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ROYAL COLLEGE’S MAGNIFICENT GROUP OF 49

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Upali Wijewardena entered Royal Primary at the age of five years when A F De Saa Bandaranayake was Head Master. Some of his classmates who joined the Kindergarten (Baby Class) were Dr. Ranjith de Silva (surgeon), Jayantha Gunasekera (Presidents Counsel), Dr. R S B Wickramasinghe (Former Director of the Medical Research Institute), Sarath Weerasooria (Chairman FINCO), Sam Samaranayake, Dr. N T de Silva, Dr. Tissa Cooray. Their teacher was Mrs. Keyt who looked after her wards as if they were her own children. Almost all of them had “ayahs” and there was a special enclosure for these chaperones.

In 1949, a Group of 96 students, were successful in gaining entrance to Royal College having sat an open competitive exam. About 60 of them, were from Royal Prep, while the balance were from other schools such as St Thomas,’ Mt. Lavinia, Trinity College, Kandy, St Joseph’s and St Peter’s etc. all students were about 10-years old and they were examined mainly on general intelligence and general knowledge, English, Sinhalese and Arithmetic. Although Royal Prep bore the same name, there was no automatic entry to Royal College unlike several year before, and several years after.

The Head Master of Royal Prep was A F De Saa Bandaranayake, while the Principal of Royal College was J C A Corea – the first Ceylonese Principal. Initially, most of these boys did not take studies seriously as a large number were from affluent families, being children of professionals, but once they got into their respective disciplines, there was no turning back. Quite a number of them, have reached the zenith of their profession.

Royal College is indisputably the best school in the Island, or so Royalist claim. Parents clamour to get their children into Royal, but not all of them are lucky enough. Most think of other public schools as second best. Royal and S. Thomas’ are the most prestigious, like Eton and Harrow of England, their alumni like to think.

Royal was founded in 1835 by the then British Colonial Government, mainly for the education of the sons of the Britishers, under the Principalship of Dr Barcroft Boake, a product of Oxford University. Though the school was initially called the Colombo Academy, it came to be known later as Royal College. On the panels of the College Hall are the names of those who distinguished themselves in the field of intellect.

Also, in the College Hall hang the portraits of those who rendered yeoman service to our country. Some amongst them are C.A. Lorenz, KC, the Acting Queen”s Advocate, Sir Ponnambalam Ramanathan, Acting Attorney General and his brother Sir Ponnambalam Arunachalam of the Ceylon Civil Service, Dr C.A. Hewavitharne and his sibling Anagarika Dharmapala. Of the politicians of recent times were two heads of state – Sir John Kotalawala and President J.R. Jayewardene, while H. Sri Nissanka Q.C, a well known criminal lawyer and one of the founders of the SLFP also adorns the Hall panels.

Messers D.S.Sennanayake, Dudley Sennanayake and S.W.R.D. Bandaranaike were distinguished products of the school known by Royalists as “the other place”, namely, St Thomas’.

This batch being written about here came to be called the 49 Group. According to statistics compiled, it is perhaps the best batch that Royal turned out in recent times. It is said that 32 of them became medical doctors, most of them consultants, while six entered the legal profession, two of them becoming President’s Counsel, two others becoming Judges of the Supreme Court, three entered the Ceylon Civil Service and 18 became Engineers.

It is estimated that about 68% of this Group became professionals

, but while in school, each one of them fought for the last place in class! But when they commenced their respective disciplines, they shone over the products of other schools.

Some surgeons

of the 49 Group are, Ranjit de Silva – who captained Royal at cricket, Priya Samarasinghe, Geoff Van den Driesen, Gamini Goonetilake, S.R.Ratnapala, whilst some of the well known physicians are Henry Rajaratnam, J.B.Pieris, Gamini Jayakuru, Brendon Gooneratne, the latter distinguishing himself in Australia. His wife, Yasmine Gooneratne, a Professor of English in Australia, has several publications to her credit Another wife of a member of the 49 Group is Professor Lalitha Mendis, who reached the pinnacle of the medical profession. She was the Dean of the Faculty of Medicine, and the Director of the Post Graduate Institute of Medicine. She is the wife of the late Dr Lalith Mendis.

The other physicians are, Danilo de Kretser, Tissa Cooray (WHO), N.T. de Silva (UK), H.S.Karunasekera (UK), Leslie Muthukuda (UK), Dan Perimpanayagam, Yasa Rajapakse (UK), Disampathy Subasinghe (UK), V.Dharmapalan (New Zealand), and the late R.S.B. Wickremasinghe – who was the Director of the M.R.I.

Of those who took to Law, are two well known President’s Counsel Jayantha Gunasekera (former Secretary of the Bar Association) and the late Chula de Silva. Two other lawyers S.W.B. Wadugodapitiya and P. Edussuriya became Judges of the Supreme Court, whilst A.Balachandran worked in the UN. T.K.N. Thilakan (District Judge) and Kumar Ponnambalam both died a few years ago. Alavi Mohamed , a Barrister also died several years ago. M.N.B. Pieris is a civil lawyer, in Colombo.

Harsha Wickremasinghe, D.G.P.Seneviratne and Dr B.S.Wijeweera entered the prestigious Ceylon Civil Service.

Of the Engineers that come to mind are Professor C.L.V.Jayatilake (a Vice Chancellor of Peradeniya), Dr Susantha Goonetilake , S.C.Amarasinghe (former GM of the Electricity Board), Dr Sri Bhavan Sri Skandarajah – Sri Bhavan in May 2013 staged a six day fast in Canada in support of the LTTE diaspora (TGTE), H.S.B. Abeysundara (Chemical Engineer), L.H.Meegama, C.Ramachandran and Bandula Yatawara.

Perhaps the cleverest of them all was Chelvanayakam Vaseeharan, a maths prodigy, who was to be appointed Professor of Mathematics.

In this class, were two leading businessmen, namely the Cambridge educated Upali Wijewardene of the Upali Group, and, Lal Jayasundera, Chairman of Hayleys. Ratna Sivaratnam headed another conglomerate – Aitken Spence, whilst K.Manikkavasagar was a Director of Glaxo. Arjuna Hullugalle and Upatissa Attygalle are successful businessmen.

V.H. Nanayakkara and P.H.J.S. Ariyapala both Bachelors of Science, joined the Staff of Royal College.

There was one member of the 49 Group who distinguished himself as a clever investigator in the Police Force. If he had not joined the Police, surely he would have been on the other side of the Law! That was none other than Rahula de Silva. It is reported that he was charged in several cases of violence. In all these cases he was successfully defended gratis, by his classmate Jayantha Gunasekera, a well known criminal lawyer.

There is the very talented Artist Laki Senanayake , who worked with Geoffrey Bawa, whilst A.A.Wijetunga and K.Sivapragasam became Senior Assessors in the Inland Revenue Dept. K.L.Gooneratne is a talented Archtitect.

Late Bimal Padameperuma functioned as Chairman State Engineering Corp, and D.C. Wimalasena was Chairman,Petroleum Corp.

T.D.S.A. Dissanayake ,a prolific writer, first served in the U.N. Later he was our Ambassador in Indonesia.

There were two members of this Group to whom life was a ball! They were Aru Sellamuttu and Ranjit Kiriella. Nimalasiri Fonseka, a bright spark in school, lives the life of a Squire in England. He qualified as a Chartered Accountant.

Lionel Almeida and the late Tyrrel Muttiah took to planting, and were ruggerites. The late W.K.N. de Silva was a propriety planter. Bobby Perera, was one time Director of Quickshaws. Mahinda Gunasekera who is permanently domiciled in Canada, does much for our country by countering false propaganda.

These classmates are a very close knit family, though half of them live overseas… The 49 Group, depleted as it is, gets together, definitely during the Royal-Thomian cricket encounter and the Bradby shield. Sometimes they meet more often, to welcome members coming home from abroad, for some reason or another.

It is at such gatherings that they reminisce about their schooldays, some wild and some even wilder! Only the pleasantest memories remain, and old yarns are told and retold, with salt and pepper added too! It is amazing that there isn’t a tinge of jealousy, and each one is proud of the other’s achievement.

 

Masters then came to teach, in full suit (coat and tie, mind you),and some driving their own cars. They instilled into this impressionable Group of youngsters all that Royal stood for; so much so that even today, they instinctively take the acceptable course of action in any matter.

As the College song goes, “They learned of books and learned of men, and learned to play the game” being absolutely fair minded, in their dealings in later life.

 

S D Sivapragasam

A loyal Royalist.



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Features

Strong on vocals

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The group Mirage is very much alive, and kicking, as one would say!

Their lineup did undergo a few changes and now they have decided to present themselves as an all male group – operating without a female vocalist.

At the helm is Donald Pieries (drums and vocals), Trevin Joseph (percussion and vocals), Dilipa Deshan (bass and vocals), Toosha Rajarathna (keyboards and vocals), and Sudam Nanayakkara (lead guitar and vocals).

The plus factor, where the new lineup is concerned, is that all five members sing.

However, leader Donald did mention that if it’s a function, where a female vocalist is required, they would then feature a guest performer.

Mirage is a very experience outfit and they now do the Friday night scene at the Irish Pub, in Colombo, as well as private gigs.

 

 

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Dichotomy of an urban-suburban New Year

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Ushered in by the ‘coo-ee’ of the Koel and the swaying of Erabadu bunches, the Sinhala and Tamil New Year will dawn in the wee hours of April 14. With houses to clean, preparation of sweetmeats and last-minute shopping, times are hectic…. and the streets congested.

It is believed that New Year traditions predated the advent of Buddhism in the 3rd century BC. But Buddhism resulted in a re-interpretation of the existing New Year activities in a Buddhist light. Hinduism has co-existed with Buddhism over millennia and no serious contradiction in New Year rituals are observed among Buddhists and Hindus.

The local New Year is a complex mix of Indigenous, Astrological, Hindu, and Buddhist traditions. Hindu literature provides the New Year with its mythological backdrop. The Prince of Peace called Indradeva is said to descend upon the earth to ensure peace and happiness, in a white carriage wearing on his head a white floral crown seven cubits high. He first plunges, into a sea of milk, breaking earth’s gravity.

The timing of the Sinhala New Year coincides with the New Year celebrations of many traditional calendars of South and Southeast Asia. Astrologically, the New Year begins when the sun moves from the House of Pisces (Meena Rashiya) to the House of Aries (Mesha Rashiya) in the celestial sphere.

The New Year marks the end of the harvest season and spring. Consequently, for farming communities, the traditional New Year doubles as a harvest as well. It also coincides with one of two instances when the sun is directly above Sri Lanka. The month of Bak, which coincides with April, according to the Gregorian calendar, represents prosperity. Astrologers decide the modern day rituals based on auspicious times, which coincides with the transit of the Sun between ‘House of Pisces’ and ‘House of Aries’.

Consequently, the ending of the old year, and the beginning of the new year occur several hours apart, during the time of transit. This period is considered Nonegathe, which roughly translates to ‘neutral period’ or a period in which there are no auspicious times. During the Nonegathe, traditionally, people are encouraged to engage themselves in meritorious and religious activities, refraining from material pursuits. This year the Nonegathe begin at 8.09 pm on Tuesday, April 13, and continues till 8.57 am on 14. New Year dawns at the halfway point of the transit, ushered in bythe sound of fire crackers, to the woe of many a dog and cat of the neighbourhood. Cracker related accidents are a common occurrence during new year celebrations. Environmental and safety concerns aside, lighting crackers remain an integral part of the celebrations throughout Sri Lanka.

This year the Sinhala and Tamil New Year dawns on Wednesday, April 14, at 2.33 am. But ‘spring cleaning’ starts days before the dawn of the new year. Before the new year the floor of houses are washed clean, polished, walls are lime-washed or painted, drapes are washed, dried and rehang. The well of the house is drained either manually or using an electric water pump and would not be used until such time the water is drawn for first transaction. Sweetmeats are prepared, often at homes, although commercialization of the new year has encouraged most urbanites to buy such food items. Shopping is a big part of the new year. Crowds throng to clothing retailers by the thousands. Relatives, specially the kids, are bought clothes as presents.

Bathing for the old year takes place before the dawn of the new year. This year this particular auspicious time falls on April 12, to bathe in the essence of wood apple leaves. Abiding by the relevant auspicious times the hearth and an oil lamp are lit and pot of milk is set to boil upon the hearth. Milk rice, the first meal of the year, is prepared separate. Entering into the first business transaction and partaking of the first meal are also observed according to the given auspicious times. This year, the auspicious time for preparing of meals, milk rice and sweets using mung beans, falls on Wednesday, April 14 at 6.17 am, and is to be carried out dressed in light green, while facing east. Commencement of work, transactions and consumption of the first meal falls on Wednesday, April 14 at 7.41 am, to be observed while wearing light green and facing east.

The first transaction was traditionally done with the well. The woman of the house would draw water from the well and in exchange drop a few pieces of charcoal, flowers, coins, salt and dried chillies into the well, in certain regions a handful of paddy or rice is also thrown in for good measure. But this ritual is also dying out as few urban homes have wells within their premises. This is not a mere ritual and was traditionally carried out with the purification properties of charcoal in mind. The first water is preferably collected into an airtight container, and kept till the dawn of the next new year. It is believed that if the water in the container does not go down it would be a prosperous year. The rituals vary slightly based on the region. However, the essence of the celebrations remains the same.

Anointing of oil is another major ritual of the New Year celebrations. It falls on Saturday, April 17 at 7.16 am, and is done wearing blue, facing south, with nuga leaves placed on the head and Karada leaves at the feet. Oil is to be applied mixed with extracts of Nuga leaves. The auspicious time for setting out for professional occupations falls on Monday, April 19 at 6.39 am, while dressed in white, by consuming a meal of milk rice mixed with ghee, while facing South.

Traditionally, women played Raban during this time, but such practices are slowly being weaned out by urbanization and commercialisation of the New Year. Neighbours are visited with platters of sweetmeats, bananas, Kevum (oil cake) and Kokis (a crispy sweetmeat) usually delivered by children. The dichotomy of the urban and village life is obvious here too, where in the suburbs and the village outdoor celebrations are preferred and the city opts for more private parties.

 

 

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New Year games: Integral part of New Year Celebrations

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Food, games and rituals make a better part of New Year celebrations. One major perk of Avurudu is the festivals that are organised in each neighbourhood in its celebration. Observing all the rituals, like boiling milk, partaking of the first meal, anointing of oil, setting off to work, are, no doubt exciting, but much looked-forward-to is the local Avurudu Uthsawaya.

Avurudu Krida or New Year games are categorised as indoor and outdoor games. All indoor games are played on the floor and outdoor games played during the Avurudu Uthsava or New Year festival, with the whole neighbourhood taking part. Some of the indoor games are Pancha Dameema, Olinda Keliya and Cadju Dameema. Outdoor games include Kotta pora, Onchili pedeema, Raban geseema, Kana mutti bindeema, Placing the eye on the elephant, Coconut grating competition, Bun-eating competition, Lime-on-spoon race, Kamba adeema (Tug-o-War) and Lissana gaha nageema (climbing the greased pole). And what’s an Avurudhu Uthsava sans an Avurudu Kumari pageant, minus the usual drama that high profile beauty pageants of the day entail, of course.

A salient point of New Year games is that there are no age categories. Although there are games reserved for children such as blowing of balloons, races and soft drinks drinking contests, most other games are not age based.

Kotta pora aka pillow fights are not the kind the average teenagers fight out with their siblings, on plush beds. This is a serious game, wherein players have to balance themselves on a horizontal log in a seated position. With one hand tied behind their back and wielding the pillow with the other, players have to knock the opponent off balance. Whoever knocks the opponent off the log first, wins. The game is usually played over a muddy pit, so the loser goes home with a mud bath.

Climbing the greased pole is fun to watch, but cannot be fun to take part in. A flag is tied to the end of a timber pole-fixed to the ground and greased along the whole length. The objective of the players is to climb the pole, referred to as the ‘tree’, and bring down the flag. Retrieving the flag is never achieved on the first climb. It takes multiple climbers removing some of the grease at a time, so someone could finally retrieve the flag.

Who knew that scraping coconut could be made into an interesting game? During the Avurudu coconut scraping competition, women sit on coconut scraper stools and try to scrape a coconut as fast as possible. The one who finishes first wins. These maybe Avurudu games, but they are taken quite seriously. The grated coconut is inspected for clumps and those with ungrated clumps are disqualified.

Coconut palm weaving is another interesting contest that is exclusive to women. However men are by no means discouraged from entering such contests and, in fact, few men do. Participants are given equally measured coconut fronds and the one who finishes first wins.

Kana Mutti Bindima involves breaking one of many water filled clay pots hung overhead, using a long wooden beam. Placing the eye on the elephant is another game played while blindfolded. An elephant is drawn on a black or white board and the blindfolded person has to spot the eye of the elephant. Another competition involves feeding the partner yoghurt or curd while blindfolded.

The Banis-eating contest involves eating tea buns tied to a string. Contestants run to the buns with their hands tied behind their backs and have to eat buns hanging from a string, on their knees. The one who finishes his or her bun first, wins. Kamba adeema or Tug-o-War pits two teams against each other in a test of strength. Teams pull on opposite ends of a rope, with the goal being to bring the rope a certain distance in one direction against the force of the opposing team’s pull.

Participants of the lime-on-spoon race have to run a certain distance while balancing a lime on a spoon, with the handle in their mouths. The first person to cross the finish line without dropping the lime wins. The sack race and the three-legged race are equally fun to watch and to take part in. In the sack race, participants get into jute sacks and hop for the finish line. The first one over, wins. In the three-legged race one leg of each pair of participants are tied together and the duo must reach the finish line by synchronising their running, else they would trip over their own feet.

Pancha Dameema is an indoor game played in two groups, using five small shells, a coconut shell and a game board. Olinda is another indoor board game, normally played by two players. The board has nine holes, four beads each. The player who collects the most number of seeds win.

This is the verse sung while playing the game:

“Olinda thibenne koi koi dese,

Olinda thibenne bangali dese…

Genath hadanne koi koi dese,

Genath hadanne Sinhala dese…”

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