My Hometown Top Travel

Keeping it cool in Colombo

Colombo as seen from the author's home. (Shanish Fernando/YJI)

Colombo, SRI LANKA – Colombo. A city where two worlds collide. One is the world of modern, metallic, Chinese-funded skyscrapers that populate the urban areas of the city. The other is a world of dusty streets, shouting shopkeepers and mango pickle.

Colombo is not the only place where these worlds meet, but in my opinion, it’s the best. It’s the capital of Sri Lanka, an island that is not part of India, thank you very much. 

The author’s home. (Shanish Fernando/YJI)

I live in Colombo 4, one of the more urbanized districts out of Colombo’s 15. I am exceptionally lucky to live where I do. My house is within walking distance of my school, grandparents’ house and a supermarket.

My house is quite ordinary. It’s tall and is covered by that fawn-peach paint that is common all over Sri Lanka. Its only oddity is the roof – one side looks as if it has been cut in half.

Inside my house is airy and open, mainly to keep it cool. The only downside is that unexpected ‘visitors’ can easily sneak in, namely squirrels and a cat called Mindy who belongs to our neighbors. 

I go to school at Stafford International School, an establishment of only 1,100 students.

Stafford International School. (Shanish Fernando/YJI)

Teaching the British syllabus for students from kindergarten to high school, Stafford is small compared to some of Colombo’s sprawling, century-old colleges, but it has a certain homeyness that other schools lack.

If I had ever done this at my old school, I’d be ushered out for disturbing them. Stafford is a school like no other.

But my favorite place in my hometown is somewhere completely different. Situated between the Sri Lanka Tennis Association and the World War I memorial is the Colombo Public Library.

It’s over a century old, and inside is a treasure trove of books, records and newspapers. It has one of the best catalogues in Sri Lanka, with thousands of borrowable texts.

It preserves information that can’t be accessed anywhere else.

The books in there saved me from becoming a misogynist, homophobic prick, and exposed me to places and cultures which I had no idea existed.

If you’ve never experienced the pure joy of walking through rows of bookcases, trailing your fingers against the spines – just to find a book that hasn’t been borrowed in years – you haven’t lived.

The Colombo library. (Shanish Fernando/YJI)

Colombo is a town like no other. A melting pot in the middle of an increasingly divided land, it’s a place where you can express your voice, and be yourself.

And I love it. I love the dusty streets, with their tuk-tuks and street vendors. I love the huge sprawling colonial era buildings with their fawn-colored paint dotted with guano.

A path in the front garden at the author’s home. (Shanish Fernando/YJI)

I love walking down the street and seeing people from all walks of life: schoolchildren with their pearl-white uniforms, beggars in tattered clothes asking for alms – only to waste them on the drink – and the people just off on their own business.

Colombo is not going anywhere, and as long as it keeps what I love about it, neither am I.

Shanish Fernando is a Junior Reporter with Youth Journalism International.

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