Personalities from the south nurtured in Jaffna


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K.B. Ratnayake
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Maitripala Senenayake
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W. M. T. B. Menikdiwela

To many recalcitrant boys from South Ceylon, Jaffna was like a correctional centre. The proliferation of good educational centres was legendary. Just as much as many boys from Jaffna went to Colleges in Colombo and elsewhere - there was a continuous flow of students from south Ceylon enriching Jaffna’s cultural milieu, little known outside.

Many of these students from South Ceylon reached dizzy heights in the political and administrative fields. They adorned the professional arena with distinction. The names that come to mind are a litany of ‘who’s who’, but by no means complete. Suffice it to mention a few. Some future writer should make a more cumulative list of these personalities and record it for posterity.

In the political field the Late Maitripala Senenayake is a well-known luminary. He studied at St. John’s College, Chundikuli and later married into a prominent Jaffna family. He bestrode the political firmament of his times as a colossus. In the same hue is K. B. Ratnayake, the former Speaker of the House of Representatives. He studied at Hartley College, Point Pedro and excelled in sports and studies, and still remains a fluent speaker in Tamil.

The very amiable Late T. B. Dhanapala, who rose to the rank of Superintendent of Police, studied at St. John’s College and left behind a legacy still talked about by many juniors of our times. He came from an illustrious Kandyan family and is the eldest brother of Jayantha Dhanapala, now in the UN, and my good friend S. B. Dhanapala who retired as Deputy-head of the Veterinary Department. Also from Kandy there was Kulugammana - the left handed batsman for St. John’s who used to dislocate his hand in the cricket field and set it back himself with a jerk of his shoulder and continue playing for his college.

As administrators, the Mr. W. M. T. B. Menikdiwela studied at St. Patrick’s, Jaffna and started his administrative career as DRO and reached the position of secretary to HE President Jayewardene and served in that position for many years. Similarly Mr. Dassanayake, also studied at St. Patrick’s, and after University education entered the then prestigious CCS and when he retired was Controller of Immigration.

My wife’s uncle, the Late Angelo Rajakariar spotted both Menikdiwela & Dassanayke, as talented boys who showed promise when he served as Education Officer in Kandy. He took them to his home in Jaffna and sent them to St. Patrick’s, and they proved his talents as talent spotter were spot on when they excelled in studies.

The writer had the privilege of living in the boarding at St. John’s, Jaffna with stalwarts from the Wanni who flocked to Jaffna to take advantage of the good educational facilities. Life in the boarding houses during the hard days of World War II had a rigorous routine. It revolved round the four basic B’s — books, bed, bath & buth. The only discretion one could use was to behave indiscreetly. Madukande and Asoka Mahadivulwewa come to mind. There were other representatives from the deep south as well. Kahathuduwe and Blind Thomas from Kelaniya lived in the boarding. It was a tradition at St. John’s, Jaffna, which was a Church Missionary Society (CMS) college to support a blind boy from the Blind School at Seeduwa. Thomas spent a term each year in the boarding at St. John’s while attending school with the others. He had a remarkable memory enhanced by his disadvantage. When poems had to be memorised, he would get one of us to read it to him once, and then repeat the whole poem verbatim.

The Gauthamadasa family was unique to Jaffna. Gauthamadasa (Snr.) was the Principal of Manipay Hindu College. He was loved and venerated by his students. His son Asoka studied at St. John’s and had the rare distinction of sitting for his SSC (Present GCE O/L) and the London Intermediate Exam at the same time and passing both. We thought he was a genius and we were right. Younger brother Suhit Gauthamadasa was in my class and a good friend. The Gauthamadasa’s had a big house on Station Road with plenty of garden space. We used it as the venue for cricket and soccer games in the evenings and weekends. Come end of the game and Mrs. Gauthamadasa, the genial and affable mother she was, would give us hot short eats and tea before seeing us off to our homes.

We also had teachers who led us by precept. Mr. C. H. Gunawardhene from Wattegama in Kandy was an icon. He was popular, understanding and a good boarding house master. He also umpired big cricket matches in Jaffna along with stalwarts like Thevasagayam, Ernest Champion etc. Darrel Hair would have a lot to learn from the umpires who held the scales in Jaffna matches. Speaking of cricket there was Banda at Central College, Jaffna who is reputed for having hit the ball right on to the clock tower, the highest icon in Jaffna. Writing of teachers, Jaffna Hindu College boasted of a Venerable Bhikku on the staff who taught Sinhala to the students.

Girls were fewer but by no means absent. E. P. Fernando, a stalwart cricketer entered university and qualified as a dentist. He was a boarder and a respected prefect. His sister Joyce, later qualified as a doctor. Mrs. Keuneman "married to Pieter Keuneman’s brother Rev. Herbert Keuneman) was an amiable Sinhala lady who was the geography teacher. The writer owes his honours degree in geography in no small measure to her. Both lived on the college premises and tended to the needs of boarders after school hours.

The roll call is long and touching, and brings to mind THE JAFFNA WE KNEW with a nostalgia that is irresistible. Many of them may now not be in the world of the living but live forever in the hearts of many scattered far and wide in corners of the world which were hitherto mere spots on an atlas, to us when we were in school.