As Oscar Wilde may have agreed, to define Wickrama Ekenayake — Wickrama Aiya –, within a Kingswood context, would be to limit the fellow. Wickrama, for over 25 years, has been assigned to the school under his office role of peon; but, in reality, that is just one of his many other occupations. Resident on College and very much the first to come in and the last to leave the college office, Wickrama is the ultimate “livewire” of a typical Kingswood day. Try getting a classroom opened, the sound system checked out or getting a table cloth borrowed for a debate on a day Wickrama is “not in office”. My sympathies in advance!
My earliest memory of Wickrama is back in 1991, while, as six year olds, we were waiting our school vans and parents to pick us up after school. Wickrama — much younger, with more hair on his forehead and with much less of a paunch — used to come by the main gate and admonish us guys to sit still about the gal veta, making less of our nursery din. As of now, Wickrama is well into his third decade at school; and in those earlier days it was his habit to drop by the main gate at school closing times. Back then, the Primary Gate was not opened at 12.00 — and the Primary traffic, too, got sent out of school through the main gate.
Wickrama’s job description and responsibilities at Kingswood are indefinite and boundless: he is more or less an all round “eye keeper” and “caregiver”. For one passing by the college at morning, if you hear the great bell pealing, that is Wickrama launching on his day’s work. That is but only the first of a 100 other articles lined up on an average working day. Over the years Wickrama and the college has build up on a symbiotic symmetry, that, through practice and internalization, his “affection” for the school seems to have become one with his life. Knowing Wickrama will familiarize you with a rhythm and art of a unique kind. Often, Wickrama Aiya’s first reaction to a thing is a complaining grumble. But, this is more a way of setting the scene for a more committed transaction. You have to learn to speak this “Wickrama Language” and not mistake his initial “arrogance” for — so to speak — presumption and haughtiness.
“Unsung heroes” of numerous types support all institutes and structures. In spite of his ceaseless and limitless contributions, the most Wickrama gets is a vague recording in someone’s vote of thanks as a member of a even more hazier “non-academic staff”. Once the annual prize giving was over, a little over 2 weeks ago, while all those that stole the spotlight were removed for ceremonial tea, there was one person hanging about the main hall; watching the trophy and cup winners taking photos and stuff and mumbling that the trophies had to be secured and put under lock, lest there will be retrievals to make next year. This one person — as you may have already guessed — is Wickrama.
Wickrama’s policy appears to be never to “praise” a person: be it student, staff or principal. This is not for a lack of regard or consideration, but because that is his “signature” and entry point. His memory of Kingswood happenings during his stay at school, too, makes him a walking chronicle of a sort. It is to his credit that he recalls with names and pet names the prominent students from almost two and a half decades ago.
Once, Wickrama shared with me the stories of the notorious “bheeshana samaya” in the late 1980s; of how school prefects — some who had been threatened with death — used to come and spend the night at college. Wickrama recalled the days propelling anarchy where a random chit dropped in a classroom could cause mass boycotts of school. This was in 1987, with TW Kathiresu as Senior Prefect. For this very reason the prefects along with Wickrama had been in the habit of checking classrooms both before and after school. These prefects had preferred to spend the nights of uncertainty at college; with Wickrama staying up with them.
To my knowledge, Wickrama never asks for a return or a favour for whatever he does as part of his “duty”. Perhaps, he has not been instructed of Kingswood’s line “duty we dare not flee, heavy the cost maybe”; but, he has often been an embodiment of those very words. Recently, Wickrama was in hospital for several months undergoing a minor surgery. In fact, I myself knew of this surgery and sickness much later. But, at least to my knowledge, he underwent his ordeal alone and on his own.
There is another element at college who can learn a good lesson from Wickrama regarding “earning the respect of office”. This element I speak of has been hanging about the school doing very little of his assigned tasks, but being a menace to old boys and such whenever they visit college. He virtually and despicably hangs about like an old crow, barely holding out his hand for money / dhatha. The shocking factor is that he is there in a bid to remove dhatha even on election days, when we come to cast our democratic vote.
Wickrama has his own paltry quarters, which he shares with his wife and kids. He has earned the respect and affection of many agents who have been with the school and have been working genuinely for its welfare over the years. But, at some point, a more practical and appreciative legacy should be his due, for all years of fide et virtute.