04 May 2023

Let’s meet at ‘The Commons’

When you are a freelancer, you can’t ask someone to meet you in your office. Indeed, some offices won’t tolerate random people dropping in for a chit-chat. When you live far away you can’t ask people to come home for a work-related discussion. ‘Online’ is possible, but then again face-to-face is often best for certain conversations, especially when it could be important to read a mind by the way someone holds his or her eye, the expressions that materialise on the face, the mannerisms etc.

So I have to think of ‘common ground,’ and over the past four years or so, I realise now, ‘Let’s meet at “The Commons,”’ has become a frequently used suggestion.

I’ve waited here for my daughters to be done with whatever they were doing. I’ve met old friends, cousins, nieces, students, political associates, poets and other writers. We reminisced about old times, laughed at each other and ourselves, spoke about possible futures, dissected the political, debated the merits of ideologies, wandered into philosophical countries, reviewed literature or just enjoyed moments of shared silence.

I am not waiting for anyone right now. My older daughter is sitting with me, biding time before moving on to the next thing on the day’s agenda. The music is always soft. There are a few customers but soon there will be more.

The proprietor who was known to an earlier generation as the best DJ in town, ‘Harpo’ Goonaratne may walk in at any time and if he does he would smile and nod his head in acknowledgment not because I am a frequent customer but he’s just friendly to one and all.

There are familiar faces behind the counter. Security Officer Abeyratne who smiled and said ‘good afternoon’ as I walked in would probably ask ‘yannada sir (are you leaving, sir)?’ Maybe he would have been replaced by Kingsley and if so it would be Kingsley who asked this question. I will stop for a minute and exchange pleasantries.

Today, i.e. the 4th of May, 2023, ‘The Commons’ turns 18. I can’t remember the first time I came here. It has to be over 10 years ago. The architecture hasn’t changed much. The quality of the food and various beverages hasn’t changed much. There are other frequent customers, some of whom have become friends. The staff probably knows who the regulars are but I’ve noticed that lack of familiarity doesn’t translate into lesser service quality.

I have seen people to whom I’ve said ‘Let’s meet at the commons,’ come here with friends. Maybe some of them also used the same words. Every single day I come here I see someone I have never seen before and at least a few familiar faces. Eighteen years is a long time. Who knows how many customers have been served? Who can tell how many have returned, alone or with a friend or two thereafter?  

I’ve not carried out a customer satisfaction survey, but I am satisfied. In fact I am yet to find anyone who was not. I have not sampled all the food because I don’t eat meat or fish. I have my coffee preferences. I’m not a connoisseur of these things. If you ask me and I said ‘good’ it could mean excellent, passable, palatable or less. I’m low-maintenance in these things.

For me ‘The Commons’ is about atmosphere. It’s the music, the interior decor, the peals of laughter coming from some corner of the premises, the courtesy shown by the staff, Harpo’s occasional ‘hello,’ and the ‘you are welcome’ signs that are all over the place but not in black and white.

I can come anytime I like and be the last to leave. There’s always a cricket or soccer match I can watch on the television set if and when I need a break from whatever it is I am doing. For example, I just saw the Lucknow Super Giants being bowled out for 109, giving the Royal Challengers Bangalore an 18 run win in the 43th match of IPL 2023. Just the match highlights, but entertaining enough to justify a break.

Sometimes I ask for a glass of water and sometimes I get one without asking. When it gets a bit crowded, I retire to the open space at the back of the cafe, replete with fans, tables and chairs, a couple of stools and light streaming through the trees. Out of the way. There’s always room for another at ‘The Commons.’  

There’s always space. But it’s not this assurance that makes me tell friends from time to time, ‘let’s meet at the commons.’ It’s my place. As privately owned as it is by anyone else. A different kind of commonality, but most certainly pleasing.

Let’s meet at ‘The Commons,’ then. That’s an open invitation.

['The Morning Inspection' is the title of a column I wrote for the Daily News from 2009 to 2011, one article a day, Monday through Saturday. This is a new series. Links to previous articles in this new series are given below]

Other articles in this series:

It all begins with a dot

Recovering run-on lines and lost punctuation

'Wetness' is not the preserve of the Dry Zone

On sweeping close to one's feet

Kumkum Fernando installs Sri Lanka in Coachella, California

To be an island like the Roberts...

Debts that can never be repaid in full

An island which no flood can overwhelm

Who really wrote 'Mother'?

A melody faint and yet not beyond hearing

Heart dances that cannot be choreographed

Remembering to forget and forgetting to remember

On loving, always

Authors are assassinated, readers are immortal

When you turn 80...

It is good to be conscious of nudities 

Saturday slides in after Monday and Sunday somersaults into Friday 

There's a one in a million and a one in ten

Gunadasa Kapuge is calling

Kumkum Fernando installs Sri Lanka in Coachella, California

Hemantha Gunawardena's signature

Pathways missed

Architectures of the demolished

The exotic lunacy of parting gifts

Who the heck do you think I am?

Those fascinating 'Chitra Katha'

The Mangala Sabhava

So how are things in Sri Lanka?

The most beautiful father

Palmam qui meruit ferat

The sweetest three-letter poem

Buddhangala Kamatahan

An Irish and Sri Lankan Hello

Teams, team-thinking, team-spirit and leadership

The songs we could sing in lifeboats when we are shipwrecked

Pure-Rathna, a class act

Jekhan Aruliah set a ball rolling in Jaffna

Awaiting arrivals unlike any other

Teachers and students sometimes reverse roles

Matters of honor and dignity

Yet another Mother's Day

A cockroach named 'Don't'

Colombo, Colombo, Colombo and so forth

The slowest road to Kumarigama, Ampara

Sweeping the clutter away

Some play music, others listen

Completing unfinished texts

Mind and hearts, loquacious and taciturn

I am at Jaga Food, where are you?

On separating the missing from the disappeared

Moments without tenses

And intangible republics will save the day (as they always have)

The world is made of waves


The circuitous logic of Tony Muller

Rohana Kalyanaratne, an unforgettable 'Loku Aiya'

Mowgli, the Greatest Archaeologist

Figures and disfigurement, rocks and roses

Sujith Rathnayake and incarcerations imposed and embraced

Some stories are written on the covers themselves

A poetic enclave in the Republic of Literature

Landcapes of gone-time and going-time 

The best insurance against the loud and repeated lie

So what if the best flutes will not go to the best flautists?

There's dust and words awaiting us at crossroads and crosswords

The books of disquiet

A song of terraced paddy fields

Of ants, bridges and possibilities

From A through Aardvark to Zyzzyva 

World's End

Words, their potency, appropriation and abuse

Street corner stories

Who did not listen, who's not listening still?

The book of layering

If you remember Kobe, visit GOAT Mountain

The world is made for re-colouring

The gift and yoke of bastardy

The 'English Smile'

No 27, Dickman's Road, Colombo 5

Visual cartographers and cartography

Ithaca from a long ago and right now

Lessons written in invisible ink

The amazing quality of 'equal-kindness'

A tea-maker story seldom told

On academic activism

The interchangeability of light and darkness

Back to TRADITIONAL rice

Sisterhood: moments, just moments

Chess is my life and perhaps your too

Reflections on ownership and belonging

The integrity of Nadeesha Rajapaksha

Signatures in the seasons of love

To Maceo Martinet as he flies over rainbows

Sirith, like pirith, persist

Fragrances that will not be bottled 

Colours and textures of living heritage

Countries of the past, present and future

A degree in creative excuses

Books launched and not-yet-launched

The sunrise as viewed from sacred mountains

The ways of the lotus

Isaiah 58: 12-16 and the true meaning of grace

The age of Frederick Algernon Trotteville

Live and tell the tale as you will

Between struggle and cooperation

Of love and other intangibles

Neruda, Sekara and literary dimensions

The universe of smallness

Paul Christopher's heart of many chambers

Calmness gracefully cascades in the Dumbara Hills

Serendipitous amber rules the world

Continents of the heart


Anonymous said...

Love this!!

Anonymous said...

Love this!!