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
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
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
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.