tribute to Royal’s Group of ’86
by Malinda Seneviratne – Sunday Observer March 10, 2002
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