"The Situation" II - Colombo

It took a pandemic to heal the city and isn’t it wonderful?

Ameena Hussein is the co-founder of the Perera-Hussein Publishing House. Her novel The Moon in the Water was longlisted for the Man Asian Literary Award and the Dublin IMPAC; she has authored two collections of short stories and edited collections of children’s and adult stories. Her non-fiction work includes a forthcoming book on the 14th-century traveller Ibn Battuta in Sri Lanka and Sometimes There Is No Blood, a sociological study of violence against women. She publishes in international magazines and dailies, and with her husband runs a coconut and cashew farm on the north-west coast of Sri Lanka.


Red-vented bulbuls have built a nest right outside my living room window and sunbirds drink honey from the flower laden Thunbergia creeper on my boundary wall. Yesterday a kingfisher sat on a water-pipe, and meditated for an hour while I heard my neighbour’s phone ring.

Why is all this surprising? It is a time of curfew, not just lockdown, in the capital city of Colombo, during the Covid 19 pandemic. I live on a major throughway where the usual sounds are traffic, electricity generators, and sirens. The sky is now the bluest blue and stars can be seen at night. Monkeys and peacocks are being spotted on rooftops, bees have appeared once again. It took a pandemic to heal the city and isn’t it wonderful?

I have been under curfew for 41 days. My life, together with the 22 million people on this island has changed. Everything slowed down, and even time lost meaning. I’m reading more, thinking more, enjoying watching the arts and eating less. I’m beginning to like this life.

But just beneath the veneer of our seemingly idyllic life, social injustices are on the rise. There are even more people now without money, adequate housing, or healthcare.

Sadly, under the pretext of lockdown, the government is raising its totalitarian head. Prejudice against minorities rides on the back of the pandemic and the vulnerable, the persecuted, and the weak will be its first victims.

I know we are heading for a new normal but I am frightened of the shape it could take. Although Nature begins to heal us, Man may precipitate our undoing. We may not be able to enjoy this respite much longer.