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Toon: The Island

I NEVER PULLED CHANDRIKA'S PONYTAIL! school days with the President of Srilanka!

Gyan Fernando
According to Tilak Fernando, a London based correspondent of Lankaweb, the latest vogue amongst the Srilankan women living in London is the "I-was-with-Chandrika-club" or as Tilak puts it: "London's a stage for Sri Lankans, and many Lankan women play only one part - 'I was with Chandrika at St.Bridget's.' "
I am not aware if there is a similar club amongst the men folk…the "I-was-with Ranil-club" but if so I would like to join in. As regular readers of the MadPage would know I did associate with Ranil during my University days. I was a Medical student and Ranil was from the Law Faculty. Since Ranil liked to associate with the elite (i.e. Medics) it was more of a case of "Ranil-was-with-US!" but now that he is relatively famous (and we are not) we are happy to say that we were with Ranil!
(For the benefit of non-Srilankan readers Chandrika is the lady President of Srilanka and Ranil the leader of the opposition.)

This of course set me thinking. Imagination is a powerful tool and what if Chandrika, Ranil and myself had been to the same school….............

As I remember it, I was a rather studious boy in short trousers, unruly hair and wore muddy shoes. I couldn't help being studious or at least pretending to be studious because both my parents were schoolteachers, but Chandrika was extremely studious and always sat in the front row. Ranil was not very good at studies but was a bit of a hell raiser and likeable. He had an eye for the girls.
I can remember Chandrika well. Her father was of course Solomon Bandaranaike the Prime Minister at that time and the teachers bent over backwards to assist Chandrika. I often wondered how she managed to get better grades than myself…
I can almost see her in her starchy, neat little white pleated school uniform, red tie, white socks and Bata tennis shoes. She wore her long hair in a ponytail tied with a red ribbon, wore thin-rimmed spectacles and carried a brightly coloured tin lunchbox.
We all had rather unflattering nicknames for each other of course but somethings from the past are better left un-exhumed!

Her eraser was always attached to her pencil by a string. Sitting behind her in class I would often tie the string to her desk. Chandrika would turn around and poke me in the eye. Girls were pretty vicious those days. We once tried to smuggle in a frog into class with the intention of placing it inside Chandrika's desk but the frog escaped, jumped on to the teacher's desk and she (the teacher) and half a dozen girls ran out of the class screaming. Chandrika remained calm and collected. She just turned around and poked me in the eye.
She showed all the signs of a future leader even in those days. Chandrika always used big words and in fact I picked up the classical Sinhala description of torrential rain-"Dhara Nipatha"- from her. When our teacher read out a passage from a Sunday newspaper Chandrika would be highly critical and would launch into a tirade. Ranil's family of course owned the newspapers. I remember Chandrika saying that if she had her way she would nationalise all the newspapers. Lake House Publishers then controlled most of the newspapers.

Chandrika always put herself forward to chair committees. In later years I can remember the time our teacher created The Literary Union. We were teenagers by this time and I was trying to grow my hair like The Beatles. Even before the teacher had outlined the purpose of the union Chandrika had offered her services as President. Nobody dared oppose her except Ranil. Ranil of course had absolutely no idea what it was all about but decided to oppose Chandrika on principle. Needless to say that Chandrika was elected. I was elected the secretary, unopposed, mostly because I had decent handwriting and could spell reasonably well. Chandrika took full control of the proceedings of the Union from the very outset. In a way she was the President, secretary and the membership of the Union. At the very start she expelled troublemakers including Ranil. I survived as secretary but it was a close run thing. In retrospect I think that she was rather fond of me although she never showed it at that time.
I remember the time she smacked me on the head for writing my own mad version of the minutes of The Literary Union which, to put it mildly, was highly jazzed up! In them I repeatedly referred to her as "Her Royal Highness!" The boys enjoyed it and fell about laughing. Chandrika sat calmly through it all. When I had finished reading out the minutes she got up and smacked me in the head. She then sat down. Although she smacked me I think she was secretly pleased.

A lot of water has flown under the bridge since then. The last time we met she mentioned this incident over a cup of tea. By this stage she was of course the President of Srilanka and I must say that it was with considerable trepidation that I turned up at "Temple Trees" her official residence, in a hired dilapidated Toyota Hi-Ace.The van had a dodgy accelerator cable and belonged to my friend Sumanasiri. I was on holiday in Srilanka. I wore a dark suit; totally unsuitable for the clime and clutching my "invite" I turned up well before the appointed time. By the time I got there I was sweating like a steam engine. I polished my shoes one last time with my handkerchief. I mopped my brow with the same handkerchief. Her AK 47 carrying guards gave me the once over and checked my passport but I wasn't afraid of them.
It is funny how childhood experiences can change your outlook on life. The AK 47s didn't bother me at all but I fully expected to get poked in the eye or smacked in the head any minute.
She is still quite formidable I must say. I am much taller than she is but felt about five foot one. She was of course pleased to see me after a lapse of 20 years, greeted me warmly and said something to the effect that she was pleased to note that I was doing well in life… I must admit it was nice to meet her again.
Eventually I picked up enough courage and asked her if she remembered the "Bulto" incident and she laughed, patted me on the shoulder and said "Gyan, what a naughty boy you were then!" I blushed! Ahh....! The memories of yester year.
Without realising it I wiped a tear from my eye. The right one. She always poked my left eye.

It was hot but I was not sweating anymore.

I rather diplomatically refrained from mentioning Ranil.There was no need to spoil a happy occasion. They never really liked each other which is rather sad. It would be nice if they could settle their political differences...I was fond of both of them............(to be continued).
Note: This article should be taken for what it is: a humorous piece, and not political commentary...

©Copyright Gyan Fernando 2001 First written on the 9th of June 2001

{short description of image} The following item appeared on the wire services on the 23rd of June 2001...long after I wrote my original piece..
Chandrika meets Ranil to discuss peace process June 23 (Island) President Chandrika Kumaratunga met with UNP and Opposition leader Ranil Wickremasinghe yesterday to exchange views on the on-going peace process. The Presidential Secretariat said that the Leader of the Opposition had assured the President of his party’s support for the peace process.
This is Life immitating Art! No doubt Ranil got poked in the eye!

Cartoon: The Island 28th July 2002
| Erik Solheim & I | My Part in the Census | Census Again! | Not Cricket! | I Crossed The Line | My Part in my Funeral | The Gamarala and the Jumbo | The Gamarala and the Temple | Gamarala and the Puhul | Two men and the bear | Incense and Candlewax | Fasting & Feasting | My Father & The Devil

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