Share your unforgettable memories in college.
by Ian Gardner
With the advent of World War II St.Thomas’ College opened a branch in Bandarawela with Mr. W.T.Keble as the Principal. Assisting Mr. Keble was Miss. Blanchard, who lived at the small farm on a hilltop above the school, and teachers who included a Mr. Wickramasinghe who used to punish boys by putting them on their chairs and hitting them across the calves with the edge of a ruler to the extent, in many case, that the boys’ calves were black and blue.Read More
By G. C. Wickremasinghe
I belonged to the very first batch of 7 children that joined St Thomas' Prep School (STPS), Bandarawela, when it opened in January 1942.cold water. Read More
By Hemantha Wanigasekara
One fine day I was taken to St Thomas Prep School Bandarawela for the admission test. My mother briefed me about the test and that Peiris aunty (Mrs.Merlin Peiris) will also be there and that I had nothing to worry about.Read More
By Buddika Kurukularatne
I was good in all subjects. But my proficiency in arithmetic died an early death – never to be revived. My ‘forte’ was however English at Dharmasoka which was laughed at, ridiculed and made fun of, by the Bandarawela and Gurutalawa Thomians.Read More
by Uditha Wijesena
St Thomas’ Preparatory School, Bandarawela [STPSB] in the 1960’s was definitely the only fee levying school that conducted classes from the Kindergarten to Standard Five in the Province of Uva in Ceylon then.Read More
By Uditha Wijesena
We who left St Thomas’ Preparatory School Bandarawela [STPSB] in 1966 having completed the Standard Five; the highest grade in the school then call ourselves the Class of 66.Read More
by Ian Gardner
With the advent of World War II St.Thomas’ College opened a branch in Bandarawela with Mr. W.T.Keble as the Principal. Assisting Mr. Keble was Miss. Blanchard, who lived at the small farm on a hilltop above the school, and teachers who included a Mr. Wickramasinghe who used to punish boys by putting them on their chairs and hitting them across the calves with the edge of a ruler to the extent, in many case, that the boys’ calves were black and blue. In charge of the dormitories was a fierce ayah who, when we were having our baths at the spout in the valley below the classrooms, used to scrub us with a bristle brush which felt like a wire brush! This was most uncomfortable as was the cold water.
The food was good enough in quality and quantity in the prevailing circumstances and, all told, I think it is fair to say that we had a good time. Mr. Keble was a very good principal all round and his wife who, I think, assisted him in some way I cannot recall. Miss. Blanchard too assisted him ably - as far as could tell as a child. In regard to the teachers, I cannot remember any others apart from Mr. Wickramasinghe mentioned above.
The buildings consisted of a block incorporating the kitchen, dining room and dormitory/ies adjacent to which was a single, or set of, classroom/s with another such towards the lower middle of the complex. Also, there was a cottage with a thatched roof at one of the upper corners of the complex which was used used as the “sick room”.
In regard to the small farm, there was a small thatched cottage in which Miss. Blanchard lived and pens etc. for poultry and, perhaps, a cow and a goat. There were a few wired enclosures and small ponds. I remember that below this hilltop, away from the school proper, was the main road out of Bandarawela and some miles from the town past the Church of England church which was near the esplanade. We, presumably the Christian children only, used to attend this church every Sunday morning, walking to and from it from school. Also attending these services was Sir Thomas Villiers, who built and lived in Adisham, near Haputale, and who used to give each of us a single, brand new, one rupee note each Sunday!
One of the features of our education here was that we were allowed to roam the patnas on our own and some of us, fearlessly and very frequently, took great delight in this “adventure”. Below the school complex and above the bathing spout, around the stream that fed the spout, was a patch of lantana in which were tunnels formed by the plants and we used to play in these despite the thorns. I also remember vividly a tea factory in the distance and the fact that a boy named Souja came to school from there. We used to call the factory “Souja’s factory” and, after my planting experience in later life, I would guess that Souja’s father was probably the Tea Maker in that factory.
My recollection is not clear but I think I was boarded here for Standards 3 to 5 i.e. age 7 - 9 years during the years 1941 to 1943. If I remember correctly I moved to Royal College, “Glendale”, Bandarawela from Form 1. probably because my father was at The Colombo Academy, near the Pettah, the precursor to Royal College, c.1917.
By G. C. Wickremasinghe
I belonged to the very first batch of 7 children that joined St Thomas' Prep School (STPS), Bandarawela, when it opened in January 1942.
Prior to that in January 1940, at the age of 6, I was admitted to STPS in Kollupitiya as a boarder. After about 18 months, when the war In Europe was intensifying, the British Navy requisitioned the school buildings. Mr Keble informed the parents that STPS Kollupitiya will therefore close down and he will be looking out for a location in the Hill Country, away from possible bombing targets, to restart the school. Among my prominent schoolmates at that time were Christopher Ondaatje and also Sohli Captain with whom I am in contact to this day.
The teachers I remember at Kollupitiya are Norman Abeynaike and our Kindergarten teacher Miss Jayatillike. The adjoining space to the south of the main building was the play ground and where we used to stroll about in the evenings before 7.00 pm dinner time. During particular seasons the playground would be full of butterflies, crickets and praying mantis. Swimmers diving into the pool at The Colombo Swimming Club could be clearly seen from the lower southern corner of the playground.
I had to attend a school in Avissawella for a few months until Mr Keble found Walden Place, located off Welimada Road in Bandarawela, as the new home of STPS. The school started off with only 7 children. I was one of them. Another was my elder brother S.P. The only other boy I clearly remember out of the 7 pioneers is S.O. Wijesekera. Perhaps Reggie Poulier may also have been one of the seven.
Our very first journey to STPS Bandarawela began in January 1942 at the Fort railway station where parents handed over custody of the 7 nine year old boys to Miss Blanchard the trusted deputy to Mr Keble. It was a sad moment for us because we will not see home for the next three months. After a train journey of 7 to 8 hours we arrived at the Bandarawela station where we were met by Mr Keble who took us to Walden Place in his old vehicle.
Walden Place was a small house which provided accommodation for Mr Keble and other staff as well as space for the kitchen, dining room and a small classroom. The dormitory for the 7 of us was the small garage a few yards away which was made out of old corrugated GI sheets. We had to sleep on folding camp beds which had jute hessian sleeping surface on to which we laid our sheets and blankets. The temperature in Bandarawela was much lower 75 years ago than what it is today and it was bitterly cold sleeping in the tin sheet garage which did not even have a ceiling. This was the time I sorely missed the warm comfort of my home in Paiyagala and, as a 8 year old, felt terribly home sick.
Our stay at Walden Place was very short, perhaps 3 to 4 months and uneventful except for the bitter cold experienced in the tin roofed garage! Mr Keble had by then set up some buildings to relocate the school on land acquired on Golf Links Road, a couple of kilometers from Walden Place. This land formed the nucleus of the magnificent school of today.
The shift to Golf Links Road was the start of three happy years for schoolboys of our age. Many children from Colombo joined the school and from a mere 7 students, the number gradually grew to over 50.
We were surrounded by uninhabited patnas, unpolluted streams with beautiful fish as well as water spouts for bathing. We always had spout baths. It was back to nature. The boys were allowed to roam on the patnas without restriction. Sometimes a fire breaks out, in the middle of the night, in the dry patna grass and the standing instructions were that at the first signs of fire we must raise an alarm. Then all the children and the dormitory master are expected to rush out with sticks and put out the fire. On our return to the dormitory we were rewarded with cups of hot cocoa. The children enjoyed the adventure and looked forward to the next patna fire!
Mr Keble kept the whole school regularly informed of war news which he gathered in the night over the MW radio from BBC London. He was able to draw on the blackboard perfect maps of the locations where fighting and bombing was taking place and explain with arrows and diagrams how the allies were faring in various theaters of war in Europe, Africa, Middle East and Asia.
Even at the age of 8 and 9 we were well informed of war news which we clearly understood and eagerly absorbed thanks to Mr Keble's excellent presentation with instructive sketches and diagrams.
My friends at that time were Earl Victor Henry (brother of Mavis Gardiner), S O Wijesekera, Douglas Perera and Ian Gunewardena (now Gardner and brother of Norman). My schoolmates during that period included Norman Gunewardena (my Late colleague at Aitken Spence) R.K. De Siva, Reggie Poulier (former Carsons director) P.C. Munasinghe (former Exchange Controller) J. O. Yatawara and his brother Tilak, C. F. Amerasinghe, Vivian Blaze, Nihal Corea, Maithri Samarasinghe and the brothers Ralph and Mahen Obeysekera.
An account of STPS would be incomplete without reference to Miss Blanchard - a pillar of strength to all the children who passed through the school. With help from a few boys like myself and a couple of labourers, she built for herself on the hill above the school, a charming little cottage which was her own design, to live in. It had a beautiful fireplace and a thatched roof. She named it "Little Thatch". She invited 2 boys in turn to spend the weekend at "Little Thatch", a privilege they thoroughly enjoyed with the added bonus of the tasty cookies she herself baked in a simple oven near the fireplace.
You could complain to her about any illness and she will treat you, if you had trouble at class or with a classmate she will advise you. She was an excellent pianist and played during the weekly sing songs. She also composed the school songs, a couple of lines from which I quote entirely from memory, having learnt the song some 75 years ago:
"Cheers, cheers prep school boys for our other home in the mountains,
where the tree tops winds blow fresh and free and we bathe in the sparkling fountains ........."
I was born in Colombo in 1965. We all lived in Homagama with my grand parents. My father worked for the Post and Telecommunications Department as a telecommunications inspector in Maradana. He had come to Bandarawela a couple times on relief and had started to like the place. He had thought of moving away from Colombo and getting settled down far away from Colombo. From what he said, out of many he had two main reasons to come to Bandarawela. One was the climate which was excellent. But it was entirely different from what we experience now. Bandarawela had the third best climate in the world. And the other the main reason was St Thomas Prep School Bandarawela. Mr. S L A Ratnayake was related to my father. It was Mr S L A Ratnayake’s elder brother Mr.Harry Ratnayake who had told my father about the school. Due to these reasons we moved to Bandarawela in 1967.
My first Montessori was Lourdes convent. It was managed by nuns and there was a lot of space for us to play around.. I met a lot of my future Thomian friends there. Sujeewa Abeynayake, Jagath Senarath, G B De Silva the Miskin Boys to name a few. Out of many houses we lived in Bandarawela the last house just before I joined St Thomas College was Mr.Godfrey Peiris’s. He had an annex and that’s where we used to live for some time. This house was right next to Dharmapala Vidyalaya and it was acquired by the school and was demolished a couple of years later and that house is no more. Mr Godfrey Peiris loved music and was an excellent singer too. I think Priyanga his younger son has his looks and his husky voice. Mr Godfrey Peiris had a radio gram and a huge collection of records. We could hear the golden voice of Jim Reeves playing in his radio gram very often. Chanaka and Priyanga, the two sons of Mr Godfrey Peiris and Mrs Merlin Peiris became my first closest friends.
I remember one morning in December when I woke up I was surrounded by toys. I asked my father who left them like that and he explained that it’s Christmas time and there is a person called Santa Clause who brings gifts to small children . Later I came to know that it was my two new friends who had left them.
My mother told me that I will be going to a big school the following year. I wasn’t so very excited about it because I didn’t want to leave my friends and the rabbits at Lourdes convent. I enjoyed my life at Lourdes convent. One day we were asked to name any toy that we wanted and I asked for a toy bus and a parrot which had wheels that could be pulled around. The bus was made out of wood and was painted like a CTB bus. These gifts were distributed. among the students at a Christmas party. By looking at the gifts the others had received I wished I had asked for better presents like cars working on batteries and so on.
One fine day I was taken to St Thomas Prep School Bandarawela for the admission test. My mother briefed me about the test and that Peiris aunty (Mrs.Merlin Peiris) will also be there and that I had nothing to worry about. I wished Mrs.Peiris tested me because I knew her so well as she was my neighbor. I saw her in the new school when I went for my test but she was testing another boy. I was tested by Mrs. Induruwa or by Miss. Karunaratne (Mrs. Selvadurai) I was given a jigsaw puzzle of a cow which I could make immediately and some questions were asked which I cannot remember now. I got selected and started my life at St Thomas’s Prep school Bandarawela.
At the same time we moved to a new house at Mount pleasant where I found some new friends. The Lee boys lived right next door. There were five of them. The Miskin boys. Rohan Wickramaratne, Mr and Mrs Joseph Mahesan Pakyanathan, we all lived in the same lane. The youngest of the Lees Foo Hwa was not born at that time. Yung Hwa Lee the youngest at that time was just a toddler.
I used to wear elastic shorts (Jangi) and my neighbors the Lee boys used to wear shorts with buttons. I was very shy to wear my jangi and go to play there. I told my mother that I too wanted to wear shorts like that. After some time my mother gave me also new shorts just like the Lee boys wore so that I could move along with my new neighbors. Shen and Tung Hwa Lee used to ask me to come and play cowboys and Indians. We used to take plastic pistols and bows and arrows made out of small sticks and run around firing at each other making a sound from our mouths like gun shots . I had no idea at that time who the hell a cowboy or an Indian was. One day I asked my father who a cowboy was and he just told me that a cowboy is a person who looks after cattle. I always wondered why the people looking after cattle carried pistols and shot at other people.
I was taken to St Thomas’s by my father on the first day on a motor bike. I sat on the tank of the bike and went and I really enjoyed the ride. I expected him to take me everyday but he dropped me to the bus and picked me up in the afternoons. There were two buses to the school. The bus fair was 5 cents and the bus went only to the school. It stopped right in front of the Keble Hall. The bus stand was at the centre of the town where the van park is situated now.. There was a petrol shed in between the bus stand and the restaurant and the market was next to the bus stand. The road where the HNB is now was just a paddy field at that time. There were steps leading down to Sigiri Cinema and to the Sunday fair. There was another theatre at that time called the Modern Cinema in the same vicinity. But it was burned down during the 1983 riots. I remember the last movie that was played in that theatre was “Deviani Oba Kohida”( Where are you god). After the cinema was burnt down still the poster was visible for a long time just outside the ruins on a notice board.
I met my new friends, Leslie Perera Priyantha Edirisinghe, Sujeewa Abeynayake (Koralaya), Ajith Gunathileka, Priyanga Tennage, Anurajith Dharmaratne, Nicola Witham, Indunika Jayasena, Jagath Senarath, Wasantha Ratnayake (Elipoochchi), Wasantha Kothalawala, Liyal Mahendrajith (Batakola Achchie), Nandana Punchihewa, Paduma Hennedi (Kokka) Naushad Mohammed(Thams,Paats), Mahesha Wickramasekara ( Kan Diga Gona) Thushara Athulathmudali, Janaka Walisundera, to name a few. Nicola was a very pretty girl. But unfortunately the girls were called current and any boy who even stood next to a girl was teased and cornered by the others calling current. So nobody dared even to sit next to a girl in this new school. I hope it has changed now.
Out of the many games that we used to play during the time was the ship. The ship was an old tree without leaves near the fence beside the Keble Hall. Piya was the captain of the tree and us day scholars climbed up and were swinging. Piya was the biggest boy in the class.
The other game was to push Piya down from the side of the Keble Hall. Jagath Leslie Sujeewa Jayabahu were the guys who tried to push him down. The moment we heard the bus coming past the Keble dorm we stopped the game and ran to the front of the Keble Hall. That was the bus stop,
My father had a circle of friends. One was Mr. Leslie Nagahawatte. He was the owner of Stathedan Estate at Kumbalwela . He had two sons and a daughter. The eldest was Samantha the second was Nishantha the third was Lakmini and the last a sister wasn’t born at that time. Their house was a colonial type bungalow with a small stream running just at the entrance to the garden. It was so beautiful. They had a Land Rover jeep with a canvass top. We visited them in this jeep with my parents and my sister and played with our new friends. We didn’t play cricket or football with these friends at that time. My new friends caught small fish and crabs and showed us.
They told me stories which I believed at that time were all true. One story was that Samantha and Nishantha ( Nishantha was just abut six years old and Samantha about 9) went to catch cattle thieves along with his father. So in the nights when they catch the thieves Nishantha said that the father would ask them to stand in line and shoot them. I knew at that time that you cant kill people like that. I asked them “ Isn’t it illegal to shoot and kill people like that” and they said “ Yes but my father has a special permit to kill people. He gets the signature from the person who is going to get shot giving permission to shoot because he has stolen some cattle. I listened to all these stories with my mouth half open.
They also visited us during some weekends and we went to catch fish. It was Nishantha who taught me about catching fish. The UC grounds at Bandarawela was not so big at that time. The place where the bus stand is was a marshy land. It spreaded from one quarter of the ground towards the other end of the bus stand. (Beyond the vegetable stalls still the land is marshy.)That’s where we went to catch. fish. Nishantha taught me all about the hooks , bait nets and all those things. We baught the hooks from Lanka Trading company and the bait’s we dug out from the garden. But we could catch only small fish by using the nets. I guess Nishantha although knew the art of fishing, was not an expert. But to me he was the best fisherman in the whole world. I had never seen anyone catching fish before.He always behaved like an expert.
Nishantha came and joined St Thoma’s College one year junior to me. He said he knew Boxing. His father trained him he said. Piyaratne was the biggest boy in the class.. I was no match for him and was scared of him. Once he tried to bully me and I wanted to teach him a lesson. I told Piyaratne” I may not be able to beat you but I have a friend who will, You wait and see” He said “okay you better send anyone I don’t care”.
I went and told Nishantha “ there is this big fat oaf that I want to teach a lesson, but I cannot because he is a good fighter and that I am scared of him”. .” Don’t you worry” he said “. I am a boxer and I will teach him a lesson, let me handle this” I showed him Piyaratne. He was at the play grounds. Nishantha went up to him and I saw him telling something to Piyaratne. The next moment Piyaratne gave him a shot and Nishantha started running and Piyaratne was chasing behind him all over the school. My hired thug couldn’t teach the lesson to Piyaratne.
Nishantha’s father had about five hundred acres of tea and the government acquired a large portion of his estate. They moved to the Bandarawela town and lived at the house right next to the Singhagiri yard close to telecommunication. When Nishantha was in grade four or five they moved to Colombo.
Their father also died after some time. I heard their mother got a marriage proposal and little Nishantha had said that he will kill the man she marries if she got married again. After Nishantha grew up he had taken good care of his mother until the 24th of July 1996. Nishantha was to get married in two weeks and was running a business at Dehiwala. He had the habbit of going up to Wadduwa with his wife to be, by train when a bomb planted by terrorists blew up at Dehiwala. The charred bodies of one of my first good friends and his fiancé’s were among the one hundred and twenty people who died in that train on that fateful day.
In grade two the first fifteen children with the highest average were promoted to grade three and the rest were promoted to grade two upper. Anurajith Dharmaratne, Priyanga Tennage, Senarath Godakumbura and some others from our class were promoted to grade three. I don’t recall any other special incident that occurred during grade two. Our class teacher was a Miss Edirisinghe. A relative of Mr. Mitra Edirisinghe or I am not sure whether it was his own sister.
It was in grade three that another batch of friends joined my class. Sudath Wijewardena (Ataya), Lal Kulathunga, Kapila Gunasekara (Diganchiya) Dilum Pathirana (Bokka) Jayabahu Samaratunga, P K Abeysinghe, Indrapala Gallearachchi (Lapaya) Rohana Muhandiram (Tin Kiriya), Rukmal Pelpola (Palliye Appu) Mahesh Jayaweera Lalin Ratnayake. Sanath Uduwera (Pooki)
Miss Manel Dharmakeerthi was our class teacher. The class was at the end of the corridor. When the door was closed we could see if the teacher was coming from far through the key hole. Once the boys were playing havoc in the class when I went to peep through the key hole to see whether Miss. Dharmakeerthi was in the vicinity. I closed one eye bent down and peeped when she opened the door. I had no time even to move. I got caught red handed. I got a severe caning that day.
One idiot in the class( Bathalagoda) brought a spinning top to the class. It had a small handle and a plastic rod. The top was connected to the handle and the rod was put through the small space in the handle. The top as well as the rod had teeth and they fit in between the spaces between the teeth. When the rod was pulled hard the top spun very fast. So he brought this to the class to show off. When Miss. Dharmakeerthi saw this she was highly impressed. Not because of the way it spun. Because she could use the rod as a cane. Because of the small teeth it was more painful than the normal cane. How much it bent it did not break. It was ever lasting. She asked for it from him and he happily gave it to her. If I remember correctly he himself got the first beating from the rod she gave to Miss. Dharmakeerthi..
Almost everybody had nicknames. To start with Liyal Mahendrajith was called batakola achchie because there was a cartoon series going on a children’s paper called mihira at that time. The characters were Boo Baba Thulsie yoghaya amd on. There was also a witch in this story who was called Batakola achchie. This witch had a long chin and Liyal too had a chin slightly similar to this witch.. So we called him Batakola achchie.
Indrapala was called lapaya because he has a birth mark on his cheek. Rukmal Pelpola was called palliye appu because he was very devoted to his religion. In other words he used to spend a lot of time in the chapel. Mahesha Wickramasekara was called Kan diga gona because he had big ears. Paduma was called kokka because his name was Paduma Shantha koku Hennedi. Kapila Gunasekara was called diganchiya because he was very tall.
And I Hemantha Wanigasekara had many nicknames. This is how I got my first Nickname. We had a grand fun fair at the town hall organized by the school. Parents were asked to have different stalls and my mother did the hopper stall. A few ladies young and old were helping out in my mothers hopper stall. The announcing was done by one Mr. Samarasekara who was one of our family friends too. The turn came for him to announce the hopper stall. He said to the microphone “ Ladies and Gentlemen, If you want egg hoppers plain hoppers young hoppers old hoppers small hoppers big hoppers go to the hopper stall and mentioned the number of my mothers stall. My mother became so damn wild with the person who announced he went and scolded him. She asked him whether he thought she was selling young hoppers and old hoppers, whether he had seen them anywhere. That this was a schools funfair. Not a place for him make fun. Everybody in school came to know about this incident and first they called me young hoppers and old hoppers, then I became hoppers and finally point blank “Appaya”.
Panadure Ariyadhamma Thero was preaching at the town hall. Miss.Ellepola our Buddhism teacher made it compulsory for us to attend.I was about twelve or thirteen years old I guess. When I started going there daily my father had felt very suspicious. He had told my mother that he was suspecting me of having an affair with a girl. He had told my mother that boys at this age don’t go for religious sermons like this and that he was very sure that I must be having an affair. He had quietly followed me one day and had seen me going in line with all the other devotees to listen to the sermon. He had felt very happy that he had a very religious boy.He had told my mother he was proud of me. I didn’t have a girl friend at that time but thoroughly enjoyed sitting with the girls and listening to the sermons by Venerable Panadure Ariyadamma Thero.
One day while I was on my way for the sermons a ford prefect came and stopped beside me. He asked me for the way to Vishaka Vidyalaya Bandarawela. I just pointed my finger and showed him the way. He asked me whether I could jump in to the car and showed him the exact location. I didn’t feel suspicious about him as he could speak in English and he looked like a gentleman. I got in and he drove up to the school, stopped the car and got out. It was dark and the time was about seven in the night. He started urinating and while doing it he said “ touch this”. I wondered what the hell he was talking about. Again he said the same thing and I looked at what he wanted me to touch. I couldn’t see anything properly but I saw something like a Key Tag. I thaught he wanted me to touch the key tag. I slowly moved my hand towards what I saw was a key tag when he held my hand and rubbed it on his penis. I grabbed my hand and said I wanted to go home. Then he said not to shout and took me and dropped me in the same spot where he picked me up from. To cut a long story short I told this story to Piyaratne and he told it to the class and every time a master came in to the class I had to stand in front of class and recite it. My beloved friends in my class added two more nick names after this incident. Touch this and Keytag.
All the day scholars brought lunch from home. Our lunch interval was from twelve noon to twelve forty five. Earlier my mother used to give me six sandwiches and when I grew up she started giving me rice and curry. We all brought rice and curry. We finished our lunch quickly and ran to the ground to play. We had three sports seasons. The first three months it was cricket and the second was hockey and the last was soccer. Everybody ran to the ground after a quick meal except for Sujeewa Abeynayake. He sat in front of his lunch packet and slowly enjoyed his rice and curry. He brought a boiled egg most of the days and used to keep it until the end. By the time the bell at twelve forty-five rang our friend was still enjoying his lunch observing his boiled egg. Most of the time it was Indrapala who entered the class first while Sujeewa was still enjoying his meal with the egg in front of him. Before Sujeewa could even think the egg vanished.in to Indrapala’s mouth. Sujeewa used to get so angry that he could kill him. I can still remember the look in his face.
We were given an essay by Mr.Ananda Alahakoon. The heading was “ If I became the Headmaster”. Anura Ranaweera wrote that the first thing that he will do is demolishing the chapel and putting up a buddhist temple. Mr Alahakoon held him by his stomach and asked him whether he didn’t have any other place to think of putting up a temple other than where the chapel is.
We needed a frog for our science practical. The moment Mr. Dissanayake mentioned about this Indrapala Gallearachchi, Jayabahu Samaratunga, B G Piyaratne, Asela Desilva, Sujeewa Abeynayake volunteered to go out to the stream running between the school ground and the Keble dorm to get a frog. They all had a quick lunch and went in search of a frog. The lunch interval finished but our heroes were missing. The first period after lunch was Mr. Josephs and after about fifteen minutes in to the period they returned with a proud look on their faces. Mr. Joseph had a good look at their dirty uniforms and asked them where they had been. None of their English was good enough at that time to explain where they had been. One of them said frog sir frog. Mr. Joseph asked what frog men. Again Piyaratne said frog sir frog and showed him the frog. The whole class was laughing. Mr Joseph said “ I will show you a frog and all five of them got a good beating.
Speaking in English was compulsory. A pencil was given to the monitor of the class and it had to be passed over to the first boy who utters in sinhala Even a single word would do. And the person who had the pencil at the last bell was fined . So everybody spoke in English. Our good friend Sanath Uduwera didn’t like this at all. He didn’t mind having the pencil at the end of the day and paying the fine. But when everybody spoke in English! He hated it. He told the class that he will keep the pencil with him and pay the fine at the end of the day. When the monitor was given the pencil he would take it and ask the boys to speak in sinhala. But when a teacher was around he didn’t talk but the rest spoke in English. At the end of the day he he paid the fine. This didn’t last for very long. The master in charge smelt something fishy was going on and the punishment was changed. The person who had the pencil had to write a hundred lines “I will never speak in Sinhalese in class again”. Sanath never asked for the pencil again.
We enjoyed practicing for the cross country race but most of all we enjoyed throwing water at the runners. B G Piyaratne Jayabahu Samaratunga Sujeewa Abeynayake ,Jagath Senarath Wasantha Ratnayake was the group that practiced together. Once Sujeewa Abeynayake took part and we didn’t. The race started and whole bunch left the school we waited. Waited about 100 metres away from the school gate with a bucket of water mixed with rice husk. The gang that waited was Indrapala, Leslie Jayabahu and me. I had the bucket. We could see the boys coming. The first came, second third. We waited. We could see Sujeewa coming from far. He was coming in a good position. He was in the twenties if I remember correctly.. That was a good position. We waited for him to come closer. When he saw us he stopped. He felt there was something else in the bucket. We shouted at him to come and finish the race. He was standing there about twenty metres away from us while the guys who he had already passes were finishing the race. We walked up to him and he started walking towards the opposite direction. We started running towards him with the bucket. He also started running at the opposite direction while the participants were running towards the school. We ran about 10 fifteen metres .and stopped. He also stopped and begged us to let him go. When we started walking towards the school he followed us. Again we started chasing him and again he started running on the opposite direction. This took place for about ten minutes. At the end we let him finish the race. He finished it closer to the end. It was so funny to think about the way he was running on the opposite direction but now when we think about it we feel what we did was very unfair from Sujeewa’s side. I think I will make it a point to apologize to him from this article and also to Hayman house which lost a few points due to this.
When I came to grade 7 or 8 I was boarderd at Mrs. Peiris’s house which was just two minutes away from the school. Mrs. Peiris and her two boys Chanaka and Priyanga were always observing me during study time. Even if I was dreaming in front of my open book I always made it a point to remember the page number when I went to the bathroom. Because the moment I left Chanaka or Priyanga would change the page to see whether I was really reading the book or dreaming. If I turned the wrong page they complained to their mother Mrs. Peiris.
After Mrs. Peiris’s place I was bordered at the college hostel and my dormitory was Keble hall. The dormitories were in the side balconies. That was one of the best times of my life. Our dorm master was Mr. Ananda Alahakoon. Only a few of my class mates were in Keble hall and the rest of the hostellers were in the Edirisinghe dormitory. Dilum Pathirana, Rohan Rajadurai, Rukmal Pelpola, Rohana Muhandiram and Gihan Fernando were in the Keble Hall. Dilum, Devananth and I were in the room at the end of the balcony. All the others were seniors.
Sudath Wijewardena once said that he had found a swimming pool close by and that we can go there and have a swim. I couldn’t swim then and I cannot swim now. But just followed my friends Sudath Dilum Kapila Rohana to atleast have a dip in the water. It was a big open tank right below the government hospital and there was enough water for us to swim. I just had a dip in the water while my friends swam. The tank became a regular visiting place for us until the next weekend. I went home and told my father about the new swimming pool. He told me the water coming from the hospital ends at this precious pool and the cemetery is on another side. You are going to get a disease that no specialist alive is going to cure. That stopped our swim.
I used to tell my friends that Mr. S L A Ratnayake was closely related to my father. My father called him Alic uncle. I told my friends that he is one of my grand fathers. But nobody believed me. Although I was related to him, in school I was just another of his students. I was wondering whether he didn’t recognize me. Whether he didn’t know that I was Nelson Wanigasekaras son. But later when I grew up I realized that for that great person every student in the school were the same. – Esto Perpetua.
By Buddika Kurukularatne
I was good in all subjects. But my proficiency in arithmetic died an early death – never to be revived. My ‘forte’ was however English at Dharmasoka which was laughed at, ridiculed and made fun of, by the Bandarawela and Gurutalawa Thomians.
My ‘advent’ in to S. Thomas’ was a result of my father’s friendship with Mr. Dalpathado, who was the Manager of Ridiyagama Farm off Ambalantota, where my father had a worksite. (Mr. Dalpathado who died a few years back, spent the evening of his life at his Sarasavi Uyana home Nugegoda – next door to late Mrs. Francis Nanayakkara’s – mother of my friends Vasu, Hema and the rest of her brood of illustrious offspring!)
Mr. Dalpathado and his family visited my father at Ambalangoda and after a sumptuous lunch (laid out by my mother – complete with the famous ‘Fish Ambulthiyal’ and stuffed cuttlefish – as only my mother knew how to make in that ‘special’ way) he told my father that if ever he wanted to admit me to St. Thomas’ Prep School in Bandarawela, my father had only to let him know. Mr. Dalpathado at that time lived close to STPS Bandarawela, adjoining which is now the official residence of the ‘Bandarawela Head Master’.
My father who was anxious to give his only child a Thomian Education enjoyed exclusively by the elite of the country jumped at the idea and immediately accepted the offer.
However, he was asked to bide his time until the redoubtable English Head Master, W.T.Keble, founder of St. Thomas’ Prep School at Bandarawela went on furlough and the most senior teacher assumed the role of Acting Head Master.
So, one day in response to a telegram from Mr. Dalpathado, my father took me to Bandarawela in his Hillman taking with him amongst other things a Bottle of Chivas Regal – the choicest of whisky as a bribe or to put it more decently ‘offerings to a teacher’. A viva voce examination for the purpose of record was hurriedly held which I failed, being unable to answer even what the feminine gender of ‘Bull’ was.
But the whisky and the sparkling wad of notes (given purportedly as a ‘contribution’ to the school, for which no receipt was asked or given) were so powerful, I was told that I ‘passed’ the test (Bull Shit!)
A long list was given with instructions to stitch initials on every shirt, short, pyjamas even on the Blue-White tie and the blazer. I bid adieu to Dharmasoka Primary and it’s Teachers particularly Miss. Manis and Miss. Gnana and the latter praised me in glowing terms. She told the class ‘when you grow up and go aboard no one except Buddhika will remember me!’ This stuck on me and on 13th of September 1966, in the dead of the night I went to Ambalangoda from Colombo with a sheaf of betel, fell pat Miss. Gnana’s feet and received her blessings as I was flying to Rome the next morning.
It was Mangala Akka, my 1st cousin who was a no mean seamstress who stitched the initials, ‘B.S.K’ on to my garments. The parting was sad; my mother hugging me and kissing me and crying her heart out, ‘My son, study well, and become a ‘loku mahattaya’ she said among tears. Not only my mother but ‘Loku Akka’ (Mangala) and Podi Akka (Mali) too cried. My father didn’t; he merely hurried me to the car to the boot of which was loaded with a very heavy ‘Trunk’.
So off we went to ‘Prep’ School Bandarawela ; but first we went to Mr. Dalpathado’s and with him and his sons (he had a daughter too – now living in a Scandinavian country) went on a conducted tour of the school. I was shown the Swimming Pool, the Dairy, Piggery, Poultry Pen and the stables. I was told that except the swimming pool area other places mentioned above were strictly out of bounds. We were self sufficient in eggs, milk and vegetables.
Then came the first night. All those years I slept cuddled to my mother or father and here I was for the first time ‘alone’. I felt terribly ‘Homesick’. I was in ‘Winchester House’ the boarding set-aside for the freshers. There was an English boy in the next bed – Michael Joseph Delay. A quiet sort of a chap. Not only did I not sleep, but also kept the whole boarding awake with my heartrending wailing “MATA AMMA ONEH” (I want my mother). Miss. Ranasinghe the Matronand Miss Ludowyke, the Amazon sixe nurse came running and tried unsuccessfully to cajole me.
I continued my crying spree not just into the morning of the next day – but for full two weeks or so. Soon I became known as the ‘cry baby’ which annoyed me more.
Knowing that a wad of notes were given by my father – but not knowing at that time it was meant as a ‘present’ of sorts, amidst my wailing I lamented that although my father gave a lot of money, I was not getting my money’s worth.
Soon this reached the ears of the Ayahs accompanying the ‘day boys’ and yes – ‘Day Girls’ from the neighbouring Bandarawela and Haputale areas. One old ayah in particular was so fond of me that she used to bring me ‘ goodies’. This was Charmene Jayawardena’s ayah. Charmene was a chubby little girl always clad in a ‘blue pull-over’ and was in Grade 2 in Mr. Wijesekara’s class (Charmene is an Attorney now and married to the Attorney politician Laksman Kiriella, a college of mine in the 1989 parliament).
The allegation of money soon reached the ears of Miss Ranasinghe, the matron who understandably was very agitated and in front of an array of Ayahs announced that my father gave her only Rs 50/= to give me if and when I wanted extra money. As I could not speak in English I yelled still crying ‘No, not to her but to ‘that’ Mahattaya’. Many an eye-was raised – but I believe the matter rested there – Amen.
We were given 50 cts a week, as pocket money – which was added on to out bill.
I was not interested in cricket, football, hockey or boxing. Master-in-Charge of sports was the Head Master Keble himself. Every day of the week was assigned to a Master who was called the ‘Duty Master’ and the ‘Duty Master’ for Tuesdays was known as “IDHI APPAYA” as we believed that his main interest was the breakfast of string hoppers we had on Tuesdays.
Apart from the boys housed in the various Boarding Houses, Blanchard, Corea, Wijewardena, there were two other places where the older children were sent to. The ‘Farm House’ and the ‘Cottage’.
Farm House was where Mr. Keble lived with his wife Mrs. Keble and an only child Anthony, with their pet dog ‘Lassie’.
The cottage was ‘mana’ thatched meticulously clean with an orchard which was ‘guarded’ by Miss. Blanchard, the old music teacher.
We didn’t know her age; but she must have been pushing 70 as her wrinkled face indicated. But for her age she was indeed very active and healthy climbing up and down the ‘Cottage Hill’ – steep and stony. Not only has her physical prowess that belied her aged but her vocal chords.
‘Bleeeesss this House………. ‘O Lord we pray……………… ‘Bllless the walls…………….. ‘And windows………………..’
Her voice drowned that of a Piano. I did not know to sing even then and I just joined the rest in the ‘chorus’ and pretending to sing. Miss. Blanchard however favoured the ‘Choir Boys’.
The biggest problem I had was with English. Although I used to score over 90 in Miss. Gnana’s class at Dharmasoka Primary in English, which was my forte then, amidst these ‘kalu suddhas’ I was completely at sea.
At S.T.P.S, we had, apart from the Sinhalese, who formed the majority, Tamils, Burghers, Muslims and even Borahs.
The common medium of communication therefore was understandably English – something totally alien to me. However as necessity was the mother of invention, I too attempted to do justice by the Queen’s language – only to be mocked, teased and made fun out of my colleagues.
My ‘friends’ loved to gather round me whenever I had a go at the ‘Queen’s language’.
I was in the lower 4th – the equivalent of std 6. There were only 12 children in class, 11 boys and 1 girl ‘Damitha Edirisinghe’ daughter of a teacher Mr. David Edirisinghe, who took our English. (Damitha is Mr. Mithra Edirisinghe’s elder sister).
I still remember Mr. Edirisinghe – whose roots I was told I was told were at Baddegama in the deep south asking the class (in English) to have an expression of surprise.
‘Kurukularatne wears the best expression of surprise’ announced Mr. Edirisinghe. True I was genuinely surprised, as I didn’t know what the hell he was talking about.
However in 2 areas I was ahead. In swimming I could beat most of the boys except a few like E.L.Morino, G.A.D. Anandapala, then (now Anandapala Gallear Archchi) and his brother Mahindapala (it was tragic indeed that ever since leaving ‘Prep’ I was destined to see him in his coffin!. Afflicted by cancer he died prematurely) In swimming too I had no style; Morino et el showed their prowess in Free Style, Breast Stroke and Butterfly Stroke, whilst I swam my own brand of ‘Maha Ambalangoda style. (I was later to become a stylish swimmer under the Australian champion, E.S.Scott at Gurutalawa).
The other area I excelled was ‘Sinhala’. My article to the school magazine ‘The ruined cities of Ceylon’ was highly acclaimed. The master in charge was Mr. Premadasa. – in fact his initial was ‘R’; and even his signature resembled that of the President by the same name. Understandably I was Mr. Premadasa’s pet. He was kind, soft spoken man from somewhere off Kurunegala. I met him only once after Bandarawela, at St. Thomas’ Prep School, at Colpetty, where he had a son. My efforts to trace this genial man have so far failed.
We had a Literary Union, presided over by Mr. Wijesekara, the proceedings of which were conducted in English. I had just lost 2 fountain pens; one a ‘Swan’, the other a ‘Pilot’. At Dharmasoka we had a box in Head Master Manawadu’s office where everything ‘found’ were deposited.
I thought my pens too had fallen somewhere and I took permission to speak in Sinhala. I said that we must have a box called ‘AVANKA PETTIYA’ to deposit things found. This concept of an ‘Honesty Box’ was hailed by Head Master Keble in the general assembly. My pens were found ultimately – but not in the Honest Box, but inside the trunk of a very rich boy from the cooler climes of Nuwara Eliya.
When I lost my ‘Swan’ pen I did not report the loss, as was the custom. My father promptly sent me a ‘Pilot’ pen and within a day I lost that too.
I reported this loss to Head Master Keble in broken English.
Then the same afternoon I saw a boy – the rich fellow from Nuwara Eliya, Rohan (not his real name) writing with my lost ‘Swan’ pen. I pounced at the fellow, snatched the pen and ran to the Head Master.
Again in broken English I told him that Rohan had my pen. Mr. Keble admonished me and said ‘Kurukularatne, this morning you reported the loss of a Pilot pen. But this is a ‘Swan’.
I was stumped. I could not express myself to tell the English Head Master, who knew no Sinhala other than a few words like ‘BAKA MUNA’ (Owl), the story of the ‘lost pens’.
However Mr. Premadasa, who happened to be there acted as the interpreter.
‘Are there any identification marks?’ asked Keble.
‘Yes; in the clip’, I answered through the interpreter.
‘Where is the clip?’ Keble demanded to know. In my haste I had only snatched the barrel of the pen. As ‘Rohan’ claimed the pen to be his, he was asked to bring the clip which he was compelled to bring.
My father had got my initials ‘B.S.K.’ engraved on the gold coloured clip by a goldsmith and upon examining the clip Keble found clear but unsuccessful attempts at erasing the initials.
‘Rohan’ also carried a bunch of keys tingling from a belt he wore. Mr. keble marched Rohan to his dormitory with Mr. Premadasa the ‘dorm-master’ and me in tag and ordered ‘Rohan’ to open his trunk.
Lo and behold! – Not only my ‘Pilot’ was there, but all the ‘Loot’ he had amassed by stealing. It was found that he had keys that could open every single trunk in the dormitory.
He got six of the best.
‘Rohan’ was not a mere ‘Kleptomaniac’. He was a downright thief.
We staged a play ‘Sri Wicrama Rajasinghe’the play was so successful it was to be staged again in Colombo at the Colpetty Prep. School Hall.
We travelled by the ‘Night Mail’ to Colombo. Mr. Harold Weragama, father of my friends Asela and Senaka of Ratnapura, was the Basnayake Nilame of the Maha Saman Devale in Ratnapura. Mr. Weragama, had readily loaned the Head Gear (probably his ancestoral attire) to be used as Sri Wicrama Rajasinghe’s crown. Mr. Weragama being a feudal aristocrat hailing from the gem city, the stones that bedecked the ‘Crown’ were real jewels.
We were at an age where we could not say the difference between a gem and a ‘pebble’ – but nor ‘Rohan’ who undid a couple of gems from the sockets that held them and pocketed them.
The ‘gems’ were never found, the only evidence against ‘Rohan’ being circumstantial in nature. (He was seen fondling the Head Gear as did many an other child) and his previous conduct which Keble in true British tradition held was inadmissible.
Mr. Weragama did not pursue the matter, lest it would reflect adversely on hitherto unblemished institution, but Rohan carried on regardless going on to bigger things like forgery, misappropriation and deceit according to a very honourable uncle of his, who is a good friend of mine, and who was later a parliamentarian the National List.
Mr. Keble in his wisdom, made two things compulsory. Swimming and Scouting. The only other ‘Head’ who made scouting compulsory as far as I know, was my friend Mr. Sooryarachchi, Principal of Richmond College, Galle (later Principal of Royal – the ‘school’ by the stables!)
Mr. Pillai was our Scout Master. We had two scout camps. One at Dambetenna Group, Haputale where a school mate Gamini Jayawardena’s father was the Superintendant and the other at Passara Group, where Churchill Van Culenberg’s father was Manager (Churchill was in later years the Head Prefect at S.T.C. Gurutalawa, according to the plaques displayed at the ‘Foster Memorial Hall’).
The camps were indeed very interesting. Nights – more than the day!.
We staged impromptu plays with irresistible James Siriniwasan (In later year the husband of Indrani Perera of ‘3 sisters fane’) playing the role of Brutus. James ,however, did not follow the Bard’s lines and uttered whatever that came to his big mouth such as ‘Hey Ceaser – Drink this Tinkiri’ holding aloft and empty can of condensed milk. Little sleep was possible with Brylcream (the popular hair-cream of the day) applied where no hair grew, and tooth paste everywhere but teeth!.
We had only the ‘two finger’ salute then – one for ‘God’ and the other for the (new) ‘Queen’. (My younger son, a President’s Scout gave ‘Three finger’ salute as scout leader at Mount Lavinia where he was Head Cop)
But it was to the meals that we really looked forward to. At Prep School Bandarawela, the food was indeed very good compared to S.T.C. Gurutalawa, where it was barely palatable.
At camp, we were treated not merely to a meal but to a banquet. Bacon and eggs; scrambled eggs on Toast, butter and jam comprised the usual menu for breakfast, whilst chicken, roasted curried, devilled, with seer fish baked and fried, fried rice and boiled choice upcountry vegetables (to cater to the palates of children of various nationalities) and the wives of the Planters exhibited their culinary skills to the hilt when it came to desserts too by laying on various puddings, cakes and sweets of every hue as also grapes, apples, pears and bananas.
There was absolutely no restriction for the boys to eat only one variety, i.e. western food was not only meant for the ‘suddhas’, but to ‘kalu suddhas’ as well and vice versa.
Amongst other things we were taught Table manners at S.T.P.S. Bandarawela. Mr. Keble (sometimes Mrs. Keble) and always the son – Anthony had meals with the rest of us. The ‘duty master’ was present at breakfast and lunch.
If we had our elbows on the table, Mr. Keble would yell ‘Elbows off the table’. Sometimes an errant boy was put ‘on the form’. I remember an instance where Waragoda (a boy from Kelaniya) was addressed to by Keble who said, I am afraid that Waragoda should get on the form’. Poor Waragoda could not understand this simple English. ‘Go on’ someone translate it for him, ordered Keble. They say that Fools rush in where angels fear to tread and I, like a pundit proceeded to interpret. ”Mr. Keble ta bayailu oyata bankuwa uda naginna wei kiyala”. Not unlike a fellow journalist covering the coup trial said “Sangara Kamaraya” to describe the ‘Magazine Room’ of the Army in later years.
I said the Bandarawela food was good. We had cornflakes or porridge with liberal servings of milk and sugar on alternate days for breakfast. Cornflakes and ‘Quaker Oats’ were imported from England in large barrel like pulp containers.
There was always an egg, lest the hens in the school poultry pen go out of jobs. Eggs came half boiled, full boiled or in the form of a bull’s eye. (I do not remember being served with omlettes however!) We had a slice of toast and any amount of bread ‘slices’. I got used to eating my bull’s eye with toast and Golden Syrup (which too cam in huge barrel like containers) and also a half boiled egg mixed with (the legendary) Polsambol, whilst at the “Boarding”. These still are among my favourite breakfast menus.
Every Tuesday we had string hoppers for breakfast with ‘indiappaya’ the duty master cycling 2 miles for it.
We each had a glass of plain milk at breakfast and a ‘milk break’ which was at 10.00 am (to keep the cows occupied – with the only stud bull doing justice by his harem of imported ‘Ayershires!) and optional milk tea after breakfast.
At lunch the ‘natives’ had rice and curry whilst the Europeans had ‘Western Meals’. Although I did not eat beef at home I became a beef eater at Bandarawela. (Thankfully I am not now!). As there were many Hindus, beef was not served on to the plate like other curries and vegetables: instead it was served by Chandra the Head Waiter and his able team in ‘basins’. Liberal servings of rice were available. I liked the beef curry – the Bandarawela ‘beef’ was nice and soft – but the fish curry was not like what my mother used to make.
Whilst we are at lunch Miss. Ranasinghe ‘a kalu lansi’ matron used to parade in between the tables coaxing the children eat.
Although I now eat ‘green leaf’ mallum like a bull, those days I simply hated it. Miss Ranasinghe would come behind me, take the fork and spoon from me and uttering heavily accented ‘Singlish’ would feed me saying ‘api shinglish minishshu, me mellum okkama kanta ona’ (translated in to legible English it would read “We are Sinhalease, all these green leaves has to be eaten”)
For dessert we either had a slice of pineapple, an ‘anbun’ banana a piece of papaw and occasionally ice cream or pudding (always bread pudding).
Invariably for either lunch or dinner and sometimes for both we had the legendary polsambol of STC fame. The motto was
‘Shantha Thomasge – padashalawe’
‘reta denne polkudu sambole’
An occasional soup was served at dinner which comprised of bread and dhal curry or potato curry with the ‘sine qua non’ polsambol. At dinner we usually had a piece of papaw for desert.
Before commencement of every meal, the children were required to stand at their place until ‘grace’ was said. If Mr. Keble was present he would ‘say grace’. Otherwise it was the Head Boy – Daya Fernando. If no other senior boys were present, Chandra, the Head waiter would say,
‘Master Kurukularatne’ , say ‘grace please.
I, the devoted Buddhist would then say ‘O what we are about to receive the Lord may be thanked’. And we all sit to eat.
Bathing was compulsory on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays. Unfortunately (and unreasonably too) swimming in spite of the whole body getting wet was not considered bathing!.
‘Catherine’ was in charge of ‘bathing’. She was ugly, brutal and despicable. We were taken to a spout close by where there was a ‘Peella’. We were lined up by her much like prisoners and one by one were rudely dragged to the ‘peella’. Then she pulled each one of us on to a large stone close by and stood each of us on the stone and would scrub hard and vigorously with a basked husk of a bottle gourd (weta kolu) that the skin nearly got peeled off.
Though we dodged this nightmare, we never missed the opportunity to jump into the pool and frolic for hours. In the midst of our lunch this vampire would make her ghostly appearance and report me to matron, Ranasinghe.
‘Master Kurukularatne, leave your lunch and go to bathe’ we had not to question why but to do and die, but hoping that ‘Catherine the menace’ would die too.
We were trooped into receive our ordeal to the spout and not a single child liked the experience. Boys at S.T.P.S. Bandarawela, were mostly from the upper crust of the society – the ‘baby hamus’ (except for ‘gorilla’, the son of the school carpenter!) and they were spoon fed by their ‘mamas’ so much so they would yell in pain even when pricked a harmless ‘Mimosa pudica’ – ‘Nidhi Kumbha’ thorn. Gorilla and I were ‘kele johns’, being from the village and therefore very apt at creeping and crawling through bush and undergrowth looking for deserted birds’ nests. (Mr. Keble – a great lover of the nature has strictly forbidden us against disturbing occupied nests and removing eggs whilst encouraging excursions, occasionally joining us.
One day we saw a large buffalo tethered some distance away from the stream. I tip toed stealthily towards the buffalo – not to be seen not only by the buffalo who looked menacing – but also by the hawk-eyed Catherin who in fairness to her – looked very much like an excellent specimen of a she-buffalo; and untying the rope quietly induced the beast to the upper-end of the spout so that the fellow could enjoy a nice cool drink of water. Having accomplished my mission incognito I came back to the line and took my place. The buffalo, instead of drinking the nice cool water, started to stamp its hefty hoofs along the water-path. In no time muddy water was gushing through the ‘peella’. An annoyed Catherine, trooped us back to the boarding cursing the hapless beast, an accomplice of a boyish prank.
I was the ‘Hero’ that day.
by Uditha Wijesena
We who left St Thomas’ Preparatory School Bandarawela [STPSB] in 1966 having completed the Standard Five; the highest grade in the school then call ourselves the Class of 66.
This year marks the 50th anniversary of our stay at STPSB. The Class of 66 are to reunite at the school from the 12th to the 14th of August in line with the scheduled AGM of the Old Boys Association.
My memories of this institution have been noted from time to time in order to lift the spirits of the Class of 66 and to arouse the nostalgia of all who passed through this institution in the 1960’s.
This is the last of such a memorabilia before this once in a lifetime reunion.
This institution that had exceptional organizational skills conducted its annual events to a calendar that was planned and prepared at the beginning of the year. Ever since my friend Manilal de Mel posted the old events calendar for the year 1966 which was our last year at school in Bandarawela my memory ran down to the basic sub cultures that we had developed in line with this annual events calendar.
I had touched on the academia and its teachers on two previous write-ups and this last write up is all about sports and extra activities as I remember to this day.
Generally the First Term in school commenced from January and ended just in time for the Sinhala and Tamil New Year Holidays in April. The first term was dedicated for Cricket as the sport where we played interschool matches in the groups Under 8 and Under 11 with schools in Badulla and with STC Gurutalawa. Badulla had a number of good schools that took sports seriously then.
School cricket in the 60’s was far from what it is today. We had pads that needed to be buckled on to our calf muscle. Velcro was yet to be invented. It was a common sight to find batsmen adjusting their pads in the field holding up play as the buckle did not have a hole positioned to suit every calf size. Ultimately one ended up with two or more handkerchiefs securing the pad on your lower leg. The ground boy had a lot to do before a match. The bats we used needed to be seasoned. This was done by applying a generous coating of Linseed oil on the willow and kept exposed to sunlight for absorption. Then a leather ball was inserted in shoe sock that was suspended from a height and you went on hitting the ball will the bat until there was no vibration on the handle. The batsmen wore linen gloves with green coloured spikey rubber strips that were sewn on the outer fingers for protection against the ball. These are now replaced with the padded leather sausage glove. I would say it was the primitive stage of cricket paraphernalia then. There were no helmets, no arm guards, and no rib guards but there was the cup that guarded your testicles. But I’m sure none of them fitted the tiny bunch of the Under 11. They were not worn as there was hardly anyone at that age who could bowl you a bull's-eye then.
The height of the cricket season was not of a big match as today. It was the Fathers vs. Sons match played on the school grounds that had a big attraction from the adjoining village as well. I remember once when Hon. Dudley Senanayake played for the fathers and the ball as well as the bowler was not spared when he cleared the ropes several times until the ball was never to be found. The fathers won the match…..however there was a disqualification proposal brought in of Dudley’s participation as he did not qualify to be a father?……….a qualification that is best known only to Dudley himself.
Another finale and a pain to everyone in the first term was the Spelling Bee Contest that was conducted annually. This was something that was started by Mr. S L A Ratnayake and was not a favored activity for many. There was but one or two who was somewhat good at difficult words and did come forward to represent their houses. I for one was not good at it then neither am I now.
The first term therefore was dedicated for cricket and this was mainly in the form of two teams involving 30 players…..There was also a sub culture that went in line with the main sport at all times. If my memory is right it was in this term that we enjoyed playing Hopscotch.
One needs to draw the Hopscotch pattern on the ground and throw a flat stone onto a square. The stone should not touch the sides of the square. Then the player needs to hop in the squares always having only one foot in a square. When you return to the square with the stone it should be picked up still being on one foot and making sure to clear that square clean. When you have gone through all the squares you get a handicap to own a square. This is by throwing the stone overhead standing on the semicircular sector at the top of the pattern. If the stone falls on a square clean you own that square and no other player could enter that square. This way towards the end of the game the hop turns into a long jump. It was to be such an interesting game then.
The term end always signified with the Prize giving for the previous year. This was a very glamorous event. In our junior days during Mr. Paul Raj’s period it was held on the small stage in the main building. The collapsible folding partitions that separated the classrooms were unbolted and folded to the sides creating the school hall. The stage was decorated with crape-paper and ample tinsels. The prize table with the prizes and the trophies were illuminated by Mr. Charles’s electrics and spot lighting.
The event commenced in the afternoon and went on till late evening. The long recitation of the Headmasters speech that was printed in the prize day report was turned on and on by the parents while the headmaster kept reading it. Then it was the speech of the Chief Guest and the giving away of the prizes commenced through his ladyship.
There were no flash guns as today but a long aluminium ‘L’ shaped attachment which was fixed to the camera that held an aluminium silver reflector with a bulb holder was the flash mechanism. Mr. Cyril wore a waist belt that could hold a pack of these bulbs that went into the reflector. Each time an indoor photograph is taken a flash bulb would go off with a funny ‘POP’ sound and a bit of smoke ………illuminating the stage like when lightning strikes before thunder. After the photo is taken and the used bulb with shattered glass held behind a plastic cover popped out of the reflector automatically saving time for him to plant a new bulb from his waist belt into the reflector.
One bulb per photograph; as the prize list was read at a slow pace keeping time for Mr. Cyril to get ready for the next shot. At the end we scavengers went about looking for the used bulbs that were collected for what reason I am yet to know.
The first term holidays in our school was to be the longest in the year. It generally covered the Sinhala Tamil New Year and the Vesak Festival in May, if it fell within the first fifteen days of the month.
The second term was a busy term in relation to sports and other activities. At the beginning of the term we always had the school excursion for the standard five class. I remember we were taken in a reserved compartment in the late night mail train from Bandarawela to Colombo for an excursion that lasted two nights in Colombo. We reached Colombo in the early morning hours and there was a CTB bus that picked us up at the Fort railway station. This was arranged by our classmate Ajith Wanigasekara’s father who happened to be in a Managerial position in the CTB then. It was in this bus that we went over to the Harbour, the Dehiwala Zoo, the Lever Brothers factory, the Museum etc. In the Harbour everyone was taken on to a ship and explained of how a ship would set about in the high seas… it was Greek to us then. I am sure we all could remember the depths of the dry docks and the thrilling cruise in the Police Launch within the harbour breakwaters. This was again through the courtesies of a parent who was the Inspector of the Harbour Police then.
The Zoo and Museum were a general walk through at that age but for the elephant antic and pranks in the evening at the zoo was enjoyed by all. I very well remember the famous meal stops then. It was at ‘Pudding House’ outlets…. the renowned eatery then where we took in packeted meals to be had on the way. Pudding House and Pagoda Restaurants were the famous eateries then in Colombo. Pudding House is no more and the Pagoda Restaurant is limited to the Green Cabin in Kollupitiya today. The last Pudding House I still remember was close to Siripala Road on Galle Road Mt Lavinia, where I said goodbye to the last Thomian institution in the early 70’s.
At Lever Brothers we all got a pack of their products from soaps to toothpaste but some of us were not permitted in the factory on safety reasons for us being so tiny and small. I happened to be one of the unfortunates. On the third day we came back to school in the Udarata Menike train from Colombo. As always in any school even today the following week we had to write an essay of our excursion to Colombo.
Next in line for this term was the drama festival. STPSB was famous for drama and it was of very high standard then. We had the blessings of the eminent dramatist Mrs. Aileen Sarathchandra and I remember there were cupboards full of costumes of all sorts. We never had to tax our parents for costumes unlike school kids do today. The nativity play for Christmas was always an event with any boy selected from any faith. I remember some dramas that were played…. Ali Baba & the 40 Thieves, The Enchanted Shirt, King Midas and his Golden Touch, Elowa gihin melowa Aawa………etc. There was always dance and song items before a drama commenced. Initially they were played on the school hall and when Mr. S L A Ratnayake came in he had them in the Bandarawela Town Hall as Public Shows knowing that they were of very high standard. My friend Arawandy Muralitharan who is scheduled to come over from Aussi will remember his role as the beggar in the drama Enchanted Shirt. He was to be the happiest man that day and his long shirt was taken away to the King. Guess he is the same happy man to this day down in Australia.
Towards midterm we all get ready for the inter-house drill competitions and the inter-house sports meet and the cross country race. Unlike the 30 students who played cricket in the first term we all had to take part in the inter-house sports meet. It was a tough time for the house masters as lists had to be drawn up for every event and boys selected through their skills and competence for these events. The field events took place before the real sports meet which was the finale of the end of the second term. One special event in this school was the inter-house drill parade that was held in line with the field events for athletics. The squads were clad in white shorts and sleeveless vests with a ribbon across your breast stitched bearing the colour of the house. We wore brand new canvas shoes and white socks. Every parent of the squads’ kids had the cost of the white canvas shoes socks and the vest in the following month’s school fees. The current Rin washing powder advertisement on TV today reminds me of this drill parade …..New clothes were needed then as white material turned a pale yellow those days with multiple washing.
The drill squads were exercised to the command of the house captain who led the three lines of the squad formation. The overall marching orders were given to all the squads of the four houses by the school captain. Points were given for neatness and the timing and the uniformity of the exercises. This was by the staff and the Chief Guest who was generally someone form the Tri-Forces in Diyatalawa or the Police. The best house was announced and the trophy was presented on the Sports Meet Day.
There were two very peculiar field events in this school further to the long jump and the high jump events. It was hockey dribbling and kicking the football. We did not have the javelin throw and the discus throw but the Put-Shot. The Put Shot was favoured for the Billy Bunter types; and it was Siri Silva who managed to throw the furthest in our class.
Hockey dribbling was to take the hockey ball between equally placed 10 bottles without knocking any bottle either by the ball, stick or man. The fastest with least bottles knocked was the winner. This probably was with the hopes of getting us prepared for the game in the senior schools.
Kicking the football of course was to select the winner who could place kick a football to the furthest distance. The ball had to travel in a projectile. We did not know our Applied Mathematics then, where a projectile needed to leave the station at an angle of 45 degree to gain the maximum displacement.
Keble House and Hulugalla House Tents
Finally the term end day comes and it is the Sports Meet Day. On the day before the school carpenter will put up four sheds of aluminium roof on timber approximately 8 feet X 10 feet which would be our house tent. The teachers with our help will decorate these houses and the best decorated house was selected for an award. It was almost always the house of Ms. Ellepola that won the best decorated house. We had four houses dedicated to the benefactors. The Keble House, De Saram House, Hulugalla House, and Hayman House.
The action station headed by Mr.Godfrey Peiris
The grand finale of the sport meet was the lighting of the large torch depicting the Olympic principles. The torch itself was built by the school carpenter. A large timber frame done to the shape of an extra-large ice-cream cone cladded in a galvanized sheet and painted in Dark Blue, Light Blue and Gleaming White, was erected in the center of the grounds. The inside was stuffed with jute gunnies and cotton waste soaked in kerosene and coconut oil. The four house captains would stand at quarter distance of the running track when the first runner would light the torch of the second then the third and the fourth…and once the four torches are lit all four would run the full track and come to the main torch in the center and go up four ladders and aim the four flames to the top of the main torch. The stuffed gunnies would then catch fire but eventually give out a heavy smoke till the end of the meet. This was the beginning of our sport meet.
Athletes and staff- Sarath Weerasekara, Michael Gunawardane,AHM Thowfeek, Ediriweera,Nalin Abeyratne.P wathuhewa with Mithra Edirisinghe, Ms Senaratne. Ms Ellepola, Ms Karunaratne and Ms Nadaraja
If I remember the words right the games captain would then announce over the microphone the commencement of the meet thus…….
“we swear that we shall take part in the schools’ sport meet….respecting the rules that govern the sport……..to the honour of our school …..and for the glory of sport ”
The track events would now commence and the funniest events would be the teacher’s race and the sack race or gunny bag race.
Towards dusk with the lights fading the event would come to an end with the awards distribution and it was time to go home for the August vacation.
The third term in Badarawela is generally a wet and gloomy one. The north-east monsoon is already active when we come to school in September. The main sporting event in this term is Football. This was basically played at inter-house level and the term was with less outdoor activity due to the inclement weather and Football being the only permitted play in the rain.
Football itself was so different from what it is today. The ball was of leather sectors cut to equal shape and sewn together with a laced opening for a bladder type inflatable tube to be inserted. The tube had a long dangling narrow tube like an artery that would hold the nozzle of the brass hand pump with which the tube was inflated. Once inflated the leather covering turns hard and stiff. Then the artery is tied tight with twine, folded and tied again to retain the air within. It is then tucked into the leather covering and the opening sewed at the eyelets with a lace and the ball is ready for play after a thorough application of a greasy compound known as Dubbin.
It was really painful to get the laced part on your leg. Playing in the field was limited to the better days.
However the excess play time available in this term was used for another sub culture that developed. It was the time to play marbles. Marbles were brought from home or bought with the saved pocket money given to the day boys who brought them to school. There were to be marble gangs teamed together in order to collect all the marbles in school. In fact the team headed by ALPD Perera managed to collect tin loads of marbles having harbored the best sharp eyed members to his gang.
The game is played on ground where a square of about 1’ 6” is drawn with a hole created in the center about the size of a marble. Each player then sends a marble to the square from a marked crease a distance of about 4 feet from the square. The marble that is closest to the hole decides the playing order. The player whose marble is closest to the hole then collects all the marbles and throws them into the square.
No sooner this happens there is a set of words that come in unison “adi first putting last” adi a Tamil word for hitting or playing and the rest is English what this meant for I cannot remember now. I get the feeling once the marbles are all in the square one has to take turns to hit one marble in the square with another marble so that it does not strike the others and the one struck clean have to go out of the square. For this accuracy one has to have a good aiming eye. When this is done all the marbles in the square are his. Failing a clean strike the next player gets to play. Larger the number of players the time spent becomes longer large and we did not feel the time pass.
However playing marbles was not that welcome from the school authorities. There were instances when marbles were swallowed by younger students. Very many were to be punished in class when the occasional marble would fall in the silent classroom. This happened when one would occasionally pull a handkerchief out of his pocket. I remember Mr. Peiris teasing Kotagama for having dropped a marble….. ‘eta bolle’ ……. that went tick ….tick ….tick….ticking on the cement floor. One never dared to go collect it and be punished for owning it.
Come November / December it is the time for ‘katchan winds’ in the hills. At the end of the monsoon the dry winds takeover. One could hear from the villages close by the sound of the whistling wind fans that the village boys tie up on the tall “Fishtail Palms”; [Kithul in Sinhala]. The bamboo whistles tied to the single propeller ends give out a woooooo…..wooooooo sound day and night. We then begin to run about with paper fans made out of exercise book leaves and old toothpaste packs etc. It was a never ending pastime that we created of our own to suit the climate and time.
December has already come. It was time to say goodbye to STPSB to us in the Class of 66. The entrance test for Gurutalawa was held and our parents were notified of our success. At the end it was Manilal de Mel, L S Perera, Sidath Perera and Michael Goonawardane who were selected to enter STC Mt Lavinia. Generally the one with the highest academic average in the last year is offered STC Mt Lavinia. We are still to know which one of them qualified to this requirement. All the rest was to be seen in Gurulatawa the following year. Asoka Ranasinghe and Ajith Wanigasekara had entered Trinity Collage Kandy.
The last event before Christmas holidays was the Christmas Dinner for the Standard Five Boys who will not be back in school the following year. It was more like the Last Supper. The event was special and there was always about five chickens brought in to be dresses by Veeran the sanitary assistant .......
Evening came and there was chapel service for all. Then we marched into the dinning hall clad in tie and blazer. The dinner was served and we all had a Bon-Bon each place at the table. Grace said, we have dinner. This was the only occasion when a boy would have chicken curry in this boarding house. Chicken in the 60's was a luxury. Beef was in plentiful.
The Bon-Bons were pulled apart and would burst out with a loud noise. Within was a tiny toy and each boy would carry it home the following day as a memory from this great institution.
We were yet to come into our teens then. Our testosterone levels were still low and grouping for different reasons was yet to happen. Over at Bandarawela we were just innocent children being brought up by a set of dedicated teachers and matrons. And I am sure we all enjoyed life here in a common setting ……..However when we meet after 50 years we will definitely be a naughty set of grandparents just clearing the age of 60 years ……….
Photographs Courtesy Ms. Erangany Selavadorai nee Karunaratne