When I entered Ananda in 1952 it had earned a reputation of producing a list of students (then published in the Daily News) entering the different faculties of the Ceylon University that needed a foot ruler to measure. Ananda was known to send the largest contingent to the University and perennially won the Herman Loos shield for the best platoon. No more distance did Ananda travel in those days of rickshaws and trams.
Ananda won fame bringing students from Burma and substantially from the schools of the North of old Ceylon. Ironically, the distinguished old boys of that era rarely sent their progeny to the old school: as there were no berths for Anandians in many private sector establishments. The reason was elementary: in the minds of those that mattered,Ananda did not have a “pedigree” that branded it an elite public school, when it was prestigious to walk a dog at the Colombo Kennel Club, men wore tails and red bands to sip soup at Queens House and officers in the Defense Services found their hazardous assignment was to go on parade
In a nutshell, Ananda did not fall in line with the values that were treasured by the immediate post-colonial society with its labyrinthine old boy networks from other schools. Eminent old boys of Ananda often loathed disclosing their school identity in fear of being thought inferior. In that topsy-turvy social ladder, to be a planter or tea taster brought more glory than being a banker or accountant. Yet Anandians reached dizzy heights through higher education and often reached the hall of fame in the ‘jewel of the crown’ appointments in the prestigious Ceylon Civil Service (CCS) and the learned professions.
I remember a few distinguished old boys (including Presidents of the OBA), did, in my time, sent their kids to the old school but soon transferred them to St. Thomas’ or Trinity in fear of foul contamination. Fortunately my father was a Trinitian and had his education abroad, loathed the colonial system and was the first civil servant to don the national dress to office and was adamant that his son is a product of a Sinhala Buddhist orientation. My mother sobbed late into that night for the stupidity of enrolling me at a ‘yako’ school and was taunted by her family of Thomians, since it lowered in their wonky esteem by having a family member from a school where the “boys” [mispronounced] were mocked for ‘eating the five cent gram and travelling by tram’.
Half a century later, travelling down memory lane, I owe most in life to my peers at Ananda who taught me a value structure that enabled me to advance in life in a transforming, turbulent Sri Lanka; more than what I learnt at home. Sadly among my close friends today, very few are Anandians, but those from other schools that once mocked us. Those old differences have now paled into insignificance. War and Cricket, significantly Sri Lanka’s twin claims to fame during the period of terrorism, have reduced schools to a level far less important than the nation. For people who matter the old school tie has no relevance. The past belonged to an era when school Big Matches attracted bigger crowds than visiting foreign cricket teams and Ananda and Nalanda held fame as the sister schools that produced most International players at cricket. Things are no more the same.
What fired our generation at Ananda was a combination of a home/school environment. Decent Sinhala Buddhist homes where culture and values were prime characteristics; parental care and family life was a predominant factor; education was the prime goal sought; people cared for the society they habituated. Add to this the inspiration received from the in-house pedagogues- Ven. Kotagama Vachissara, mascot of Ananda in my time where his word was the sacred gospel; Panikkar (Science), Weeraratne (Mathematics), Thanabalsingham (English Literature), J.R.P. Suriyapperuma (Government) – all legends in their spheres, even though at times over-rated and exaggerated by schoolboy enthusiasm. Principals of that era Meththananda (trend-setter in the Sinhala Buddhist renaissance) Wijayatilake (a superlative exponent in public speaking in English) Karunananda (pioneer in the teaching of science in Sinhala) were national figures, their wisdom expressed in the prize day reports were gems inspiring editorial themes in the national newspapers. They were household names beyond boundaries.
Ananda won fame bringing students from Burma and substantially from the schools of the North of old Ceylon
Traveling down memory lane, I owe most in life to my peers at Ananda who taught me a value structure that enabled me to advance in life
In recent times with reluctance, and at the insistence of old boys, appeared in shame to represent, principals in matters concerning their own questionable discipline. I tried a dodge by stating there are so many Anandians who are Presidents Counsel and I carried no such honour, which notion was dismissed outright. Today’s teachers do not have that same legendary status. I silently weep when introduced to some of today’s teachers at school functions while I still bow low to my old school teachers in deep reverence. On retirement, old teachers grow in esteem. Look at any function – around whom do old students rally to revere? Teachers that instilled discipline into us.
We as underdogs were determined to be the top dogs. We knew we had the stuff and stamina to peak though we lacked style and sophistication. It was not my generation that brought Ananda to great heights. The next generation reached the summit in the days of Principal Rajapaksa – he thrived on the laurels of the past and forged ahead. Rajapaksa became the fortunate recipient of a firm foundation built by those named greats: the men who held his office in the past. Thereafter it has been a steady decline and in my analysis the rise and fall of Ananda had much do with the head of the institution. It is the head that carries a school on his shoulders - in times good and bad - with the staff beside him. The wheel indeed had turned with Rajapakse.
We were a generation that knew not of Apple and Reebok; I Pad or I Pod but survived on linseed oil to season bats and catgut to string racquets. We did not have a ground or pavillion (shared with Nalanda), swimming pool (St Joseph’s) or gymnasium (wide open spaces next to the work shop). Yet our schoolboy heroes such as Yatagama Amaradasa, Sarath Wimalaratne and the Wettimuni brothers led national schoolboy cricket teams that included at least four of the playing members from Ananda and trounced Indian schools. The Marks brothers with Germanic antecedents, Geoff and Boris, won the “pubs” at swimming and water polo; the Jayasuriya brothers carried the Stubbs at boxing; the Tarbat Cup for athletics was ours with Vijitha Wijesekera (track/field and hurdles) and Sarath Wijesinghe (throwing events); we won the Jefferson in relays with G.N. de Silva anchoring the last lap; Gamini Weerasinghe and Pundarika Perera saw us emerge as winners in tennis; and the former’s brother Neil saw us through at table tennis - both brothers being coached by a keen mother; and the teacher in charge A.D. Karunananda saw us overwhelm other schools to win at badminton annually. As Rajapakse said ‘It was Ananda First, that mattered”.
The Principal’s room had a glass case that displayed a collection of silver that was priceless. It was designed only to hold cadetting shields and was heavily over-loaded with the other fields over-powering cadeting In debating (Sinhala or English) and Quizzes/Spelling Bees we led the pack and emerged as winners or runners-up; the names of Buddhadasa Bodinayake, Mahipala Udabage and Manik Nagahawatte come to mind. Our teachers, not our parents, were our inspiration and to them was our dedication. My schoolmates and teachers applauded our achievements, fired us with zeal and zest to reach out for the greater glory in the name of the school.
Where have all those trophies gone with that cupboard now virtually empty and bare? Yet, the college now proudly holds assets - in a swimming pool, gymnasium, indoor courts, a stadium with a scoreboard and a terraced pavillion along with well-paid coaches and trainers and an air - conditioned auditorium. Those boys won accolades then, were lads, strong in mind and body. Quality Controllers necessary were in the staff room; now lacking though the present boys have guts, nerve, spirit and more to spare. It’s the conditioning, they lack - we had a surfeit of it from our teachers.
In other respects is Ananda becoming another school without bondage? In the old days personal factors were not a competing feature; it was for the school that mattered and we did “all-together”, to proudly proclaim- “A/N/A/N/D/A- Ananda”-twice over. Joy and glory were shared as we wore the same maroon and gold tie. My glory was their glory and applauded with all my might- when my peers pushed my school to the forefront. Thankful for the opportunity to contribute to this magazine as there was a time I was deemed insufficient in comparison to others from whom articles were requested. Green eyes were unknown those days.
My parents were otherwise heavily occupied, knew little about what I did at school and were mildly pleased that their son had secured a place in Peradeniya’s law faculty. After my first attempt, before the results were released, they persuaded me to join a foreign owned tea plantation under a Scottish pukka-sahib. Such were the times, Anandians were an unknown commodity in the plantations. Those ‘white’ members at the old Uva Club in 1963 snorted at the bar hearing the word “Ananda” mocking it to be a night school Fortunately University results came in 9 months. Most members of the plantations are some of my dearest friends- no one wears school ties any more.
Up in Peradeniya (where a different mode of artificiality prevailed) found every rag-leader was an Anandian. Such were the controls acquired at the campus by the numerical strength of Anandians in 1964. They knew of me and saved me of raghazards by chasing me away with an overdose of filth. They told me later how it was organized to save marked men in Peradeniya. No wonder I owe so much to Anandians of my time. Such was the brotherhood.
Our ambition was to win keeping with the college motto, of not delaying it for too long. So we strived harder and win we did. In sports, there was sadly a touch of gamesmanship where our winning mattered: in studies it was the hard slog to be the front-runner. We imported the best of talent from our sister colleges and molded that talent to achieve greatness using the drive produced by our teachers.
The true test of an Anandian in a nutshell reads - “whether he is your senior/junior, a predecessor/successor, if he is from the old school follow his career relentlessly and take pride in his achievements as a reflected glory of your old school”. We all share in the pride of being Anandians.
My advice to the coming generations of Anandians is to “Hold your head high. Don’t bend or bow. Harness your skills as there is no substitute for hard work to achieve greatness.” The pride of Ananda will gather glory as long as at its head is a respected learned man dedicated to the college as those in the past to whom, let me pay homage“You did it for us, kind teachers. We benefited. You did not, except in the pleasure in seeing what we have achieved!”