05 September 2015

Here's to you, Mr Agalawatte!

Sampath Agalawatte [left] still has the moves and most importantly the grace 
Everyone who knows Sampath Agalawatte, especially Royalists of his time, will associate the name with the incredible run of Royal's rugby team of 1984 [Read about it here].  He was a cricketer, a ruggerite and a basketball player.  He was a gifted athlete and loved all sports.  Still does.  This is why he turns up every year to represent the batch at the 'Old Boys Sevens', helping the team win 12 out of 13 titles on offer over the years. And he loves his school.  This is why, when he had a birthday party last night, there were blue and gold balloons all over the CR&FC pavilion.  But he was and is more than Royal College and more than sports.  There are a few  'Agale Stories' that might give insights into lesser known aspects of the man.

Sampath (left) with Sisila Indraratne
I remember this very clearly.  It was in the year 1984.  This was long before the war forces people to put up walls and the end of the war saw the walls being brought down.  The area around the Race Course, Independence Square and the Bloomfield Grounds was to be turned into elegant walkways only three decades later.  There was a short cut from Reid Avenue to Bauddhaloka Mawatha that ran between the Colombo University and the Planetarium.  For some reason the university students believed they owned that pathway.  That’s not surprising because some campus students not only believe they own the world but also that the world owes them something.

Anyway, one day, after school, Sampath and I took that path on a bike.  I can’t remember if it was my bike or his.  But we were accosted by a bunch of undergraduates who for reasons best known to them decided that two schoolboys in white on a bike constituted an unpardonable affront to their manhood.  Or whatever.  We really don’t know.  One of them ordered us to get down.  No big deal to either of us. We got off.  Then another undergrad let off the air from one of the tyres.  They laughed and went on their way.  

We had to wheel the bike back to college.  By the time we reached Reid Avenue, the undergrads were nowhere to be seen.  I don’t think they fled.  They probably went about their business — saving the world or whatever.  Only one was to be seen.  The deflater. He had entered the gate and was looking at us through the fence.   

Friendships that last lifetimes [Sisila, Mahil Kuragama and Sampath]
Agale signaled him to come out.  Agale was ready to cream him.  The undergraduate was actually smart.  He signaled us to come inside the university.  That’s his territory.  He was not ready for a fight on neutral ground.  I had to hear Agale let forth a stream of invective at undergraduates in general.  It was almost a treatise on cowardice.  

They never aged, this lot.
He had muscles.  He had the moves.  He had courage.  But he was not just brawn.  He was a thinking ruggerite.  He was a thinking captain and his teammates would agree I am sure.  Here’s a brain story about Sampath Agalawatte.  

I don’t know if any of you know this, but Agale is a excellent draughts players.  There was a time when I would spend a couple of hours everyday at his house, doing my best to help Mahendra Navaratne pass his O/Level exam in his second shy so he could continue to play for college.  Mahendra was boarded there or rather under house-arrest at Agale’s place.  One day Agale challenged me to game of draughts.  I didn’t take either Agale or the game seriously. Agale defeated me.  

Then he came up with this classic:  if you can’t beat me at draughts, there’s no way you can beat me at chess!’  That’s how Agale, the Royal College Rugger Captain checkmated the Royal College Chess Captain! 

It was not because of this ‘superiority’ that I confided in him about my fears when I had to go to Peradeniya.  It was because he was a good friend.  He just said ‘wherever you go there will be a couple of people who will hate your guts, but you are the kind of person who will be loved by many, many others’.  That was how it was.  And that’s how it is even now.  

The family man
Sampath was the recipient of the Donhorst Memorial Prize for General Merit, one of the more prestigious of the 'panel prizes' at Royal.  True to form, he made a joke about it. 

'Viji [that's Viji Weerasinghe, another iconic figure at Royal] will announce.  He will say...."And now [drag that 'now'] for the BIG ONE...the Donhorst Memorial Prize for General Merit ['mereeet' with appropriate inflections]...and the winner is ['eeeeees' again with inflections] Sampath Agalawa...." and no one would hear him complete the sentence because the entire audience would erupt in cheers and there's be firecrackers and everything!'  He liked to joke around. He has an amazing sense of humor.  

And he can sing too.  One night, after the prefects felicitated the inimitable Christie Gunasekara (Kataya) who was retiring, a bunch of them went to Galle Face Green.  Kataya had gifted them a bottle of Zinzano.  One bottle to be shared by about 20 young boys.  There were other revelers too, among them someone who was an expert at vaada-baila, a back and forth between two people, one singing a verse and the other responding likewise typically trading insults in not so decent language.  Agale went one-on-one with the man and was not bested by the expert.

Muscles. Brains.  Humor.  One more thing:  heart.  His closest friends would know how he helped his mother take care of his ailing father.  His closest friends would know how he took care of his ailing mother years later.  He would bathe her, powder her, put au de cologne on her, dress her up.  He was like a little girl playing with a doll.  I remember commemorating my mother’s death anniversary one year with an article that was all about Agale and his mother.  He was a son like no other son I’ve known.  

The young man is 50, I am told.  I don’t believe it, captain.  It was only yesterday that I saw you tearing into the middle of Bogambara, leading your invincible team.  All the best on your 19th birthday, Sampath Agalawatte.  I love you, man.