The Land of Serendipity

D.J. Enright

  • The True Paradise by Gamini Salgado
    Carcanet, 192 pp, £14.95, May 1993, ISBN 1 85754 007 7

It was a different country that Gamini Salgado was born in: Ceylon, not unhappy Sri Lanka. The first chapter of these childhood memories tells of the hawkers who took turns outside the railway station: the dealer in pills for constipation, the palmist with his dogeared charts, the itinerant vendor of story books (‘he had a lovely high chanting voice, dreamy and faraway like a girl’s’), and best of all the snake-bite man, who appeared every Friday. His allure lay not in the pellets he was selling or in his dirty jokes, but in his cobra, ‘the most beautiful creature in the world’ and the boy’s first love, with ‘a gorgeous hood as large and bright as a lotus, with a beautiful brown ripple along the outside and a needle-bright flicker of tongue at the centre’. One day the cobra was gone, casting off her unworthy bedraggled master, but the boy dreamt of holding her in both his hands, ‘all the secret power of the universe coiled within that splendid shining body’.

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