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World Teachers’ Day – 5th October 2020

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We have dedicated the past month on teacher tributes as a lead up this commemorative day. We bring you 4 more ‘back-to-back’

appreciations on

Mr. Brookie D’Silva,
Mr. Rajan Asirwatham,
Mr. S.J. Anandanayagam and
Mr. George Ponniah

The Prep School song includes the lyrics “we will cherish the days of our youthful years, to the life that lies before us”.  In another great song, from Rev. Boyer Yin, we have the lyrics, “We’ll always remember, wherever we may be, the school of our boy-hood, the school by the sea. And we always will cherish the friendships fine and free, that we made at Saint Thomas’, the school by the sea.”

These lyrics come to mind as I write, our youthful years and beyond, we revered our teachers who were our mentors and became our friends.

I searched and found that, a teacher is the one who listens to the “strange” boy talk about his fascination with dragons and not judge., and that the most important value that most teachers hold is that of knowledge and their commitment to instilling this value in their students. These attributes and values, I saw in several of our teachers, and I single the following teachers, because they impacted my outlook on life, while they attempted, to instill knowledge into an oft times distracted and disinterested student.

Mr. Brookie D’Silva – he passed away,  some years ago, in Australia, may his soul rest in peace.  I have such fond and warm memories of him, as a teacher in zoology, athletics coach, a “friend” and a mentor.  I see him at the blackboard, chalk in hand, drawing the heart amongst other organs. This man had “HEART” and one could not draw that!!!  He strode around the class as though he longed to be outside, a javelin in his hand.  He was a record holder in that discipline. He was the proud owner of a Peugeot 203, which had seen far better days. There were holes in the floor board, but it ran well. I picture him struggling to get his big gangling frame into the driver’s seat and settling himself, behind the wheel, smiling and waving as he drove away, what memories.

In 1965, I was to captain the U16 Cricket Team against Royal College (the mini-Big Match).  But for me, this was NOT to be. The Relay Carnival was held on the same weekend, and Brookie, told me that Senior sports “trumped” junior sports, no matter that I was the skipper.  I argued that I would ONLY run a single lap in the 400 meters relay (max of 1 minute) event and that I was only marginally faster than the next best at that distance.  But Brookie would NOT budge.  We remained friends, although I am sure I must have sulked.  He watched my “handiwork” in dissecting a shark, and remarked, “Manilka you have played cricket on this dead shark”.  He introduced us to running “Fartleks” – which means “speed play” in Swedish, is continuous training with interval training. Fartlek runs are a very simple form of a long distance run.  Of course, we were intrigued by the sound of this word, with emphasis on the first four letters.  So we ran, stopped for Brookie to read our heart beat, and send us on to the next distance. He literally “killed” us. At the end of the hard afternoon, he coaxed the administration to provide Ovaltine and some Vitamin tablets for the athletes. He arranged to hire a Ebert Silva bus to take the team/s to events at Sugathadasa Stadium and other places. He cared about us, and looked out and for us.

Brookie, Sir, you made an indelible impact on my heart, I THANK YOU, posthumously though it maybe.

Mr. Rajah Asirwatham – he passed away,  some decades ago, in Colombo, may his soul rest in peace.  He was gentleman, and a very gentle soul, observant and one who urged students to higher achievements than that they aspired to. He read one of my essays and told me “Manilka you can do far better that this, do not regurgitate stuff that you have read in the Readers Digest, be creative, be unique”.

One of my very dear friends, Dijen told me of his encounter with Mr. A, when he was studying to take the Advanced Level in History. Dijen had settled for a simple Pass, or a possible Credit, if he were to excel. But, Mr. A, knowing the latent talent resident in Dijen, had literally pulled him towards him, by his belt, looked him in the eye, and told him ‘you are capable of getting a Distinction in this subject, and we will work on that, you and I”.  And this, he and Dijen did, cementing the latter’s entrance into Law College or/and University

He taught us English, but also about life. He told us of how he had checked and found that he had a winning lottery ticket for Rs. 25,000 (a tidy sum of money at that time).  He called his daughter Rubini, and asked her to check the ticket against the newspaper’s published , winning numbers.  She had checked and said “no, it is not a winning ticket, shall I throw it away”.  He must, in his gentle way have told her, check again and on her discovering that she would have trashed a ticket worth a tidy sum, he had explained to her that there was a proverb to remember. This was there’s many a slip twixt cup and the lip”. This was related to us when we were learning about proverbs and to this day, I remember!!!

Mr. Asirwatham owned a cherished Ford Consul, and he, a historian had selected the number EN 1066.  On occasion, he would lend it to his sons and I, as a friend of his son Balan, benefited from this largesse. Mr. A, was a Royalist but chose to have his four sons attend St. Thomas’, and in my mind, he was a wise man.  At Big Match time, he was ragged quite a bit as we enquired as to where his loyalties lay. I must record here, that Mr A and his wife Rani, had a lovely daughter (Rubini, mentioned in the foregoing), but, to the best of my knowledge, no Thomian as much as showed an interest in this winsome young lady. The gauntlet of Mother, Father, and four brothers was too threatening. She is now happily married to a lovely man from St. John’s College Jaffna.

Rajah, Sir, you made an indelible impact on my heart, and in later years, you became “family” to me.  For the many roles you played, in my life, THANK YOU. For your devoted service to many generations of Thomians, we are indebted to you.

Mr. S.J. Anandanyagam (Ana) – he passed away,  some decades ago, in Colombo,  may his soul rest in peace.  He was a teacher of Physics, a subject he was an expert in teaching to us lesser mortals. I bet that there are thousands of Thomians who under his tutelage, gained admission to the “E Fac” at the Universities in Colombo and Peradeniya. There were many students from other schools in Colombo, who benefited from the tuition classes that he offered. My wife, Aruna (from Ladies College) was one of his students. I think that if one knew his daughter/s one had a step into being accepted as a tuition student. He clearly did this to help students to gain entrance to the University, not as a means of income alone.

He was an imposing figure, and I see him, in his khaki shorts, watching us in the laboratory and intervening in helping us set up experiments.  He taught me Physics and Applied Mathematics at O’Level, and Physics at the A Levels. Thanks to him I passed the O’Levels with the required number of Science subject credits to move on to higher levels. I recall that he was he Sub-Warden at the time I left College, in 1967.  He had also taught my father and his brother, and would enquire as to how my dad “NE” and his brother “NT” were doing in life. I met him a few times after I had left College. At that time, he was the Warden, a well-deserved, but, in my opinion, a very belated recognition for his yeoman service to the College that he loved.

Mr. Ana, Sir, the impact you made on many a young student who were fortunate to come under your expert care in teaching cannot be quantified. Your legacy lives on through the many Engineers and Physicists who learned at your feet. I/we salute you, Sir, posthumously though it be.

Mr. George Ponniah – he passed away”, some decades ago, in Colombo,  may his soul rest in peace.  He was NEVER my teacher in a classroom at STC. He had been a teacher and a House Master when my father was at College. I met Mr. P, on the Small Clubs Cricket Grounds, when I was one of the VERY fortunate students to come under his coaching.  He coached the Under 14 team, and I played two years, captaining the team in my second year. He was impeccably dressed in white or was it light colors.  He had a large family and hence owned an outsized American model automobile.  He was all for correct technique and good form. Although I did NOT realize this until I matured and had time to reflect, at the tender age of 14, he gave me the opportunity to make selection decisions, whether to bat first, or make bowling changes. The batting order was in general, fixed. He would talk with me and the deputy and make the selection of 12 probable players. He left it for me and my deputy to decide who would be the 12th man. He made certain that he was “ÁWAY” at the start of the game, thus supporting my decision making in selection and batting, absent his “looking over my shoulder”.  So, he taught me cricket, but also self-reliance and confidence to make decisions independently.  This, I have carried into my adult life, a priceless gift.  I do NOT recall his criticizing my selection choice, only asking for my reasoning in picking the 12th man. In later years, he coached the First Eleven Cricket Team for several years.  My brother Nimalka, and many others of his time, benefited from Mr. P’s holistic approach towards coaching and mentoring his players. I know that when Duleep Mendis

transferred to College, Coach P, took him under his wing and supported him in the adjustment he had to make as he integrated into the new school and environment.  Of course, Duleep, made a name for himself and wrote his way into Sri Lankan cricketing history.

Also, much later, I married Coach P’s niece, Aruna, and he became my “Uncle George”.  Coach P, or Uncle George, your lasting impact on many young lives is immeasurable, so many have learned at your feet, and benefited from your wisdom. We thank God that our paths crossed. Your legacy lives on.

Contributor: I am the eldest of a family of five children, four boys, Nimalka, Naomal, Rukmal, and Nimarley. Our parents saved the best for last – a cheerful daughter.  The family moved to 16 Barnes Avenue, Mount Lavinia, in circa 1961.  We, the four boys, benefited as we were “virtual” boarders.  I attended STC Prep until 1959 and then joined the School by the Sea. I left College in April 1967 (stayed on at College to play Cricket, under Jayampathy B). This was the year when David P, entered his name into the history books – first Fresher to score a Big Match century.  I am almost certain, that Ajit J, would have beaten him to this feat had he NOT sacrificed his wicket , responding to a suicidal call. He lay full stretch, groveling in the dust with 75 to his name. No recriminations, picked up his hat, placed his bat under his arm, and strode back to the hutch, midst wild applause.

After College – four years, qualifying as a Chartered Accountant in 1971.  I left Sri Lanka in January 1975 to seek greener pastures (Nairobi,

KENYA, and later Blantyre, MALAWI) and stayed overseas, and immigrated to Atlanta, Georgia, USA, in 1987. I worked in the Private Sector for 14 years and in 2001, joined the State Department, as a Diplomat.  In so doing, I followed in the footsteps of Nimalka who had paved the way and was working for USAID when I joined the Foreign Service. I served my adopted country for 14 years and retired in 2014, when I reached the “to pasture you go” age of 65.

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