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Saturday, 4 September 2010






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Postcard from Talawakelle...

Doses of quaint traditions (in between cups of tea)

There were two battles raging at the Dimbulla Athletic and Cricket Club, (that British-cottage-type building on the Hatton-Nuwara Eliya road) last Thursday. One was in the middle of the cricket grounds where planters from the two clubs - Dickoya and Dimbulla were vying for the Paan Dias trophy - grabbing, throwing, tossing that odd shaped ball (no puns intended). Guessed it yet? Yes, playing rugger.

DA and CC club

The second battle was between the spectators and the elements - with the cold drops of rain falling through the holes on the canvas, the cold water on the cement floor of the open pavilion and the cold, cold wind, that ‘wild Spirit, which art moving everywhere’ as described by Shelley.

 A hot cup of tea and tasty bits

 Pink Azaleas

Orange Azaleas

This last was the most disastrous as it ripped through the carefully coiffed hairstyles of the ladies in the pavilion threatening to destroy piles of hair carefully coiled round glittering accessories making me mutter a line from Shakespeare ‘if hairs be wires, black wires grow on her head’.

Poetry apart, seeing Veeraiya among the spectators, standing on his own with the customary grin on his face, I walk up to him and recall how he had complained of hypertension when I had last seen him.

“No pressure now” he says, but with no sign of relief. “No work for me these days. I am at home doing nothing. So, no pressure due to overwork”. If you have been to any of the planter’s bungalows situated between Talawakelle and Nuwara Eliya and admired the curtains in their drawing rooms, you would have heard his name, the name synonymous with curtains.

There is hardly a window in any of the bungalows in the region that has not been draped with Veeraiya’s curtains. I recall how difficult it had been to get an appointment with him, in the past. I had often listened to managers who, when nagged by their wives to contact Veeraiya, complain it would be easier to get an appointment with President Obama than with Veeraiya.

“Things are not too good on the tea estates”, Veeraiya explains. “When one manger gets transferred usually the new manager’s wife changes all the curtains in the bungalow to match her taste. But now everyone is cost-cutting”, he ends with that dreaded word, known and disliked by employees all over the world.

“Most managers don’t have enough money to buy even a sarong, let alone curtains. So they are falling into pieces”. They? “The curtains, not the sarongs”, laughs Veeraiya. He had come here with the hope of finding work but till now none of the ladies present had approached him with an order for stitching curtains. The old order has surely changed.

For Veeraiya. But not for the members of the Dimbulla club. With a branch of the Kotmale Oya picturesquely gurgling on one side with the Radella mountains standing guard on the other as they would have done two centuries ago, watching the ladies dressed in their best attire with dainty cups of tea in their hands, chatting about the Azaleas in their gardens, the difficulty of finding the right shoe size for their off-spring, about how fast they are growing - ‘one day they are making paper dresses for their dolls, and before you can bat an eye, they are grownup and talking about wedding dresses’- it is easy to imagine the same scene taking place in the nineteenth century. The only difference is that the horse carriages in front of the club, have now been replaced by four-wheel-drive jeeps.

The tea served in a corner near the indoor badminton court is surely the best in the country. “Number one. Beats every other tea in the world”, says the waiter as he refills the hot water flask.

Tasting the hot brew by keeping it inside my mouth for a few seconds, then letting it slide down my throat and feeling the warmth spread through me, I feel pity for the players on the muddy ground and admiration for their determination to continue a tradition dating back to the nineteenth century.

As they put their heads together and plan how to win the match I try to imagine what they would be saying to their teammates to boost flagging morale. My wish comes true when one of the players, a flanker, retires after the first leg and joins the spectators.

He satisfies my curiosity by repeating the captain’s words. “Gema atha arinna epa. Kohoma hari dinamu. Paradunath yanthamata parademu”. (Don’t give up. Let’s win somehow or the other.

Even if we lose let it be by a small margin.

After thirty minutes of standing 69 year old Veeraiya suggests we find a place to sit. (OK I am the one who says it). As luck would have it I find a seat next to one of the chief organizers of the event, Senaka Alawattegama. For the next half hour he gives me the story behind the club and its activities. Comparing the storm outside to the turbulent situation at the club three years ago he says “The Dimbulla club was formed in 1856 and is probably the oldest club in Sri Lanka.

It has been the hub of the social life of the planters ever since its inception. Unfortunately, the club has gone through many ups and downs during the past few years; specially when attempts were made to sell it to an outside party.

Luckily all the planters rallied round and now we have revived all the past traditions.”

By six thirty the match and the award ceremony are over, with the coveted trophy in the hands of the Dickoya team. The ladies retreat to the rest room to repair the havoc created by the mini hurricane. Waiters begin to arrange tables and chairs for the gala dinner. To suit the mood the DJ selects Jim Reeves’ ‘There’s a new moon over my shoulder’. As for the rest of the evening, would you believe me if I said I spent it on the bouncer playing with the kids? If you do, keep it to yourself.


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