“We are all temporary visitors at Kingswood. That we may die or move on, but Kingswood has to stay behind” — Words of Godfrey Scott (as overheard by the writer on an unspecified day, mid 90s).
In an age of chest-thumping, where everyone thinks he is a Hulk, we must remind ourselves that modesty is a quality and a virtue. Specially, in the case of Kingswood, modesty and humbleness are two qualities you should cultivate —- and there are two reasons for this. The first reason is tied up with the school’s early vision, where it was established and brought up as a college that is neither ambitious nor uncannily competitive. The “growth of character” and the “values” and “qualities” as befits a young gentleman were at the forefront of Louis Edmund Blaze’s agenda as school master. Part of Blaze’s vision was to break away from the Anglican School set up and the harsh and pressurized exam-mentality students were often coached for higher bar exams. This is both seen in Blaze’s emphasis on a range of extra and co-curricular activities from the onset itself; as well as in his own testimony as recorded in his memoir KFE: The Story of Kingswood, Kandy.
Secondly, Kingswood should be humble and modest, for we are modest in our actual achievements and claims to history. How many national or international-level thinkers have we produced? How many radical men have we given to society, who would transform existing social conditions for the greater good of mankind? How many top level doctors, engineers, lawyers or technicians have we produced, whose work will stand out in history — such as the work of a Senaka Bibile or a PR Anthonisz — and whose names will be spoken of as being products of Kingswood? In 123 years, Kingswood has not produced a national Cricketer. Kingswood’s main bid for a piece of history is in rugby: but, then, again, how many national rugby players have we produced since 1969 (when the game was resumed)?
The same applies to the field of scholarship and academic activity, for in the history of the school we have produced but a few academics whose names hold down with weight; and whose recognition carves itself to history’s bedrock. Of course, I am by no means suggesting that producing “historical giants” should be the main job of an educational institute — because, Kingswood, as an educational institute, has been doing its job quite well —, but my point is that our humble and modest claims should give us a cue to be modest and humble in our dealings. Among the historically-recognized “Kingswood figures” in the Academy, we still have a vibrant cluster: but, most of them being Old Boys and masters who are either from the 1960s or before. A name that comes to mind is a loyal Old Boy, Tissa Jayathilake, who regularly writes to the papers on anniversaries and special events that pertain to Randles Hill. Jayathilake is currently the Director of the Fulbright Commission, who is widely respected in the field of English studies. During his stay at Kingswood, he is said to have been of an equal prowess in football, cricket and athletics, while being the Senior Prefect as well. Jayathilake later graduated from Peradeniya with Honours in English. Sarath Amunugama, in French, had a profitable career at Kelaniya, now being a top administrator of the same university. The gentleman was chief guest at the Kingswood Prizegiving in 2001.
Two names that the field of Literature will remember are those of the Scott brothers, Andrew and the late Godfrey. Godfrey Scott was as close to the school as anyone could be till his death in 2001. In the mid 90s, I remember as a young boy seeing Godfrey Scott approach the school gate one evening. The security guard posted there — knowing neither Scott nor Kingswood — very harshly stopped the geriatric Scott from entering the premises. Scott simply told the security guard in a solid tone that he has come not to take anything away from the school, but to give to his alma mater; and that we are all temporary visitors at Kingswood. That we may die or move on, but Kingswood has to stay behind.
Kingswood was never an ambitious beast, it was never a presumptuous pig that ate everything that lay on its way. In fact, between the inception of the school in 1891 and its Diamond Jubilee in 1951, there are three names that I am familiar with which are still respected in their respective academic fields. One of these is the name of Louis Blaze —- the founding father of the school, whose contribution to Education is well documented and respected. In fact, Blaze’s book History of Ceylon was used as the prescribed Junior High School school text for History till the 1930s: when that book was replaced by a text written by yet another Old Kingswoodian, G.C. Mendis.
G.C. Mendis’ name is among the pioneering products of the University of Peradeniya, where he graduated as a scholar and researcher in History and Archaeology. The third name to be evoked here is that of K.M. De Silva, whose writing and anthologies on Lankan History are still current. Now, let me connect the names of Blaze, Mendis and De Silva to the main thread I started with —- that of humbleness and modesty as a virtue:
In 1947, Louis Blaze is 86 years old; he is 4 years from breathing his last. He had “formally” retired from school in 1923, but was still known to be closely connected with the school’s activities. In that year, the chief guest of the Kingswood prize giving is Dr. G.C. Mendis. Writing the annual Prologue, Blaze, in that year, pens out a witty and perceptive verse, yet mapping out the global and local changes and anxieties in politics, strife and many kinds of destability. However, the Prologue ends with the following lines, with which Blaze (as Prologue Writer) addresses Mendis:
“And now Sir, you are welcome here tonight
Our keenest seeker after truth and light.
Well will you play in life your chosen part
Because you carry Kingswood in your heart”
This is the most humble, yet the most warm welcome a Kingswoodian can ever give a fellow Kingswoodian. The warmth of the words and the sincere kindred spirit visible in them is further polished by the fact that Blaze, the writer, is three generations senior to Mendis.
In 1949, the reciter of the Kingswood Prologue is none other than K.M. De Silva — who is yet a senior boy at school and (as it should be) the winner of the Senior Oratory Prize for that year. For a reader who is familiar with K.M. De Silva’s many publications on Sri Lankan history it would be an amusing fact to see some of the contents of the Prologue of 1949. In fact, this Prologue is dense with issues and aspects of Lankan contemporary history which De Silva would ponder on for the rest of his career as an academic. The Prologue refers to agrarian reforms of the 1940s, the Citizenship issue of the Estate Tamil people of Indian Origin, and regional tensions among South Asian powerhouses. In the decades to come, KM De Silva would be the editor, anthologer and author of many volumes in which the said issues would merely be triggering points.
What we can gather from Blaze’s words welcoming G.C Mendis in 1947 is how our Founder values knowledge and learning above age or ability. Blaze has always been known as a gentle, mild-mannered person. His priorities and values still hold a good lesson for us, the Kingswoodians of a Digital Age of Cyber Patriotism.
(A link to an article on GC Mendis, upon his death in 1976 can be found here. This link will take you to Michael Roberts’ Thuppahi’s Blog GC Mendis Commemoration Article)