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Are You a Colombite? (Pronounced Column-bite) - A journey to discover your beginnings in just 20 points.

I could not imagine living anywhere other than Sri Lanka; we are a weird, beautiful and complex populace. We are said to have descended from India, repeated colonization over the centuries have ‘spiced’ our heritage; patriots the nation over cling on to this illusive concept of “Sri Lanka” being a single nationality, I think it’s rather silly - a Sri Lankan cannot be defined without bringing together many cultures, beliefs, and ethnicities.

While walking down Galle Road recently, I was privy to many conversations; from discussions about one’s inefficient daughter-in-law, to another’s phone battery dying mid-way into a conversation with her boyfriend, to yet another whose son has problems listening to his parents. We are a funny lot, aren’t we? We don’t just air out dirty laundry; no, we are eons ahead, we publicly announce that we are short of detergent, beg for some, do the laundry and expect to use the neighbour’s dryer.

This had me imagining how it would be if we had a tribal system divided according to districts; what would we call ourselves? Would we have distinct features that would differentiate ourselves? A dress code? Maybe a wolf-whistle greeting?

Unknown to us, I think we have already formed these communities or tribes. The ever widening parity between the rich and poor has given rise to the middle classes, or the bourgeoisie. They come in varied colours, shapes and vocal ranges; I have taken the liberty in naming them ‘Colombites’.

Here is a quick reference on how to spot a Colombite - let me know what you think!

1.) Soap, especially Lux doubles as potpourri:
I don’t know about your mother, but mine is extremely resourceful. The chest of drawer in my room where a bulk of my clothes are stored weigh an extra 5 kilograms because of the ever-increasing load of Lux that is used to perfume my clothes. So,as if detergent and fabric softener is not enough, these cakes of soap would create a lingering feminine scent after many hours of wear. Frankly, it gives me a headache.

2.) The best toys are not meant for playing with:
I was not given expensive toys because in a matter of minutes that very object that is given to me after many a warning on careful use, I would break, tear, scratch, or rip it apart. However, I have noticed many glass display units that are used to ‘store’ toys, especially ‘rata sellam badu’ (foreign toys). So, in essence children are taught the concept of window shopping - look but don’t touch; all satisfaction and joy derived is self assumed. Maybe, this could explain the growing numbers of perverts on the road?

3.) First born males are royalty:
I am an only child, purely because even at the point of being birthed, I gave my mother hell, as is the case now. However, I have noticed in many families that the males, especially first-borns are hailed, worshipped and doted on by their mothers. They could be anything from doctors, lawyers, drug addicts, unemployed forty-year olds, but the former treatment is applicable. This is a default setting that is unnervingly faulty in my view.

4.) Basmati rice (long grain) is consumed only during special occasions:
This favourite variety is usually reserved for birthdays, Christmas, or the New Year. Consumption other than these occasions is an act of sacrilege.

5.) Accountancy is the way to the future:
Almost two decades ago, my father would negotiate with me on career possibilities. His chosen path for me being accountancy, he would constantly tell me ‘there is money in accountancy’ – in a literal sense yes, there is money, but it is never yours. You are essentially the middle man, you bring it in, you touch it, you count it, but it is not yours for keeping.

6.) Bankers are modern – day kings:
For the first two years after leaving school I was constantly told that there was no ‘career’ other than banking. These words of wisdom came from many people that I was beginning to think that the banking sector had vast advertising budgets well spent as it had managed to debase any other forms of employment with their constant media manipulation. Bankers are the ones who are filtered in faster, especially when it’s marriage proposals for one’s daughter.

7.) Migration:
I have opted not to read some newspapers because of its ridiculous offers to help people find their personal oasis in another country. Be it advertisements with bowls of fish, singular dominoes standing triumphant over the others, I have seen them all. My mother and I had this long running argument about my lack of interest in migrating to seek better opportunities in countries stamped for being racist. Somehow, Colombites believe that Sri Lanka does not have the capacity to keep up with your aptitude. She’s given up now, but on an off I do receive that odd email from her without a headline, I open it to be greeted by “You have not lived your life to your fullest”. Thank you, dear wonderful creator of the ‘shift + delete’ combination.

8.) Shopping in Colombo:
Shopping for Colombites is no ordinary act of being dissolved into other masses of people blinded by consumerism. It’s a special day, planned ideally weeks ahead, complete with frivolous aunts, grumpy and bored cousins. An occasional neighbor stuffed into a singular vehicle. Hand bags not only contain cash, but multiple handkerchiefs, tea towels, bottles of water, sandwiches,and a spare change of underwear for the children.

9.) Hoteliers and air hostesses are disrespectful people who have no ambition:
I have been a hotelier for almost four years now – in short, I love every moment of the day working in a hotel. When colleagues go to our watering hole, the cafeteria in laymen terms, I hear remarkable stories of people whose budding relationships have come to an abrupt halt because of he/she works in a hotel, and I quote ‘every girl in a hotel sleeps with every guest to get tips’ and ‘boys start drinking when they work in hotels’. I wish to assure you that the genes associated with being a prostitute and an alcoholic are inherent. Colombites must learn that just because they ‘know’ of someone’s someone who is rumored to have committed some misdemeanor that ALL persons within a respective trade do NOT have the same label.

10.) Discounting and bargaining is a great thrill:
Somehow bargaining and being given a special discount has a bragging right all over it – except when being given a discount for a wedding package for your son/daughter. In this case, you tell the world the price of the menu 40% higher than it is.

11.) Salons:
The simple deal with salons for Colombites is, if you cannot afford it, they are obviously ‘useless’ as they are only there to rip you off. I have the same notion for Swiss watches, what one cannot have one must convince self it is (said with accompanying hand gesture) "USELESS".

12.) Household aides – more the merrier!
What appears to be more disconcerting than having bourgeoisie still referring to domestic aides as ‘servants’ is that your wealth being calculated by the number you employ.

13.) Towels and bed linen bazaar at home:
If you are like me, your mother stores away beautiful towels and linen to be used ‘for special occasions’. I am so tempted to cut one of the towels in half and have it double as a rug. Some linen have been stored away for so long that it has a permanent crease and the thread has just come apart.

14.) Crockery is subject to caste systems:
Now, don’t get me wrong, my mother is not a racist, but just like the towels and linen mentioned above, I am beginning to believe that some crockery is only meant to be on display. They are not to be touched and shall only be given to ‘special’ guests. Yes, maybe when Prince Charles is in town again they will make their rare appearance.

15.) Something new? Oh then it must have the wrapping for the next ten years:
One of my worst habits is to watch/observe (or stare, if you will) at people. It could be anywhere and my eyes refuse to be ripped away on spotting something stare-worthy. This happens a lot when I am on the way to work; I notice cars which have seats still wrapped up. The irony lies when the car is lined with mud and the windshield wiper has scraped off dirt and a semi-halo of an inch of grime lies on the other parts. Same applied to newly purchases televisions, radios.

16.) Everyone is on drugs:
So if someone has the latest iPhone, he sells drugs. If the neighbour buys their third vehicle, they sell drugs. If a mutual friend’s house is being tiled anew, they sell drugs. After all, who has money to do these things unless you sell drugs?

17.) Bags:
Does your mother have a big bag to hold smaller bags? Are there several bags in your kitchen / pantry that are ‘good bags’, ‘big bags’, ‘small bags’ and ‘trash bags’? I need not say say anything further.

18.) Multiple refrigerators:
So, the older refrigerator contains the ‘mucky’ food - i.e. the vegetables, meat, old food, left overs, dog's food. The new refrigerator is where the treasure is - cheese, chocolate, champagne. Looks like the caste / class system does exist in some plateaus.

19.) Coffee? What’s that soft drink?:
Yes, I have heard people refer to coffee as a ‘soft drink’ and no, I did not whack them in the face with my slipper. Evidently, only tea is the real energy booster; coffee - not so much.

20.) Pavements : Why you no use?
Every day, every minute a pedestrian walking on the road is shouted in the finest foul language - why? There are beautiful pavements on the road, five feet wide, but Colombites still opt to walk on the main road, like a herd of cattle during rush hour.

Have I offended you with my list? I hope not. I admit to doing most of these; after all, where one Earth would one find a caste system for refrigerators?


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