It’s that time of the year again. You can hear music in the air and there is excitement, laughter and merriment in every corner of the island. Garlands of bright colours hang from windows. You can hear seasonal cheer erupting even in the midst of traffic and chaos. Smiling cherubic faces beam in awe at the daring young men sporting seasonal colours with pride. Streamers and the odd bull horn pops out from the most unexpected places. Has Christmas come early you ask? Well, the bulging tummies of the ‘old boys’ might be reminiscent of father Christmas, but there is a long way to go for the season of joy. What Sri Lanka is experiencing is the season of big matches! The annual cricketing encounters between most major boys' schools in the island.
It all starts as soon as the new year cheer fades off and the heart is yearning for new excitement. January passes without much ado. Then dawns February and boys young and old start to whisper among themselves, holding secret meetings and giving those knowing looks. Before too long it is time to pull out those old school ties and dust off college paraphernalia collected over the years and get ready for the season of big matches. Each year, come the first quarter of the school year grown men become boisterous teenagers, get into arguments and fistfights, abandon their careers and pretend they can still fit into their school blazers. The otherwise mundane morning school run is set ablaze with a multitude of colourful flags and other school regalia. Schoolboys of varying ages poke their heads out of moving school vans and precariously hanging off their respective school buses and wave school colours and sing and shout all in the name of their alma mater.
These annual school matches held between different schools have become an institution in itself. These are proud traditions that the male species of these schools carry forward with pride and pomp. The big matches are an integral part of modern Sri Lankan school culture, even though some of these ‘Battles’ have been fought between certain schools for well over a century. The battle of the blues between Royal College and S. Thomas’ College (The Roy-Tho), the battle of the Maroons between Ananda College and Nalanda College, the battle of the saints between St. Peter's College and St. Joseph’s college, battle of the brothers between Thurstan College and Isipathana College and the recent entrant, the battle of the golds between D.S Senanayake College and Mahanama College are some of the notable battles raging in and around Colombo. Before the actual battles take place there are vehicle parades, cycle parades and walks and whatnots inconveniencing the sundry of all walks of life. There will be hat collections and stories of fearless young men paying uninvited visits to girl's schools. There is the odd brawl or an argument gone too far. But the non-stop baila music played by calypso bands drown out all the cons you have been stacking in your head like building blocks. Before you know it, you too are unconsciously swaying your hips and tapping your toes while the building blocks in your head slowly lose their balance and come crashing down.
Although these battles are fought by the menfolk throughout the major cities of this tiny island, it is us moms and wives who bear the brunt of the injuries while they get ready for the big day. And boy do they get ready! The men in our lives become hormonal teenagers again. Those of us who are married to these man-children must make exceptions. We reluctantly excuse them from responsibilities such as attending family gatherings to helping around the house. Things are broken and that needs fixing around the house are left untouched, gardens go unattended and pets are left feeling blue. Just when you think you’ve had it, you get sweet talked into joining the circus as well. You get roped into attending vehicle parades, helping out with decorations and manning food stations. Although the moms and wives don’t like to admit it and show their annoyance at the whole exercise at every opportunity they get, they secretly look forward to it too. They primp and prune. They get their matching outfits ready, learn the cheers and practice the moves. They fight amongst their peers just as fiercely, rooting for their adopted school team. They transition from gossiping about who wore what into arguing about match strategies as the heat turns up.
And then there is one faction of the society who have nothing to do with these battles. Those who are associated with schools which don't play big matches to be precise. They fuss and fume and use colourful language and wait for the madness to end. And who can blame them? The big matches as of late have become another opportunity of boys from these affluent institutions to misbehave and abuse the liberties handed over to them. They have resorted to alcohol and other forms of intoxicant usage, breaking and entering and damaging property. But through it all, I hold on to hope. Hope that it is only a small percentage of boys who resort to hooliganism. Hope that these prestigious colleges can reign their young men in and inculcate in them the value of sportsmanship. And hope they hold all their parades on weekends at 4 am when I am fast asleep!. Until then you know what they say, there are two types of people in the world. So regardless which camp you have staked your bets in these chaotic battles or whether you need to stake a bet at all we can all just let loose and try to understand what it is like to be a part of this age-old tradition of the big matches and cut some slack and go with the flow. Yes, even when you are stuck in traffic under a merciless sun at high noon.