Our man Andiris
ANDIRIS was the essence of cool.
This betel-chewing, laid-back man was the symbol of the behind-the-scenes squadron of workers who kept the college machine ticking.
Andiris was my most unforgettable character of the 1960s, perhaps because I had a continued association with him even after I left school.
Don’t get me wrong, St Peter’s had a coterie of great characters who evoke strong memories even today.
There was the dear and gentle Miss Noreen, who, even years later, after her students had left school, could remember their names. There was the jack-of-all-trades Perumal, skilled groundsmen Nonis and Dharmasena and the ever-faithful Jussey, the father-figure to cricketers.
I first encountered Andiris in the canteen where the daily battle was on to acquire two of the school’s wonderful delights – seeni sambol paan and a popsicle.
Now, nearly five decades later, I can picture the colour and hear the cacophony of the canteen as if it was yesterday.
It was survival of the fittest. The hungrier and bigger students always seemed to have a head start on being served but many of us, smaller and shorter, soon learnt the technique of belly-flopping on to the formica top of the canteen counter with our legs dangling over the edge.
To this day, I can hear the rat-tat-tat of the coins as we tapped them on the counter and yelled
From the day Andiris first handed me a seeni sambol sandwich and popsicle, I was hooked.
I can imagine myself biting into that first sandwich and it was a slice of heaven. The onions were so succulent and delicious that when you bit deep, your whole thoughts were immersed in their flavour.
Not a scrap was wasted as the paan quickly disappeared and my attention turned to the popsicle. Here again I have never tasted the like for a long time. My greatest delight was pursing my lips, placing the popsicle sideways and taking a deep drag. It was heavenly, extracting this milk-honey nectar and leaving behind only a portion of frozen water on a stick.
That was my staple fare throughout my primary school years and even today my work lunch often consists of seeni-sambol sandwiches. Such are the lessons well-learnt.
Surely, Andiris must have had nerves of steel to suffer schoolboy nonsense on a daily basis. The environs of the canteen were his domain and he ruled it with force and yet with kindness.
Now that I think of it, the betel he chewed must have been a calming influence as he dealt with a motley crew of schoolboys.
The canteen often erupted into a state of chaos as missiles of bread and sponge cake flew at the inviting heads of mates and teachers. Some even ended their trajectory as a soggy mess in the cups of the unfortunate tea drinkers.
Through all this we would hear a stern “Mey, Lamaiyi!” and the melee would subside.
As a member of the college First XI team I continued to enjoy Andiris’s catering talents. Even though the menu remained unchanged – every home game started off on Friday with an early lunch of beef stew and vegetables – Andiris’s special touch was there.
Andiris also seemed to have time for me and we would often chat when I continued to visit school even after I had graduated.
During my time with the Old Peterites Sports Club, Andiris would never refuse to cater for the events we would host, most often involving visiting cricket teams. And, I knew I had grown up when I went from “Lamaya” to “Mahaththaya”, in Andiris’s eyes.