The Sunday Leader

H.D.R. Perera — Man In Flight

By Sharm de Alwis

Although boxing was his favourite sport it was in athletics that H.D.R. Perera achieved a semblance of perfection. Hop-step-and jump which is now termed ‘the triple jump’ was his pet event and when he was airborne he presented a wonderful sight of  man in flight.

He held the Mercantile title on the trot for three years in 1953, ‘54 and ‘55 to win outright the handsome trophy but the president of the Mercantile Athletic Association of the time asked him to keep it for a week for a replica to be made. The trophy was lost and the event is no longer on the cards.

HDR was also a member of the Shell 4 x 100 and 4 x 400 relay teams that won the Mercantile title with monotonous regularity in the 50s.

In the All-Island Athletics Tournaments he was always second to Maurice de Silva in the Long Jump. When Bob Richards of the USA was on the verge of sweeping the boards in all events in an Invitation Athletics Meet conducted by the AAA his efforts were foiled by Neil de Silva and HDR who notched the first two slots.

Academic excellence and sports were the two criteria to be enrolled as an employee in Shell and most of us got in on sports. Shell was as a consequence star-studded in every discipline of sports whether it was table tennis, badminton or any of the outdoor activities and had a plethora of men to fill teams from the 1st to the last division of any given sport.

Although he was left-handed he had batted right-hand and as a result was made to man the right wing in hockey. He was an All-Ceylon poolist but couldn’t get the better of one of the Wijekoon brothers of Matale.

Anamali Nadarajah, the All-Ceylon inside center because  Brian Assey played in his pet position of center forward played center forward for Shell and would feign his pass by looking left and passing to HDR on the right wing and then haring down the line to receive the return pass for the goal to be netted.

Shell’s MD, Peter Finn was a sports buff and would keep pace with the play by walking briskly on the touch line. He suggested that HDR should captain Shell hockey. HDR accepted the offer but said that he would decide on the composition of the team and with that some ex-pat executives were dropped including Howard Letty who was the Asst. Staff Manager. HDR steered Shell to win the championship in all four years of his captaincy. The better players in his teams comprised Anamali Nadarajah, L.P.Ernst, Noel Aluvihare, C.Y. Doraisingham, Simha Wickramasinghe the fearless goalie, Sherif Deen, M.B. Saldin, Asoka Gunasekera and P. Sivalingam.

As a student at S. Thomas’ Mount Lavinia, he was considered too good for his weight at the Stubbs and all other inter-school meets. I have seen him take out three accomplished pugilists with one pulverising punch to the solar plexus and two of them were heavier than him. He accepted the challenge put out by Brute Mahendran but I had to dissuade him because Brute was then the National Middle-weight champ. And HDR was a fly-weight.

A south-paw, HDR came up to the Finals in two of the Mercantile Boxing meets, having in one knocked out Anton John who was then the National paper-weight champ. But in both bouts in the Finals he lost to the eventual Best Boxer of the two meets who couldn’t present himself for the third meet as he was inflicted with amoebic dysentery the night before. However, Shell swept the boards in all three meets.

At cricket HDR had no pretensions of representing Shell in the A Division because the team had Sathi Cumaraswamy, Donald Fairweather, Bertram Henderling, Homer Titus, Malcolm Wright, John Arenhold, L.P.Ernst and Cedric Illesinghe. He was content to play in the B Division with lesser mortals.

Except at cricket which was skippered by Sathi Cumaraswamy, the All-Ceylon Captain, kissing never went by favour at Shell. The captain of any sport was chosen on merit and executives played under him even though he may have been a clerk.

HDR is married to June Blake who captured him even when she was a winsome school girl at Methodist College.

June’s eldest brother is Willie who was the cameraman in Lester James Peiris’ Rekawa, Sandesaya, Gam Peraliya, Devolak Athara, God King and  Baddegama.

Second elder brother was Jumbo who was a crack athlete in the AAA 440 and 800 yards teams of the AAA. Immediate elder brother is Shelley who played rugger for Colombo Clubs in the Capper Cup Tournament in 1954. Others in the team were Summa Navaratnam, Ivan Diaz, Ago Paiva, C.J.Senanayake, Alan Drieberg, Devaka Rodrigo, Ashy Cader, H. Numan and the ex-pats. Up-Country full back was Malcolm Wright.

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