09 May 2016

Kataya and the college tie

Royalists of a different era, i.e. those who left school in the eighties or before, would know of Kataya.  That’s E.C. Gunasekara.  Vice Principal. Disciplinarian.  Tyrant, to some, yes.  A gentlemen too.  Almost everyone who was a student during his time would have a Kataya story.  If they were all gathered it would make a wonderful story about schooldays, pranks and learning of books and learning of men.

One Kataya story prompts another and another and so on.  That’s how I heard this Kataya-story.  Parashakthi Senanayake, batchmate, had read something I had written about Kataya and related a story.  He was actually telling someone else’s Kataya-story.  So I asked the original story-teller: Abhaya Amaradasa, who had told this when he was elected Secretary of the Royal College Union, which was when Parashakthi had heard it. 

Abhaya Amaradasa is now the General Manager of Lake House.  This is the story of how he joined Lake House.  Abhaya, as a schoolboy and a prefect, had reasons to visit Lake House.  That’s where the Royal-Thomian souvenir was being printed.  He would often accompany the teacher who handled the souvenir at the time, Mrs Indrani Seneviratne.  On one occasion he had seen an ad for a Trainee Production Executive for offset printing technology.  He was interested naturally, because Abhaya had always been passionate about printing.  He applied.  He was called for an interview.

He was confident but he had one problem.  He didn’t have a tie.  He had asked Viji Weerasinghe, another icon at Royal College and a far less intimidating teacher.  The problem was that Viji lived in Nugegoda and wouldn’t have had time to get the tie to the boy in time for him to get to the interview.  And so Abhaya had to go to Kataya who lived relatively closer, Fountain House Lane. 

He remembered Vasa Gnanaprakasam being the Duty Prefect for the Vice Principal that day.  He remembers asking Kataya if he, Abhaya, could borrow his tie. 

‘Kataya asked me why and I told him about the interview.  He wasn’t pleased because he wanted me to go to the university.  I had missed the cut-off to enter the Engineering Faculty by two marks but had qualified to enter Colombo University.  I told him that I had a fanatical interest in printing and that it had all started when I was at Royal Junior where Printing was taught as a pre-vocational subject.  He didn’t say anything.’

That’s how it was.  There were times Kataya wouldn’t say anything.  It might have meant ‘ok, I will do something about it’ or even ‘well, there’s nothing I can do about it’.  The thing with Kataya was, you wouldn’t dare ask him a question if you can help it.  It could lead to a wrong word being said and thereafter a resounding slap.  Students always tried to keep encounters with Kataya brief.  The less talk the better, that too was accepted wisdom.

And so, Abhaya Amaradasa went for the interview without a tie. 

‘Everyone else was impeccably dressed.  They all wore ties.  I was embarrassed.  In fact I contemplated turning back, going home and forgetting about a career in printing.’ 

A Lake House employee stationed in the area where the prospective employees were waiting had asked him what he was doing there.   When he said he had come for an interview, the man had said, ‘Interview? Mehema? (like this?)’. 

Abhaya had mulled things over.  He was wondering if he would be letting his college down if his attire created a bad impression.  Leaving seemed to be the option.  The interview was scheduled for 4.30 pm.  The time was 4.15 pm.  It was then that the old school tie began doing its work. 
Kataya made his appearance and immediately announced it in customary fashion by snapping his fingers and signaling to Abhaya to come to the staircase. 

He had brought the tie! 

‘He asked me to come with him and took me to the Regal where he helped me put on the tie.  Then he said “Now double up and run…you are five minutes late!”’

The interview, it so turned out, had been a piece of cake. 

‘I knew everything by heart.  The folio size, the height of a font and other techno things.  I was the Secretary of the Photographic Society and so they asked me questions about photography such as the enlarger I use, which was “Lucky”.  They asked about photographic paper and I said I got it from the Photographers’ Cooperative Society. The next morning I received a telegram informing me that I had made it to the next round of interviews.  Gamini Edirisinghe, another old boy, gave me a new college tie for the 2nd and 3rd interviews.’ 

Kataya was ‘Old School’.  He wore a tie.  The college tie.  Strict.  Feared.  And yet, he was always there for the students.  He didn’t own a car.  He would have taken the bus to Lake House that afternoon.  He let the boy face the interview on his own merits.  No calls to anyone.  He provided a tie and on the face of it that was all he did.  However, by taking the trouble to go to Lake House, he gave a lot more than a tie to a young schoolboy who was at the time a bundle of nerves and was about to chuck it all up and go home.  That’s once again the ‘Old School Tie’.  In the true sense of the term. 

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Firdaus said...

A well written piece. I could relate it to many incidences I have come across and I think lot more people (readers) can relate themself reading this story.

Anonymous said...

It is sad that Kataya too was a practitioner of favoritism. it is known that some appointments to captaincy of second eleven and age group teams were done considering family backgrounds. I know a few who suffered.

Uditha said...

Mr.Ernest Christy Gunasekara (Kataya) has been a legend during our time. Those days were the Golden Days.

Anonymous said...


was a grate person

Anonymous said...

Hi Malinda,
I hope one day Royal College OBA will organize guided tours for RC expats. This can be a fundraiser.

Anonymous said...

When I entered RC to grate 6 he was the most feared person. There were few in my class who faced the wrath of him but no fault of them! This was how he kept discipline in RC. One may approve or disapprove but he had a stature and personality and character of a teacher or more of headmaster, which is sadly lacking after his departure.

Anonymous said...

Kataya was an old fool who knew nothing about education. The above comments from old boys show what a failure he was. These former students still do not understand that they or their mates were victims of both physicals and mental abuse. If anyone acted like him now, he/she would be rotting in a jail.