Friends Forever 62 (FF62) – a group of men, who entered Royal College, Colombo in 1962 first held hands in the corridors, playgrounds and classrooms of Royal College and vowed never to let go of their friendships. Their third FF62 Reunion was held in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia in early October. Three years ago, I was [...]

The Sunday Times Sri Lanka

A Royal trip down memory lane

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Friends Forever 62 (FF62) – a group of men, who entered Royal College, Colombo in 1962 first held hands in the corridors, playgrounds and classrooms of Royal College and vowed never to let go of their friendships. Their third FF62 Reunion was held in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia in early October. Three years ago, I was against attending the first reunion in Toronto, citing boredom, age and indifference. This time however, I was glad to be asked and looked forward to seeing high spirited jollity turn men into boys. I wanted to meet the wives, partners and lovers of these men, since each of us had lost our hearts to this Royal breed all those years ago!

Reunited : The FF 62 ‘boys’ pose for a group photograph

Men metamorphosing into boys is a form of regression that is endearing to behold. Men bond very differently to women who carry a permanent, subconscious urge to compete in attire, appearance and accomplishments. Men however, see no need for such trivialities. Their agenda is to coalesce quickly and comfortably into an amorphous mass of affection and goodwill. As I gazed at the royal revelry, I worked out their secret. They were neither Tamil, Sinhalese, Chinese,Burgher, Muslim, Buddhist, Christian nor Hindu. There was no concern about ethnic markings, wealth, intelligence, success, fame or prominence of their childhood mates. What mattered most was their Royal identity, that made them who they were and what they had become. Their bond was the priceless reward for belonging to the Royal Class of 62, and the years spent together had marked them to the core of their being.

The first night of the reunion was the gala banquet at a hotel which carried the Royal name – the Park Royal Hotel! Everyone dressed smartly sporting college ties. While women forged new friendships, the men simply carried on with the conversations they had begun at school. After the welcome, the gathering stood to attention to remember classmates now on another shore, who cannot attend any reunion. A video was played showing the faces of these friends, no longer seen but held close in heart and mind.

The chief guests were the High Commissioner for Sri Lanka in Malaysia and his First Minister. Jollity and loud banter pervaded the proceedings with frequent interruptions from the floor. The President of the Group even teased men, who like him, had attended Form 5R (Returnees) having failed their GCE ‘O’ level at the first attempt. One of them was singled out for struggling to multiply 605 Malaysian Ringits by 2 which was the sum he owed the reunion organisers as his share. His calm, confident smile in response underlined the fact that boys who progressed from 5R, had gone on to successfully manage large private hospitals, tea plantations, industries and companies, proving that failures are the pillars of success.
A perceived shortfall in funding to cover expenses for the reunion required attention. In keeping with the traditions of investment banking compatriots, two FFs formulated a scheme, involving a form of securitisation – the underlying asset being a bottle of donated Scotch Whiskey. Raffle tickets were issued and sold to gullible investors present. The end result – RM 1k raised. The asset was also repossessed, courtesy of the raffle winner, and subsequently consumed discreetly! A master-class in financial wizardry!!

After dinner, the college song was sung with great passion, following which there was a Royal cake to be cut with distribution of gifts and exquisitely iced cup-cakes. A photographer and a band, ‘The Nightbirds’ arranged by a classmate, Dean Faculty of Medicine at Taylor’s University, struck the right note with songs we had all listened to on Radio Ceylon’s “Housewives’ Choice” and “Sunday Choice” programmes long ago. A FF wife – a one time, go-go dancer with The Jetliners – set the scene with her Tina Turner dance moves. Ignoring dodgy hearts, creaking joints and panting lungs others soon took to the floor. Nothing could stop their dancing now – the reunion had begun in earnest…

The following day saw us, driven in a luxury coach, through impressive streets with beautiful buildings and exuberant foliage. Our destination was the Restoran Rebung well known for Malay cuisine. Over lunch at the spacious venue, there was laughter as more stories were recounted. Hilarious anecdotes about how the FFs had been true to their motto ‘Disce Aut Discede’ which asked them to “Learn or Depart”. While what they learnt remained debatable, depart they certainly did, from time to time, some escaping from the back of classrooms, when the master turned his back.

That evening saw us at the picturesque surroundings of the prestigious TPC Golf Club in KL, for more fun and food. Soon we were listening to music that we once listened to dreaming about our futures, but now set us off dreaming about our pasts! Old familiar love song lyrics once directed at girl friends, were now used to serenade each other! There was thunderous applause when a duo – she from Australia and he from USA – occupied the floor alone for an exhibition dance par excellence! By the end of the evening bonding of us women was beginning to mirror those of our men. Their Royal road together had commenced in 1962, and had led them 54 years later to a plush Karaoke Lounge of a KL golf club!
The following morning, saw those of us who still had enough energy after the night before, proceeding by coach again, to the famous Batu caves. We breathlessly encouraged each other up, each of the 273 steps, to reach the top. We were accompanied, all the way by monkeys who nimbly ran up ahead. Once at the top of the cave, Hindu FFs entered the temple there, to receive blessings and holy ash on behalf of all.

For our farewell meal together we went to Bala’s Banana Leaf Restaurant. The chatter had still not faded, even though the end was nigh. The school song having been sung many times over was sung for one last time. The leaving, and goodbyes, got prolonged with hugs, kisses, handshakes, back slapping and some manly tears, at the pain of parting. One FF had travelled 25 hours from LA, for a 75 hour reunion and was about to embark on the return journey. He said he’d repeat it in a flash! Money, distance, time or travel did not seem to matter, if it was to spend time with people who gave you the best days of one’s life.

I grew up in a Royal household where three generations of males had attended that red and white brick building with its myriad windows in the heart of Colombo. As school girls, we watched Royal cricket matches, attended debates and sought Royal company. Years later we sought a Royal husband and now feel entitled to our Royal heritage! As I flew back, I reflected once more about the influence school friends have on our lives. These unique friendships demand nothing of us other than be ourselves. They disengage the ego and are devoid of judgment, censure, envy, hatred, suspicion, criticism or malice and are utterly altruistic.

As I listened to the Royal voices, that sang about the school of their fathers, I concluded that they had been true to their watch word and had “learnt of books and men and learnt to play the game”, no doubt making the founding fathers proud of the school they had created. As everyone headed off into the sunset, it was Jura who heaved a sigh and said – “most of us machan, had to leave school before we could really learn about women”!
Needless to say, we women by now were more than converts, to ‘all things Royal’ and would have happily signed up to the membership of the Right Royal class of 62!

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