Ladies and Gentlemen.
First of all, those who are wondering about, what's this guy doing out here, tell you the truth;
I am a gatecrasher!
Well. It's a nervous time for me. My hands are bit shaky, as I am trying to put up a brave show here. Let me tell you one thing. In the past ten or fifteen years, I spoke in numerous occasions, presented number of software designs, convinced strangers to pay their hard earned money for the few thousands lines of software crap. Trust me; in the end they were sold.
But never ever, ever never in my life, I was this nervous.
There comes the Jaffna Boy. Sinnaiya enrolled into a song competition. He memorised the poem, day in and day out. On the day of the competition he was ready, rather he felt ready. The stage was set. The students were out there, so were the judges. It's his time. ... The bell rang. He has to start…. "Casabianca …" That’s it. Nothing else is coming out. He takes a step back and tries... Nope. He takes a deep breath and try to recall. Nope. That’s it. Everything is blacked out. Not even a single word coming out.
My this very moment is no difference to that Sinna’s Casabianca moment.
Speaking in front of you reminds me my St. John’s days. The days when I would be reciting a poem at English day competitions. It would be in the famous Peto Hall or Williams Hall.. Usually I would start well, but in a few moments, the grandeur of the auditorium, the skills of the fellow competitors and the thought of the possible humiliation would get the better of me. The three judges in front of me would look like the three musketeers and … I was the D'Artagnan. I went to St. John's to become a musketeer myself. I had a duel with my fellow musketeers and in the end I became a musketeer too.
Jaffna Boy is no difference. It is the same story. Jaffna Boy ... is a story a Jaffna student. It is the story of a typical boy becoming a muske-teer.
It’s a story of mine.
It's a story of us.
When Jude Anna recommended this book to me, I was bit vary. Firstly I never knew this author, I didn't know what to expect and Jesus, it is twenty five dollars. But he insisted that I would like the book. I said alright, let's give it a shot for few pages and see how it goes, as I often do with books. If I don't like it, I can always return the book to Jude Anna and get the money back! Guaranteed!
So start I first did. I was in the train at seven in the morning. It was a typical off-season summer gloomy day of Melbourne. Sinna was also in the train on the way to his home in Colombo after his school graduation. As the train honks and gets on, Sinna falls asleep and the time capsule starts its journey to past.
So does ours.
I wouldn't reveal the plot and spoil the party. In a nutshell, Sinna joined St. John’s at his fourth grade. He boarded the hostel. The hostel atmosphere scared him. Slowly he got to the hang of the system. He made friends. He played. He had fun. At times studied and boy … did he struggle. In ten years, the school became everything to him. Hostel was his home. And by the time he was nineteen, all of a sudden he realizes the hostel will never be his home again. The gates were closed. It’s chilling. The world in front of him looked scary now. Ironically, decade ago it was the school which scared him. Now the whole world did.
Now Sinnaiya got nothing to backup. All along he fared pretty average in studies and the future looked so bleak to him. He was regarded a failed Jaffna boy by Jaffna’s typical conservative value system.
Yes. It’s a story of a failed Jaffna Boy.
Now I know why I am asked to give this speech. It’s so fitting to get another failed boy to speak about it!
When reading the book I felt very content, warm and at times caught cold feet. Sinna studied in sixties when my parents were not even met! It was after thirty years, I put my first foot in our school premises. It’s very overwhelming to realise that I walked on the same footpath Sinna walked, Anantharaja walked or the other Johnian colors did. There is a pleasure in knowing that I have fallen sleep with the same book Sinna had. Knowing there are thousands of others walking on the same steps now, I find a bit of an aura in it.
In nineties, due to the civil war, we didn't have the privilege to board in hostels. But we had pretty much everything else you had. We studied less, was looking for the every other opportunity to skip the classes. We made every mahogany tree into cricket stumps. Sometimes two games would be played on the single tree wicket. We played soccer in tennis ball. I had the privilege to get caned and slapped by our great principal Thanapalan Sir.
Sinna and I had a lot in common.
Sinna had a crush on a Nun! Can you believe it? A crush on a nun ... He had fallen madly in love with actress Sujatha. I am sorry Sinna, she was way too old for me! Instead I had Aishwarya Rai, The miss world.
Good girls never looked at me either. Angels in Chundukuli hardly knew me. Even my most adoring crush, the girl I would be thinking of day and night, did not even know there is such a person exists. I never had the courage to go and introduce myself. Whoever the boys talked to her looked morons to me.
Good men always end up last.
Sinna skipped the classes to go and watch the movies. We did the same, but more effectively. We learnt English by watching the adults’ only movies.
I lived the same enchanting life as Sinna did, so did the other Johnians too.
The last chapter travels back to present. Thirty years gone by. Now Sinna is having a good career, holding a top position in one of the leading banks. He is probably wealthy, and having a good balanced life. The very same conservative system which called him a failed Jaffna Boy would now embrace him for being successful. Now he can no more be regarded failed. No old ladies in the trains would be calling him a spoil. Actually none of above really matters. What matters most is, Sinna pursues a happy life and he doesn't have any regrets. That’s the key.
In the end Sinnaiah was invited to be the chief guest of St. John’s price giving. An ultimate recognition for a Johnian. He couldn't have written his script any better.
On the night I finished reading the book, damn, I couldn't sleep. I mean it. It’s not because I was feeling nostalgic. Not because of the engaging story. There was something disturbing about this book. There was something itchy. Something intriguing.
How many of us became of Sinnas? Or do we have to become a Sinna?
Johnian is my identity. I am proud of my school. I am a proud Johnian, so is every Johnian too. But is my school proud of me? What does it take to make my school proud? There are thousands of me walked on the same pathways, studied the same books, played the same games, warmed the same benches as Sinnaya did. Yet the school only invited Sinnaya. It only invited Professor Kanagaraja. Why? Because, not only they are proud of our school, they make our school proud too. Besides Johnian being their identity, they made their own identity too. They managed to find their personal legend using the values, our great school provided.
There is a saying, “The building’s identity resided in the ornament”. The school’s identity resides in its students' and what they become of. So while respecting our inherited identity, we should pursue to find our own identity. We should become an ornament of our school instead of the mere bricks on the walls. That’s when our school will be proud of us.
That is the story of “Jaffna Boy”.
Thank your Sinna for telling your story to us.
And there is one more thing... For the finals tomorrow, Go Aussies Go!
"Jaffna Boy" book launch speech at Melbourne, 2015-03-27
The book can be purchased at amazon in both print and kindle form.
The book can be purchased at amazon in both print and kindle form.