If you are visiting Colombo during the months of March and April, you might have seen some strange sights on the roads. Policemen are forced to come to terms with the sight of twenty cheering, singing schoolboys hanging out of a vehicle designed to hold five, with so much natural camouflage of branches and trees that Oliver Stone could have used it in "Platoon". With them is a band , usually consisting of a drummer and a trumpet player and together they belt out non stop tunes , ,jaunty blaring songs with obscure lyrics but infectious tunes. What the heck is going on ? Welcome to Big Match Fever.

Every year , all the boys schools in Colombo pair off with their traditional rivals to play a cricket match . Royal with St.Thomas, Ananda with Nalanda, St.Peters with St. Jospehs ...........Actually "cricket match" is a bit of an understatement. That would be like comparing the Himalayas to a bunch of foothills. No , what we are talking about is much more serious. This is war , but a bloodless fun war , where forty year old executives fling their ties away and jump on a truck to roll around with their nephews , so that they can feel eighteen again. These festivities have also been responsible for some moments of extreme hilarity and inspired chaos , caused by schoolboys on the rampage on the streets of Colombo, wreaking more havoc than the conquering armies of Attila the Hun, Hannibal and Genghis Khan combined could hope to imagine. Teachers and parents sigh in resignation and reach for the bottle of Johnny Walker and nuns lock up their convent school charges and send out fervent Hail Mary's in the hope that God will intervene and distract the packs of young bloods away from their school for once at least.

There is something about Big Match Fever which brings out the wild child in everybody. It is a time devoted to excessive partying, drinking and fighting, a time when respectable young men put aside their inhibitions and turn into creatures from another dimension entirely . entirely. It is a time for celebration - and what makes it all the more rare is that over the years, who actually wins the matches has become less and less important - what is more important is having a good time . Over the years, there have been events that have turned into legend during the course of these three days in March, schoolboys who have turned into heroes because of their actions - never mind that they were so sozzled that a stray cigarette spark would had them blazing like a Kuwaiti oil well .

Alcohol and young men have been a volatile combination ever since man crawled out of the primordial swamp, and the Big Match days provide some prime examples of the temptations and hexes Bacchus weaves in the minds of young bucks. There's the guy who had his nose broken in a fight, passed out and had to be taken to the accident ward - while all his friends crowded inside the ambulance and continued drinking around his prone form. When they got to the hospital they all staggered off and wandered around the accident ward, while the hapless attendants attempted to keep the sozzled reveler from sliding off the chair while they X-rayed. The final audacity was when the young man's nose had been plastered, they bribed the ambulance driver twenty rupees to take them back to the match ! There's the schoolboy who attempted to help his drunk friend throw up by the simple expedient of sticking two fingers down his throat - only to find that his friend suddenly developed a pitbull-like lockjaw and refused to let go of his fingers ! When he finally let go, to add insult to injury, the offender reeled around singing 'Please release me , let me go......." , while his patient mother stood in the background advising his friends to give him ice cream.........And some young improvisers, finding themselves a bit short on cash to buy alcohol on the day of the match , turned to an ayurvedic herbal remedy instead, that had the effect of making their eyes pop out like goldfish and plaster wide grins across their faces. The drug in question was also reputed to be a strong aphrodisiac. I will let you draw your own picture.

During one period in the game's history , alcohol was banned due to some violent fights from the previous year leading to some serious injuries. Anyone with half a brain would know that banning alcohol at the a Big Match is like banning prayers at the Vatican. This challenge brought out devious plans, some of which were so foxily cunning, that you could put whiskers on it and call it La Renard ". One genius walked in carrying a flag with a suspiciously thick flagpole, that turned out to be filled with bottles . A strange rise in the average bust size of the ladies attending the matches was traced to the vast numbers of sisters and girlfriends who were bribed to carry hipflasks in their bra straps. But the Nobel Prize for Ingenuity in Alcohol Smuggling had to go to a bunch of guys who bribed some men at the Navy Headquarters , who were in charge of the security at one of the grounds to take their bottles in and bury them under the tent, the night before the match. Their joy was soon shattered when they dug up the bottles only to find that the sailors had gone over their one tot of rum ration and finished every single drop of fluid in the bottles !

Even those hallmarks of authority, umpires, have long been on the receiving end of many pranks - after all in such an atmosphere of jubilant rebellion , the most visible authority figures are bound to be prime targets. There' s the famed story of the umpire who was accosted on the field by a smiling schoolboy who calmly whipped off the umpires white hat - and replaced it with a toilet seat, complete with lid ! Legend has it that the schoolboy proudly sported the hat right through the match . I would assume that the same could not be said about the umpire. .... But do not condemn these young men for their actions. This is what being young is all about - doing things in which you can laugh at when you are older and wiser. So the next time you look out of your car window and see a bunch of scarf wearing, flagwaving young men clapping and singing, just feel free to clap along. Big Match Fever is contagious and completely harmless.