The famous Kadalay of Royal
The Royal Thomian known as the "Big Match’, had a multitude of ticket holders, including ex-players, teachers, old boys, parents, family and the fairer sex that claimed support based on affinities to the rival school or the fan club besides the Mustangs & Colts, who inhibited by the brew cheered louder than the students and players. Sarath Samerasinghe, who Captained Royal and played from 1956-60, became as much a character off the field, as a player. If the rain brought an end to the game, he was oft seen blowing a trumpet claiming with much conviction, to be an exponent of what he referred to as "carnatic" music. Charlie Gunasekera was another Royalist, who could produce a musical instrument at the drop of a hat and liven up proceedings with, slapstick humour and a tinge of eccentricity.
To quote Morgan Fernando per the 1958 Royal-Thomian souvenir
"Bring a drum, let’s start a beat,
Forget the sorrow, and swing your feet,
Why fret, if today be sweet "
However, the greatest character to grace the Royal-Thomian Match neither went to nor taught at either school, but was a humble gram seller.
In the mid-thirties Thangiah Ponniah-aka Kadalay, worked as a dressing boy for jockey Don Benjamin. His duties were to prepare the jockey and saddle the horse before every race. He subsequently worked as a ball picker on the Royal College tennis courts. Since he hailed from a family of gram-sellers resident in Slave Island, this became his main occupation.
Whilst Kadalay claimed to be a follower of Royal cricket since 1937, he came to Royal in 1947 as a 21-year boy to assist the well known Kadalay Achchi. He used to sell vadai next to her and also collected debts for her. Subsequently he was allowed to sell gram by himself, but only outside the college premises by Kadalay Achchi. It was only following the death of the Kadalay Achchi, in the early sixties, that he started selling inside the college premises. His association with Royal ended in 1990, the year he passed away.
Kadalay’s business was contained in a glassed wooden case nearly 2’ long and a foot wide. Inside this contained a selection of taste gram and boiled gram. During cricket matches at Reid Avenue, he was wont to park his business in the vicinity of the jam fruit tree at the point, at which the two walls that separated Royal from Thurstan, intersected. On Saturdays, he oft arrived at the grounds unencumbered, which allowed him to fortify himself with "unknown spirits". Thereby he became more vocal in his comments and jovial. Akin to his unfailing loyalty and devotion to Royal, Kadalay’s attire was consistent – white shirt and sarong. He did shave his black beard after obtaining white collar employment in the late nineties. Where he lived, remained a mystery. It was known that in the seventies he lived in the old cycle shed.
Kadalay symbolised the ecumenical spirit of these times and memorable era. He communicated solely in English and Sinhalese, the only admission to his Dravidian ancestry was the manner, in which he addressed each and all as "Dorai". To all those who knew him, he was the best supporter and personal friend Royal ever had. His ethnicity was irrelevant, but his standing and importance was never in doubt.
Not only did Kadalay not miss a Royal-Thomian, he hardly ever missed a game of cricket or rugby, even turning up, when Royal played in Kandy. Kadalay was known to clear the cigarette buts, empty liquor bottles and other tell tale items from the dormitories of St. Anthony’s and Trinity, prior to the arrival of the master-in-charge in the morning. At Asgiriya in 1964 it was Kadalay who warned a future Royal cricket captain of a plan to harm him. During sparsely attended third term cricket games at Reid Avenue Kadalay’s presence lent importance to the proceedings.
It is very likely that he attended more sporting encounters involving Royal than any other Royalist. His association with Royal sport was so complete that it buried all other associations he may have had. Little or nothing is known of his parents and siblings. As a result of his ubiquitous presence, he developed a sporting acumen, which uniquely qualified him to comment on the start of each game and state of the game. He often picked cricket, rugby and relay teams ahead of the official selection and was equally vocal in the selection of the players, who did not meet his approval.
By the early fifties Kadalay was a Royal institution and icon accepted by one and all. His exuberance was exemplified in 1961 at the end of the public schools 4 X 400 relay. When Darrell Lieversz gained the baton for the final lap, Royal were running third. However, he gained ground to win the relay for Royal. Kadalay symbolised Royal’s jubilation by running to Darrell, hugging him and carrying him off his feet, spikes and all.
During his 43 year association and affinity with Royal, Kadalay witnessed three Royal wins over STC during 1951, 1969, 1983 and was present at four Royal defeats at the hands of STC during 1952, 1953, 1964 & 1988. Kadalay’s actions, when Royal won in 1951, is unknown. In 1983 he is rumoured to have led the celebrations and to have carried Royal’s cricketers around the grounds. However, he was in his elements in 1969 and claimed credit for Royal’s win.
Before the commencement of the 1969 Royal-Thomian sports writer T. M. K. Samat interviewed Kadalay, who predicted that in order to win, Royal should capture the wickets of Jayasekera, Kariyawasam, Wijeysooriya and De Saram very quickly. Samat recorded that Kadalay did all to prove his prediction.
Sensing that pitch invasions would lose Royal time and derail Royal’s attempts to capture the remaining Thomian wickets in 1969, he used his authority to restrain Royal’s enthusiastic supporters. Around 5.30 pm on the second day, the last Thomian pair were at the crease, Royal were en-route to a victory they had eluded for 18 years, and Kadalay knew that only something that was not cricket may deprive a Royal victory.
There was a vociferous LBW appeal, which was turned down. However, a large contingent of Royalists invaded the field assuming the game was over. Fearing that this would encourage the Thomians, who had nothing to lose, Royal’s captain raced to towards the Royal boy’s tent and urged the stewards to control the Royalists and prevent a repeat of such an incident. The captain’s eye caught that of Kadalay, whose look captured the seriousness of the situation. That Kadalay could keep the Royalists behind the railing, at a pivotal point of play reflects truly the respect he earned from Royal supporters.
According to a post -game article by T. M. K. Samat, Kadalay spent the evening following Royal’s win at the beer stall basking in the glory of his prediction. Old boys from all walks of life joined together to have a drink with him. Doctors, lawyers, engineers and distinguished and not so distinguished old boys, all hurried to leave their contacts for Kadalay, in the event of future assistance. Such help became necessary, in the early eighties, when he was put out of school and a case was filed against him. Kadalay won the case and it is purported that the lawyer that prosecuted, the defence lawyer and the judge were old Royalists.
There was no finer testimony to the iconic status of Kadalay than that Royalists young and old treated Royal’s first win over STC in eighteen years as his personal triumph. After all no one had cheered Royal’s cricketers along for as long as Kadalay, and if anyone deserved to savour the moment, it was he.
While Kadalay was in the course of an interview, a car stopped and a well wisher alighted to offer his congratulations. The moment the car left Kadalay remarked that he did not need assistance from anyone. All he wanted was that kind of acceptance and to be identified as part of Royal. This then exemplifies, what made Kadalay such a figure a household fixture at Royal College. Whilst neither student nor teacher, he emerged from his humble background to an "icon" via devotion to Royal and sports. He become the best known non- Royalist, whom all school boys revered more than any Royalists.
In late eighties Kadalay obtained employment at a business run by OBU entrepreneurs and was housed at Vauxhall Street. He used to reside on the premises of Royal College. A former prefect and house captain used to collect him after dropping his son off at school and transport him to work. He did not have any specific job to perform and continued at a desk by the entrance to the office, similar to a GRO- a guest relations officer. With his sad demise, about the 1990 Royal-Thomian he was back at Slave Island, where it was believed he was born. Kadalay’s views on the Royal-Thomian were historically recorded in the 1974 Royal souvenir. Although he is rumoured to have altered his views in the latter 16 years, they are worth reflecting for what they reveal his views.
His selection as Royals best batsman, bowler, fielder, wicket keeper, was Vijaya Malalasekera, Asitha Jayaweera, Lorensz Pereira and S. D. Jayaratne respectively. His best captain was Jagath Fernando, whom he claims rightly played for the sake of the game. Of 26 years of cricket from 1946-1973, his most memorable Royal-Thomian was the 1969 win under the fine leadership of Eardley Lieversz and ensuing team spirit that followed. Whether Longdon Place, Havelock Park or Nittawella, Asgiriya, Bogambara or Peradeniya Grounds, he was oft following our linesman at both junior and senior games, extolling loudly, "jump for the ball, Royal and run Royal, run" and with a try, shout aloud for joy. His favourite colleges ruggerites were Lionel Almeida, Maurice Anghie, Lorensz Pereira and Jagath Fernando. His first choice was Maurice Angie followed closely by Lorensz Pereira, that natural all-rounder, who scored the spectacular try in 1958. He vividly talked about both Maurice and Lorensz weaving and side stepping at Nittawella and simply dazzling the crowd to his and Thamba’s (the Royal rugby master and coach) cheering.
Thangiah Ponniah gave everything he had, for Royal, and contributed more to her sporting camaraderie and spirit. To reciprocate, Royalists looked after him in his declining and dwindling years. Royal will never ever, see the likes of him again.
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