The importance of being Viji
The word "important" didn't exist in his lexicon. But the importance of being Viji was explicit on his students. He was so important to all at Royal that none could get along without Viji. He was everywhere with everyone that had something to do with the school extending over three generations. His importance told on many of us but not on him, for somewhere, sometime, he touched our lives to bring happiness and joy.
Viji Weerasinghe was born on September 17, 1917. His association with Royal spans well over 70 years, first as a student, then as a teacher and lastly as an administrator. He joined College in 1939 in the first form after spending his formative years at the Royal Preparatory School as Royal Primary was then known. He belonged to the Bradby era but his last two years at College ('46 and '47) were under Principal Corea. Except for two years when he was a teacher at St. John's Nugegoda, his entire life was spent at Royal. In the illustrious history of Royal College, we cannot think of anyone else who has served the school for such a long period and with such dedication and distinction.
His subjects were English Language, Literature and Latin. As a teacher and later as Deputy Principal one of his better attributes was his ability to relate to people from all walks of life and his unfailing memory to recognize his minions many monsoons later. He could recount events and anecdotes of the days gone by with such clarity that put many of us to shame as these events had long faded from our memories.
He remained true to his liberal philosophy and aimed to help young men discover and achieve their potential. He was unfailingly efficient, patient and helpful in answering countless queries put to him by Royalists of all generations. Viji in his youth was not only handsome, he was outstandingly intelligent, morally incorruptible and tirelessly hardworking. He was a remarkable man and a good judge of character.
Royal in Viji's time was a secular school absorbing children from all ethnicities. Although diluted to a certain extent, it still maintains its secularism thanks to teachers like Viji, Brunno, Thamba, Arasa and many others too many to mention here. Royal's rounded education was strenuous, one in which staff and boys were driven by the school's head and his urgent desire that Royalists should work hard, play hard and pray hard. In so far as it is possible to make adolescent boys live and think clearly, Viji's Royal seems to have succeeded.
Viji never abandoned Royal although he was sought after by many international schools which were willing to double his emoluments. Viji stood by Royal, which in turn, stood by him. Every principal whom he served, every student who passed his reign respected him more for his kindness and compassion than for his wisdom. He was a great listener who had the rare ability to turn a conversation of despair into one of merriment and laughter. Many of today's leaders, be it in politics, the professions or industry, passed through Viji's hands to reach the top echelons in their chosen fields.
Viji thought in advance of his times and like all who have vision, found himself at times a voice in the wilderness in conflict with tradition and prejudice. He loved men of strength, vigour, truth and duty. Insincerity and dishonesty brought forth his stern rebuke. He delighted in the company of his charges and joined wholeheartedly in their fun times. Viji was invited as the chief guest of our Group a few years ago and collectively we presented him with a plaque in recognition of the services he rendered to Royal. It aptly read.
"For rigorous teachers seized my youth,
And purged its faith, and trimmed its fire,
Showed me the high, white star of Truth,
There bade me gaze, and there aspire."
Stanzas from the Grand Chartreuse (1855)
Mathew Arnold 1822-1888
Viji relished this plaque and proudly displayed it behind his seat at his RCU office but ironically, this plaque was damaged just a few weeks ago by water from the air-conditioner. This, in hindsight, could have been a premonition of the things to come!
Viji will live with us forever etched in the corners of our hearts, loved by all, hated by none and we can only pray that this country be blessed with many more Vijis who can raise the standards of morality, honesty and integrity in her citizens.
To capture the life and times of this great man in such brevity, can only do little justice to him. Volumes will be documented in the days ahead by many Royalists to do that justice. Teachers of today should do well to study the life and times of Viji, for they would find themselves enriched with his qualities that are worth emulating, his kindness worth embracing and his virtues worth following.
"The Royal College Magazine (combined issue 1973-75) described him thus: "A gentleman of rare tolerance and understanding, he would always defend the underdog making allowances for faults and weaknesses. On many an occasion he has proved himself a bridge over troubled waters always striving to avoid ill-feeling and arriving at a compromise acceptable to everyone."
Viji Weerasinghe was a teacher par excellence, a man who taught books well to many generations to become men and true to our motto, he also taught us how to "play the game" of life. The history of Royal during the past 70 years or so is truly a tapestry that is Viji, and the little threads, all his students.
Goodbye Dear Sir to sweet escape. Royal shall march on as it did for the past 173 years, but the memory of Viji Weerasinghe in every Royalist's mind shall never fade. This then friends, is the importance of being Viji.