Even though I have never considered myself a “professional” old boy of “the best school of all,” as that justifiably iconic example of the Church Missionary Society in Kandy is known, over the years, I have developed significant respect for what my alma mater stood for and the traditions of liberal education that were its most valuable contribution to Sri Lanka.
The Norman Walter years in the first half of the 1950s that I spent there were the formative years of my life and, while I always had my liberal-sophomoric suspicions about one senior member of staff with a background as a senior (British) army intelligence officer (!), I developed, over the years, a respect and admiration for what Trinity stood and its liberal and inclusive traditions, the traditions that people like the Rev. A.G. Fraser established. Fraser’s active promotion of the indigenous languages – Sinhala and Tamil – at a time that the sun had not even begun its descent to the western horizon of the British Empire was nothing short of revolutionary and does not seem to have been accorded the importance due it in the history of Sri Lankan education.
Another initiative which was without parallel was the Social Services League (SSL) which catered, almost exclusively, to the residents of the Mahaiyawa community. For those readers who are not aware of what prevailed in Kandy in the time before what is known as “water-borne sanitation,” let me explain:
Before “flush system” toilets became the norm in Kandy, what is euphemistically referred to as “night soil” was removed by people pushing two-wheeled carts around the streets at daybreak. These were the Tamil “untouchables” of the Mahaiyawa community. And it was to this community that TCK’s SSL catered. I cannot think of a better practical tool to acquaint youth of the middle and upper classes with social realities than an initiative of this kind. Something that might also be of interest to the chauvinistic hordes invading our educational space is the fact that the SSL was first established by Norman Campbell, a pacifist Scotsman who refused to bear arms in World War I and was killed while acting as a stretcher-bearer at the front.
During my days at Trinity the last of the English principals established a new “House” (Lemuel) after decades of four boarding “Houses” and one day “House.” This was, again, a “first,” because, never before had a “House” been named after a “local.” Lemuel was a Tamil, best known as a Shakespearean scholar.
This is what Trinity was about, and beyond the practical value of individual initiatives, what was important was the philosophy that it exemplified: that of inclusivity, liberal broad-mindedness, compassion and education in the social realities of this country.
As a student, I had the privilege of conversations with A. M. Sunderamani, the always-raw-cotton-clothed Gandhian from what was then Madras; the mind-broadening social studies of Hilary Abeyaratne; C.G.P. Weerasinghe (Senior’s) unaffected pride in Sinhalese culture; basic education in Kandyan dance by icons of that art, and exposure to athletic and intellectual pursuits for which I shall be eternally grateful. There were flaws and glitches certainly, but the central, the core philosophy, always prevailed.
Recently, my spouse and I went down to the Bogambara stadium to watch the second leg of 2010’s Bradby Shield encounters between TCK and Royal College.
The opening ceremony left me most uncomfortable when, lo and behold, the competing teams were introduced to/inspected by (take your pick) an old boy of S. Thomas’ College, Mount Lavinia. The fact that this individual happened to be the Eldest Presidential Son only made matters worse as far as I was concerned. It jarred, to say the least, and smacked of the “Pandankaraya” mentality that has become so much a part of life in this country. I have since been informed by contemporaries of mine, some of whom have served on the school’s Board of Governors, that it is no small coincidence that some of those on this once-august body have well-established credentials as part of the Rajapaksa Sycophancy.
Anyway, this little episode proved to be the precursor of more evidence of Trinity’s subsidence into the worst of the narrow-minded, sycophantic rubbish that passes for respectability in this country.
I had picked up rumblings about a “dress code” at Trinity that precluded non-saree-wearing females from entering the premises. Since I intended showing my daughter and grand-daughter around TCK when they arrive in Sri Lanka next year, I thought I should avoid any potential embarrassment by getting clarification in this regard from the powers-that-be. Here’s the answer that my query elicited:
“You are welcome to bring your daughter and grand-daughter to show around your ‘old school’ on a week day after 2.30 p.m. The ‘dress code’ can be a frock below the knee level or jeans with a long blouse.”
Apart from the fact that the “long blouse” stipulation might require a query as to what such an item of clothing constituted and the fact that the hems of frocks had to end below the knee, it was fairly apparent that Trinity had descended to certain Victorian standards of attire that its administrators probably never practiced even in the days of that old queen!
Having lived in a time when mini-skirts were all the rage (half a century ago?) and not having known any Trinitians of that time to have been driven to out-of-control sexual behaviour provoked by such, I was nonplussed by the requirement.
Interestingly, I was told by someone seemingly knowledgeable in such things, that the “long blouse” was intended to cover any female visitor’s posterior so that students may not be driven into paroxysms of sexual ardour by the sight of a shapely rump! I was quite puzzled, though, with the lack of any stipulation in the matter of “cleavage” requirements in these “long blouses.” I would reasonably assume that those dictating sartorial correctness believed that a shapely posterior not covered by at least three layers of fabric was more likely to provoke some of the earlier-mentioned sexual behaviour than a deep cleavage displaying significant mammary development. Fascinating indeed!
From what I’ve picked up from normally non-sari-wearing females having occasion to visit TCK, it seems that I had, in fact, been given a special dispensation because I would be accompanying “foreign” visitors into my alma mater. I have had several parents, among others, tell me that females not wearing sari were not welcome on school premises.
I imagine that, “O tempora! O mores!” would be the phrase that Gordon Burrows, my erstwhile Latin teacher, would have suggested I apply to the current predicament of a school so proud of its liberal traditions going back more than a century!
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