Salad Days at St Benedict's College

Tuesday, June 27, 2006

The Dharba - Supplementary information

Eric Motha, West Coast Bens, Canada, writes to supplement the recollections of his buddy, Platypus, about the founders of the Dharba. He says....

"The starters (of the Dharba) were from Cochin, in Kerala. I am positive about this as my father was their lawyer and was 'in the know' about their background (this was in the 1940s and 1950s). It was my father who suggested the name Dharba"

Thursday, June 08, 2006

The Dharba

Charles Boyer is said to have whispered ‘Come with me to the Casbah’ in a deep and seductive voice to the beautiful Hedy Lamarr in a scene from the film Algiers.

A full 50 plus years ago, in the prime of the lives of my peers at school, ‘Come with me to the Dharba’ or more relevantly ‘Meet me at the Dharba’ was another ‘famous’ expression when we had some plan to hatch or scheme to carry out.

The Dharba was a Thambi (Muslim) wayside coffee/tea/string hoppers/rice and curry little eatery that stood strategically on the crest of the hill of Kotahena Street. It was ‘strategic’ from the viewpoint of us teenage schoolboy Romeos because the Dharba sat almost opposite the turn off to Wasala Road down which the entrance to Good Shepherd Convent was located.

Panting swains sitting inside the kiosk having a ‘plain tea’ and a ‘fag’ or standing in studious nonchalance outside the café, the would be Benedictine Romeos could spot or ‘cap’ their fancied “Juliets” wending their way to school and brazenly send out signals, winks, smiles and soulful glances at their heartthrobs as they wiggled by. There was no alternative - other than cutting through Ja Mudukkuwa coming up Kotahena Street - for the hapless blushing teenage maidens who had to use the Kotahena Street route to by-pass the Dharba as they walked to school.

Not infrequently, some Juliets had their individual ‘minders’ to accompany and shield them from the prowling lads. And not so infrequently too was it possible to observe adventurous and bold Romeos walk beside their responsive “Juliets” almost right up to the gates of the convent before they either discreetly dropped behind or accelerated and walked past their inamoratas.

One has to remember that in those virtually ‘Catholic Victorian’ days parents, supported by teachers, family friends and the pristine nuns who governed the roost, kept their eyes and ears open and noses to the ground in an ever vigilant mission to ensure that their daughters did not fall prey to ‘those rowdy, rascally, evil intended testosterone laden school boy Lotharios’ who they were certain had only one thought on their warped minds!

Was it not part of the Divine Plan then that at the end of every forty-five minute ‘period’ in class us Bens of that era had to stand up and cross ourselves when a little bell rang and our class teacher intoned ‘Let us remember that we are in the Holy Presence of God? ....Oh naïve wondrous, glorious days of our youth when it was NOT success that mattered but HOW you played the game!

Getting back to ‘The Dharba’, apart from it's importance as a strategic location and vantage point for romantic ventures, the little ‘hotel’ was the most affordable place for impecunious school lads to host and treat each other in mutual camaraderie. If one possessed a ‘legal’, as opposed to a ‘stolen’, parental allowance of even two or three rupees one could easily ‘stand’ a favoured friend a shared feast of string hoppers, meat curry and at least a ‘plain tea’ and ‘fag’ or cigarette each for around two rupees seventy-five cents at most.

If one had accepted creditworthiness or was possibly a ‘long-standing’ client of the management one could even ‘stand’ one’s treats on ‘tick’ or credit.

The Dharba ‘rocked’ on days just prior to school holidays or when the boys had completed their exams or ‘tests' and needed unwinding. It was full house or nothing - and it was noisy, raucous and buzzing with the exuberance of youth. The waiters were given a torrid time taking orders and in the confusion you could bet on it that a few bills were either undercharged or not billed at all. The boys only protested if their bills were in excess - don't you worry about that!

As was common to all wayside tea-boutiques, kiosks and little cafes, a long smouldering rope dangled outside the entrance to the Dharba. Its purpose was eminently useful for the beginner and seasoned smokers - to light up before and after their meals.

In those days ‘show-offs’ could purchase as few as two or three Peacocks, Three Roses, Four Aces or the more upmarket and more expensive Navy Cuts, Sportsman, Ardath and Du Maurier cigarettes, stick them in an empty packet parading their ‘style’ or more particularly their personal ‘wealth’ by displaying the pack prominently either held in the hand or conspicuously popping out of the shirt pocket.

I guess there are many other stories that you good Bens and Shepherdians out there can recall or contribute to on this ‘blog’ about your personal ‘involvements’ with The Dharba. So why not get on the ‘blog’ and send them in boys or girls who knew Kotahena?

My next chapter for the blog is a little history of Wasala Road and the other landmark kiosk or all-purpose kadé that stood at the corner of it's commencement, to wit - the ‘famous’ Velupillai's shop. I am not absolutely certain of it's veracity, but I am given to understand that one of the descendants of those friendly Indian Tamil ‘entrepreneurs’ has recently immigrated to sunny Melbourne - the frenzied capital of Victoria in the Land of Oz.

- The Platypus

Wednesday, May 17, 2006


17 May 2006

A member of the "Team", The Platypus (aka MG), has delved into his memory bank and retrieved some recollections of 'Ja-Mudukkuwa' in response to the enquiry by 'bultoe' about the origins of the name. Here it is:-

'Ja - Mudukkuwa' was the narrow little lane that was 'no-mans land' and ran between the walls of the Good Shepherd Convent and the backs of the houses of the residents of that 'famous' part of Kotahena. It was called Ja-Mudukkuwa by local residents and others who frequented this part of Kotahena because in years past the people who lived in the houses that backed on to the strip of land were predominantly of Malay ancestry; and the Sinhalese word for Malay was 'Ja' .

The lane was 'infamous' as the rendezvous for young school going lovers of varying orientations and also the arena where 'scores' were settled by fisticuffs between warring schoolboys both individually and in 'gangs'.

The `Mudukkuwa' was also the `escape' or secret route that truant schoolboys, and perhaps schoolgirls, took when they `cut' classes to scaraper to the cinema, another rendezvous or other secret assignation. It was also a place where an unsuspecting person was likely to get 'mugged' and relieved of their trinkets and possessions if they wandered alone through that deadly strip of no-man's land.

I was present at the 'Mudukkuwa' when Renton Batcho (he of the "Ballad of Welikada Gaol" fame) spectacularly knocked the daylights of one of his opponents and also when one of the Melder boys fought a great fight against two or three 'thugs'.

The Melder and the Batcho clans lived off Wasala Road, that other unforgettable access way which wound a path from its intersection with Kotahena Street at the top to it's tail that linked up with Pansala Road and it's right fork that slid down to meet Blomendahl Road.
- The Platypus

Tuesday, May 16, 2006

Fancy contributing your knowledge to Wikipedia?

16 May 2006

Following bultoe's comment about the origins of Ja Mudukuwa I went to Wikipedia to see whether anyone had already provided an answer to this question. Apologies to those in the 'know' but for the rest "Wikipdeia" is a free online encyclopaedia that anyone can contribute to and/or update.

Sadly nothing was available. So click on the 'link' to Wikipedia that has been provided in the right hand column and let the world benefit from your knowledge.

Anyway, here is the list of places waiting recognition in Wikipedia:

Night Life In Colombo, Fort, Galle Face Green, Slave Island or Kompannaveediya , Colpetty or Kollupitiya, Bambalapitiya, Havelock Town and Kirulapane South, Wellawatte, Pamankada and Kirulapane North, Cinnamon Gardens, Borella, Dematagoda, Maradana, Panchikawatte, Pettah, Hulftsdorp, Kotahena, Kochchikade, Grandpass, Mutwal, Modara, Mattakuliya, Madampitiya, etc.

The spellings are not mine and neither are any pronunciations based on them (because as George Abeydeera recently said "you knew a person was a Burgher in the old days if they referred to Maradana as 'Marandine'!).

Saturday, May 13, 2006

Old Bens UK

May 13 2006

I have received an email from someone who signs himself (I assume it is a male) MWijeya: he has asked for his email address to be withheld. It is a response to a comment by tyger. Here is tyger’s original comment followed by MWijeya’s response (with a little editing by me!).

tyger said...

Why are old bens in uk reluctant to join the old bens uk? come on chaps rally round the flag

MWijeya said….

Hey Kolla, who are you?

Is tyger LTTE? Is he in UK?

Tell him Old Bens UK is dead. Bring back Anton Olivelle and Melville Perera - I hope they are around.

Please don’t give my email to anyone

Tuesday, May 09, 2006

Report from Ontario, Canada

9 May 2006

Team member MM, in Australia, received the following report from Old Ben Johnny the Kid in Ontario, Canada.

My very dear dear Platypus alias Simple Simeon or Simon was it?

Anyway, that doesn't matter either way, my simple mind doesn't understand what these things called blogs are, but here’s some news about my most recent escapade.

I, or rather we, my youngest daughter and I, went for the Old Ben’s Dance on the 22nd of April which was held at the Holiday Inn in Scarborough, Ontario, Canada, with a Goanese Band with the moniker "Naked Flame" to swing things up for the night - which they really did.

We were at the table in the company of Mohan Fernandopulle and a few others whom we did not really know as they were either Old Bens who were senior to us or others who were junior to us and yet others who were not even a twinkle in someone’s imagination when we were at College. Anyway, we had a great time dancing our cares away for the night and inevitably I danced with quite a few attractive partners before the day was done or rather the night turned to day.

Blastoff was at 7 in the evening and the last Baila session ended at 2.30 in the morning when all good things came to an end and I was dropped off at home for a good nights sleep or rather a day’s sleep now that the ball bearings are a bit rusty at this day and age.

I enjoyed the waltzes and cha-chas the most before finally calling it a day.

All in all I had a really good time: since we're here today and gone tomorrow so why not make the best use of the present time.

Unfortunately, there are not very many Bens of my age group here. I did miss Isaac Wenaden and George Direcksz but all my other pals are in good old Blighty, down under in Kangyland or in God's keeping.

Anyway old pal how's the going? As for me I landed a desk job in my youngest daughter’s office way back in November last year and I am quite happy and coping. My greatest pride and pleasure is that I beat a few other guys years younger than me to land this job.

My next move is to plan a vacation to good old Sri Lanka maybe sometime in March next year and I’m trying to put away some money to save up for my ticket and spending money on the trip.

How have you been keeping you old hound dog? Learnt any new tricks? Beware of all these new adverts on "Viagra" because what goes up has invariably got to come down: these new miracle pills may kill the going up permanently and make it as dead as a "Dodo".

I hope you're healthy and happy my dearest buddy, all the best till I have the time to write next.

Wishing you and yours happiness always, love and God bless

Johnny the Kid

Thursday, April 27, 2006


Welcome to Salad Days at St Benedict's College, Sri Lanka.

This blog has been created at the request of a few "Old Bens" of whom Maxie Gerreyn, Jerry Paranahetty, Henry Solomon, Sydney Xavier and Dugald Gonsal were the prime movers.

The blog, like its supporters, has no rigidly defined boundaries (in terms of content!) and will concentrate on all matters "Benedictine", as the fancy takes contributors.

Do participate and let your hair down!

Religio, Mores, Cultura!