Colombo North, the gateway to the metropolitan city, was a sprawling electorate and home to a multi-religious and diverse ethnic population. In this scenario, Kotahena was literally a haven, where the teeming populace lived in harmony sans barriers of caste or creed. The residents were well catered for in the spheres of education, religious worship and amenities that made life a rewarding experience.
In the realm of education, St. Benedict’s College and Good Shepherd Convent, two of the country’s premier institutions, nestled in the tranquil shadows of St. Lucia’s Cathedral, the magnificent edifice towering the landscape. In addition there were schools run by other religious groups which catered to the needs of adherents of their own faiths.
Life in the good old days was hassle – free and community oriented in tandem with clear guidelines based on sound moral values, a heritage to be verily proud of
The township of Kotahena had its other landmarks too-the Buddhist temples, the Hindu kovils, and the Mosques were all steeped in history and added to the religious fervour that was always evident in the day-to-day existence of the citizens. The Cathedral Church (Gal Palliya) the original home of St. Thomas’ College and the spacious Port Commission grounds were veritable landmarks one could not overlook. The grounds were ‘home’ to many seafarers who hopped in to loosen their limbs in a game of soccer after a long stint on the high seas. In this milieu stands the Shrine of St. Anthony, universally acclaimed as the “Wonder Worker”. The celebration of the Feast on June 13 each year witnessed one of the most solemn gatherings in Colombo with over a lakh of devotees converging on the Shrine, skirting the Colombo harbour, to pray in unison irrespective of caste or creed- a tribute to the common bonds that simple religious fervour can forge.
Whilst wandering in the labyrinth of my recollections, the Fishtails Aquatic Club in Mutwal beckons my attention. It was the era when the brothers Geoff and Boris Marks representing the Club dominated the Swimming Nationals and the legendary 2-mile swim for several years. In the field of soccer, widely popular, the annual Benedictine/Josephian ‘Blue Riband’ encounter had a lustre all its own, with a proud history behind it. The mercurial Albert Fernando strode the soccer arena like a colossus, ever since he captained the invincible Benedictine team in 1947.
In the realm of Journalism, Quintus Delilkhan (aptly referred to as the GK Chesterton of Ceylon), Clarence Fernando, Felix Goonewardene, I.V. Ferdinandusz, Premnath J. Moraes and Felician Fernando illumined the profession with their individual brilliance and were the pride of Kotahena. Our township was also “home” to Music maestro Gerry Crake and that unforgettable simpleton Wally Bastians who pioneered the ‘Baila’ a perennial favourite wherever Sri Lankans gather in the social milieu. Life in the good old days was hassle-free and community oriented in tandem with clear guidelines based on sound moral values, a heritage to be verily proud of.
Perhaps, in a moment of quietude, I may echo the words of the poet WS Senior-
“My heart you will break with longing For it can never be good-bye”