Exerpt from ‘The Arrack Diary’
It was the kind of late night bar that exists in third world cities the world over. The Colonel, fearless as always, strode up to the pool table and declared winner stays on. The slap of his five rupee piece on the table edge was like a shot from a rifle. For a moment the group hesitated, then, unperturbed, they continued their game with a barely visible nod.
“That guy over there is the boss”, the Colonel whispered, adding “this place used to be a hangout for Colombo’s gangsters. Now I’m not sure what it is.”
Two men were silent in a corner, considering the shot of a third, now rising from the table. The ball missed the pocket, not even close. We can have them I thought. The surface was old with a patch of threadbare cloth and a tear in one corner, but otherwise looked OK; not much light, though, faintly struggling as it was through the cigarette smoke.
From the far side of the bar a band churned out popular classics that had no discernable genre. A quick glance round revealed the clientele: smartly dressed yet indistinguishable Asians, a few tourists making a scene of themselves on the dance floor, and a sprinkling of lone girls far too dressed up to be here on anything but business.
We played like shit, mainly because the Colonel was drunk. “A few arracks get a night going”, he’d
confided in me earlier. They may have fuelled his chat but they didn’t do much for his game. I left him with his arm round the boss negotiating cheap drinks and joined the melee on the dance floor.
Snapshot: 3am. We’re in a tuk-tuk buzzing up Galle Road en route to a club known locally as the museum. At this time the streets are quiet, free from the streams of traffic that clog them during the day. The warm, sea-thick air invigorates and refreshes, cleansing us of cigarette and alcohol fumes. This is living! “To the next stop!” the Colonel cries.