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beach

So the much-awaited trip to Sri Lanka happened. Seven girls, one wedding, meeting after 12 years, though I may have the math wrong. We were flying in from all over the world – Hong Kong, Singapore, Australia, New Zealand, Mumbai and Dubai.

Of course, it would be too easy if we all got there without last-minute obstacles. First, one girl was offloaded from her flight twice (she had won a free trip that made it possible for her to come). Then, two days before they were due to leave, Curly fainted, banged her head really badly and had to do a whole series of tests to confirm she was okay (she was, except for sore head).

I got the mother of all sinus infections that refused to go away and was freaked out about flying lest my eardrums burst (they didn’t). Because of the sinus infection and the hardcore antibiotics I was on, I was too groggy and tired to pack for the trip until the night before. And then I realised that my shoes and jewellery were in the room Benji was sleeping in so I had to wait until the next morning to put those into my suitcase. So obviously it was chaos in the morning, and the kids rummaging excitedly into my suitcase and flinging things out did not help.

I had to take my suitcase to work and leave straight from there, and getting a taxi at that time of the morning is hard. I tried two taxi services before giving up and taking the MTR which was surprisingly not packed. As expected, there was the usual last-minute stuff that everyone had to give me but I made my escape at 4.30 pm. Downstairs it was pouring cats and dogs and obviously no taxi in sight. My suitcase and myself knee-down were soaked by the time I flagged down a cab.

Things got better from there. Thanks to Curly and our non-stop wardrobe discussions prior to the trip, I had packed about five pairs of shoes so I very easily exchanged my wet pair for dry ones. Unfortunately, I only had only summer clothes, so I tried to buy a pair of trousers but I wasn’t too happy with them and my jeans were drying off so I kept them on.

Before take-off, I dosed myself with congestion-clearing drugs and though my ears popped on the way up (which actually made me feel better), they remained otherwise stable. I had the seat next to me free and made the mistake of trying to lie across it, with the result that I didn’t sleep except for one hour of the six-and-a-half-hour flight.

At some point, I gave up and watched Silver Linings, which I loved. I had expected a dreary film, but it was surprisingly uplifting. It is quite a skilled portrait of living in the everyday world with a mental illness, and the parts involving parents made me weep. I should probably avoid any movie in which Robert de Niro plays the father. In the end though, it devolves into quite a chick flick but I can’t say that I was annoyed by that because I haven’t seen a good chick flick in ages, and the whole first part departed from clichés enough.

I had chosen to fly Jet Airways to Bombay so I could catch up with some of the girls and continue with them to Colombo. I found them in the Martini Bar, which turned out to have no martinis, the first of many laughs we had. There was an extensive menu, and I was determined to eat (Jet Airways food sucks, what has happened to their hitherto talented sky kitchen?) so I could take yet another dose of tablets but it turned out there was no food also. I ended up getting a plate of idlis and eating them in the bar.

We landed in Colombo early in the morning and exited the airport to find that the cab the hotel was supposed to send hadn’t landed up. I had just finished telling one of my friends the story of the driver of the cab on my honeymoon in Goa being drunk and falling asleep at the wheel, so what happened next was doubly ironic. We tried to get a pre-paid cab but there was some shady nonsense going on there, with us having to wait indefinitely while the lady at the counter held my friend’s passport indefinitely. A tout came along asking if we wanted a taxi and we decided to go with him and demanded our passport back. Turned out to be not such a good idea. First, he was annoyingly chatty. Then, he tried to get us into another cab saying he wanted to sleep. We refused. So he proceeded to drive. Then he started falling asleep at the wheel. So we were forced to chat with him so that he stayed awake and stop to buy him coffee where one of us consumed a dodgy cutlet that was to be her downfall.

Finally, we reached Hikkaduwa which is a gorgeous place on the lines of Baga in Goa. Our hotel, Sunbeach Resort, was very cute and bang on the beach. The hotel staff had a dazed look as we tumbled out of the car and started shrieking and hugging the ones who had already arrived. We then decamped straight to the beach chairs and proceeded to pour vodka into anything possible – watermelon juice, coconut, etc.

My stated plan for this holiday was to sit around and gossip, and that’s pretty much what we did in Hikkaduwa. Occasionally we’d make forays into the water where we’d get slammed by the waves. There was lots of photo-taking, including a re-enactment of a photograph taken in Goa 15 years ago almost to the date.

Some of the girls were very enthusiastic about seeing turtles, but I was determined to be a turtle myself and basically move very very slowly with lots of time in the shade of my shell. So some of us stayed behind and headed to Colombo directly. Only, we ended up foraying out for lunch and stomping around in the hot sun in search of an elusive restaurant called Blue Moon. We kept getting misdirected by people pointing us to some Moonbeam Hotel, until we snapped at them to their consternation. Finally, we ended up in said Moonbeam Hotel. After eating a whole plate of devilled squid, I ended up feeling a little sick on the way back, but thankfully my stomach held.

Our hotel in Colombo was quite charming, and we proceeded to assume we were the only guests there and to make quite a racket. The first night there we ambitiously dolled up and decided to go club-hopping. Unfortunately, the first place on our list didn’t look glam enough for us, and the second and third were closed. At the third place, the PR manager directed us to the sky bar of the Fulbright Hotel. Despite the laser lights, this looked promising, and our waiter earnestly took down all long and complicated food order only to return a good 15 minutes later to inform us that nothing was available because they had no kitchen. Then he brought the drinks some of which weren’t what had been ordered, but all of which were yummy. The upside was that after Curly politely “informed” the manager of the mix-up, our drinks bill was waived.

In search of food, we landed up at the poolside, where there was a really excellent one-man band. Tempted as some of us were to revert to our school days and sing, restraint and my incessant cross-questioning (“sing?” “a song?” “now?”) prevailed. There were a couple of extremely hilarious moments involving a bill and the car ride back home that ended in the defining question of the trip: “What is wrong with you?”

The day of the wedding we woke up late and had our first (and my only) truly great meal in Sri Lanka – string hoppers and potato curry. We then split up with yours truly hell bent on getting a pedicure which I eventually did in this Foot Rub place at the entrance of Odel mall (tip to travellers: the lady at the little massage place will put you off by saying they only do dry massages but actually there is lotion involved and they are very good at massaging). That left me about 20 minutes to race around Odel like a headless chicken, which I belatedly realised has a lot of excellent things to buy for a person from Hong Kong. The guys in the shoe section were amazed/thrilled by me.

Made it back in good time to shower and have Curly drape my sari, which she did like a pro. I fell in love with myself in the sari, if I may say so myself, and ditched the dress that was my backup plan. Everyone else was in dresses, but I have finally become confident enough to be the odd one out.

Turned out I wasn’t though because all the young ladies on the groom’s side were in saris, so I fit right in. Except theirs were impeccably draped (I think it’s the Sri Lankan style of draping and it’s sooo beautiful – Curly was all “oh we should do that with yours!”) and they carried if off like pros, while I kept stepping inexplicably on the back of mine. And also my bra tended to show when I raised my hands but that was because my mum had adjusted it in Bombay without me being able to try it on. Not my fault, though it did not bode well for the dancing later.

We were the only people there on the bride’s side beside her mum, dad, sister and brother-in-law so I think our presence (though noisy) was appreciated. We did get a taste of her mother-in-law though which meant we immediately ditched plans to pair the singletons in our group with the brothers of the groom (who turned out to be married anyway).

We decided to ditch the plan of going to some beachside place to get a drink and headed straight to the Cinnamon Grand where the wedding reception was to take place. There we ran into the bride and the groom and plonked down next to them, quite scaring the poor guy our friend was marrying methinks. Finally, we took ourselves off to the hotel bar to kill time, where of course we behaved badly and made noise and took pictures like it was our own living room.

And we did ourselves proud at the wedding by clapping loudly and hooting when the groom mentioned us in his vote of thanks and then taking over the dance floor and not being demure at all. But we did liven up the party, and the DJ was playing a lot of our old favourites, and we got the bride to dance, ditching the groom which is totally in keeping with the character of our group.

I left that night at 4 pm and had a smooth ride to the airport, check-in and connecting flights. I was to arrive in Hong Kong a couple of hours before V left for a three-week business trip and I was determined to race from the airport to home. I even held my pee till I reached the baggage belt, which I landed at almost first because of my HKID. And then, I waited, and waited, and waited. And my suitcase didn’t come. It never did. This being Hong Kong I didn’t panic either. I had my wallet, passport, phone and jewellery in my hand luggage and unlike the other poor sod whose baggage was lost, I was not on holiday so I didn’t have to buy underwear. I filled out a form, got in a cab and came home.

V and I literally had 15 minutes in the same room and we spent it fighting. The kids had contracted foot and mouth disease the day after I left and I asked V if he had taken them to the doctor again after the initial diagnosis and he said no. I was pissed because he had a weekend. Then he asked me about my lost luggage and I admitted I had left this expensive pearl necklace he had given me in my suitcase and he was pissed. We shouted. He left. I stormed into the corridor and cried. We made up. We made up some more on the phone. Hmmm.

But this is not about V and I. This is about the amazing holiday I had. It was entirely possible that we would be forcing camaraderie, that we would get sick of each other, that there would be outright catfights. There might have been frictions, but nothing more. Rather, we had fun. Loads of it. There was some nostalgia, there was picking up where we left off but there was also living in the moment and enjoying each other’s company. There was lots of laughter. We have all grown up since we left college and but we still more or less like each other. There were people l could pick right up with despite not having seen them for years, there were people that grated me the wrong way, there were people who I felt I needed more time with. But my overall experience was positive, which it has not been in a long while.

I was discussing this phenomenon with Curly, and I realised that while it is possibly true that it worked because it was a short while, I have recently been unable to tolerate people for a dinner, leave alone three days of living in the same quarters. It may be that we work because we were friends in senior college when our personalities were somewhat formed. It may be that length of time we have known each other, if not been closely in touch, forms a bedrock that silences major rifts. We can have conversations in the knowledge that even if they might bitch about you later, they basically like you because that has already been established. Whatever it was, the seamlessness of this interaction gives me hope.

I came back from this holiday refreshed and feeling benevolent about the world. Not sure how long the benevolence will last, and I suddenly have the flu which I am trying not to panic about. But yeah, it was good.

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