My reflections on Bogoda Premaratne
“Learn or depart” was and is the motto of Royal College. Some students learnt to play the game, learned little and but did not depart. Then there were others like me who belonged to the cult of the ‘Black Board jungle’ who was known for their notoriety and rioting.
Some in the gang neither learned nor played any game of worth, but also did not depart. We had an important role to play. We were the cheering squad and I was the ring leader, our main vocation was to organise the cycle parade at the Royal-Thomian and take a cheering squad to Kandy for the Bradby. Throughout the cricketing calendar, we composed ribald bailas to beat the Thomian gang, headed by one whom every one revered for his forensic skills in composing lyrics. We knew him as ‘Veddah’ and his best was ‘Naaki Sima’ which would win any prestigious award for lyrics even today. We could not better him, though the new version of ‘Thambi Kade’ was equally popular. We also did not depart till an Anandian became the vice Principal of Royal. Bogoda Premaratne was his name. Every one fell afoul of that long tradition of having an old Royalist as the Principal or the Vice Principal.
Mr. Premaratne was always dressed in a lily white suit. His countenance was pleasant. As opposed to some teachers who refused to smile with the students as if it was a mortal sin. I felt that the teacher-student relationship, which was not known to some teachers, Bogoda Premaratne strove to change. But the environment was so different. The traditions were different and students were different.At least to the boys in the lower grades, the teachers were expected to be tough but the boys yet rioted. Mr. Premaratne knew, within a short time, that a Royalist must be treated like a Royalist. They understand better and love the pain inflicted by the cane. At the end of the year, our class teacher said he would not tolerate any shouting or cheering. It was the tradition at the end of the year to cheer the teacher singing, ‘He is a jolly good fellow and end with Hip Hip Hooray’. But who is Mr. Arasaratnam, our class teacher, to deny us the old traditions, which we were hell bent on protecting. As usual, at the end of the class everyone in unison shouted at the top of their voice for the whole building to tremble. ‘He is a jolly good fellow’ and Mr. Arasaratnam was steaming in anger, unable to slap or assault a single student. He ran to Mr. Premaratne. Everyone was given three cuts by him and I was given five. There were no cries or lamentations of child abuse or other abuses, though in the modern day parlance we were always abused. We deserved to be caned and abused. Most of the members of the gang of the ‘Black Board jungle and the Cheering squad have done so well in life mainly due to the harsh punishment inflicted by our teachers that made us into men.
I thought a grave injustice had been done to me, as I received five incisive cuts that made me writhe in pain. I decided to ask Mr. Premaratne why this discrimination. He spoke to me in the most fatherly manner, with kindness and compassion flowing. He said, “We know that you are behind this; you are the gang leader and further do not think that I do not know about your exploits at Royal College and how you brought a gang of lorry drivers and assaulted Dole at the Royal-Peterite match.
“At that time, no one, not even the principal, wanted to take any action against you, for if they had done so, you would have been in custody perhaps in remand. And that would have been a disgrace to Royal College, which you revere. I know that you have been responsible, as one of the cheer leaders of the Lower Five Form for all the rioting that takes place in that class. Several teachers have complained to me about you. I do not want to take any action against you but, remember that I like your spirit of loving your alma mater. If you love your alma mater, you must also love the discipline that it brings with it. That is why Royal College is the foremost school in Ceylon. Next time, if you happen to violate them, then I will not be as kind to you as today.”
After I departed Royal College, after another incident, I still recall the conversation I had with him. It may have changed my life altogether.
Mr. Premaratne’s knowledge of Buddhism surpassed even the most erudite monks. He was not an application Buddhist, but a true follower of the Dhamma. And under his guidance Royal College changed and teachers understood the problems that students faced.
Thereafter, I met Mr. Premaratne as a publisher of Buddhist text books. I bought some books as a contribution to his noble venture. Then having entered the profession, I was surprised to receive a letter from my former principal, Bogoda Premaratne, in 2003. Having read an article written by me, he, at the age of 83, wrote to me in his beautiful handwriting which had inspired me to date.
“To: Mr. Hemantha Warnakulasuriya
My dear Hemantha,
Writing a letter is a difficult task for me at this age (82+). But having read your letter to the Daily News (27.10.03) on the Attorney General’s pronouncement on the “demise of the Rule of Law” in our country, I couldn’t help but offer my ‘Congratulations’ to you.
It is a very rare phenomenon in the professions to see someone venturing to expose the true state of affairs within the institutions set up for the purpose of serving the public.
You have done so, knowing very well that some people will hate you for what you are doing. Tolerance of injustice is encouragement of injustice.
I feel happy and proud to have known you, in your formative years (regardless of the mischievous pranks you sometimes played on us!) At that time we really did not know the previous potential that lay hidden beneath your youthful behavior.
Please carry on your mission of opening the eyes of the blind. May you have all the courage and strength to do so.
I admire you,
Mr. Premaratne was a great educationist and as students we could not comprehend his vast knowledge and his struggle to change the education system in Ceylon. I consider him as a great teacher who had profound impact on me and the other students who came under his tutelage.