Mustangs, the Younger Cousins and the Centenary Milestone

The ‘Mustangs’ outliving all its founders, chalks up a century this year



by Anura Gunasekera


The Royal-Thomian, perhaps for decades the most eagerly awaited annual sporting and social encounter, and in the eyes of the Royal-Thomian tribesmen the only genuine "big match", spawned the Mustangs. Thereafter, in a logical sequence, it birthed the "Colts", "Stallions" and all the other lesser equine derivatives, the "Thoroughbreds", "Stables" and so on. The cardinal difference between the first three and the more recent innovations is that the former are for men only whilst the later additions permit family members, including wives and children.


The most famous institutions have relatively inconsequential and prosaic beginnings. The Singhalese Sports Club, the most multifaceted members’ only club in Sri Lanka, reportedly had its genesis at the turn of the 19th century, in a conversation between two individuals under a lamp post on a deserted Colombo street. Similarly, the idea for the "Colts" had been first mooted in the early nineteen seventies, during a discussion between Jayantha "Jebba" de Silva of Royal and the late Girija Rajapakse of STC.


The motivation had been the insurmountable impediments -for young school leavers- in obtaining the coveted membership of the Mustangs, then the only exclusive enclave of its kind in operation during the match. Its membership was rigidly restricted to a select coterie of tribesmen, both elderly and distinguished! As a result, recent products of the two schools had no place of their own, a special enclosure for kindred spirits, during the match. Another attractive feature was that despite the prevailing restrictions on the sale of liquor during the match, both beer and other soothing libations were available to the members of the Mustangs, but only within the enclosure.


Apparently, the late Bunty Zoysa, legal luminary and then the president of the Mustangs, also Jebba’s senior and Girija’s uncle, had supported the creation of a separate tent, with the assurance that he would facilitate the space allocation at the venue. Perhaps he had encouraged it, in the belief that confining young, raucous old boys of the two schools to a separate paddock during the match would be of benefit to spectators in other tents!


The inaugural "Colts" meeting had been held at the SSC soon. Thereafter, convened by Jebba and Girija, and attended by JR "Jeiya" Ranasinghe, Rudolph "Row" Williams, the late Deepal Dayaratne, Dushantha Abeysinghe, all of Royal and Kitto Dias, the late PN "Veddah" Perera, Mohammed Nazeer and Ranjith Ranasinghe, from STC.


The founding fathers had each contributed to the first Colts cash float and each had also inducted ten friends as members. The single primary criterion in the selection of members had been that they would dedicate themselves to strenuous and well lubricated celebration during the match! The Colts tent was designed for the raucous and the disorderly, and not for the reticent and the well conducted. It was to be a group driven by a common purpose.


Girija, sadly, was not present at the 1975 Royal-Thomian, the year of the first Colts tent. He met an untimely and tragic end and did not see his dream being realised.


Initially, the membership of the Colts was limited to fifty from each school but pressure from other old boys eventually saw it being increased to a total of about 300. Access to the tent during the match was strictly guarded, with non-members and other aspiring intruders being turned away, courteously but firmly, by the security at the entrance. Invariably, they used to be burly airmen supplied by Ajit Jayasekera, then of the SLAF. One rare case of forcible entry was by the late Ashu Fernando, before he became a member, brushing aside Kitto Dias’ attempts to restrain him by flinging Kitto through the galvanised iron barricade. Kitto, then a committee member, insisted on tent protocols being observed rigidly but his aggressive attempts at instilling peace and discipline, not infrequently, led to breaches of the very order that he was trying to protect.


The creation of the Stallions was driven by the same compulsion which gave birth to the Colts, when the pressure of youth from both within and outside, convinced the ageing founders and members of the Colts that advancing years dictated an enclosure where the enjoyment was less strenuous. Similar reasoning led to the acquisition of membership of the Mustangs, the final resting place, this writer too having followed the same progression. With the departure of the older members the torch in the Stallions was taken up by Y. S. de Soyza of STC, Chris Parakrama of Royal and a few others.


Another feature of the Colts and the Stallions that merits mention are the annual cash contributions -set aside from the tent collections- that both make to the two schools.


Of the three enclosures the Colts is the most dynamic and volatile, both features reflecting the age range of the membership, with the level of activity gradually diminishing in intensity, in the advancement to the next two levels. However, I am not certain whether the same decline is mirrored in the liquid intake, with the members of the Mustangs demonstrating an understated, but yet sustained durability of consumption over three days, which perhaps outdoes the more frenetic ingestion in the other two enclosures. Age, consequent physical limitations and more mature judgment, invariably results in more muted manifestations of the effect of lubrication.


One outstanding feature in the Colts tent in our time were the verbal contributions made by personalities such as Prakash Butani, Evin Mohammed, Ashu Fernando and the late Radhakrishnan of STC. Prakash, quite often accompanied by P. N. Perera and the late Mohan "Labba" Gunasekera in the early days, would lead the singing, from a seemingly inexhaustible repertoire of Royal-Thomian specific "Baila" songs. The lyrics and content would be unacceptable for public airing, permissible only on a special occasion and for a special, youthful, all-male community as that of the Colts. "Ribald" would be a mild description. The insults cheerfully traded amongst the first four, quite often aimed at other members of the tent as well, the content being largely anatomically oriented, would turn the air blue. Caste, religion, race and political affiliations too frequently entered these exchanges. Even visiting dignitaries, such as the present Prime Minister, were not spared these merciless jibes.


Most of these insults would be harsh embellishments of personal aspects, either physical features or personality traits, often accompanied by literal descriptions of private escapades that the targeted individual would strive to conceal from public scrutiny. Under normal circumstances, any one of those comments would be sufficiently outrageous to provoke violent retaliation from the victims but, surprisingly, in several decades of witnessing such exchanges in the Colts and to a lesser extent in the Stallions, I cannot recall a single altercation arising therefrom. I think they were all accepted as being normal in the special setting that was the "Big match". Such overt displays are rarely seen in the Mustangs though, perhaps advancing age, ripened maturity and a greater sense of decorum, all introducing a degree of restraint on the conduct of the members.


Even in the more sedate Mustangs, the singing would be most attractive, the renditions largely being much less lurid than those of the two younger enclosures. The band would always be quite professional, with their efforts being augmented by members themselves, such as Ronnie Pieris, Thomian, with his wide range of popular songs, both Sinhala and English. Jerome Speldewinde, another Thomian, would delight the membership frequently with his genuinely professional performances. There are also others who regularly join, making up in enthusiasm for what they lacked in skill. Sarath Samarasinghe, Royalist, with minimal persuasion, would take the stage at some point and amuse the gathering with his operatic simulations, the pitch more stentorian than baritone and perhaps more suitable for the parade ground than the opera house. Compositions with words which vaguely resemble Italian – useful in an ambiance in which possibly no one, including Sarath himself, understood Italian-would be followed by other songs such as "Girigoris and Haramanis", rendered with the same Domingoesque theatricality and resonance.


The fundamental philosophy of the Mustangs tent, and the other two as well, a solidarity of old boys of both schools, is a reassuring reflection of the camaraderie and the nexus between the two groups, despite the fierce rivalry generated in contests, whether it be cricket or any other discipline. That it was alive a century ago when the Mustangs was conceived, as it is now, is testimony to the unique and enduring spirit, the lasting bond, which unites these two ancient rivalries. It had its genesis before any of the present members were born.


If the Colts, and to a lesser extent the Stallions, exude volatility and frenetic enjoyment, echoing the exuberance of youth, in comparison the atmosphere of the Mustangs is restrained, reflective and nostalgic. There is a clearer awareness of the passage of time and the unspoken acknowledgment, that opportunities for participation in such gatherings diminish with each passing year. There is a heightened perception of the value of meetings with old friends, especially those you encounter only once a year at this venue, as there is no guarantee that there will be a similar meeting the next year. The evidence of mortality abound; in the hesitant shuffle in the feet which, decades ago, scorched the turf, or in the hand that then hurled the red projectile at such speed, now visibly trembling when raising a toast to present and absent friends and, of course, in the dwindling numbers of one’s contemporaries.


The Mustangs also has a magic of its own and a special charm that one cannot explain to those who are not members of the Royal-Thomian tribe; that venerable, distinguished personalities, senior public servants, politicians, giants of the corporate sector, other well-known professionals, eminent medical men and jurists, for three days revert back to a cherished past and without embarrassment and self-consciousness, without incurring censure from society, can shed both gravitas and sophistication and become schoolboys once again.


There are also other, talismanic annual practices, such as when the heads of the two schools are conducted in to the tent by the president and the committee members and are greeted with the college songs; not forgetting the sombre moment when the names of those members who have passed on since the previous encounter, are read out and silence is observed in acknowledgment.


The Mustangs has long been institutionalized in Royal-Thomian lore and, surely, both the Colts and the Stallions will attain this distinction, eventually. When it is time their respective centenary milestones are bound to be celebrated, with the same enthusiasm and ceremony as that of the Mustangs. Whilst it is seems unlikely that any of the present members of the two enclosures will be participating in those future events, they can be content in the certain knowledge that, irrespective of the passage of time and changes in the social order, the traditions treasured by the Royal-Thomian tribe will not be allowed to perish.


 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
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