An impish face smiles my way and greats me with a manly handshake that is the dichotomy I face each day when traveling with Surendra. It’s the two sides of the coin once again, and I’m seeing some aspects of a darker side, a more somber side. Perhaps this coin has many faces and only time, patience and much questioning will expose them all; or at least, some of them. Right now I see the adult between the boy and the man.
It’s not that we are running out of tourist things to discuss. We are always more than satisfied with the amount of information we receive at each and every turn. Some history on a building or cricketer, something to do with a fruit I’ve never seen before and not likely to ever see again, a bit of geography, a Buddhist saying, a remedy from a tree not found anywhere on the planet except the deepest part of a distant Sri Lankan jungle, and a nice place to eat; especially a nice place to eat. Surendra does like his food although his diet could do with a bit of Buddhist interrogation.
Nevertheless, after a 20 day period confined to a Hi Ace, people tend to find time to reveal something of themselves beyond platitudes and peripherals.
Surendra’s collision with life has been ‘interesting’. He’s had his share of personal dramas and delights, disappointments, experiences with other humans, and a decent bite of the cultural cherry that makes him so Sri Lankan. On the odd occasion does he expose some regret as to how things went or how he might like things to go in the future. I’m not in a position to wish for a second go at life but apparently Surendra is. He obviously knows something I don’t. Or someone! The request he has submitted to the higher authority is that he return as that which he had started but not completed: that is, a monk. Perhaps he’s not at ease with the idea that the love of another individual has a potently and pleasure that over-rides all other goals and ambitions. As they say: “just lay back and enjoy the journey”. As someone almost famous once said “what makes us human is the ability to reason and love. Unfortunately, they are totally incompatible concepts and in the face of love we are totally unreasonable and any reasonable person would avoid love at all cost”
Surendra’s outlook on life has been subtly influenced by his rather limited contact with the outside world. I’m constantly surprised by the surprised look on his face when I mention something of ordinariness from my life yet totally alien to his. Homosexuality for one, traveling backwards in a train for another. I still think Surendra is coming to grips with which of these conditions could come about in a Sri Lankan world and which has the most damaging effect on the human race.
Imagine you only learnt your geography and culture of other countries from a joke book. That’s what it’s like when traveling with a guide. Travellers like to keep in good humour. They also enjoy keeping the driver happy and relaxed. This has its benefits I’m sure but unfortunately every conversation must end with a joke, or at least a laugh. Surendra probably thinks Australia is a theme park with lots of funny things happening; like Disneyland. In such an exchange people become stereotyped and geography becomes compressed. For example, it’s just as difficult to explain how far Darwin is from Sydney as it is describing Bob Cater. But it’s fun trying.
I, too, have a vague idea of the nature of Sri Lanka after my time with Surendra. One thing is bleeding obvious; everyone smiles, none less than Surendra. On the other side of that coin is the empathy for others less fortunate. As soon as Surendra comes across such a living thing he immediately stops smiling and gives a faint whimper, as if he feels the pain as well. This can happen with sick humans, dogs on the road, a camelion caught in traffic or a mosquito looking for food on his forearm. All are dealt with in the same caring manner and no one is hurt in the process. On the other hand, if it were left to me there would be one less dog, camelion, mosquito and I’d still be considering my options on the human.
Christine says Surendra doesn’t seem to worry or get agitated. I think he’s well practised at concealing it. Or perhaps he allows his short term memory loss to forget his recent troubles. I’d need to spend more time with my new found companion to answer that question. Perhaps we will meet again in another place, time or body. You never know. He might come back as me if he’s been a bad boy. That will certainly turn him off reincarnation a second time.