In the final week of January, the new students for the Primary Grade 1 classes were being admitted to school (also see: Grade 1 Welcome). On that same day, I happened to be at the school premises over some other matter and I had the opportunity of witnessing the parents / guardians of the newly enrolled students walking towards the main hall with their kids where, I think, a special assembly was organized.
Among the guardians who were walking towards the hall was Mrs. WG Asintha, who was a Primary School teacher for many years — and a formidable one at that, mind you — who had in her company a young lady and a newly entrant kid. Of course, Mrs. Asintha was all smiles as she generally is, and the vigour of her step had not lost its steadiness even though she has now been away from Kingswood for some years, following her retirement a few years ago. The child she was accompanying, I guessed, should be either a daughter’s, if not, one of her son’s. One way, or another, here she was ushering in to Kingswood another generation of Gnanaratnes.
A few meters behind Mrs. Asintha, I met another beaming couple leading a tiny tot towards the Blaze Memorial Hall: Mr. Withanage — Table Tennis coach at Kingswood for some years and the elder brother of the famous Kingswood, Kandy SC and Sri Lanka Center, JCG Withanage — and his missus, leading to school what would be another generation of that sporting family.
When I entered school in 1990, I remember quite well my first day at Randles’ Hill. The “welcome” for us was held in a building in the Primary School, which was subsequently given to Seethadevi College in exchange for some land annexed to the college ground. Welcoming me to the Grade 1C class was Mrs. Pearl Guneratne. Her husband cum Primary Head of our time, Mr. Guneratne was also a protagonist of that long ago “welcome”. Accompanying me to Kingswood on day 1 was my uncle — who, I was later to learn, was instrumental in my admission to the school.
But, what is crucial to this essay is that even on that long ago debut, Mrs. Asintha was a main feature, for it was she whom I first saw on entering the hall in which the festivities were arranged. I was perpetually scared of Mrs. Asintha who had the most vocal voice in the history of mankind and who appeared to be stern, five days a week for the whole academic year. In fact, I very well remember that those days it was Mrs. Asintha who recited the five precepts (so that the students can repeat after her) and relevant verses for the students of that block, during religious observances every morning. She would recite the verses from her class — 1B — and the students of the entire block will repeat after her; and there were 4 classes in the ground floor of that block: 1 A, 1 B, 1 C and 3 C.
In 1990, Mr. Withanage would have been in a senior class; for, as the record books hold forth he was the Captain of the Kingswood Table Tennis team in the years 89 and 90. He is a left handed, free-flowing paddler whom I have seen as a coach than a player; but, whose exploits are neatly recorded in the Annual Reports of the Principal during his playing years, as well as in YMBA TT tournament souvenirs.
Meeting Mrs. Asintha and Mr. Withanage the way I did, for me, was a rare synchronization of past, present and future — the teacher and TT captain of 1990, heralding forth the future of the school to be. Surely, the school must have changed from the times they were familiar with it and Kingswood, today, has to have a different resonance altogether as an institute. But, for them to come back to this place with yet another generation to be installed there with pride and delight must surely mean that they carry an “unchangeable” Kingswood in their hearts and minds: a Kingswood that doesn’t waver in spirit and in sentiment.