Three Haibun: The Bus to Nuwara Eliya

By Raamesh Gowri Raghavan

The more things change, the more they are the same


Déjà vu happens to me all the time, just not in the psychological sense. Last week we entered Suzette, a new Breton-themed restaurant in Mumbai, offering a range of crêpes. I was excited because I've never seen crêpes before. I asked for a "crêpe aux épinards, feta, basilic frais et tomates fraîches", trying out my bookish French in the bargain. What I got was an electric shock.

I have seen crêpes before—they are called 'dosas' in my language. The Bretons make them of buckwheat, we Tamils of lentils. I had just paid 20 times more for something I eat at home three times a week! I admit they don't have feta cheese and spinach, but I can put them in a dosa, can I not? The only thing French about the affair were the knife-and-fork, the Houellebecq-ian despair, and perhaps the Chopin playing in the background. And of course—déjà vu.


rice paddies
. . . the buffalo skirts
the electric pylon

The Bus to Nuwara Eliya


All through my sole visit to Sri Lanka, I was determined to eat nothing but Sinhala food. And so I stuck to eating large quantities of potatoes cooked in the milk of Cocos nucifera, other vegetables cooked in, um, the same milk, rice cooked in c-milk and sugar, the same without sugar, savouries fried in ‘nut oil… The other passengers tired of it. One couple even went in search of a belan (rolling pin) and wheat flour, so they may make the rotis of their beloved Punjab, but I remained a cocophile. So I ate at Kelaniya, and at Ratnapura, at Sita Eliya, and the Tea Country, and at Sita Eliya, and the old summer capital of colonial Ceylon…


learning Sinhala
my tongue twists around
familiar sounds


Reading this might give you c-word fatigue, but trust me, I can eat them like a king cobra eats snakes: day or night, summer or winter, ill or well. My companion Rajesh, from Kerala, remarked that Sri Lanka was a bit too much like his (i.e. God’s) own country, so though I am an atheist, I believe God resides wherever C. nucifera blooms. The only exception I made was for Mr. Melroy Peiris’ omelettes, which he serves Sri Lankan style, with peppered potatoes and carrots. A few copra flakes would have made them divine, though.

Commander of Sheep


It began really with a video on the internet. A shepherd leading his charges in a mock march; the coincidence of Republic Day being just that. Who were those sheep? Why, you and me and he and she, who else. Okay, maybe they and ze and ey, to be gender-neutral. Following the advertisements that tell us to stand out of the crowd by wearing the same aftershave, the same jeans, the same condoms even; driving the same cars, buying the same TVs. Following the politicians who tells us to be afraid of them, to be very, very afraid. Following the priests to worship the same but slightly different god in the same, but slightly different way. And we all march past those appears, kowtowing, namasteing, saluting. And we watch the same video, and share it and laugh in the same way, at the poor ragged shepherd drilling his sheep.


dawn chill…
I begin the commute
all anew

Raamesh Gowri Raghavan is a furfuraceous atheist, who moonlights as an award-winning copywriter by day and daylights as an award-wanting poet by night, and sandwiches running a literary club, running a literary journal, some peer counselling for suicide prevention, learning languages and reviving ancient board games in between. He thinks he is funny, but friends vehemently disagree.