New Year’s Day, 2020
It was lunchtime, a Wednesday, and my shirt clung with sweat to my back, as I slid out of the tuk, grinning at Issy, who eased open the battered green and white door of The Sun House. We were marrying here in two days’ time, and were overdue a meeting with the venue’s manager, Rukman.
There are seven ground floor bedrooms at The Sun House, a main living area divided into two open plan rooms, a side cocktail bar next to the office, an expansive but simple kitchen, and then an eighth upstairs suite, which runs the length of the two living rooms below it.
Exploring these spaces – connected as they are by an outside courtyard, a tiered lawn running down to a small plunge pool, and a sleepy south facing terrace – is to explore one’s own sense of illusion and imagination. Sat afterwards, replete and surrounded by a century’s worth of books, in the pleasant cushioned recesses of one of the House’s regal green sofas is, in many ways, an event in itself.
The main limbs and torso of the house are bleached white and carry beautifully and effortlessly its antiquated features and idiosyncrasies.
On one long dining table, an enormous bowl of dried chilies eyes up each new arrival. A once shiny, gold painted wooden trout lies next to a chess board. Ancient ceiling fans give a faint cadence to the humid breeze which, in turn, actively slows down the pace of one’s own thoughts.
Acclimatizing instantly to these homely surrounds and, with the merest exchange of a glance, the two of us paused to lay down our own new fantastical version of the impending days to come: no wedding – just us, here, quiet.
This was my third visit to The Sun House since July, with each return flight home a few more minor details fixed into place – room allocations, menu choices, the timings of the drummers who would lead us as a giddy pack from one colonial back-drop to another.
And now, as scripted and at last, we were back again – “at home” for a final time.
Still, the hours before us felt brim full of things to consider, actions to take, meaningful sentiments to share.
Foot-steps, from beyond these hushed moments, pitched into the room and, marching buoyantly, a beaming Rukman was suddenly offering me both his hand and all his gleaming teeth in one blurry instant.
“Did you order some drinks yet?” he asked, “You’ll have a Lion, Mr Tim, yes?”
It took only a few moments of cross-examination, from accepting his offer of a beer, to realise that Rukman was several drinks ahead of me. The prospect that the one human linchpin, holding our wedding day together, was under the influence, both entertained and alarmed me in equal measure.
My own hangover gently shrank in tribute to the wired monologue of a man who, himself, seemed both nervous and ecstatically content with the world.
“Yes, madam,” I focused back in on the conversation, “last night went very well, my wife and son enjoyed the celebrations very much.” Issy was fully warmed up to the reality that, in fact, our wedding was going to happen, and knew she needed to dance along to Rukman’s charismatic tune, “and what time did you manage to get to bed then?” she offered, by way of moving us into the present, “not yet!” replied Rukman, “I’ll have time later for that, I think”.
As I inwardly flinched at the realization that our wedding planner was not just “on the sauce” but, in fact, summiting towards the end of a 24-hour drinking expedition, one of Rukman’s team rounded the corner with a tray of beers.
He dutifully poured out the cold medicine and I drained half a glass, chuckling quietly to Issy, as Rukman waved his man away and we continued to the garden and the steps where, at about the same time of day, two days from now, we’d be married.
The sky darkened a shade, and then the raindrops started falling.
* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
After our aborted meeting with Rukman (we’d ended up concluding that all our questions could wait until tomorrow) we ambled back down into Galle’s walled Fort conclave.
We still had time to finesse things and New Year’s Day, it was by now plainly clear, was no day to be tackling anything more complex than one’s choice of what to imbibe as an aperitif before dinner.
At the epicenter of Galle’s Fort is an impressive lighthouse, fanning out from either side of which is a long, cobbled wall that provides a pristine perch from which to watch the ocean.
Sat there, fixed on the sea, a myriad of local backstreets and village life unfolds behind you, quietly and discretely, as the waves lap the rocks around the cove, and the tropical shirts and sarees of a thousand tourists incidentally potter in and out of consciousness.
In spite of the 2019 Easter Sunday bombings, the country has continued to attract a throng of old and young visitors. Backpackers seeking out lazy beach-bound afternoons, and retired couples using Sri Lanka as their inaugural safe passage into South Asia, rather than risk the wilds of an India, a Bangladesh or a Pakistan.
South Asia is a densely populated region and home to, unquestionably, some of the world’s most profound and mesmerizing natural phenomenon. In Sri Lanka, however, the beat is less erratic than in neighbouring countries, the infrastructure and the options far easier to navigate, the food, perhaps, a bit less testing on a western palate, and the island’s sea-breeze more agreeable on the lungs.
Whilst hospitality across South Asia is inherently a part of the culture of the region itself, time and again on our visits we are heart-warmed by the affability and sincerity of Sri Lanka’s many hosts and hostesses.
One case in point comes in the form of Tilak and Sriyanthi Samarawickrema – Air BnB hosts from Colombo, for whom we’ve grown very fond.
The Samarawickrema’s are accustomed to hosting dinners with their guests. However, on the first night of this trip, with our respective family members safely arrived in Colombo, Tilak insisted we organize a pizza party at his place for all eighteen of us.
This, on top of him having already taken us to meet a Buddhist monk the previous day. Upon hearing of our ceremony plans, and a recent inspiration from our “pre-moon” trip to Luang Prabang, to tie bracelets on our guests’ wrists, Tilak had rung up a local temple and asked them to make ninety sets, blessed by the monk, no less.
Such thoughtful touches as these have been more common than not on our travels to Sri Lanka, and provide a warm and generous seam to our memories, forever defining our relationship with the country.
And so it was that I found myself, later that day, as the pink clouds were safely guiding and depositing the sun back beneath the ocean, acknowledging the germ of a new feeling nestled somewhere under my ribcage.
A knot of sorts, but tied perhaps differently to those that had gone before. An apprehension, an appreciation, a realization.
These are the moments, I coached myself, which must prevail. In their own moment of now, and beyond today, they’ll for sure be held, like amber, in time. This really is, and should be, defining.
Rukman’s merry prophecies earlier (reassuring us with gusto that “everything will be taken care of on the wedding day!”) had, by dinner-time, become a cheerful and archived anecdote, jostling for air-time with variations on tales from the previous evening’s New Year celebrations at Yara Galle Fort Hotel (which involved two fainting guests, one lost phone, and some near calamitous firework capers).
Wearily, I poked my head into the girl’s bedroom (only to be scolded by them for being out too late and missing story-time) before shuffling to my own bed, and holding hands with my future wife.