Saturday, May 13, 2017

Living wisdom

Picture by Dulitha Sameera
Picture by Dulitha Sameera
Saturday, May 6, 2017

I was surprised to witness the interest payed to Gomin Dayasiri’s contribution to the 125 year issue of the Anandian. It is the school that produced the left leaders such as Philip and NM and leftists still claim with great pride. However those who brought up in western tradition generally had a degrading opinion of Ananda, in particular as a ‘Yako’ school with poor knowledge in English.

Herbert Kodikara, who believes that Ananda was created for the children of down trodden, says “One of the great products of our ‘Yako School’ was Tarzie Vittachi (born on the 23rd September 1921). A pure Anandian, and of the University of Ceylon, who became the youngest Editor at the age of 32 of the oldest Newspaper in Asia (the Ceylon Observer – founded in 1832) and winner of Ramon Magsaysay award in 1959 for journalism, the second Lankan to win the this award. He finally became the UNICEF deputy executive Director of external relations. In the 50s Royalists and Thomians preparing for the School Certificate examination in English were advised to read Tarzie Vittachi’s editorials to improve their English!”

I did not know that famous Prof WS Karunarathne is also a product of Ananda. He was born on the 24th of December 1928 at Katugastota. Son of a poor police man, With a ‘Yako training’ at Ananda, WS entered Ceylon University in 1948, winning the prestigious Moulana prize by scoring the highest grade nationally by a student entering the University, beating the Great Royalist Felix Dias Bandaranaike to second place! He passed out first of the first class in 1952. Instead of joining the civil service he became an assistant lecturer at the University of Ceylon, Peradeniya.

At the age of 28 he obtained the Doctorate from the University of London, winning the prestigious F L Woodward prize of the school of the Oriental and African studies. His brilliance was such that when the department of Pali and Buddhist civilization was established, as a separate department from the department of Buddhist philosophy in 1964, he was chosen over the competing candidate Ven. Walpola Rahula and becoming the youngest Professor of the University of Ceylon.

Post-colonial society

I should not forget to mention my contemporaries Prof M P Ranaweera who was the Dean of the Faculty of Engineering at Peradeniya, Army General Rohan Daluwatta, Prof JB Dissanayake, who with the help of a Nadagam Gurannanse, in 1957 produced the brilliant Nadagamma – Rawana. JB is one of the leading authorities in Sinhala language. In the field of Journalism we cannot forget Meemana Premathillake; He was the legendary editor of the Silumina and the great Sinhala poet. As an engineer I should not forget to mention Devapura Jayasena Wimala Surendendra, born 17th September 1874 entered Ceylon Technical College in 1893 from Ananda. This ‘Yako’ was to the World a Brilliant Star in the Galaxy of Engineers, becoming the Chief Engineer in the Public Works department. He’s named as the Father of Hydro-power in Sri Lanka, establishing Norton Bridge and Laxapana Hydro-power systems.

After reading the article of Gomin on Ananda, I also started re-thinking about my experience as a product of Ananda. Of course nobody a product of college primary, secondary education; but there is something common which may be recognized by the society.

When I entered Ananda in 1953, of course it had the reputation of producing a large number of students entering the different faculties of the Ceylon University. Also, Ananda was known to win the Herman Loos shield for the best platoon. I was party to the 1959 cadetting team, which won not only the Herman loose but also the Millers Cup for best shooting. It is true that Anandians were not given much space in the private sector establishments. According to Gomin, in the minds of those that mattered, Ananda did not have a “pedigree” that branded it as an elite public school! Perhaps this changed in our times because Karu Jayasuriya entered private sector and became a powerful CEO. So did Bandaragama Karu, Dr Neville etc.

It is true that Ananda did not fall in line with the values that were treasured by the immediate post-colonial society with its haughty old boy networks from other upper class oriented schools. May be some eminent old boys of Ananda felt inferior and loathed disclosing school identity in fear of being treated badly. Yes, I agree that in that topsy-turvy social ladder, to be a planter or tea taster brought more glory than being a banker or an accountant. Yet Anandians reached dizzy heights through higher education and often reached the hall of fame in the ‘jewel of the crown’ appointments in the prestigious Ceylon Civil Service (CCS) and the learned professions.

Buddhist philosophy

Grudgingly I would agree with Gomin when he says ‘I remember a few distinguished old boys (including Presidents of the OBA), did, in my time, sent their kids to the old school but soon transferred them to St. Thomas’ or Trinity in fear of foul contamination. Fortunately my father was a Trinitian and had his education abroad, loathed the colonial system and was the first civil servant to don the national dress to office and was adamant that his son is a product of a Sinhala Buddhist orientation.

My mother sobbed late into that night for the stupidity of enrolling me at a ‘yako’ school and was taunted by her family of Thomians, since it lowered in their wonky esteem by having a family member from a school where the “boys” (mispronounced) were mocked for ‘eating the five cent gram and travelling by tram’. Yes I could remember how everybody teased us claiming that Anandians have no sense of diphthongs and vowel sounds. Then, I never thought I could write articles to an English daily paper. But today, grammar is looked after by computers and we are free to write, if one has ideas and facts to present. In the modern world often we find well written articles, good English but gives out nothing; only idiotic nonsense.

I must say clearly, that I got this fearless urge to tell truth as I understand, from the teachers at Ananda College. Somehow, we were told to believe that as we come from Sinhala Buddhist tradition we should not heed caste, race or creed; we should look at the other with meththa, karuna, muditha and upekka. We should reject loba, devesha and moha. We owe most ethical thought in life to peers at Ananda who taught us a value structure that enabled us to advance in life in a transforming, turbulent Lanka. I was able to see the close connection between Buddhist philosophy and dialectics of Marxism. Once I realized this, I became stable and free of internal contradictions. On that solid foundation I was enabled to fight for the right of self determination for all nationalities in Lanka. Support for my thinking came not necessarily from Anandians. Those old differences have now paled into insignificance.

Democratic revolution

War and cricket, both tied down by ethical considerations, are considered to be Lanka’s twin claims to fame during the last period of oppression and terrorism. School traditions have to give way to ethics of war. Ananda produced many commanders in the first round of the war. Most soldiers had to throw away the Buddhist vision of meththa, karuna, muditha and upekka.

What fired war time generation at Ananda, was a combination of revenge and domination. At home and school environment, Decent Sinhala Buddhist homes where culture and values were based on four humanist principles, changed by miss education propelled by hate and revenge. Earlier prime characteristics; parental care and family life were a predominant factor; education was the prime goal sought; people cared for the society they habituated. All these had to give in to the fascistic moral rules introduced from above. Gone are the inspiration received from the in-house pedagogues - Ven Kosgama Vachissara, mascot of Ananda in our times where his word was almost the sacred gospel. However so many Anandians contributed to the democratic revolution started two years back and that will influence the future generations of Ananda.