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NAWALAPITIYA INTERLUDE



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Anuruddha College today


By Tissa Devendra


Our family left Kandy, our childhood haunts, and moved to Nawalapitiya when our father, D. T. Devendra was appointed Principal of Anuruddha College. It was a wrench leaving the wonderful town, and the friends and neighbours so much a part of our lives. It was heartbreaking for me to leave Dharmaraja, the school where I grew up, and my boon companions since 'Baby Class'.


Kandy in 1942 was on a war footing. Blackouts and air-raid drills were part of our lives. Convoys of British Army trucks whizzed through our quiet streets and exotic soldiers from many lands wandered around. But WW II did not seem to have reached the backwater of Nawalapitiya. It struck us as a dingy one street town dominated by its railway station and related structures as it was commonly called a Railway Town. The Railway Institute was the social centre where CGR families, largely Burgher, frolicked at eventide. Solid bungalows for railway men were the best houses in town. Groups of estate 'coolies' trotted along the street, turbaned men in dark coats and women wrapped in coarse brown 'cumblies'. But the only available house for the Devendra family was a strange narrow building whose rooms climbed, by stages, from street level on Ambagamuwa Road, to an open compound common to a few other houses. Nor did we have electricity and evenings were spent in semi-darkness and lamplight. Anuruddha College was flanked by a cosy Principal's Bungalow with a lovely garden. Father, in characteristically cavalier fashion, allowed the former Principal's family to occupy it till they moved to Colombo. [By strange coincidence, I did the same when I was appointed Government Agent, Matara.] We longed for the day we would occupy our 'rightful place'. But this day never dawned as we left Anuruddha before that.


Anuruddha College, Nawalapitiya's leading [and only] Buddhist school occupied only one solid two storeyed building. Its playground was a dusty, grassless space about the size of a tennis court just below the school. Schoolchildren ran around it in the interval. Evenings we played a game called 'marsoke' which I have never heard of. Due to this lack of 'infrastructure' the school could not field teams for cricket, football or athletics. This was in sad contrast to Dharmaraja's fine buildings and superb playground on Lake View Hill. Nawalapitiya was a small town and, as such, this building was adequate for its students. Dharmaraja was a boys' school and Mahamaya my sister's school, was a girls' school. It was, therefore, quite a change for us to become embedded in co-educational Anuruddha with a few girls sprinkled in every classroom.


Ceylon in 1943 was yet a British Colony and English was the language of administration, justice, street signs and education. All subjects were taught in English except Sinhalese and Buddha Dharma. Over the last few years British text books - Highroads of Literature, AL Bright Stories, Pageant of World History etc., had been quietly displaced [ to our snooty regret] by S. F. de Silva's 'Ceylon & World History, Himalaya Readers from India, Elsie Cook's Geography. However, Hall & Stevens Arithmetic and Hall's Algebra bravely hung on to torture my maths allergic self.


My fading memory can recall only two teachers–individualists who eschewed the white drill coat and tie of most male teachers [except for a few patriots, like my father, in Arya Sinhala]. One was the Maths teacher Mr. Rajaratnam (?) who has stuck in my memory as he never wore long trousers but, instead, natty shorts and stockings a la planters. He followed the model of wartime austerity encouraged by the British Governor Sir Andrew Caldecott. Mr. R was rumoured to be a nifty ballroom dancer, with the Burgher Misses and their mums at the Railway Institute shindigs. I have fond, though hazy, memories of Mr. Badurdeen our youthful and imaginative Art teacher. He was smartly dressed in grey flannel slacks topped with a well tailored herringbone sports coat. Instead of dull 'object drawing' he encouraged us to be imaginative and inspired us with prints of famous paintings. What yet intrigues me is that he handed us dinky little charcoal twigs for sketching. He said they were from burnt grape vines. How he acquired them from Nazi occupied France is one of life's great unsolved mysteries.


Nawalapitiya had only one large grocery, Wickremasuriyas (?) which dealt in frozen produce and a rapidly diminishing stock of imported jams, Golden Syrup and such stuff. Growing up in Kandy we occasionally enjoyed a few rashers of bacon from Elephant House on Ward Street. I was sent one day to buy bacon from Wickremasuriya's grocery. Father warned me not to request the stuff from the bulky Muslim salesman but approach a lesser chap. I was accosted by the Muslim salesman whom I was, embarrassedly, trying to dodge. "What do you want podi mahattaya?" he asked politely blocking my way.


I hemmed and hawed so shamefacedly that the shrewd chap realized what I wanted."Do you want bacon?" His question shocked me into admitting "Yes". "Here is a packet" he said coolly handing it to me, the lure of salesmanship overriding fundamentalism!


An unforgettable occurrence during this period was the [last] small pox scare. This scourge had not yet been eliminated in India and all incoming 'coolies' travelling by train back to their estates were rigorously inspected by Health officials. Rumour now swept estate areas that a victim had escaped scrutiny, died and been secretly buried. Ceylon had been smallpox free for many years and the authorities shuddered at the thought of its re-emergence. The solution was mass vaccination of everybody in estate [coolie] surrounded Nawalapitiya. Our family too was duly vaccinated. It had all been a false alarm!


My schoolmates were a memorable lot- and a surprising number of my Anuruddha contemporaries achieved notable success and crossed my path in later life. There was a group of Muslim students from Mawanella whose kinsfolk in Nawalapitiya may have recommended the quality of education at Anuruddha . Among them was my senior Hashim - who became Chairman of Mawanella Urban Council. He met me when I was Government Agent in Trincomalee. His son is Minister Kabir Hashim. L. M. Samarasinghe and L. G. Dingiri Banda went on to become D.R.Os [Divisional Revenue Officers]. Dingiri Banda's claim to fame was as the recipient of most personally addressed letters. The explanation was his interesting hobby of writing to every firm that advertised vouchers, competitions, free samples etc. He later rebranded himself as D.B


Liyanagedera and married a film star. He probably did not want to be confused with M. D. Banda the first and only D.R.O to proudly retain his simple name. Two girls in my class 'Lulu' Jayaratne and Doris Luke became doctors in Government Service. Nandana Fernando, son of a senior CGR executive qualified as a Dental Surgeon and migrated to Britain. The impeccably groomed Ariya Pathirana joined me later at the University and. later, achieved great success in the garment industry. Florence Weerasinghe was also in my class. Her younger brother Asoka migrated to Canada was a diplomat in our High Commission and an award winning poet. Years later I met him at the launch of his book of poems. The Suriyagoda sister Subhadra and younger brother Sanath both graduated from University. Subhadra held a senior position in the Education Department, as Mrs. Siriwardena, and migrated to England. Sanath entered the S.L.A.S and was a junior colleague of mine. At the other end of the spectrum is Tuan Kitchil, classmate of my 7 year old sister, whose claim to fame was that he was infamous for escaping to Colombo and being recaptured - only to repeat the adventure!


Our Nawalapitiya Interlude lasted less than a year and we moved to Ratnapura, where we gloried in a large house with an immense garden bordered by a burbling stream. An earthly Paradise!


 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
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