Alex Lazarus, and the missing school bell – by GEORGE BRAINE
The year would have been 1964 or 65. At Trinity, the end of each class period was signaled by the ringing sound of a large bell which hung on a low branch of a pine tree above the quadrangle. The bell ringer, I’ll call him Arnolis, was a rotund man who wore an oversized shirt and a sarong worn high above his waist, held up by a thick black belt. At the end of each period, Arnolis would approach, carefully put on filthy ear plugs he kept hidden on a nearby crevice, and beat the bell with a metal rod. The noise rang out throughout the upper school, and the boys would stream out of class rooms. All was well.
Then, one morning, the bell was missing. Gone without a clue. Chaos reigned. That was a time when few teachers, let alone students, had wristwatches. Without the bell, class periods would end on the whim of the teacher, and a new set of students would crowd the entrance of classrooms, jostling with the ones exiting. At a school with strict discipline, the ensuing confusion and the swirling rumors about the culprits, and where the bell had gone, provided much excitement and a welcome relief.
This went on for days. No one knew where the bell was. Then, we heard a rumor that the Principal was getting postcards sent by the bell. The bell sent its kind regards. Apparently, it was quite happy at not getting banged about, and was residing at a cooler place.
After some time, the culprits, three students led by Alex Lazarus, were caught, the bell fished out of the chapel pond, and restored to its rightful place. Life at Trinity returned to normal.
Fast forward to April 2017. A good friend and his wife were visiting me at Hantana, and I arranged a tour of the college chapel for them. The friend being a distinguished musician, the chaplain himself showed us around, describing the splendid Kandyan architecture, the carved stone columns, and the unique murals painted by David Paynter, including a rarely seen one in an inner room.
Then, we drifted towards the pond, and I began to relate the story of the bell. We were having a good laugh, when, from the corner of my eye, I saw a smiling man walking towards us. He was living at Trinity, had heard that “an old boy from the 60s was visiting”, and came over to see who it was.
It was Alex, who was residing at Trinity. I was dumbfounded; I hadn’t seen him in 50 years. What were the odds of the main culprit turning-up, unexpectedly, when one of his spectacular exploits was being discussed after five decades!
We chatted, delightfully recalling the “missing bell” incident. Alex told me that, under the stern gaze of the formidable vice-principal, Mr. Sahayam, he and his partners in crime were forced to fish the bell out of the pond and carry it back to the pine tree. A severe caning followed.
Those days, Alex’ father owned Lazarus Studio, opposite Cargills. He had a good selection of comics for sale. We would drop in occasionally, hoping to filch a comic or two while “browsing” the selection. But we had no chance with hawk-eyed Mr. Lazarus. When I related this to Alex, half apologetically, he replied “Not to worry, machang, my father was so stingy that even I stole from him”!
Another time, a stray dog was tied to the chapel bell at night, and the clanging bell kept the hostelers and those who lived in nearby teachers’ quarters awake all night. The next morning, a bleary eyed teacher threatened to kill the perpetrator if he was caught. It was Alex, of course.
Alex’ stellar career on the rugby field is well known. He was a loyal, devoted son of Trinity. But what I recall is the fun he brought to our lives.
Alex passed away two years after I last met him. He will be missed.