19 February 2011

Prince William from Pollonnaruwa

It was the first day at school and by 7 o clock the front yard of the grade 6 block was buzzing  with parents.
However, this was not wholly the usual flock , who would park their vehicles under the majestic Maara tress and  walk to the school ( College as they call it. ). 

It was the day that the scholarship recipients were coming to school , and this was a different kind of a crowd.
 These were people who have  come most of their journey by public transportation. These were people who’d  got down from Thunmulla junction and hired  a Three wheeler to bring their son, (who has more or less won a kingdom for them ), to the school gates  . Because first impressions count.

While they gathered in the school yard, the humble three wheelers were  parked in between the row of Prado’s and Audis ,  on this side of the tea house where a myna bird in a cage hung low by the entrance, like commas in a string of words punctuating what matters

That was the first day I saw him . His name…..That  I would hold to be stated later, lest dramatic effect in the flow get’s lost.

In appearance he was like any others eleven year old , clean white suit , side parted hair. Another  lad who has got through the year 5 scholarship exam and was  selected to go to the best college in the country (arguably), far away from his village .

His father , in his white national dress, strolled around  marveling the sights and sounds of this esteemed institution that his son would study from that day onwards. The village lad would study here and come out someone who mattered in the land.
His eyes were fixed on the ancient Ehala tree giants who had spread over their branches , the  usual saffron flora rash , common to that season. Lest he meet the glances of the gentlemen with their loosened silk nooses  and sunglasses on their foreheads .
He did not want to face an awkward situation of a conversation. What could he talk about . He did not want to humiliate his son.

Inside the class room the teacher was marking the attendance.
Prince William Sooriyabandara”  she called out the name

The boy stood up “ Present Madam” .

The laughter has spread from the front row to a few rows behind ,  by the time the kind hearted  teacher asked
“Oya lamayata  wena namak nathda” (Do you have another name)

“ I am  Prince William Sooriyabandara from Polonnaruwa, and madam I can not speak Sinhalese “ the boy answered in proper queen’s lingo .

Here was a son of a school teacher from a small school at the edge of the Pollonaruwa district. Keeping with his father’s dream from his younger days being coached for years  to pass this one exam and enter the big college in the city.
 Father being an English teacher, that was the language the boy was encouraged, tutored and forced to speak in. The mother,  although a teacher herself,  spoke very little to the boy in her broken English , so not to spoil the sons progress and feel out of place when he attends the big school, so we learnt later.

That is how Prince came to be our acquaintance.

A Boy’s response . A Father’s pride. Blooming Esala trees.

It has been about 4 years since our first meeting and we were at Prince’s father’s funeral. 

 The coffin was kept in the middle of the small hall .  The bare brick walls, hoping to be one day covered in white plaster,  told the story of a school master’s meager wage.

 A small girl served us plain tea in water tumblers. Her cheeks were blushed pink, she kept her eyes turned to the ground . Her friends were giggling in the background at their friend’s plight. Boys of a certain age notice and remember these things.

Our friend’s mother rushed out in a white Saree , so evidently  wrapped around in a hurry.

In her hands were two bottles filled with luminous colored liquid, bottled by the good folks at the Elephant House.

Ane mama meka aran thiyagenamay hitiye , Handiye kaden ,  . Me daruwanta oya kahata puruduyay?
( I bought this in advance from the boutique in the town, don’t think you boys are used to plain tea)

We did not go to explain about the quality of plain tea in the school canteen or how one packet of rice is shared among six people . That wasn’t the moment for modesty.

We knew , at that moment, in this humble funeral home , we were the proof of  the school master’s dream coming true.  That his efforts were not in wane.

The boy who spoke no Sinhalese has conquered his kingdom impossible and returned with his friends from the college in the city.

We just played the part. The guests of honour at the funeral.


After a while, I  lost track of Prince. For what I know , he too like many of us,  would have lived the life of a price horse , won the race. and waned . Was it too soon? Who are we to judge .

Then I ran in to him one day at a big match, at P Sara Stadium , the year  I think was 1997.

The big match. Those 3 days , distinguished men from all walks of life , from presidents to  humble university undergrads , from the who’s who of the private sector to the young who have just joined the fray , acted like old boys .
Got drunk to the brim for 3 days and acted silly , all in the name of  a fraternity of sorts.

I digress , anyway there he was in one of the stands, waving a flag of three colour strips, leading a choir of like minds  singing the infamous songs about the Thambi  and his daughter,  and the one about the cause of death his Lansi  neighbor.

Side parted hair. White shorts.
 “ Prince William Sooriyabandara from Pollonaruwa  who did not speak Sinahalese” . 
Not bad .

Venue :Sarasvathi Bawan (a Dosai serving restaurant ) in Wellawatte
Time: 10 am Tuesday

There he sits , dressed in a short sleeved shirt and a  blue tie ,having a cup of plain tea .

“Prince” I call out  to him.

“ah machan , kohomada? (how are you). “ pleasantries reciprocated, he take a long look at me .

“After about 10 years Machan “ he sighs

“Yes” I can not think of anything else to  say. Silence flows gently under the bridge

He gets up
“Love to chat up Machan, but  mata thawa three places cover karanna thiyenawa , I need to go” , ( I  need to cover three more places )
"Let's meet up sometime"  He hands me a business card , that reads Sales manager
“call me after five machan , and ask for Suri”
“Campus yanna bari unanae .  Hondha welawata college eke namay , ara poddak Kaduwa puluwan nisay me job eka hamba une ”
He summarizes his life story . How he could not get in to the university but found a job in sales thanks to the name of the college and his ability to speak English and  gets in to the van with a smiling lady holding  a packet of washing powder , painted on the side.

A Sales manager.  Washing powder. A wiry body in a white national attire. Esala trees . 


  1. I love it !!! .. did it happen that way ? , where is William now?

  2. Thanks. Well he changed to "Suri" as time went by


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