In 1997, Principal RB Rambukwella left Kingswood after an 8 year spell as its head master. Taking over from Mr. Nihal Herath in 1988/89, Rambukwella’s tenure was known for strict discipline and a balance in extra-curricular work, sports and studies alike. The writer remembers the Principal’s deep concern for the “traditions” of the school, and attempts taken to keep these traditions alive, by making them a living part of the student’s day-to-day activities.
Parallel to the centenary celebrations of the school, the Kingswood Union and the Principal had LE Blaze’s memoir of the school’s first 25 years (originally printed in 1934) reprinted. The Prologues, too, was extended and collected into a single volume, holding together the verses from 1895-1991. In 1994/95, the Principal initiated a programme where a weekly 5-10 minute reading of LE Blaze’s KFE: The Story of Kingswood was delivered by young students over the intercom system.
Rambukwella is well remembered for his David Boon-like heavy musto and his stocky, compact bearing, as he would stand under the nelli tree each morning, half an hour to the commencement of the school. A man of few words — or, rather, a man who knew the economy of words — his departure from the school was both unexpected; but, only defined the depth of the fellow.
In late 1996, a tragic accident in front of the school claimed the life of MN Perera, who was in the Grade 7 class then. A school van had knocked the unfortunate boy in the middle of the pedestrian crossing, killing him instantly. On this particular day, Mr. Rambukwella was not in school, having left for an administrative meeting elsewhere. As the situation boiled up, with the negative influence of some hot headed teachers and boys, the school van in question was set on flames. The writer remembers watching these scenes pass from the distance of the front fence, even as he realized that to set the van ablaze would not probably avenge the dead boy’s fate.
Following the incident, Mr. Rambukwella vacated his office. In what was leaked from a staff meeting the Principal has had upon his return he had emphasized that what had passed in his absence is nonetheless a reflection of his position as a head; and that it was not acceptable to him. I carry a vague memory of similar sentiments being communicated to the boys as well. Between 1997-1999, in the transitional phase since Mr. Rambukwella’s leaving, the Acting Principal Mr. HK Upasena showed much commitment in keeping up his predecessor’s stride. In a way, these times were not very different — regards the uncertainty and volatile nature in a school running without a definite ‘Head’ — to the present days, where Mr. Ananda Weerasooriya has taken over from Ranjith Chandrasekara. But, Mr. Upasena had the benefit of taking over a system that was groomed by the most strict disciplinarians the college had in recent years been run through: Messers Nihal Herath and Rambukwella. Mr. Weerasooriya’s task, in that sense, is greater, as we do not see the same mettle in discipline over the past few years and with a staff that has its own divisions and pre-occupations.
Rambukwella set an example not only for each Kingswoodian to follow, but also for any authority in power as to how one should commit one’s self to the responsibility bestowed on her. It was, for Rambukwella, not a matter whether he was at school or not; but, as to how his authority should have been heeded even in absentia. In an age where politicians jump the side and mock the aspirations of the people who voted for them, where bungling ministers cling on like leeches to the offices they ill-serve and where we are indirectly trained to shift responsibility and hold on to our lot in spite of all, Rambukwella has served us with a valuable lesson.
My last meeting with Mr. Rambukwella was in 2002, when I represented the school at his then office, to invite him to be a guest at a school event. The former Principal congratulated me and said that he was indeed happy that the school continues to organize co-curricular events and that he was deeply honoured at the invitation; but, that his policy was never to return to a place he had left. Kingswood, which he served loyally, was therefore, not blotted by his principles and beliefs.