28 January 2016

Fifty Shades of Blue

It was going to be special anyway; at least to all those who were born in the year 1965 and had spent more than a decade together as schoolboys.  It was not the first time those who sat for the GCE A/L exam from Royal College in 1983 would meet as a group.  Every year since they left school, beginning in 1985, they’ve had their annual Stag Nite.  Every year, the re-telling of stories, remembering the ‘good old days’, dancing, singing, eating and drinking, and then  some stuff that people cannot be too proud of! 

But this year’s event, ‘Fifty Shades of Blue’ was different.  Everyone turned 50 in 2015.  Well, not everyone.  There were some who were in that class who were born in January 1966.  There were some who ‘descended’ to the batch because they failed the A/Ls.  Then there were those in the junior batch, who are treated like batchmates because they’ve tagged along with the ’83 Group’ for quite some time; it was a small group because the school-admission age was moved from 5 plus to 6 plus in 1972.

But almost half the batch entered Royal Junior School in 1971.  Most of the ‘other half’ entered Royal College in 1976 either through the Grade 5 Scholarship Exam or the Royal College Entrance Exam.  When Royal Junior School and Royal College were amalgamated in 1978, there were 16 classes, twelve Sinhala medium classes, two Tamil medium classes and two English medium classes. 

Turning 50 was a special reason to celebrate in a grand style.  The annual get-together was therefore different from all the previous group events which included apart from the annual ‘Stag Nites’, the occasional avurudu uthsavaya for the families, trips to Kandy on the Bradby Train and taking part in the annual 6-a-side inter-batch cricket tournament and 7-a-side touch rugby tournament. 

This was the first time that the Committee organized a grand party that was open to the spouses of the members.  It certainly added colour and probably helped curb the bawdiness that tends to surface as the evening proceeded.  After all men become boys when they meet old school friends and become bad boys when there’s alcohol to be consumed.  It was not just the colour and the go-easy on drinks though.  It was the correction of an error that had been repeated every year for several decades.  Close as the boys were on account of having attended the same school, closer naturally they were to their wives.  It made perfect sense for that extended family, if you will, to gather.  Of course it could be argued that it is not about excluding, but just revisiting a different era, a time which these ladies did not share.  Still, it was a nice ‘addition’ let’s say and let’s leave it at that. 

It was special because whereas previous gatherings were modest affairs with less frills and at less lavish venues, this was grand.  On all counts.  Ranil Amirthiah and his band were amazing with the music.   There was a cake on every table so that all those present could celebrate this ‘collective birthday’.  Neat idea.  There was a souvenir which included a directory of the membership as well as stories from ‘those days’.  There was a photographer in attendance to take pictures of all the birthday boys and arrangements had been made to frame each one for them to take as a memento as they left after the party.  Neat. 

There was a poignant moment when the names of those who would never make it to such a gathering were flashed on the screens with ‘See you again,’ that memorable tribute to Paul Walker by Wiz Khalifa and Charlie Puth playing in the background.  More than 30 were missing, some in action as they say, some succumbing to injuries sustained in accidents, but most to illnesses.  The boys in that moment would have felt old suddenly.  The gathering was inscribed with that much more significant.  Who knows when they could meet again and who knows who would not make it, some may have thought to themselves.   It was a thoughtful gesture on the part of the organizers.  Special.

But this event was special mostly for something else.  This was the ’83 batch and ’83 has more meaning than the fact that a few hundred students sat for the A/L exam from Royal College that year.  It is a year that fractured the nation or rather saw cinders hidden by hastily strewn ash of multiple histories suddenly burst out as flames.    Almost all those who had studied in the Tamil medium left the country and restarted lives in all parts of the world.  The war, hurt, fear and for other reasons including bad timing resulted in them not attending the annual ‘stag’.  Not everyone from the Sinhala medium classes turn up year after year.  But they are well represented.  So too the 'boys' who studied in the English medium.  This year was different.

Friendships, gentleness and humanity had only matured since '1983': we were one then and one we remain.
Raj Rajendran, now domiciled in Australia explained how it came to pass that some 25 ‘boys’ turned up at this year’s ‘bash’.

“We were in touch, all these years.  Since we were all turning fifty, we thought it would be good to have a grand reunion.  There was discussion.  Some wanted to meet up in Bali.  Some proposed Singapore.  Some said ‘Canada’ but those in Australia said ‘you guys want it in Canada because that’s where you live – so we propose Australia!’  Then we thought that since we are turning 50, maybe we should celebrate it in the land of our birth.  Since the Group was organizing this, we thought it would be good to attend.  Harshana Adikary was also a big factor.  He was in constant touch and was urging us to come.  Also, machang, the change of Government helped.  I come to Sri Lanka very often so I knew it was fine to visit, but some of our guys were worried.  So it all came together and that’s how we are here today!”

On the morning of the event, a random suggestion in the facebook group saw about 40 guys turning up at Royal College, under the historic tamarind tree, to play cricket.  Chairs as wickets.  Bricks as boundary markers.  Loud appeals, pin-chances, bad umpiring decisions, loud cheers, a couple of pitch-invasions, some great bowling and lusty hits turned the clock back to a tender and innocent time.  That was, significantly and appropriately, where the reunion began.  A batch separated (not divided) by events beyond the control of the membership, had come together.  No one had changed.  Really.  Fifty shades but all blue and not for the dismal but the life-giving and life-affirming association of that color. After more than a quarter of a century we had all come together, those in the Sinhala, Tamil and English medium.  We divided into teams but not into categories based on the language we had studied in.  We played together.

This year’s President C.S. Weeraratne, his Committee and the designated Event Manager, Damitha Dharmasena* deserved all the accolades they received, then and now, for making it a truly memorable reunion.   We were all made in 1965 (or thereabouts) but as Sampath Gunaratne put it in a t-shirt he had designed for some batchmates, the tag ‘all original parts’ rang true.  

*In the version of this article that was published in the Sunday Island I erroneously named Damitha as the current President of the Group.  I apologize to 'CS' and to Damitha for any embarrassment and pain of mind that I may have caused.  They, being gentlemen and friends did not chide me as they ought to have!  Thanks guys!


Thomas David said...

Hi Malinda,

Great article! You sure plowed some deep furrows in those fields of memories. It was a grand gathering. I met people during that reunion I hadn't seen in 32 years. Memories sure do come surging back of what felt like a life interrupted. As I'm sure most of us who were in the Tamil medium would feel. After all, as you say, the 83 batch had some special circumstances to deal with.

An awesome write up dude!

Keep the faith.

Best Regards,
Tom David.