18 June 2023

Reunion Peradeniya (1980-1990)

The names, for the most part and for most people, would be unknown. Faces: easier but not by much. The hearts were eminently recognisable though. It was not an official gathering and not one planned by some official body, but the call by a few energetic alumni of the University of Peradeniya who were undergraduates in the 1980s was answered by hundreds of contemporaries from all the faculties.  

The festivity - a bit of theatre, some speeches, a lot of music, an inter-faculty cricket tournament - was grand accompaniment to what it was all meant to be and was: a stroll into the past with old friends along multiple avenues decked with red flowers, tears and laughter.

Conversations, essentially. Of these there would have been many. Those with better memories or were better narrators regaled their respective audiences with anecdotes, those out-of-class things that is what is most remembered years after the world of books, lectures, exams and such have been left behind.  Stories of people present. Stories of those who died, naturally and otherwise, while still undergraduates. Stories of those who are no longer around.

The dead. We had more than what could be called our fair share. Padmasiri, June 19, 1984. Not an activist’s death, but one which inspired activism related to the incident, naturally, and other issues as such there would be. And, sadly, death that could no longer be dismissed as ‘random’ or ‘accidental.’ Death that was deliberate even if, as some would argue, summoned by those who claimed to represent the classes to which the victims belonged; death that visited homes. And then, therefore, names remembered; the leaders, followers and those whose only crime was a singularly tragic status: undergraduate.

So we walked along that city (nagaraya) of another lifetime, the nagaraya that brought people together and sent them along divergent pathways, the nagaraya made of poetry cascading from the vines, floating in winds made visible by rains that move laterally, etched in love notes and disclosures that came too late, the nagaraya that was home to others later and is now home to still others, among them, children of the children of that time marked by upheavals unanticipated and yet lived through with fortitude and secret tears.

Reunions are about recognition and that is made for delight, embarrassment, understanding and forgiving. There was a lot of that on the 17th of June, 2023 from early morning to late evening. Confirmation grew as the hours went by: ‘yes, that’s certainly him, eminently recognizable,’ ‘yes, she is delightful as she was, adorable and enchanting.’

And so they communed, having banished at least for a while the deeper wounds, the regrets and squandered moments. Those who could never hold a tune, nevertheless sang. Those who could also did. They were all applauded. Those who had never attended cricket practices, executed lovely cover drives to wild cheers.  

Duly updated about lives, thrilled to catch up, numbers must have been exchanged and promises made to meet again soon.

This university is not that university. These times are different. Reunions can’t turn all clocks back, but some reversal is possible. Speaking strictly for myself, I remembered those who left while still students, some who passed on later. I remembered what the WUS ‘Wala’ and the Sarachchandra ‘Wala’ meant to me, theatre and theatrics, the grand finale of the the Gandharva Sabhava, the demonstrations, political discontent, clashes that seem so petty now, fellow students, teachers and times in the various canteens and halls of residence.

The university, as it was then, was ‘decorated’ with posters.  ‘Administration is atrocious and pernicious,’ someone said. He then explained, ‘there are so many posters about all the wrongs committed by the paripalanaya, just as there were when we were students!’

And we laughed at how little has changed. People, being so much older, were far more tolerant. ‘Enemies’ of that other era in a different century, embraced and laughed recalling how young and silly they had all been. Old enough now to know that no one is really bad, that everyone is at worst, ‘ok.’

The Galaha Road, from Wijewardena Hall to the Alvis Pond, was lined with red flowers. There must have been other flowers of other colours elsewhere, noticed by other people, the hundreds who were visiting, revisiting and probably recollecting other flower-days.

One flower for each friend who did not arrive, one each for friends who will not return, one for each poignant memory, one each for dreams, one for each unforgettable line uttered and heard, one for each act of arrogance and idiocy by way of acknowledging error and seeking forgiveness, many for those who tirelessly worked to make all this possible. Together, a singularly Peradeniya bouquet.

['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:

What makes Oxygen breathable? 

Sorrowing and delighting the world

The greatest fallacy 

Encounters with Liyanage Amarakeerthi

Beyond praise and blame

Letters that cut and heal the heart

Vanished and vanishing trails


A forgotten dawn song from Embilipitiya

The soft rain of neighbourliness 

The Gold Medals of being

Jaya Sri Ratna Sri

All those we've loved before

Reflections on waves and markings

A chorus of National Anthems

Saying what and how

'Say when'

Respond to insults in line with the Akkosa Sutra

The loves of our lives

The right time, the right person

The silent equivalent of a thousand words

Crazy cousins are besties for life

Unities, free and endearing

Free verse and the return key

"Sorry, Earth!"

The lost lyrics of Premakeerthi de Alwis

The revolution is the song

Consolation prizes in competitions no one ever wins

The day I won a Pulitzer


Ella Deloria's silences

Blackness, whiteness and black-whiteness

Inscriptions: stubborn and erasable 


Deveni: a priceless one-word koan

Enlightening geometries

Let's meet at 'The Commons'

It all begins with a dot

Recovering run-on lines and lost punctuation

'Wetness' is not the preserve of the Dry Zone

On sweeping close to one's feet

Kumkum Fernando installs Sri Lanka in Coachella, California

To be an island like the Roberts...

Debts that can never be repaid in full

An island which no flood can overwhelm

Who really wrote 'Mother'?

A melody faint and yet not beyond hearing

Heart dances that cannot be choreographed

Remembering to forget and forgetting to remember

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