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A land of pleasant surprises

The word Serendipity brought Kate Beckinsale and John Cusack to my celluloid brain. I knew what it meant but that could have just been a happy coincidence, writes Sutirtho Patranobis.

world Updated: Sep 10, 2008, 01:28 IST
Sutirtho Patranobis
Sutirtho Patranobis
Hindustan Times

The word Serendipity brought Kate Beckinsale and John Cusack to my celluloid brain, in that very diminishing order till recently. I knew what it meant but that could have just been a happy coincidence.

But luckily, my ignorance about the word's origin proved temporary within days of saying yes to the choice of a Sri Lanka posting. As a ready read, I had picked up a fairly new book on Sri Lanka by Mohan K Tikku, HT’s correspondent in Sri Lanka in the late eighties.

“To the Arabs, Sri Lanka was Serendib. That gave a new word to the English lexicon, serendipity. For them, it was the land of pleasant surprises…The Europeans borrowed the name from the Arabs, and then used it in their own variants. The Portuguese called it Ceilao, the Dutch Ceylan, the French Ceylan and the English Ceylon,” he writes in Sri Lanka: A Land in Search of Itself, published in 2007.

The search for, at least, the name seemed to have ended in 1972 when the rulers of this island nation scraped clean European linguistic influences and renamed it Sri Lanka, word of Sanskrit origin meaning ‘resplendent land’.

The same year, the country became a republic. Several other interesting facets and personalities Ajantha Mendis was still unknown to us in May came alive and took shape as I read a bit more about the country.

Anyway, the flight to Colombo from New Delhi came via a three-hour stopover in Chennai and was largely eventless.

It takes about an hour from Chennai to Colombo, and as the aircraft dipped and swerved over swathes of coconut trees to make a smooth landing, I had butterflies in my stomach.

The sky was overcast with a hint of a drizzle and Colombo felt surprisingly welcome. It was Sunday and the roads were clean and empty.

The owners of my new home in Cinnamon Gardens, the De Silvas, were more welcoming and were waiting with chilled Elephant ginger ale and piping hot fish buns and chicken rolls.

As the evening fell over the quiet neighbourhood, I realised that in less than half-a-day, I had been transported out of my Patparganj-state of existence in east Delhi and was about to make a new home in a new city where I knew exactly five people. In time, maybe I will be able to tell myself and you whether the Colombo assignment would indeed turn out to be serendipitous or not.

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