One of my favourite locals is Rahju, an artist and musician I befriended many years ago. Rahju is half Norwegian, half Sinhalese. He lives high on a hill north of Kandy in a simple home with his books, his collection of musical instruments and, of course, his paintings. His lovely daughter Rudrani is also a painter. Rahju lives completely off-the-grid. He meditates, he paints, he plays the sitar and reads. He eats fresh fruits and vegetables from his garden, mostly raw. Rahju is a mentor to me, and an example of how to enjoy a simple, uncluttered life and find contentment and inner peace in the hills.
I have many other favourite locals, so I will name only a few. Bandara Palipana, an expert in botany who helped me understand and appreciate Sri Lanka’s exuberant flora. Noel Rodrigo, whom we affectionately refer to as ‘The Leopard Man’, who teaches us how to appreciate and protect Sri Lanka’s fauna. Rohini Delilkhan, who has helped me understand Sri Lankan culture and character in so many ways. Viren Perera, who has been like a big brother to me from my early days in Sri Lanka and always opened the doors of Ulpotha – a wonderful sanctuary – to us as family. Radhika Hettiarachchi, who had the courage and sensitivity to interview hundreds of mothers from the south and north of Sri Lanka and put together a tremendously valuable archive for generations to come. Dominic Sansoni, whose pictures capture the Sri Lanka I love in so many different ways and whose café/shop Barefoot is truly one of Colombo’s gems. These are all people who are involved in the travel industry, either directly or indirectly, in one way or another. After 16 years spent living in Sri Lanka, I am very proud to say the majority of my friends here are Sri Lankan, and I would have it no other way.