Heartiest congratulations to Kingswood for winning the ‘B’ Division (Division II) championship at the Under 19 level. By no means is this an achievement that can be written off, as Kingswood soccer has, for a long time, been in the sidelines; and is now making a fresh break at a competitive level.
However, our concern is not with the team’s great achievement, but the banner. This banner, first of all, is misleading. It quite clearly implies that Kingswood has won the “All Island Championship”, which — by default — implies the ‘A’ Division (or, Division I). This is not the case. With the current win, Kingswood will be promoted to Division I. This, in other words, is the banner they should have put if they won Division I next year.
By this banner, whoever put this is misleading the school as well as the society. It may even appear that Kingswood is trying to claim a glory that is definitely not theirs.
If, this is indeed a “Division II” win, the next question is: should this banner be put here in the first place? Kingswood Matters, as you may have noticed, is against hanging banners in the fences of the school. The school’s fence is not there to display banners, but should be respected as the outer boundary of the school. Achievements, we believe, should be recognized and appreciated in a silent, noble way; and not by making tamashas out of them.
Even if you want to REALLY celebrate a victory by putting a flag, you ought to choose the victory carefully: a “Division II” win, or a Junior Level achievement at Music is not worthy enough achievements to litter the front yard of the school. You simply lower the prestige of the school and pull it down to the level of a school without taste or a sense of dignity.
Several lessons to learn: one — be truthful and accurate in what you proclaim. Then, second — learn to celebrate in a decent, silent, noble, humble way. Third — prioratize what you celebrate. Don’t put up a banner for winning a “B Division” prize, or a music event at Under 14. Kingswood has won hundreds and hundreds of such events in its hundred and twenty years. Do not boast of anything underneath the very topmost best. Even when you achieve the top — don’t boast.
One of the pressing problems young Kingswood had was the need for space and facilities. From its early Pavilion Street and Brownrigg Street days, this is an issue that weighs the hearts and heads of the closest of the school. Though for many years, this issue was sought after and many schemes to get a new spacious location for the school was tried out, nothing materialized out of these efforts.
On the other hand, Kingswood was showing good progress as an institute of learning. In the annual inspection of the school, carried out by the government appointed schools’ inspector, Mr. Leigh Smith (whose name is centrally connected with education in colonial Ceylon) makes the following observations regarding the school:
“There were many satisfactory features about the working of this school: the spirit of the Boys is excellent and endures, after school days are over, in the hsape of an excellent Old Boys organization There can be no question as to the value of such a training in loyalty. The school is not valued simply for the benefits derived from it in the shape of coaching for examinations”.
Leigh Smith’s observations second that, at least by 1915, Blaze’s vision of opening the school — which he had in 1891, 24 years earlier — had been well fulfilled. For, Blaze states in his memoir KFE: The Story of Kingswood, Kandy that the priority of his school would be “Education and not Examination”.
However, the issue to do with space, though repeatedly consulted, was not favourably sorted out even by 1922. In 1923, the congestion issue was temporarily relieved when the Kingswood kindergarten classes occupied rooms set vacant by Girls’ High School, which had recently moved to Katukele. But those connected with the Methodist Mission were looking for a lasting solution that would not be solved short of the securing of “permanent premises” and much was done to achieve this end between 1917 and 1922. Blaze generously acknowledges the names of Dr. James Moulton, a Methodist Oriental scholar, Rev. William Goudie (the President of the Wesleyan Conference elected in 1920) and that of Mr. E.L. Bevan (a Methodist lay missionary).
In 1922, E.B. Denham, Education Inspector, sums up Kingswood’s plight as follows: “I consider Kingswood most inadequately housed and extremely badly equipped. It is no reflection on the Principal, as it is largely a matter of finance; but it has to be remedied… As they stand, the buildings are more fit for a Night School. Yet I can say that more daylight is let into education in this school than perhaps any other school of the same size in Ceylon” (my emphasis).
Among the alternative sites to which the school can be shifted, were grounds in Ampitiya, Getambe and Peradeniya. On Mr. Denham’s suggestion, Peradeniya was given priority and a serene plot of land named “Solomon’s Gardens” was decided on as the site for Kingswood’s permanent home. The premises were secured with much difficulty, but the buildings and equipment for the new school was estimated at Rs. 200,000 (in 1923). It is here that the legendary donation from an English Wesleyan Methodist, Sir John Randles — a businessman and MP — was made. Randles, having heard of Kingswood and its struggle to find roots in a home of its own, had donated 10, 000 Pounds (Rs 150,000) to that cause. His action of generosity — to a school that he had no connection with, or which he had never been to — was commented on by Randles in the following words:
“I am not a learned man. I am not clever. But I think I have a little of the commercial instinct within me and my instinct told me that I must put my money in the right place, where value would be received and good results follow. And of all the projects laid before me, the project of Kingswood seemed to be the most opportune and desirable”.
With the grants received through the Methodist Mission, the colonial government, the school’s community and — as mentioned — through the generosity of Sir John Randles, the new gates for Kingswood were opened in 1923, with the first stones being simultaneously laid for the new buildings. The school opened at the new home in 1925.
A brief wiki entry on Sir John Randles identifies him as a British Politician and as a businessman. He was born in 1875 in Boston, Lincolnshire and made his mark in the coal and steel industries. He is shown as having had a vibrant political career — with both victories and losses — in and around Manchester. He passes away in 1945. Today, John Randles’ portrait is reverently placed in Kingswood’s L.E Blaze Memorial Main Hall. The story of the British industrialist who, almost as if he was the hand of God, helped with the most generous of donations to set up Kingswood at its current premises has gained legendary status. To feel grateful to such acts of faith and to contribute to the school’s future betterment is our debt to carry.
“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)
In the final week of January, the new students for the Primary Grade 1 classes were being admitted to school (also see: Grade 1 Welcome). On that same day, I happened to be at the school premises over some other matter and I had the opportunity of witnessing the parents / guardians of the newly enrolled students walking towards the main hall with their kids where, I think, a special assembly was organized.
Among the guardians who were walking towards the hall was Mrs. WG Asintha, who was a Primary School teacher for many years — and a formidable one at that, mind you — who had in her company a young lady and a newly entrant kid. Of course, Mrs. Asintha was all smiles as she generally is, and the vigour of her step had not lost its steadiness even though she has now been away from Kingswood for some years, following her retirement a few years ago. The child she was accompanying, I guessed, should be either a daughter’s, if not, one of her son’s. One way, or another, here she was ushering in to Kingswood another generation of Gnanaratnes.
A few meters behind Mrs. Asintha, I met another beaming couple leading a tiny tot towards the Blaze Memorial Hall: Mr. Withanage — Table Tennis coach at Kingswood for some years and the elder brother of the famous Kingswood, Kandy SC and Sri Lanka Center, JCG Withanage — and his missus, leading to school what would be another generation of that sporting family.
When I entered school in 1990, I remember quite well my first day at Randles’ Hill. The “welcome” for us was held in a building in the Primary School, which was subsequently given to Seethadevi College in exchange for some land annexed to the college ground. Welcoming me to the Grade 1C class was Mrs. Pearl Guneratne. Her husband cum Primary Head of our time, Mr. Guneratne was also a protagonist of that long ago “welcome”. Accompanying me to Kingswood on day 1 was my uncle — who, I was later to learn, was instrumental in my admission to the school.
But, what is crucial to this essay is that even on that long ago debut, Mrs. Asintha was a main feature, for it was she whom I first saw on entering the hall in which the festivities were arranged. I was perpetually scared of Mrs. Asintha who had the most vocal voice in the history of mankind and who appeared to be stern, five days a week for the whole academic year. In fact, I very well remember that those days it was Mrs. Asintha who recited the five precepts (so that the students can repeat after her) and relevant verses for the students of that block, during religious observances every morning. She would recite the verses from her class — 1B — and the students of the entire block will repeat after her; and there were 4 classes in the ground floor of that block: 1 A, 1 B, 1 C and 3 C.
In 1990, Mr. Withanage would have been in a senior class; for, as the record books hold forth he was the Captain of the Kingswood Table Tennis team in the years 89 and 90. He is a left handed, free-flowing paddler whom I have seen as a coach than a player; but, whose exploits are neatly recorded in the Annual Reports of the Principal during his playing years, as well as in YMBA TT tournament souvenirs.
Meeting Mrs. Asintha and Mr. Withanage the way I did, for me, was a rare synchronization of past, present and future — the teacher and TT captain of 1990, heralding forth the future of the school to be. Surely, the school must have changed from the times they were familiar with it and Kingswood, today, has to have a different resonance altogether as an institute. But, for them to come back to this place with yet another generation to be installed there with pride and delight must surely mean that they carry an “unchangeable” Kingswood in their hearts and minds: a Kingswood that doesn’t waver in spirit and in sentiment.
“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”.
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.
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.
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.
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.