Lucien De Zoysa, cricketer, actor, writer and raconteur

by Mahinda Wijesinghe
Lucien de Zoysa, cricketer, actor, playwright, cricket commentator, writer and raconteur par excellence had the best of both worlds. Yes, he attended both S. Thomas’ College, Mt. Lavinia and Royal College, Colombo.

With the Royal-Thomian match coming round the corner — on 1,2 & 3 of March — it is, I feel, most opportune to quote a few anecdotes from the autobiography of Lucien de Zoysa titled ‘First Love’ published in 1992. Before you run away with any false notions about the title, Lucien, in his inimitable style states in the Foreword.

"I hope the title of this book "First Love" has not misled readers. This has nothing to do with sex. It is a book about cricket and cricketers. I have known and had the privilege of playing with and against. Nor is it all cricket, only cricket. I have interspersed my anecdotes of cricket with snippets from other areas like my home and schools....."

All in all it is a delightful, racy book spiced with superb humour and anecdote despite very poor proof reading that has resulted in a mess of errors beginning from the cover! It is a book full of nostalgia and reflects the man and the era in which he lived in. A talented, ingenuous, open-hearted, generous man living in an era sans violence and cut throat competition. In fact, Lucien would have been an anachronism in this day and age.

However, everything was not milk and honey even in those times. Who said ‘sledging’ was non-existent in those days? According to Lucien, the Thomians indulged in it! Remember, Lucien first attended STC and then — realising his mistake?! — switched over to Royal where he played for the first XI cricket team. It was the Royal-Thomian of 1935. Let Lucien take over.

" I particularly relished how the Thomians has, as they call it now, sledged me. Every time some of them and the wicket-keeper passed me as they crossed over at the end of an over, they would mumble things like: "traitor learned your cricket with us and now you are cheating us. Once a Thomian, always a Thomian... get out traitor..." all this, I must say was said in a totally different spirit to the sledging which goes on today".

The previous year saw Thomian Norman Siebel established a record individual score of 151 not out, that broke Royal batsman Barney Gunasekera’s previous record score of 148 and therein lies a story according to Lucien:

"... we had confidently appealed for a catch behind off Norman Siebel’s bat off S. Pathmanathan. That appeal had been off the first ball which Siebel faced.... sadly, some years after this historic innings when we had been sure he was out caught behind on his first ball, he died in Singapore to which country he had migrated shortly after he left school. We had ragged him unmercifully for not having walked without waiting for our appeal.... The story is that when Norman died and found himself at the Pearly Gates, the venerable Saint had asked him whether there was anything he had done when down on earth which troubled his conscience. "Yes father. I have often wondered whether I was out to that first ball when I scored 151. Pat came the answer. "Nonsense my boy. You were nowhere near that ball." Norman heaved a sigh of relief and said: "Thank you St. Peter. Thank You. That takes a load off my mind." "St. Peter?" came the rejoinder. "I am not St. Peter, my boy. I am substituting for him today. I am S. Thomas’ my boy".

Then comes the famous tour of Australia by the Royal College first XI in 1935, under the captaincy of Ryle de Soysa when the then Principal, L. H. W. Sampson and Games Master L. V. Gooneratne (father of the late C.V. (Puggy) Gooneratne) accompanied as officials. A member of that team, Pat McCarthy, later emigrated to Australia and had the distinction of being the first Ceylonese to have played Sheffield Shield Cricket. The tour party consisted of: Ryle de Soysa (Capt.), L. E. de Zoysa, D. Vollenhoven, Pat McCarthy.

F. H. de Saram, E. F. E. de Kretser, M. Sivanathan, R. Porritt, S. Pathamanathan, B. Thiedeman, J. W. Subasinghe, A. I. Macan Markar and R. L. de Kretser.

In a most entertaining description, Lucien keeps the reader enthralled about this sojurn Down Under beginning with the voyage on board the 25,000-ton P. and O. liner "Oxford". Before that the boys got together and staged a play to raise funds for the tour. One was a sham court trial. The script was written by Lucien and a class-mate of his, C. Sathanathan. It was a satirical story of a medical student who had murdered his rival for the rich Mudalali’s daughter, by shooting him, a skit where the court Interpreter Mudaliyar bungles the case by rendering incorrect/confusing translations of what the Sinhala-speaking witnesses told the English-speaking judge and jury. Example:

Question to Sinhala-speaking servant girl: "What were you doing when news came to you that your young lady’s fiance had been shot?"

Servant girl: "A welaway mung kussiya pathola kapa kapa hitiya."

Interpreter Mudaliyar (translating): "I was at that time in the kitchen cutting the pathols."

The Judge: (Confused) "What are you saying, Mudaliyar?"

I. M. (looking severely at the poor girl) "Oya monawada kiyanne?"

Servant girl: "Mung kiyanne, mung kussiye pathola kapa kapa unna".

I. M.: "I am saying, I was in the kitchen cutting the pathols."

Another example. The gun in question is produced for the servant boy to identify as his master’s gun.

Question: Is this your master’s gun?"

Servant boy: "Ow, maywage huchakkuwak thamai."

I.M.: "Yes, it is a huchak like this."

Judge, obviously bewildered: "A what Mudaliyar?"

I.M. (to the servant boy): "A mokadda?"

S.B.: "Ow. Maywage huchakkuwak thamai."

I.M. to judge: "Yes, a huchak like this".

Judge: (now thoroughly confused) "A what Mudaliyar?"

I.M.: "A Mokadda?"

S.B.: "Huchakkuwak."

I.M.: "A huchak my lord."

At which point the defence lawyer butts in:

Lawyer: "We don’t want to know whether it was a huchak like that. We want to know whether it was your master’s huchak....."

It was simply hilarious. And, this written by two schoolboys.
(More next week)