A mixture of basic emotions like fear, excitement, amusement and surprise besieged the two school-leavers- in their early twenties-when the Director recommended to their supervisor that they would assist in carrying out Visakha Vidyalaya’s Hostel audit for the year 1966. Visakha, as we knew, is one of the most prestigious Girl’s schools established in Colombo. It was B.R de Silva & Co,-Chartered Accountants, that entrusted the writer, who joined them as a trainee, to visit Vajira Road, with specific instructions on adhering to the organisation’s code of conduct. Behaviour within client’s premises regarding the first stirrings of admiration, passion, desire and the more lasting kind of feelings occur under restricted freedoms. This was five decades ago. However we were confident that upholding the company’s dignity and decorum wasn’t a phenomenal task.
Being inside the state-of-the-art new auditorium on the 23rd instant in itself was a cause for pride for this writer. This was when I saw the Portrait of Mrs Jeramius Dias’, a gracious lady, born Selesthina Rodrigo and a descendant of his home town, Panadura, pompously displayed right below the clock on right end of the wall. However, I was stunned when the organisers commenced the event ‘on the dot’: considering the usual practice of thirty to 45-minute delays, a rare accomplishment indeed, that made the clock insignificant.
Was there a dearth of English medium science teachers in the country during 1950s and 60s? Like Visakha, quite a few semi-government/Board managed schools employed South Indian Madras or Keralyte Science graduates
The gracious lady, Mrs. Dias, a well-known philanthropist, who together with her husband lavishly helped my Alma Mater too in Panadura. Mrs Dias initiated a tradition with the schools she attended. Even her great-grand children have been students at Sri Sumangala College and Girl’s School.
A natural curiosity that cropped up after reading the Sunday Times’ write-up on the Annual Pulimood Oration, hauled the writer to the girl’s school at Vajira Road to be greeted by a ‘circle’ of young misses- exquisitely clad in gold & blue sarees- and young past pupils who were extremely courteous at the entrance to the auditorium. The respect and care extended towards the elderly were admirable. These kind acts brought back memories of the smart school prefect, who directed me to the Registrar’s office, when I reported on my first day at Visakha 51 years ago. This was during their golden jubilee celebrations.
Going further back to early1960s, to the time of the Advanced Level class at Sri Sumangala College, our Botany teacher was Mr Chandirasekhari, an Indian. He frequently suggested referring to Pullimood and Joshua for more details. ‘A Text Book of Botany’ by Pulimood and Joshua, though happened to be the standard Botany text that firmly established as English medium bio-science students’ ‘encyclopedia’ on flora which the Education Department recommended to the OL curriculum. Pulimood & Joshua became a useful text even at higher tertiary levels for all Botany lovers who used it as a precious reference book.
Dearth of teachers
Was there a dearth of English medium science teachers in the country during 1950s and 60s? Like Visakha, quite a few semi-government/Board managed schools employed South Indian Madras or Keralyte Science graduates. It was Kailasapathy and Siva Alexander, the two outstanding teachers who taught Chemistry and Zoology respectively at the A Level classes in college. While discussing a plant in its botanical name, some ‘…bergia grandiflora’ a species more akin to Indian soil as given in ‘a text book of botany’ by Pulimood, I refreshed my memory travelling back in time to the days when we nick-named our lady botany teacher at the OL class, ‘…grandiflora’, [the blue sky-flower] for the beautiful lady always dressed in bluish attire, perhaps her favourite colour. Among tens of thousands greens on this wonderland called planet Earth as scripted by Ms Pullimood and Anna K. Joshua, her bellowed sister who co-authored the text, our land is inundated with exotic ‘grandifloras’. Isn’t two sisters co-authoring a science text something unique? Over to you, undergrads of Library Science, this is a research topic for a project!
It is indeed amazingly inspiring to learn that Visakha continues without a break, dedicating a day to remember the former principal of the school. The birthday of this respected lady falls on July 23. The Pulimood Era heralds the ‘Golden Age’ of Visakha. She undoubtedly had an extremely successful career as a farsighted educationist; perhaps more importantly as a much-loved teacher and principal. In modern societies gratitude and other intrinsic values are often concealed and suppressed, and are obscured by other concerns.
It is indeed amazingly inspiring to learn that Visakha continues without a break, dedicating a day to remember the former principal of the school. The birthday of this respected lady falls on July 23. The Pulimood Era heralds the ‘Golden Age’ of Visakha. She undoubtedly had an extremely successful career as a farsighted educationist
Another distinguished old Visakhian, a linguist and a literati’s first appointment was with Sri Sumangala. I had the good fortune to be her pupil. Young Miss Sita Wickramaarachchi commenced a short stint as our class teacher during the O’ Lvel First year for six months in 1961. When she ended this period she had become Mrs Sita Kulatunga. She invited the entire class to her wedding held at her hometown in Bandaragama. Some of us continued the teacher-pupil relationship with her in the decades that followed, though not so strong as the Pullimood-Visakhian bond. Mrs Kulathunga, the well-known writer, who authored the short novel ‘Dari, the third wife’—the story of a beautiful young girl from Northern Nigeria who was forced to abandon schooling to please her parents and enter into a polygamous matrimony with an older man. In the story the lady ultimately finds it hard to come to terms in the company of two ‘senior’ wives of the husband. She wrote it based on her familiarity with Nigerian culture where for two years she taught English. Mrs Sita Kulathunga invited the writer for the Susan George Pullimood Oration which she delivered on July 23 either in 2007 or 2008 at Visakha under the theme, ‘Creative Writer’s role which he begged to be excused of. A few years before her untimely death the writer was fascinated when a Sunday newspaper carried on the same page articles by the teacher and her pupil [the writer].
Reflecting on Alavaka yakkha, who ordered, “Get out, you recluse!” as The Buddha entered his abode, and later threatened him with, “I will ask you a question, recluse. If you do not answer me, I will confound your thoughts, or cleave your heart, or take you by your feet and fling you over to the further shore of the ocean”, two of us approached the lady in-charge of the Hostel knowing well that we would be subjected to a series of questions, and memorizing the answer to the fourteenth by Alavaka, Paññaya Parisujjhati, the Visakhian’s motto now familiar with us after learning it from Registrar Mr Ranasinghe and his assistant my name sake Mr Perera. We have just completed two weeks within the walls of the feminine charm when we entered her office to be greeted by the pleasant lady.
It all happened with our supervisor deciding to keep away without intimation, and we were ‘left in the lurch ..’ not knowing what work to attend to. My colleague did not waste time though; he glanced through the pages of Audit-Programme/Schedule to end up on a folio that revitalised us and put some spark into kick-start the day.
Check inventory at Dormitories! It said..
“Ten thousand thundering typhoons!” Yelled my Captain Archibald Haddock fan, and Royalist colleague who retired a few years ago as Director Finance in a conglomerate.
“In the previous years they didn’t go there?” Mr Ranasinghe, the middle-aged Registrar who on an earlier occasion remarked about ‘distractions’ during intervals, queries.
“Just to say thank you to the lady who provides us with sumptuous lunch” I quipped.
“I understand my dear fellow”
“Let me first alert the girls who are on sick list” the Matron proceeded leaving us at the door.
Back in Mr Ranasinghe’s office after an hour or so, within which time our head office had called to give instructions, had repeated the call ten minutes later leaving a message instead, ‘RETURN TO OFFICE IMMEDIATELY’.
Leaving all the pretty floras, Saraca Indicas, Althea roseas, Sweitenia mahogi and Rosa Rosaceaes of the great lady Susan George Pullimood behind we bade good bye to Mr Ranasinghe and his staff, with all emotions reduced to fear, worry and speculation, but not forgetting to clasp our hands and bow down at Vajiraramaya as we walked past Vajira Road 51 years ago.
(The writer can be reached at email@example.com)