26 November 2017

‘Hara’ of Royal turns 80!

Mr Harischandra Nanayakkara (Second from left) with former colleagues 

If you asked any Old Royalist who attended the school in the second half of the last century the teachers they remember most, there are a few names that are bound to come up.  It has to do with the particular individuals being exceptional educationists as well as veritable institutions as well, such being their stature.

Very few Royalists end up as teachers and among those who do it’s just two or three who get to teach at their alma mater.  There’s nothing to say that an old boy is necessarily a better teacher or would be better remembered on account of having been a student at the school; if they are remembered it is because they were outstanding educationists.  

Royal College is too old a school to trace old-boy teachers and what kinds of careers they had.  We could however still talk of the latter half of the 20th Century.  We could talk of E.C. (Kataya) Gunasekara, a long-serving Deputy Principal which earned him the tag ‘DP’ and Vijitha (Viji) Weerasinghe, who retired as Deputy Principal (Middle School) and continued to serve the school in an advisory capacity until he passed away in 2008.  

Then there was ‘Hara’.  Some believe to this day that ‘Hara’ was short for ‘Haramanis’ but names matter less than the man, something he would be the first to acknowledge. 

Harischandra Nanayakkara turned 80 on the 22nd of November.  

He was at Royal both as a student and a teacher, and long enough and with such a presence that there would be as many ‘Hara Stories’ as there are ‘Kataya Stories’.  They served together for 17 years, Kataya retiring a few years after Mr Nanayakkara resigned in 1981 to take up a position in the Seychelles.  They were a pair, in a sense, sharing a background in the sciences, a strong sense of integrity and a reputation for being strict disciplinarians.  But Kataya was Kataya in ways that Hara was not and could not be a Kataya, just as Hara was Hara in ways that Kataya could not be.  

He entered Royal in 1949 after sitting for the Grade 6 Admission Test.  In 1958 he entered the University of Ceylon and took up teaching upon graduation, his first appointment being to Kuliyapitiya Central College in 1963. Two years later he was back at Royal and would spend the next 17 years of his life as a teacher, both in and out of the classroom, serving under no less than five principals — Dudley K.G.de Silva, Bogoda Premaratne, Welikala, Noel Seneviratne and L.D.H. Peiris.  

He was strict.  There were stories about his peculiar ways that made him a legend in the minds of even students who had yet to encounter him.  I heard, for instance, that this Hostel Warden who was always immaculately clad in white would come to class long before the school bell was rung.  He would sit and attend to his work.  Students would stroll in and he would wave them off telling them to do their thing and not to disturb him.  As more students arrived he would be ‘lost’ among them.  Even as he worked he had his ears pricked for any untoward comment which he could later use for whatever educational purpose he needed it for.  

Then there’s the story about how he caught a bunch of cricketers who had partyed after a match.  The story went like this: 

Hara: So you people would have had a big party after the match?

Coloursman: No, sir, it was a small party.

Hara: Ah, so all you would have got cocked (drunk)?

Coloursman: No sir, we just had a couple of beers, that’s all.

Hara: Only a couple of beers?  The whole team?  

Coloursman: No sir, just 5 of us. 

The five, all coloursman, were duly suspended. Royal had to field a team made of the captain and 10 freshers in the Exide Trophy tournament (the 50 over inter-schools event).  Royal nevertheless won the Excide Trophy.   
'Hara' with other 'Forty Niners'

Early this year when he came to Sri Lanka around the time of the Royal-Thomian I had the opportunity to ask him about this incident.  He brushed it off: ‘No, that’s not how it happened.  An old boy had seen them and reported the matter.  An inquiry was duly carried out and the boys were punished.’

Reputation inflates this, obviously. 

I first met him when I, along with other children of teachers, jumped over the wall and into the Royal College premises after school.  We were all students at what was then called Royal Junior School.  School finished at 1.00 pm and all of us would come to College and play 30 minutes of cricket until the college bell rang and we could go home with our mothers or fathers.

On one occasion, we were accosted by three stern-looking gentlemen.  E.C. Gunasekera and Harishchandra Nanayakkara were there; I cannot remember the third.  Kataya probably knew how we were.  We were all around 10-12 years of age.  He looked a giant to me.  He dished out a punishment: climb back over the wall, come through the main gate, then climb back and come through the gate again and repeat this until you’ve done it ten times.  No argument.  No protest. We turned back.  As we neared the gate, his characteristic sharp single clap stopped us.  He called us back, waved a finger and said ‘Don’t do it again.’  No smile.  But I noticed that the other gentlemen, Mr Nanayakkara was amused.  

By the time we came to College, he was not called ‘Hara’ although I believe that’s what the hostellers called him.  For us he was ‘Hostel Nana’ so named to distinguish him from D.D.R. Nanayakkara who was called ‘Bus Nana’ since he was in charge of school buses, season tickets and such.

He was, in fact, THE HOSTEL of Royal College. He made it what it was.  It had been an ill-run outfit when the then Principal, L.D.H. Peiris asked him to take charge of it.  Peiris was known to be a good administrator, a no-nonsense man who was incorruptible.  He obviously had the knack to find the right man for the job.  

Being there, on the spot as it were, it was perhaps natural that he acquired a better sense of the boys, their potentials and deficiencies, the issues that bothered them, what was fixable and what was not, and most of all how to mould them into men.  It should not surprise, looking back, that he was put in charge of so many extra-curricular activities.

Mr Nanayakkara was the Master-in-Charge of Rugby Football (1971-1975) and of Cricket (from 1976 until he left Royal).  The respective teams did exceptionally well during these periods, a fact that L.D.H. Peiries has made particular note of.  He was the Master-in-Charge of the College Grounds and coordinated its use for various games.  In fact he had helped Col F C De Saram, the long-serving coach of the First XI Cricket team, lay a new turf at the Reid Avenue grounds. For this, he had assigned two young labourers at the hostel, Ananda and Gunapala, and put the Hostel Prefects in charge of supervising the work.  Both men graduated into becoming accomplished groundsmen.  

He was strict, as pointed out, and was once commended by Principal Peiris for helping maintain discipline in the school.  He had a sense of humor and he knew to laugh.  My mother, Indrani, who was a colleague in the staff, would occasionally recount how ‘Nana’ threw the teachers into fits of laughter.  

Hara with two batchmates from Royal (L-R Dr Subasinghe, 'Hara' and Gamini Seneviratne)

Dion Schoorman, related a rare incident when Kataya and Nana both shed their strict demeanours and turned themselves into mischievous schoolboys.  

“It was at the annual Prefects vs Teachers match.  As always, we had 11 players and the teachers had about 30 fielders!  When I came to bat Kataya, who had the ball, said ‘we are going to get you out.’  I had scored a few runs when they did get me out.  Kataya ran up  to bowl and all of a sudden I was rendered immobile, or rather the bat was — Nana, who was the wicket-keeper was holding on to it!  I was bowled.  Protests fell on deaf ears.  I was sent off!”

Had he ended his career at Royal and spent his retirement in Sri Lanka, Mr Nanayakkara would have seen how the boys under his charge grew into fine men, good scholars and accomplished professionals.  Such development he was able to rejoice in only much later, when he was in the Seychelles.  A chance advertisement in the Daily News that his wife Nanda had noticed for mathematics and science teachers was how he ended up there.  Interestingly the Education Officer sent to Sri Lanka to conduct interviews, Patrick Pillay, would later become a member of that country’s cabinet.  

Like at Royal, he had not limited himself to the classroom.  He had been a member of the Seychelles Cricket Association, the Seychelles Bridge Club and the Seychelles Scrabble Association.  In fact in 1997 he had represented Seychelles at the World Scrabble Championships held in Washington DC, USA.  

The gratitude of that country for this remarkable educationist was eloquently expressed in a newspaper article published the day before he left the Seychelles for Australia where he has since spent his retirement with his son and daughter and their families.  

The headline says a lot: ‘Longest serving expatriate teacher retires.’  The article mentions that students to whom he taught Mathematics and Physics had gone on to become engineers, doctors, pilots, academics, member of the National Assembly, diplomats and even a member of the National Dance Troop!  It carried a comment by the teacher: ‘It has been a joy to see the benefits (beneficiaries?) of my teaching playing such a key role in the development of Seychelles.  

For all the extra-curricular work and all his humour, Hara or Nana or Hostel Nana, was first and last a teacher.  He recalled on at least a couple of occasions how he visited his elder daughter in the UK and tutored her son in Maths and Physics: “One of the happy moments in my life was when my eldest grandson entered Cambridge University.”

At 80, this grand old Royalist, lives an active life, online and off.  He is on Facebook and he checks his email account regularly.  He has his wits about him, and so too his witticism.  And that inimitable chuckle that always seems eager to pop out and destroy the feigned countenance of strictness that many a self-styled toughie in the schools he taught feared.  

Good health and long life, Sir!