To Sir with love


Twenty-five years on, those who once worked with Bunty De Zoysa – some of us now at the zenith of our legal careers, some of us having changed course to follow different career paths – wish to say in chorus:

“But in my mind, memories of Bunty
will still live on and on.”

There was a difference in the eras we belonged to -- Bunty grew up in colonial British times, while most of his juniors were born in the post-Independence era. As a schoolboy Bunty drew inspiration from poets like Dryden, Keats, Pope, Kipling and Frost, while honing his talent for rhetoric and eloquence by reading Shakespeare and Oscar Wilde. Our era regarded the English language as the great “kaduwa”. Bunty’s mastery of the English language served him well in his professional capacity, earning the respect of fellow lawyers, judges and jury, while outside court he would entertain us with his wonderful way with words.

Bunty showed his loyalty as an “old boy” whenever the annual Royal-Thomian match came around. In fact, it was he who initiated the Mustangs Trophy – containing the ashes of a wicket from the 1975 match -- for the 50-overs Royal-Thomian match. When it was Big Match time, Bunty’s home would be like a camp, with old Royalists and old Thomians occupying the ground floor, while their son’s Thomian friends would take over the upstairs. On those days, Bunty’s home had a Camp David-like atmosphere! After the match, with throats hoarse from dust and booze, the rival school’s representatives would review the game, with heated arguments breaking out over captains’ decisions, etc. At the end of the day, however, it did not matter who had won.

“But how do you thank someone
Who has taken you from arrack to Royal Salute.
It isn’t easy, but we’ll try.”

Two of Bunty’s juniors, R.J. and Jayantha, would accompany Bunty on his outstation cases. During the day they were ready for battle in court, but at night both defence and prosecuting counsel, and sometimes even the judge, would accept Bunty’s invitation for a little bonhomie on the beach, if they were down south, or a night out at the Garden Club when in Kandy. Needless to say, next morning the battle between rival counsel would resume in court before an impartial judge. In Jaffna, where they appeared before the Sansoni Commission, Bunty had to turn down invitations to lunch and dinner from his colleagues, there were so many.

It was usual practice on a Saturday morning, after a few hours’ work, for Bunty to take his juniors on a round of the clubs. The Rowing Club and the CR & FC were some of his favourite watering holes. R.J. recalls how Bunty, on one occasion, after partaking of whatever the Intercontinental Hotel had to offer, insisted on driving all the way to the Reliance Café in Panadura to sample its highly publicised “bis-stek”.

Even from his hospital bed in London, Bunty would ring the Chambers and instruct his juniors to have their usual Saturday morning drink at the CR. Boss’s orders would be carried out sans Bunty, to the amazement of the barman Wilson.

When the time came to close the doors of Bunty De Zoysa’s Chambers, we felt lost. We had lost our mentor. However, we have wonderful memories of Bunty to keep us inspired, and for this we are deeply grateful.

“We know that all you wanted was our success, but we would rather give you our hearts.
To Sir with Love.”

By the Chambers

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