Face2Face with G.C. Perera

by Thilak S. Fernando

G.C.Perera is popularly known as GC.. As a cricket enthusiast, he has been playing the game for his alma mater, Ananda College in Colombo, from the age of fourteen, and subsequently for clubs and in England he has had the opportunity to hobnob with the King of Cricket, Sir Vivian Richards. The concept of a festival involving cricket dawned on him while he was watching the International cricket match, Sri Lanka vs. England. This thought process developed later into a democratic framework and transformed as the ‘Festival of Cricket (FOC) in the UK among the Sri Lankan expatriate community. FOC has today developed into a forum for racial and religious unity among the Lankan community. To coincide with the 13th anniversary of the FOC, Face2Face interviewed G.C Perera as a mark of acknowledgement to his bright idea.

Q. Did you start playing cricket for Ananda as an under twelve player or were you a Colts club member first?

A. After leaving school, I played for Colts Cricket Club in Saravanamutu (Sara) Trophy. I started playing cricket at Ananda College when I was fourteen years old.

Q. When you arrived in England, did you continue with Cricket?

A I was very fortunate because a very good English friend, Mr. Trever Benwell, introduced me to the Landsdown Cricket Club, one of the legendary clubs in Bath, Somerset, where eminent cricketers such as W.G.Grace and, Sir Vivian Richards have represented it in the past.

Q. In Sir Viv Richard’s autobiography he refers to two friends he met at the Lansdown Club, Ian Botham and ‘Sri Lankan friend called ‘ Shandy’. Is that you?

A. Yes, as he mentions in the book, we were two foreign youths then in a strange land who shared a lot of time together. Viv had tremendous talent and he was given the opportunity by Somerset. The rest, of course, is history.

Q. Would you like to elaborate on your association with The King of Cricket? No doubt, it was a great privilege as a Sri Lankan cricketer to have been able to hobnob with a world famous cricket personality like Sir Viv Richards!

A. In 1973, he was not a big name, but he loved the game and had a real hunger for cricket. We spent many hours discussing various aspects of the game and about social scene that we were being accustomed to as students.

Q Do you still keep in touch with Sir Viv Richards?

A. Our friendship will always remain wherever we live, but his life style now is such that he has become a globetrotter today, and I am so glad for him that he has become an ambassador for the game of cricket and for his country.

Q. I must now focus you straight on to the great Cricket Festival in the UK - FOC. Wasn’t it your brainchild?

A. Yes, The basic concept was mine, but thanks to many others, who accepted my idea and worked together very hard in transforming that thought into actuality. .

Q. You were the President of the Festival of Cricket for three consecutive years, 1989-90-91 and now a life member of the FOC. In other words, you are the grandfather of the FOC. Can you tell me briefly how did it come about and what made you to think of a festival of cricket at all.

A. In a nutshell, we, as expatriates, were going through an anguished and a depressing time in the UK because of the traumatic atmosphere, which prevailed, in our motherland in 1989. I felt there was a need for us, as Sri Lankans, to create and demonstrate that we can be united at least one day out of the 365 days of the year. In addition, I thought cricket being the most popular game in Sri Lanka it could be used as a catalyst.

Q, This is the 13th. Consecutive year of the FOC and to your credit you not only captained the Ananda team in the very first time but won the coveted trophy as well. Looking back at those by gone days, how do you feel about the FOC today?

A. To create something new involves many effort, endurance, frustrations, and face challenges. I was not struggling on my own but there were several others who believed in the concept truly and sincerely developed the event year on year. Once we were able to establish a solid foundation we were able to come out with a democratic Constitution which has become the vehicle for its onwards journey today. The answer to your second question is winning the tournament trophy was a symbol of happiness but the real joy was the acceptance from all quarters that the event was a huge success .

Q. Being a journalist I have had the privilege of writing about the FOC and about you while you were its President. Equally, I am aware of the brickbats, instead of bouquets thrown at you after your term as President of the FOC. Not only that, even I have been subjected to criticism from some quarters stating that I was promoting you! How do you feel about those allegations and do you simply put those aside as our typical Sri Lankan tittle-tattle?

A. Tilak, one would always come across one or two odd characters in life that would like to have a dig at you, especially when you are doing something worthwhile. That, of course, is part of life. When one is in public life one cannot escape from criticism. In my view, the best path to follow in such circumstances is not to get deeply affected or react negatively. In my case, perhaps I was fortunate to have been involved professionally where I have learnt to be introspective about such matters. Please don’t forget that the vast majority of people were familiar with the true overall objective of this great event, which countermanded the odd negative criticism.

Q. What do you think of the future of the FOC? Some say it is becoming highly commercialised, bickering among the officials is rampant and even the traders say that the rates of hiring marquees are sky rocketing, thus paving only for big businesses to turn the event into a money spinning exercise. Another school of thought is that many who visit the venue do it merely as a means of social intercourse but the majority are not interested in the game of cricket at all, except of course the final match. What are your views on that?

A. Tilak, when you think of the past, 2-3 decades and compare it with the present you could say how active our Sri Lankan community has become in the UK. We have lots of strength and dynamic individuals to make events and occasions take place for the benefit of others. Such people need support and encouragement to proceed in an enhanced way. FOC has created a forum for all Sri Lankan expatriates to come together once a year. Each FOC Committee, over the years, has worked diligently to satisfy everyone’s ambition. They need to be acknowledged for their total commitment. It has also given the opportunity for very many charitable organisations to raise funds to their worthy causes in Sri Lanka. By bringing commercial enterprises together and with the help of sponsorships, we are able to continue to support all the worthy causes. The committees have worked very hard to meet the demands of the public and to keep the standards what public expects and demands – e.g. toilet facilities, security etc. To maintain such standards it costs money. If they refer to the FOC website the answers are there. Cricket is the central event and around it, you will find all the other attractive family entertainment.

Q. Now I am going to touch on a very delicate topic. I must tell you that as an objective journalist I am not concerned with why something takes place, how it happens, what are the reasons behind it or what good or bad comes out of it. An objective journalist’s duty, to my conviction, is to report what has actually taken place without any colouring or bias at all. With that frame of mind, I must ask you about the Old Anandian Sport Club which you instigated some time ago and managed to bring the whole hornet’s nest upon your own shoulders as a consequence! What was that all about? And where is this Club today?

A. OK Tilak, let me correct some of your statements about the Old Anandian Sports Club. In actual fact I personally did not instigate a rival group for Ananda OBA as stated... In 1995 a group of old Anandians, including myself, came together with one objective to involve others from outside perimeters of the old Anandian circle, irrespective of their race, colour, nationality etc., which of course was not acceptable to some of the OBAs. You see, it is so easy to misunderstand but to really understand it takes time, effort and open mindedness. After all, the well known founder of Ananda College, Col.. Henry Steel Olcott was not a Sri Lankan but a white American. We are so grateful to him that we celebrate annually the Henry Steel Olcott day to pay him tribute. So what’s wrong with breaking barriers and bringing people together in the form of a sport club and give them access to many other sports activities as well as cricket in a wider spectrum, without confining it to Old Anandians only ! This is not, as you have heard, a rival organisation to our Parent Ananda OBA in the UK. We are still members of Ananda OBA in the UK and some of the founder members of the sports club are very active members of the OBA indeed.. I hope the club will be able to help young cricketers from many Sri Lankan Schools and Clubs in the future. The sports club now participates in the Middlesex Cricket League in two separate divisions with two teams consisting of talented young players from many backgrounds. We hope, as we move forward, others will join with us and appreciate our sincere objectives to promote sports without any discrimination. We also support the objectives of the parent OBA in England and the principle it stands for

Q. Why did you become a sportsman? Is it to compensate for something you lacked in your life, career or personality ?

A. In the main I would say its my father’s influence from my childhood that encouraged me to develop an interest in sports, particularly in Cricket. He was himself an old Anandian who had played for Ananda in 1930s. While I was at Ananda I had the opportunity of not only to enjoy cricket but also to take part in other sporting events like athletics, cadetting; and as time went by and coming to England I was introduced to golf also by an English friend of mine.

Q. Every cricket team in the world, mainly the affluent Western countries such as England and Australia, have a cricket psychologist to advise the players and to keep them on a balanced track. Looking at the up and down trend in our Sri Lankan team performances in the recent past don’t you think its high time that our players too benefit out of the services of a cricket psychologist ?

A. The pressures and demands in modern day cricket affect players both physically and physiologically. Hi tech facilities today allow every aspect of a player’s movements to be projected to millions of living rooms by television, with analytical commentary by the so called experts. In addition, the print media too have their quota of contribution. Furthermore, the number of games, which a player has to endeavour during a cricketing calendar involving Test and International One Day cricket, has tripled over the last two decades. In addition, the paymasters of the players, in the form of sponsors, expect value for their money, which add further pressure on the players. Sri Lanka is fortunate to have young and talented cricketers representing her. Although they are gifted at the age of 18-20, responsibility lies on the Cricket Board to identify this aspect and take the accountability in preparing players psychologically to face up to their numerous stresses such as facing the aggressive counterparts like Australians and South Africans on the field and also to help them absorb all other off the field pressures as described above, which could be beneficial to all parties concerned.

Q. Digressing a little from the focal point into a different angle, are you an environmentalist? I have seen you planting a Bo tree every October at Amaravathi

A. (Laughter) Actually, its more than just planting a Bo tree. You are of course referring to the Annual Gratitude to Parents Day at Amaravathie Buddhist Monastery at Hemel Hempsted. Aren’t’ you?

Q. Yes. What is the significance of this special Parent’s Day you are celebrating since 1987?

A. Well, It was my mother’s first ever visit to the UK. Whilst she was here, I wanted to celebrate her visit in a meaningful way I proposed the idea of organising an event to the monks at Amaravathi to demonstrate gratitude to my mother and also to involve my close friends and relatives to share that opportunity in respect of their parents. The first event was a moving success and Ven.Ajan Sumedo personally requested me to continue with the event, which has become a successful and fulfilling exercise today not only among Buddhists who transfer merit to their departed parents as a custom or tradition but it has attracted many other communities as well with different religious faiths. It is not an exercise to transfer merit to the departed only but its objective is also to bless and thank the living parents.

Q. Do you meditate?

A. Yes. It is a practice more effectively learnt from attending Retreats at Amaravathi Buddhist monastery. The basic objective was to practise “ letting go”

Q. How does this ‘ Letting go’ affect you?

A. Actually Tilak, it became a necessity for me in my professional career at the time due to its immense mental stress and pressures. The nature of my work involved, in dealing with complicated mental health problems, and at times, it was emotionally exhausting. Generally speaking, the practice of meditation helps one to discover one’s own positive strength and negative weaknesses. The challenge as a human being, I believe, is to find enough strength, and own fallibility and then continue to search for meaningful ways of let go of those negative desires and attitudes. The mysterious ego ( the ‘I’ syndrome ) is heavily burdened with tons of baggage collected over the years which make it a hard journey for all of us to get to that ultimate destination .I find meditation is a mode of transport along this journey.