Listening for the Alien Heartbeat

When I first went to Sri Lanka – by 2 boats from Rameswaram in the south of India – it was in the throes of a miserable socialism[1 ].    Mean politicians ruled a people unable to see past the struggle for their next meal.  Even the land seemed dusty and intractable.  But now, with the return of a market economy, the land is so lush it is startling.

Sri Lanka, Nuwara Eliya - white house beside road - lush landOne of the local crops is potatoes, and this man trades in potatoes.  He was a decent man, gently spoken and well educated.  Why would I mention this?  Because under socialism the Sri Lankans I met were either the fat-witted privileged, or the hustling down-trodden.

Sri Lanka,  Nuwara Eliya - Potato Trader

Now this man is a shop-keeper of the old school.  He sells ‘paan’, that stimulating, disgusting, somewhat lethal mixture of leaves, tobacco and spices that people on the subcontinent chew.  I asked him if it was good for you.  He told one of the men in the shop to show me his mouth – a straggle of black, rotted teeth.  Did he use it?  “Of course not”.

Sri Lanka,  Nuwara Eliya - Paan SellerHis is a simple paan.  The ingredients pictured below I guess are betel leaf, betel nut, tobacco and lime stone powder paste[2 ].  Though if anyone has a sufficiently purple mouth to correct me, feel free.

Sri Lanka,  Nuwara Eliya, Paan Seller, A simple paanMargins for traders are no doubt small, and these men work hard and late.

Sri Lanka,  Nuwara Eliya - Evening TradersBut the end result is markets full of goods that most can afford:

Sri Lanka,  Nuwara Eliya - Shops, Formal and Informal Marketsand an economy in which even the less favored can still survive[3 ].

Sri Lanka,  Nuwara Eliya - Muslim shop, Tamil food seller


1.  Even the Trotskyites got a seat at the table.  These were guys who never got invited anywhere.

2   He did tell me what they were but my brain ran out of room for new stuff 11 years ago.

3.  Kindly note:  there is nothing in this practical endorsement of market economies that suggests there aren’t some CEOs who ought to be stuffed into a cannon and shot off the planet.  After getting an ‘atomic wedgie’.

11 Responses to “New Men, Gentle Traders”

  1. Isobella

    Amazing! I love being able to travel through other’s eyes. Great work, and good to keep up on history that isn’t told to us through the news but through someone who actually went and witnessed with their heart. Thank you 🙂

    • alienheartbeat

      Thanks Isobella. I am probably an unreliable recorder of history, but a reliable recorder of men’s stupidity. Long practice.

    • alienheartbeat

      Thanks Victoria. Insight comes with age, but as I started later than most (I was a stupid kid, then ignorant teenager then a blissfully unaware young adult) , I am losing the race against time on this.

      • Victoria

        oh, I don’t know about that… seems like you’ve more than caught-up. And, actually, I think those stages in life are fairly common to most of us. My older adult bliss wanes drastically, in between photos.


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