16 March 2023

Pure-Rathna, a class act!

In the Advanced Level classes I encountered four mathematics teachers. Mrs Shanthi Herath (best known as ‘Faluda’) and Mr Dayaratne (‘Daya’ or ‘Pure-Ratna’) taught Pure Mathematics. Mr Samarasekera (‘Summarise’ as in summer-ice) taught Applied Mathematics. Mr Eustace (Yuta) filled in when either Faluda or Daya were absent.

The story was that Faluda was super bright and that had she and Yuta been given the same three-hour question paper, both would have scored 100/100, only Faluda would have completed it in half an hour whereas Yuta would have taken all three hours to finish.  

There was also the view, I remember, that Faluda was the best kind of teacher for smart students who could keep up with the pace of her mind whereas Daya was more sensitive to different degrees of math skills among his students. I was never a good student, so I didn’t quite understand these notions. It all went over my head.  In fact it was only after I plodded through two books by someone called Ramsey, in translation of course, one on calculus and one on trigonometry, all by myself, painstakingly completing all the exercises therein, that I got some rudimentary idea about mathematics.

Ramsey helped me understand that whoever it was that offered the comparison between Faluda and Daya was right. Daya seemed to assume that all students were clueless to begin with.  And so he went slow, step by step. I had probably been daydreaming for most of those early lessons, which meant that I was absolutely at sea by the time he had moved on to the more complex problems.  

Fortunately, my mother, realising that I would probably fail the ALs unless drastic measures were taken, convinced Daya to teach me. From the beginning. Privately.  He taught me both Pure Mathematics and Applied Mathematics. He made sure that things like calculus, trigonometry, geometry, circular motion, vertical motion under gravity and projectiles were not seen as words in some alien language. He had only a few months but he turned an assured F into a surprising C. Well, 2 Fs into 2 Cs. To be fair, I’m sure that had Yuta been in his place, he would have helped me secure similar grades. Faluda, probably not. She was a distraction and probably broke many hearts unwittingly.  

Daya didn't just teach me Pure and Applied; he made me fall in love with Mathematics all over again (Mr Upali Munasinghe was the one who made me love Mathematics the first time). More than that, he was and still is a great human being who has touched so many lived and made so many students realize their full potential.

Daya was a no nonsense teacher. Hardly ever smiled. Spoke with his teeth clenched or so it seemed to me or maybe I remembered it all wrong simply because I hadn’t paid much attention back then. He spoke fast, even though he taught slowly, compared to Faluda at least.

And then we became friends. Years later. It happens when the age difference is so much smaller than the time that has elapsed since school days. It happens when you meet students (or teachers) in different contexts. Like the Royal-Thomian cricket match.

Daya always comes to the match. He does the rounds from tent to tent, is surrounded and entertained with food and drink by countless former students. He is ‘Sir’ and he calls his students ‘machang,’ and laughs all the time. Unrecognisable from the seemingly humourless and strict teacher of our AL days.

Daya is frequently invited to student reunions and he’s quite active in the Past Teachers’ Association. When he became one of the gas-cylinder explosion victims, his students rallied to repair his house. When he became ill, everyone was sad. Daya just laughed it off: ‘my colleagues told me that finally others are able to understand what you are saying because you have been forced to speak slowly! In fact, had you still been teaching, your students would do much better than those you taught before you retired!’

Daya doesn’t know this and neither have I told him (I should) that thanks to him, I became a decent tutor to Arts Faculty students forced to learn ‘Basic Mathematics.’ I taught calculus to my friends and those in junior batches. Step by step. Slowly.  Obviously not as well as he taught for he was in a different teaching league, but good enough for them to pass the subject.

I will probably run into him this week at the SSC. As has always been the case, I will go down on my knees, touch his feet and worship him.  He would laugh and say, as he always does, ‘Ah Malinda….umba kohomada?’


['The Morning Inspection' is the title of a column I wrote for the Daily News from 2009 to 2011, one article a day, Monday through Saturday. This is a new series. Links to previous articles in this new series are given below]

Other articles in this series:

Jekhan Aruliah set a ball rolling in Jaffna

Awaiting arrivals unlike any other

Teachers and students sometimes reverse roles

Matters of honor and dignity

Yet another Mother's Day

A cockroach named 'Don't'

Colombo, Colombo, Colombo and so forth

The slowest road to Kumarigama, Ampara

Sweeping the clutter away

Some play music, others listen

Completing unfinished texts

Mind and hearts, loquacious and taciturn

I am at Jaga Food, where are you?

On separating the missing from the disappeared

Moments without tenses

And intangible republics will save the day (as they always have)

The world is made of waves


The circuitous logic of Tony Muller

Rohana Kalyanaratne, an unforgettable 'Loku Aiya'

Mowgli, the Greatest Archaeologist

Figures and disfigurement, rocks and roses

Sujith Rathnayake and incarcerations imposed and embraced

Some stories are written on the covers themselves

A poetic enclave in the Republic of Literature

Landcapes of gone-time and going-time 

The best insurance against the loud and repeated lie

So what if the best flutes will not go to the best flautists?

There's dust and words awaiting us at crossroads and crosswords

The books of disquiet

A song of terraced paddy fields

Of ants, bridges and possibilities

From A through Aardvark to Zyzzyva 

World's End

Words, their potency, appropriation and abuse

Street corner stories

Who did not listen, who's not listening still?

The book of layering

If you remember Kobe, visit GOAT Mountain

The world is made for re-colouring

The gift and yoke of bastardy

The 'English Smile'

No 27, Dickman's Road, Colombo 5

Visual cartographers and cartography

Ithaca from a long ago and right now

Lessons written in invisible ink

The amazing quality of 'equal-kindness'

A tea-maker story seldom told

On academic activism

The interchangeability of light and darkness

Back to TRADITIONAL rice

Sisterhood: moments, just moments

Chess is my life and perhaps your too

Reflections on ownership and belonging

The integrity of Nadeesha Rajapaksha

Signatures in the seasons of love

To Maceo Martinet as he flies over rainbows

Sirith, like pirith, persist

Fragrances that will not be bottled 

Colours and textures of living heritage

Countries of the past, present and future

A degree in creative excuses

Books launched and not-yet-launched

The sunrise as viewed from sacred mountains

The ways of the lotus

Isaiah 58: 12-16 and the true meaning of grace

The age of Frederick Algernon Trotteville

Live and tell the tale as you will

Between struggle and cooperation

Of love and other intangibles

Neruda, Sekara and literary dimensions

The universe of smallness

Paul Christopher's heart of many chambers

Calmness gracefully cascades in the Dumbara Hills

Serendipitous amber rules the world

Continents of the heart