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Sri Lanka - Threads of style

Through the eye of a needle, not with a camel but with an idea.

By Ignatious Joseph

The Porto do Commerce was erected after the Great Earthquake that destroyed old Lisbon. That is at least two hundred years after the Portuguese laid anchor in Bombay, Goa, or Colombo. Yet the gates to empire have always been the last to fall. Perhaps that is because every door inward is also the door outward, as the proverbial Janus figure of Roman mythology symbolises.

In 2022, I began my own voyage to the East. In contrast to those gatebuilders, I was returning through the doors—the gates others built before me—through which I left my home more than 30 years ago on a journey of discovery. It was my own personal voyage to the source of those ideas and practices that had imposed themselves on my culture and on me—to the lands of those who built those gates. Unarmed, I was determined to bear the legacy of transformation, the product of those historical journeys—whether missionary, exploratory, piratical, or commercial—that transformed my part of the world through its interaction with the far western peninsula of the great Eurasian landmass, on whose southern extremity I was born.

Leaving Lisbon via Frankfurt and Dubai, I reached Kayman's Gate, now a mere bell tower, where the Portuguese erected their fortress in what is now our national capital. Then, after a long weekend prospecting from the Jaffna peninsula across the Palik Strait, I resolved to go "gate-crashing" across the strait.

To follow this thread, I flew to Bombay, now called Mumbai. This megacity was established by the Portuguese, who called it Bom Baia, or the beautiful bay. It was passed to the English in the dowry of Catherine of Braganza and became known as Bombay. After the loss of the thirteen British North American colonies, the British Empire raised its banner. After absorbing the property of the British East India Company, Her Britannic Majesty Victoria became Queen Empress of India. The gate to this great empire was erected in Bombay. Through that gate, I must also pass, which I did.

A red thread, with red shoes tread, led me south, not east, since the Portuguese created the colonies of Goa as the capital of their great Estado da India (State of India). From Goa, all the Portuguese colonies from Timor to Mozambique were ruled. Thus the red thread leads through the South Asian kitchens of these smallest of states in the Indian Union. While there is no gate, strictly speaking, Goa is the perfect door through which India, in the old sense of the word, passes to Portugal and Portugal, representing "old Europe," passes into India. Coincidentally, the current prime minister of the Portuguese Republic is a descendant of Goan Indo-Portuguese.

Ignatious Joseph


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