Friday, September 26, 2008

Walking down Sanath’s street : A brief tour on Sanath Jayasuriya town Matara

Matara, July 29 2008

Passing Matara and not going to Maha Maya Road, Kotuway Guda, would be the same as going to Agra and ignoring the Taj Mahal. The man responsible for placing this small town — off the road to Galle — on the world cricketing map is Sanath Jayasuriya.

Even without the postal address, it’s quite easy to find where the Sri Lankan batsman lived. Just take his name, and a busy shopkeeper leaves everything on hand and walks you half-way to the destination. A group of visibly tired school kids, heading home after class, take over the baton enthusiastically as the magic J-word is mentioned.

While the superstar has shifted base to Colombo, the rest of his family members enjoy having lost visitors escorted diligently to their street. As you meet the parents, who still live at the modest sea-side family home that has gone through extensive makeovers during the last decade, it becomes clear that being Sanath’s folks allows them several special privileges.

Mother Breeda recalls her Tsunami experience to drive home the point. “I was in the market buying vegetables that day when the place got suddenly flooded. Somehow I got hold of a tree but I was losing my grip. Then I shouted, ‘I am Jayasuriya’s mother’, and soon I was rescued,” she says, with a smile on her face even as she narrates the harrowing experience of getting unconscious and being taken to a hospital in Colombo.

Family album

The living room where she sits documents the various stages of her son’s life, starting with baby Sanath in her lap in a family photograph. From a shy adolescent to an international cricketer with a gradually receding hairline, it’s a meticulously maintained gallery of framed pictures.

The mother speaks about tales common to all growing cricketers — of broken window-panes during courtyard games — but she also gives details about the extraordinary support she gave to her son’s career. With his father working as a clerk in the health department and his mother a saleswoman at a souvenir shop, Sanath’s parents had a tough time making ends meet.

Despite the fact that he is now one of the most affluent cricketers on the island, there are still things in his mannerism that reminds the mother of the days of struggle.

“Look at the way he touches his pads before he faces every ball. That’s because during his early days he had to wear over-sized second-hand pads. There was always the need to adjust them. It became a habit,” Breeda says.

The late trips to Colombo that Breeda used to undertake when her son went to play Cricket in the Capital are now a thing of past. “When he was in Colombo, I would go and meet him after returning from work. The 80-km journey by bus took long and I used to return home by midnight.

“He used to tell me to avoid these trips but I wanted to see him and also check if he needed some money,” says the deeply religious woman who spends a lot of time these days at the Buddhist temple behind their house that welcomes visitors with a Buddham Sharnam Gacchami sign.

The mother proudly says that, like herself, her son is also a strong believer in Buddhism. “Every time he is here, he goes to a famous temple here and they tie a white thread around his wrists and that’s the reason for his strength. That’s why he is so fit at 40, and I think he will play the next World Cup as well,” she says.

School daze

To find out about Sanath’s early days at school, you walk across to St Servatius. Ajwad Ikram, who taught him commerce in the 12th grade, reveals Sanath’s serious lack of academic inclination. Ikram recalls a day when Sanath was asked to leave the classroom because he was late. Ikram followed him and had a conversation that he still remembers. “I told him two things that can happen if he concentrates on cricket: if he succeeds he would travel to foreign countries to play, but if he fails he would end up at the culvert outside the school,” he said.

It seems Sanath was ready to take the gamble — he didn’t merely play abroad but is today regarded as one of the game’s greats. He now inspires travellers to make a stopover at Matara and enthusiastic locals to become their willing escorts.

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