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May 11, 1998


A maiden for the master blaster

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Sonali Samarasinghe

Contrary to what the hype said, no Indian cricketer was present. Neither, for that matter, did any beauty queen -- past, or present -- turn up for the festivities.

The entire who's who of Sri Lankan cricket and politics was, however, in attendance when Sanath Jayasuriya was linked in matrimony to ex-Air Lanka ground hostess Sumudu Karunanayake at 10.30 am, May 8.

Weddings, like politics, sometimes produce strange bedfellows -- and we aren't talking of Sanath and Sumudu Jayasuriya, here.

The reference, rather, is to the two leaders from opposite sides of the political spectrum: Ranil Wickremasinghe and Chandrika Kumaratunga, looking equally beautiful, sitting next to each other at the nuptials of Sri Lankan cricket's master blaster.

The invitation cards -- sent to a very elite cross section -- was a long folded card in yellowy cream, with a traditional diamond motif in old gold and brown at the border, tied with a gold chord in the form of a booklet -- the contents being in both English and Sinhala. At the bottom were printed two traditional pots overflowing with coconut fronds.

While the guests were trickling in, amidst tight security, to the Atrium Lobby of the Hotel Lanka Oberoi, female fans of the dashing cricketer were presumably donning sackcloth and ashes, bemoaning their loss. As one 42 year old female wrote to a Sinhala newspaper, "May 8 is the saddest day of my life, it is the day I will commit suicide... Sanath has no idea of the love I bear for him."

Such mass hysteria and obsessive sentiments by Lankan females seem to have had its effect on Sumudu if not on Sanath. According to a family friend, the couple even decided to play around a bit with neketh(auspicious) times (the poruwa ceremony was originally scheduled for 10.20 a.m) for the sake of security -- the threat being not from suicide bombers, but from deranged female fans.

Friends of the bride's family informed us that in fact, even the car to take the bride to the hotel was not decided on till the night of May 7, due to security considerations.

At about 10.25, Sanath walked into the hotel lobby amidst magul bera(traditional beating of drums) and a troupe of energetic Kandyan dancers in glittering head dress. In his unassuming fashion, he kept his head down, eyes fixed on his own brightly polished shoes.

His best man was Jeevantha Dharmadasa, son of Jayantha Dharmadasa, joint managing director of the Nawaloka Group of Companies. Jayantha Dharmadasa is also older brother of Upali Dharmadasa, former chairman of the Board of Control for Cricket in Sri Lanka.

Even as the groom, in a dark grey suit with a white rose in his buttonhole, walked up to the poruwa, the extremely attractive Sumudu entered the reception area, again to the accompaniment of traditional dancing and drums.

Sumudu, who had opted for a deeply rich cream and old gold Kandyan sari, flashed glittering smiles at the cameras and seemed quite at home in the limelight. Fair complexioned, with a large beauty spot on the left just above her lip, Sumudu had on a traditional Nalal patiya (head dress) of red rubies set in gold. She also had on the seven gold chains worn by Kandyan brides. As her solitary bridesmaid she had her niece, Yoshani Jayasinghe. The bridal party also consisted of three little maids, including Roshan Mahanama's little daughter, and one page boy.

The bridesmaid wore a gold organza sari, Indian style, with an intricate flowery design worked onto its edge with gold beads sparingly interspersed with red ones. The little maids too had on lama saris in the same style and material. The bridal ensemble was designed by well known Sri Lankan designer Harris.

The entire wedding ceremony, in fact, had the old gold theme. The many trees that surrounded the atrium lobby of the hotel were decked with fairy lights. The poruwa done totally in gokkola (Coconut palms) sported the traditional Hansayas (Swans). In the middle of the structure were three columns in dark brown using the drier Gokkola leaf; the two outer columns ending in a leafy outward motif. Wimal Jayawardena, a veteran poruwa maker from Kiribathgoda, who had designed the poruwa stand insisted that the three columns were meant to depict wickets -- significantly, no 'bails' surmounted the columns.

The top of the poruwa had a beautifully crafted lotus flower with wide open petals facing downwards like an umbrella over the couple.

In attendance, playing mellow instrumental music while awaiting the arrival of the couple, was the band Nalin Perera and the Marians. Once the poruwa ceremony was complete, the band segued into popular Sinhala songs with Perera and the equally well known Keerthi Pasqual at the mike.

Opposition leader Ranil Wickremasinghe, resplendent in a cream suit, walked in at about 11 am even as guests were queueing up to wish the bride and groom.

The couple, accepting the good wishes, stood near a bridal couch at one end of the hall -- the couch surrounded by a tasteful flower arrangement consisting of cream and gold flowers in a mass of greenery.

Ranil's arrival saw the couple excusing themselves and coming down the hall to greet him.

A while later, at 12.3o, President Kumaratunge arrived amidst much fanfare and accompanied by a sea of plainclothes police. The band played the Lankan national anthem on cue, leading to some startled looks from guests before they realised what it was all about.

The President went up to the couple to greet them and wish them well, and then found a seat next to political rival Ranil Wickremasinghe. Given the nature of the occasion, animosity appeared to have been buried for the moment with both leaders exchanging smiles and words.

Of course, the bonhomie didn't last too long -- a while later, Wickremasinghe was seen sunk in a brown study. It could be because of the proximity of his rival -- then again, it could be because he had to attend another reception, at the Oberoi Hotel, celebrating the wedding of Deepika, Speaker of the House K B Ratnayake.

President Kumaratunge was also scheduled to attend the same wedding -- but a bit later.

Back to the Jayasuriya wedding, where the guests were doing their best to demolish the buffet lunch -- a fine spread of fried and or boiled rice, mutton curry, chicken curry, devilled cuttlefish, dhal, fried pappadam, fried prawns, cadju and green pea curry, and mixed vegetables. Dessert included all the usual favourites -- chocolate mousse, fruit salad, blancmange and custards.

And, of course, champagne all round, with S Skandakumar proposing the toast, and paying Sanath many compliments. Talking of how he had first got to know Sanath about a decade ago, Skandakumar reminisced about how Sanath would, before any major tournament or series, unfailingly walk into his office to bid him goodbye.

In a short and witty speech, Skandakumar let loose a flurry of cricketing puns, mostly bordering on the risque.

Nali Wickremasinghe, no relation of Ranil's, was the officiating Registrar of Marriages -- her 2528th wedding, we were told. If this were her 2529th wedding she would have refused, she said, explaining that it would have been an unlucky number. Interestingly, Mrs Wickremasinghe was also the registrar at Sumudu's sister's wedding.

"I couldn't believe my luck when I realised whom I was going to register in marriage this time," she said. Thus, when the bride's father had inquired "Do you recognize the name?" was when it dawned on her, she asked, "Ane me Sanathda? Matath me wasanawa labunada?" (This is Sanath isn't it? Have I been bestowed with this good fortune?)

Contrary to pre-wedding media hype, the celebrations were refreshingly low key. According to a friend, Sanath had wanted a quiet wedding sans fanfare. The record-breaking batsman is known to his adoring fans as an unassuming guy. "Fame hasn't gone to his head," said one young girl of her hero, as I was entering the reception hall.

The reception itself may have been low key, but security wasn't. Guests were not allowed to park their cars in the usual car park, and extensive checks were carried out on those carrying cameras or larger bags. This, of course was mainly because the President would be in attendance. Cell phones abounded, and annoyingly punctuated almost every song the band belted out. Ditto, the blinding lights of the cameras, wielded by both professionals and amateurs. Clicking away with all the others were Mrs Bruce Yardley, wife of the Lankan cricket team's coach (who, interestingly, was to lose his job 24 hours later), and Alex Kontouri the physiotherapist. In fact, at one point during the signing of the marriage register, Sanath had to ask people to stop taking pictures, because he couldn't see in the glare of the flashbulbs.

During the poruwa ceremony Kontouri, Bruce Yardley and Mrs Yardley were seen almost at the foot of the poruwa, watching the traditional ceremony intently, occasionally snapping a picture or two. Most of the cricketers walked in after the poruwa ceremony was over. Arjuna Ranatunga appeared in an off white tunic and sarong, his wife in a matching off white saree with a thin gold border. Aravinda de Silva, the earliest of Sanath's colleagues to arrive, had on a dark green suit and a Versace print tie. Commentator Ranjith Fernando and his wife Ramani, Ranjan Madugalla and wife Sharmini, the wife of former Test star and Lankan selector Sidath Wettimuni and S. Skandakumar sat at one table. Ranjith Fernando was heard jokingly asking Kontouri if he would like a poruwa ceremony too.

Also present were the likes of Pramodya Wickremasinghe, Sajeeva De Silva, Nuwan Zoysa, Ravindra Pushpakumara and of course Roshan Mahanama, rubbing shoulders with BCCSL officials both past and present. Chaminda Vaas arrived on crutches, seeming in real pain and with his right leg still in plaster.

Throughout the ceremony, little children kept running upto the cricketers asking for autographs -- and the cricketers smilingly obliged, even posing for photographs with some of the guests. When one tiny tot asked Aravinda for an autograph, he jokingly wrote on her cheek as well. This had the little one bounding up to her mother, proudly showing off the marks on her cheek.

Oh yes, one notable absentee was sports minister S B Dissanayake who, it is learnt, was indisposed. Not that the ceremony lacked for guests -- in fact, there was a larger than expected turnout, necessitating three extra tables being brought in.

The wedding was nevertheless so well attended that three extra tables were brought in, a little while after the couple arrived at the lobby.

Outside, cameramen were clamouring to get in; and seemed angry that they were being stopped at the security checkpoint at the entrance to the hotel. However, according to one friend of the groom, some of these cameramen prevailed upon the organisers to allow them in; it was due to them, they argued, that Sanath received so much publicity in the first place. Eventually, most of them were allowed into the hotel, but not to the reception area itself.

The buzz was that Sanath saw his future bride at Colombo airport during his numerous trips out of the country, and was smitten. Too shy and embarassed to approach her directly, he spoke to her bosses and intimated to them his feelings for the lovely hostess.

Whatever the story of their romance, one thing was clear from their expressions -- Sanath and Sumudu appeared completely enamoured of each other.

The bride and groom left the hotel at about 3 pm. All the guests were given a wedding photograph of the couple as a token of their appreciation.

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