Short stories, Travel and Health Information
-Title of a popular song by Jim Reeves
Rummaging through a cupboard at home the other day I found my old rugby jersey – and it brought back a flood of memories about my old pal Butcher.
How Harsha Ratnasuriya came to be called Butcher was a matter of much speculation during the days of our youth. When asked (especially by young ladies) how he came to be called Butcher, he used to say that he had once scored a century in an inter-house cricket match when he was in the lower school at S. Thomas’ College. The fact that the famous West Indian player Basil Butcher had scored a century in a test match the week before had prompted someone to say that Harsha had batted like Basil Butcher – and the nickname stuck.
Or so Butcher would have us believe.
There were some who claimed that he got the nickname because he had played the role of The Butcher in one of those school plays that music teachers were fond of producing in our primary school days. Another story was that the English teacher, having carefully taught us how to write a précis, took one look at the précis Harsha had written and exclaimed “Harsha, you have butchered this!”
Whatever its origins, the nickname stuck – and nobody except Harsha’s mother called him Harsha. Everyone else called him Butcher – or (if they were particularly close friends) just plain “Butch”.
Being blessed with a good brain, reasonably conscientious work habits and neatly legible handwriting, in due course he qualified to enter the Colombo University – and despite the obvious disqualification of his nickname, he decided to study medicine.
Now Butcher was not one to cram from his textbooks any more than was necessary. He spent a lot of his time taking part in varsity sports, playing rugger and tennis and even water-polo. He made friends with non-medical undergraduates and folk outside the university. He acquired knowledge of books as well as of men, he acquired friends in the world as well as the underworld, he acquired learning in the University of Colombo as well as in the University of Life.
In short, he supplemented his basic medical knowledge by learning about people and about life – which I firmly believe has more to do with being a good doctor than mere rote learning from text books.
The incident I shall always remember about Butcher happened in 1970 (the centenary year of the Colombo Medical College) when we organised the first Law-Medical rugger match. While the annual Law-Medical cricket match (when the Colombo Medical faculty played a game against the Colombo Law College) had been a hallowed tradition for many years, those of us who were not much good at cricket felt that the time was ripe to start a new tradition. Thanks to the fact that we had some good pals among the law students at the time, it was an easy matter to organise a game – and with all the fuss going on with the centenary, it was equally easy to get the blessings of the powers-that-were. Butcher, being at the time the captain of the University rugger team became by consensus the captain of the Medical College rugger team.
One morning, about a fortnight before the day scheduled for the match, my friend and team-mate, Sunanda Jayaratne, met Butcher and me in the common room and told us that he had heard that a certain legal luminary had generously gifted the Law College team a set of brand new red/black jerseys to wear for the game. Not wanting to be outdone, he suggested that we medicos try to get a similar donation.
“Let’s go and ask Dr Anthonis” said Butcher after a bit of thought, “he is someone who has always been generous and helpful to us medical students.”
So it was decided that the next morning we would make a visit to the good surgeon’s house to make our request.
The following day, a delegation comprising Butcher, Gamini Goonetilleke, Jayaratne and myself cycled to Dr Anthonis’ house. Soon we were shown into the presence of the great man.
“Sir” began Butcher, scratching the back of his head as he was wont to do, and coming straight to the point without beating about the bush, “we are playing the inaugural Law Medical rugger match next week and we wanted to ask you if you would like to donate the jerseys for our team. We want to get white jerseys with the skull and crossbones crest.”
“I shay, you medical shtudents are a nuishance” lisped Dr Anthonis with a twinkle in his eye. He reached for the telephone and dialled one of Colombo’s well known sports-goods shops.
“I shay Chawla, Dr Anthonis here. I have shome medical shtudents here who need a shet of rugger jersheys. Will you give them the jersheys and put them on my account?”
He covered the mouthpiece and turned to the four of us standing in front of his desk. “How many players are there in a rugger team, I shay?”
I was about to say “Fifteen” when I felt Butcher stepping hard on my toe.
“Sixteen, sir” he stated confidently.
Dr Anthonis gave Mr Chawla our names, saying “Chawla, give them shickshteen jerseys. They will come to collect them thish afternoon”.
We thanked Dr Anthonis for his generosity and left.
As we wheeled our bicycles on to Dharmapala Mawatha, I turned accusingly to Butcher and asked “Why did you tell him that a rugger team had sixteen players?”
Butcher stopped wheeling his bike.
“Every member of the team will get a jersey” he grinned “but tradition demands that the captain should have an extra jersey for himself!”
I wouldn’t be surprised if Butcher’s tradition still continues at the Colombo Medical College.
If you liked reading this story, more such stories can be found in my book Tales From my Island – available as an e-book from Amazon.com