RC OBU AGM Australia 2009
A Toast to our Teachers by Branu Rahim
Good evening Gentlemen…..I am honoured to stand before you this evening to share with you my reminiscence of my school days of more than half a century ago, and speak of those giants among teachers who instilled in us to, “learn of books, learn of men and learn to play the game.”
If I am to be honest, I am not very sure whether these great gentlemen and sprinkling of lady teachers during my time at Royal College from 1958 to 1966 succeeded in making me “learn of books”, but I am pretty certain some of them did inspire me to “learn to play the game.”
As I look around this evening, it is with a warm and pleasant feeling, knowing that I am among friends, many of whom I have known for quite some time from the days back in Sri Lanka and also some who have become friends more recently when I enjoyed your hospitality in 2002, when the champion Royal rugby team came on tour to Melbourne with me as its manager.
Going down memory lane, the very first picture before my eyes is my first day at Royal College in January 1958. I remember being one of 140 students, marched into the college hall for our induction. Inside, I looked around with awe at all the prize panels adorning the walls and wondered whether someday my name too would be on one!
Even though the prize panels did elude me, I rest quite satisfied in that I did leave behind a lasting impression, having carved my name on the desks in successive classrooms I passed through. I believe, I was one of those fortunate souls who managed to hang in there by the skin of my teeth and came out somewhat unscathed – getting suspended but not sacked.
My master in the first form was Captain M K J Cantlay, a towering figure who stood close to 6 feet in height. His favorite pastime, besides teaching us English was, story telling. Unfortunately his story telling skills did not go down too well with those of us who thought that the path to being a good student was to be seated in the front row.
This was because when Canto narrated his stories, he would get all excited and the intensity of his tone increased with the level of excitement, and the level of excitement would be directly proportional to the spraaay of saliva that he would shower on those in the front row!
A separate room with a globe suspended from the ceiling and various maps on the wall was where we had our geography lessons. The master was Mr. S A A Perera fondly referred to as SAAPEY.
One day, a classmate, Upali de Silva had bought some gram from Kadalay and had it in his pocket when he walked in for the geography lesson. Whenever Saapey turned his back to us to write something on the blackboard, Upali would put a handful of gram in his mouth and keep munching.
But on one such occasion Upali did get caught and Saapey said, “de Silva, come and leave what you are eating on the table”. Upali graciously obeyed and pulled out all the gram from his pocket and put it on the table.
However, in Upali’s young 11-year old mind, he was convinced that Saapey confiscated the gram so that he could eat it later. When the bell rang to end the period, Upali quietly walked upto Saapey and said, “Sir, I bought the gram, shall we go half, half” ……without batting an eyelid, Saapey brought the duster in his hand across Upali’s face and he bolted towards the bathroom with his head covered in chalk dust.
A year rolled by and we moved on to the second form where our class master was Mr. Sabaratnam, better known as half-soda because of his height. This nick-name came about in relation to the half-sized bottle of Elephant House soda being marketed at the time. It was therefore natural that his two sons, who also attended college were referred to as quarter-soda and one-eighth soda!!!
This was also the year when a new master by the name of Mr Justin de Silva made his way into Royal. Although he was designated as our English Literature master, more than half of the 40-minute period would be taken up in discussing the 16th President of the United States of America, Abraham Lincoln, whom he hero-worshipped, earning him the nickname Lincoln.
Although English Lit and I were poles apart, I learnt of clichés such as, “From a Log Cabin to the White House”, and also the concluding part of the famous Gettysberg address which concluded with “government of the people, by the people and for the people shall not perish from this earth”. It would be apt in today’s context, if our politicians are able to grasp the essence of such statements in their quest for good governance.
Another master who was a character unto himself was Mr Rupasinghe whose nickname was Rupperty. He was our science master who conducted his class in the Science lab close to the armoury. On a day I was not at school, having been excused for the Ramazan Festival, the last period had been science.
Rupperty had apparently left the class a little earlier than scheduled and while the boys were marking time till 3.40 pm for the last bell to ring, they decided to open all the gas taps in the lab before leaving.
The following morning the whole class was summoned to the science lab and were given a telling off by Rupperty who went on to say that had he walked into the lab and as was his usual routine lit a cigarette, it could have blown up the whole building!
At this moment, some unidentified voice from the back of the class muttered GROBR which roused Rupperty’s temper and he proceeded to give two thundering slaps to each member of the class.
When it came to my turn, he realized that I had not been there the previous day. “So… you were not here yesterday”. “Yes Sir” I responded whereupon, to my amazement, he went on to give me two resounding kannays as he had done to the others saying “you rascal, if you were in class yesterday, you would also have been part of it!”
An incident that is etched in my mind is when a new master had joined the tutorial staff of Royal. He had joined college on a Monday and on the Friday of that week he came to act for our regular math master who was absent that day. He told us to go through a certain chapter of our text book and went out of the class. As is usual, no one took much notice of his instructions and many of us were busily doing our own thing.
He had tip-toed back to the class and seeing that those in the first row were doing some work, he went to the second row where he observed that they were not carrying out his instructions, with some reading comics, “Lady Chatterley’s Lover” and one even venturing to read a book on SEX. Totally annoyed, he went to each one in this row and said, “You Naaver gat thru your GCE, You Naaver gat thru your GCE.”
Sadly, the following day, he had gone on a hunting expedition and was trampled to death by an elephant. The flip side is that all those to whom he had mentioned “You Naaver gat thru your GCE” N.a.a v.e.r did get through their GCE that year!
Another incident involved two of my classmates presently domiciled here in Melbourne. We were in class one day, when a new math master named Mr. Gulasekeram, who later came to be known as Thosai, came to take our class.
The first thing he did was go round the class asking for each ones name and when he came to my dear friend Dick’s desk, Dick said “P.D. Siebel” and the next student said, “J.D. Ebell”. The master thought that they were trying to play the fool and said “P D Sch.i.ebel, Ja D Ebell. Gat out of the class both of you. Out! Out!”. From that day onwards, whenever Thosai walked into the class he would say, “Schiebel, Ebell out of the class”
Then there were other masters who were legends…. Mr. Ronald “Connor” Rajaratnam where the story goes that once when he was driving in the jungle and was chased by a beast of might, in order to avoid certain death he tricked the animal by signalling left and then turning right! Then there was his hunting story where he was left with just one bullet, and there was a leopard approaching him on the left and an elephant on the right. He stuck his hunting knife into the ground in front of the Rifle Barrel with the blade bisecting the lines of the path of two advancing beasts and fired, deflecting one half of the bullet onto the leopard and the other half onto the elephant! As this story was to illustrate how to bisect an angle, God help if anyone laughed or made any remarks.
There was also M/s E C “Kataya” Gunasekera, C. E. “Bundy” Belleth, “Sheriff of Fractured Jaw” Baldsing, “Mudguard” Sethukavalar, Moses Thambapillai, “Cow Pox” Abeysinghe, Lennie “Lena” de Silva, Bogoda “Vakutu P” Premaratne, “Thalaguli” Jinadasa, Viji “Ducky” Weerasinghe and L “Poltokka” Samaratne, among others, all legends in their time.
An event that drew many “Oouhs” and Aahs” was the advent of the first lady teacher into Royal in 1959. She was Mrs. Samarasekera, a comely lady in her late thirties. Despite having mothered two children, her anatomy was something many of our biology masters ogled at and would have dissected in their minds. In the classroom, all our eyes would be focussed on her firmly shaped breasts.
In hindsight, we associate favourite teachers with our youth – a time when life was vibrant and schedules seemed simpler. Those mentors who gave us understanding and advice after others had sometimes crushed our fragile egos, will always have a special place in our hearts.
The no-nonsense teachers who challenged us and, in the process, taught us the joy of learning, helped shape our careers and our success. By the same token, teachers do get an immense amount of pleasure from their students' successes.
It was they who paved the way for what we are now. A school life full of truancy, wit, humour and the many other hellishly naughty stuff that we did, endowed us with the attributes that has made us successful today.
As William Arthur Ward, the author of Fountains of Faith and one of America’s most quoted writers of inspirational maxims put it, “The mediocre teacher tells. The good teacher explains. The superior Teacher demonstrates and The GREAT teacher inspires.” I believe we are a fortunate lot to have been put through our paces by teachers of the calibre of those who inspired. The fact that we have been able to survive through all the adversity of life is a testimony to the dedication of our Teachers.
Gentlemen of Royal…….please rise and join me in a toast to our teachers including our very first tutors who happen to be our dear parents.
TO OUR TEACHERS!