(Pics by Rasika Kotudurage)

A group of old Royalists met on May 8 at the Cinnamon Lakeside.  It is not uncommon for past pupils of a particular school to meet up once a year.  These reunions are always special.  This particular gathering had an additional significance.  The batch concerned, the Group of ’83, turn fifty this year.  Some already have and others will during the course of the year, to be more accurate.  They were all born in the year 1965.  They did their O/Ls in 1980 and their A/Ls in 1983, hence the name of the group.  So they came from near and far to recollect their schooldays, update one another about the journeys they’ve undertaken since leaving school and celebrate.

The boys who sat for the A/L in the year 1983 are no longer young.  They are well established in their chosen field.   There were successful business personalities, professionals and academics.  There were those who had deliberately chosen different lifestyles, ways of being where wealth was not measured in monetary terms.  And there were even those who had chosen to walk towards more spiritual destinations.  They weren’t young and they didn’t look young either.  But somehow it was youthfulness that was most apparent.   But they were all Royalists.

They were all Royalists and many of them were with their life partners.  And it was as though they were all in a wonderful ocean of delight, splashing round as though they were all, yes, school children!  Schooldays are special.  Some of those memories are indelible, whether you live in a mansion far across the seas or in a humble home in a suburb or village.  There were people who hadn’t seen in each other in more than three decades.

A moment was all that was necessary to awaken memory and refresh friendships.  They hugged each other and recalled old times.  The broke out into laughter remembering crazy things they had done.  No one shushed them to silence.  There were no teachers or prefects to discipline and punish.  They did what they wanted, as they liked.

It was a collective effort that brought together close to 200 members of that class that night.  Four individuals however bore the brunt of organizing the event.  Sanjiv Gunasekara and Indunil Samarasinghe are businessmen who live in Los Angeles.

Prashanth Wijedasa is based in New York.  Amesh Perera (Supreme Flora) handled things at the Sri Lankan end.  Sanjiva explained how it all happened.

‘We meet once a year and have been doing so for more than 30 years.  This year we wanted to do something special since we all turn 50.  As we grow old we realize even more acutely than before that money doesn’t deliver everything.  We need to be happy, we need the support of friends and family.  Those of us who live abroad actually live very solitary lives.  All the more reason to renew friendships, remember old times and just enjoy life in the carefree ways we did as schoolboys.   Although it is not practical to meet people every day, one special day where we all come together and enjoy each other’s company is important, we thought.   Then, as the end draws near, we will have happy things to remember and will feel that our lives were lived well.  We would recognize our humanity and the humanity of our friends and we would all feel good. That was what we thought.

‘So Prashanth, Indunil and I talked about it.  This was about a month and a half ago.  We spoke to our friends in Sri Lanka and they were very enthusiastic about the idea.   Then things started to happen.  People undertook to attend to specific tasks.  A lot of money, time and energy went into this event.  We know very well that life doesn’t serve everyone equally.  This didn’t bother us.  We wanted to bring our friends together, regardless of who they are, what they do, what kinds of wealth they have, what kinds of poverties plague them.  We made every effort to bring as many people as possible to the Cinnamon Lakeside.  And we succeeded in getting probably the highest turnout to such an event in more than 30 years.’

Prashanth Wijedasa echoed Sanjiva’s sentiments.‘We are all very busy people, regardless of our profession.  So we had to expend a lot of energy to get this thing done.  Back in the USA we can’t take off from work as and when we want.  But we were in one mind.  We would somehow organize the best ever get-together of the Group of 83, we decided.  I am overjoyed.  I met people I hadn’t seen since we left school.  This was so special, therefore.’

Amesh was the hands-on man here in Sri Lanka.  He had to attend to countless things.  Some of the tasks might seem small or trivial but each and every thing that had to be done took time and energy.  He was equal to the task, according to his co-organizers.

‘I didn’t do it all by myself.  There was a bunch of us here in Sri Lanka.  We worked together, day and night to locate and invite all our batchmates from Royal as well as their families.  Most came with their wives.  Some came with their children.  This was special for that reason too.’

There were men dancing with their wives.  There were fathers dancing with their daughters.   There were men who were prancing around the dance floor like they were schoolboys.  There were special performances and there were speeches.  There was even a souvenir recounting ‘the good old days’ which included a directory of the Group’s members.

At fifty, they were all of a sudden 18.  But sharp at midnight they cut a beautifully decorated cake, pledging to themselves and each other that friendship will last and grow stronger with time.  In fact the ‘overseas group’ of the Class pledged to give Rs 1 million provided that matching funds are pledged by their batchmates in Sri Lanka.  Within an hour or so the money was pledged.  This fund, to be managed by a trust and audited by Asiri Gunasekara, would be used to help those in need, it was decided.  It was not all fun and games.  There was also maturity and wisdom.

Time flies.  Distances collapse.  Boys will be boys.  Boys will also be men.  It was a special night.  Yes, they all turned 50 in style.

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