So my school leaving certificate was being padded up to look good and a future career being decided for me. There were forces at play that I was not fully aware of and in control of. In those days in Ceylon, and even possibly today, it’s not ‘what you know, but whom you know that mattered’.
November 1968 was the first occasion I had to take decisions for myself and my future. Would I attempt the A/L’s and if successful go to University or veer away on another path? Being a member of the College Cadet Platoon, the Master-in-Charge, suggested I join the Sri Lanka Air Force. I was not sure, but it was an option. During the next couple of weeks, I found that I had been appointed a Prefect and a Librarian, which position was considered by some to be prestigious within the College. This, though I had never in my entire school career ever visited the Library.
On mentioning these new developments to my brother-in-law, he immediately told me “The forces are for brawn and not brain”. Not that I had too much of the latter. He then immediately wrote out a letter to his schoolmate and friend, Neil Chanmugam, the Ceylon Cricketer, who was employed as an Accountant at a leading Mercantile Establishment at the time. The next Saturday morning carrying this letter, I went over to the addressee’s home. He opened the door, read the letter handed over to him and then told me, “Come on Monday morning at 9 am to our office in the Pettah”. “Wear a tie”. Those were the only words exchanged and my interview for commencing employment at the age of 18.
Soon I was employed as a Cost Trainee at a wage of Rs. 100 per month. I meanwhile registered myself as a student towards hopefully becoming an Accountant some day. The work was rather taxing to the brain and mundane. In 1968, there were no calculators or computers. Addition of numbers was by counting one’s fingers on both hands, multiplication and division was carried out by writing down the numbers on a piece of paper. This went on for around 4 years.
Very soon the irresponsibility of youth took over. After a heavy night of partying with friends, I would find it difficult to get out of bed and drag myself to work. So the next day I would go to work and tell my boss ‘Grandmother died’. The years quickly passed by and my part-time studies were not going too smoothly as would be expected in my pursuit to becoming a qualified Accountant.
My penchant for partying took over. A few years later my father’s mother who resided in Galle passed away. I took two days leave to attend the funeral and other functions that followed. My maternal grandmother had passed away long before I was born.
So a while later, after another late night of partying and not being mentally fit enough to attend work, I kept away. Next day, I used the by now ‘stock and standard’ excuse to explain my absence – ‘Grandmother died’. I had by now killed the only grandmother I knew, three times over.
After 4 years of being my immediate superior, my boss did not miss a beat and had not forgotten what I had told him over the years. “How many bloody Grandmothers have you got? You have used this excuse far too many times young man”. I was totally caught out.
A few months later, I left employment with this organization for prospects elsewhere. I could now start afresh using this excuse to keep away from work if I desired; ‘Grandmother died’
Reminiscenses – Hiran Adhihetty