My First Day in Colombo...
When I was working in Thiruvananthapuram, India, in the early 1990s, my company sent me on an assignment to Colombo, Sri Lanka. Two employees from our local agency in Colombo picked me up from the airport and dropped me off at a hotel. It was Sunday evening, and they left, assuring me to pick up on Monday at 8:00 a.m.
In the 1990s, Sri Lanka was going through a civil war crisis, and my assignment was amidst this crisis.
The sound of the waves splashing the shores enticed me to take a walk on the beach, which was a walkable distance from my hotel. So I took a quick shower, and as I stepped out of the bathroom, I heard a knock on my door. The knock on the door continued. I was busy dressing and couldn't open the door immediately.
The knock continued, and this time, the knock's intensity was vigorous. I smelled something fishy because this knock was not from any hotel staff. They wouldn't knock with such vigour. Within seconds, the knock changed to a verbal but polite one: "Please open the door."
After quickly putting on the clothes that came into my hands, I opened the door. My heart skipped a beat when I saw two people in uniforms, and my guess was correct; they were the cops. But why had they knocked on my door? Two hotel staff members accompanied them. In those days, I never had the convenience of carrying a cell phone, so I could not contact the employees of our local agent, who had dropped me off.
"What's your name?" Cop 1 inquired. "Where are you from?" Cop 2 added. "My name is Krishnan, and I'm from India." I politely answered. "Please stand aside," Cop 2 instructed, and he began looking at my room, including the bathroom.
Cop 1 began to speak in Tamil, which I couldn't grasp because of my poor understanding of Tamil. I replied in English, "Pardon me, I did not understand."
"Why have you come to Colombo?" Cop 1 continued in English since he was convinced, I did not understand Tamil. "Show me your passport," Cop 2 instructed. My heart sank when they requested my passport. I feared that if they held it for some reason, I would be in trouble. I showed them my passport and visa, which showed the name of our local agency as my sponsor, and all the documentation related to my assignment.
I also gave them information about our company's products and briefed them about my assignment. "So you are from Kerala," said Cop 1, flipping through my passport with a smile. Cop 2 stared at me for around 30 seconds, giving me a puzzled look. He then looked at Cop 1 and whispered something to him, pointing at me. I began to feel butterflies in my stomach as my heartbeat raced. Both the hotel staff were also confused as they exchanged glances. They first looked at the cops, then at me. The hotel staff might want to ask me, "What's wrong?"
Within seconds, the two cops asked me, "Is this how you arrived from the airport?" I was perplexed and nervous, and before I could say anything, the two cops began to laugh. Cop 1 remarked, "Mr. Krishnan, you have put your Banian (vest) outside your T-shirt. Did you arrive from the airport in this manner? Cop 2 handed my passport over to me. It felt like a weight off my shoulders, and I couldn't stop laughing as I looked at myself wearing my white Banian over a dark blue T-shirt. The hotel staff, too, burst into laughter; perhaps they wanted to say, "Your comedy of errors has made the cops smile and eased the situation!"
Looking at the cops, I clarified, "I just had a bath and was about to dress when you knocked. It all happened in a hurry." "Now, go back and dress properly before leaving the hotel," advised Cop 2.
"Have a good evening and a pleasant stay in Colombo," Cop 1 wished before leaving. With a deep sense of relief, I glanced at a hotel staff member who had remained with me. Looking at those cops, he clarified my doubts: "They were Sinhalese Sri Lankan cops, who always conduct a routine check when new guests check in due to the ongoing civil war." Luckily, you were a Keralite, providing a respite from too many questions. If you were from Tamil Nadu, the situation would be different, and I assume the questioning would continue because of the ongoing LTTE (Tamil Rebel Group) civil war. That evening, I had a pleasant walk on the beach. Since then, I have spoken and heard only English, Hindi, and Malayalam in Sri Lanka.
© Krishnan
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