At around nine last Thursday I was sitting on the balcony of my friend’s suite at the Cinnamon Lakeside, the hotel’s floating restaurant was doing the rounds on the Beira lake; it’s basket-like structure lit up with lights, competing with the neon lamps of the new Bally’s casino across the water. Colombo seems on the cusp of a bright future.
At around 1030 that night I was discovering the body of Kanapadipillai Udayakanthan, 38. What i mistook for a drunkard lying in a pool of urine turned out to be a muscular young man lying on his side in a pool of blood, quite still. We told the cops. A dark, mustachioed sergeant stared me in the eye a little too closely and told me he’ll ‘check it out’.
The genesis of a Colombo Crime Scene investigation is interesting to watch. When i came back after dropping my friend, there were two bemused looking traffic policemen, and one grave looking bystander. A closer look reveals multiple stab woulds on the victims’ arm and face, there were probably deeper cuts on his neck and torso but he was lying on his front and side so i couldn’t see. Tinny Sinhala music was playing from somewhere, a phone in the dead man’s pocket.
Fifteen minutes later, there are more bemused cops, and more curious bystanders. Some are taking pictures. Strangely, the cops are letting two of the seedier ones get awfully close to the corpse, not that they were particularly restricting any of the others. These two turn out to be inspectors from the crime squad, as do a few other plainclothesmen in the crowd. Word gets around that I was the one that reported the body, and a few of the cops nod at me in appreciation.
Soon the Inspector is pulling out a wallet from the victim’s shorts, the name, race and address of the victim, as yet unknown, is now confirmed. The realization that he is Tamil creates a barely perceptible change in the atmosphere, slight relief, this is now a routine job.
Meanwhile more cops are digging through the late Mr. Udayakanthan’s backpack. They’re finding some documents, among which are four passports, three are in the victim’s name. None of the cops wear rubber gloves. People are all over the scene, walking on what must be evidence. The cops, mildly annoyed, tell them to keep away, but they keep slinking back and the police just give up. The yellow cordon only goes on some two hours later, when everyone’s basically gotten bored and gone home.
Now the phone is ringing again, muffled Sinhala music (why would a Tamil man listen to Sinhala music?), his front pockets are caked with blood, still wet. The inspector digs in with gusto, rummages for a while, and manages to pull out the phone from the left pocket. It’s a fake iphone. The person on the other end is a woman. Their conversation goes something like this:
“Who are you” says the IP, “why is so and so in Bambalapitiya?” she is obviously very confused at this stranger barking questions at her. “We are the cops..he’s been stabbed (meyawa kapala kotala dalla thiyanawa)” the cop doesn’t believe in easing into things, and i react like i was slapped, she reacts like the cop is barking mad. “No i’m not joking” says the IP, “call the police station if you don’t believe me” she hangs up.
Another call, again a woman. She cant speak Sinhala, and the IP asks the crowd who can speak Tamil, I volunteer, but soon regret it. You ever seen those cop shows where the short straw always goes to the guy who has to tell the dead man’s wife? well it’s not a fun job. My Tamil is broken, and after the cop’s attitude to the previous caller, i feel strangely desensitized and out of sync.
To my credit, or lack of it, i first thought it was the same caller, and that she already got the brunt of the bad news. So when she asked where Udayakanthan was i replied that he was dead. She asked me what the hell i was talking about, and then i asked her who she was, his wife, she said. I tried to sound as sensitive as i could. But my Tamil was just warming up, and the correct words and tone just wouldn’t come. I think i ended up shocking her very badly, she started screaming and bawling. She only managed to tell me that she didn’t know what her late husband was doing in bamba and that she was in London, and worse, that she was without family there.
I subsequently spoke to several of her neighbors, and then her sister called from Batticaloa. i told them to send someone to the Bambalapitiya Police, since the Police seemed a little clueless as to what i should say. None of them knew what Udayakanthan was really upto in Colombo, only that he worked for a ‘studio’ and that he had many Sinhala friends. He had a big red motorbike, but it was nowhere to be seen. Mysteriously, his helmet was nearby and his keys were next to him soaking in a rivulet of his own blood. Police say that tire tracks nearby indicated that he was killed somewhere else, and dumped here.
About two hours pass before they ask me for a statement, but i could have left at any time before that. While giving my statement by the side of the road, I look through the passports, and only one of them has been used. Once on a trip to India in 2006, and then for work to Saudi in 2007. The other two are brand new. The cops are chatty and open about everything, me looking through evidence doesn’t seem to bother them. My phone is dead or there might even have been pictures.
I think the Island picked up the story the next day. But it has more or less gotten buried. Probably got billed as gang violence, petty crime or something else. Murders are commonplace in Colombo and everywhere else, a cop tells me abot a particularly bloody case in Anuradhapura where the killer foolishly returned to the scene of the crime in his car, which was also the murder weapon.
Most people like to pretend dark stuff like this doesn’t happen. Judging by the cars that must have passed by the corpse before i reported it, most Colombians like to pretend stuff like this happens in a different dimension, but also the perception that ‘getting involved’ will be a major personal hassle plays a large and relevant role.
Me though, i was just morbidly curious.