Bliss beyond the boundary lines | Daily News
Memories of a Royal-Thomian encounter:

Bliss beyond the boundary lines

The most significant event for the month of March in my calendar for the past three decades has been the spectacular cricket encounter between Royal College and S. Thomas’ College, known globally as the Royal-Thomian.

This magnificent match is laden with so much sporting history and decorum, and has produced versatile players to our national cricket team for decades. Needless to say, since the advent of Whatsapp class groups, the month of March begins with classmates sharing photos of bygone school memories loaded with equal parts of sentiment and fun. Since we left school, so much has changed, obviously.

The way we used to gel with classmates at the match venue would always remain close to our hearts. Interestingly the ‘big match’ experience is equally missed by many schoolgirls, who now are someone else’s wives (the phrase is from the song ‘to all the girls I’ve loved before’). The magical moments of reunion at this match will be terribly missed this year, owing to the COVID-19 pandemic situation. There are plans to play the match sometime in May, which leaves us with a flame of hope.

My thoughts race back to the match of 1992. It was quite sentimental as it was the year of our GCE O/L Examination, and some were already leaving for higher studies overseas. I hope you enjoy this narrative of mine as a vibrant schoolboy spectator. Witnessing the Royal-Thomian match in that era was a mark of maturity, and a form of dignified acceptance from the female fraternity in the match tents.

The school closed early on Wednesday afternoon. The traditional dates of the match always fell on a Thursday, Friday and Saturday. The Thomian cycle parade was held as a forerunner to the match, when all of Mount Lavinia paused and recognized our presence. A stern class master unleashed a warning that the boys should not misbehave. Similar sentiments of ‘don’t tarnish the image of college’ were kindly echoed by Rev. Duleep de Chickera, a prudent priest who years later became the Bishop of Colombo.

Our class had agreed to meet at a central point, and then proceed to the match venue. That entire week we appreciated our friends from Bishop’s College and Methodist College wearing on their hands, bands of blue and black. The girls from Ladies’ College played neutral and made no such displays of public affiliation, perhaps mildly influenced by their close proximity to the school at Reid Avenue. In the week leading to the match, school flags of Royal College and S. Thomas’ College were sold outside the college gates.

We were dressed in shades of blue and black. As a buddy said we were the ‘black and blue legion’. Our transport soon arrived, a large van. Not many fancy jeeps were available those days for hire, and people were excessively cautious about renting vehicles during the big match period.

I am still bewildered as to how we all squeezed into this vehicle. As we passed some of the main junctions, traffic police officers gazed at the van which was covered with so many flags. The driver was a jolly soul and made no complaints. Songs were sung in vocal disharmony, which was accepted even in the match tent. There were no Facebook posts then or updates on Instagram. As we neared Serpentine Road, Colombo 8, the traffic was moving slowly which was annoying. Police officers were deployed at the gates and along the road. It is worthy to appreciate the policemen who came annually for match duties. The P. Sara Cricket Stadium was filled with a sea of spectators. As we approached the Blue and Black tent, the pulsating beats of the papare band echoed and some were already swaying their hips. The atmosphere was indeed overwhelming. We must pause here to appreciate all the girls and women who come to support the match from both sides. They not only enhanced the cheering with their high-pitched screams but also have set a ‘big match’ fashion trend sporting our college colours. As one of the old boys said it was okay to see some ‘Colombo legs’ when the players were not batting.

By noon, the bands’ tempo had reached a dazzling momentum, and some spectators on both sides had ascended into a realm of double-distilled delight. This is not endorsed by some but it is somehow part of the ‘big match culture’. Everyone was dancing or attempting to do so. The jubilant girls raised the flags. The aroma of fried fish, devilled pork and Chinese rolls captivated our senses.

The floor of the tent was littered with polythene sachets, which once contained peanuts and roasted gram. A rotund soul was dancing in top gear and stepped on a polythene sheet. Suddenly his over-nourished body was thrust towards the band with increased velocity. A comical crash resulted. The brass cymbals were sent into orbit landing on the head of a surprised police sergeant. That agitated soul, who was faithfully standing for hours already burdened by match duty, unleashed a volley of verbal warnings. He was duly comforted with a cup of tea, two Chinese rolls and many apologies which came his way in flawless Thomian style. Obviously, the music came to a standstill. The girls raised the flags and the band restarted with earnest delight. The uncle playing the trumpet looked like he had just walked in from Broadway, complete with blue shades and a Cuban style hat.

There were no ready-to-deliver subs or burgers to snack on in that era. However, there were Burgher girls. Pizza had not invaded our menu choice in sunny paradise in those days. However, the enterprising citizens of Wanathamulla (a Colombo locality with a majority of hardcore tough guys) had decided to impress us their business acumen by harnessing the culinary talents of their women and sold an assortment of spicy savouries. You ate at your own risk. The food was nice. You dare not complain as the young women who sold these outside the stadium wall could unleash verbal warnings that were fiercer than the dismayed police sergeant. The menu included devilled seer fish (thora maalu), deep-fried chicken drumsticks and enticing potatoes wedges dusted with chilli flakes. Hot dogs were sold inside the stadium, and our generation was not yet blessed with cheese kottu.

I was surprised that the ‘happy hour’ lasted many hours around Wanathamulla. Thankfully, I remained fully sober, to remember this narrative with precision. On a personal note, I must mention that consuming liquor at school events is not something I endorse.

The batsmen sent the ball to the boundary lines, many times. A moment of confusion on the field as the umpire seemed to be puzzled about an LBW decision. A wise Royalist shouted from the pavilion, “I say umpire, learn or depart.” Laughter resonated from both tents. Three days of fun. The happy memories of that match were so intense.

The unfolding years have influenced our lives in many aspects, with some classmates going overseas. Yet the bonds of brotherhood from school remain steadfast to this day. May this amazing cricket match and bonds of friendship between our colleges continue for decades.

As you leave school, life will challenge you with greater encounters, than cricket. The flag must always fly with dignified success in serene winds or turbulent storms.