Dustpan man, motorised fish, and a singer off key

Our cleaner bought the products that are needed to keep the house clean. Oddly, there was no dust pan. Monewa karamede? (What to do?) Out on the street and off to the gym, an old man cycles past towing a small trailer bursting with domestic appliances. He has a dustpan and brush. We negotiate a price and off he goes into the morning heat.


Just inside the gates of the open air car port of our block, our Dutch neighbour is in conversation with a man on a motorbike who delivers fresh fish. Today he has red mullet, what look like trout, and half a tuna fish.

Passing trade provides a platform for many livelihoods. In the morning and at dusk a tuk-tuk converted into a travelling bread oven passes by. People are alerted in time thanks to canned Fur Elise that rings out around the houses like the call of a regal ice-cream van.


The Singer’s not on song.

So we bought a washing-machine-cum-spin-drier, a thing of simple and functional beauty that would’ve pleased Hogarth had he been alive today. For an entire week of in-country training my colleagues bore the brunt of my gloating. Much to my chagrin, two weeks later and the spin-drier has stopped spinning.

The engineer proudly declares he will visit us on the very evening of its demise, since when we have had our first taste of Sri Lankan Time. SLT, as Karunatilaka explains in Chinaman, is the length of time after the agreed time an action or event takes place. For example, if a meeting scheduled for 10am doesn’t actually start until 11.15am, that would be 1.15 SLT. We are currently at 42.18 SLT. The latest visit has been rearranged for 3pm on Monday. SLT will tell.


Simple snapshots of daily business in Colombo.


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