29 September 2011

The Group of ’72 won it all on a mystic Sunday

Gatherings of old friends is always nice, even if what occasioned the meeting happened to be something as somber and sad as a funeral.  My friend Janaka Perera’s father passed away last Saturday and as is often the case when someone close to someone close dies, close-people drop by, commiserate and help in whatever ways possible. 
There were lots of school friends who’ve known each other for more than forty years and some who I hadn’t met in decades.  Time passes, the world moves and when we move out of classroom and school to scatter like so much pollen in the winds of our aspirations and the water-movement of our circumstances.  Saturday night was for reminiscing.  Sunday night was also for reminiscing and of course chit-chat about random topics, re-telling of old jokes, political discussions, and the aa-giya (coming-going, literally and metaphorically) thorathuru or news of post-school lives. 
Sandwiched between night and night was a long morning and afternoon.  It was one of those annual events that I attend every 4-5 years or so: the inter-batch 6-a-side cricket tournament for old boys of my school.  There were two categories, Under 40 and Over 40.  Our batch had won both events on numerous occasions, but this was not our day; we were knocked out in the first round itself.  This didn’t dent the enthusiasm. In fact it only enabled more revelry outside the boundary line. 
I got there rather late in the day but was privileged to watch the semi-finals and the final.  I believe the Group of  2001 won the Under 40 event.  The ’88 Group won the Over 40 version, I believe for the 3rd successive year.  To my mind, however, it was the Group of 72 that won it all.  More than ten years younger than the eventual winners, they saw off younger and clearly fitter teams in the earlier stages by sheer determination and team spirit.  They were bludgeoned in the finals and yet held their heads high. 
In an event made for big hitters and wicket-takers (I saw some batsmen hitting 3-4 sixers an over and a bowler who took a hat-trick), it was a fielder who impressed me most.  Susil Ranasinghe, was ragged by some exquisite batsmanship.  He was fielding at the cover boundary and had to cover about 40% of the field.  A late cut would send him scurrying to the fine leg fence.  The next would be a scintillating cover drive that took him half way to the long off end of the field.  The next would be another late-cut.  These shots were so well timed that Susil couldn’t save any of them.  And yet, he fought ball and speed and of course age to give it all he had.  He was, for me, the man of the tournament.
And so they lost.  They congratulated the winners and came off the field faces flushed and full of smiles.  They mingled with batchmates and schoolmates from their time and other eras.  And Udaya Abeysekera sang.  He sang Rookantha’s ’As deka piyaana nidaa ganna mata bae’ (I cannot close my eyes and fall asleep), Jothipala’s ‘Kothenaka hitiyath…’ (Wherever you may go) and Milton Mallawaarachchi’s ‘Avasara netha mata’ (I don’t have the right…).  Beautifully rendered.  No, I didn’t think he has missed his true vocation.  It was as it should be.  The right thing for the right moment. 
I am not saying that the winners lacked spirit or were underserving of trophy, but there was something gentle, giving and just-being about the ’72 Group that touched; a kind of wrapping paper to a gift that was being accepted after many years. 
Was it all about the particular school?  I don’t think so.  All intersections move us, although in different ways.  It was a kind of re-birthing of memory and times gone by.  And through it all, I remembered Janaka and the fracture he suffered from which he won’t recover easily. 
It was a strange weekend, all things considered.   We are nothing, alone, I realized.  And we can be so much, together, I also felt.