29 December 2020

Victors, defeated and death-boxes that have to wait


Way back in the year 1983, probably in mid March, Amitha Abeysekera, who wrote a daily column for ‘The Island’ titled ‘This is my island’ wrote about the Royal-Thomian cricket encounter. It was a post-match story but one which had very little to do with the match. It was about the traditional post-match dinner which both teams attend.

If memory serves well, he referred to something his nephew or perhaps the son of a friend had told him. The boy was a Thomian cricketer. I believe his name was Mathangaweera. Royal, under Chulaka Amarasinghe, had beaten St Thomas’ by ten wickets that year. The victory had come after 14 years, the previous win having been in 1969 under Eardley Lieversz. St Thomas’ hadn’t tasted victory since 1964. Naturally, for the Thomians, it was a result that was hard to stomach. Anyway, the following is the gist of what the boy had told Amitha:

‘Uncle, we thought the Royalists would tease us no end, but they didn’t. It was just friendly conversation with no reference to the result of the match.’

Of course it is easy for the victor to be magnanimous, but few would grudge the exercise of bragging rights. After all the inter-school rivalry was already more than a century old and victories, as mentioned above, were few and far apart. The Royalists showed humility and the Thomians probably demonstrated grace.

The point is that the unyielding story of competition is left behind in the battlefield.

I recalled Amitha’s ‘match report’ after reading something that was sent to me by Sarath Weerakoon, a Royalist who played in the big match several years before Chulaka and his boys did.

It was a picture of two elderly men playing a game of chess in a highly ornate room. There was just a single spectator, a bottle of wine and three glasses on a side table. The players were clearly inhabiting a world that was made of 64 squares and nothing else.

That’s the setting. Here is the caption: ‘At the end of the game, the king and pawn go back in the same box; what happened during the game is what lives on.’

It is a line that resonates with Omar Khayyam’s ‘chess-poem’ in the Rubbayyat:

’Tis all a checker board of nights and days
Where destiny with men for pieces plays
Hither, thither, moves, cuts and slays
And one by one back in the closet lays.

Khayyam doesn’t comment on the game or rather the longevity of the encounter or its memory. That poem is a sobering comment on human effort and relationships. It also has a tinge of futility. We all die, so why get agitated one way or another with the this-way and that of life, the balance sheet, he seems to ask.

On the other hand, this side of death there’s life to be lived. There are engagements. Profit and loss. Joys and sorrows. Praise and blame. It’s good not to be fixated with the vicissitudes, but they are part of the story.

What happens in the game can outlive the players, but that depends on how the game was played.

‘The game’ in 1983 could very well have ended when Chulaka Amarasinghe hit the winning boundary, but it didn’t. Sometimes it spills out of the ground. At least for Mathangaweera (if I got it right), his teammates and the Royalists attending that dinner, it did. Thirty seven years have passed. So much has happened. I mentioned the match, but only because it constitutes context. This story is about what happened later, an after-taste that’s sweet.

The victor and defeated, the spectators and scribes will one day end up in the same death-box, so to speak. Someone might dig by Amitha’s article from the archives. Someone may come across this piece. Someone may smile or reflect on the eternal verities. Something has lived on, someone might note. Certain things don’t fit in certain boxes or take time to lay to rest, someone else might conclude. 

Other articles in the series titled 'The Interception' [published in 'The Morning']

Do you have a plan? Strengths and weaknesses It's all about partnerships
Not all victories are recorded