Flying from Chennai to Colombo, I am reminded of Hanuman, the Hindu monkey deity, and his celebrated leap across the ocean from South India to Sri Lanka. He had searched the whole of South India for his master Rama’s abducted wife Sita but had failed to find her. Dejected at failing his lord, Hanuman, the deity of devotion and service, resolves to give up life at the southern tip of India rather than return to his master in failure. Spying Hanuman and his followers starving themselves, the crippled old eagle Sampati shuffles over to seize an easy meal. However, although he has lost his wings, his eyesight is still keen and hearing Hanuman’s story of selfless devotion he offers his help. He looks over the ocean to Sri Lanka where he perceives Sita kept captive in a garden by the demon Ravana. Though unaware of his godlike powers, a punishment he received as a baby for annoying the gods with his endless pranks, Hanuman swears to visit Sita with a message of hope or die trying. Summoning all his strength he leaps across the sea and, doing so with pure motives and in a spirit of self-sacrifice, he discovers that as the son of the wind god Vayu he can fly. Sampati flies again too, his wings restored in fulfilment of an ancient prophecy that when he selflessly helps Rama his suffering will see its end.
As my plane lands in Colombo, after too short a journey since I had been upgraded to premiere class, a lift music version of Swan Lake is played, reminding me of another flight, of creativity and beauty: Matthew Bourne’s striking, powerful production which I saw last year with my great friend Rebecca.
A final flight, equally out of place, comes this evening as through the spluttering rain my taxi driver Raja brings me to Negombo. Over his deafening radio is played a bizarre Sinhala version of El Cóndor Pasa, a tune I heard a thousand times – no exaggeration – during my life in Andean Bolivia but hardly expected to hear on Sri Lankan radio. Such are the unlooked for flights of life. Tomorrow feathered flights, I hope, and plots and plans for my fortnight on this teardrop isle.