Wednesday, December 14, 2011
Jayantha Anandappa's Memories - Part IV
By the beginning of the third year there were many in Akbar Nell Hall who chose to move out from the “dry zone” to the “wet zone”. I suppose the opportunity to meet a wide range of students from other faculties particularly the girls was the most obvious attraction for the shift. Having not lived on the other side of the Campus, I will have to leave that tale for some one else to relate. But even residing in Akbar Nell Hall, it never seemed to us that we were missing anything; life was always “busy”, always interesting and never short of diversions: the “Wala”, “The Film Soc” and The Arts Theatre (for movie classics), “gym”, cricket grounds and the “Sara Trophy” matches, soccer and rugby grounds, hall socials, Amaradeva and other music concerts, visits to Kandy, dinner outs (in Lyons, Surasa, Bake House and Hara Queen’s), Perahera and going for movies- all these were so easily accessible even from Akbar Hall. (How many of us had not walked back from Kandy to the Campus at midnight after seeing a 9:30 movie cursing the drivers of the Colombo bound CTB express buses - sometimes with plenty of space- that would not take passengers up to Peradeniya?)
With “Perahera” following the “Wala” and with all those other distractions, it was not surprising that many failed or got referred in the Part II Examination. In August with massive crowds pouring in daily for the ten-day-long pageant, whole of Kandy would transform from tranquillity to a festive mood of incredible intensity and proportion. This feverish, festive mood would spread to the Campus and infect us too; overtaking everything else we might have to do in the Campus.
During “Perahera” days we would eat dinner early and make one beeline to Kandy. By then the city would be packed with people. Crowds- having secured a place closest to the road by midday- would be already standing in the street-sides eagerly waiting for the parade. Naturally they would not budge from their “reserved seats”! Making their annual pilgrimage, there would also be thousands of poor rural folks who would come days ahead from far away villages, and reserve their lakeside space by spreading a tarpaulin. Without access to a vantage point, this would promise a close full view of those fire juggling acrobats, the traditional dancers, the “Hewisi” band, the whip crackers, the torchbearers, the flag bearers, the brightly decorated elephants, the “Maligawa Tusker” and all those seemingly countless performers and the officials that made the pageant such a grand event.
Most of us who did not have a viewing advantage would try to merge with the crowd in the street-sides. We would invariably end up standing behind the crowds and would not get the best view. Those rustic poor folks near the lakeside would be amply rewarded for their early arrival and patience. With the purpose of their pilgrimage and probably their only outing for the year being achieved, they would watch the passing Perahera with obvious thrill and delight- with their dull, weary faces brightening up with a smile. The sight of “Perahera” would captivate every one else too. We would try to keep moving through the packed crowds, in a desperate attempt to get a good view. Among us there would be some, who were more daring and adventurous- who would look to slip a pre-prepared “business card” to a pretty hand in the crowd- in response to an “encouraging” smile or to a momentary eye contact. Some would not simply bother about the splendour of decorated elephants and dancers, or “mingling” with the locals, and would head direct to the Bogambara Grounds where the Carnival was held daily in full swing and where there was plenty of music, dancing, food, drinks, fun games, fashions, glamour, entertainment and of course for the hapless among us who believed in permutations and combinations; gambling! What a time and what a festive mood!
By the third year pet or nicknames for the batch mates had been established firmly. Ones that come to mind easily are Joker, CTB, Porter, Gaetaya, Jacka, Nangi, Appu, Sapey, Bura, Aliya /Ali, Choppe, Sira, Yaka, Kota, Kulta, Dabba, Chan, Serjeant, Reuter, Tel Karaththaya, Lapa, Steam Engine, Polonga, Belekkaya, Kakuluwa, Naya (later spring-Naya), Tel Weeraya, Al Wate, Handa Mama, Peththa, Elara, Gal Hetti, Pol Hetti, Ballah, Tommy, Kab-bah, Sudu Wickie, Kalu Wickey etc. Origin of some nicknames is fairly straightforward. Some origins are not known. Nagaratnam Sivakumaran from Mahajana College came to be known as CTB early in the first year for the simple reason that his father worked as a Regional Manager for the Ceylon Transport Board in Jaffna! I would dearly like to know why Sapey is Sapey. I have heard two different contrasting versions. There are also some who had “worked” hard to “earn” their respective nicknames. I am sure NSKN de Silva will want to have the final say in this subject.
It is only now when I try to pen these lines that it dawns on me that all those batch trips were meant to be educational trips! I always thought the sole purpose of these trips was enjoyment, nothing else. Many would have been inducted to the intoxicating liquid for the first time in their life during these batch trips. I recall in the first year batch trip a youthful Dr Vickramabahu Karunaratne competed with the batch songsters and rendered his voice for a “Sanniya” and showed that he had a good voice and creativity in lyrics. In another batch trip a smiling Dr N Rambukwella was always requesting that we sing Victor Ratnayake’s “Bindumathi”! And we thought we knew why. Has the eligible amiable bachelor got enticed by someone from the fairer sex?
Though our batch did not achieve a high number of first classes (the Faculty yardstick to measure brightness!), I think we had plenty of brilliant and analytical minds in our batch that probably were not passionate enough about engineering or thought the course was not stimulating, or had other interests. NU Gunasena, V Dilkumar and Mohan Kumaraswamy are some names that come to mind easily. You can add many more to this list. Many were multi talented. Srineil Jayawardena and Dennis Ferreira were musically talented. Jayakantha de Mel, HK Karunasena, GH Pathmasiri and Pushpa Kaluarachchi formed our batch drama group. NS (Com) Sivakumaran and WHDM (Chan) Abeysekara were the batch artists. Homer-Vanniasingam was another- an avid reader of Philosophy and J Krishnamurthy- he was always searching for something new, something different, and something always outside the syllabus of the Faculty curriculum! No wonder he thought it was fit that he spent some time studying electrical and mechanical engineering before ending up completing his degree in civil engineering- surely this must be some sort of a faculty record, I suppose? Like Udaya, Homer always liked to challenge the status quo. A debate between Homer and Udaya would have been enlightening, but I would always have both of them in the same team. I can assure that both Dennis and Homer got through the first year examination without touching a book (sorry a piece of paper!). Sarath Rajakaruna surprised everyone by getting through the Part II examination hardly attending the lectures! LSD Fernando was an amateur magician and would practise his hobby for hours in front of the mirror when his roommate was away. He would suddenly take a ping-pong ball from his pocket, nestle it between two fingers, and with one magical move would convert this single ball into two balls to our utter amazement. Immediately he would reveal to us how he did the trick. He would then go on to create three balls from that same single pin-pong ball! Amazing! In the final year LSD gave an impressive magic show on stage on Dean’s Day. Colin Silva on the other hand was saying for four years that his ambition was to give up engineering and to go as a seaman in a ship to see the wide world!
S Vijayakumar was another bright one who was artistically gifted. One Saturday morning when I dropped into see his roommate GE Amirthanathan – Amir- (with whom several of us had close contacts owing to daily prayer meetings we had at that time) I had the good luck to stimulate Vijayakumar’s artistic instincts. He asked me to sit in his room and started pencilling my portrait. This portrait found its way to the Notice Board at the entrance to the Faculty Canteen, and was on display for sometime. What influenced Vijayakumar to pick me as his subject of study, I am not sure, but many admired the artistic quality of the portrait (clarification: not the subject of the portrait, but its creator!). I am sure it is this portrait that prompted Homer- Vanniasingam to try out whether he had latent artistic talents! Unlike Vijayakumar, Homer would not commit a mistake in the selection of his subject for the portrait. Instead, Homer drew a self-portrait of himself looking at a mirror for hours (must have been a testing time!). He showed me his piece of work. I thought it was quite good. Well, it looked like Homer! (But did I hear someone muttering, must have been more like the Greek poet!)
The farewell for Prof Bartholomeusz and the Plane Crash at Maskeliya are some special memories from the third year. Almost the entire batch and the Campus made that thrilling, adventurous voyage in search of the Crash Site. Most of us saw the “crash site”, but only a handful brought “souvenirs”- some one from a junior batch brought with him a Swedish Passport of an Air Hostess. For weeks, the journey to the crash site was the main talking point.
It was also when we were in the third year that Mr HHJ Keerthisena returned to the island after an academic stint in the West and joined the Faculty as a Lecturer. With stomping shoes and somewhat flashy clothes, his outlook did not initially look different to that of his contemporaries when retuning from overseas, we thought. But when the likeable, simple, down to earth HHJK soon started riding to the Faculty in his brand new Chopper bicycle all with smiles, still dressed handsomely, we were not sure whether this was simplicity or whether he was really trying to show off! His state of the art bike was a revelation and a novelty to us at a time imports were banned or restricted, and the only bicycles we knew were those old ramshackle brakeless relics that a few of us had across the river in Hilda Obeysekara Hall. It is not surprising if some of us thought HHJK was showing off!
To be continued with PART V
-Maximus Jayantha Anandappa