Monday, 22 June 2009

A Barman in Galle

It was not much of a bar. But then, it was not much of a hotel either.

We had arrived that afternoon in Galle, taken a narrow winding road that climbed up steeply and offered spectacular views of the Dutch fort and the sea to reach this old colonial mansion masquerading as a hotel, perched upon a desolate cliff-top. It was cloudy and overcast; a fine drizzle accompanied by sudden gusts of wind from the sea, added to the misery. The hotel seemed to bristle with menace, a feeling its forbidding exterior with its pitiless geometry did nothing to dispel. If we shivered, it was not only from the cold. The hotel somehow brought back memories of Wuthering Heights and the windswept, wild expanses of the Yorkshire moors.

An old lady and her manservant check us in. The room is huge with a high, vaulted ceiling and wooden floorboards that have not seen a coat of wax or polish for a long time. An old ceiling fan, the kind of which I had last seen as a small boy in the waiting rooms of Indian railway stations, starts rotating very slowly, creaking and groaning with the effort.

We feel depressed. It has been quite a long journey from Kandy through narrow, winding roads and we can feel the tiredness in our bones. It is an effort to unpack, but when we finally do, find that there are already somebody else’s clothes in the ancient chest of drawers.

The old lady is apologetic: Apparently, the clothes belong to a long-stay guest from Europe who has gone off somewhere for the weekend. Would we please leave the clothes undisturbed and she will give us another cabinet to keep our stuff? We nod dumbly.

An hour later, unpacking done, we get out of the room and walk along the corridor to reach a balcony that overlooks a verdant valley. It is almost dark now, but the rain has stopped and the wind has also subsided. But the atmosphere is heavy with humidity and very uncomfortable. Too early for dinner, I decide to pay a visit to the bar. The wife and the daughter decide to accompany me because they do not want to be left alone in the room.

The bar turns out to be a makeshift arrangement on the terrace of the hotel, with a temporary roof and netting all around to keep off the nocturnal insects. Sofas with lumpy upholstery are arranged haphazardly for the benefit of the patrons of whom we can find nary a trace. In the dim, dirge-inducing light of the incandescent lamps, we spot the barman, sitting and gazing at the sea in perfect solitude.

The barman turns out to be a young lad--a student earning some extra money by doubling up as a bartender--and a cricketer to boot. He seems happy to have our company and we spend an almost an hour talking to him. We discuss Sachin Tendulkar (but, of course!), the state of Sri Lankan cricket, and the cricketers Galle has contributed to the national team—players such as Romesh Kaluwitharana and Upul Chandana.

I remembered that surreal hotel in Galle and its solitary barman recently when I was watching the T20 World Cup finals between Pakistan and Sri Lanka.

I am sure he would have been very unhappy with the final result.

Photo Courtesy:


magicalsummer said...

sounds horribly glum; did you come back and sue your travel agent?

Philip said...

Old colonial mansion in Galle with a view to die for - such potential wasted.

Rada said...

@ magicalsummer: Welcome to SS if you are a first time visitor!
No, I did not sue the travel agent. What I did was to call him and shorten my stay in the hotel from 3 nights to 2 nights.

@ Philip: Indeed! I feel what all hotel should strive for, is to appear open and cheerful to the guests. Quite logical, don't you think? You'll be surprised how many hotels strive for just the opposite! :-)

vilasini ravikumar said...

Hi Rada,

A good one as usual. I could visualize exterior as well as interior through your words.

Rada said...


Thank you for visiting & thank you (even more) for leaving a comment!

Maddy said...

that place has one hell of a lot of history. did you go round and see the forts etc? must have been interesting..

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Stepping Sideways... by K. Radhakrishnan is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 2.5 India License.