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17th May 1998

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Postcard from abroad

Tennis at the Tamil anyone?

By William C. Dawson, Jr.

At 5 p.m. on Saturday afternoon, as the tropi- cal sun begins to soften and gentle sea breezes ruffle the palm fronds, tennis players in their whites wend their way by car and scooter to Colombo’s Tamil Union Cricket and Athletic Club for their weekly ritual of tennis doubles. The air is soon filled with tennis balls and rent with cries of “bad luck” and “ shot,” “ shorthand for “ good shot.” After two or three sets, players towel down, change shirts and repair to the cricket pitch, where, under a canopy of stars and fading pink clouds, they drink and munch on “ short eats” surrounded by mosquito coils lit and set in place by waiters.

“Today was bloody humid, no?” says one player. Others discuss the strengths and weaknesses of leading cricketers from Australia to Zimbabwe. Still others recount the travels and scandals in the lives of former school chums and university fellows. In Sri Lanka in 1997 there are few family secrets. Founded in 1899, the Tamil Union at one time boasted the most celebrated cricket stadium on the island. Colombo’s July 1983 anti-Tamil riots - triggered when Tamil guerrillas killed 13 soldiers from the country’s dominant Sinhalese ethnic group - rapped at the gates of the club and Sinhalese vandals ransacked the premises.

After the riots, uneasiness, especially among Tamils, led to fewer families visiting, the bridge and billiard regulars also stopped coming. Now, on some Saturday nights only the tennis regulars, attended by a gaggle of stewards, show up at the club. Even the formidable Tamil Union cricket teams don’t attract the crowds their predecessors drew during their glory years. The British novelist Evelyn Waugh dreamed of spending his winter holidays at an English seaside hotel reading Edwardian novels. I dream of spending my winter holidays at the Tamil Union Cricket and Athletic Club playing tennis and waiting for a familiar voice to ask, “Today was bloody humid, No?” - Foreign Service Journal

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