17 November 2017

And the best school of all is......

If you were a student at Royal before 1971 and returned to old haunts afterwards, you would have surely wondered why the college grounds looked smaller.  Sooner or later you would have noticed a long building that stretched from West to East, from near the hostel to the swimming pool.  

“A monstrosity!” you would surely tell yourself. 

If you entered Royal after 1971 and after leaving school came back and strolled towards the Tamarind trees you might wonder why the college grounds looked larger.  You would soon find out that most of that ‘monstrosity’ has been demolished.  “The monstrosity,” had been put up for a carnival.  What were ‘stalls’ for the carnival were later used as classrooms.   Monstrosity architecturally speaking though it was surely a set of preferred classrooms during the cricket season, although the view was of a lesser order than offered by classes above the Prefects’ Room.  

If you left before 1978, you would know of an institution called Royal Junior School and that its primary function was to ‘graduate’ 14-15 year old kids into Royal College.  If you joined after 1978, it might come as a surprise that a Royal Junior School actually existed.  Even if you did know the history of amalgamation, the chances are that you would not know of a school song which began in the following manner:……..  You would know of Hartley, Harward, Marsh, Boake and Reed, but if you were asked about Bradby, Perera, Reed and Sampson, you probably wouldn’t associate the names with Houses.  

If you were a scout in the seventies and eighties, you might remember that there was a small hole on the right column as you came up the stairs from the Scount Room.  You might remember ‘KCU’ carved under this hole.  You may not know that it stood for the man who made that little hole in the wall where scouts would leave messages for one another long after he left Royal.  KCU stood for Karl Cezanne Uduman.  

Even if you were a scout, you may have had no notion of this hole, the initials or the man.  You would have nevertheless good memories of the Scout Room.  However, if you wandered into school today and was persuaded by nostalgia to take a look at the Scout Room, you would find it gone.  If you asked any schoolboy what happened to the building he would no doubt tell you ‘there was never such a building here!’

Time passes, things change.  Old buildings are torn down, new ones come up. The Grade 1 building is gone.  Years ago, there was no ‘Skills Centre,’ but now there is.  No ‘MAS Arena’ or even MAS back in the day, but these are proper nouns that are familiar to present day students.  Where there was Race Course Avenue, now there’s Rajakeeya Mawatha.  Rugger is not played where cricket is played and the season doesn’t start in May but in April.  There’s a part of Royal College on the other side of Reid Avenue now.  

It’s a different era and a different school.  Today, you might lament the passing of the great teachers, the absence of ‘Kadalai’ or the fact that some parts of the school are unrecognizable.  So too will today’s students lament notable absences if they return to Royal 20-30 years from now. 

But the school of our fathers is the same school of our sons and their sons as the case may be.  And this is not because the Tamarind Trees are still there or because the Boake Gates still stand or because from Rajakeeya Mawatha the edifice looks unchanged, except that the parapet wall is taller than it used to be.  It’s not because the school song hasn’t changed.  The colors are still blue and gold.  We still have the same houses, Hartley, Harward, March and Boake, even though we really don’t have a strong house-system or house-culture.  Royal is still part of the Royal-Thomian and is in part defined by that encounter and by the opposing school.  It’s the same with respect to the Bradby Shield and Trinity College. 

There’s something that endures despite the passing of years and decades and it's not any of these things.  It’s something you really can’t put a finger on.  The ‘something’  that makes the school unique and unchanged at the core even though part of the outer covering is  unrecognizable to those left a long time ago.  

Take a walk around the ‘new’ school and you’ll still remember people and moments.  That’s nostalgia obtainable by transformations that left something familiar untouched.  Reminiscing makes things bigger and brighter than they really are.   There’s a child that lives in all of us that gets reborn in ‘childhood spaces’.  It can’t be too different for those from other schools when they revisit the theater where their childhood was played out. 

Royal however is Royal and in ways that it will never be St Thomas’ or Walala Central College.  Arguable St Thomas’ and Walala Central College  cannot be Royal and in fact may not even want to be like Royal.  

There is history and privilege that account for certain things.   Royal still sets the pace.  Royal still innovates.  Other schools still try to emulate Royal and perhaps Royal has missed a trick in not emulating other schools, less talked of but as or more innovative.  But that is not what makes Royal the school that it is.  

It’s like love — recognizable but impossible to define.  Define it and it will be open season for replication and the consequent obliteration of uniqueness.  Define it and it becomes less intangible and therefore open to purchase or destruction.  

Ask a Royalist what ‘Royal’ is all about and he will struggle to come up with a definitive one-liner.  Ask a non-Royalist and he or she would also struggle.  The one would end thinking ‘no, that’s not what it is,’ and the other might caricature.  

What matters then is that it is felt, it is known and it is not translatable to the language of words. Let’s just call it a spectre or a spirit that stays with us but does not perish with our deaths.  And that feeling, let us acknowledge, is not the same that students of other schools experience; it is not greater and neither is is lesser.  

The true meaning of Disce Aut Discede

[This article, originally titled 'The Spectre of Royal' was written for a newsletter published by the Old Royalists' Association in the UK.  I have edited it a bit]



ramli said...

Wonderful read as always Malinda, thanks, and we their loyal sons .....