One of the most interesting sights I found in Colombo on my way to Australia was a market which was the shopping centre for the Indian people. It was situated in the centre of the native quarter of the city and there one could buy anything from foodstuffs to furniture, though most of the latter seemed to be home-made and rather primitive.
The narrow and dirty streets were crowded with traffic, mainly cyclists and barefooted pedestrians dressed in dirty white garments. Rickshaws were also seen, but they were used only, by Europeans or by wealthy Indians dressed in bright and expensive materials. Everybody was moving, pushing, even yelling to attract attention.
The shops were very primitive, sometimes being rough shacks, sometimes being just squares of carpet. The sight of a mother feeding her children and at the same time pulling at your dress to attract your attention was quite common. As we passed along we might see a boot maker, quite probably a cripple, or there might be an excited crowd round an old snake-charmer who showed his tricks while a child went round collecting money.
A series of buildings housed the food markets. On entering one of them we soon found by the smell that we were in the meat market. The sight of dried fish and stale meat well camouflaged by great swarms of flies hardly made our mouths water, and though the Indians didn't seem to mind it, we left in a hurry. We were happier in the next section, which sold fruit, and we were able to choose from beautifully arranged tropical fruits which were very cheap.
Hand-made goods were sold mainly in the open, as were meals. As we walked through some of the little streets we were stared at as though we had come from Mars, and were continually being stopped and asked to buy or exchange things. It is many years now since I was there, but it was all so different from my ordinary life that it is a scene I shall never forget.