Michael Roberts, a reprint
Intrigued by my speech inflections and my appearance, a friend of mine, a teacher in English Literature, made inquiries after my familial background and my ethnic identity within the melange of ethnic groups in Sri Lanka. She learnt that my Barbadian father had related very few stories in his life and times in Barbados and that my sense of West Indianness was muted. This puzzled her. Forced thus into retrospective reflection I now conclude that I lived my youthful life immersed in my everyday activities without much concern for a distinct self-identity of an ethnic sort.
Along one dimension my orientation was familial. I was (and remain) a Roberts. There were no other West Indian families in Galle to activate a West Indian being. We had no car and the geographical span of my travels was restricted to certain environs of Galle — though I do recall holidays among relatives in Panadura, one stay with my half-brother’s family in Kandy and a holiday at a planter’s bungalow in the vicinity of Duke’s Nose.
Thus circumscribed, there was another dimension to my “Being” within the lanes of Galle: I was an ALOYSIAN.
Being Aloysian was central.
The affinity was sharpened by my participation as an Aloysian in the field of sport representing “College” in Cricket, Soccer and Athletics at various levels.
But even before I was a player and athlete at representative level, my whole-hearted participation in Aloysian-ness was activated and inspired by the big matches against Richmond and Mahinda at soccer and cricket. In soccer we had ruled the roost [in Galle schools’ matches] for long. That was not the case at cricket. Nevertheless, the prolonged span of time covered by a cricket match was more conductive to school loyalty and “Being Aloysian” than anything else.
A big cricket match meant cheering parties. Big cheering parties, and sometimes ‘Bajau‘ afterwards. These cheering parties were boisterous, rumbustious, inspiring affairs — even when saddened at the end by our team’s effort. Urged on by the chorus leaders and comperes we would bellow:
Abdul Hamid – Dum. Dum. Dum.
Walles Patawu – Goni . Goni.
Kawuda Raja Edema Raja
A-L-O-Y-S-I-U-S. ……. Aloysius
And so on. The doyen of cheer leaders in our time [my pre-16 junior days] was Royle Barthelot. And among us learning the trade which has made him famous was Percy Abeysekera, Pissu Percy, as he is lovingly (and not always lovingly), called. It could be truly said that he is one of the most widely known Aloysians of our time, leaving such luminaries as Dr Cyril Ponnamperuma in the shade!
He has also been a good ambassador as I can attest from Australian crowd responses in Adelaide — where I had the privilege of watching a one-day match where, facing a imposing target of over 300, we [the two us] watched Roshan Mahanama and Arjuna Ranatunga lead a magnificent fight back after an initial collapse in a game which we — that is Sri Lanka — lost nobly.
This just goes to show that being Aloysian has been a building block towards being Sri Lankan.
But Aloysian memories for me were/are not all sport. There remains in my mind a vivid picture of the buildings and classrooms, the Library where I thumbed through old copies of the London Illustrated News, the quadrangle and other areas where we played cricket, paddle tennis and hide and seek during the break, the nook under the stairs during free time where Winnie, Oswin. Shiraz, and I used to play games of bridge [a banned activity] during our HSC days.
And girding and threading all these delightful activities and the cameraderic which was generated, there was the solid grounding of learning skills imparted to us by a solid body of teachers.
The Jesuit Fathers most of you readers will know and have many speaking for, namely: Fr Peiris ( “Kotaa”), Fr De Mattie, Fr Gomes, Fr Perniola and Fr Morreli were those whose classes I was privileged to attend. But with them and around them, were as good a body of teachers as you could ask for: Messrs Manathunge, Anton Ferreira, Sharma, Vedamuttu, PBJ Hewawasam to name a few.
And in the HSC class we were fortunate to have the services of Miss Anghie, Lionel Mendis , and Ariyananda Perera during the years in which I prepared for the University exams in the company of such amiable school mates as Dudley Wijesiri, Shiraz Cassim, Mervyn Wijesinghe, Oswin Silva, Winnie Vedamuttu and Myrna Perera (some reading Science).
Few schools today could boast of such a concord of skilled teachers — persons dedicated, skilled knowledgeable and, in varying degrees, patient. We boys were never angels of course. There was always a limit to patience and some teachers matched their learning with a reputation for verbal ferocity which few of us dared to test.
But threading their teaching too was a commitment to humanity as much as to learning. One day Mr Manathunga gently suggested to all of us SSC students that we should hand over our first pay packets to our mother. I was not placed in circumstances where I could pursue this suggestion. But when I presented the same advice to my elder daughter — an Australianised Sri Lankan lass — she scoffed at it. She thought it distinctly odd. For that matter so did my wife, a Scot.
Different cultures different values.
I thank Dr. Jagath P. Senaratne for resurrecting this item for my benefit. This item was presented in The ALOYSIAN 1995-97 Magazine with this note: “Aloysian Identity (SAC–1946-1957) ….. One of SAC’s finest products, blending sports and studies in harmonious splendour,…. SAC’s only Rhodes Scholar.”
 I cannot recall who this was, but it is likely that Cynthia Vandendriesen (nee De Soysa) in Perth was the pal in question.
 Gilbert C Roberts my half-brother in technical sense -though that concept never entered my thinking. Allof us were one family of brothers and sisters.
 TFC Roberts aka Tommy who was Police Magistrate in Kandy but eventually migrated to London with his English wife and their daughter.
 This was at the house of Malcolm Fernando, a brother of my brother-in-law — CH Fernando of Wellawatte. For my sister Audrey and me this was a magical trip – to an unknown world.
 Alas Winnie Vedamuttu, Oswin Silva and Shiraz Cassim are no more in this our world –but you willsee thme in th,e coterie of Aloysian cricketers from the year 1956.
One response to “Being Aloysian: Reflections from a Galle ‘Boy’ in the Year 1997”
Pingback: Joe Hoad’s Paintings in Celebration of Sri Lanka’s World Cup Triumph 1996 | Thuppahi's Blog