31 August 2020

A story of books, boots and men

This is the story of two boys, one a self-confessed bookworm and the other indubitably a sportsman, having won colors for basketball and rugby in his school and leading the rugby team to multiple trophies that year.


The bookworm, now a lawyer, decided upon entering Colombo University, to play ‘a game of men.’ An ardent rugby fan, it was natural for him to try out that sport.


At the time Colombo University played in the B Division and regularly got thrashed by what was referred to as cricketing scores. Our man’s schoolmates weren’t surprised since even their ‘pothe gura’ had made it into the team.


One day, the bookman went to see the sportsman, who he remembered as being warm and unpretentious. He would late recall their first encounter in the eighth grade as follows:


‘He was a Colombo man and I was a humble bugger from the outback of the country. His first words were ‘Hello Machan,’ and the one of cordiality usually reserved for long standing friends. It was apparent later that this was his true nature. Everyone around him was a friend. His warm hellos and friendly conversation even extended to his real opponents in the field of rugby.’


The skipper handed his friend a pair of old rugby boots along with a pair of stockings in their school colors, ‘as a gesture of initiation into the sport.’ It was, he recalled, a solid pair of used ADIDAS boots that he used carefully for a considerable period, thereby sparing his parents and himself additional financial burdens.


A couple of years later, the two friends would find themselves playing against each other. It was in 1987. A B Division encounter. Colombo University vs CR&FC Bees. It was a cricket score at the end, but one that’s at the beginning of an innings: 0-0.


‘After the match, I was sitting on the steps of the CR & FC pavilion and trying to remove my muddy boots. He came to me, shook my hand, sat beside me and said “Machan ubala ohoma gehuwanam college gahandath thibuna (if you had played like this, you could have represented the school as well)." I was stunned and almost moved to tears. Slowly I pointed to my pair of boots that once belonged to him. He patted my shoulders and went towards his teammates.’


No one knew this story until the bookworm, Parashakthi Senanayake, posted in on Facebook upon hearing of the untimely death of his friend, Sampath Agalawatta. Two years ago, almost to the day.


Almost everyone in that batch, now called ‘Royal College Class of 1983,’ has an ‘Agale Story.’ Not all of them are about rugby of course, but it’s the same man, consistent in his warmth, generosity, and humility. He was the sporting star of that batch of course but he was more than that. This is why the group is also known as ‘Agale’s Batch.’ He was known to those much older and even those who hadn’t entered school at the time he left knew him.


Such stories are hard to forget. Harder to remember would be what Agale with no intention whatsoever ingrained in those who associated him. He would recall that for him rugby was about fourteen players working hard and together to ensure that the fifteenth would score. That is how he saw life. That’s how he lived his life.


With grace. Utmost grace. In and out of a pair of boots. 

Other articles in the series 'In Passing...':  [published in the 'Daily News']   
Eyes that watch the world and cannot be forgotten   Let's start with the credits, shall we? 
The 'We' that 'I' forgot 
'Duwapang Askey,' screamed a legend, almost 40 years ago
Dances with daughters
Reflections on shameless writing
Is the old house still standing?
 Magic doesn't make its way into the classifieds

Small is beautiful and is a consolation  
Distance is a product of the will
Akalanka Athukorala, at 13+ already a hurricane hunter
Did the mountain move, and if so why?
Ever been out of Colombo?
Anya Raux educated me about Juvenile Idiopathic Arthritis (JIA)
Wicky's Story You can always go to GOAT Mountain
Let's learn the art of embracing damage
Kandy Lake is lined with poetry
There's never a 'right moment' for love
A love note to an unknown address in Los Ange
A dusk song for Rasika Jayakody
How about creating some history?
How far away are the faraway places?
There ARE good people!
Re-placing people in the story of schooldays  
When we stop, we can begin to learn
Routine and pattern can checkmate poetry

Janani Amanda Umandi threw a b'day party for her father 
Sriyani and her serendipity shop
Forget constellations and the names of oceans
Where's your 'One, Galle Face'?

Maps as wrapping paper, roads as ribbons
Yasaratne, the gentle giant of Divulgane  
Katharagama and Athara Maga
Victories are made by assists
Lost and found between weaver and weave
The Dhammapada and word-intricacies
S.A. Dissanayake taught children to walk in the clouds
White is a color we forget too often  
The most beautiful road is yet to meet a cartographer