At first, I admired Neil Chanmugam’s prowess as a cricketer at S. Thomas’, Mt. Lavinia. For as a Trinitian, I used to look forward to the annual cricket encounter between our two schools. Every other year the match was played on the grounds of the school by the sea. Although for St. Thomas’, their big match was the annual fixture with Royal, we at Trinity College, Kandy considered S. Thomas’ as our sister school. Of course, Trinity College was founded by the CMS and S. Thomas’ by the SPG.
The annual encounters comprised, Cricket on Friday and Saturday, Debate on Saturdays after the match, and, Worship at the Chapel. This third one enriched us, for we saw the richness of each other’s worship. This certainly helped me to enrich my life as an ordained. I, although a Trinitian, will always cherish these traditions of worship.
One Saturday morning, we were travelling to Mt. Lavinia for the game. The Saturday’s papers had the headline: ‘Roles bowls the Thomians out’. Perusing the details of the paper that if not for Arasaratanam dropping a vital catch, the Thomians would have been all out on Friday, we boys in the bus thought Arasaratanam, who began his schooling at S. Thomas’ and then moved to Trinity, had done this deliberately.
I also remember Nimal Maralande walking up the steps of the bus and thanking us for having come to watch the game and my classmate Sumanasekera nearly getting drowned in the Thomian pool.
Neil was an off spinner and I believe, began his 1st Eleven span under the dynamic leadership of Michael Tissera. He was a great bat and certainly a good fielder. I used to enjoy the elegant batting of Michael Tissera and his slow bowling. That team I believe had the likes of Michael Sproule and Errol Lisk, the wicket keeper batsman. After leaving S. Thomas’ Neil played for the Tamil Union. My late father-in-law used to tell me that Neil’s father had died on his lap.
Later on Neil moved to the SSC. I think this was because of his father-in-law Colonel F.C. de Saram. Neil, my brother-in-law Chandran Thiruchittamplan, and Chandran Ponnambalam, and we from Trinity, C.T. Perera, Gamini Ranasinghe and I entered the then University of Ceylon. Only I entered Peradeniya for I wanted to do political science. However, after attempting to enter the Engineering Faculty, Neil moved to study Accountancy in which profession he excelled well. He retired I believe, as the Head of Maharajah’s Accounts Department.
It was to Neil that I turned to whenever I had a difficult problem as the Dean of our Cathedral, as regards to our church accounts. I remember once Oosha telling me, “Father Sydney, the work that you have entrusted Neil has given him an excuse to gulp more glasses of whiskey”. Legend has the following to tell me: When Neil was asked to help the cathedral by the powers that were, Neil flatly refused stating, ‘The manner in which my good friend Sydney was treated by the cathedral makes me decline this invitation’.
At one of the dinners that I was pleased to have with Neil and Oosha, Neil told me, “Ada Sydney, move to Nuwara Eliya and have a good time there”. On one occasion, a certain preacher stated, “I see that there are a few people here who are in a sense, visitors”. At the end of the Service, the officiating clergy used to stay outside the vestry and greet the people. On that occasion, Neil while shaking hands with the preacher said, ‘Father, I am one of those’. Neil was a person who had an excellent sense of humour so much so that he could laugh at himself.
After having retired from cricket, Neil took to golf. On Sundays when I used to walk from Kithu Sevena to the Cathedral I used to see Neil going for his golf. After the Service at Fellowship Time, I used to tell Oosha that when I was coming to church, Neil was going for his golf. Oosha jokingly used to tell me, “Father Sydney, please don’t joke about that with Neil”.
However Neil had his own spirituality. For he and Oosha were always there at the Good Friday Service, and the family was certainly there on all festival days and at the annual Carol Service. I was in a sense their Chaplain. For it was I who did the ring ceremony when Anuk got engaged to Zal. I also did their wedding. It was I whom Neil turned to and invited to have dinner with the family to say a special prayer for Anuk before she left for the UK for surgery.
Neil’s second daughter works in New York. On one occasion, the two of us had a debate on gambling. She told me, “Father Sydney, I am only trying to help people so that they do not waste their money” and went on to say, “If the likes of you do your work, people will not be gambling”. Devin their only son, is the one that I turned to after a visit to Jaffna. As the Chairperson of the Jaffna Support Group, I was entrusted the task of getting a new computer for Jaffna. To Oosha and the family, very specially the son now in Hong Kong whose child Neil was not able to see and all kith and kin in this global village of ours, very specially his brother Dennis in the USA please remember that you can always count on me as Neil did.
May the soul of Neil rest in peace and rise in glory!