Short stories, Travel and Health Information
Tuesday, 17th January – it was my first day at school.
A 60-strong group of seven-year -olds were gathered in the school’s old dining hall, each of us having come with a parent or guardian, ready to be admitted to the primary class of that ancient school. As our names (surnames with initials, not first names!) were called out, we hesitantly let go of our parent’s hand and bravely walked over to the wooden benches where a prefect guided us to our allotted seats.
Once the boys were all seated, we were given a talk by an old man in a white cassock with a very nasal voice – who I learned later was Canon R.S.de Saram, the legendary Warden of the school. I cannot remember more details, except that we were then lined up in twos and marched off to commence our school career.
We new boys, in blue shorts and white shirts, were taken to our classrooms that had a clear view across the large playing fields to the blue waters of the Indian Ocean. There was no restraining parapet wall in those days – one could just walk across the playing field and the railway line to the beach and the sea (although this was of course strictly out of bounds).
I remember my first class teacher – a kind soul called Mrs Joy Jacob who looked after Class 1B, while Class 1A had the equally gentle Mrs Karunaratne as their class teacher.
Anyway, as we slowly began to interact with our new classmates, little did we realize that among these fresh faced schoolboys were chaps who would one day adorn the foreign service, the armed services, the learned professions and the business world. One of my classmates would even go on some 50 years later to become the principal of our school, ably filling the large shoes of Canon de Saram!
But all this was in the future.
What mattered on that first day of school was getting to know and to make friends with our new classmates.
One of the boys I became friends with on that first day was a chap who went by the name of Sunil Tilak Cohomban Wickrema Jayasekera. He had an impish face that was ever ready to break out in a smile.
As school ended for the day, I walked out of the classroom with Sunil – he to wait for his big brother who would take him home by bus and me to wait for the van that was entrusted with collecting me and a few other boys from our neighbourhood to take us home.
As we passed one of the many ice cream vendors standing beside their bicycles at the school gate, Sunil suddenly turned to me and said “Shall we have an ice cream?” Rather sadly, I told him that I did not have any money – to which, undeterred, he replied, “Than I will stand you. I have ten cents.”
In those days, an ice cream cone cost ten cents – but for five cents, the vendor would give you a wafer with a dollop of ice cream on it. So my new friend took out his ten cents, confidently gave it to the vendor saying, “Two wafers, please – one for me and one for my friend.” He then gave me one while he had the other.
When I went home that evening and narrated this story to my father, he pondered for a minute. “Cohomban Wickrema Jayasekera. Hmm, that must be my classmate Aelian Cohomban Wickrema Jayasekera’s son. When you go tomorrow, ask this new friend of yours if his father’s name is Aelian”.
Dutifully I accosted Sunil the next morning and asked him “Is your father’s name Aelian?”
Surprised, he said “Yes – but how do you know?”
I told him that my father had told me that he and Aelian had been classmates – to which Sunil promptly replied, “Then if your father and my father were classmates, you and I are Class Brothers!”
So Class Brothers we became – and remained – until Sunil passed away last year.
On the last occasion I saw him at his home in Albert Place, we sat and chatted – about schooldays, schoolmates, schoolteachers and much else beside – while Sunil smoked his way through a packet of cigarettes. It was a habit Sunil had picked up in his schooldays and could never give up. Although I abhor cigarette smoke, I unquestioningly tolerated the smoky atmosphere because it allowed me to enjoy the company of my friend.
As Alexander McCall Smith once wrote, “You can go through life and make new friends every year –every month practically –but there is never any substitute for those friendships of childhood that survive into adult years.”
This is especially true of those friends who happen to be your Class Brothers
The name Cohomban or Kohomban is Used as a surname in Galle. There is an area called Kohomban-watta near Hapugala, Galle.
There was a Pastor Kohomban, one of the first Ceylonese Evangelical Pastors, and Colton Wickramaratne’s contemporary, both from Hapugala, Galle. I think his son is Christy Kohomban is also a pastor.
ssbarrkum, you are right, The name is Cohomban (also spelled Kohomban). Thank you for your comment.