Sunday, August 7, 2016

For Eve

Publish last year on International Women's Day -

For Eve
To the little girl who dreams of castles and knights,
Dream, but also learn to ride your own horse
And build your own palace
To the girl who watches her mother dressing up
Try out her lipstick, but also her grace
Her sari is not as beautiful as the patience she wears
Her shoes will always be too big to be filled
To the mother whose little girl is always watching
Remember, she’s always watching
Empower her, raise her, and never belittle her dreams
Or let her think that your little boy means more
To the mother who is ‘only a mother’
You nurture the future; a task beyond human strength
You earn everyday – not money, but merit
To the empowered career woman
Celebrate your independence
But never belittle the woman who stays home
For she has done what you have not
To the teenager testing her wings in the world
Proceed cautiously, learn to say no
Pursue your passions, but not at the expense of your soul
To the woman who loves to flaunt
Let them behold your splendid body
But never scoff at the woman who chooses
to cover hers out of reverence
To the woman who wants to change her body
You are already perfect
The only thing you lack is self-love
To the woman who embraces every joy in life
May you be infectious in spreading your light
To the woman who suffers in silence,
Turn to the woman who will be your voice
For we are sisters
A shining web of strength
that breaks only when we break each other
This is my prayer
For the woman I see every day
For the woman I have yet to meet
For the woman I may never meet
May you be confident in the knowledge that
Within you is the power to change the world.
- Shanuki

Thursday, August 4, 2016

Sri Lanka and the Single Woman

 Published in the 'LMD Living' in February 2016-

Ah, now there’s a topic of conversation that has mothers and aunties nationwide foaming in the mouth…

There are two guaranteed moments in any family function; one being when old Uncle Simon has a little too much arrack and reveals his innermost thoughts on his new secretary, in front of his wife. The other is when the entire room freezes in pin drop silence when any female over 18 claims that she is still unmarried. If the brave woman chooses to take a further brazen step and say she also lives alone, you’re bound to witness a few seizures and coronaries around you. Only drunken Uncle Simon will smile in delight.  If being single in your 20’s isn’t a sure sign of wantonness, imagine the perception of someone who is close to middle-aged and unmarried. (cue a hurried sign of the cross)   
One can never be sure what the greater phenomenon is– Sri Lankan girls remaining voluntarily single past the legal age of consent, or society’s adamant refusal to accept the fact that it IS actually normal. It is quite possible that “So when are you going to get married?” is leading in the list of common local phrases, next to “Time for a baby, no?” on the National None-Of-Your-Beeswax Index. 

To most relatives, a woman’s disinterest in marriage is the next worst thing to joining a satanic cult. You’d be treated as less of a pariah if you murdered your mother. Actually… come to think of it, you just might as well be murdering your mother when you announce that you don’t want a husband. Excuses for your preference to remain single do not compute. It is considered a fatal condition that must be exorcised with speed at the hands of concerned Aunties who will visit, armed with marriage proposals and printed prayers for God's intervention on your sorry state. According to the local classifieds, Sri Lanka is teeming with eligible sons; all tall, fair, handsome and wealthy teetotallers (excuse me while I pause to snigger), looking for their slim, pretty bride. So why on earth are you not pouncing with glee at this opportunity?  Surely, you must be possessed by a demon.

Forget trying to explain to the world that you might want to enjoy some independence, focus on a career or, God forbid, find yourself without having to agonize over why the toilet seat was left up again. Your personal needs are not anyone’s concern. Marriage is your national duty. The aunties must be appeased.

It’s not just the relatives, either. Even the mere act of consulting a gynaecologist is asking for trouble, especially if the doctor is female- the more judgemental of the species. Once your age is noted, the first thing that will be politely whined is “Married”? On stating that you are not, you can then sit back and enjoy the wrinkling nose and long stare you are given before being asked ‘why not?’, followed almost immediately by “are you sexually active?” in a slightly accusatory tone. Then, in a manner that is creepily similar to your mother’s, she will chirp ‘better get married soon, no? You don’t have much time.’  At this point, if you wish the consultation to proceed with an unbiased diagnosis, the only acceptable thing to do would be to hang your head in shame for not having a husband, and bite back the indignant retort that is dancing on your tongue. If you’re not wearing a wimple or a wedding ring, then surely, you MUST be one of ‘those’ sorts, else why on earth would you be checking up on your ladyparts? Hm? HMM?? Harlot.

Speaking of 'those sorts'... why IS it that a single woman becomes instant game for every randy perv out there? What is this blessed notion amongst our local men that if you're not committed to a man, then by default it means you must be a nymphomaniac waiting to have a go with every bloke who crosses your path? Why can't a woman found alone at a coffee shop/party/restaurant/supermarket, simply be a woman who is perfectly comfortable not being escorted around like a fluffy little miss by her virile protector- A Man? Must she be picking up customers, thereby the only valid reason she would venture out alone? Quick... let's glower in her direction like the respectable men we are and secretly entertain sordid thoughts while stroking ourselves under the table, hoping she'll see and accept the invitation.

I could puke.

Many a feminist will demand that you stand up for your single rights and defend your position unto the death; an impressive stance, albeit one that invites a one way ticket to the mental health clinic, given the rate at which you will have to continuously take it. This writer prefers the easier solution: the next time someone asks you why you’re not wed, just tell them you have genital herpes from your last gay encounter, and would they please pass you the salt? That’ll shut them up forever.

Tuesday, August 2, 2016


This writer decided to delve into the pretty world of Japanese cuisine and wrote the entire article in a Japanese accent (like-oh this-oh), wearing a kimono and kneeling. The cats were amused and the knees were not.

Let me point out that I am by no means an expert on Japanese food and my affair with it started off on an entirely wrong foot. In fact, I’d always entertained convictions that the Japs only consumed the vilest things (even their fried rice was pronounced ‘Yucky’ Meshi, no?). I had such an aversion to it that the first time I dared to try it was at 22, when taken to a restaurant by a friend, expecting to make a good impression on his boss at an official dinner. It’s fair to say that expectations were not met, on account of my gag reflex performing beautifully throughout the evening.  Neither did it help that my questionable chopstick skills resulted in the boss being thwacked a few times in the face by flying wood.

My next attempt was with a boyfriend at a five-star hotel’s All-You-Can-Eat Japanese food promotion.
There I was, sporting a brand new blouse aptly patterned with cherry blossoms, tok-toking on heels in pseudo-poshness, mispronouncing my order in a high-pitched boru accent. 

There I strutted to our assembled table, casting snooty looks at celebrities dining around me and showing off my laden plates in sweeping arcs like I owned the place. 

There I set my plates down with such aplomb that the force tilted the make-shift table-top. In my direction.
There went the laden plates, up into the air, right towards my cherry blossoms.

The entire hall stopped drinking, eating and slurping to gape at my frozen person covered in fish bits. It took a few minutes for a waiter to stop sniggering and gently pick a slice of tuna off my hair. The manager stepped out bravely with a dishcloth, to mop the miso off my chest with trembling hands, praying it wouldn’t be considered sexual harassment. The boyfriend, in the meantime, calmly continued to eat off the plate he’d saved in his hand, all the while pretending he was not there, but instead down the hole he’d mentally dug for himself.

I am evidence that Japanese fare is an acquired taste. With the first impression it made on me, any sane person would be put off the stuff forever. But when was I ever sane? Like arranged marriage, over the years I grew so fond of it to the point where I can now rattle off the terminology with such ease and crave it like a greedy pregnant person. All I’m missing are slanted eyes.

You learn to appreciate everything about it – the fresh tastes, the fine preparation skills and the OCD plating that completes the package. I am now one of its biggest fans and a regular feature at Japanese restaurants around Colombo. Minus a cherry blossom blouse, of course.  

We will live happily ever after-o.

Kollo Kello

Published in the 'LMD Living' Magazine in Jan 2016 -

"Aney manda Sarath… thaaththa kamathi naa." ("woe is me... my father will not approve")

With that, the pretty young lass in this week's soap episode will burst into sniffles enhanced by melodramatic violin music that wakes your neighbour's dog. Her lover, typically clad in tucked shirt and bell-bottoms, his curly hair parted severely, sighs and looks away wistfully.
Last week he chanced upon the girl picking lotus flowers and his heart had stopped as she flushed, lowered her lashes and bashfully looked away, as young women at lotus ponds are wont to do. They'd then skipped to song before her father caught them mid-chorus. He'd hitched up his sarong and sent Casanova howling before dragging duwa home, resulting in the present moment of sorrow. The end.  

Lessons in the art of Sri Lankan courtship, courtesy of popular television.

You'd think, going by romance on local media, this country was a hive of virginal maidens being serenaded by besotted men with side partings. Not true. 

Gone are the lasses who’d tiptoe daintily within the confines of home, wearing puff-sleeved frocks and clutching hankies for spontaneous tears. Today's young ladies wear hankies where their skirts should be and are admirably strong-willed creatures, quite capable of packing a good punch. Your average boy too, is a far cry from celluloid depictions. The neatly tucked shirts are replaced by Yeti-sized slogan t-shirts, or slender fits with butterflies and daisies, often mistaken for blouses. Pants vary from 'knees are the new waistline' types to 'squash my jewels'.
One assumes that it’s the testicularly-challenging trousers that stop him from cycling past her house as his ancestors did. Back then if he was lucky, he might also have her sitting side-saddle, giggling prettily as he peddled furiously. Today’s ride is often a friend’s BMW and there will be screeching, from both female and tyres. Chances are she’s driving.
Courtship contradicts pansy film versions. Modern ladies don't do shy. They wouldn't have the patience to hang about waiting for lads to seek their favour; they'll go up and proposition the fellow themselves. If Romeo's doing the seducing, he will opt for a casual "Yo, babe" over poetry, followed by indecent PDA. 

Sit at a mall like a shady pervert and observe which relationships are new and which are not. Newer partnerships feature the lady sashaying with her handbag swinging stylishly off her elbow, leading her boyfriend by the hand. He will lurch behind, carrying her shopping, ogling her swaying backside and counting his blessings. Occasionally they will stop to stare into each other's eyes, grope and giggle. In an older relationship the man will be dragged, hunched like Quasimodo and disgruntled to boot. He will still be carrying her shopping, but with the intention of throwing it along with her, over the balcony. This couple too will pause to stare at one another, before erupting into a heated argument. 

One must also consider that other important element in modern relationships - the friends. It’s a hook-one-get-the-entourage-free deal. Frankly, if her friends don't like you, then you've got no game, son. Actually, all intimacy is subjected to the scrutiny of the entire universe, let alone your friends, thanks to social media. Hand holding is uploaded, kisses are shared and sweet nothings whispered on group Whatsapp threads. It's all very romantic.

Even marriage proposals are public domain for all to sniff over.  Mostly Daddy and Mummy, who thus far had no idea their little princess was even dating. (Mummy might be sniffing since Daddy would be slightly distracted by his coronary attack).  Flash mob proposals are the latest fad, each one more elaborate than the last. 

Love in Lanka has certainly changed since the era of stolen brushes of fingers. 'Tis the age of liberated love; be real or be fast when leaving because there's always another one knocking. The only individual under the impression that modesty prevails would be the Sri Lankan father, a.k.a. the Maharajah of Overmydeadbody. 

Those don't seem to change with time.

Monday, July 18, 2016

Piece of Cake!

“Could you make me a toilet bowl cake with the poo inside?” asked a recent customer. I was silent for a moment. 

“You want Winnie the Pooh in a commode?”

“No no… POO. Faecal matter.”

“Uh… sure. Why not.” It wasn’t the strangest request I’d gotten, after all.  This, I thought to myself, is what I do for the sake of my craft.

Five years ago, I forgot my father’s birthday. Family tradition dictated that I should have put months of pre-planning and thought into making as big a fuss of the event as I possibly could… and I had forgotten. I scurried around the house in a panic, trying to find something… anything, that could be up-cycled into a quick gift that I could pass off as an eco-friendly attempt at ‘it’s the thought that counts’. Nothing.  With dawn creeping up, I had to come up with a plan before Birthday Boy woke. I spontaneously decided I would bake a cake. The problem was, I’d never baked a cake before in my entire life, let alone at 1 am. Google became my best friend as I furtively looked up tutorials.  Being me and therefore being an utter fool, I decided my cake would be a glorious fondant sculpted number.

I was also a determined fool. That night, I taught myself how to bake from scratch (I feel like the Guinness world record committee needs to be informed). By morning, my father descended the stairs to find an odd-looking edible product on the table that was meant to resemble him.  Sri Lankan parents, as you well know, will never admit to the fact that a child’s attempt at culinary art looks like something the cat dragged in. Never mind that the child was well into mid-life crisis age. The questionable looking lump of roasted batter was photographed from all angles and accepted with pride and joy, even displayed later that evening for all and sundry visiting. Uploaded pictures sparked off actual cake orders along with a swollen ego, and thus a monster was born; I became a cake artist. 

Cake pans of all sizes were bought, the fridge stuffed with butter and my pantry turned into a wonderland of glittery, colourful clutter and spilled icing sugar, much to the delight of the residential ant colonies. Early years of obsessively fiddling about with Playdoh had cultivated a knack for sugar art, resulting in clients attempting creative insanity with each order.  What started out as an ego-driven hobby soon turned into a nightmare, with sleepless nights and tears over burned batter. Five years hence I am questioning my existence every time the cat tips over a wedding cake that’s been 3 days in the making. Just as I’m about to throw in the towel, I see everyone and their grandmother starting to bake novelty cakes and my competitive drive kicks in again. Sleep be damned. I will produce a toilet bowl cake with crap in it. 

And this time… I know how to bake.


I was recently watching Masterchef, where a hapless contestant was struggling under pressure to poach an egg.  The pompous judge kept telling him about the degree of difficulty, and reminded him of past contestants who’d mucked up. 

I scoffed. Give me a break. How can poaching eggs cause this much consternation? All this talk of difficulty was just rubbish for entertainment value. 

Come to think of it, I’d never had a poached egg before (I belong to the dark ages). I suppose I’d never even ordered one because it didn’t look particularly enticing. A large white blob of gelatinous goo, like an albino snotball. If the Abominable Snowman had a cold, he’d produce poached eggs. 

But I’ll try anything once. How difficult could poaching an egg be? According to Masterchef, it was just a case of cracking it into a pot of boiling water and then flicking around with a spoon and voila, gourmet breakfast is born. Simple.

Clearly, I was meant to learn from my mistake of judging a book by its cover, or in this instance an egg by its shell.

I strode confidently into my kitchen. It took me around 4 minutes to get some water bubbling and then, with the flair of Jaimie, I took out an egg and cracked it into the water.


Ew. Ew. Eeeew. My snotball was looking like mucous from hell. There was nothing artful about the swirling ribbons of goo filling the pot. It looked like exploded pus. Ew.

I tried again. Out came another egg and more water that ended in the same gunky result. My image as a fantastic cook was being questioned by the universe. How dare the egg Gods laugh at me! I would get this right, somehow.

I consulted various cookery books and the internet for tips on poaching. I’d bet no one has ever ventured into this extent of research before. I found there were different opinions on how to produce the perfect poached egg. Martha Stewart suggests just 2 inches of water. Nigella says you should swirl the water before cracking the egg in. One website asked me to dunk the whole egg, sans cracking, into the water first. Another advised the use of a poaching tool. 

Trick after trick resulted in the same, if not worse, mess. After one hour and considerable stress, I was down to my last egg and nerve.  If this didn’t work, I would give up eating eggs altogether. I tried a combination of techniques- first dunking the egg and then cracking it into pre-swirled water of 2 inches. It worked!  Unbelievable. 

Joyfully, I fished out a wobbling, perfectly formed, gleaming white poached egg and placed it delicately  on a piece of toast before taking about 300 photos. Then, with mixed emotions of pride and marvel, I broke it with a fork and allowed the golden goodness of yolk to run over the toast. I took up a forkful and put it in my mouth.

Tasted like snot.