Blaze Explains the Meaning of “Gentleman”.

[Submitted to Kingswood Matters by Old Boy Shashika Bandara; from “Our Boys”, August 1937]

Blaze-picYou know it has been customary to address students as “Gentlemen of Kingswood”; Not as ‘Boys” as “Kingswoodians” or even as “my dear young friends”, but as “Gentlemen of Kingswood”, with an emphasis on the “Gentlemen.” You may wonder why this custom was established. What you read below is the explanation of Mr. L.E. Blaze, Founder Principal and the initiator of the custom.

A Gentleman does nothing which is underhand or mean. A French proverb tells us that rank has its obligations; as the saying goes, there are some things a Gentleman cannot do, then other things a ‘Gentleman’ must do. He never lets another down, but is loyal to his friends and to his duty. He never takes advantage of another’s weakness or ignorance. He cannot be stingy, giving as little as he is forced to give, and ungrudgingly – whether it be money, or labour, or time, or anything else that is of value. He cannot sneak, or carry tales, either for his personal advantage, or out of a malicious spirit of mischief-making. He cannot “crib”, or copy another’s answers to pass them off as his own. He cannot “funk” or behave in a cowardly manner in the presence of danger. However afraid he maybe – and fear comes to the bravest – he must not show fear, or give way to it. True courage is not the absence of fear, but the overcoming of fear. Some of you will remember the story of Adigar Ehelapola’s children who were cruelly beheaded on an order of the King of Kandy. The eldest boy, eleven years old, shrank from his doom. He clung crying to his mother. The second boy, only nine years old, stepped forward and bade his brother not to be afraid: “I will show you the way to die.”

The list of these things which a Gentleman cannot do might be indefinitely extended; but as a general rule it will be sufficient if we remember that we cannot do whatever is mean or unmanly, whatever he would be, or ought to be ashamed of, if it were found out.

The things that a Gentleman must do, even if he suffers by it, are, of course, the opposite of what he cannot do. He must be liberal in giving; not rashly, or unwisely, but according to his means, and according to the nature of the cause he supports. There are causes which indeed he is under an actual obligation to support as ungrudgingly as he can – his family, his Church, his School. In the past our Old Boys were good givers, even to the extent of sacrifice, as you may read in the history of the school, in the chapter on the Kingswood Union. Let me take this opportunity of reminding you that, when you leave school, your obligations to it do not cease. If you want the school to be proud of you, you must help make the school one to be proud of; and that cannot be unless you do your share, by your character, by your attainments, your loyalty, and your liberality. Whenever a future Principal proudly says in his annual report “The Old Boys have been generous in their support” as yourselves, “How much have I given or done for this purpose? What was my share in this support?”

Another of the outstanding features of a Gentleman is that he can take defeat in a proper way. He does not whine or grumble or make excuses. “The German emperors die standing” – is an old saying; “not weak or cowardly yielding for them”. I am reminded of an old incident connected with Kingswood. Mr. Boulton was walking with a friend on the road by Bogambara Jail, when the singing, cheering and laughing of our boys were heard as they were returning home. “Hullo,” said the friend, “Kingswood has won a match?”

“No.” said Mr. Boulton “they have just lost one.” That is the Kingswood spirit even in defeat.

When we say, as we do sometimes, “So and so is a gentleman,” what do we mean?

That he is just, that he is kind, that he is courteous, that he is liberal in his gifts and in his outlook. A gentleman never boasts, never pushes himself forward, even when he has the right to do so. He is courteous, – not only to those in high places, but equally to those of humble station. He gives up his seat to a lady, or an old man, or one who is physically frail. And when there is a garden party, for example, he will find a seat for anybody who needs one.

Is it not delightful to be known and being spoken of being a Gentleman? It is even more delightful to be a Gentleman, in our actions, in our speech, and in the thoughts of our mind.

While you are here in school, in Kingswood, you have the opportunity of testing yourselves, of training yourselves. The word I leave with you is this: Be a Gentleman of Kingswood, loyal and manly Gentleman of Kingswood.

(Our Boys, No 161, August 1937)

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True Greatness Does Not Make Noise

If someone asks me to nominate the most “exemplary sports personality” Kingswood has produced in the past decade and a half, Fazil Marija’s name would be almost an automatic choice. Today, most boys involved in sports at Kingswood, can learn much by simply watching Fazil Marija play; they can learn a whole lot more by watching Fazil marija walk on a pavement. Today, in the age of selfies – where everyone is a photographer and supermodel – we see many ordinary sports teams and sports team members being pumped with hot air with qualities they simply don’t have.

1020441Fazil Marija is arguably the most outstanding back division player of our generation. Had Marija been born to a different decade, or attended a Colombo school, his fate would have been very different. Had Sri Lankan rugby not been the soft toy of the Rajapakshes since 2009 – and had it not become the politicized waste bin it has today become – Fazil Marija’s true potential would have been properly used for the betterment of Lankan rugby. Now, at 29, only time and fitness can tell us how far this elegant Fly Half can go – but, my feeling is that the years in which he was “neglected” or “deselected” by the stooges who run the game was a waste that cannot be pardoned in any way.

If someone asks me to nominate the most “exemplary sports personality” Kingswood has produced in the past decade and a half, Fazil Marija’s name would be almost an automatic choice. In rugby alone, there are a few formidable names spread across the late 90s and the 2000s, but, my feeling is that Marija surpasses most of them in a rare combination of talent, sportsmanship and humbleness. Kingswood’s rugby history, between the late 90s and today, can boast of massive names such as Jeewa Galgamuwa, Amjad Buksh, Chamara Withanage, Nilfer Ibrahim, Achala Perera and Gayan and Roshan Weeraratne. Harshana Wijeweera – who for a number of years represented Police SC – was another formidable player in the late 90s. Nalaka Weerakkody, who excelled in the mid to late 1990s, is perhaps, the best kicker to represent Kingswood, Kandy SC and Sri Lanka in recent years.

But, in Fazil Marija, there was always a defining quality which ranked him a step above many of the others, from his schooling days on. This quality had to do with his gentle and quiet way of getting about his business and his ability to “unswitch” himself from being a “rugby star” the moment he left the stadium. Fazil never tried scintillating breaks or tactical punts outside the line. In fact, though earmarked as a tremendous prospect from his young years, Fazil was still one of the most soft and rarely spoken, silent blokes in the school, who didn’t walk any swagger, unlike many who sat on the bench very often did. The true sportsman is defined by how he holds himself both inside and outside the game. Fazil Marija had greatness carved out all the way along. Fazil’s most outstanding years with Kingswood came in 2002, 2003 and 2004. In fact, he was groomed right in the midst of a legendary revival of Kingswood rugby: a renaissance that saw Kingswood ride high between the years 2000 and 2006. Although Kingswood managed a League title in 2008 under Gayan Rathnage, by then, the Kingswoodian star – already drunk with blindness and vanity – was on the wane.

Fazil all horizontal
Fazil all horizontal

Today, most boys involved in sports at Kingswood, can learn much by simply watching Fazil Marija play; they can learn a whole lot more by watching Fazil marija walk on a pavement. Today, in the age of selfies – where everyone is a photographer and supermodel – we see many ordinary sports teams and sports team members being pumped with hot air with qualities they simply don’t have. How some boys thump their chests and make much out of nothing is laughable, given the fact that many of them can’t even come close to a champion (in talent and discipline) such as Fazil. There are fellows who share on Facebook the day-by-day schedule they follow in the fitness center. Others post photos doing push ups, half squats, monkey-bars or other muscle-enhancing drills, accompanied by captions of bravado which the rest of the world finds funny.

There are schools that put a gaudy flex in front of their gate, even when a sports team wins a District title. For example, St. Joseph’s Balika College Nugegoda has a ludicrous front gate, which looks like a advertising billboard of “minor stars” and “minor achievements”. Between Kingswood and St. Joseph’s Balika College, I agree, there is some distance (and not only in Kilometers); but, there are times when the banners Kingswood put moves one to tears, too. In fact, why put banners at all? Why put a banner in front of the school and parade your little achievements to the big wide world which is, anyway, not interested; or, is too busy to care? Are achievements by the school there to be paraded before society – and use it to “compete” with others – or, are these achievements there to be shared and appreciated by the school community? When did this “banner putting” culture come to Kingswood?

As to when Kingswoodians first started hanging flexes and printed fabric in their front fence is not known to me. But, I do not recall such a practice throughout the 1990s, when I was a junior student there under R.B Rambukwelle’s Principalship. One of my contemporaries at school, I remember, used to boast that it was they (some in my batch) who introduced “banners” to Kandy schools (and he sounded very proud of his landmark achievement, too). As to whether this is the fact I am not sure – since every batch feels they are unique in some way – but, in the 2000s Kingswood went malarial with all kinds of notices and banners along the front school fence. On days, Kingswood even looked like a funeral house of a minor VIP.

Coming back to Fazil Marija, throughout his career at Kingswood as well as for his club and country, his main concern has been the game. He is a superstar by merit of his abilities and temperament alone. He has not been distracted by the sequins and gold dust of stardom, nor by media flashes and fanfare. In fact, fellows such as Fazil have injected inspiration into hundreds of budding ruggerites – both at Kingswood and at a national level – and become role models of whom coaches and team managers speak about. I am not very sure as to whether Fazil has ever been sent to the bin, or been drawn a red card on, but I am sure such instances – if at all – are very few. The most familiar sight is where he would run over a try and calmly walk back to his mark, with restrained feeling, in order for the game to resume.

The “Gentle Giant”: A Note to Mr. Ananda Weerasooriya

Mr. Ananda Weerasooriya
Mr. Ananda Weerasooriya

In a time of wholesale transfers being implemented to Kandy’s national schools, Kingswood recently had to bid goodbye to nearly 50 of its senior staff, who had extended their services at various capacities to the betterment of Kingswood over the past 15-20 years. Among these teachers are almost all the teachers the members of this blog team encountered in a classroom during their entire Upper School life (except for Mrs. Punchinilame, who is set to retire soon). The least we can do is appreciate the great service rendered by these staff members, but — practically — this is a Herculian task; maybe, one that is a “fulltime” job, for a “part time” blog team, writing about Kingswood. But, in our future submissions, we will try to facilitate this vacuum to the best of our limited ability.

Apart from the transfers mentioned above, another senior teacher retired from Kingswood last year, bringing curtains on an illustrious career at school, which climaxed with a year as Acting Principal; who is none other than Mr. Ananda Weerasooriya, who was a balanced personality in both academics and sports. Mr. Weerasooriya — who is universally known by his pet name, “Panda” — is not someone who merely “eats shoots and leaves”, but a much loved master who was stern as he was mild; reasonable as he was strict; and a master who, in spite of his huge, athletic build was mild in manners and a leader by example. Mr. Weerasooriya is still remembered by the older old boys at Talatuoya Central College for his prowess as a young athlete: a skill with which he amply assisted Kingswood for many years, as he was the teacher in charge of many athletic teams over the twenty odd years he served.

However, Mr. Weerasooriya was also a much loved and popular Maths master. During the writer’s O/L years, the Maths teachers of the five classes included Mr. RG Ariyarathne, Mr. Keppetipola, Mrs. Podimenike, Mr. TB Ardithya and Mr. Weerasooriya. Arguably, Mr. Weerasooriya was a popular figure among both the classes he took and other boys who knew his perosnality. He was generally seen as an “honest” personality — someone who can be trusted on and as someone who took his responsibility and duty with seriousness. He has often been the House Master which, perhaps, was his reward because of the same reasons highlighted above. Mr. Weerasooriya, if I remember right, was more concerned in getting the “job done” than the “fireworks display” that should follow. This, we strongly feel, is the greatest lesson he leaves behind the present and future of Kingswood: to be honest and modest in your dealings and to leave no muddy footprints or not to thump your chest unnecessarily. Mr. Weerasooriya had a massive, broad chest (literally and figuratively), but where he accomplished his duty, he was known to do it with mildness and with effect.

A student of Mr. Weerasooriya — someone who was taught Maths by him during the O/Ls — has shared the following with us, in recalling his old Maths master. We carry it here without any editing (to content) for the benefit of all followers of our blog:

“Those were fun days with “Panda” doing Maths. He was a very serious teacher, but he knows how to handle the boys of that age like an expert. He is balanced, that’s the main good quality I see in him. Even in praising [and] in punishing. Sometimes he punches the boys for getting the Maths wrong, but he has a [sense of humour] that shows he understands the boys’ mental situation. He knew the weaknesses and plus points of ALL the students in class and knew how to tackle each and every [student] on [individual merit]”

Mr. Weerasooriya ended his career after a testing year as Acting Principal of the school: a difficult task, specially, as Principal Chandrasekara had had a solid 12 year run at the top. Mr. Weerasooriya — we feel — was even unfairly compared with some Principals and Acting Principals of the past, because the circumstances in which each of these persons lead the school was different. Comparison, in that case, is a tricky area though we are quick to compare without second thoughts. As his final crusade for Kingswood, Mr. Weerasooriya headed the Kingswood Week and Prize Giving of 2013 in which he represented the school head’s seat and presented the Principal’s Report. Proposing the Vote of Thanks, the Secretary of the Kingswood Union Kamal Dole acknowledged the “difficult times” through which Mr. Weerasooriya was steering the Kingswoodian vessal.

As a final farewell to Mr. Ananda Weerasooriya from a blog team to whom Kingswood matters, we would like to quote from Kingswood’s own song, for the line fits Mr. Weerasooriya’s personality and work ethic like a trim fit shirt: “Word and will true and clean, work and play strong and keen”. We wish you well, dear Sir and may Kingswood hold your memory to instruct its fold!

 

Kingswoodians On Rambukwella

Following are some comments and replies left for us by some Kingswood boys (mainly Past Boys) who had read our submission titled “The Last lesson of Rambukwella” (published in June 2013). The full article could be read at https://mykckblog.wordpress.com/2013/07/26/the-last-lesson-of-rb-rambukwella/ .

Amila Gamage:

“Mr. Rambukwella is the best principal I have seen in my Kingswood life from 1992 to 2000. The service given by our Vice Principal Mr. H.K Upasena is [equally] great”.

Chaminda Karunarathne (Senior Prefect, 1992): 

“I was well fortunate enough to be the Head Prefect of the school, during 1991-1992, post centenary year, under his guidance. He was a legendary master of discipline with a farsighted vision. I still stand on many principles which he believes.He deserves the title, Head Master for ever”.

T.A Miskin (Former Cricketer, 1991):

“I was with him for about 3 years in the school and I can still remember before every match we played he used to wish us and in the end of the speech he used to say to us “play up, play up, play up the game”. A great gentleman principal [at] our mother Kingswood. Long life, Sir!!!”

Surath Liyanage (Former Cricketer, 1995):

“Mr Rambukwell was one of the best principals who served at KCK . Mr Rambukwella encouraged and supported every sport at the school, not only Rugby. From 1990 – 1996 our sportsmen did well in every sport . I still remember his favourite quote “Whatever you do , do it properly ”. Actually, this quote [was] carved into my brain and it helped me to achieve many things in my life . Thank you sir , may the triple gem bless you!!!”

Pradeepa Senanayake (Past Interactor):

“I was at grade 3 or 4 when Mr.Rambukwella guided Kingswood. Even though I know very less about his reign I know enough about the standards the school maintained at that time”.

M. Shanaz (Past Interactor):

“I think for me he was the best Principal that we ever had (1985-1996). He was a great man. I always looked up to him. He made sure that all the Gentleman of Kingswood, were well maintained up to the standard in everything. He encouraged everyone to excel in everything. I felt helpless after he left my beloved College. It was heartbreaking. I still do remember his words…He is a mentor.. I salute Mr. Rambukwella-the greatest”.

Ranil De Silva (Senior Prefect, 1995):

“I must confess that it was Mr. Rambukwella [who] was the mere reason behind for stripping off the silver and gold from my chest and [it] was also him who put them back. It has been my greatest 2 years of my 14 year long college life..His way of managing the already set discipline to much higher standards was the most important practice for him. The clean white dress with the College tie everyday took us a while to spot [him] among the naughty boys around and honestly, it was quite deceiving…Hats off to you SIR! we really miss a Principal like you!”

Indika Wilegoda (President, Arts Society, 2002):

“I can still imagine [as] he was standing under the nelli tree. what a personality and what a proud man when he was standing infront of us!!! He [had] a Heart of Oak. I still respect Mr Rabukwella”

David Edirisinghe (Past President, Kingswood Union):

“He is the Great principal who got me to design and build the Balcony to the college hall and named it after L.E Blaze. Mr. Nihal Herath started this venture by getting my advice to extend the stage to accommodate the staff as it was designed for a few. They were honest at all their dealings and maintained the spirit of Kingswood. No one could point out the finger at them for anything. Please remember the[m] who laid the foundation for the new Kigswood grounds in 1994 when I was the President of the OBA and for getting officials from the Sri Lanka Cricket Board such as T.B Kehelgamuwa & Ranjith Fernando. Both Names must be recorded in the History Of Kingswood, [while] not forgetting Mr Rambukwella [published] the second edition of the KFE book”.

The Last Lesson of RB Rambukwella

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.

Principal Rambukwella
Principal Rambukwella

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.

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.

Wickrama: All for the School.

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!

To the Kingswood office, where Wickrama holds fort

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.

Wickrama --- the "aiya" of KCK

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.