My debt to St Peter’sCollege.
Posted on August 14th, 2016
Garvin Karunaratne Former Govt. Agent, Matara
Reading Dr Sunil Abeysundera;s’s comment on St Peter’s College published recently in the Daily Mirror prompted me to write my experiences. I was there at about the same time and can remember Dr Abeysundera. I studied Arts subjects and therefore the main characters may be different. Nevertheless it is worth recording how St Peter’s College moulded the lives of its students. Perhaps this may offer ideas as to how education can be strengthened.
In my early days, I attended the Laboratory Teaching School of the Teacher Training College, which was in the present Thurstan College premises. It did not have classes upto the end of the Secondary Level and after the fifth form my father decided that I should attend a proper Secondary College. As far as I can remember we were taught well and what was most interesting was the occasional classes taken by a lecturer of the Training College. One Lecture I yet remember was that taken by Mr Holsinger. It was in Botany and the content was most interesting.
At that time students were taken into the prestigious schools after a written examination and my father took me to all prestigious schools- Royal, St Thomas, St Josephs, Ananda, Nalanda, Wesley and I failed in all of them. At that time I excelled only in subjects that interested me and perhaps that was why I failed. Finding a school for me came to a crisis point and my father told us in sheer desperation, that he was going to tell his plight to the Father Rector at St Peter’s College. He had never met him, but he said that he may be of help. We lived in Bambalapitiya. He left in the morning one day and came back after about an hour and told me to get ready. The Father Rector had wanted to see me. I was bundled up into a bus and off we went to St Peter’s College. I can yet remember the father figure I was introduced to. It was Fr Basil Weeratunge who looked at me for a few seconds. “ We will take you in” he said. I was shown the class and I became a pupil immediately. I was thrilled to have found a school.
I moved from the Sixth to the Seventh but the World War interrupted and the School at Bambalapitiya was closed because the building was taken over overnight by the Army. I moved to stay at Panadura and attended St John’s College for some two years. The main contribution of St John’s to my studies was by Peter Abeysekera, our Sinhala master, His critical assessment of the novel Rohini by Martin Wickremasinghe moved me to take a liking to study literature. Perhaps that laid the craze in me to appreciate novels. I am the now the author of four novels.
Back to St Peter’s I attended the make shift school at Dehiwala for a short while and moved to Bambalapitiya after the War was over. I went up to the Senior Prep and did well in many subjects carrying away Prizes in Sinhala, History and Geography for most years. Granvile Senanayaka , just out of the University was my class master. He was young and it was very easy to relate to him. He taught maths. Those were the days we enjoyed ourselves, singing in the back row of the class. My click included musician Saddhananda Pattiaratchi and Neville Wijeyratne, who wrote most of the songs sung by Susil Premaratne. The songs of Sunil Santha took us by storm.
It was normal for Granville Senanayake to introduce a theorem or take a lesson, set some work for the class to do and walk around to the last row to check what we were doing. One day, he came up to my desk and said, “Garvin , you excell in certain subjects but do you realize that you will fail the Senior because Maths is a compulsory subject. I got very low marks. I replied that I failed to understand many Maths lessons. By that time Granville was our swimming master too and he had taught me to swim. He inspired me to study but I was nowhere as I had failed to grasp the basics. The conversation ended when he said,”Start the Arithmetic, Algebra and Geometry text books from the beginning. Do not follow the class, but after I set work for the class I will come down and explain to you when you get stuck. True to his word I started at the begining of each text book and I would wait to ask him questions wherever I failed to grasp. This went on for a few terms, a tution class within the main class. I got down to study maths in earnest and when I sat for the Senior about five terms later, I had passed. Thanks to Granville Senanayake.I proceeded to further studies purely because of the support he extended.
At the University Entrance class I excelled in all four subjects. A.P deMel and Gunasekera taught Sinhala, A.D.Baptist, the author of “ A Geograpphy of Ceylon” taught Geography and Ratnasabapathy taught History. Meanwhile I had been studying Pali at temples in the evenings. It began at Vagiraramayawhen I lived at Bambalapitiya and at many other temples whenever we moved house, at the Gangula Temple in Panadura, at the temple near Flower Road and also at Anderson Road. I scored a Credit in Pali at the Senior and was keen to continue studies in Pali. This was not a subject taught at St Peter’s and I was lost. I went up to Father Basil Weeratunge, the Rector and explained that I would like to get some help in studying Pali for my University Entrance. Father Bail immediately sent for Mr de Mel and asked him to teach me Pali. It was a special class for me only. Pali was the language of the Buddhist Scriptures and it was taught at St Peter’s, a catholic school. It did not concern Father Basil. Studies came foremost and there were no barriers. This also proves the greatness of education imparted at St Peter’s. A new class established only for a single student especially in a subject on Buddhism all done in a Catholic School.
Extra curricular activities like sports and work on societies was encouraged and this enabled the students to work organizing activities on their own. I can remember the Sinhala Society under the leader Neville Wijeyratne organizing a Recital with famous singers like Susil Premaratne and Rohita Jayasinghe. It was a great occasion, all organized by the students, students getting the artists to come in their cars. It was a really great event.
I scored well in the University Entrance . and entered the University in 1950. A.D. Baptist recommended and persuaded me to continue studies in Geography, but I dropped that subject. I pursued studies in Sinhala Hons. With History and Pali. One day after I had graduated, I ran into A.D. Baptist and got a shelling for not having continued Geography
Some of my schoolmates were students that had got expelled from St Thomas’s and they did well, under the care and supervision of the Fathers and the staff. Father Basil and Theodore Peris were always helpful and inspired the students.
Looking back at my days at St Peter’s it was the Fathers in charge specially Fr Basil and my form master Granville that did pave the way for me to enter the portals of higher studies. I proceeded to Tertiary study at Peradeniya and also at Manchester, Edinburgh and Michigan State University. Today I have reached being a strong critique of the world famous institute, the IMF. My book, How the IMF Ruined Sri Lanka published at Godages tells the sad story of how the IMF made our sovereign country that did not owe a cent to anyone, indebted. The Youth Self Employment Programme of Bangladesh ,the premier employment creation programme in the world today was established by me when I worked there as an International Consultant. My thoughts stand in sheer admiration at the manner Fr Basil and my Master Granville Senanayake paved the way for all what I have done.