Those were the days when the bottle the people loved, had a label of a coconut tree and a sleeping tiger. D.S. Rajapaska a renowned ‘Samasamajist’, who like his veteran comrades, worshipped Trotsky and the bottle. No one ever thought of drinking illicit brews made in Scotland which were for sale at Cargills & Millers. [...]


Sunday Times 2

Bastille: Law students love prison for convent girls


Those were the days when the bottle the people loved, had a label of a coconut tree and a sleeping tiger. D.S. Rajapaska a renowned ‘Samasamajist’, who like his veteran comrades, worshipped Trotsky and the bottle. No one ever thought of drinking illicit brews made in Scotland which were for sale at Cargills & Millers.

Nothing like our own ‘Pol Arrack’, DS would say. It was a laissez faire society where everything, almost everything, was private and DS described the society as ‘private private; separate separate’, said Lal Perera. The only thing which did not belong to that class was coconut arrack which was shared among the comrades. D.S. Rajapakse, being a son of a lorry owner, had extra cash as a law student. He bought the arrack and before he could sip the second drink the others had gulped theirs and finished the bottle.

To this group of vaudevillian, fun-loving, nonchalant law students, who were considered a bloody headache to the serious minded others, of their ilk, belonged Long John (John Amaratunga), one of the leaders, and Siri Perera from Kalutara. Long John was tall and had long skinny legs. He and Siri Perera decided to get themselves boarded so that they could be away from their hard-nosed parents who were tough disciplinarians. A lame excuse was given that travel from Wattala and Kalutara interrupted their studies. The parents readily swallowed their tale and decided to cough out some money as boarding fees.
Both of them got boarded at Galpotta Street, Kotahena in an old building called ‘The Bastille’. Though it was a boarding, it was Wattala Long John and Kalutara Siri that ruled the roost at the Bastille. Lal Perera, Priya Jayawardena from Kegalle and D.S. Rajapakse from Tangalle, often stayed with them, ostensibly to set up cramming sessions. But, the real reason was the eats that followed the arrack. There was also a well known Girls Convent.

It was a common sight in the morning to see girls walking to the convent in immaculate white uniform. This was a sight the law students never missed. They didn’t care a damn whether they were present for the lectures on time. Seniors had shown that those who cram and pass the exams had never been successful lawyers. Those who did not attend lectures and did other things like spending their valuable time at the ‘Cut Table’ with Law College Fees, had become great lawyers. They had been told that one of the greatest criminal lawyers, Eardley Perera, never saw the inside of the lecture hall as he was a ‘Master’ at the ‘Cut Table’. Therefore, only a few girls and other gigolos attended the lectures. The word ‘proxy’ meant that when the attendance is called somebody shouts for another and marks his attendance. The lecturers knew very well that impersonation was an older tradition than the ‘Cut Table’ at the Law College and as they were part and parcel of the ‘free society’ of the 1960s and the ’50s, no one tried to become smart and mark absent for those who had been at the ‘Cut Table’ or elsewhere.

The Convent girls loved the antics and other lunatic, frisky behaviour of the inmates of the ‘Bastille’. Some of them waited anxiously till the school bell rang to run out of the school and walk very slowly past the ‘Bastille’. The inmates had various items that would interest the girls. Priya Jayawardena would dress in a saree and perform some vaudevillian act which made the whole street laugh.

The girls did make it a point to pick up the names and addresses on pieces of paper rolled like cigarettes, spread on the pavement, so that they could communicate with the law students. Some of the girls dreamt of getting married to a successful lawyer. The postman had special delivery to the ‘Bastille’ as there were hundreds of love letters written by girls to their would-be boyfriends. Lal and John had the time of their life reading them and laughing. Often, on the balcony, they would play various antics from the latest movies and ‘Long John’ always had to play the boys role due to his Himalayan height which dwarfed Lal and especially the shortest of them all, Siri Perera.

Unfortunately for the boys in the ‘Bastille’, the news spread, and the Mother Superior was informed of the antics of the inmates of the ‘Bastille’. Those days, there were no fun books or facebooks. No telephones capable of sending SMS. Everything had to be written. One of the girls had written a long letter declaring her true love to ‘Long John’. This girl was so short, she was the shortest among those girls who had fallen in love with ‘Long John’. She had tried to throw the letter to the balcony, when there was no one, and it had fallen on the ground and some old boutique owner, who detested these young ruffians, had seen this and taken the letter and shown it to the Mother Superior. Mother Superior called the girl and gave her a lambasting she would remember as long as she lived.

The important thing is that the girl did not commit suicide but, the parents took her to another school, wholeheartedly agreeing with the punishment meted out by the Mother Superior. Like today, the Mother Superior was not transferred. Mother Superior decided that this merriment and jokes must stop at once and she sent a Senior Sister to make a formal complaint to the police against the pranks and other acts of burlesque by these young law students.

The Long John, Lal & Co. were oblivious to the fact that the Convent had taken serious views of their innocent pranks. As usual, when the school bell rang at 03:30 in the evening, the boys got together for their daily act. Priya Jayawardena had come to stay with Long John, Kalutara Siri and the others at the ‘Bastille’ as they were studying seriously for the forthcoming intermediate examination. The OIC of the Kotahena Police summoned the most senior Sergeant and told him to arrest all the inmates of ‘Bastille’ and bring them to the Police Station. The ‘Bastille’ was an old dilapidated house. Lal, Priya, Long John, Siri, and D.S. Rajapaskse also had joined the bandwagon.

According to Lal, wherever D.S. Rajapakse went, a bottle of Pol Arrack followed him. One day, jokingly, Lal had said he had given up his obeisance to Lord Bacchus and had become a teetotaler and asked why, D.S. Rajapakse could not follow him, DS replied, “I say Lal, when Buddha said Don’t drink and when Prophet Mohammed said drink and go to hell, which all other religious leaders repeated, people are still drinking. If those great men could not stop people from drinking, and the masses did not listen to them, will I stop drinking just because a bloody fool like you tells me to stop drinking. One day you will know the value of my advice.”

(To be continued Next week)

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