The 40th Anniversary Reunion of the EFac70-75
By Rohan Bandarage (aka Bob )
As the chapter is coming to a close with all having returned to their abodes after extended trips – I thought it opportune to place on record, the event highlights from an overseas participant’s perspective.
On that balmy Sunday morning, batchmates from different corners of the world slowly gathered at the Vidya Mawatha IESL Premises to join their local brethren for the much awaited 40th anniversary celebratory tour. Even though the names of participants were given in advance, there were sighs of amazement and cries as the batchas rediscovered each other.
Having attended all Australian and most Sri Lankan reunions of the past 40 years, I can say with confidence that this Get-together (GTG) was by far the most elaborate and eventful. Herbert and the local organisers spared no pains to give us the best time and a luxurious holiday tour.
All accommodation, Lunch/Tea stops and even the coach were first class. The fully completed Chaya Blu Hotel of Trinco was breathtaking. The colonial charm of the Suise and the bush resort -Saunters Paradise in Dambulla were very really refreshing. Sumptuous food galore everywhere we went, which put individuals’ diet plans into frenzy. Grog was nothing less than Chivas and was abundant not only at night but also at some breaks. So thoughtful were our organisers that even the Poya Day booze ban was circumvented with a private room arranged at Pasikuda.
Day 1, on our way to the Grand Suise Hotel in Kandy, we had quite an enjoyable stop over at the Elephant Orphanage at Pinnawela, where our tour leader Herbert, alias ‘Aliya’ impressed us with the frolics of his ‘relatives’. A well-arranged dinner party awaited us at the Suise, which was attended by a few of our past lecturers including Dr Galappatti and Noel Fernando. A band provided music and a few of our batchas namely Mervyn Alwis, Roy, Nihal and Herbert showed their singing talents. On the dance floor, Ganga in particular was impressive with her dancing talents.
Day 2, we experienced the most touching moment of the whole tour – the reception accorded to us by the Faculty. A good representative gathering of the staff headed by the Dean was present. The depiction of the photos and narrative of the 19 dead amongst us and those of the staff was indeed tearful. It was a sad moment for some of our invited guests such as the wife and the son of late Mervyn Gunasekera.
We are fortunate to have Nimal Seneviratne, a serving academic and an inspiration to many to facilitate the reception. The talks included one from Dr Gallapathy who recounted his experiences with our batch, particularly the Kantale Survey Camp and Votex74. He complimented our batch for pioneering the Votex Night, which has since been established as an annual Faculty event, running almost uninterrupted for 40 years. Dr Gallaps was very modest in saying that our lecturers were brilliant but may not have been the best as teachers. Other speakers included the Faculty Dean, President PEFFA (Peradeniya Engineering Faculty Alumni Association) and batchas of which Herbert was unstoppable. When it came to unveil the souvenir, the first copy was presented to the Dean by Mervyn, the editor. Herbert, for the first time, saw his photo in the souvenir where he was depicted as a lazy sleeping elephant, being awakened by throwing water at him. A memento had also been produced, the first copy of which was presented by Sam to the Dean. The climax of the reception occurred when Yasomali presented the batch donation to the President of PEFAA.
Needless to say, the glossy souvenir produced for the event is a brilliant piece of work and is the envy of the senior batchas, I showed it to. Mervyn strives for perfection and I could see how diligent he has been to polish some of the crap he would have received. The editorial committee or the co-conspirators who assisted Mervyn; Vadandebona, Mano Manoharan, Nimal Seneviratne, Chandra Joshua, Ranjan Abeyasekera and Sam Fernando also deserves praise. Among other contributors though unable to participate in the Tour but deserving special mention are Nimal Jayaratne, Chris Thomas, Sarath Weerasinghe, Gamini Adikari & Varan Karunakaran.
Mano also has to be complimented for his painstaking work on the Rogues Gallery. He had tracked down many of the long lost batchas over several months to extract the information. The souvenir and the memento presented to us to mark the occasion will keep our memories a fresh for a long time.
Day 3, there was plenty of sightseeing for the tourists. The Digampathana Wildlife Park did not disappoint us for long when a large herd of Aliyas greeted us. In Trinco, the Naval Museum, the war remnants and the boat ride were quite absorbing. The trip was not complete on Day 4 until a dip in the famous Pasikuda Beach.
Among the long lost batchas (absent from all previous GTGs) discovered were Ganga, Britto, Nimal Perera, Mervyn, Paski, Sivapalan, Nihal F, Vandebona, A W Gunesekera (Chema) and Susantha. In fact for Arul Britto, this was his first visit to Sri Lanka after he left the shores to Cambridge after graduation. Arul’s transformation is phenomenal. He no longer is the quiet, bespectacled thin tall fair groupmate I had. He is now quite extrovert, red in colour and his demeanour is more of an Englishman. A street vendor near the Trinco Kovil was shocked when the ‘Englishman’ spoke to him in Tamil. Sivapalan was another person who has not seen the motherland for 26 years and the GTG gave him and a few others a good reason to visit Sri Lanka after many years.
An advantage of a GTG in Sri Lanka was that many who did not come on Tour could still join us at various stops. At the EFac, the Suise and upto Habarana we caught up with many others. Ranil, Vajira Nagoda, Kumarasena, Hettiarachie, Godaliadda & Ratta were among them.
It was nice to see Yasomali brimming with smile having recovered well from her nasty gas cylinder accident. Padma De Silva (nee Jayawardane) and Ganga have hardly changed. With Nelum’s presence at Kandy, it was a remarkable representation of girls of the batch.
Although there were early planning hiccups, being unable to fix a date, the execution on ground was meticulous. Hardly anything fell foul of the program. The only excitements I can recall are when we abandoned our tour guide Herba on the road and took off the bus on the way to the Trinco Lunch. Another moment of panic was NAK’s wife Amara briefly losing her purse while shopping for grandkids at the Chaya.
Herbert was all in one – the organiser, the group leader, the tour guide, the story teller and the ‘card’ captain. But, there was a tender hand that nudged him throughout, almost unnoticed by others. That was Neela, his lovely wife to whom the Group is very grateful. We also need to acknowledge the Colombo Group that supported Herbert in numerous ways, unknown to us. Immediately coming out of a difficult health patch, Ananda Senarath’s contribution has been marvellous.
It must be stated that the organisers did achieve one of their prime goals. They were determined our batch makes the highest ever donation to the Faculty from a single batch. They achieved this with style – a walloping Rs2.5m cheque and a promise of further pledged donations to top the Rs 3m mark. It was a great effort by all, especially from the organising committee, which collected around half a million Rupees from external corporate establishments. Some of batchmates (participating or not) had apparently contributed larger chunks, significantly boosting the total tally. The blow to our wallets was cushioned by the seemingly large discounts the organisers have arranged for us from the big hotels.
Another person who deserves special praise is Susantha for the priceless collection of videos he distributed free to the batchas. He’s taken quite a risk for our sake, carrying a commercial quantity of professional music videos through the Customs.
Also deserving acknowledgment is the ‘spiritual closure’ organised by Tamara Nambuwasam along with Jayathilaka at the Radio Ceylon a few days after the event to commemorate the 19 batchmates who departed us.
On the last tour night at Chaya Blu, the traditional baton (this time in the form of a paper roll) was handed to Preethi Jayasundera on behalf of the Victorian batch mates. Recalling the 2nd great Australian Reunion they posted in Grampians, our Victorian group will not disappoint in 2017. All non Aussies should seriously consider planning now itself to attend it. Even better news is the unanimous decision to hold the Silver Jubilee Celebration once again in Sri Lanka – this time counting the years from entry to EFac rather than the year of exit. This means, all those surviving and able-bodied must attend the event, which would be around December 2020.
Sam Fernando’s input to this article and more so his close involvement with the entire GTG, without which the event may not have materialised are gratefully acknowledged.