Shaw Wallace & Hedges Ltd [now defunct] the more than 100-year old multinational company was mainly engaged in the tea industry and trading. The writer joined this conglomerate in the late 1960s to work at their plush Kollupitiya head office where more than half the ‘top men’ were Brits who were on a phased programme of desertion to their homeland disgruntled over ‘adverse effects’ of the ‘56 transformation that followed Independence in 1948.
On March 30, the Daily Mirror reported that, ‘Sri Lanka and Singapore signed a Free Trade Agreement [FTA] on January 23, 2018. It said, “This is a comprehensive free trade agreement which covers goods, services, e-commerce, telecommunications, foreign direct investment, intellectual property and public procurement”. Minister Malik Samarawickrema, who is handling the matter denied the allegation that the Agreement was designed secretly without the knowledge of the Cabinet and that it was detrimental to our industry.
A spokesman for the anti-FTA movement said the Professionals National Front have filed FR cases in this regard. They were highly critical of the role of businessman Minister Malik played. It is not the intention of this article to discuss complicating intricacies or clarify the legal doctrines of FTAs or to analyse its pros and cons, which are beyond the ambit of this piece; but, to share some nostalgic memories of rugby and tea with Europeans and the controversial Minister’s talents as a young ruggerite in the good old days.
Tea and Rugby in Ceylon harks back to the glorious days of one and a half centuries ago. Shattock never used the short term ‘Rugby’ but always called the game Rugby Football
Wine and Dine over Tea and Rugby
‘Wine and dine over Tea and Rugby’ was the European planters motto since they introduced the Camellia sinensis plant and the elongated ellipsoidal ball in Colonial Ceylon in the glorious days of late 19th century since James Taylor, a Scotsman, planted it on Loolecondera Estate in 1867. The first rugger match between planters clubs, Dimbulla vs Dickoya was played at Radella in 1880. They dominated both the industry and the game up to mid 20th century, by which time they decided to bid good-bye to the former colony. Also, at the time I joined Shaw Wallace & Hedges the privileges that we enjoyed included; free mid-day meal, spacious club house within the five-acre premises with billiards and liquor bar, well equipped holiday bungalows in Kadugannawa, Nuwara-Eliya and Bentota, a fully paid two-week family holiday for each employee once a year travelling exclusively first class to and from holiday destination by train, free health services with an in-house medical officer and dispensary, free medicine, payment of hospital bills and study allowances were just a part of the long list. Absorption of children into the staff at the retirement of the father who will enjoy a life-time monthly pension was another genuine motivating factor that helped in developing a loyal and dedicated team.
The European and local directors and estate superintendents, who enjoyed a five-month furlough every four years continued to wear the planters dress of white shorts and stockings to office too. They, along with senior local executives would assemble in the elegant lounge in mid-afternoon for a chitchat discussing contemporary tea tasting and auctions over a beer until lunch was served. On Mondays, the hullabaloo changes, as the noise increases in multiple decibels [no sound proofing as air-conditioning was unheard of then] exchange of verbal clashes for and against the results of weekend rugger matches by supporters of the respective sides who in their youth and planting days represented their old clubs of Dimbulla, Dickoya, Uva, Kelani Valley-Ratnapura, Kandy and Kalutara that clashed over the weekend.
On Fridays, by 3.45 p.m. work stops all round -- the directorate and senior management leaves for the rugger match played in Colombo after granting permission to any rugger fan in the staff to follow suit. Every year one or two good school ruggrites will be given employment so as to maintain the high standard of the company’s Rugby.
Malik’s move Won us Rugby Cup in 1970s
Development Strategies and International Trade Minister Malik Samarawickrama, who spoke judiciously in Parliament on May 22, responding to criticism, and arguments by opposition against the Free Trade Agreement with Singapore, was the daring scrum-half in our side who collected the ball from the base and equally judiciously kicked towards the post for winger Cuda Wadugodapitiya, former Trinity and CH & FC player to touch down under the posts during extra time registering the 3rd Mercantile title for the Company against John Keels in the mid-1970s. The writer was the games secretary at Shaw Wallace Sports Club who witnessed that memorable Mercantile 7’s Rugby Finals played at Longdon Place four decades ago. Samarawickrama was a selfless man who’s charm and winning ways are exemplary [at Rugby]. Malik the Royal College scrum half who played for CR & FC later went on to represent the National Rugby team in the 1970s. At the CR, Indrajit Coomaraswamy, the present Governor of the Central Bank who is a professional, intellectual, and a gentleman at the highest order was Malik’s team mate.
Scrum-half is usually a smaller player on the field but he needs to be physically and mentally tough, constantly taking on larger, stronger, heavier players in attack and defence and would posses excellent handling, passing skills and good vision in addition to agility; they are razor sharp, capable of sizing things up with elusiveness and good decision-making ability. Scrum-half will make and confirm the decision what to do with the ball perhaps by coded signals that he will make a tactical kick.
A good scrum half will work hard to confuse the opposition with sniping runs and the unexpected kicks and passes -- characteristics of a good scrum half and an astute politician?
On Fridays, by 3.45 p.m. work stops all round -- the directorate and senior management leaves for the rugger match played in Colombo after granting permission to any rugger fan in the staff to follow suit. Every year one or two good school ruggrites will be given employment for maintaining the high standard of the company’s Rugby.
Shaw Wallace Sports Club in 1970s
Back to Shaw Wallace days -- one would appreciate the elegantly framed photographs of former European Chairmen/MD that added glamour to the walls of the grand club house, most of them were ruggerites who played school rugby in Britain before arriving here as young creepers. [‘creeping’, a word said to have been created from the tongue-in-cheek observation that during this phase the new recruit would be, symbolically, made to creep beneath the bushes to discover the nuts and bolts of planting]. The pensioners on paydays do stick to their old attire of white drill full suit and hat whenever they visit to collect their purse. Some old haggard veterans would not miss the opportunity to take a walk around the club house viewing the portraits of yesteryear Suddha bosses appreciating their ‘good work’ with veneration before they order their beers.
“I say, young man, will you come here; you must be fortunate to work for men of this calibre, you see, this is Mr John Capper, Tea Manager, he was the PD [Periya-Dorai] at Great Western, Talawakelle, and played for the up-country in the annual encounter against Colombo in the late 1920s.” …, this old man claimed with an expression of gratitude, when I responded to his call; he continued, “He was my boss who recommended me for six increments in 1938”, he contemplated for a while and said, “those were the days my dear”. A few of them would join in singing golden oldies to entertain the present Shawallians, who always admired the sentimentality in their expression of bittersweet nostalgia.
The visit by a former Chairman, the 88-year old Shattock, who was accorded a warm reception by the Club in recognition of his services as the Company’s Chairman and President of Sports Club in the 1930s became a day of reminiscence for the seniors. [Then it was Lee Hedges Ltd, prior to amalgamation with Shaw Wallace and Bois Brothers] Shattock, who hails from a family of planters captained Dimbulla -- in the first decade of 20th century went on to relate the history of Rugby in the island in his days. Let me share with the readers few things which have got etched in writer’s memory.
Tea and Rugby in delicate Blend
Tea and Rugby in Ceylon harks back to the glorious days of one and a half centuries ago. Shattock never used the short term ‘Rugby’ but always called the game Rugby Football. He said the game took roots here in the 1870s and it was exclusively the European Planters who represented the planting districts and all Ceylon at the game until early 20th century. Shattock had to travel great distances on foot to Radella to play the Dimbulla-Dickoya match; later, as a low country planter in the Galle district, he related how he used to cycle from his Estate to Galle Railway Station 12 miles, take train to Kalutara and cycle to a ground 10 miles interior and vice versa in the late 1900s, to play one hours gruelling rugby. Present day players may wonder whether it was sports or torture; and for sure, our school and club spectators who turn into unruly mobs at the end of a game may not grasp the story at all. All rugger enthusiasts must understand that it was men of that calibre that kept the game alive in the far off days.
“130 years ago, there were no proper rules; it was weight and brute strength that mattered. Those brawny men travelled on foot and bullock carts to get to the grounds was all in a day’s work. Then there were no orgasnised clubs in Colombo apart from the Services”, added the octogenarian.
Perhaps in good old days there was no hooliganism in Rugger and neither “Pitch or match Fixing” …in cricket nor were there those crafty dishonest politicians in statecraft.