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Island standard time

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Where everything slows down, and why not? Sometimes we need to take a step back

“He’s got the slows,” said Ms Witty, in a bemused yet slightly exasperated tone. We were chatting over a glass of Chardonnay at the Shangri-La resort in Sri Lanka’s southern province and she was referring to our mutual bud, a Sri Lankan recently returned from London. “What do you mean?” I asked. “Oh you know, the island life mentality,” she replied.

It’s true. As soon as one arrives in Colombo, the slowness sets in. Our airport immigration queue (no special line for families with kids, and definitely no fast track) was enormous and unwieldy. The next day, we set out for Hambantota, an area now famous thanks to The New York Times story on the Sri Lankans handing over the port to the Chinese due to the huge debt they incurred to build it. But I must admit the six-hour drive from the capital to the port city is significantly easier thanks to the Chinese-built highway. Along the lush scenic drive, the tension and insanity of our lives in Mumbai began to ebb away. By the time we stopped in Galle to eat lunch at Fort Printers hotel, our big city traffic woes and whirlwind social calendars seemed far, far away.

By the time we checked into the Shangri-La, everyone in our party of 26, kids and adults alike, were in a more relaxed state of mind. The following morning, a cool breeze swept past as I sipped a coconut water poolside. My friends and I were discussing our most favourite subject during beach holidays: where to dine. The hotel was packed to the gills and given the large number of our party, with age ranges from 5 to 50, figuring out lunches and dinners was no mean feat.

Luckily, there are a few Type As in the group, whose innate leadership qualities are hard to suppress despite the slow island vibe. Within the span of an hour, meals for the next two days were sorted. A long table overlooking the beach? Check. Two big tables by the pool? Check. You get the idea.

Although our motley pack was in vacation mode, we had not yet discarded our big city expectations of quick, rapid service (delayed orders of Greek salads and club sandwiches weren’t helping). But before the complaints got out of hand, I diffused the situation. “Guys, it’s okay, you have to be Zen, who was it who said all good things come to those who wait?” I offered by way of keeping the peace. My friends were not impressed.

Eventually, by day four, everyone had calmed down, tempered their complaints and generally adapted to waiting around. Even the 7 am safari Jeep traffic jam at Yala National Park, where we went to spot leopards, didn’t faze us. We failed to see any big cats but did see some elephants and buffaloes, all rather yawn inducing for seasoned Indians like us who are accustomed to seeing sundry wildlife ambling on our city roads. But no one seemed upset about the non-existent sightings. Perhaps it was all the aqua aerobics and yoga, which had helped soothe our initially frayed nerves. Or maybe it was the surroundings that did the trick. This part of Sri Lanka has a wonderfully natural beauty. Who can resist being seduced by myriad peacocks and egrets prancing around, and a vast, empty shore?

After all, in this era of instant gratification, what’s a bit of delay here and there? In fact, the only thing not slow here is the Indian Ocean, with its fierce, fiery waves. We learned that at our peril after being tossed around wildly while attempting to swim in it. It was so hectic that we decided to spend the remainder of our time idling by the pool instead. Sometimes nature is best viewed from a safe distance. On that note, my cocktail beckons. Happy new year! See you in 2019.

This fortnightly column tracks the indulgent pursuits of the one-percenters.

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Printable version | Jan 28, 2020 11:02:50 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/opinion/columns/island-standard-time/article25849432.ece

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