Scores of kites fill the late afternoon crimson sky of Colombo. On the Galle Face Green, a large gathering of kite enthusiasts and holiday makers has gleefully gathered. Around them is an interesting array of street food -aromatic stuff off the griddle to vendors selling snacks from trays hanging on the neck - popular savoury and sweet bites from all parts of the island.
High-end cars and vehicles on the street slow down to take in the spectacle in the sky and the festive atmosphere. A spectator tells me, "The kite-festival is organised to bring peace and prosperity to everyone in Sri Lanka."
As I move around, I find the roads, surroundings clean, green, and well-maintained. New high-rises have joined the ranks of the World Trade Center, and the Bank of Ceylon Tower. In the CBD, there is the ongoing albeit controversial Chinese funded Port City project. A Hong Kong kind of make-over is in the works - posh skyscrapers, luxury hotels, shopping malls, central park, marina, and other hi-tech featured development.
The last time I visited the capital, things were different. Sure, blue water whales dived and spinner dolphins leapt in and out of the waters at Kalpitiya. But the unhappy reality was the brutal civil war. Security was tight. Road check-points, armed guards were everywhere.
As if the war and restrictions were not enough, a deadly tsunami hit the island destroying lives and property. And yet people willingly came together to rebuild their shattered lives, rather than moaning their fate. It was a heartbreaking moment, and yet in many ways inspiring. Exemplary resilience and bravery were displayed in the face of the double-whammy.
On that visit, on arrival at the hotel, I found the reception area packed with tourists. And for some reason, my pre-booked room wasnt ready. In their hall-mark courtesy, the management apologised, gave me a welcome drink, and made alternate arrangements. My jaw dropped when shown the room upgrade.
A presidential suite at single-occupancy room rate! There were two outsize bedrooms, magnificent chandelier-lit conference hall, floor to ceiling bay-windows with clear ocean views and so on. So instead of going out to meet business associates in their offices, I invited them over grandly to my room. When they came, they gaped and treated me with the utmost respect.
Next morning, looking out of the bay-windows, I saw more kites dancing with festive fervour on the Galle Face Green. Joyful as the sight was, a huge calamity was unfolding on the road directly behind the hotel. A suicide bomber on a motorbike slammed into a military convoy blowing up an army general among others. It was the main news on TV, and shocked guests didnt budge from the hotel.
Across the waterfront, gusty winds and white-turquoise surf slammed the retaining walls and pier. The festivities on the Green continued. Kite-flyers and fans and food vendors and music makers didnt seem to miss a beat. Even as the shrill sound-bytes on TV had guests on the edge, outside life continued as usual.