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Dharmaraja News
Dharmaraja’s Golden Jubilee - 1937
By Tissa Devendra [1936-1943]

Dharmaraja in 1937 was closer to its founding than we are today to its Golden Jubilee. To the best of my recollection I am probably the last survivor of that historic group photograph of the school’s students and staff ranged before our unique Billimoria Hall. It may be interesting for Rajans, and others interested, to share my recollections of DRC as it was. The school yet occupied Palace Square, its classes ranging from Kindergarten to London Matric. Lake View was only a gleam in Principal Mettananda’s eye. We were flanked by our host the Natha Devale while across the road loomed Udawatte-kele and the Royal Palace, now occupied by the English Government Agent [we were yet a Colony].

We entered school through the ancient Vahalkada whose wide stone steps were occupied by vendors of the stuff that schoolboys spent their cents on – seeni-bola, gal-siyambala, kadala and sheets of bright ‘water pictures’ we painstakingly spit-pasted on to our tattered books. It must be borne in mind that in all important schools [we were one] in this British Colony, education was in English. I faintly recall our Kindergarten teacher Mrs.Stephen leading us in singing "Polly put the kettle on…" and other nursery rhymes.

I must digress now to refer to our parallel kindergarten up on Lake View where the youngest boarders of the Baby Dorm, supervised by Miss Van Schoombeck, learnt their ABCs. Once they were old enough they trooped down the hill and joined the rest of us.

Our next class was Standard 2 whose teacher was Silva Madam, who had a large house, ‘Shanti’,on Lady McCarthy Road, Udawattekele, where she housed young Rajans from distant village homes. She was an interesting teacher and I yet remember her vivid descriptions of camels as ‘ships of the desert’ and Arabs who slept on flat roofs as it never rained. But our favourite period was when we read the adventures of Robin Hood and his Merry Men allocating various roles to ourselves.For our good luck the Wembley was screening Errol Flynn as Robin Hood just then, and his escapades gave flesh and blood to our text-book heroes.
The class teacher in Standard 3 was the glamorous Burgher Rodrigue Madam. Our classroom wasn’t quite a ‘room’ as one side opened out into the school hall. Madam played the Hall piano as classes trooped in and out of Assembly Two large portraits of former principals – Billimoria and D.B.Jayatilaka looked upon us. Madam gave us a fine overview of world history through S.F.de Silva’s "Ceylon and World History" and "Nature Studies" by Dora Hussey – which encouraged us to sprout bean seeds and carrot tops in saucers. Full of bright ideas she encouraged us to build models of things we studied. I remember one of us, a brilliant modeler, makimg a realistic log cabin, and a Roman soldier. We were also conscripted to act in the term-end plays. We didn’t know it then, but this was the last time the Colonial ‘Remembrance Day’ was honoured. To the distant boom of a cannon all Kandy came to a dead halt at 11a.m on 11 November. Cars, rickshaws,cycles all stopped and pedestrians solemnly bowed their heads for two minutes in this colonially ordained ritual. And so did our class of bemused boys. Buddha Dhamma was the responsibility of the amiable Asgiriye Hamuduruwo whose great popularity was because he began his lesson asking us whether we would like to hear a ‘bana katha’ or a ‘gaemi katha’ !

Coswatte Madam’s Standard 4 will never be forgotten as 1939 was the year World War II began – but it was yet an activity in distant Europe.[It took two more years for the war to come to Kandy] Our class occupied a quaint room sticking out from the main building and with trellised windows. Just outside was a clump of slim palm trees in which we played Tarzan during the interval. Madam was a matronly lady, gentle in every way with her unruly boys. It was she who realized my poor eyesight andf saw to it that I became the class ‘kannadi polonga’. We had a few inventors who made army tanks out of discarded cotton reels in which serrated cuts were made and ingeniously made to climb up our sloping desks powered by rubber straps. Comic relief was provided by the Special Class where Mr.Wickremaratne, with his fog-horn voice, literally knocked English into ‘over age’ boys from village schools, before letting them loose on ‘normal classes .

This story would not be complete without speaking of Banda who was the school’s infrastructure [in today’s jargon], He rang the school "bell" – which was no bell but aloud and musical length of rail track he banged with a stout iron rod. He carried round school notices to teachers and, every morning, refilled the porcelain ink-wells on our desks from a large porcelain jar. He carried a fierce looking scar on one hand, refusing to tell us how he acquired it. Closeby Banda’s room was the boy’s toilet whose urinal was not the porcelain of today – but sheets of slate. I have read that this featured even in English urinals of that period.

A year or so earlier the Senior School [Form 1 upwards] had moved to the brand new buildings on Lake View Hill. This gave our class a tremendous ego boost as Standard 5 was now the most senior class and, for Assembly [now taken by Headmaster Mediwake] we lined up in the topmost back row. Our class master was the handsome Mr.Perusinghe, hero to all Rajans. He was both stern and amusing and earned our dog-like devotion. He was also our cadet master and, together wih Mr.Donald Silva, took us marching and wheeling from Natha Devale to Udawatte-kele. We had also a wonderful Dhamma teacher in Venerable Piyananda

In the fullness of time our days in Billmoria’s building came to an end and , regretfully losing caste, we began a new life in Lake View- at he bottom of the heap.
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