Readers would remember that in my previous article, I made mention that our college (Jaffna College) was co-educational and that a little more than a third of the students were girls, with varying degrees of good looks.
In this scenario comes a rurally oriented Sinhalese young man to teach Sinhala as a subject. This was way back in 1952. We had already learnt to read and write the Sinhala alphabet, under a Tamil person who was very qualified in Sinhalese.
When this Sinhala teacher joined us, it was like what it had to be-Sinhala from a person whose mother tongue was Sinhala.
We enjoyed his lessons because unlike some of the modern Sinhalese in their twenties he knew his English well. We enjoyed learning to make sentences in Sinhala, making use of the given words. We were able to read fluently in Sinhala.
I’m grateful to our College for this because when I’m in a remote village in this country I can easily read the destination boards of the buses and I have helped my relations that way by reading the Sinhala letters.
The Sinhala teacher was a bit of a joke to us because we were snobbish English medium boys who looked down on the national kit
worn by him.
The fashion was that only the Tamil language teachers, who didn’t know English dressed like that. So our Sinhala teacher was like a square peg in a round hole.
But before a year could lapse, a rumour began to circulate that he was in tow with a local girl, whose nickname was ‘semi-crack’. I, for one, never believed that a goody, goody Sinhala teacher could ever give his heart away, to a slightly eccentric but reasonably good-looking girl at that!
To confirm the rumour, the girl once dressed in an outfit worn only at weddings. Since ours was an American College the Missionaries gave us the freedom of wearing anything we liked.
But when the girl came dressed in a net long skirt and blouse, eyebrows were raised, but it wasn’t too much of a stir because the girl’s name was Semi-Crack! The rumour was that the girl had come dressed in the cranky fashion to school, just to make herself even more attractive to the Sinhala teacher!
The following year, there was another surprise, In January, when College reopened for the new academic year. The Sinhala teacher arrived dressed in brand new Trousers (Called ‘Longs’ then) and a white shirt.
"We enjoyed his lessons because unlike some of the modern Sinhalese in their twenties he knew his English well. We enjoyed learning to make sentences in Sinhala, making use of the given words. We were able to read fluently in Sinhala."
To me, he looked odd again because I was so used to seeing him in the national outfit. The rumour was that the girl concerned had requested that so that he could acquire a very modern look.
More rumours were in store. A mischievous boy made a story and he made it a point to tell me first laughing a lot as he did so. The rumour was that after getting into his white longs, he had had walking practices at Galle Face Green, during the December holidays.
To me, it was not humorous, because December mornings were chilly, which was described as ‘Christmassy breeze’.
But there were ominous signs on the horizon. It was 1956 when all good things began to happen to this country, or rather we began to go backwards economically.
The Sinhala Only Act was passed in June 1956, followed by stormy protests all over the North and East.
The Christian schools reacted by stopping the teaching of Sinhala, as a protest.
This meant that there was no job for our Sinhala teacher and he had to go rather unwillingly. The poor man had got used to the Jaffna way of life -meddlesome people who were extremely helpful.
He was asked to go and there ended the sad romance that probably never was! Your guess is as good as mine!!