Life Abroad – Part 12: COUNTERING TIGER KITTENS!
Posted on January 24th, 2013

Dr.Tilak Fernando

Student life in London was not a bed of roses two-three decades ago being confined to “ƒ”¹…”room accommodation’, moreover the Sri Lankan landlords who rented out rooms were far and few between. In “ƒ”¹…”confined’ lodgings sharing of the kitchen caused more than one problem. Primarily one had to be very clean and tidy and the cooking had to be selective as English landladies or “ƒ”¹…”housekeepers’ could not bear the strong aroma of curry! Equally, it was a different case when it came to foreign students who had to put up with the nauseating smell of “ƒ”¹…”fish and chips’ which was alien to their oriental olfactory organs! Things have changed since and these days of course Indian and Sri Lankan restaurants are crowded with Westerners whose taste-buds prolong for spicy food.

In the morning rush students hardly had time to waste except gobbling down two slices of toasted bread with butter and wash it down with a mug of tea or coffee. Colleges always offered warm food at subsidised rates from their cafeterias but many preferred to economise by mainly being “ƒ”¹…”baked beans on toast “ƒ”¹…”fans’ or to be contended with a “ƒ”¹…”hot dog’!

Ceylon Students’ Centre

For those who lived in London area, The Ceylon Students Centre at Sussex Gardens in Paddington offered an excellent opportunity, especially during week-ends. Subsidised by the Sri Lanka government, the Students Centre offered spicy rice and curry and free tea for Sri Lankan students.

“ƒ”¹…”The Ceylon Student Centre’ was the only convenient and economical place in London which offered board and lodging for those on a budget. Managed by the Sri Lanka government, responsibilities of running the place had been delegated to a Diplomat (Warden) from the High Commission and it functioned with a staff of two-three kitchen hands.

A good meal of rice and curry (served on a plate) cost a nominal sum of 15 pence for students, but seemingly the price went up to 35 pence later. Non students (of Sri Lankan origin) had to buy a separate meal ticket at a higher rate. An oversize kettle full of prepared milk tea stood on a table at the disposal of customers for consumption after meals – as many cups as much as they liked! A special menu with yellow rice or buriyani attracted a lot on week-ends and on Sundays particularly.

With all such facilities and conveniences, the place once managed to earn a bad reputation for “ƒ”¹…”lost property’ of those who visited the Centre! Such news became so widespread that at times warnings from parents and guardians came all the way from home with strict instructions to avoid the Students Centre like a plague!

Cynosure

Despite all such adverse publicity, The Ceylon Students Centre became the cynosure for Sri Lankan students at the beginning and later for all Sri Lankan expatriates to build up new friendships with fellow countrymen and to renew old friendships of those who had met in Sri Lanka before. One distressing incident that records in the history of the Student Centre could be the committing of suicide inside a bathtub by a particular High Commissioner’s wife by cutting her wrist with a sharp instrument and lying in a pool of blood and water until two employees at the High Commission, a Sinhala and an English, had to pull the body out of the bathtub when alarmed.

During the height of LTTE activities (in much later years) groups of Tamil youths (who appeared to be sympathisers of the LTTE) from the South East Polytechnic (South East London College for further Education) Lewisham had organised an intimidation programme and arrived at the Students Centre in bus loads during lunch time on a weekday while only a handful of Sinhala students were enjoying their meal.

At first they took the Assistant (Resident) Warden by the scruff of the neck, held him against the wall and threatened him. Next they marched towards the luncheon hall to have a meal jabbering in Tamil aloud (which was translated by someone who was fluent in Tamil) as : “Eat these bastards’ food and f”¦”¦”¦. them”!

No nonsense attitude

The outnumbered few Sinhala students who were enjoying their meal peacefully had to behave like frightened mice as the Tamil majority was stronger and the ambient became somewhat apprehensive. The message about Tamil youth invasion of the Student Centre and the harassment to the Assistant Warden (Coomasaru ) spread like a wildfire to the Sinhala patriots in and around Paddington area when “ƒ”¹…”Shelton’ (an ex private soldier of the army who served as cook for the Centre for several years), appeared on the spot within minutes of hearing the disturbances.

“ƒ”¹…”Shelton’ was known as a “ƒ”¹…”no-nonsense man’ when it came to injustice, and it was believed to be that his outspokenness alone cost him the job at the Students Centre earlier. He left the service and ventured into his own business first with a mobile delivery-service of Sri Lankan spices which he later developed into a mega business and became well known as an entrepreneur with his own shops and running around in a Jaguar motor car!

To everyone’s consolation, “ƒ”¹…”Shelton’ entered the dining hall just in time ranting and raving like a lion after hearing about Tamil students manhandling Coomasaru.

In a fearless manner and a commanding voice he threw a challenge to the whole mob who were making a din inside the dining hall in the crƒÆ’†’¨me of Sinhala to come forward “ƒ”¹…”face-to- face’ with him if they had any grievance. The hustle and bustle that prevailed for sometime instantly subsided and the whole area was transformed into what could be described as an abandoned cemetery. The protestors simply put their heads down and concentrated on their meal!

The news about the “ƒ”¹…”Tamil students invasion’ of the Ceylon Students Centre had travelled fast to South East London where the majority of Tamil students lived at the time. Being very enthusiastic about after hearing of the news and to support their colleagues many started travelling by bus from Lewisham to Paddington where Shelton with another pal parked his vehicle near a Praed Street bus stand, in front of the St Mary’s Hospital, and waited like a cat waiting its prey!

When unconcerned Tamil students got off from the bus in Paddington, Shelton very politely approached them and generously offered a lift to the students centre in typical Sri Lankan hospitality as if he was going there to have lunch! The Tamil supporters who were unaware of what exactly had taken place at the Students Centre a little while ago innocently got into his car one by one at a time for a free ride but once inside the vehicle they were taken to an isolated spot and treated them physically with a bonus! Finally protestors realising their misfired plan scattered all over from Paddington area at rocket speed.

On a different occasion, during Sri Lanka Vs England cricket test match at Lord’s Grounds, “ƒ”¹…”Shelton’ sold packets of short eats from his food outlet when a group of arrogant looking Tamils approached him. The leader of the group picked up two packets and enquired about the price. When the price was quoted the guy simply shouted at Shelton saying: “Too expensive man! And who the hell you think who wants to buy this rubbish anyway”? Shelton with his usual obliging grin said: “If you don’t like it, please leave them on the table, no one is forcing you to buy anyway”! At which point the Tamil chap bashed the food packets on the table forcefully making a mess of everything.

In a split second, before one could say Jack Robinson I, who stood in the queue behind the Tamil guy to buy a bottle of pickle from Shelton’s food outlet at that very moment, saw Shelton’s right hand moving at flying speed (from behind the counter where he was standing) and landing a heavy punch on the trouble maker’s left cheek without uttering a single word.

The flummoxed guy went into a daze, did a comatose “ƒ”¹…”about-turn’ not realising where he was or “ƒ”¹…”coming or going’ ! His supporters showed a clean pair of heels from the scene, so did he on a slower pace.

This happened at a time when the LTTE aggression back at home was at its height and sympathisers of the terrorist movement were acting as appointed agents who started to coerce money out from innocent Tamil folk and Tamil businesses in London.

At a time when Sri Lanka was lagging behind in communication to counter adverse publicity generated from London while terrorist goons were beginning to raise the ugly head of terrorism, Shelton was regarded as a brave and patriotic son of Mother Lanka.

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8 Responses to “Life Abroad – Part 12: COUNTERING TIGER KITTENS!”

  1. Arcadius Says:

    PLease note that the “Shelton” mentioned in this story is not me.

    –Shelton Gunaratne

  2. callistus Says:

    Shelton owned a shop serving Sri Lankan community in Fleet Street in Hamstead North London. Very interesting story Tilak. I remember you attending a cricket festival and carrying a cricket bat posing as a player for your school, just in case of an attack by the cubs.

  3. Nanda Says:

    Callistus,

    “I remember you attending a cricket festival and carrying a cricket bat posing as a player for your school, just in case of an attack by the cubs.”

    School means a school in Moratuwa ? What cubs that time ?

  4. Nimal Says:

    We were there too and they were charged with public order offences and was forced to move away.
    Ceylon centre was a good thith pola for students like us to meet every Sunday,played that old piano,Good old days when it was run in the times of M/s Fonseka.During Comasaru’s time it went down a bit and we stopped going there.Remember going to lunch with Major Denzil K.Took a meal (a bath packet) cooked by Podi Appuhamy evey Sunday to OEG who lived at nerby Albion gate.Good old days!

  5. Nimal Says:

    I was a friend of Shelton visited his shop at Hamstead and then when he moved to Hendon.Don’t know where he is as some Tamil people have bought that shop.

  6. Nimal Says:

    I wanted to buy both the centre as well as the tea centre in Lower reagent street but my good offer was turned down due to some sleaze.It’s a pity.When the diaspora problems are over my siblings will surly buy a tea centre in a prestigious West End.What I have at present give me a bit of prestige to add my voice where it matters.

  7. Nimal Says:

    I wanted to buy both the centre as well as the tea centre in Lower reagent street but my good offer was turned down due to some sleaze.It’s a pity.When the diaspora problems are over my siblings will surly buy a tea centre in a prestigious West End.What I have at present the bussiness that give me a bit of prestige to add my voice where it matters.

  8. callistus Says:

    Nanda, not his old school Prince of Wales. In the UK cricket festival is held annually at different locations around London. This particular one was in Worcester Park, South London.

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