It was the beginning of the 6th decade of the 20th century. Year 1961 January to be precise, around 50 tiny brats mainly boys just completing the 5th year in life are entrusted to the care of a dedicated group of shepherds at St Thomas’ Prep School, Bandarawela [STPS] to be molded into responsible adults in life
Boarding schools then were a few. The famous among them were the St Thomas’ Colleges at Bandarawela, Gurutalawa, Mt Lavinia and the Trinity College in Kandy. They were run privately and most parents preferred boarding school education for their children then, unlike cuddling them at home as done today.
In the year 1961 January, 50 of us from all races, religion and social status came to STPS Banadarawela with our parents; only to be parted in tears for three months until school closed for term end holidays. All our belongings, clothes and books as listed requirements for the school were packed into a trunk box. The empty trunk box was pushed under the bed until we left for home end of term.
Every activity from then on was to a plan. From waking in the morning and to getting tucked up in bed was to the call of the school bell. Bandarawela had 6 dormitories; Blanchard, Corea, Wjewardane, Edirisinghe, Peirs and Keble, students got promoted to them annually from LKG to UKG and Std 2 to Std 5, six years in all. All the dormitories other than Keble had a lady assistant [Ayah] to look into the well being of the boys. Weekends though a playful time, generally had a routine as well.
The bathing habit fell on the weekends. Ms Luduvyke, known as the ‘sick matron’ [for she was in charge of the sick rooms and our general health and hygiene - Ms Janze was the ‘food matron’ in charge of the kitchen] herded us with the aid of the ayahs Gunawathi and Menike to the spout that flowed through a marshy patch of land outside the school premises; we were soaped and scrubbed with coconut coir fibre by the ayahs.This was also the time to make hell out on the boggy marsh catching tiny fishes, frogs and all other curious water breeds with our towels used as straining nets. Some fish would be smuggled into the dormitories in empty jam bottles only to find them floating belly up in a day or two.
Sports activities were dedicated to the three terms of the year. The first term for cricket, second for athletics and the third for soccer then known as football.
School vacation was something that was longed for. The Udaratamenike train to Colombo had a reserved compartment for Mr F R Joseph [FRJ] who would take us home where our parents would pick us from stations on the way to Colombo. Back to school after holidays was in the reverse order with FRJ.
Finally at the end of the 5th year we were thought to be matured enough to be on our own without an ayah at the Keble dormitory which was located away from the school campus. The routine bell was different at Keble, it had its own time table. The general school bell was only for class work. Food for Keble students was prepared in the dormitory kitchen separate from those of the general school.
Come end of the 6th year; completing the class in Std 5 named in line with the old British School System we had to leave Bandarawela for other institutions for our secondary education. The last test we sat was an admission test to S Thomas’ College Gurutalawa. The cherubic personality, Mr J W Marasinghe with an oversize waistline would come in the old Morris delivery van from Gurutalawa to conduct three papers for selection to Guru. A speed test in arithmetic timed for twenty minutes, a nightmare for many of us followed by a paper for English language and Tamil or Sinhala language.
Every month of December had a photo session for the school magazine and the farewell of the school leavers who sat for a special dinner with the staff.
In the year 1966 those of us in this picture parted to other schools; many to Guru for another five years only to be parted almost for life.
This picture taken in 1966 was lost for almost thirty years until it was recovered from the old truck box that served me during my school days. The picture went into the Facebook and that is how we are gathered here on this day, 4th October 2013, 47 years after. The date of the photo taken is 14th December 1966 as narrated by Asoka Ranasinghe….. the day before his birthday he remembers.
Today we are gathered here thanks to Manilal de Mel who went to Mt Lavinia from Bandarawela. He deserves all credit for the event in re-uniting us at his purpose built abode for such gatherings. This is a preliminary get-together in preparation for the 50 years celebration that would be in 3 years time says Manilal.
As usual as always the bilingual mixed dialogue [Sinhala or Tamil with English] that identify us from the others when in conversation was present even after 47 years. The Thomian spirit was held high. In fact the spirits flowed too high for me on this day………..yes and that was because we forgot we are over 50 now. We were 47 years younger. Its fare enough to forget your age when the like-minded got together like this I feel.
Standing L/R - Manilal de Mel, Niranjan Jayawickrama, Bandula Vithanage, Wanniarachchi, Nagalingam, Asoka Ranasinghe, Frank Mairando, Cristo Gonawela, Imbulana, Nihal Perera, Wathuhewa, Suresh Markandan, Vevehanandan
Seated L/R - A H M Thowfeek, Uditha Wijesena, Rev Father Coilpillai [he was 24 years old when the pic: was taken] Mithra Edirisinghe [a teacher to us in Guru] Rajaram, Sidath Perera, Ravindra Jayawickrama
Not in the pic – Chandrapala Dissanayake, D S Vithana
This was only about 20 of us here today, we are yet to trace the others including the two girls. Some in contact are outside Sri Lanka. Many are still to be made contact with. Some may not be with us anymore but we need to know about them. Some may be in need of help to whom we need to assist. The search for them will go on in the next three years.
This was what Asoka had to say of one such dear friend who is no more with us.
Ajith Wanigesekara and I were the only 2 from this photo to join Trinity in January 1967 . AJITH is Standing 7th from Right to Left in the last row. At Trinity we were in the same class, same House / Dormitory and played on the same Rugby and Basket Ball teams too. Naturally we were best of friends, as were our families. I was his Bestman when he married in 1986. Later he migrated to OZ. There unfortunately he got MULTIPLE SCLEROSIS ( in short MS ) which is a very rare but a Terminal disease, that affects ones Nervous System . He Retired and came back to Sri Lanka in about 2001 or so. He joined me at the Diyatalawa Camp ( where I was the Commander ) over a long week end and we visited STPS, as we called it during our time there. Later he left for OZ again, and passed away last year, on 17th of May 2012. A Memorial Service was held at All Saint's Church Borella, exactly at the same time his Burial was taking place in Brisbane OZ, and my wife and I joined there family at this difficult time. Ajith was a voracious reader and I once asked him towards his end, about how many Books he had read in his lifetime ? He said 'Definitely over 30,000 plus '. This was our Classmate of 1966. He was a very sincere and a wonderful friend. I will always miss him. May he Rest In Peace.
Once again a big thank you to Manila and Hemanthi for organizing this outstanding event. Those outside Sri Lanka need to be in touch for the 50 year gathering which I’m sure is going to be a very memorable one!
Let us all be in Good Health until then.......
Let us all be in Good Health until then.......
[The other photos here are curtsy of Ms Erangany Selvadorai nee Erangany Karunaratne now in Australia a teacher to us in the UKG. She is on FB and would only be very happy to make a link with old B’wela boys.]