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Friday, January 20, 2017

Crime and Punishment

The following article appeared in the August 2013 issue of the CoMSAA newsletter. Please click on the link below and read under "Anecdotes from the Past" (or cut and paste the URL). As I know that many viewers don't read the CoMSAA newsletter and because the print might not be clear, I have reproduced the original word document below. Anyway, I just thought it's worth a re-read.

Crime and Punishment
By Lakshman Abeyagunawardene

With determination written all over our faces, we were eager to embark on the gruelling five-year course which was to begin shortly. That was 51 years ago when a batch of budding doctors with high expectations were converging on the main Administration Block on registration day.  Just prior to that, all of us had been summoned for the routine medical examination which is a part of the registration process. The hilarity associated with a medical student’s life had already begun. The University Medical Officer (UMO) had instructed us to bring with us a sample of stools for examination.  An overzealous colleague who was the sole entrant from a lesser known school in a so-called “outstation” had obviously misread the UMO’s instructions. He had brought with him a somewhat heavy parcel with a neat brown paper wrapping. His doting mother, always eager to help her loving son, had taken a lot of trouble in preparing this parcel. As expected, the other students had managed with just a small glass bottle containing a little bit of the smelly stuff! Recalling this hilarious incident, I am reminded of the well-known limerick which goes as:
“There was a man from Newcastle – who wrapped up some shit in a parcel” etc. etc!

Coming closer to the title of this story, what we didn’t know at that time was the dubious honour that was to be bestowed on us in 10 months time by “the powers that be”. As illustrated by the attached document which I have preserved over the years, almost all male students of the batch were suspended from lectures for a period of two weeks and fined rupees ten as punishment for what was described by the authorities as serious offences. I must reiterate here that I was only one of the recipients of this letter signed by the Vice Chancellor Sir Nicholas Attygalle.  All male students who participated in the fun and frolics associated with the Law medical cricket match that year received similar letters and were thus punished.

Medical students of that era had a number of fun-filled events to relieve themselves from the stresses and strains of studies and examinations. The Law- Medical match, Second MB trip, Block Seniors versus Staff cricket match, MSU elections, the annual Block Concert and Dance and the Final-Year trip were the highlights.

Law-Medical ‘63
We remember the Law-Medical ’63, not for the cricket, but for our involvement in two incidents as junior medical students. As outlined in the VC’s letter, those of us who participated in the fun and frolics were accused of:
1.      Invading the playing fields at St. Peter’s and Royal Colleges and interrupting a cricket match (see picture).
2.      Disturbing a class at Castle Street Girls’ School.

As tradition goes, being the most junior students in the Medical Faculty, we made preparations weeks ahead of the big event. We coordinated well with our parallel batch in Peradeniya who too were to join us. Dressed in black shirts with the skull and cross bones emblem, the juniors paraded the streets of Colombo in open trucks as usual. The trucks were loaded with “Gal”, “Pol” and barrels of draft beer and the boys carried on their “high spirited” fun and frolic in gay abandon. The match itself was played on March 1 and 2, 1963 at the Colombo Oval in Wanathamulla where our honourable seniors sat comfortably in the pavilion indulging in other forms of fun.

However, the merry makers somewhat exceeded the limits when they invaded the pitch and disrupted play in an inter-school cricket match at the St. Peters College grounds at Bambalapitiya. This drama was soon repeated at Reid Avenue where the Royal-Trinity match was taking place. Unfortunately for us, a Medical Faculty professor (who was unknown to us at the time) was an interested spectator there. He was an eye witness.

That was not all. The boys also “visited” Castle Street Girls School at Borella (present Devi Balika Vidyalaya) and “entertained” the schoolgirls who I am sure enjoyed the proceedings (at least initially) as much as the boys did. They giggled, ran hither and thither and waved invitingly as truckloads of unexpected visitors entered the school premises. However, in a matter of minutes, there was complete chaos when a few inebriated boys got out of hand. They were restrained by the more sober types who tried and succeeded in getting them back into the trucks before any real damage was done. But the school authorities were outraged.

As expected, a flood of complaints soon reached our Dean, particularly from an angry Principal and staff of the girls’ school. All male students who took part in the fun making were summoned to the main lecture theatre in the Administration Block. After a long drawn out inquiry conducted by the Dean Prof. Abhayaratne himself, punishment was meted out to those found guilty. The boys accepting “collective responsibility” and not resorting to finger pointing at those who may have “misbehaved”, avoided probable expulsion of a few students. They stood together as one, even at the height of the crisis. There were no whistleblowers, tale-carriers, sneaks or whatever such traitorous cowards may be called. It was clearly a case of inebriation clouding better judgement combined with mob instinct that was responsible for the misbehaviour of a few.

Punishment was therefore relatively mild although it was the much dreaded Board of Residence and Discipline (BRD) headed by the Vice Chancellor Sir Nicholas Attygalle which decided on disciplinary action. What saved the day was probably our rock solid unity. They simply couldn’t have expelled over 100 students in one go. The Dean’s daughter Rohini being a member of our batch, it was also rumoured that she may have mitigated on our behalf and prevailed on her father to soft pedal the issue. But that was mainly speculation among senior students. However, I must state here that our female colleagues stood by us during those difficult days. They took down notes even more meticulously than they usually do, and shared them with the suspended male friends.

Our batch was somewhat unique in that we were subjected to a second rag (in addition to the traditional “Freshers’ Rag” during the first fortnight) by our seniors when we were well into our second year in medical school. That was added punishment for our infamous role in the Law-Medical ’63. The vast majority of us didn’t deserve such harsh punishment. But we never considered it to be a black mark on our careers. On the contrary, we take pride in the fact that our unity may have prevented a catastrophic ending to the careers of a few colleagues.


  1. It's remarkable that you preserved the letter and paper cutting, Lucky. I remember these events well. Prof Koch had given a warning and even drawn several figures in different stages after alcohol consumption and warned not to get to the horizontal stage. I remember the two weeks of suspension when a group of you disappeared from college. We supported you and shared the lecture notes. We can look back proudly that we all stuck together. Zita

  2. Unforgettable time! Seems such a long time ago and of course it was a long tine ago!