Monday, December 5, 2011

My Memoirs: REFLECTIONS ON SOME LIGHTER MOMENTS by Maximus Jayantha Anandappa (1972-75 batch)


Here is my feeble attempt for old time sake to capture the moods of those bygone days. I admit this is a fragment- a pale weak account, an apology for something more vivid, more evocative. You might say I have missed the more remarkable moments and people. But I will count on you to put up with such omissions. If this note can bring a smile or two or rekindle your own memories of successes and failures, tears and laughter, hardships we faced, friendships we made, your trials and tribulations, then my attempt is not in vain. If this account is boring, blame C Paheerathan (Paheer) for pushing me into my moment of vanity.

To me memories from the first year are the sweetest. I will start with ragging. Baptism was surprisingly mild for something that was so dreadful. After our first meal we (my pre-arranged roommate Jayantha Ameratunga and I) were asked to eat a fully ripe Arnamalu banana (Plantain) but without peeling the skin. “Dessert in Akbar style” said the senior who looked unimpressed, though we obliged without a fuss. Seniors appeared to have patience when they taught us the Campus Salute. Dressed (almost) with the Emperor’s New Clothing and parading at midnight opposite the Akbar Nell Hall with other freshers to the orders of Ranjith Gunatilleke (Aliya/Ali) is another pleasant one to recount. Aliya had managed to demonstrate his leadership skills so early and almost picked himself as the “squadron” leader. I am sure Aliya enjoyed every bit of this role. His resonant voice commanding us to march to the tune: “Ala Bathala Ala”, still echoes as if it was yesterday. Returning back from the open air to take the mandatory icy cold shower early in the morning signified either the end of your day’s ragging, or the beginning of another day. It depended on how you looked at it. These early morning showers were also a good way to come to know your batch mates so early with nothing to hide. Height of transparency! Aliya also featured in the frequent re-enactments of “Raja Daekmata Avasarada?” the modified episode from the popular movie “Weli-Kathara”. Why Aliya was more qualified to play this role we knew fairly soon. Ragging concluded with a remarkably colourful oath ceremony in the dining room of the Akbar Hall with some lecturers and sub-wardens attending as guests. Most of us gave an item to entertain the guests and the seniors. GH Pathmasiri gave an impeccable demonstration of a Kandyan Dance. CTB (N Sivakumaran) impersonated a dialogue with (ex English) Prof Hughes and LSD Fernando gave an account of his life in Romania dressed like a Romanian (with clothes worn back to front and shoes in the wrong foot)! Dennis Ferreira was impressive and witty as the compere. At the end of the ceremony was the chance to get even with the seniors.

An early academic activity in the Faculty was the English test. Those who failed the English test were required to follow the compulsory English classes (Section B) every morning for the full length of the first term. A notice to this effect with the proposed date for the test appeared in the Faculty notice board. Seeing this Udaya Gunasena was characteristically arguing in the corridor that it was not fair to subject the students for this kind of test so early. The joke was that overhearing his comments Upali Koswatte rushing to console him thinking that this bright looking outspoken guy with a smile and spectacles must be from a backward rural area with a terrible kaduwa. Upali was the most amused when the results were released to discover that Udaya had topped the batch. Anyway lucky were those who passed this test.

Classmate Srineil Jayawardena and I were certainly lucky. With no lectures in the mornings, and nothing better to do, we would saunter to the Hantane Mountains to enjoy a moment of idle pleasure. We would stroll beyond the radio station and the transmission tower (“Surveying Pole”) and sit on a rock in brilliant sunshine and watch the idyllic landscape: the tea plantation, the cloudless blue sky, the Bible Rock and the distant skyline, the Akbar Nell Hall dwarfed like a box of matches, the meandering Mahaveli and the occasional train that seemed so slow to move from that distance. The steam engine would leave behind a thin black smoke scarcely visible. “That train surely must be running late”, one of us must have remarked languidly with the other hardly bothering to dissent. I do not recall exactly what else we discussed on top of the mountains. Surely we must have talked about nicer things. For later in life whenever I would meet Srineil he would be quick to remind me of these walks - rather fondly. My one recollection is that, I was homesick and would not admit to it. Probably Srineil too was homesick. Instead of admitting to homesickness, in idle indulgence, I vaguely remember discussing how lonely we felt for having to leave our girl friends (imaginary of course) back at home. We would have even said how romantic was it that we were discussing our girl friends in that picturesque setting! In reality what we left behind must have been that fleeting moment of teenage infatuation! One day torrential rains and thunder and lightning cut short our stay and we were forced to take a hurried exit from our vantage point. Whilst returning from one of these walks, I even remember mentioning to Srineil that one day I would write about these walks!

From these aimless wanderings- with head in the clouds, to the Drawing Room was to face grim reality. We had heard from the seniors before hand how difficult Machine Drawings could be. Yes, the subject was a mystery. Added to that, I was simply not prepared to learn, but kept telling myself that I did not like the way the subject was taught. A long association with the subject loomed on the horizon. But well, I was not alone! I can picture, reading this, Regno Arulgnanendran, KADS Chandrasiri, GH Pathmasiri and few others smiling and nodding their heads in amused agreement. T Chandratilleke will smile for a different reason. He was absolutely brilliant on the Drawing Board. He would complete his work well ahead of others irrespective of the complexity and leave the Drawing Room holding his head high with a sense of achievement. Chandratilleke always scored the highest marks. His completed drawings always looked so neat. On the other hand B Arambepola (Arambe) appeared to struggle like any one of us to finish his drawing and often submitted a dirty smudged Kent Sheet eliciting a sympathetic look from the instructor and would leave the Drawing Room excitedly as if the whole world around is about to collapse. Being from Kandy, Arambe did not initially live with us in the halls. The majority of us came to realize his academic brilliance probably only after the Part I results were released. But signs were always there mirrored in his piercing eyes, or evident to you if you had chatted with him on something serious during lunchtime perhaps in the library a place Arambe could be invariably found especially in the second year trying to do the finishing touches to a discussion in a Coursework in his usual excited hurried manner. KA Ariyawansa, dressed in full white like a fresher, would always get on with his work as quietly as he lived and was hardly noticeable. A simple man, Ariyawansa was always approachable if you had a knotty problem- a trait that he maintained through out the four years. The Drawing Room was also associated with “Phantomas”, his fondness to unravel to the girls the mysteries of the subject, and Pushpa (Kaluarachchi)’s courageous “kohoma hari aenda nay” remark, which we dared to utter though we all used the 5c coin to draw the casting curves. On the first or the second day DLC Ariyaratne (Ari) announced that the Drawing Room was owned by “Stanley” (our amiable permanent Drawings instructor) and when I asked him why, he said in typical Ari wit, “Otherwise who would give him the authority to write his name ‘Stanley’ on all T-Rules and Drawing Boards?”

Entering the Surveying Lab Ari proclaims, “Looks like Stanley owns the Surveying Lab as well!” We note that the Theodolites carried the name “Stanley”! (Bulk of this equipment at that time was manufactured by Stanley Bostwich Pty Ltd). Carrying all that heavy equipment across the Campus was the hardest part of the fieldwork. Girls (I mean the female batch mates) must have enjoyed finding how willingly the boys in their respective groups would volunteer to carry that heavy load by themselves without any coaxing! Pity there was no such luck for Malathie and Malkanthi Perera, Miriam Pereira and Anushya Paramakuru who were in the same group! LK Premananda the fifth member in that group will have to tell us his tale. (Or was it W Piyasena? Well, he may have a different version and would always say that he was amply rewarded- for his life long partnership with Malathie). Anyway for us it was good to survey on the “other side” of the Campus and to see the “skirts” and “umbrellas” passing by. Ariyaratne was never short of a witty comment particularly if a girl from the Arts Faculty happened to pass. Packing back the theodolite into the box in its original position at the end of the day, so that it will pass the most stringent verification from “Mame” when returning, was something that was always done with care and with some degree of apprehension. By now we had realised that it was not “Stanley” but “Mame” that “owned” the Surveying Lab. A childhood associate of Prof HB de Silva, Mame had worked in the Faculty from 1950. Looking after the Surveying Equipment lovingly was probably the mission of his life, his joy, certainly it was a job that he did to perfection. His sudden death on the following year was to sadden all of us.

Colours of my first Chain Survey Map were too dark, I still recall the agonising look it brought to the face of the good natured instructor Lalith Ranatunge (who was always with a smile) who found the task of asking me to re-submit the drawing so painful! After 31 years, I can now safely admit that I must have glass sheeted the re-submission. I was not that naïve!

Continued with PART-II

-Maximus Jayantha Anandappa

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