You either liked Mithrapala Sir; or you didn’t like him — very seldom was one undecided on it. R.M Mithrapala — or “Mithre” — joined Kingswood in 1997. He joined as a Social Studies master of the Middle School. He was my Social Studies master from Grades 8-11, from 1997 to 2000. Later on, he succeed Mr. Kamal Weerasinghe and Mr. Wijeratne Banda (Sudu Malli) as the Political Science master in the A/L Section.
When Mr. Mithrapala tragically passed away a year or so ago it was both shocking and sad to those who liked him; and were intimately known to him. He succumbed to heavy injuries sustained in a motor accident: a most ironic death for one of the most inspiring teachers I have encountered in my school career.
This is not to idealize Mithrapala Sir — cos he was, indeed, a mixed bag. As I stated at the outset, for those who could see through his “eccentricities” he was tolerable and agreeable. But, if you were one who wore a thick skull, then, most probably you didn’t like the fellow. But, the fact that he was a knowledgeable and capable teacher is not too unfair a claim to make.
When Mithrapala Sir first came to Kingswood he was noted for the nostalgia and long face which he carried with him. He had been sent to Randles’ Hill from Dharmaraja, and his praise of that school — from students, to furniture to window panels — sometimes tested the limits of all students alike. Afterall, Dharmaraja was our ‘traditional rival’ and here we get a master singing songs for that hilly counterpart.
But, I think Mr. Mithrapala found his feet as the years rolled on and was one of the ‘characters’ marked among the students’ memorabilia. He had several ‘signatures’ to his personality — the most characteristic being his top button being perpetually undone. He never, as a habit, put on the top button of his shirt and I have come across school prefects who would admonish students whose top shirt buttons are undone, asking them: “Why, is your name also Mithrapala?”.
Then, of course, Mithrapala Sir had this habit of pulling at his half rolled shirt sleeves — an action which usually preceded the beginning of class; or a speech. But, most of all, he had a unique (and, to the despair of some, a brutal) sense of punishment: where he would make the culprits of ‘forgotten home work’ etc crawl under desks, if not stand on their tops. Badly marked maps used to get torn into two and books used to fly all around. For the student with the right kind of attitude, who would take these as a part of ‘growing up the colonial way’ — memories. The others — pain.
Mithrapala Sir was an asset to intellectual grounds such as debating, since he had a rich knowledge of history and politics. I remember consulting him on several occasions as a school debater. But, more so, I think the Sinhala Debate team which my brother led between 2004-2007 profited immensely from Mr. Mithrapala’s input.
Once in the A/L classes (having sat through his GCE O/L Social Studies) we became more familiar with Mr. RM Mithrapala as an acquaintance. He was always quick with his wit and was willing to see the jovial side of things. He had this habit of pinching students — even without a reason or a prompting logic. He sure was a bit eccentric in this orientation, but, years later, that habit itself is the first thing we remember when someone alludes to the fellow.
The accident that took his life happened along William Gopallawa Mw — New Road. He had been thrown off his bike, trying to swerve off a threewheeler. One version of the story holds it that he hadn’t had his helmet fastened properly. The decisive hit had been to the back of his head. Some even say that he was under the influence of alcohol. Whatever the myths may be, Kingswood lost in him one of the best Political Science / Social Studies masters of my known times.
Mr. Mithrapala had his characteristic mustache and beard. This alone was missing among his remains. At 46, he cut out a tragic figure during that funeral; and as one of his students I felt rotten being there in the first place. He is surely among the top 3 teachers of my all time list. Had he lived longer I may have perhaps even told him that.
May the memory we carry of you be an honour to your living days!