When Dr. Who wants time to stand still, he nips into his Tardis, conveniently disguised as a British telephone booth, and zips across the universe in fewer seconds than it takes to say, "The Daleks are coming" backwards in Old High Gallifreyan (the ancient language of the Time Lords). Sorry, what? No, no; rest assured, gentle readers: this is not a trivial piece on the cult science fiction series.
I merely wanted to make a point about time in general and making time stand still in particular. Whenever I want to do just that, I wend my way towards the Colombo Fort Railway Station, purchase a platform ticket for the princely sum of ten rupees, and ensconce myself at the far end of Platform nine - where the least number of clanking belching locomotives come and go to interrupt my thought processes (trains attract and distract me in equal measure, dears).
Some time during the 'avurudu' holidays, being desirous of some serious peace and quiet, I braved the not-so-madding roads and made a bee line on my trusty bike to one of our metropolis's main railway termini (the other, at Maradana, a kilometre or so away, is less appealing as a haven for wool-gathering; being of a busier, grimier mettle and more suited to commuters in an almighty hurry).
Platform ticket duly purchased from the Olcott Road-side entrance, which is less susceptible to frenzied passengers making last-minute bookings for long-distance trains, I shimmied along the overhead bridge, which makes a super viewing platform for incoming trains from the southern line as well as shunting locomotives switching ends for return trips, before settling down without a customary newspaper (I was here today for serious business: introspection, not my usual inspection of ties and tracks and trains in transit through a seemingly apathetic station).
I sense some impatience on your part, dears! But that is part of the point of this rambling rumination. There is something to be said for the anomie and accidie that grips the casual loiterer at Col Fort. It is a delicious amalgam of the thinking that to travel hopefully is better than to arrive, the joyful surrender to the sentiment that the journey is worth immeasurably more than the destination, and the languid torpor and loneliness of the long-distance traveller. Right, let's stop tarrying then… shall we?
As time stood still, several things happened.
First, there was a hiatus between 10.15 a.m. and around half past that hour… when nothing mechanical (people don't concern me as much when I am in my railway cathedral) moved - no train entered or exited the terminus. And then there was a deeper, more delicious halcyon, when for all of a minute (between 10.33 and 10.34) there was not a single train in the station (between the departure of the southbound express for Galle and Matara headed by Class M2 No. 573 'Quebec' and the arrival of the tired limping beast from Omanthai, Vavuniya, and Anuradhapura led by Class M4 No. 755 'Mahaweli').
Patience, I'm getting there.
Second, there was an "Om, shakthi!" moment in which I clearly saw all Sri Lankans as belonging to two classes of time-traveller. One, the unkindly type who rush from one thing to another with never a moment to spare for the better things in life, driven, hassled and harried, always late for another appointment elsewhere, trapped in a vortex of activity without achievement, labour sans reward, doing whatever it takes to be in touch, stay abreast, keep living. Two, the un-stereotypical kind for whom haste makes waste, who never seem to know what hour it is or where they ought to be, but still for all called to some high adventure that can take all the time in the world for all they care, always late, never embarrassed by being caught unaware or unprepared, for whom being is a reward in itself without the requirement of accomplishment.
Third, the sad and dawning realization that Serendip is on its way nowhere, fast… advancing furiously at the behest of benevolent tyrants of time, space, and energy who dictate the agenda and set the pace… while some of the rest of many if not most are left behind in a time-warp of poverty, powerlessness, loss of potential, utter lack of hope…
And while I waited, in the words of the immortal C. S. Lewis in his classic The Last Battle, seventh in the Chronicles of Narnia series: "There was a real railway accident."
You will now find me sitting - somewhat at my wit's end - at the far end of Platform nine and three quarters, stuck in a time warp of my own, waiting without hope - and some fierce secret joy at this abandonment by the time-bound world - to be rescued.