Chest-Thumping Gentlemen and Humble Kingswoodians

I think Kingswood needs to put a pause on its heels and re-set the clock a bit. Commitment and innovative energy has to return to some of our activities. The sickening Facebook chest thumping and parading the “gentleman” banner in public should stop — for it only makes us laughed at.

In his KFE: The Story of Kingswood, Kandy, Louis Blaze explains about the humble beginnings of his “experiment in education”: the founding of Boys’ High School, Kandy (which is, in 1898, to be renamed as Kingswood after the Wesleyan institute by that name in Bath, England). In his narration, Blaze refers to how the Head of the School made it a special note to address the boys of the school as “the gentlemen of Kingswood”. This is a practice that has been followed by succeeding Principals, and is still very much in usage, 120 years later.

I'm Saman, I'm from Sri Lanka; you are?
I’m Saman, I’m from Sri Lanka; you are?

In an age of digital transmission, today, we see some boys of Kingswood taking “pride” in being a “gentleman of Kingswood”. Slogans and posts that are self-referential in being “gentlemen” are all too common on Facebook as well as in shirts and souvenirs of sorts. A “proud” FB post by a Kingswoodian would proclaim that he is “proud to be a gentleman of Kingswood till [he] die[s]”. Another would state that he is not a “carnivore” or a beast (by implication — a Trinity “lion” or an Anthonian “eagle”), but a “gentleman” and that he is “proud” of the fact. A semanticist’s nightmare comes with the post which claims that a “gentleman is simply a patient wolf” (my italics), which is followed by the claim, “I’m Kingswood” (which, once again, is better expressed as “I am from Kingswood” or “I am a Kingswoodian”).

While some may not agree with me, I find it both audacious and ridiculous to go around thumping one’s chest, while calling one’s self a “gentleman”. The Principal’s calling the boys “gentlemen” is understood in the in-school context in which that appellation happens. Further, the Principal’s (Blaze’s) calling the boys “gentlemen” was to bridge the unnecessary gap between teacher-student that existed in his contemporary times, of which Blaze was a vocal critic. This is in detail lined out in Blaze’s KFE: The Story of Kingswood, Kandy.

The FB chest thumpers, on the contrary, use the tag “gentlemen” in a self-referential usage. Have you ever found it ridiculous when someone exaggeratedly praises one’s own self? There is a folk saying in the English idiom where such narcissist self-praise is related to a monkey and the monkey’ tail. Whether some of these boys see it or not, their ludicrous claims (which, perhaps, are posted out of good intentions in order to generate team spirit etc) freely dashed across the world wide web only makes people with some form of commonsense laugh.

The post which elevates the “gentleman” up and above a “carnivore” or “beast” — in context, schools such as Trinity (who use the lion label to refer to themselves), St. Anthony’s (eagles) or Vidyartha (tigers) — is an unnecessary and childish comparison based on a historical accident. Had Blaze not insisted on the word “gentlemen” to refer to the boys, and had following principals not kept up to that ritual, there would be no gentleman today to be paraded on FB. Besides, the need to compare your “gentlemanly” status in the above form in itself shows very little depth in the “gentleman” to begin with.

"Real Men" in the water
“Real Men” in the water

For one to stand up and say “I am a gentleman of Kingswood” — outside the school culture — in itself is comical, as that cultural ritual of the boys being called a “gentleman” is not shared by non-Kingswoodians. If one is indeed a gentleman, one has to be judged and tested by the non-self / society. A Kingswoodian can only act and behave in a way where his “gentleman” is recognized and appreciated. Mohammad Ali used to call himself the “Greatest” and in the way he fought his bouts he proved he is indeed the greatest of the boxing ring. The Kingswoodian — who has much to meditate on, including humility and discipline — can only be expected to be called a “gentleman” by those he moves with. Him calling himself a gentleman — and with bravado too — can only reflect his ignorance and his stomach for empty banter.

Kingswood in an age of digital transmission
Kingswood in an age of digital transmission

Today, there are so many who are ready to “bleed for Mother Kingswood” and who claims there is “Kingswood in [their] blood”. But, these have only become empty and sensational flags you wave on net space. I have become more and more convinced over the years that for a mass majority of the boys Kingswood is more a “privileged space” they occupy — from whose good name, history and prestige they are ready to chip a piece, but commit very little for the school which they otherwise claim to cherish till they die. Such empty words have actually become the words we have inherited from ill-bent politicians and shrewd and vicious men who (in a media driven age) seem to be more frequent than one should hope for. Following suit, Kingswoodians of our times (2000s-2010s), have ended up making grand statements on Facebook (where all battles seem to be taking place and where all farms seem to be tilled), but are otherwise ready to do the “same old-same old” when it comes to school work.

Be it our Cricket, Rugby or our Arts what has been done in recent years which is pioneering or path breaking? We still look back and gloat over Maurice Fernando winning “Schoolboy Cricketer of the Year” (in 1958), of Upul Sumanasekara’s back to back hundreds in Big Match Cricket (1984/85) or of the triple crown winning First XV of Fazil Marija. What Nalaka Swarnathilake did for the arts by spearheading a week long kala ulela in the mid 1990s — an arts festival that was both qualitative as much as it was dense with items — is not even feasible today, in the days of “Facebook Gentlemen”.

I think Kingswood needs to put a pause on its heels and re-set the clock a bit. Commitment and innovative energy has to return to some of our activities. The sickening Facebook chest thumping and parading the “gentleman” banner in public should stop — for it only makes us laughed at; nor does it serve the balanced, humble personality which Blaze, long ago, desired of the school. Among other things, boys should be exposed to history —- the college’s history, not in a bantering way: but, to expose the young student as to how humble Kingswood’s history has been; how it has ranked value over price on most instances; and to inculcate in the student how to be a “better” Kingswoodian without empty words and stupid FB posts.

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