The Bradby express

By Yasas Ratnayake

Many Royalists of yore would recall, to this day, to their children and grandchildren the annual pilgrimage to Kandy every Royalist looked, and still looks forward to. But in the days of old, where Royalist traditions were followed with enormous pride and tremendous passion, the annual trip to the Bogambara stadium was one full of adventure, colour, and festivity.

While today’s Bradby revelers from Colombo journey through the crowded streets of Gampaha and Warakapola and snake through the twists and turns of the hilly terrains of Pilimathalawa and Kadugannawa, the Old Boys of yesteryear speak of an entirely different experience that today’s Royalists would have seldom heard of. It was an experience that all Royalists young and old looked forward to more than the actual game itself.

It was a journey that kindled the very essence of the sense of adventure that slumbers within every person young and old. It was an experience that, even more than 20 years since its inevitable halt, lives on to this day through the unforgettable memories it gave to those who were lucky enough to live it. It was -- A train. A Bradby train.

Today’s ubiquitous practice of traveling in buses of old boy groups and private vehicles only gained popularity when the Bradby Train was forced to a halt due to the emerging state of civil war in the country. The security of valuable lives came before any tradition, no matter how old or venerated, and because of this, the tradition of the Bradby Train never saw the light of day after the mid 1980s. But although the tradition was stopped, the memories wound around it were never erased.

The imagery of the captivating emerald paddy fields of Polgahawela, the experience of feeling the breeze of Kadugannawa’s rolling hills with its beautiful creeks, waterfalls, and crisp fresh air, and the exciting stories of shouting at the top of your lungs in the dark and mysterious railway tunnels of the upcountry were passed on from the old generation of Royalists to the new. And since its demise, Royalists young and old were forced to seek out alternatives that, in all fairness, did the job; but only without the same vibrant energy that the Bradby Train evoked.

But the times have changed. Sri Lanka is once again at peace, and the eradication of the fear and uncertainty associated with travel has given new hope to those who have for years wished to revive this memorable tradition. The efforts of a new generation Royalists who have dreamed of restoring this ritual have resulted in the organizing of the first ever Bradby Train after more than two and a half decades. The new incarnation of this once great tradition, while retaining the essence of what made it an undying memory, has added more exciting features to mirror the changes in times.

The new Bradby Train features Papare bands for the reveling young and young at heart, an exclusive cabin for teachers who have taught us what we know, special compartments for old boys to rekindle their college days and forget the burdensome responsibilities of adult life, and luxurious treatment for those who are fortunate enough to grab one of the few tickets that give access to the VIP compartment situated in the observation coach of the train that promises to show the breathtaking views of Sri Lanka’s natural heritage, and all this before the game has even begun.

It is an exciting new time to be a Royalist. Although we have succeeded in preserving age old traditions that have been passed on from one generation of Royalists to another, there have been unavoidable barriers that have obstructed the continuity of some of our most cherished rituals. If traditions define us, the exclusion of a valuable tradition will only make us incomplete. It was the story for the past two and a half decades, but it is time for us to be complete once again. The Bradby Train is back, and it is time for us to experience what the Bradby is all about once again in its original splendor. It is not only a game of Rugby, but it is everything that surrounds it, from the traditions to the memories to the friendships, which makes it unique and everlasting.

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