Monday, December 26, 2011

Jayantha Anandappa's Memories - Final Episode


Let me now briefly touch on something different, something perhaps not directly related to our student life. You might even say these are so trivial and should not be here. To me without touching on these my note will not be complete.

We were preparing for the Final Year Examination in 1976 (that cram time) when on a typical, beautiful mid morning in February, news suddenly reached us that the body of a dead woman had been found floating in the Mahaveli River under the Akbar Foot Bridge. Never to shy away from any form of diversion, we rushed to the river descending that steep embankment which formed the southern approach to the footbridge. The river flow was low and was reduced to several rivulets as during most dry times of the year. There was a sizeable crowd mostly students from the Campus already assembled on the dry parts of the riverbed. Someone bold enough went up to the body and dragged it by hair from the stream to the sand to prevent it drifting further downstream. The dead body was not that of a woman. It was the body of a young girl barely 17 years or so, with striking dark beautiful features and long hair. She had drowned herself somewhere upstream where the river was deep. We returned to the hall disturbed, thinking what sorrow, what grief that made the pretty village lass to take away her precious life like Shakespeare’s Ophelia though the stream was not glassy and there were no garlands or willows. Was it unrequited love? Or was there a fishy mystery behind? These were the questions we asked. I suppose we will never know more about her, but the picture of that unknown girl in her final slumber in that drenched yellow frock had vividly stayed in memory.

Receding into oblivion is another faint memory of that tailor who visited from Gampola, probably when we were in the Final Year. Known as “Vishva Karmaya” this imaginative man sought to extend his clientele, and obviously saw tremendous market potential with the undergraduates in the Akbar Nell Hall. He derived his nickname for his unbelievable acts of alterations and mending skills, and would undertake for a pittance to darn, mend or alter any trouser or shirt that a tailor in Kandy would not touch. Our entire individual outfit then would have confined to two or three pairs of trousers and an equal number of shirts and an embarrassingly low number of underwear. We would desperately hold on to our clothing as long as possible whatever their state, without discarding. “Vishva Karmaya” would take the old clothes to Gampola to mend or alter and bring them back to collect his fees. Suddenly his visits stopped and it was rumoured that some of his Akbar clients were not happy with his service and that he had not delivered as promised. I doubt whether this was the entire truth. We were not the best paymasters as students!

“Captain”- that taciturn guy with a poker face who tried to make a living by running that small canteen next to the Akbar dining hall, selling tea and cigarettes as its mainstay and some peripheral offerings of food (biscuits, laevariya, tala guli, buns and plantains) was more resourceful and smarter in his numbers. Many of Captain’s customers would have tea and a snack or a cigarette on credit. Accounts were maintained by Captain himself in a Monitor’s Exercise Book and settled at the end of each month. It is amazing that when the final year examinations approached, how the final years would patronize the canteen more frequently and would even host their friends on account. Some of them would leave the Akbar Hall forever, conveniently “forgetting” to settle their account swollen over the last month. “Captain” was equal to the task. He would recover his “debt” over a period of two or three months by carefully distributing the unsettled amounts among the remaining account holders using “Bowditch Correction” without arousing any suspicion! No wonder Captain had to maintain his deadpan looks.


And this is the end of my narrative. I must finally say good-bye. Certainly it was a very good time and a rich and a rare experience to be in the Campus. It was springtime of our life with most of us still in our teens and wide-eyed when we packed our bags and left home. There is always a tinge of sadness that those days and years so carefree did flee away so quickly, never to come back- reminds me of that poem (in Rubaiyat) that describes how the Rose and the Nightingale would vanish with the Spring and how Youth’s sweet-scented Manuscript would close. Before I finally say adieu let me take the liberty to quote the poem for completeness sake:

“Alas, that Spring should vanish with the Rose!
That Youth’s sweet-scented Manuscript should close!
The Nightingale that in the Branches sang,
Ah, whence and whither flown again, who knows!”

I am glad to share memories of those days. During the Grand Get Together I am sure you will relive all your own memories which no doubt will be richer than mine. It is also with a touch of sadness that I add that three of us from our original batch are no more, their journey ending prematurely at different times under different circumstances: DN Pieris (1975), MD Ariyapala (1985) and S Ravikularajan (1994).

Maximus Jayantha Anandappa
Oct 2003

1 comment:

  1. Jayantha,
    Reading your words brought on a familiar feeling; mixed happiness and sadness. But I am not Shakespeare so I will not try describe the deep emotions that I felt as the memories flooded my senses. I miss Ariyaratne; too late now; I wish I had told him thanks for being a friend to a "suddha." It was only to him I had the courage to confide the many problems I hid from you'll behind a facade of a "happy" boy during my time I spent there. I will never forget Jayantha Ameratunge's kindness and compassion to me when I needed it most. I made sure I thanked him.
    Life is unpredictable, like a box of chocolates; you never know what comes out of the box next.


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