Traditions are made. They are definitely not of spontaneous birth. Once born through human intervention and once ritualized, like as we do when we hang a picture portrait on a colourwashed wall, we place the ‘tradition’, too, in the mythology of ‘history’.
I have been at Kingswood from 1990-2003. During that period I have dedicated part of my stay for a disciplined reading of Kingswood’s history and of its times. My own family’s connection with the school runs to as far back as 1958, when my uncle was enrolled as a student there. It is from this uncle that I first got to know that Kingswood had ‘traditions’ and that they, Kingswoodians, took immense pride in them. I was only 4 years old when I got to know this. I would spend the next 15 years, partly getting to knowing them, in rationalizing them and in trying to absorb them.
What are these traditions, then: rituals and ‘fetishized values’ that reinforce a sense of being ‘unique’; even as the same / similar variables can be located in schools other than ours. The Principal’s addressing of the students as ‘Gentlemen of Kingswood’, the ‘Kingswood Week’, ‘The Prologue’, the ‘annual Big Match’, the ‘silence bell’: these are in actual fact mere “rituals” deemed as sacred and unique — meant to unify in Kingswoodians a ‘oneness’.
But, as I stated above, traditions are arbitrary and have their own politics. One would learn that some of our ‘traditions’ and ‘folk ways’ have not been consistent through history and that the manifestation of the very ‘unalterable, unchallenged’ traditions — sad to say — have always been circumstantial; and relative to time.
Take the simple case of the ‘Kingswoodian hair’. Hair, at Kingswood, has to be short — shorter than average (and ‘average’ is an arbitrary measurement). My hair being curly, there was a time when I used to have a haircut once every 3 school weeks. This short hair business used to be immersed in us as a ‘tradition’ of the school. So, when they say ‘short hair’ here we are — the kids — busily visualizing a Louis Edmund Blaze in black and white, inspecting the length of the boys’ hair (also in black and white) as they pass in military line.
I remember being pulled up on several occasions by Spartan-imitating ‘Prefects’ (total jerks, most of the time, and with gelled long hair quite often than not) for having hair which, I was told, was “too long”. The then MIC of discipline — Ananda Kasthuriarachchi (Kastro) — was very particular about the external discipline of the scholar. Being brought up in the rugby bowl I can forgive him for all that.
Then, one day, I chanced upon a group photo of yesteryear — hung along the corridors near the Principal’s office. This photo sported the College First XV, after a fruitful campaign in 1983. Scrutinizing the display, since it is a part of ‘tradition’ a familiar face props up: that of a late teen Ananda Kathuriarachchi coyly standing in the second row in the photo — a slight mustache visible, even though the 20 year old glass pane of the photo.
Now take a look at the KCK First XV, 1977:
Long hair, mustaches like in ‘Asterix’, hair dos resembling Raj Kapoor movies: well, why not? These were the 70s, and how can a ‘discipline’ or ‘tradition’ ever emerge outside the temporal framework of an era? Discipline, like orchids, are not born in the air.
But, why I wrote this entry is not because of my disregard for Kingswood’s ‘tradition’; but, because there are some who manipulate Kingswood’s long cherished ‘core traditions’ to fulfill their mean and narrowminded political ends. Such a thing I have come to observe from — perhaps — the immediate past year or two: how our sacred ‘Kingswood Week’ has been now infiltrated with a ‘Kala Ulela’.
Kingswood’s traditional ‘week’ had no ‘Kala Ulela’ for 118 years. The ‘week’ began with the religious ‘Sunday’, had the assembly in which a ‘guest of the week’ came to school — ideally a historical relation of the old place — followed by the sportsmeet, the prize giving and a day for fellowship. With time, the ‘colours eve’ was added to the agenda. But, ‘Kala Ulela’?
Kingswood recognized a students’ society called the ‘Prathibha Kala Sansadhaya’ in 1997. This — to my memory — was founded by the likes of Nalaka Swarnathilake, the Scribe of 1998, Dias, the late Abeyweera and co. Since that year, the said society has been having an ‘Arts Festival’ — its own festivity depending on the interests of the respective students of the year — on an annual basis. But, one will agree that the ‘Ulela’ never hit the magnitude or the festive spirit as was evoked by Swarnathilaka and co in its initial year. In fact, for some, this became no more than the ‘burden of tradition’ — little more.
Now, this ‘Kala Ulela’ — a prerogative of the aesthetes of the school, of students and of some of the staff alike — has crept into the ‘Kingswood Week’ agenda as well. As a squatter would steal into another’s land, here is the ‘Kala Ulela’ setting up camp — and is now being blessed with legitimacy to be a part of that ‘Kingswood Week tradition’.
On one hand, I am unarmed by my own belief that ‘tradition’ is ‘arbitrary’. But, then, on the other hand, my sentimentality of being a Kingswoodian pisses me off when people who seek personal mileage try to mess up the iconic rituals and patterns of my school.
These are not issues, really. The ‘Kingswood Song’ by itself gives us the wisdom that should give us the steam to carry on past these pettinesses. But, we are mortal all the same; and the school calls us to “play the game forward all”.