A tribute to Royal’s Group of ’86

by Malinda Seneviratne
The Royal Thomian is not just about cricket. It is about spectacle. It is also about looking for friends, meeting people after many years, recollecting old times, drinking yourself silly, singing, dancing, pitch-invasions and full-throated shouts of "Umpire Hora!". Yes, it is about reminiscing too. All old boys have their particular reasons for making the annual pilgrimage to whatever venue is chosen for the sacred ritual of twenty two young boys battling in the scorching sun, surrounded by thousands of others who are not really interested in the cricket. I go to look for people, to read in their faces how time has passed, to recall and laugh.

This year was no different. Work doesn’t permit most of us to make it to the SSC on all three days. In fact, there are many who would consider themselves lucky if they can catch even a couple of sessions. I managed to squeeze in a few hours.

The cricket was decent enough. I missed most of the dismissals and the classic strokes that resulted in boundaries. Having seen more cricket on TV than on the ground itself, I found myself waiting for replays that never came. Those next to me could not help either. I did not know that Ganganath Ratnayake, the Royal skipper, was the victim of what one commentator called the most atrocious LBW decision seen at a Royal-Thomian in many years until a colleague who happened to be in the press box told me. I remembered Ravi Nagahawatte’s piece on the Royal team’s chances: "Get Ganganath and you get Royal!" As I write, Royal is still in the game. If things go wrong on Saturday, I am sure I will not dwell on Ganganath’s dismissal. The result, as far as I am concerned, ceased to matter a couple of years after I left school.

I didn’t meet many batchmates, naturally. They were probably at work, listening to the commentary, perhaps. For us Old Boys, its Friday evening and Saturday that are viable. The bands, the dancing, the cheering and the general festivities was nice to experience. But there was something different this year. Something that made this year’s match much more special than any other I have been to. And this is because the ’86 batch of old boys knew something about loyalty, gratitude and kindness and more than that, translated their knowledge into the tangible currency of action.

The ’86 batch of Old Boys, a couple of years junior to me, are special. They are one of the most active among the many groups in the OBU. Like most other groups, they too have done their bit to help their alma mater. Apart from this, they have made it a point to recognise the contribution of their teachers. The ’86 group, as I learnt, have in the past organised a day-out for all the retired teachers, providing transport, lunch, gifts and more than all this, an opportunity to meet each other and the students they helped mould into men. A beautiful gesture, I thought.

This year, they have done something as sweet. They had given complimentary tickets for the retired teachers and arranged transportation for them to go for the match. I am sure the teachers would have appreciated an opportunity to revel in that particularly joyous atmosphere of the Big Match. But they were not the only ones to benefit.

There have been years when my couple-of-hours pop-ins have given me the chance to meet my teachers. I would consider it a good year if I ran into two or three of them. As time went on, my teachers began retiring one by one and I am sure very few of the ladies and gentlemen who helped make me who I am now walk those corridors or hold forth in those classrooms. Most of them are no longer put "on duty" at the match. But this year, it was Christmas in March.

I met many of my teachers and was profoundly happy. Yes, they had aged, as I obviously have. For them, I was still a student. What else could I be? Mrs. Monica Jayasekera, my mother’s great buddy, was easily recognisable by her wide grin and infectious laughter. Mrs. Weerasiri got me through the A/L political science syllabus in less than ten months. I owe her so much. There were others.

Among the happy set of retired teachers, was also my Grade 1 teacher, Mrs. Rajapakse. I hadn’t seen her in almost twenty years. I went up to her and said, "Madam, I was in your class". She turned round and asked, "So, you recognised me?" I said, "How could I not?" and laughed. She had forgotten my name and when I told her, she exclaimed, "Malinda! You were such a little boy when you were in my class!" (I couldn’t have been huge at the age of 5 plus, but I didn’t tell her that.)

"How is your mother?" she asked, a natural question since my mother is also a retired teacher of the school. "I remember very well the day she retired. Indrani came to see me in my classroom and told me that she wanted to say she was leaving and to thank me because I was the first class teacher of both her sons. She had tears in her eyes when she said that."

I had tears in my eyes when Mrs. Rajapakse finished.

This year’s Battle of the Blues was extra special. Group of ’86, your generosity spilled out of the main pavilion where the teachers were. Your warm hearted gesture will receive the thanks of your teachers, no doubt. The warmth also touched all of us of that era. Thank you.