In other times, other climes, I wrote a Sunday column called ‘By The Corner Flag’ . It appeared, except for a few festival holidays, for nearly 13 years in The Sunday Times till I left Ceylon. In those days I was interested in history but passionate about all sports, from athletics to Rugby Union and wrestling. And that’s what the column was all about. These days, I’m interested in all sports, but passionate about chronicling history. So, Miscellany is different.
Over the years that ‘By The Corner Flag’ appeared, readers were never sure whether it was the name of the column or a byline (and in those days we could not use our names as authors of our contributions). Certainly, very few knew who wrote the column — not even those on the sports desks of other papers — for, I’d sit far from press enclosures, buying my own ticket if it was a ticketed event or, at ticketless events, wherever a seat was vacant or there was a gap among the standees if there were no seats. Sadly, in today’s world of journalism, they want the columnist’s picture to accompany his work — and even if I avoid giving e-mail addresses or telephone numbers, readers don’t seem to have any difficulty in discovering them. In its own way, however, that’s been a boon — and I’ll come to that anon.
‘By The Corner Flag’ was all review, comment and opinion — by a person who had participated in only three and been associated with four others of the numerous sports he aired his opinions on. There were readers who wrote in and differed strongly with those views, but no one ever said I did not know anything about any sport I was writing on as one well-known cricketer in Madras once did in response to something I’d written in Miscellany about what was sporting and not sporting. Be that as it may, I’d over the years been happy that the column had from time to time made some contribution to the betterment of Ceylon sport. But, I was happiest about it all when a couple of years ago a columnist writing in the leading Sinhala Sunday newspaper in the island wrote a bit about ‘…Corner Flag’ and remembered the campaigns it had waged to get cricket beyond the public schools’ grounds and rugby away from the brown sahibs’ clubs and into the rural areas in the former instance and the Services in the latter. Sri Lankan cricket today draws its strength from the rural areas, and rugby till 1983 drew its strength from the Services and since then, from rural boys being drawn into the urban clubs. No one in the 1950s, when I was writing all this, would have believed what’s happened in Ceylon sport today.
Madras Miscellany has, I’d like to think, created an awareness of a different kind, a greater appreciation of the historic past of Madras and of those who contributed to it significantly over the years. To be able to do that, I’ve had to learn about the city and its citizens — and, I’m still learning. Helping considerably in that process of learning have been all the letters the postman’s knock announces, the e-mails and the telephone calls. The column wouldn’t be what it is — and still going strong — if it wasn’t for readers providing me new information or goading me to find answers to their questions.