady. Then, I think, at around Mt. Lavinia, two guys got into the bus. One of them was badly drunk. And he was staring at me, at my chest. I would look at him sternly but still he wouldn’t budge. Eventually, his friend got to an empty seat and asked him to join as well. But he refused and stood staring at me. It was pretty embarrassing. He was a pervert. Then, the old lady whispered in my ear. She said, “That guy seems drunk, he might give some trouble later. I am getting off at Ratmalana, you get off with me and board another bus.” That was when I remembered my supervisor and his cautious words.
Reluctantly, I followed her and boarded another bus. I reached home at around 6:30 pm. My Akki, who lives downstairs, was worried. She calmed down after she saw me.
Such things do happen in my country as well. In fact, it has happened to me a couple of times. The only difference is back at home I could have punched that guy in his face; and here I have to board another bus. Bad people are everywhere, but most importantly, so are the good people. Good people like that old lady, like my supervisor. I believe, anywhere and everywhere, the good people are always more than the bad people. That is why the world is still a good place to live in. But all is well that ends well, isn’t it?

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