Chandrishan personified brilliance and went waste in retirement | Sunday Observer

Chandrishan personified brilliance and went waste in retirement

7 November, 2021

Packed off to a land he knew nothing about, he returned a fully fledged rugby star who stirred up local crowds, won international laurels and lived by his mother’s philosophy:

The 1980s was a period in which rugby in Sri Lanka was at its crowd-pulling best. There was Hisham Abdeen the unassuming, undisputed favourite from Havelocks who gave spectators what they paid to see, Nalin de Silva a species of an iron man a fine Air Force officer and a team of policemen who were allowed to leave aside their law-enforcement duties to contest the top prize in domestic rugby as they took the sport to another level.

But still rugby in Sri Lanka was missing out on somebody, one player a small section of the followers loved to see and a large chunk of the following loved to hate. He almost came from nowhere, some saw him like a bolt from the blues, a totally unknown breed of player to Sri Lankans.

Bull, fox, buffalo, hit-man, black white man from England were some of the abuse that were hurled at him by supporters of rival clubs. But Chandrishan Perera took everything in his stride like a true sportsman while others were simply awe-struck by the mighty man who strode the country’s rugby fields like a colossus, an acknowledgement that Sri Lanka needed a character who was a firebrand on the field as he was a charismatic figure away from the searing crowds.

When he hung up his boots, rugby lost its soul, for he had stormed the playing fields of Colombo and Kandy stirring up a teeming multitude of fans. There was no doubt that Chandrishan lived by the words of his mother Mallika who once told him as a child: “Don’t challenge others, challenge your own self”.

He made no complaints about anything and all he needed was the ball in his hands as one of Sri Lanka’s most prosperous wingers who smashed down would-be tacklers before crossing the line for his numerous tries as he donned the red and white striped jersey for the old English club CH and FC among Colombo’s elite.

But what made Chandrishan, Chandrishan, fondly called Shan, who passed away last month at age 60 after ending up in a wheelchair following a stroke that was very strange for a man who took his physical fitness levels to a higher pedestal and motivated others to do likewise.

When he was nine years old and studying at St. Peter’s College, he was pulled out of school packed off on a plane to England, a frightened little boy making his first flight and not knowing what to expect.

But England turned out to be his dream toy-land as the boy inside Shan grew up to hobnob and rub shoulders with English sportsmen, their followers and their keepers. He returned to his native Sri Lanka, a man graduated in criminal psychology and the perfect finished product in his boots and jersey who went on to captain the Sevens team and was also a member of the side that lifted the Bowl at the world famous Cathay Pacific Hong Kong Sevens in 1984 which to this day remains one of the most memorable feats by the islanders in the international rugby arena.

One of his most memorable moments at the Hong Kong Sevens was bringing down Australia’s star winger David Campese just a few feet away from the try-line. Campese could not believe what happened and asked Shan “what the hell have you done”. Shan being the witty man that he was, replied: “I just tackled you”.

Shan was most fortunate to learn the finer points of rugby in the land where it all started and considered himself blessed to be at a boarding school in London where a monsignor (Priest) discovered his rugby talents, the only foreign boy among 200 English kids, and put him on the road to stardom.

Many could not believe the news three years ago that Shan, the imposing figure was struck down and confined to a wheelchair no more able to satisfy his off-field sporting instincts while being the fitness fanatic he was.

Having also played in the English domestic season as a fast bowler, Shan served as the Sri Lanka cricket team’s fitness trainer in the 1990s and had many admirers who eventually found it hard to imagine that such a fitness tower would one day be forced into the confines of his private residence in downtown Colombo.

“Either you run now or you don’t run at all. Twenty million people are watching you,” he once told the two heavyweights in the Sri Lanka team, Arjuna Ranatunga and Aravinda de Silva, who four years later were on a World Cup podium.

Shan was one of the silent promoters of Cricket Aid set up to foster and rebuild the lives of orphaned children in the aftermath of the Asian tsunami in 2004 and unknown to many he made one of the finest humanitarian speeches on a visit to Batticaloa and such a touching Plea if only made in London or Melbourne could have brought Sri Lanka a plane load of collection boxes.

But Shan being who he was could not have settled into a role that mattered the most to himself and the country when in retirement.

It can be argued, he literally went waste.