Ali Toulba’s Snapshots of 1921

Writes Ali Foad Toulba of his former master, LE Blaze as seen in the company of Trinity’s Rev. Fraser: “What a lovely picture would it have made had I been able, unknown to them, to snapshot both the Rev. Frazer and Mr. Blaze, as from my hotel window one morning I saw these two familiar figures walking side by side, quietly engaged in conversation. Here indeed was a picture to grace the walls of any school.

Ali Foad Toulba, in his travelogue Ceylon the Land of Eternal Charm, dedicates three lengthy chapters to Kingswood. Published in 1926 and collecting Toulba’s thoughts and observations of Ceylon during his return to the land of his education in 1921 — and to Kingswood, the school which he attended years earlier — this book has much value to any reader of Kingswood’s lore.

Of Toulba’s entries, chapters 16, 30 and 31 are dedicated to Kingswood. The first of these concern with a visit to the school where he records his warm feelings upon meeting his old Principal (head master), Blaze himself. Egyptian by birth and by residence, Toulba has by now arrived at Kandy:

“At Kingswood I immediately called within a few minutes of my arrival and here at last was the fulfillment of a dream I had so often seen in my sleep on Egypt’s hoary soil” (p.151).

Toulba enters the college premises discreetly (in days of lesser security, perhaps?) and gets a student to inform the Principal that a visitor has arrived. He does not give names. The door of the Principal’s room opens and Toulba relates how “the tall, thin, familiar figure of Kingswood’s Head Master” emerged with a group of younger boys.

“There at last within the walls of Old Kingswood” writes Toulba “beneath the shadow of the Kandyan Hills we warmly greet each other once more”. The warm affection and reverie upon such a reunion is very carefully embedded in Toulba’s nostalgic recovery. Toulba records amazement at finding Blaze taking a younger class and not the seniors: “I found him with one of the juvenile classes. But, then, Mr. Blaze is not only an erudite scholar, but he is a maker of men as well, for he knew what it is to have sound solid foundation on which to build the fabric of a successful career” (152).

Ceylon, the Land of Eternal Charm — Toulba’s book

On another instance Toulba is invited to an assembly at school. He claims to have been of a mild, unobtrusive manner and records how he arrived at Kingswood (after much hesitation) and how he “nervously entered the school, and shyly and timidly entered the Hall where the whole school was assembled” which “warmly greeted [him] in true Kingswood fashion” (153). Toulba humbly admits how his “heart throbbed and [his] courage failed…when [he] was being led to the platform where Mr. Blaze stood” and — this being the last school day for the term — LE Blaze has the following to say to his pupils: “Make your vacation a real holiday… and try to enjoy it to the utmost and in the best manner possible… but be careful always to behave like true Kingswood gentlemen: honourbaly and manfully”.

At the assembly in question, Toulba finds the Hermann Loos Cup, won two years back to back, awaiting to be returned to Diyatalawa a few weeks from then. Toulba is there the day the Kingswood cadets leave for Diyatalawa and records the following exchange with a young cadet, JO Mendis:

“I notice some pupil carrying the case of the Hermann Loos Cup. ‘Is this the cup’? I ask. ‘Yes, Sir’ he replies.

‘But surely, you are not going to part with it?’ to which JO Mendis (the boy) replies: ‘No, Sir, we’ll do our best to bring it back’.” (156).

In the concluding passages of Toulba’s chapter on his return to Kingswood he makes the following observations which, to say the least, show much love and sentiment of the old place:

Richmond — Winners of the Hermann Loos in 1912. Kingswood were the holders of the cup during the year of Toulba’s visit in 1921.

“More prosperous than when I entered it and more flourishing than when I left it did I find dear old Kingswood; but to find her so dignified as she was, honoured and esteemed by her sister-schools, thanks to her Grand Old Man, Mr LE Blaze, was a thing every Kingswoodian looked upon with feelings of the deepest thankfulness and joy” (158). He further quotes from a speech made by the Rev AG Fraser of Trinity College, where the founder of that school is said to have made the following note at the Girls’ High School prize day of that year:

“There was no school in the island where the loyalty of the old boys was greater or more steadfast than at Kingswood. Yet it was almost phenomenal because of the remarkable fact that there was no other school in the island that was worse backed or worse equipped than Kingswood” (This speech is made in 1921, two years before the founding stones are laid at the school’s current premises).

The ties between Kingswood and Trinity — in those early years — seem to have been much closer, not merely because of the close friendship between the two Head Masters. Toulba’s records also include a chapter on Trinity. “Long may Trinity and Kingswood march hand in hand” writes Toulba “worthy pioneers of the sacred cause of learning. If, in the field of play, or in the examination hall perchance, they are ranged on opposite sides, still in the cleanest and friendliest spirit of rivalry may each attain its goal and both for ever, loyally standing by their respective ideals, prove that though opponents for the moment, they are none the less gentlemen above all” (161).

Toulba dedicates two extensively detailed chapters for details and annexations of the Kingswood Week of that year. The graphic description would only reveal to a newer reader the crucial place Kingswood’s prize day had already attained in Kandy’s social calendar. The Prologue for the year is recited by T.B. Herath (not to be mistaken with the Commerce Section Head, 80 years later).

Toulba’s gratitude and awe of Blaze is well summed up in the following vision he has of his former master and of Rev. Fraser of Trinity. This vision he muses of, romantic as it is, is a solid estimate of how the fellow felt not only for his school but also for the Ceylonese education structure as a whole:

Ali Foad Toulba’s father —– exiled from Egypt following the Egyptian Revolt. Known to be a leading and capable figure.

“What a lovely picture would it have made had I been able, unknown to them, to snapshot both the Rev. Frazer and Mr. Blaze, as from my hotel window one morning I saw these two familiar figures walking side by side, quietly engaged in conversation. Here indeed was a picture to grace the walls of any school — two great headmasters of two great schools, in quite unconventional mood and evidently shorn of every care and worry in the fresh morning breeze, now exchanging the thoughts of two great minds” (161).

Ali Foad Toulba’s Ceylon the Land of Eternal Charm is available in hard cover from the Asian Educational Services, New Delhi and Madras.

One thought on “Ali Toulba’s Snapshots of 1921

  1. According to my knowledge, Kingswood were the first ever champions of the Herman-loos competition which started in year 1917. School cadetting was introduced in Sri Lanka way before 1917 but the first Herman-loos competition was held in 1917. Kingswood won it again in three consecutive years (1919,1920 and 1921). It took another 82 years for them to win it back in 2003. And yet again in 2005, 2006 and 2011.

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