Pavilion Parade by M V Muhsin
September 16th, 2012 by Admin

Olive G: Netball, Tennis and Rugby draped in a Sari Pota

One of the ‘Grand old Ladies’–Oops ‘ I mean, ‘Grand Young Ladies of Kandy’, as Olive Goonetileke would have liked to be referred to, passed away at the age of 93 recently. There were a flood of memories of her vibrancy that swept through the memorial event held in Colombo with over 350 attendees to celebrate and give thanks to her sporty life.

Olive, the wife of the well known Kandy stalwart and gentleman Harry Goonetileke, who predeceased her, was not a sports star in the traditional sense that sports columnists, such as this column, write home about. Yet, everything she did ranging from her conduct and disposition, to her gait and her cheer-leading had the genre of sports-womanship written all over her.

When her granddaughter Chemali Herath recalled the life and times of her ‘Kandy Grannie’ it brought to life with a sentimental and often humorous flavour the effervescence that Olive displayed or threatened us with as we moved with her in Kandy.

Olive was from the ‘all girls’ school Hillwood, the sister school of Trinity whose respective products had cupid’s arrow aimed at each other as did Harry who was a distinguished product of Trinity.

Played netball and tennis in saree

The folk in Kandy recall how the teenager Olive de Silva would play Netball and Tennis, sometimes clad in a saree to conform to the conservative dress code of yore applied to fair maidens!

Chemali recalls how in her childhood days Grannie Olive would make her way to the Kandy market. She would tie 3 of her grandkids to her sari pota and shove her way in Rugby scrum fashion, through the market crowd and go about her business from buying fruits to jaggery to alpe and bombai mutai. There was Old Trinitian Sabu who had a vegetable stall and Olive would ward off the vendors who would try to stop them on the way to her mudalali. While Sabu would quote what he thought were discounted prices, Olive would argue the toss and get things at the price of her choosing!

Later in life the Garden Club would be a favourite meeting point for Tennis and Bridge with the interval being used for the hyper-active sport of Gossiping!

The participants at the weekly Bridge sessions included socialites Carene Wijenaike, Ruth Dunuwille, Dulcie Wijenaike, Rajes Nadesan, Podi Singham and Hema de Soyza.

Rugby main passion

But Rugby was her main passion, given that her son Malin and grandson Himesh were well known and highly accomplished ruggerites, Olive attempted to be, and often assumed, to play the role of coach, cheer-leader and even captain! At times, when she was brushed aside, she enlisted the support of daughter Sriyani who, married to a respected Royalist Daya ‘Porky’ de Silva, was more caution in her intrusion to the field of rugby!

Olive, who counted attending nearly half a century of Bradby matches, could recount many a try and tackle and was known to be quite animated and vociferous at matches. She let the referee know exactly how she felt about the decisions he had made. She knew most of them personally and Chemali even recalls her ‘whacking’one of them with her umbrella when he came to talk to her after the game! And most times these referees were actually staying in her house!

When Himesh was captaining Trinity, it is well known that you couldn’t wipe the smile off Olive’s face and at one game she had heard an opposing team parent question the validity of a Trinity pass, to which Kandy Grannie had replied “I bet she doesn’t know the difference between a forward pass and the ramboda pass, so just ask her to be quiet, child! Himesh has the rare distinction of having the combination of Trinity Rugby Captain ( 1992) and Trinity Cricket Captain (1993) ; and head prefect ( 1993)- DNA of leadership that surely flowed from Harry the grandfather and Malin the Planter and company executive. Olive would often make claim to this as well!

One story that captures how Olive would invoke her ‘ rugby ‘ability to weave her way through attack was recounted by Chemali. It was during the 1983 riots. Malin was then the Superintendent on Endane estate in Kahawatte, one of the largest tea plantations in the country and one that had a Sinhala majority. I recall so vividly, it was hell on earth. The tamil staff houses were set ablaze and they were trying to murder them in cold blood. Malin was doing everything possible to keep things under control. So he couldn’t be in the bungalow and left John in charge of the children. John was our faithful driver who was a World War 2 veteran and spoke perfect English. Of course Charmo, Malin’s wife, was hugging the children so tight and saying the rosary so fast that even Mother Mary could not have understood! John couldn’t bear it any longer and said to Charmo, “madam I am going to find a way and tell big madam (Olive G)-what’s happening, I know she will even bring God and rescue us and the people affected.” I don’t know how he did it but John informed Kandy Grannie of our plight. Unfortunately… for President J.R Jayewardene and Minister Gamini Dissanayake, whom Olive knew very well, they had come to Kandy for a meeting. And when they came out, who should they be greeted by but Olive Goonetileke who broke through the security cordon as any good fly half would have done.

All that is known is that there was a one sided barrage of words and exhortations …. and a few hours later there were helicopters hovering over us and the President landed on our doorstep!

That was Kandy Grannie who got things done, Sari Pota notwithstanding!