.by Anura Guruge
August 27 has been an important landmark for much of my life.
That was the day in 1967 when I left Ceylon, basically for good, a week ahead of my 14th birthday. It sure changed my life though I am never sure whether it was for the better. IF I had had a choice I would have stayed in Ceylon and taken my lumps along the way. My cousins who knew me quite well reckon that I would have been shot very early on during the Civil War that started c. 1980 given that they know of my propensity to say my piece and be passionate about causes. I kind of think that they are right. I know that if I had stayed in Ceylon I would have got involved in politics.
I still remember the day we left. Actually it was night. Around 9pm local time, I think. I remember the Airport well. About 200 people came to see us off. I remember the plane. It was a Boeing 707 — still one of my favorite planes. I think it has ageless beauty. I think we flew TWA or PanAm. I have a TWA poster for a 707, from that era, hanging above my desk — even as I write.
Seven years later, on August 27, 1974, a Tuesday, the day after a Bank Holiday Monday in the UK, was my first work day at IBM U.K. Research Lab at Hursley — then IBM’s largest research lab. outside of the U.S.
I had signed up to start work on Monday, August 26, 1974. I did not know when it was a Bank Holiday when I sent a letter from Bangkok, Thailand, in July of that year, to a Ms. McKragen, Head of Personnel, Hursley, saying that I will start that day. I had been communicating with her off and on for 2 years — that being when IBM made me an unconditional job offer, when I was 19, that I would have a job at Hursley whenever I wanted it, degree or no degree — and all that I had to do was contact Ms. McKragen and tell her I was ready to join. That was a nice insurance policy to have in your back pocket when you were a totally WILD, totally hedonistic teenager living the life of Riley in College with no regard for the next day — let alone the future.
I wanted to be a game warden in Africa, though I was doing my degree in Computer Technology. After my offer from IBM I spent a whole year writing letters to various Game Parks in Africa looking for employment. Never got a single bite. Then I didn’t want to work for a capitalist American company! I hadn’t cut my hair in 2 years and was a quintessential no-drugs, but plenty of free love hippy. A British company, Sicon, offered me a very attractive job but they wanted me to spend a year in Bahrain installing a computer system at an hospital. Going to Bahrain, in 1974, did not appeal. I wanted to work for ICL — a British company, especially since I was already an expert on ICL systems (which is why IBM offered me this job in my 2nd year at Uni). ICL invited me for a weekend overnight recruiting camp at a very posh and nice country estate. I checked in on Friday night and then as was my wont those days, when I really was wild, took off the next day, with some girls I met at the event, to a very posh local pub, on the Thames, called ‘The Bell’. I still remember that, because I used to go back to that pub if I was within 15 miles of it. Suffice to say none of us got job offers from ICL since we missed most of Saturday. But, I had IBM’s job offer in my back pocket.
Then in June I went to Bangkok. Some of you will put two and two together. July – August 1974. The last days of Vietnam. American troops and support staff were pouring into Bangkok. I was living in a gated apartment complex with a lot of ‘service’ Americans. So exciting times. It was then that I sent my ‘can I start on August 26, 1974’ letter to Ms. McKragen — it being a Monday. She, a delightful lady, with a great sense of humor, sent me a letter back. This was before e-mail — though I first used e-mail, at IBM, to talk with some fellow IBMers in Japan, in 1976. She told me that Monday, August 26, was a Holiday but it certainly could be my official start date, but she would see me on Tuesday. Tuesday was august 27. What a coincidence.
So, August 27 is always special.