My entry into school debating was purely accidental. I remember how in mid 2000 the then Senior Prefect Isuru Sirinimal walked thick into my classroom. Mine was the first class in the 10-11 block. Isuru marched in and did the habitual ‘Prefect thing’, by throwing a bit of weight around. Then, he ordered me to follow him: me — one of the meeker well behaved elements in the class.
Well, I was darn sure this was a case of ‘mistaken identity’, if, indeed, it was a long walk to some punitive measure, but my suspense was held in check as I was taken to the Hall. There, just by the stage was that heavy multi-purpose table (the one that is used from table to stage prop) around which sat two others. One was Shafraz Ansar and the other was GSI Fonseka. Isuru asked me to take as seat and quite democratically proclaimed: “You’re the new 3rd Speaker of the Kingswood Debate team”.
My first debate was 24 hours from then. I remember that rainy sludgy day, as we made it to Trinity College. These were the ‘TCLA Debates’, a kind of happening thing back then. Trinity had been rocking Kandy debates quite hard with the likes of Buddhika, Sidath and Sameera. They were all much elder than I was and I have never known them other than by sight. I was running on 16 that evening and was a good 3 years younger than the seniors.
The topic was “Computer Technology has gone too far too fast”. So, confound it. We were opposing and Isuru Sirinimal was our mover. Shafraz spoke second, I went 3rd and Fonseka was 4th up. Both me and Fonseka were making our debut. As far as I know this remained Fonseka’s first and last debate: since he was in the A/L class and we had no more debates that year.
We lost that debate. Trinity won. After the whole thing, a bulgy Trinitian — almost a man mountain — walked up to me and showered me with quite warm regards. He appreciated my effort and assured me that I showed immense promise of going a long way in the trade. Years later, when my cousin Dimanthi married a Trinitian named Ukuwela, I asked Uku who this huge man mountain was — cos, as I guessed it, there could be no two such mountains; even at Trinity. Ukuwela tells me that my reference could have well been to a Kenneth Abrew. So, Kenneth Abrew, if you’re reading this — here’s hi-five to you.
Well, it was defeat alright. There was talk of the judges being partial; but, that kind of talk is in any case too common at the heat of being beaten. Maybe, Trinity was better that evening. Or, maybe, the judges, too, could have been a tinge bias. I was not too sure.
It was raining as we came. It was raining as we left. I remember Sakumal Perera (Roma) and Venura Parua being there to cheer the team.
Well, that was the only debate in which I spoke under Isuru. To my knowledge, Kingswood didn’t debate between that debate and 2001. I remember us having to stand out of the competition organized by the Kandy Rotaract in 2001 — for the lack of a “team”. Isuru and Shafraz were, I remember, too tied up with the school sportsmeet and I was left without much man power. Here, it was with Dharmaraja we were drawn. It was kind of sad not to have gone. After the Trinity debate I was kinda fascinated by the whole thing. This would have been an ideal spot to do something solid.
The Rotaract debates had its final at the Hotel Casamara. Trinity was pitted against Kandy Girls’ High School. Trinity was led by Shamil Zawahir. A year later, in 2002, it was this very team that Kingswood sunk at the TCLA contest, by a score of 167-149. KGHS was debating under Thiruni Kelegama. The topic was “The Sri Lankan Democracy has Failed” or something similar.
Trinity won this — even though it was a evenly matched debate. I was seated in the audience and the mind was most certainly made up and fast: Kingswood will have to groom a solid and serious debate team — not the usual ad hoc outfit, but a regular organ that will debate to win and after winning maintain that stride. It had to be done and Trinity had to be defeated. TCLA 2000 had to be avenged.
With Isuru and Shafraz gone, I found an optimistic and dedicated ‘visionary’ in Shafeer Ansar — Shafraz’s brother. He was one grade my senior, but he, too, seemed to want to do something solid with debating. While laying the blueprints for a ‘regular four’ I got hold of Thimilaka Tennakoon and Ranil Pelpola: both were unwilling at first, but were ready to compromise. This was the team that we took to Ananda in 2001, to debate against Alethea International.
The topic was a metaphysic born in hell: “The Liberated Judy has Lost Her Punch”.
We lost yet again. On hindsight, perhaps, that was an OK decision. Both our 2nd and 3rd Speakers showed inconsistency. However, it was motivating cos both Isuru and Shafraz had come to see us debate at Ananda. In fact, they joined us in our return journey home in the 12.40 slow train.
After the Alethea debacle, Shafeer and myself were more keener in our task for a ‘regular four’. This is one place where we had to go outside the ‘authorial’ directive of teachers who had done nothing for the school’s debating, while holding on to a placard painted ‘MIC’. We were looking for commitment and seriousness. We let off Thimilaka and brought in Shashika Bandara — two grades my junior — and M. Hamza (later, El Hamza), of Grade 10.
With Hamza at Number 2, Shashika at Number 3 and Shafeer whipping at 4, we were hard at practices for the TCLA, which was on the cards. To my mind, this was what was eventually to be the last of the TCLA debates. Not only did the Trinity College Literary Association fail to hold the finals of that competition, they quit the whole debate fixture from that year onwards.
With two days to the debates, we were asked by the self-assumed MIC of Kingswood debating not to participate in the competition in question. I was told that the team was ‘not mature enough’. We were drawn against Trinity and a re-match of 2000 was on the cards. No way we were going to miss out on this and that is what happened. We decided to go, in spite of the directive.
We spoke to the Principal, who was quite understanding, and walked out the gate on our way to Trinity. Trinity opposed the topic which was on the “use of modern drugs”. I felt Trinity was fairly underprepared that evening. Shamil Zavahir was his usual witty, charming self, pounding out sophisms at a journalistic speed. Ashan Dissanayake was in the team and their 4th Speaker was Kavinda Udugama.
Hamza spoke second for us. Shashika went in third. Shafeer was a treat at his whipping seat as Number 4. In fact, Shafeer was the find of the debate. His brilliant sense of humour, the controlled cynical strain, and his quick wit fell into place and brought him home as a ‘debater’. Eric Soysa was judging with a Mrs. Goonawardena (as I remember her name).
I knew that Trinity was being average that evening. But, the final words of the judge — the Goonawardena — made it clear as to how significant our win that evening was. Those words have always remained true to their ring in my ears, even as I have judged debates and as I have been in the innerwheel organizing similar events: “You know that my heart is always with Trinity, but today I am compelled to leave my judgment against you”.
The odds, then, were not alone those of having to defeat Shamil Zavahir and his team. Ours had been a tussle against Goonawardena’s own pet desires and the fact that Eric Soyza — the jolly old man — who, himself, was a Trinity master.
And there it began — a “renaissance” in Kingswood debating, that saw my successor Shashika Bandara build up a mammoth reputation in the Kandy circuit as a mover with a near-invincible team. Between 2002 and 2005, Kingswood went on to win 21 of 23 debates, losing only to Dulendra Udukumbura’s St. Anthony’s (2002) and Ayesha Paiva’s Good Shepherd Convent (2004).
Out of those that took part in the KCK-TCK debate alluded to and the rest of Kingswood’s debaters highlighted, at present, only I remain back in Kandy. The others have moved on with life. Only I am left to reminisce.
The ‘MIC’ referred to declared prompt war on me and my team of 2002. We were denounced as the “Teachers, Mind Your Own Business” debate team. Later on, we in fact put the same to positive use by christening the 2002-2003 team as the ‘Teachers MUROB”. The ‘MIC’ left Kingswood, and as fate has it, joined the Trinity staff.
The organizers of Kingswood’s ‘KM De Lanerolle Memorial Debate Contest’ tells me that she is at present in charge of Trinity’s debate team. And Trinity does not participate in this year’s event — boy, am I not surprised!