Flights from Bangalore to Colombo appear to land in a time zone known around the world as TrST (Taxi rip-off Standard Time). If I was a taxi driver, 11pm to 7am is the only shift I'd work, welcoming passengers landing bewildered in a new city, disoriented, sleep-deprived, grumpy and ready to hand over their wallets.
Colleague Arya Yuyutsu and I head to Galle, picking Andrew Fidel Fernando up from his home. Colombo is stirring awake, the light towers of the Premadasa go past, and on the walls of the mighty Welikada prison is this noble sign: "Prisoners are also human beings." Maybe it is to remind the guards inside.
Galle Fort is a world - a UNESCO-heritage-site, slightly Eurocentric, gentrified touristy world - by itself separate from what is outside its walls. We're at the Secret Palace guest house in the Muslim quarter, which feels like a normal home. An early-morning walk is a reminder that while the tsunami wrecked much of the Sri Lankan coast, the walls of the Dutch Fort, built circa the 17th century, stayed intact. Astonishing. "Buses were being tossed around like matchsticks" says a fellow morning walker, a hairdresser and masseur by profession.
One of the stalls in the fish market just outside the fort's walls is offering what looks like a 100kg tuna. They shrug: that's normal. India? Yes. Tourist? Cricket. The man grins and offers a familiar word of communication, leading to big grins all around among buyers, sellers and onlookers. The word is "Tendulkar".
The media have been divided by nationality and segregated, with the scorer sitting in the "right-wing media box", meant for Sri Lankans. He will communicate with the Indian media via a PA system. The Indians are housed in the "left-wing media box", a complete breakaway from the politics currently being tried out by Lanka's jumbo neighbour.
Near the left-wing media box is Galle cricket kingpin Jayananda Warnaweera's office. Technically he is the secretary of the Southern Province Cricket Association, but he's also the curator and general boss. His office is a visual feast: not like Paris but in its own way. It contains three fish tanks, two giant TV screens and a third, smaller one near his desk, 11 pairs of shoes - five black, one brown, one pair of cricket boots, and two pairs of loafers among them. On the walls are three pairs of cricket trousers, 11 cricket shirts and 14 kinds of hats (I counted). Three other hats with Oakley-type sunglasses sitting on their brims. Oh, and two tea sets: one Sri Lankan porcelain and one Pakistani onyx. You cannot fit it all into a single photo frame.
Sri Lanka's traffic policemen wear gloves and their motorists give pedestrians right of way at zebra crossings. Apparently you can get fined for jaywalking in parts of Colombo. Better to be fined than run over, say I. Water can be drunk from taps. These are civilisational high points.
Watch an hour's play from the ramparts of the fort. Sri Lankan wickets are falling, but at one point nearing lunch, an outburst of heightened drama. Arms are flung about, teapot poses are adopted, and a player resembling R Ashwin goes alarmingly close to an umpire. At lunch, the three umpiring bloopers are explained, replays watched. Then Dinesh Chandimal happens.
The Galle scorer, Thushara Cooray, allows himself a bit of a joke every time he announces the fall of a wicket. He calls the time of dismissal "rahukaalam", a word from Indian astrology that is meant to describe an "inauspicious" hour, when the rogue planet Rahu is not up to any good. As Indian wickets start to topple, Cooray's voice calling out the rahukaalam sounds more and more upbeat. India's batsmen stagger around directionless.
It is Sunday morning, and Galle is awash in wedding parties freshly arrived for their photo shoots. First, a group with men dressed like the kings of Kandy on the fort wall. Half a kilometre ahead, two groups: men in army and naval uniforms, little boys carrying cardboard swords. In the court-house square, a vast population of the soon to be betrothed. Walkers and joggers are huffing past, sweating buckets, but in the wedding groups everyone holds their pose and looks gorgeous. From here they will go to wedding halls. Air-conditioned, no doubt.
In the evening, Rathgama, and the home of Lasith Malinga's unsuspecting parents. It is a two-street small town, not a village. The house is tucked away off a lane, single-storeyed, and surrounded by fruit trees - coconut, belli, jackfruit - reaching what seem like rainforest heights. The doors are open: Malinga's mother, Swarna, is teaching a fifth-grade student preparing for her scholarship exams. She is tolerant of sudden intruders. She talks, Fidel translates. She calls that tinted hair, those tattoos, "vikaara": nonsense. She asks if the guests would like some wood apples. Malinga senior is not at home when we call, but on our way out, Nama, the auto driver, recognises him walking up the road, dressed in lungi and shirt. Rapid u-turn and journalistic ambush. He is happy to talk.
Do not travel on election day, who knows what might happen. What happens is that people vote early and go about their business. We are on the Rajarata Regini inter-city express train, along with every single voter who needs to commute from Galle. A single seat is found in the absolute last carriage. Arya stands manfully by the door (and, I assume, sings songs) as he watches the countryside go by.
It must be one of the most gorgeous short train journeys of the world. Large stretches of beach and crashing ocean to the left, dense foliage and brightly painted homes on the right. Passengers in crowded aisles lean aside considerately so as not to block the camera of the tourist as she takes her photographs. A group of young men heading to their afternoon shifts as accountants somewhere, though, are unmoved by the scenic splendour; they watch a Tamil movie on their mobile phones. It has songs and a heroic-looking man falling out of his hospital bed to the alarm of a woman who must be his mother.
Colombo. Become a substantial parcel, passed through four autorickshaws to get to the P Sara. The first is heading in another direction in the maze of one-ways that is Colombo and begins by transporting me to another for the minimum fare. No. 2 nods agreeably, calmly turns a corner and finds another comrade. Numero Dos is apparently out of fuel or his axle is about fall off. Or pigs are flying, who knows. No. 3 listens to the instructions regarding P Sara Oval - "Borella Junction" is a recognisable phrase for the now-tetchy passenger - and he races ahead, chattering to the driver of another tuk-tuk going at a good clip alongside. Directions? No, this is to be the Fourth Muskeeter, who will take this troublesome passenger to P Sara. Outraged passenger makes inchoate noises and driver explains: "Booking, 10:15, baby. Booking. Baby. So far." A booking at 10.15am involving a baby cannot apparently be kept if he heads out to P Sara. Driver No. 4, D'Artagnan, is willing. It is the second day of the parliamentary elections, people have shut shop just in case, and the roads are empty. Forget the Muskeeters, this is Valentino Rossi on three wheels.