Socially Distant Jesus
Signs inside St Lucia’s Cathedral, Kotahena, instruct worshippers on the new normal. April 2021. In spite of these precautions, Sri Lanka is weathering another wave of COVID-19 infections, with a complete round-the-clock curfew that began in mid-May, now in its 25th day. With little apparent change to the infection rate, and no comprehensive vaccination programme in place, the government seems as distant from its people as do their gods.

Shot with a Canon 5DMkIV & EF16-35/2.8L courtesy Canon/Metropolitan


Running Down the Clock
Athletes from a Negombo high school, in September 2018. For most of Sri Lanka, school’s been out since March 2020, over a year ago; and while classroom education has proceeded, for the more fortunate students, online, all extracurricular activities, like sports, have been completely on hold. For most, a lack of sports may seem a small price to pay to keep the spread of the corona virus at bay but, for many high school athletes, a year on the sidelines is the end of a career before it begins. For those hoping to represent their schools in track, cricket, rugby, and other sports at the under-19s (a vital step in the process for selection to club and national teams, and an advantage even for job opportunities in the government and mercantile sectors), it will be a year lost forever. As the government continues to mismanage the pandemic, the long-awaited vaccination of the Sri Lankan population has been slow and inefficient; and the authorities have countered with a new series of lockdowns and travel restrictions that are set to batter an already exhausted populace. With the crisis now in its second year, and another batch of young sportsman and sportswomen facing deserted stadiums and closed training facilities, there is no indication of when the authorities will allow schools to resume.

Their Future, for Our Today
Schoolgirls at computer class in an international school on the outskirts of Colombo, in November 2018.
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Let Them Eat Cake
Vendors in the Maharagama textile bazaar, in April 2018. Aside from a casually affectionate pose that is rarely seen under today’s social distancing norms, the huge bazaar, sprawling across Maharagama and Pamunuwa, just south of Colombo, has been shut down as part of an ongoing series of local and countrywide lockdowns imposed by the Government of Sri Lanka in May. A year into the pandemic, the population, financially exhausted and psychologically weary, were looking hopefully to the long-awaited Covid vaccine, which was rolled out in March. But governmental mismanagement of the process has ensured relatively few people actually receive their shots. Under attack for their bungling, the government has in turn blamed the public for not following pandemic rules which are often confusing and badly articulated by the authorities. For many, including small businessmen such as these, dependent on a daily income, lockdowns and restrictions on travel can mean financial ruin and are widely seen as a government punishing its people for its own corruption and ineptitude.

Stay Home, Stay Safe #2
A mobile phone vendor, on Olcott Avenue, in Colombo, in April 2018. For small businessmen such as he, dependent on each day’s take of sales, staying home during the corona pandemic is not an option. These vendors are too small to compete online, and rely on walk-in customers; in this man’s case, mostly commuters from the nearby Fort Railway Station, the city’s main rail hub. Long lockdowns, restrictions on travel, and pressure on the public to stay home, a full year into the crisis, have made a huge dent in earnings for many like him.

Stay Home, Stay Safe
A naattami, the ubiquitious urban stevedore of Colombo’s market district, hauls a heavy load of grain along Dam Street, in the Pettah, in September 2020. For labourers such as he and, indeed, many others who earn a daily wage, staying home in the corona pandemic is not an option. Government-imposed round-the-clock lockdowns and restricted travel (the latter requiring employment papers or identification cards for movement; documentation that most workers in the casual sector do not have) inevitably affect millions, mostly in the lower and middle income brackets.

*shot on an M6MkII & 15-45mm/3.5-5.6, courtesy Canon/Metropolitan.

The Ones Who’d Been Gone for So Very Long
A derelict restaurant in the southern Colombo suburb of Attidiya; another of the collateral casualties of the government’s war on COVID-19; felled by lockdowns that went on for too long, and customers who were told to stay home and stay safe. As Sri Lanka enters its third nationwide lockdown, a round-the-clock curfew announced across the Eid al-Fitr weekend that ends the traditional Muslim holy month of Ramadan, the economic fallout of the pandemic is once more placed firmly on the backs of the public, nearly exhausted after a year of government indecision and ineptitude in handling the corona pandemic. With little or no financial relief for small businesses, and no light visible at the end of the tunnel, many have simply run out of options. Colombo, May 2021.

The Day the Music Died
While many of the incidental casualties of the government’s war on COVID-19, its long round-the-clock lockdowns and pressure on the public to stay home, have been small restaurants and eateries, other businesses have succumbed too; like this piano store close to Kohuwala Junction. Music stores aren’t common in Colombo, and I often thought this one, with its handmade signs for piano lessons and tuning services, a holdover from a different, simpler, era. I always meant to go in, putting it off as I whizzed past on some errand, and now, I guess I never will. Sri Lanka, May 2021.

Covid Collateral #2
Businesses too small to get on to Uber Eats, Pick Me Foods, and other app-based delivery platforms have been the most common collateral casualties of the war on COVID-19. But even larger eateries have been hit by the economic fallout. Re kadés (literally ‘night shops’), like this one by a major road out of southern Colombo, thrive on hungry commuter traffic and long distance travellers, and are open twenty-four hours a day; but with long lockdowns, and pressure on the public to ‘stay home, stay safe’, after more than a year of the pandemic, many businesses have run out of options. Colombo, May 2021.

Lockdown 2.0

Image shows A taxi driver in Colombo, behind his home made isolation booth.
A taxi driver in Colombo, behind his home made isolation booth. Sri Lanka, 29th October 2020.
Continue reading “Lockdown 2.0”