Like people, cities too have dark sides.


City’s have shifting tales made up of light and shadow, of good days and dark times. But we only connect shadows with negativity, forgetting that they too, are made of light. I’d like to think of shadows as the opposite of darkness, the stepchild of the light – or its partner in crime. They work together to double our vision, to shape shift the Colombo we encounter, whenever we take time to look up, down and around us.

Shadows are storytellers. Like the shadows on a statue of an angel at Borella Kanatta, standing watch over a soul long gone into the light. Or the open markets of Pettah where shadows shift throughout the day, making its contents larger than life. Even in shadows strewn across coffee tables with scattered notes and cups, there is a story to be found.

Shadows are also an analogy for Colombo’s shifting tale. We are not without an undue share of darkness but it exists alongside the light. When we think of tragedies like a 30-year war or a tsunami or the recent Easter Sunday bombings, lets also remember kind people who help little old ladies cross the street, adopt stray puppies or offer to babysit for a single mum so she can have a night on the town. People who are the first to help wherever disaster strikes, people campaigning for justice online and on the streets. Light is everywhere, cutting through the darkness, but sitting right next to it all the while. A good cop – bad cop kind of dynamic that pushes the city forward.

The late science fiction author Ursula K Le Guinn wrote, ‘when you light a candle, you also cast a shadow’. Le Guinn reminds us that we are bigger than the sum of our parts, a synergy of light and darkness that makes us far more real that a manicured metropolis. A city that simultaneously sheds light and throws shadow and paints us just as we are.

After all, without her darkness, how would Colombo shine?



A Column by Natalie Soysa