by J. Godwin Perera
Emerging from the dim recesses of the past
I see this educated and dedicated cast
The teachers who shaped us like we were clay
Then filled us with knowledge day after day
This is a tribute to those teachers at Royal who in their own inimitable style implanted in our minds the learning skills and knowledge which in later years bloomed, blossomed and branched bearing diverse fruits, enriching institutions, professions and society. However this task is undertaken with great trepidation. Reams have already been written by more eminent persons on both the college and teachers. This contribution of mine is like a few drops of water being poured into an ocean. And that too, drops which are somewhat tainted, turbid and may even be troubling. Personal preferences and prejudices will be minced and mixed as thoughts get transformed into words. Extricating facts from fantasies, impressions from imperceptibles, can be delicate and dubious. And there needs to be added a subtraction. Some of the masters would be given a miss (no pun intended!). Reading all that can be written can be tedious.
Hence two articles. So let’s begin with the first.
In the beginning were the words – RPS. And the words stood for Royal Preparatory School. But RPS was only a transition. A period of preparation. Hence the name of the school. Preparation to enter the hall of fame which was Royal College.
Sometimes nicknames are used and most masters did have nicknames. But may the surviving kith and kin not take offence. Beneath the façade of a nickname was a genuine respect and affection.
The sequence in which the masters are mentioned here is not according to their entrances and exits into and out of my life as a student. It is rather a random sequence according to the mental and emotional impact created during the ‘growing up ‘ years.’
The curtain opens and here enters Mr J.E.V.Peiris very affectionately called ‘Bada Peiris.’ For very obvious reasons. He was rotund and cheerful. He taught Geometry and with what innovation! He brought to class wooden models of isosceles triangles, right-angled triangles, a pair of identical triangles and holding them up at the appropriate time would, with a smiling face explain most lucidly the Pythagorean theorem. Why two triangles can be considered to be congruent and all the other theorems we needed to know. Geometry was a new experience. We (certainly!) absorbed this new knowledge like a sponge.
Quite a contrast was Mr M. M. Kulasekeram. Vice Principal. One is reminded of Oliver Goldsmith’s description of the village schoolmaster in his poem ‘Deserted Village.’
‘A man severe he was and stern to view; I knew him well and every truant knew; Yet he was kind: or if severe in aught, The love he bore to learning was in fault.’
He taught Mathematics. No. He drilled it into our brains and there it remained. A wrong answer resulted in an excruciating pinch on the stomach. The welt would remain for a few days. A reminder never to give a wrong answer ever again. And yes, this must be said of him. He shone as a scholar and sportsman at Trinity College.
Mr S. Muthukumaru taught Physics. Devotedly. Maintaining his equanimity even when provoked by a little bit of heckling asking for his daughter’s hand in marriage. Sometimes just before the end of the lesson a hand would shoot up and good teacher that he was, Mr M would respond, “Yes what’s it ?” And the said student will reply very seriously “Sir can I please marry your daughter ?” Mr M would blush. Really blush. And say “Sit down you rascal .” But let it be known he did have a very attractive daughter. It is hoped that she will read this. And yes. Blush.
Teaching us English Literature was Mr S. Sivaraman. He was also a cynic. He once recommended a prayer. ‘Oh God – if there is a God, save my soul if there is a soul!’ It was his ice breaker before moving on to Shakespeare’s King Henry V .
Next in the batting order is Mr E.C. Gunasekera. Talk of Royal College cricket teams and you will find that through the years the name that keeps appearing most frequently is ‘Gunasekera.’ Most of these Gunasekeras are from the same family tree. ‘EC’ was also from this most distinguished clan. He had a double doctorate ‘ Discipline and Dedication.’ This was what he instilled into every student who was fortunate enough ( repeat – fortunate enough ) to come under his tutelage. This adherence to the ‘Double Ds’ manifested itself very tangibly when he was Vice Principal and used the cane quite liberally. But between the caner and the caned there were no recriminations. The caner thought it was his duty to do it. The caned thought that he richly deserved it.
Regarding his nickname ‘Kataya’ I need to quote Lalanath de Silva, LLM, who delivered the Inaugural E.C. Gunasekera Memorial Oration in June 2000. ‘How and why that nickname came to be coined for him is a great mystery. I have gone to great lengths to discover its history but failed miserably.’ So, may it be added – Let that part of history remain a mystery until someone can reveal the inside story. Interestingly ‘EC’ was also the Founder Master-in – Charge of Rowing.
Teacher at Royal for over a decade, Founder Principal of D.S.Senanake College and Gateway Group was Mr R.I.T.Alles. He was an educationist par excellence who endeared himself to all whom he taught. His dedication to the Education System in this country was once again fulfilled when he was appointed State Secretary for the Ministry of Education.
And now to Art. That pleasant smell of a newly opened box of Reeves water colors can still be remembered. So can the mixing of different shades and delicately applying brush to page to transform it into a picture of a calm serene lagoon. This was supervised by Mr A.W.P. Jayatunge – the Art master. He was called ‘Dynamite’ aka ‘Dyna.’ According to very reliable sources this nickname was conferred upon him because he would ‘explode’ when the class became too boisterous. After 18 years of teaching to more docile students at Trinity College this new experience at Royal was just a trifle too much.
Scouting and Mr M.K.J.Cantlay are synonymous. Wearing the scout uniform was a pride. Pinning on the first badge –Tenderfoot, was a privilege. Getting further merit badges though very desirable was a knotty problem. Some badges had to do with knots. Not so difficult. Others had to do with doing a good deed every day. Well nigh impossible! Many happy days and nights were had, when we the scouts went camping. Ah! Yes there was that campfire song ‘Back to Gilwell – Happy land, Happy land……’ which we all sang with gusto. But none of us knew anything about Gilwell and why it was a happy land! But we didn’t care. We sang.
Mr Emmanuel (Emma) M.J.S. Fernando had a dual responsibility. He was Master –in Charge of Boxing for over a decade and he also taught sculpture. He was my instructor in both these Arts. It was under his inspiration and initiative that a few of us were able to send our sculptural creations to Paris for an Exhibition. The reviews were excellent. We were grateful to ‘Emma.’ Very grateful. and proud of ourselves. Very proud.
Mr C. Kathiresan ( Kathir ) was amongst other things, Master–in-Charge of Hockey. Somewhere in the college archives there is a photograph of the Royal College Hockey team with the names of the team members. Conspicuous is – ‘Absent – Mr C. Kathiresan’. But Kathir does appear in one of the College magazines sometime in the 1950s. In it there were caricatures of some of the masters. And there was Kathir with one flap of his shirt collar turned up. Ah! this is what Kathir will be best remembered for. His creation of a new sartorial style. Being of an impressionable age many students, including self, imitated him. And Kathir was quite good looking too. Pity we could not emulate him that way.
(E & OE)
Credibility in governance through elections and not security forces
By Jehan Perera
President Ranil Wickremesinghe’s warning that he is prepared to declare a state of national emergency and use the military to suppress any public protests for change of government would reflect the pressures he is under. The manner in which he has used the security forces to deal with the protest movement has been unexpected. His words and deeds are contradictory to what he has previously stood for as a five-time former prime minister. This is especially true in the case of the ethnic and religious minorities who have consistently voted for him and his party at elections. They have felt safer and more secure under his governments which always sought to reduce the heavy hand of state oppression in which national security is given pride of place. He has always promised them much though he has been unable to deliver on much of what he promised.
Notwithstanding the unfortunate rhetoric and actions of the present time the belief still persists that President Wickremesinghe is the best of the available options. Recent pronouncements of the president have reignited hope that he will address the problems of the religious and ethnic minorities. He has stated that he does not want to leave this problem to the next generation. He has said that he wants to resolve this intractable national problem by the country’s 75th independence anniversary on February 4 next year. The hope that the president will make a fresh effort to resolve their problems has led the main Tamil party, the TNA, to desist from voting against the budget which passed with a relatively small majority. Their spokesperson, M A Sumanthiran said in Parliament that due to the president reaching out to them, stretching out his hand, they did not vote against the budget although they disagreed with it.
It is not only in words that the president has reached out to the ethnic and religious minorities. Reports from the north and east indicate that the Maveer (Heroes) Day commemorations this year took place without incident. During the past two years scores of people were arrested and a massive presence of security forces blocked the people from participating in public events. On this occasion the security forces did not get involved in any attempt to stop the commemorations. University students distributed sweets and even cut a birthday cake to celebrate slain LTTE leader Velupillai Prabhakaran’s birthday. The analogy that the president drew to himself being seen as a Hitler who exterminated ethnic and religious minorities is misplaced. The release of those held under the Prevention of Terrorism Act for engaging in similar acts in the past would further contribute to the reconciliation process.
In this context, the president’s use of militaristic rhetoric can only be understood in relation to the growing economic crisis that shows no sign of abating. The anticipated IMF bailout package is at risk of getting indefinitely delayed. It was initially anticipated to come in September then in November but now January is being targeted. Japan’s top brokerage and investment bank, Nomura Holdings Inc, has warned that seven countries – Egypt, Romania, Sri Lanka, Turkey, Czech Republic, Pakistan and Hungary – are now at a high risk of currency crises. Sri Lanka is in third place on the table of risk. The next devaluation of the rupee could see another spike in inflation that will make the cost of living even more unbearable to the masses of people.
The president is on record as having said that the economic crisis will get worse before it improves. Both anecdotal and statistical evidence indicates that it is indeed worsening. University teachers at the University of Sabaragamuwa reported that attendance in their classes was down by at least a quarter. Students who come from other parts of the country are unable to afford the cost of meals and so they stay at home. A study by the Institute of Policy Studies has shown that about four percent of primary, 20 percent of secondary and 26 percent of collegiate students had dropped out of school in the estate sector, which is the worst affected. The future costs to the country of a less well educated population is incalculable and inhumane.
As it is the situation is a dire one for large swathes of the population. Research from the University of Peradeniya has revealed that close to half of Sri Lanka’s population, 42 percent (up from 14 percent in 2019) are living under the poverty line. Professor of Economics Wasantha Athukorala has said there is a dramatic increase in the poverty level of over three-hold across the past three years. In 2019, nearly 3 million people lived below the poverty line, but that number has increased to 9.6 million in October 2022. In these adverse circumstances stability in a polity can be ensured either through legitimacy or through force. It would be tragic if the latter is the choice that is made.
President Wickremesinghe has been stressing the importance of political stability to achieve economic development. His recent statement that the security forces will be used to negate any unauthorised protest is a sign that the government expects the conditions of economic hardship to escalate. The general public who are experiencing extreme economic hardship are appalled at the manner in which those who committed acts of corruption and violence in the past are being overlooked because they belong to the ruling party and its cliques. The IMF has made anti-corruption a prerequisite to qualify for a bailout, calling for “Reducing corruption vulnerabilities through improving fiscal transparency and public financial management, introducing a stronger anti-corruption legal framework, and conducting an in-depth governance diagnostic, supported by IMF technical assistance.”
It is morally unacceptable even if politically pragmatic that the president is failing to take action against the wrongdoers because he needs their votes in parliament. As a start, the president needs to appoint a credible and independent national procurement committee to ensure that major economic contracts are undertaken without corruption. Second, the president needs to bite the bullet on elections. The country’s burning issues would be better accepted by the country and world at large if they are being dealt with by a statesman than by a dictator. Government that is based on the people’s consent constitutes the sum and substance of democracy. This consent is manifested through free and fair elections that are regularly held. Local government elections have been postponed for a year and are reaching their legal maximum in terms of postponement. These elections need to be held before March next year.
Elections will enable the people to express their views in a democratic manner to elect their representatives for the present. This would provide the government with guidance in terms of the decisions it is being called to take to revive the economy and place the burden in a manner that will be acceptable to the people. The provincial council elections have been postponed since 2018. Democratically elected provincial councils share in the burdens of governance. The devolution of power that took place under the 13th Amendment was meant to promote ethnic harmony in the country. The president who has taken the position that he is for a solution to the ethnic conflict should seriously consider conducting the provincial council elections together with the local government elections se their financial costs. By doing so he will also gain legitimacy as a democratic statesman and not a dictator.
WEDNESDAY – Movie Review
The Addams Family is back with a new tale to tell! Originally created by Charles Addams as a comic strip published in The New Yorker, it offered readers a sarcastic take on the ‘typical nuclear family’ by substituting it with a more macabre bunch of strange and eerie individuals. Since then the titular family has been adapted on to the big screen many times, from live action movies to animated versions, the Addams Family has gained many fans throughout the years. Created by Alfred Gough and Miles Millar, with Tim Burton working on four episodes of the eight-part series, Wednesday is a welcoming tale for young fans, but unfortunately fails to think outside the box and remains anchored to the floor with a messy storyline.
Dead-eyed Wednesday Addams (Jenna Ortega) is a stubborn, independent and intelligent teenager in this new series. Her penchant for attracting trouble wherever she goes alarms her parents, Morticia (Catherine Zeta-Jones) and Gomez (Luis Guzmán). With an already strained relationship with her parents (specifically her mother), Wednesday is enrolled at Nevermore, an academy for outcasts like herself. Having attended the academy themselves, Morticia and Gomez are hopeful that their daughter will ‘fit right in’. Caught between trying to build her own identity and other teenage complexities, Wednesday soon finds herself in the middle of a twisted mystery.
This is the first time audiences are introduced to a teenage Wednesday, which allowed the creators to build a new world on their own terms, but while keeping true to the original nature of the character. The creators do a fair amount of world building by introducing other outcasts like the Fangs (vampires), Stoners (Gorgons), Scales (sirens) and Furs (werewolves), among others. Nevermore Academy itself is beautiful and comes with the classic package of creepy crypts, hidden rooms and secret societies. The series also offers a decent amount of gore, although they could have added more given Wednesday’s proclivity for gore-related activities. The series deals with classic young-adult tropes which includes teenage crushes, bullies, relationships and even prom, among other things. The series navigates through Wednesday’s journey of self-discovery, which is a new avenue for both the character and the fans. From understanding and displaying her emotions to discovering her identity and understanding her peers, the series takes a deep dive into heavy material.
Ortega’s performance as the titular character plays a major role in keeping audiences glued to the screen. This is also the first time viewers are shown a teenage Wednesday Addams, which works to Ortega’s benefit as she depicts more dimensions to the ghoulish, morose character many are associated with based on previous renditions. Her facial expressions and ability to deliver on seriously emotional moments strengthens her role as the lead. The rest of the Addams Family, even with limited screen time, lack the eccentricities their characters should have. Hopeless romantics Morticia and Gomez seem incompatible in this version and Uncle Fester is far less crazy than he ought to be. The only member worth mentioning is the Thing—a severed hand— who brought more character and spirit to the series acting alongside Ortega. With barely any room to develop a majority of the characters are prosaic and tedious, even though they remain vital to the plot.
Apart from Ortega, Gwendoline Christie and Emma Myers deserve honorable mentions for their roles as Nevermore’s head teacher, Larissa Weems and the peppy Enid Sinclair respectively. Enid quickly became a fan favorite as the character was the polar opposite to Wednesday. Her character is vital to Wednesday’s character development and their journey to find common ground as mismatched individuals is amusing.
Christina Ricci who played Wednesday in the 90s returns as ‘normie’ teacher, Miss Thornhill and unfortunately barely stands out and this in large part due to the messy storyline. The series is bogged down with numerous subplots and overlapping tropes and the characters with potential for growth are completely overlooked. With love triangles, bullies and killer monsters on the loose, the series self-destructs and the climax sinks into disappointment.
At the end of the day, Wednesday plays to the beat of the new generation and touches on new themes, which is welcoming seeing as the character should grow up at some point. While not everyone may relate to Wednesday’s teenage perils, it is interesting to witness her growth and her journey as an ‘outcast’ or ‘weirdo’. And while Wednesday doesn’t exactly offer a distinctly unique story, it gives audiences a small taste of what Jenna Ortega’s Wednesday is capable of. Creating a story around a well-established franchise is a difficult task, and in this case the creators fail to add value to their visions. If the series continues, the creators will have the opportunity to think further outside the box and push the limits to Wednesday’s character and give audiences a bone-chilling experience. Wednesday is currently streaming on Netflix.
Stage set for… AWESOME FRIDAY
The past few weeks have been a very busy period for the new-look Mirage outfit…preparing themselves for their big night – Friday, December 2nd – when they would perform, on stage, for the very first time, as Donald Pieries (leader/vocals/drums), Benjy (bass), Niro Wattaladeniya (guitar), Viraj Cooray (guitar/vocals), Asangi Wickramasinghe (keyboard/vocals), along with their two frontline female vocalist, Sharon (Lulu) and Christine.
They have thoroughly immersed themselves in their practice sessions as they are very keen to surprise their fans, music lovers, and well-wishers, on opening night…at the Peacock, Berjaya Hotel, in Mount Lavinia.
Action starts at 8.00 pm and, thereafter, it will be five hours of great music, along with EFFEX DJs Widhara and Damien, interspersed with fun and excitement…for the whole family!
Yes, opening night is for the whole family, so you don’t need to keep some of your family members at home – kids, especially.
Working on their repertoire for Friday, bassist Benjy says “what we will dish out will be extra special, with lots of action on stage.”
It would be interesting to see Sharon (Lulu) doing her thing with Mirage, after her early days with the Gypsies, and, I’m told, a dynamic performance from Sharon is what is in store for all those who make it to the Peacock this Friday
While the band was at one of their practice sessions, last week, they had a surprise visitor – Edward (Eddy) Joseph, a former member of the group Steelers, who is now based in Germany.
Eddy is here on a short visit and is scheduled to return to Germany, tomorrow (30).
He spent an hour with Mirage, at their practice session, and says he is disappointed that he would not be around for the group’s opening night.
However, there is a possibility of several well-known personalities, in the showbiz scene, turning up, on Friday night, to experience the sounds of the new-look Mirage, including Sohan Weerasinghe and Joey Lewis (from London).
Rajiv Sebastian, too, says he is keen to be a part of the fun-filled evening.
You could contact Benjy, on 0777356356, if you need to double check…their plans for AWESOME FRIDAY!
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