These are not big match days. Indeed, this year, thanks to Covid19, the so-called Mad March Days were quite sober for the most part. This is not a big match story, although there are references to that time of year.
Ranjan Madugalle is not a collector of mementos, but Rajiva Wijetunga, who opened bowling for Royal in the two years that Ranjan captained (1977-78 and 1978-79) is. I wanted to check on something that appeared in the big match souvenir. ‘I never read it during the match because I didn’t want to know what kind of stuff had been written about me,’ Ranjan said.
I was interested in the ‘limericks page.’ Every year, the playing eleven, captain downwards, would be caricatured in verse. The writer would be fed by teammates and other friends. Dark secrets would be laid out but with some elegance, in code that was not entirely beyond breaking. Each year the limericks came with a headline.
I remembered most, which Rajiva confirmed. He filled in some of the blanks while Ajith Devasurendra (skipper in 1981) and Rajitha Dhanapala, my classmate, gave me the rest.
Samuel Lawton captained in 1974. That team was lampooned under the title ‘Lawty and his Naughty Eleven.’ And so it went. We had ‘King Kari and his Merry Men’ in 1975 (Prasanna Kariyawasam’s year). T.M.S. Saldin skippered in ’76 but his team wasn’t ‘titled’ but had a cryptic intro ending with the promise, ‘Versus…’
Then came Ashok Jayawickrema (‘Over to the Jayawickrema Clan’) in 1977, ‘The Complete Works of Ranjan Madugalle’ (1978) and ‘Ranjan’s Gear and Tackle Trim’ (in 1979, the Centenary Year), Pasqual’s All and Sundry (when Sudat Pasqual captained in 1980), ‘Deva’s Bag and Baggage’ (for Ajith Devasurendra’s team in 1981), ‘Charlie’s Match Bag’ (Sumithra Warnakulasuriya’s team in 1982), ‘In the pleasure of your company’ (Chulaka Amarasinghe’s team, 1983) and ‘Sandy and his Handy Men’ (1984: Sandesh Algama).
I believe the cricketers were thus caricatured in 1985 when Heshan De Silva captained and in 1986 (Roshan Jurampathy’s year). If memory serves me, that’s when it stopped.
There was a reason. The teacher-in-charge of the Roy-Tho souvenir retired after serving the school for 15 years. She didn’t sever ties with the school though. She continued to help students write personal essays when applying to universities abroad and worked at the school’s Skills Center in the early years of the new millennium. When you’ve been a part of any institution for more than 30 years, you become a legend. In her case it was not just longevity.
‘She was the Grand Old Lady of Royal College,’ observed Mohammed Adamally, one of her students, more than 25 years after he had last sat in her class.
Her students, some even in their late sixties now, recall her with love. They have anecdotes. They have respect. Lots of stories to tell. Here’s one.
One day she had put an entire bunch of students on detention. They were all involved in sports. She hadn’t given any reason. They had turned up after school and she had corralled them into a classroom.
‘Now sit and write down all your achievements!’
They did. Sriyan Cooray, rugger captain in 1983 explained.
‘She said that if she had not put us on detention and got us to write all that down, we would never have done it. She collected all the information and she wrote our character certificates. Thanks to her, I got my son into Royal because that was the only record I had of my achievements. My brother Sujeewa, who captained in 1981 couldn’t get his son into college.’
Ensuring that the sons of students have a chance of attending their fathers’ alma mater wasn’t her intention of course. She was at the time the go-to person to write character certificates of students who were about to leave school or had left recently. She knew all the students, sportsmen and non-sportsmen, the smart ones and those who were not considered all that bright. She knew strengths and knew everyone had something good. She always pushed everyone (students, friends, colleagues, non-academic staff including security guards and gardeners) to be the best they believed that could be and even better.
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