The years go by, memories fade, some linger - of a legend, a benign presence, a gracious lady, a benevolent despot and now a smiling portrait on the wall!
Mrs. Susan Pulimood became Principal of Visakha Vidyalaya in 1946, I made a belated debut in January 1948. For reasons best known to herself, my mother had decided to transfer me from Ladies' to her old school. Ten years old, reluctant, with terror in my soul, I climbed the two steps to her office (the present sick-room). Miss Roberts sat outside in her little hard-board cubicle. Mrs. Pulimood examined my papers, read my mother's letter, turned to me and gently said, "You are a brave girl to come alone, very good". I was marched off to Mrs. Hewavisenti's sixth form class.
Morning assembly for the school was in the old Hall, where the Grand-piano played march music and we walked in gaily, clean, sweet- smelling and stood in neat rows. The teachers stood in front with Mrs. Pulimood in the centre. Pansil was taken, a thought for the day read, announcements made, lectures given and we dispersed the same way we had come.
As the school grew, assembly shifted to the compound in front of the old tennis courts, with the teachers and principal standing on the dyke. The compound contained tall majestic shade trees with neatly clipped hedges on either side of the drive - into the school.
To Mrs. Pulimood every tree, bush, leaf and flower was a living, breathing presence, which we daren't touch for any reason. Mrs. Pulimood, the botanist, was a true gardener, she loved her garden and would often refer to us as her flowers! How appropriate, she has sown the seeds, nurtured and nourished them and watched them grow under her gentle, protective gaze and smiled to see us blossom in our many-textured brilliant hues, each with her own individual fragrance to perfume her garden. She was proud of us, her achievement!
In my final year at school, we had our Government classes in a tin-roofed shed bordered on one side by a bushy hedge. On her walk-about around the school, we knew, she would often stand quietly behind the hedge waiting for an unsuspecting errant teacher or student to make a false move. We'd whisper to each other "Puli's on the prowl". One day the bell rang for the end of school and we stood up to chant a blessing, while the teacher, then stood up to leave. Our chant abruptly changed to "behind the bush, behind the bush". Wise teacher, she knew something was amiss and promptly sat down. So she was saved!
One night in May 1960, I received a phone - call, "Come to school tomorrow". Who could say "no" to Mrs. Pulimood.
I had graduated from Peradeniya in 1959 but refused to do the job my parents had fixed for me - so I went on strike, sat at home for a year, became a nuisance and was heartily wished away during the day. I now had a sneaking suspicion that the phone call was a conspiracy hatched between my mother and Mrs. Pulimood. My mother was inscrutable, my father winked, I frowned, cursed and capitulated! Next day I was given a time-table to teach final year Arts students European History in Sinhala! I was flabbergasted! I was told it was only for two months till the teacher returned from a holiday. Shortly after I received a permanent appointment to teach O' Level English and Literature - the duck could now truly swim!
Mrs. Pulimood was not a demonstrative person.
A friend had been a victim of vicious tale-bearing. Devastated and heartbroken she rushed to Mrs. Pulimood. She sat serene, impassive, writing. She smiled. My friend burst into tears and poured out her tale of woe. This was serious. She asked the distraught girl to sit down and spoke thus of the egregious busybody, the tale-bearer - "Iif I believed her I would have sent for you. Have I sent for you?" My friend, somewhat relieved whispered gratefully, "No."
"In future, if anything is amiss, I will send for you. I don't believe everything people tell me and you had better grow up and do the same. If you only knew child, what people have literally done to me over the years - pulled my hair, gouged out my eyes, sent anonymous letters, phone calls and petitions. But see, here I am! Wipe your tears, there is a school show of Romeo and Juliet at the Majestic. Go, enjoy yourself and be happy." Mrs. Pulimood made short-shrift of tale-bearers!
Two years later in 1967 she left us to return home to India. The loss was very, very great. She had taught us to be stoic and endure hard times, and live through heartache. Yet there was a silver-lining, I lived to see and work with two other gracious ladies - Mrs. Hema Jayasinghe and Mrs. Mercy Edussuriya, who have touched my life as deeply and forever, as did Mrs. Pulimood. They have nobly carried and sustained in their stewardships the enduring 'flame' lit by Mrs. Pulimood. May they live long, and dear Mrs. Pulimood never, never be forgotten.
Pulimood Memorial Oration
The annual Susan George Pulimood Memorial Oration of Visakha Vidyalaya will be held on Thursday, July 23, at 5.15 p.m. at the Jeremias Dias Hall of the school.
It will be delivered by Dr. (Ms.) Ruchira Cumaranatunga, Senior Professor of Fisheries & Biology, University of Ruhuna.