This year I had the opportunity of being at the event which, for me, is the high point of the college calendar: the annual prize giving. Mine was a return to this auspicious event after almost 07 years, since leaving the school in 2003. At my final prize giving — an event in which I was featured continuously for 14 years — I walked off the stage with a makeshift trophy for the Most Outstanding Student. The man who handed me the trophy — the then Prime Minister Mr. Mahinda Rajapaksha — had been busy, since; not only becoming the 5th executive President of the country, but by also making sure the 6th such person would have to move sky and earth to get there.
My first prize giving was in 1991, which coincided with Kingswood’s centenary. The prizes were given away on that occasion by the President of the republic, the late Ranasinghe Premadasa. I vaguely remember watching the eloquent head of state meting out some statements that appeared to be quite heavy and solemn, occasionally stooping forward, hands fast onto the lecturn. Premadasa was assassinated 2 years later, in 1993.
In my first prize giving I was the “1st” in the Grade 1c class. My number in the prize list was number 9. I occupied a seat in the 2nd row of the prize winners’ pew. Lakshitha Pahalagedara and Varuna Dharmaratne came in next. Most probably we had a “tie” for the 3rd position, since I distinctly remember Dharshana Premaratne there too. 21 years later, Pahalagedara is at some foreign destination, spoused, perusing a postgraduate thing. Varuna has moved across to Australia and tied the knot sometime last year. Growing up, Varuna’s forte was the wicket keeper’s gloves — as he made the line up of the college First XI, batting in the middle order and squatting behind the batsmen.
Dharshana, of course, is a successful young entrepreneur, reviving the “Williams” — his ancestral heirloom into a booming enterprise. When he earned it first they were not making profit the way they do now. In fact, when my father died and we had to hire stuff to set up tents at the funeral house it was “Williams” we contracted. I encourage you to do the same in the case of a funeral in your family, too. The service is both professional and reasonable.
Over the years, I had been to 14 prize givings, bringing home nearly 70-80 books. My very first prize book was “Kalu Kurulla” by Aparajitha Ariyadasa. Much later, I learnt that this writer was related to Edwin Ariyadasa — who, in turn, was a relative of Shashika Bandara, the best ever friend I made at Kingswood. Once I remember, many many years later, I came across Aparajitha Ariyadasa’s FB profile. I sent a message to her and inquired after the sales of her “Kalu Kurulla”. I mentioned that this was the very first book I had received at a prize giving. She said she was flattered.
Watching the prizes being distributed was an emotional phase — for in my witnessing that process, I was witnessing the “past” and the “future”: my past and the school’s future. I wish that the school authorities pay more attention to the ceremonial aspects of the event, such as the recitation of the Prologue. The reciter could have done a better job with it, I felt. Not that I single out the reciter of 2011. But, over the years, I have witnessed many reciters who belt out the Prologue, not fully grasping what they are reading. The school authorities can pay a fraction more in attention to this historical recitation which dates back to 1895.
In an earlier entry, I had noted how “The Kala Ulela” and the “Scouts’ Day” — important as they may be — have crept their way into the Kingswood Week since last year. I do admit that life is dynamic and things have to change with time. But, when I say “change” I do not mean insertions of sorts through which people try to enhance mileage for themselves. The changes you usher in and approve should have a significant meaning and a resonance to the pan-Kingswoodian community. The Scouts are an important unit in the school and the artistic mavericks, too, matter. But, so do the Commerce Society and the Road Safety Unit. So, on what basis do we bring in the Kalaa Ulela into the traditional Kingswood Week; and not the Road Safety Unit Day?
People should not mess up with the system to ego-massage themselves. One has to be realistic enough to the fact that our stays at Kingswood are temporal. But, the ill and the dubious we may ingrain to the college may linger long after our day, to mess up and to shit with the path our history has taken, as an institute.
Another ludicrous insertion I saw this year was something I heard in the “three hearty cheers”, which is traditionally proposed by the Senior Prefect. In the proposing of the cheers, the said individual went to the extreme of proposing a cheer for the “Prefects’ Court”. The audacious Senior Prefect and the negligent authorities should understand the essence of the proposition that is being made. The Senior Prefect’s duty there is to send off with his warm respect and regards those who come and partake in the Kingswood Week / prize giving. He is not expected to thank himself or pay homage to the body of students he represents in his proposal. This was absolutely ridiculous and arrogant at the same time. His ignorance has to be corrected — even though he’s the Senior Prefect. I am told that this insertion has come into play since last year. But, for the health of Kingswood — an institute which is BIGGER and more important that the Prefects’ Court or the individual prefect in question — these idiotic tendencies have to be weeded and smothered straight away.
I was seated among the Old Boys, Donors and School development Society members. I am appalled by the fact that I was the only sitter who even bothered to clap when the prize winners went up on stage. My entire row and the neighbouring rows were more preoccupied in small talk and chit chat. I was even more perturbed by the fact that none of my neighbours sang the Kingswood Song. Either these people are not “old boys” — in which case their silence is understandable — or else, they no longer bother to revise that wonderful anthem.
The Most Outstanding Student this year was Leonard Wanninayake. Among the top prize winners were Inosha Alwis and Azman Branudeen, whom I have had the pleasure of working with in debate activities. In fact, when I walked up to get my prizes in 2004, I remember these chaps being in the 6th Grade or so. It was emotional to see the seats we empty being taken up by persons much cleverer and more accomplished than us. The feeling is even more intensified by the fact that you pride yourself as being a kind of influence at some point in the “growing up years” of these fellows.
Life continues and — more than continuation alone — life betters and perfects itself with time. That is exactly why Kingswood has to keep its eyes open and be broadminded and progressive even where “changes” are brought in. Petty desires of festered individuals and narrowminded orchestrations will dull and retard the immense potential Kingswood has; Kingswood will continue to have.
Vihanga Perera (1990-2003).