A Ride on the Yakada Yaka
My childhood was spent on trains – particularly the Uda Rata Menike plying from Kandy to Colombo. Those days are long gone but when I got a chance to visit Kadugannawa on an archaeological learning tour to the Balana Fort, I was very pleased that it was on a train. Somehow the Fort Railway station will always be nostalgic – with its old platforms, announcements in all 3 languages in that funny tone and voice and general reminders of a very old machine in motion.
Our tickets were not those little bits of square pink cardboard with a red line but papers printed like bills. The trains were a bit more modern – the seats more comfortable and the general interior a lot cleaner than what I remember. The windows were the same though and somehow this was lovely.
We started off early morning and the train chugged along stopping at every station en route. It was lovely to view bits of Fort from a different angle – tributaries of the Beira that you don’t usually see – the green gunk framed by vines of purple flowers – and the backs of buildings on Vauxhall and around the main Fort area were quite pleasant to view this way.
The doors to all the carriages were not open – possibly to prevent people from leaning out and posing in the way the Ella train rides had become famous for. Here was a bit deadly – you would knock on some bit of building or station.
As we slowly left Colombo and meandered our way towards Kandy, the scenery gradually changed into the more rustic outskirts with paddy fields, fields of grass and isolated stations. The train picked up speed with the roaring sound as it passed along lanes of traffic and people waiting on motorbikes to cross to the other side.
I opened the window and peered out, remembering how I used to do the same as a child and how I had once lost a jigsaw puzzle by holding it out of the window where the wind whipped up the lid and scattered the pieces. I was very upset but it was a lesson. This time I was just looking out and remembering what it was about Sri Lanka that I loved – the trees, the mountains, the breeze, the changing terrain all heralded the place I called home. And that place resided somewhere deep in my very being – in my existence I called a soul. Because Sri Lanka with all its madness and almost hopelessness, still gave me some hope and it was on rides like this that I was reminded that home would always be where my heart dwelt. No matter where I roamed and no matter how bad things seemed, there would always be moments like this I cherished. I was listening to Valhalla Calling Me by Miracle of Sound and thought to myself, that what Valhalla was to Thor would be Lanka to me. And those are not things I could or would exchange for anything.
We thundered along the tracks as I peered at the rather comical signs at some of the stations – one particular one sponsored by HDFC Bank read ‘Be Polite in Front of Women’. Sad indeed – in a country of sexual repression and depravity one had to put up signs like this.
I noticed at another station a black goods train that had a yellow label written in Sinhala ‘Threeposha Bedhahareema’. Considering how bad our nutrition status had become because of the economic crisis, the country could definitely do with a good dose of Threeposha. Yet that train was shunted to a side and was not moving. Hopefully it would – soon.
The hawkers were selling their vadei, buns and sandwiches but we were busy munching on some Chick Bits. As we headed into the hill country, we passed a few tunnels with their rather grimy smell and emerged into the light and onwards.
Passing each station made me want to do a documentary on the train stations of Sri Lanka. There was so much character to them and so many stories I am sure they could tell. As we approached Balana station I was pleasantly surprised by the almost toy like colours and the quaintness of the place. It was an isolated station in paradise.
The house we had breakfast in was located on a path below the station – that trek up was tougher than our climb to Balana. Reminded me of how many Sri Lankans lived – trekking through pathways and forests as a normal walk home. And here were we – the Colombo bods, huffing and puffing to manage that tiny walk.
The Balana Heritage tour was a great experience (I will document that separately) and so we headed back to Colombo on the evening train. Unfortunately, this train attracted a pervert who decided he was gonna try his luck with me. I was tying my hair and he passed me by and knocked on my hand though he had plenty of room to pass, and said sorry. After that he was standing and started inching his way down the train aisle though there was enough room for him to stay elsewhere. He kept fiddling with his crotch and staring from time to time but then pretended to be looking at his phone. As he inched closer he knocked on my shoulder as a guy with a speaker walked by him. I told him to please move. He got all worked up and started shouting saying he knocked on me because he had to make room for the speaker guy. I just kept telling him to move and a friend next to me told him this is a reserved section, go stand elsewhere. Then he said, I have enough women, I don’t need you. I still kept telling him to move away and that there’s no reason to shout. He finally sidled off. It was an unpleasant experience as he would eventually have done something and I had no desire to wait till then.
This was the unfortunate thing with public transport in Sri Lanka. Thanks to no proper sex education, half these perverts are not taught to handle their sexual desires and instead the repression is unleashed on women in public spaces. It’s bloody ridiculous. I have half a mind to send these perverts to the so called guardians of Sri Lankan virtue who think sex education is against our culture. But perverted sexual abuse is Sri Lankan culture, is it? Pathetic. These are the primitive mindsets that need to be changed and the only way is education.
Anyhow the rest of the ride back to Colombo consisted of a crowded train with people selling oily food, people singing with speakers and a few others standing around and chatting. I was happy to get off at the Maradana station which was empty by late evening and we headed out into the darkness and back home. The Yakada Yaka had dealt me a dose of the good, the bad and the ugly of Sri Lankan railways. It was nevertheless a memorable experience.