The countdown begins
The long waited re-union named the Mother of all Re-unions; the Golden Jubilee of the Class of 66 of the then St Thomas’ Preparatory School in Bandarawela [STPSB] is just a month away. On the 7th of July 2016 the first member arrives in the country. Dulip Nilaweera also known as ‘Tonto’ both at school and at home, who at one time had second thoughts in coming over from the UK is now the first to come.
Manilal who is very much a retiree, with his beloved wife Hemanthi had been to Bandarawela already and booked up the whole of the premises and the 10 chalets at the Tourist Board Holiday Resort overlooking the school. They have even arranged with the photographers and met the incumbent Headmaster of the school and discussed a programme for the two days 12th 13th August 2016, in line with the already scheduled AGM of S Thomas’ College Bandarawela……..[that’s how the school is called now.]
By the last week of July I call all the locals once more for confirmation of attendance while Manilal and Nagalingam [Nage] coordinated with the arrivals of the expatriates. Nalin Abeyratne was the next to arrive all the way from Scotland who very generously undertook to accompany Ms. Indrani Elleopla to Bandarawela. She is the only surviving lady teacher who taught the Class of 66, while the only other surviving gentleman being Mr. Coillpillai. Today he is a Reverend having ordained robes and is to travel with us from Colombo.
The first week of August saw the influx of the arrivals; Thowfeek from USA, Muralitharan and Sivanandhan from Australia, ALPD Perera from Dubai and Sri Dharan and Vivekanandhan from India.
It is interesting to note that Muralidharan and Sri Dharan have been sitting together in the same flight from Chennai and did not recognized each other until at the baggage claim.
I am finally through in locating the last person on my list; Tilak Wimalasooriya. In the meantime Nage manage to locate the missing one of the two girls, Vasanthi Kumar. Devika Collins nee Edirisinghe the other is in Australia and is scheduled to come over. We are lucky to have located both of them at the last moment. However they both could not make it to the event. Vasanthi for lack of time for to leave from India and Tilak due to an unavoidable family need.
Anura Punchihewa who had earlier communicated of his intention to be in Australia during this time, calls me to confirm his availability for the event. This was a consolation for Tilak’s inability.
The most looked forward person ALPD Perera arrives in the country on the 9th of August while the last scheduled arrival is Devika Edirisinghe from Australia who is to land just a day before we leave for Bandarawela from Colombo.
I am but worried of another. Hemasiri Kotagama [Kota] in Oman had been silent and I try desperately to contact him when he finally responds my E mail saying he is already in town and would find his way to Bandarawela from Kandy. Kota’s calming mail is countered by Devika’s alarming mail. She is denied from flying to Sri Lanka for her Australian passport being expired just three days before. The follow up to obtain an emergency passport is having hick ups with holidays and shortened office hours and getting support documents from Sri Lanka. Finally she is to arrive on the last day just in time for the Fellowship Dinner.
The Euphoria builds up
ALPD Perera was definitely a man for all seasons and the news of his presence in the country makes many of the Gurutalawa boys also needing to be in Bandarawela to attend the Social Night that is planned for at the resort. We had to make a strong ruling that the re-union is limited to the boys and girls of the Class of 66 at Bandarawela and the limited accommodation facilities would not facilitate any others. They are to have another evening with ALPD in Colombo later.
There seem to be other interests building up Down-Under as well. In the run-up for the event I make contact with our Lower Kindergarten teacher Ms. Erangany Sevadorai nee Karunaratne who is now living in Australia. I tell her about the upcoming event and that we intend to bring over Ms. Ellepola the only surviving lady teacher who taught us in the Standard 5. Ms. Karunaratne tells me she had just returned from a visit to the UK where she had met another of the Class of 66 member, Maduma Ratnayake and that it would be a challenge to come over here but never the less would like to meet Ms. Ellepola, who is now an octogenarian.
The following week I get a
message from her saying that 9th of August is the census day in
Australia and that she would be leaving just after the count to be in
Bandarawela on the 11th. She gives me the contact number of our first
teacher at Bandarawela, Mrs. Merline Peiris nee Fernando who is also in her
eighties now. Mrs. Merline was also
delighted to hear of the event but was too feeble for the long journey all the way to Bandarawela.
|Mrs.Erangany Meets Ms. Indrani|
There is but only one other batch that could celebrate a similar Golden Jubilee re-union of STPSB and that is the 1967 batch. From 1968 onward STPSB commenced classes beyond Standard 5. There was a few others who were our seniors at STPSB who also wanted to be accounted with our celebrations. They were to be a group that had to be given consideration and they commanded themselves to the event anyway. They would be staying elsewhere and would join us at the Social Night at the resort and the Special Assembly that the Headmaster would conduct for us to honor the past teachers who will be at the event.
Thus we were to have Suresh Markandan, Bandula Vithanage & Upali Gunaratne who would be staying with Christopher Stork at Spring Valley, Badulla. There was one other special person who also got news of the event and contaced me. Neil Horadagoda also an old boy of Bandarawela and Gurutalawa and is now a Veterinary Science Professor at the Sydney University is also in Badulla visiting his mother and preferred to come over to the school for the assembly. Later Suresh is to regret his absence, compelling his stay back in Colombo.
Mithra Edirisinghe, Devika’s elder brother who joined the teaching staff of Bandarawela the year we left, calls me to say that he too will be coming over with Mr. F R Joseph [FRJ] and Mrs. Joseph. FRJ was in the School Administration then who later joins the teaching staff.
Going back to Bandarawela after almost 50 years brought in nostalgic
memories to many. Most of us had been living in this area or our parents were employed in this area then. The most sort after travel to
Bandarawela then was by train. A train journey to Bandarawela is sure
to bring back the nostalgia of that bygone era once again. Rajaram, Muralitharan and
Sivanadhan preferred to take the train to Bandarawela for nostalgic reasons and
they would be there a day before us visiting their ancestry homes and
reminiscing their birth places in and around Bandarawela.
The railway still runs in the
same old way it ran 50 years ago with a limitation of six to seven wagons at that
same speed or even slower now from Colombo to Badulla. It was this train
journey that we all longed for then to come home in the company of Mr. FRJ who
would entrust us to our parents waiting in the stations to collect us.
|Ms, Indari Ellepola , Mr.& Mrs. F R Joseph with Mrs. Erangany Selvadorai|
|Fr. Coilpillai with Siva and Sri|
Finally it was the inquiries about the finances that one would need to subscribe for the event. We had never discussed costs as a primary requirement, the idea was to get all in that photograph to come up to Bandarawela at any cost. Our beloved friends ALPD and Thowfeek had assisted very generously towards the logistics and assistance on behalf of the needy. However everyone did contribute towards the nominal expenses and finances was never a matter to be discuss nor was a propriety.
Back to School by Bus
Finally the long waited day dawns. Friday 12th August 2016. The bus would be leaving at 4:30 A.M. from the Thalawathugoda Keels-Super car park. Nage was to collect most of the guys as his driver would bring him over to Thalawathugoda. All of us were punctual being on time for Manilal was very meticulous in getting things done in an orderly manner. Unfortunately Wathuhewa, one of those in the closest proximity to the location keep Nage and the rest waiting for over 45 minutes and we are to take a delayed start at 5:15 A.M.
Next to collect was L S Perera [LS]
who would be at the top of his lane by 4:30 A.M., but his phone would not
respond and we are now in a dilemma whether to skip him. Finally we decide to go
for him and if he is not on the road to skip him. To all our surprise there he
is. We only knew it was him because he walked over to the bus and we inquired
if he was L S Perera. He was a person with a hairdo that resembled a Buckingham
Soldier. Today it is the opposite with a bare skin, sans any hair.
|LS sans hair on head with Lal Samaraweera|
It was a most surprising and interesting time getting to know each other in the bus. Mahesha Abeynayake from Australia was only recognized because of his Australian fiancée Vanessa. Dulip Nilaweera [Tonto] was a difficult one even though we knew he was in the bus. It would have been the same to both Dulip and Mahesha to recognize all of us. However Thangaraj was a difficult one for all, we had not met Thanga much even while in Colombo. Sridharan and Vivekanadan [Poochi] have not changed much. Father Coilpillai that we knew in his handsome 20’s then is now over seventy. ALPD was coming on his own to Bandarawela while Nihal Perera was to follow us by car.
We are on the Southern Highway
and on to the Panadura-Ratnapura road to avoid the morning school traffic and to
make up time to be spent together at the resort. Breakfast was to be at the
River Garden Hotel in Belihul Oya. Again Manilal being so meticulous had
arranged all this beforehand and timed the itinerary accordingly.
|After Breakfast at River Garden Belihul Oya|
Almost three hours of dozing in air conditioned comfort we are at Belihul Oya for breakfast around 9:00 A.M. It’s a spread of a European and Oriental culinary combination with ample fresh juice rounded up with a steaming brew of high grown aromatic tea. A sumptuous breakfast had we all take a photograph with the River Garden Hotel in the background and are ready for the second leg of the bus journey. A travel time of a round an hour and a half all the way to Bandarawela.
When in Bandarawela our friend Sidath Perera, the ‘Poor Little Rich Boy’ of Dr. Wilfred Perera, [the famous gynecologist] says that his father has booked him into the Bandarawela Hotel and that he prefers to be where his father wants him to be. We have no option but we drop the fellow with his suitcase and all at the Bandarawela Hotel and proceed to the resort up on the hill overlooking the school. It was so strange to find his father looking after his needs even at this ripe old age of 60 when the father would also be over 80 now. It was so amusing to think so.
However to all our surprise
Sidath is back following us in a taxi saying that his father has apparently not
booked him into the up market Bandarawela Hotel but to the old lousy Bandarawela Rest-House. He is now a happy man at the resort engaged
in his painting hobby.
|Sidath is not welcome at the Bandarawela Hotel- Manilal calms us with raised hand|
The Holiday Resort
We are now on the meadows of yesteryear Bandarawela, which is now turned into a Holiday Resort. Much are the dwelling houses that have come up on the once bare hills where Friesian cattle grazed 50 years ago. We are at leisure in the garden waiting for those who are coming on their own. Manilal again should be commended for sourcing two crates of Carlsberg beer, a commodity that is so scarce these days.
|Under the beer tree|
Relaxing and sipping into cold beer we reminisce the past 50 years when we find more people coming in. They are coming towards us over the rolling mountain side. First it was Rajaram, Murali and Sivanadhan who had been to their ancestral abodes and had visited the old Hindu kovil in Bandarawel; their foreheads smeared with coloured holy ash. With gods permission they too join in the beer embracing each other which I’m sure if done at school 50 years ago, would have been taboo.
|Murali, Ram and Siva|
|Nalin brings in Ms Ellepola|
We all get a ‘Polo shirt’ each, specially done for the event and sponsored by Thowfeek . After Lunch we settle down for the evening in the 10 chalets that had bunk type beds. The plan for the evening is to have tea at the resort and go down to the school and walk through the halls and corridors with high nostalgia.
We are all clad in the white polo shirt with the old school crest and go down to school where we meet the Headmaster who showed us
the expanded school. It was to be a very tiny and small school that was here 50 years
ago as we remember. The perspectives that we as kids had of the school then seem so small to us adults now. Our walk end up at the Peiris dormitory and find this dormitory to be in
the same shape as it was 50 years ago. We walk over to the
famous 'ice-room' where the bed wetter’s were housed. Poor Kota says he had
company then but could not remember all but Suresh Markandan was a member here.
We are informed that there are a
very few boarders when compared to the day scholars now. It was the other way
round 50 years ago. The condition of the present day dormitories will not bring in any boarders
in this era. When an average home at present time
have tiled floors and attached bathrooms. Any parent will have a second thought to house a child in a dormitory of this state . It
was not the case when we were kids. Some of us did not have electricity at home
when compared to the comforts we had in school. Times have changed and things
need to change accordingly.
We walk back to the dining hall
for a cup of tea and walk up to the classroom block and roam behind the chapel,
reminiscing the nooks and corners where we played hide and seek and where some
were up to mischief as well.
|In School with the incumbent Headmaster|
|Ms. Elleopla in conversation with the Headmaster - Wathu, Aravinda Abeysooriya, Thangarajand Frank around with Panini|
|In the new kindergarten class rooms|
|By the chapel|
The party kept going late into the night with all those seniors mentioned before also joining us. The other staff members, Mr. & Mrs. Joseph and Mr. Mithra Edirisinghe is also with us. Mrs. Erangany Karunaratne too has come over from Australia as planned and she calls me requesting to be excused from the social but would be at the chapel the following morning for the service and she would join us at the Fellowship Dinner.
|Bandula Vithanage with ALPD|
Inside the chalets different encounters were sure have taken place. My chalet was a full house with four; Christo, LS, Tonto and me in the two bunk beds with Frank and Dimbula in the next room on the two single beds.
Tonto and I occupied the upper bunk as both Christo and LS had extra bulk that made the slim ladder to wobble. No sooner the lights were put out both Christo and LS go “ZZZ-Zzzz-ZZzzz-hngGGggh-Ppbhww- zZZzzzZZ . . . they are both in a sonorous droning. Tonto being disturbed and uneasy keeps tapping on the wooden side plate on the upper bunk, to no avail. In a while I too fall asleep and most definitely did join the two below. Come morning Tonto is not in the bunk bed and I locate him stretched out on the dining table in the upper floor.
I get up early and get into my regular sweat out and walk all the way passing the Keble dorm, the school gate and into the old golf links. There is no golf link now but a large complex of a series of buildings of the Government Technical College. I walk all the way passing the ditch in the golf link. The depression in the ground is still visible but the ditch in which we waded for fun has all been drained out.
On the way back I inquire from the security guard at the gate if there is a way to go up to the holiday resort directly over the hill. He tells me there was an old footpath which is not used now but judging me for an outsider who for nostalgic reasons need to go up this way he allows me in the premises and directs me.
This was the old route we took to go up to the “Little Thatch”. Ms. Blanchard’s cottage which later became the abode of Mr. & Mrs. Godfrey Peiris. Kota came over to live with the Peiris’ after graduating from the 'ice-room' in the school dormitory. He was a fond favorite of the couple who very nearly adopted him, says Kota. Later on Thangaraj too joined him at the ‘Little Thatch’.
Everyone is ready in Lounge Suit expect for Kota in his Oriental Lounge attire and a matching golf cap. We all go down to the school chapel. It was nothing strange for us non-Christians to be sitting through services for we had even been in the school choir while at school.
After the service the first major event of the re-union is to take place. We would be taking the same school leaving photograph taken with the chapel as the background 50 years ago and in the same sequence.
|The 50 year old photograph that brought us together|
|With the present staff|
|The old belfry sans the bell|
|ALPD and Poochi with Mr. Godfrey Peiris' sons|
We take seats on one wing of the Keble Hall and the seniors with Neil Horadagoda are also back in school after last night’s social. The Headmaster is pleased about the first ever such event organized by the Class of 66. He welcome us to the school and admires the presence of Ms. Ellepola, Mrs. Karunaratne, Mr. & Mrs. Joseph and Mr. Mithra Edirisinghe.
Manilal and I brief the gathering of the significance and the run up to the event and acknowledge the generosity of ALPD, Thowfeek and the others who in their own special ways for sponsoring the event.
A small memento to honour the existent teachers is given away by the Headmaster on behalf of the Class of 66, brings the assembly to an end. We now go up to our old classroom of standard 5, the second room from the then school office for the final event of the re-union; to enact a class session with Ms. Ellepola as the class teacher.
We all take seats at the tiny desk and chair and Ms. Ellepola walks into the class when we all stand up for her and say good afternoon Miss. She orders us to sit and the attendance taken and the reason for the absentees are discussed in a very novel way. Next was the call up to narrate your memories to the elderly class.
First was Nalin exposing how Ms.
Ellepola hit Bandula Vithanage with a piece of chalk to get his attention when
she accidentally threw the bunch of keys instead, injuring Bandula.
For which she was remorseful to Bandula even today. Nalin went on to say about
Michael Goonawardane messing up inguru [ginger] and anguru [char coal] at the school kitchen.
|Kota making his confession|
Manilal briefed the class about him and his brother Lalin facing an admission test to enter the school midway, when their father was transferred to the Badulla hospital. SLA had advised his father that the boys could be admitted two classes behind to standard 2 for their English was so poor. They then had to undergo a rigorous tuition session in English for one year at home before they were admitted to standard 5 the following year.
Pooch narrated about how contented they were when SLA’s car would stop a few yards from his home for the lack of air pressure in the tires …….. A tit for tat for being punished in the poetry class.
Kota was in all faithfulness to Ms. Ellepola for providing him with an ample stock of pictures for his scrap book. Which would otherwise be decorated with the multiple mackerel fish, all swimming in one direction. This was about the only pictorial commodity that a household did have in that bygone era.
Last was Tonto in the typical Nilaweera brand giving basic standards of measurements and its invention related to human morphology and anthropomorphic? Yes the Nilaweera siblings were a kind of a brand and they were all bright and clever.
Next Fr. Coilpillai detailed how he enjoyed a Sunday beer with Godfrey Peiris at the ‘Little Thatch’ after Sunday mass. Kota now had a confession to make….he has had his fist drips of alcohol [beer] from the left overs in these bottles, where as now he could take charge of a few bottles.
Mrs. Erangany Karunaratne related how the handsome Coilpillai in his 20’s, used to tease the young lady teachers.
|The brochure is distributed by Manilal|
The mornings photograph is now printed and placed in a brochure alongside the original one taken in 1966 is delivered to class. Again Manilal’s specifics in coordination is at work.
This classic memento is distributed to all. A once in a lifetime experience to be carried home and to be proud with your wife and family. The class ends and we go down to the dining hall for the Headmasters lunch and back in the resort relaxing before the Fellowship at the Bandarawela Hotel.
While many are taking an evening siesta, Kota, Punchi and I venture into locate the ‘Little Thatch’. It was not that easy as the locality has changed very much and in fact we had walked past the old cottage unknowingly. The cottage is now vested in the school and is renovated as the chaplains living quarters. The 'maana' thatched roof is now having a metal cladding but the foot print has not changed. We could not get into the house as it was closed.
Back in the garden we have tea when Ms. Ellepola and Nalin also take seats with us. We have company, Ediriweera who is junior to us and married from the Acme house close to college has come over to see Tonto, his cousin. Acme was the name of a confectionery run by the family. An old photograph that Ediriweera brought in with his in-law and a special lady in it, made Nalin break loose of his childhood pranks of being a peeping tom, having seen how Adma and Eve behaved after taking the forbidden fruit. This made Miss Ellepola almost choke with bewilderment. This was all about someone and something that used to take place then which we all knew but was apprehensive to discuss then. Ms. Ellepola also added her side of the story of this pitiful lady as a pretext. After a hearty laugh we see the sun going behind the hill and it’s time to get ready for the Fellowship Dinner.
The Fellowship Dinner
Everyone is seen in their best casual wear for the fellowship dinner at the Bandarawela Hotel. I have no doubt that everyone will agree with me to say that we the Class of 66 did steal the day of the OBA that day. We were all welcomed by Angela Seneviratne the fair lady who was also a tomboy much junior to us in school. The band playing and the Class of 66 all turning 60 years of age was unmatched on the dancing floor when compared to the young lads of today. Not to mention Ms. Ellepola in her 80’s singing and dancing her own solos made us feel back in those tender ages we were 50 years ago.
|Waltzing ALPD with Ms.Ellepola|
To everybody’s surprise here arrives the jewel in the crown………..Devika the only female at the jubilee celebrations has finally made it to the fellowship with her husband. It was definitely the most joyous moments in all our lives for sure. Vanessa and Devika were the happiest on the dancing floor with ALPD and Ms. Ellepola waltzing to Sridharan’s Sinhala songs backed by the one man band who sang old favourites of Tom Jones and Englebert Humperdink our time heroes in the music world.
|The climax of the fellowship|
The climax came when the Exco brought in a cake in honour of our 50 year jubilee which was cut in unison by Ms. Ellepola and Fr. Coilpillai. The evening comes to an end just past mid-night and we are back in the resort after a hectic day.
|50 year Jubilee celebration|
Breakfast next morning is very long. Siri Silva of Sirisara fame in Kurunegala was our Billy Bunter in class. Today he is very sick and refrained from coming up to the event on doctor’s advice. Late last night Siri calls me saying that he saw some of the photos posted in the FB by Nihal Perera and his conscience did not allow him to stay home and is now coming over to have the last breakfast with us… against his doctor’s orders. To everybody’s surprise Siri had left Kurunegala at the wee hours to be at the breakfast table at 8.00 A.M. in Bandarawela with us.
|Siri comes all the way from Kurunegala for breakfast|
Devika has brought a small stuffed Koala bear as an individual souvenir to everyone. Mithra Edirisinghe came in with his last set of copies of ‘Foot Prints’ the history of the school done for the 70th anniversary to be given to those who are living overseas.
|Nalin making a point to Mithra and Devika's hubby|
Finally it’s time to say ‘adios’………. hugs all around and Thank-you cards signed up by all and the organizers felicitated by the only ladyship Devika brings this memorable two days merry making to a conclusion. The final parting photograph was taken on the hill with a vow to come back here one more time before we breathe our last.
Three hearty cheers for the Class 66....hip hip hooray,,,, hip hip hooray,,,,hip hip hooray,,,,,,,
The idea of a re-union was something that inspired in Manilal’s mind ever since he made friends with me in the FB and had access to the 1966 year-end photograph of STPSB. It took three years for us to locate many in the photograph. A few are still to be located. The search will go on in an individual way. Any such locating will be notified to all by E mail.
Finally I must say, if not for the persistent enthusiasm of both Manilal and his beloved wife Hemanthi this event would not have been this amusing and this unique.
Let me now divulge what Hemanthi had told Manila when he was back at home from Bandarawela……."she had seen Manilal this happy in his life only twice……….the first, was the day he got married to her… and the second being the re–union of the Class of 66 without her……… I’m sure every other spouse would have felt so, while also being jealous of us to have enjoyed two days without their company."