Royal People

A dedication to those wonderful people who served Royal Primary School & Royal College, in Sri Lanka, since 1835, and, who will be remembered for their committment, sincerety and unselfishness.

Friday, November 09, 2007

Appreciation for Viji


Viji Weerasinghe the living spirit of Royal
by Hemantha Warnakulasuriya

Viji Weerasinghe

The name Viji Weerasinghe remains etched in the memory of most Royalists who had the opportunity of knowing him, first as a teacher, then as a friend and later as a guiding light. No Royalist would ever permit another to speak or even mutter ill of him. There was religious fervor which was dogmatic and fundamentalist in nature attached to super teacher status he achieved. Even if there was nodding acquiescence when some, in a heated debate, scorned the idea Royal being the foremost educational institution in the country, there would a loud protest even from them if anyone would even dare say anything which would hurt the feelings they had towards Viji Weerasinghe. He was an icon of goodness to all those who were fortunate enough to have stepped into the sanctum sanctorum of Royal, an institutions that has made and changed the destiny of our motherland.

When I was in form 2, he was our English teacher. A subject I hated. A subject, which gave me so much pain and even brought tears to my eyes. To learn this awful language, so foreign to me, was something I loathed. My parents spoke in Sinhala, I was a gamaya who came from the deep South. In my village, only a very few could read or understand the language. At that time, when I was very young, there was so much confusion when the villagers received a telegram in English. Viji Weerasinghe instantly knew who the godayas were in his class. He cared for them, and showed them how to get rid of their inhibitions associated with the villagers’ ‘kaduwa’ mentality. The abridged version of Robin Hood was read by him. I still remember the incident when he asked me the meaning of ‘sward’ I said ‘Kaduwa’ the students had hearty laugh at me, as I had mistaken ‘Sward’ for ‘Sword’. But, he called me to his room and gave me and other godayas other books which were simpler than what was used in school. He reminded us that after all, Sinhala literature may not be the best in the world. He showed us that there are other great novels and short stories which were written and sometimes translated into English, written for the benefit of students learning English as a second language, in simple English so that we could read and at least understand the story.

Thereafter I did not sustain the same hatred towards the English Language. But, I never got good marks, I was below par compared to the others who hailed from Colombo. They were equally bad in their Sinhalese.

The next interesting episode was when we went to the Head Master’s room to borrow his car to collect advertisements for the Royal Thomian Souvenir. I never believed that as the Head Master of Royal junior, Mr. Weerasinghe would ever give his car keys to us, who were teenagers and never had the license to drive even a scooter. He had utmost confidence in his students. He taught us the art of living, confidence building, facing challenges and the world.

He used to remark jokingly at the ribald songs we sang at matches. These songs had so much originality and someone even remarked that we should publish a collection which will better the ‘rugby songs’ published in England. Weerasinghe never frowned or looked down upon the lyrics which would even put the great Sinhalese lyricist Karunaratna Abeysekera to shame.

I had to depart before I could finish my learning at Royal, in keeping with the College motto ‘Disce Aut Disce De’. I became a Lawyer. One day, I got a frantic call from Viji Weerasinghe requesting me to defend another institution which was almost sine qua non with the Royalist spirit, ‘Kadalay’, the gram seller who sold his wares near the entrance to Royal. When I was in the Kindergarten on one side of the entrance to Royal Primary was ‘Kadalay’ selling his gram and on the other side was ‘Balloon’, was selling his balloons.

I could not believe that Kadalay was to be produced in Court. I believe Royal lost some of its prestige when the education department decided to appoint non-Royalists as its principals. This principal was furious with ‘Kadalay’ who was drunk and cheering at some school match. Thereafter, there was an incident where he got involved in with the boys of the rival school. The Old Boys of both schools later had amicably settled it. The Principal wanted the law enforcement agencies to take Kadalay into custody and produce him in Court. Viji Weerasinghe wanted to intervene and settle this, but the principal wanted to charge and get rid of Kadalay forever. When I heard this, I was furious at this unwanted intrusion by an educationist who had no knowledge of the bond the Royalist had with ‘Kadalay’. I appeared for him and he was finally discharged. All those who shared a joke a cheer and even later at the Royal Thomian, as old boys who shared a drink with Kadalay, have achieved greatness and have brought so much credit to their Alma Mater. Viji Weerasinghe knew this.

The old boys wanted Mr. Weerasinghe to continue with his work even after his retirement, so that Royal would not be just another school. No one knew the great traditions of one of the oldest schools in the country like Viji Weerasinghe. His loss will be felt for years and may even tranform Royal into a different institution.

If there was ever a teacher who understood the spirit of Royal, he was none other than Viji Weerasinghe

(The writer is the Ambassador to Italy)


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