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Amazing blues at a Big Match

I go to the Royal Thomian for reasons of nostalgia. We invariably run into old friends and old teachers (less and less as the years go by, naturally) and swap memories. This year, the 131st encounter was very different from all the Royal Thomians I have been to since my first, in the year 1970. This is the first time in 40 years that I went to a Royal Thomian where one special lady, described by a friend as ‘the Grand Old Lady of Royal’, Mrs. Indrani Seneviratne was ‘absent’.

‘Madam’ to most and ‘Ammi’ to me, was an integral part of the ‘Royal’ part of the Royal-Thomian. She was put in charge of producing the Big Match Souvenir in 1974 and handled the affair until she retired in 1986. She got people to write articles. She directed the boys in the Souvenir Committee to collect advertisements, do the proof-reading and provide labour in the particular press that was handling the printing. She wrote the limericks, those entertaining little lines on the lesser-known aspects of the cricketers’ lives. Even after retirement she would go to the match, cheering Royal along with other retired teachers.

From 1970 to 1980 she would make sandwiches and we would run to her, my brother and I, during the lunch and tea breaks for a bite. In later years, as school became small and country large, as I believe they should, I would on occasion give the Royal-Thomian a miss. She didn’t. And even last year, during the break, I went to the enclosure where the retired teachers were usually to be found, as I had done way back in the early seventies, and there she was, with her friends, a more blue-and-gold Royalist than I could ever hope to be. Not this year.

Commiseration

This year was about commiseration. Batch-mates remembered her when they saw me. Other students too. It was as though they were all attending her funeral. I ended up drinking too much beer and, for the first time in 40 years, shedding copious tears at a Royal Thomian. Along with people in their mid-fifties, I should add. She was that kind of lady.

But it was not all about remembering and being sad, of course. I don’t remember the scores. I do know that Royal came close to winning and that STC did the grit-number for the second year running, this time around in the first innings. I didn’t see a single wicket fall. I saw the ball speeding towards the boundary on a few occasions. That was it, as far as the cricket was concerned.

This time my batch, Group of ’83, got tickets in the Group of ’86 tent. Were we IDPs, I wonder now. It didn’t matter. There were guys from other batches in that tent. And anyway, one doesn’t really stick to one tent at the Royal-Thomian. I wandered around, as I usually do. And the things I saw and heard!

A sure way of running into old friends is to walk behind the tents. People come out to pee. They come out to breathe a little. To chit chat. I met lots. Heshan De Silva, captain of the Royal team of 1985 was someone I hadn’t seen in 25 years. Niroshan Wijekoon, national badminton champ for years and years was another. He didn’t remember me, although he was with my brother in school, but knew that I had written about his father, U.B. Wijekoon, in the run up to the Presidential Election. He was with Sarinda Unamboowa, wicket keeper in 1982 and 1983 and a triple coloursman, if I remember right. Hadn’t spoken to him in 27 years. He said ‘hey, you are Ru’s brother, aren’t you?’ My sister is a celebrity of sorts. That helps!

Rajpal Abeynayake was there. And the moment I saw him I started singing the Thomian school song. He called me on Sunday and said that after a while he looked around and found that there were a bunch of Royalists singing with him and not a single Thomian. It’s like that at the Royal-Thomian.

Someone who recognized me as a journalist and wanted to talk to me about political issues found a way to get me into the Colts tent. Another dragged me to the Stallions. A third, a Thomian, wanted me to come with him to The Stables. What’s it with horses, I asked myself, but that’s a question someone else will have to answer. The Stables is run by the Thomian Class of ’79 and I was introduced to it a few years ago by Harinlal Aturupane who I’ve known since 1975 through our mutual love for chess. I didnhave a ticket, but the man in charge, Leslie Weerakoon, was summoned and he very kindly spoke to the security personnel and got me in.

No fights

The Stables. That’s where you end up. And that’s true. It’s been in existence since 2005 and in all these years there’s not been a single fight or any ugly incident. ‘That’s because we invite only those we know,’ Leslie told me. True. A lot of alcohol, but good cheer all around. It was easily The Family Tent of the Royal-Thomian. Lots of young people dancing. A special play area for the kiddies. Some (handful, I would say) watching the match. Others talking, joking, laughing, teasing and maybe flirting (I don’t know, I was just listening). The Stables. Yes, it’s a nice place to end the day. That much I can say.

I heard unbelievable things at this Royal-Thomian. That’s not unusual though, because tongues wag when enough alcohol rolls around them. But this was both funny and disturbing. I ran into my friend and former boss at Rivira Media Corporation, Krishantha Cooray. It must have been after more than a year since I last saw him. He’s been a bit elusive for some time, and not for reasons that are hard to understand, I should say.

Krishantha and I don’t see eye to eye on certain things. Like preferred political outcomes. We agree on certain things, though. We agree that there should be decency. There should be honesty. We agree that the existing political culture stinks and that the bad news and bad odours cut across party lines.

As I said, people talk a lot at the Royal-Thomian. Someone asked Krishantha whether he is with Wickremesinghe or Rajapaksa. He laughed, as did I. Someone else asked the same question and when the third person asked this I knew that there was something more than light-hearted banter. The Old Royalist in me took a back seat and the journalist in me woke up. What I heard amazed me. There was a lawyer attached to one of the main political parties and indeed one of the blue-eyed boys of the party leader at one time saying that Krishantha was in the pay of the Rajapaksas. I heard someone else say that Krishantha had been ‘planted’ in Sarath Fonseka’s campaign by Ranil Wickremesinghe in order to wreck his, Fonseka’s campaign if possible.

Weird stories. ‘Weird’ because if this was all true, then Krishantha is the not a two-timer but a four-timer, whatever the hell that might be taken to mean. I asked him and as he is wont to do, Krishantha laughed it off, ‘Machang, people say I am this and that and so many other things that it has come to a point where I have lost my sense of identity’.

Krishantha might have forgotten all this. I did not. It is not a joke and it is not about Krishantha or the fact that we are friends. I mean, I hang out with him at the match almost every year, even if it’s just for a few minutes. Someone can say (as they say of me) that Krishantha Cooray is a Sinhala-Buddhist chauvinist/extremist/racist etc etc. That’s laughable.

Those who know Krishantha would not hesitate to say that he is no double-crosser, that he plays with a straight bat, and that for him principles matter. It is preposterous to think of Krishantha being in anyone’s pay.

Krishantha will laugh it off I am sure since he is not in a popularity contest, but I think the leaders of this party and indeed all parties can learn something from this. It is hard for people with integrity to survive in politics. There will always be nincompoops and petty-minded piddlers who will spread stories about those who are decent. They typically win the ear of the leadership because those they talk about are not in the business of carrying tales and inflating egos for personal benefit.

‘No room for sincerity in politics,’ was the word at the Royal-Thomian.

I lost Krishantha at The Stables. Wandered out and into the Colts to watch the last few overs. Ran into Christopher Parakrama, National Chess Champion in 1973 and another of Madam’s many students. Hugged me and wept. For the second time (the first being at the Galle Literary Festival after I had broken down trying to recite a poem I had written for the lady).

The match ended and I walked out. Saw Niroshan again. I told him ‘Niroshan, only one thing matters; integrity’. He gave me a thumbs-up sign.

That was some Royal-Thomian, I must say. I am overwhelmed. It’s 4.02 pm on Saturday and I am rushing off to the 50 over game. Hope the Thomians hold on until I get there (they are 6 down already!).

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