21 April 2023

Remembering to forget and forgetting to remember

’14 players were always ready to help the 15th score a try' -- Sampath Agalawatta

My friend Suranjan Kodituwakku once said that during long journeys he would play Milton Perera's songs. ‘It’s all boot songs,’ he explained. He was laughing. True. All about love: declaration of love, desiring love, unrequited love, lost love and various elements in the grieving process. Lovely lyrics, elegant music arrangements and good rendition, though.  Listenable. Laughable too, depending on the mood.

One particular song came to mind: ‘ඇස රැඳුන රැඳුන තැන්වල මුව මඬල හිනැහුනා (aesa raenduna raenduna thaenvala muva mandala hinaehuna or “[your] face smiled [at me] from whatever my gaze happened to fall upon”).’ The lyricist Karunaratne Abeysekera captures well the tendency for the lovelorn to flirt with the pathetic fallacy, attributing feelings and responses to all things, inanimate or otherwise.

The punchline is what I remembered: ‘ඔබ මතක නැති කරන්නට මට මතක නැති වුනා (oba mathaka naethi karannata mata mathaka naethi vunaa or “I forgot to forget you”). It had nothing to do with love. Nothing to do with boots either. Well, not the kind of boots that Suranjan was referring to.

I simply remembered a friend. Sampath Agalawatta. ‘Boots’ are relevant for two reasons. He played rugger. He wore boots. The second has to do with a gift. Boots.

Sampath, who captained his school to an unbeaten season, winning all trophies on offer (a feat yet to be emulated even after 40 years!), gifted his boots to a school friend who, after entering Colombo University, decided to play rugby. Along with a pair of stocking in their school colours as ‘a gesture of initiation,’ according to the recipient, Parashakthi Senanayake, who offered the following post-match comment or rather recollected years later what happened after the game.

‘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.’  [From 'A story of boots, books and men']

What has this got to do with remembering and forgetting, forgetting to forget, remembering to forget etc.?

Sampath is no more. He passed away in 2018. Time passes and memories fade. All things decay and perish. Even memories. Loved ones also pass on and with their passing, the fading process quickens. Lessons, if learnt, may remain even if no one remembers who did the teaching. That which is added to humanity may make the world a little more beautiful, but then again much squalor is strewn all over by others. The good that men and women do, fragile in essence, is amenable to erasure of one kind or another.

Five years isn’t a long time, though. And so we recall and cherish. Memory can play tricks for it is a filter that can keep or keep out things related to a person, depending on the relationship. ‘Agale’ was loved by one and all. As the playmaker of his side, he had great touch, with hands and with boot. In life outside the rugby field, he was all heart, all softness. Gentle as they come.

If asked, his friends, colleagues, associates and family would have stories to tell. Many stories. There’s one that keeps coming back, gives strength and hope. It is a short but telling comment about leadership but more than that about the importance of collective effort.

I once asked Agale about the team he led that year. I wanted his assessment of his teammates, reading particular ‘game moments,’ and strategies designed and executed. He offered a capture-all that came with his signature smile and matter-of-fact tone: ’14 players were always ready to help the 15th score a try.’


He’s gone now. Of the 15 who won all those trophies, only 13 remain. Agale was the leader but he insisted that it is the team that deserves all the glory. He has said in many ways that the reason he is remembered is because he had a great team.

He’s gone but he would surely have said ‘it is ok if you remembered to forget me, but don’t forget to remember the team.’

And that, ladies and gentlemen, could be a line in a song that will probably never get written but will nevertheless play in the minds of everyone who remembers this man, that year and that team, especially those who played or loved the sport of rugby.


['The Morning Inspection' is the title of a column I wrote for the Daily News from 2009 to 2011, one article a day, Monday through Saturday. This is a new series. Links to previous articles in this new series are given below]

Other articles in this series:

On loving, always

Authors are assassinated, readers are immortal

When you turn 80...

It is good to be conscious of nudities 

Saturday slides in after Monday and Sunday somersaults into Friday

There's a one in a million and a one in ten

Gunadasa Kapuge is calling

Kumkum Fernando installs Sri Lanka in Coachella, California

Hemantha Gunawardena's signature

Pathways missed

Architectures of the demolished

The exotic lunacy of parting gifts

Who the heck do you think I am?

Those fascinating 'Chitra Katha'

The Mangala Sabhava

So how are things in Sri Lanka?

The most beautiful father

Palmam qui meruit ferat

The sweetest three-letter poem

Buddhangala Kamatahan

An Irish and Sri Lankan Hello

Teams, team-thinking, team-spirit and leadership

The songs we could sing in lifeboats when we are shipwrecked

Pure-Rathna, a class act

Jekhan Aruliah set a ball rolling in Jaffna

Awaiting arrivals unlike any other

Teachers and students sometimes reverse roles

Matters of honor and dignity

Yet another Mother's Day

A cockroach named 'Don't'

Colombo, Colombo, Colombo and so forth

The slowest road to Kumarigama, Ampara

Sweeping the clutter away

Some play music, others listen

Completing unfinished texts

Mind and hearts, loquacious and taciturn

I am at Jaga Food, where are you?

On separating the missing from the disappeared

Moments without tenses

And intangible republics will save the day (as they always have)

The world is made of waves


The circuitous logic of Tony Muller

Rohana Kalyanaratne, an unforgettable 'Loku Aiya'

Mowgli, the Greatest Archaeologist

Figures and disfigurement, rocks and roses

Sujith Rathnayake and incarcerations imposed and embraced

Some stories are written on the covers themselves

A poetic enclave in the Republic of Literature

Landcapes of gone-time and going-time 

The best insurance against the loud and repeated lie

So what if the best flutes will not go to the best flautists?

There's dust and words awaiting us at crossroads and crosswords

The books of disquiet

A song of terraced paddy fields

Of ants, bridges and possibilities

From A through Aardvark to Zyzzyva 

World's End

Words, their potency, appropriation and abuse

Street corner stories

Who did not listen, who's not listening still?

The book of layering

If you remember Kobe, visit GOAT Mountain

The world is made for re-colouring

The gift and yoke of bastardy

The 'English Smile'

No 27, Dickman's Road, Colombo 5

Visual cartographers and cartography

Ithaca from a long ago and right now

Lessons written in invisible ink

The amazing quality of 'equal-kindness'

A tea-maker story seldom told

On academic activism

The interchangeability of light and darkness

Back to TRADITIONAL rice

Sisterhood: moments, just moments

Chess is my life and perhaps your too

Reflections on ownership and belonging

The integrity of Nadeesha Rajapaksha

Signatures in the seasons of love

To Maceo Martinet as he flies over rainbows

Sirith, like pirith, persist

Fragrances that will not be bottled 

Colours and textures of living heritage

Countries of the past, present and future

A degree in creative excuses

Books launched and not-yet-launched

The sunrise as viewed from sacred mountains

The ways of the lotus

Isaiah 58: 12-16 and the true meaning of grace

The age of Frederick Algernon Trotteville

Live and tell the tale as you will

Between struggle and cooperation

Of love and other intangibles

Neruda, Sekara and literary dimensions

The universe of smallness

Paul Christopher's heart of many chambers

Calmness gracefully cascades in the Dumbara Hills

Serendipitous amber rules the world

Continents of the heart



Anonymous said...

Great story, beautifully written.