“A teacher affects eternity; he can never tell where his influence stops”
– Henry Brooks Adams
Every time I write about the teachers of yesteryear, I am saddened by two things; one is that these teachers, who are worth their weight in gold are no more; the other is that there is no sign of the present day teachers ever coming even close to them.
It’s been a year since our teacher Mr. G K Mandawala passed away. He was a legend and belonged to the class of memorable teachers. This tribute is on behalf of thousands of students at S. Thomas’ College, who had the good fortune of knowing and being influenced by him. Keerthi Mandawala, was a Thomian himself who ’grew up in the College boarding and then extended his love and passion for this school as a member of the staff.
He was also a Lieutenant of the Army Volunteer Force. When you look at the life he lead, it is obvious that he simply loved the College. His dedication to the College was demonstrated at many levels.
Mr. Mandawala was a short and lean man, impeccable in his attire. Never did we see him wearing clothes with multiple creases or his studded boots unpolished. It seemed that he had a certain obsession about being neat and clean just like Mr. D N Pereira.
As Upali Jayatilleke puts it we “will never forget the sound of his footsteps during Prep and the sound of his voice, if one is heard talking or not doing what he is supposed to do at Prep.”
Needless to say he was a disciplinarian. Being a Thomian himself, he had double authority to discipline the boys. It was not the fact that he had the authority to mete out corporal punishment that made all of us mortally scared of him, but his imposing personality that commanded respect from everyone who walked through the STC gates.
I still remember how my mate Nigel Goonetilleke, a born rioter, who was twice the size of Mr. Mandawala was caught doing something ‘unacceptable’ in class. Mr. Mandawala held him by the trouser just by the navel and twisted it for a better grip and pushed Nigel against the wall effortlessly.
Nigel knew he meant business and was quick to say “Sorry Sir”, and to everyone’s surprise Mr. Mandawala let go of his deadly grip. In hind sight, we realize that the lesson for us that day was the importance of accepting an apology. During his 21 years of service to the college, he held many positions and possibly held more responsibilities than any other teacher. In addition to multiple subjects such as Sinhala, Buddhism and Geography, he was Assistant Librarian and later Chief Librarian of the College. It was the policy of the College that students must patronise the Library. I together with some of my class mates were called up by him to the Library for not doing so, and were asked to take away a book each.
A few days later we all returned the books, untouched. He asked me if I liked the book. I answered in the affirmative. Then he went on to ask questions about the book for which I had no answers. He turned to the others and asked if their situation was the same. Everyone nodded in shame. He told us to take the books back. The next time we returned the books, we were ready. He asked again, did you like the book? I said yes, awaiting the follow up questions. But there were none. And that was how he created an interest in all of us for reading.
He was a College Hostel Master from 1960 to 1966. He was also the Officer in Charge of Junior and Senior Cadet Platoons of the College. His voice could be heard all over the school when he gave command to the platoon. In Deepal Lecamwasam’s words “with a sharp glint in his eye, the swagger in his walk usually in Cadet uniform with a swagger stick-to boots, he looked like a formidable Japanese colonel in “ Bridge on the River Kwai” .
To his credit and the credit of the College, two of his cadets became the Commanders of the Army, and another became the Commander of the Air Force, and two others became the Chief of Defence Staff and the Commandant of the Defence Academy respectively. We strongly believe that it was the seeds that Mr. Mandawala sowed that made these cadets reach the topmost ranks of the Sri Lankan Armed Forces.
He indeed knew the potential of his students and was always encouraging. Dr. Velaudapillai, another Thomian, appreciatively states that it was Mr. Mandawala who encouraged him to learn and offer Sinhala at the G.C.E O/L examination and get through confidently. Not only that, he was also the Master in Charge of Physical Training from 1960-70 and also served in the Games Committee.
While reading an excellent article written by him about Pandit Amaradeva, I recalled that he was also the Master in Charge of Sinhala Music and Drama Society. According to former teacher the respected G. Thambithurai “he was so methodical in whatever he took upon himself, he ran the Royal –Thomian cricket matches with absolute precision, what I loved most was his writing, he had a perfect fist”.
He is also remembered as the Master in Charge of the Miniature Rifle Club (1964-72). As the Master in Charge of the Government Food Drive he showed us the importance of being self-sufficient in food production.
He also held many positions in the OBA and held many responsibilities including organizing the Battle of the Blues. This included organising the Boys Tent, ensuring discipline, making the Match Souvenir etc. I probably have missed out many other
positions held by him.
However, the reason to list all this is to demonstrate how versatile and knowledgeable he was in many a field, while wondering how on earth he found the time to do all this? He also wrote a Guide Book on Sinhala Language (Waikalpitha Sinhala) for O/L students offering Sinhala as an optional Subject.
This just shows his language proficiency in Sinhala. Needless to say that he had a real command over the English language.
His accent and intonation was beautiful and at the same time authoritative. He also taught Geography and created an interested in many of us to travel the world. It’s a wonder how one person possesses such vast knowledge. And that earns him the title of a versatile teacher.
There were teachers at STC, who were a notch above the rest. They possessed qualities that are still awed by their students. Mr. Mandawala was one such personality. He was born to teach, for he absolutely loved teaching. He was service oriented as if he had taken a vow to teach during his entire life. He would come during the vacation to mark answer scripts and also attended teacher training.
He was indeed very different to the ‘professional teachers’ of the present day. He belonged to an era where educated people came into the service of teaching.
They were educated in many a subject, with vast general knowledge and capacity to take on anything and everything assigned to them. He was so methodical in anything he did.
For young boys like us, he was an exemplary character, “he stood for punctuality, manner and discipline”. The very reason why hundreds of Thomians paid tributes, when he passed away last year.
Many who could not come for the funeral wrote to the family to express their love and respect to the late legend. His daughter Ramindri exclaimed “we are all humbled by the overwhelming love, admiration and outpouring of respect for dad.”
The following poem by David Sansoni is just an example of how highly placed Mr. Mandawala was by his students:
Keerthi Mandawala Lieutenant!
Also O.I.C of Thomian Tent
“General” of the College Library
Lodging in Thalassa by the sea
Sinhala to Burghers he did teach,
Sandi and the other parts of speech
Small of stature, yet a GIANT tall;
Pin-drop-silence Prep time in the Hall.
Expert shot! Two-two or Three-o-Three!
Leisure with a smoke and a cup of tea.
Clad in white; truly a work of art
Son of STC-Our Bonaparte
As we celebrate the life and times of Mr. Mandawala we are ever so grateful to him for being a guiding light for many a Thomian to succeed in life.
May he attain the supreme bliss of Nirvana
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