Tuesday, February 14, 2006

Night Thoughts in Colombo

Night Thoughts in Colombo

I arrived in Colombo yesterday, after months of being marooned in KL. It feels good to be travelling again--being away always helps to unclog the mind of stale thoughts. I was a bit disappointed that I wasn't able to get a room at the Galle Face this time, but The Continental is not bad. Actually, in terms of service and facilities, it is a much better hotel. I always get a room with a seaview here.

And this time round, I'm given the quaintest of accomodations: a corner room with glass on two sides--almost like a showroom suspended in the sky, surrounded by a magnificent vista of the Indian Ocean. I sleep at night staring right into the darkness of the horizon, to the sound of waves crashing on the shore beneath.

In the 50s and 60s, Colombo was probably a much grander city than KL, but it has gone to slumber over the last few decades, and the cities in South East Asia have all overtaken Colombo to become gigantic regional shopping malls-- meccas of crass consumerism. Does Colombo want to go the same way too?

Sometimes I feel that, even though we have gained so much in terms of economic prosperity, we have also lost a lot. We have forgotten what it was like to live a simple life with sufficient wants. Many of us could theoretically reduce our consumption of things by half and would still have pretty comfortable lives. If we are all willling to do so, all the things that we complain so much about--the traffic jams, the pollution, the stress of working--will be reduced by many fold.

But are we willing to do so? No, because we worship progress. And how do we define progress? The ability to consume more, especially things that we don't need.

The more we consume, the more producers can produce, and the more wealth will be generated so that the masses can afford to consume even more. This cycle of progress have to be fed continuously, even if it means losing the natural pleasures of clean rivers, fresh air and a noise-free environment. Are we getting our priorities right?

Maybe not. Then are there other alternatives? I don't know.

The evolution of human civilization has a certain momentum of its own. It goes through certain evolutionary phases, each of which requires all its energy to be exhausted, before consolidation happens, bringing forth a better and more stable evolutionary path.

We have created the world in which we live in through our seemingly trivial everyday decisions--what we buy, what we watch on TV, what we eat. One bad habit leads to another, and after a while, we begin to assume that these bad habits are "basic needs".

We will all go on consuming, until the fallout is too painful for us to bear anymore. Then only are we willing to take the pain of reexamining our lifestyle. Well, maybe that's a problem for the next generation.

At the meantime, I'll just enjoy the sunset every evening here in Colombo and let the rolling waves of the Indian Ocean lull me to sleep every night.