should be a compulsory ‘subject’ in schools
‘Never in our days’ is a frequently uttered ‘observation’ by those
who have left an institution, a country or profession. It is something
that one hears whenever past pupils of a school gather to reminisce
about days gone by. They also talk about how things are in the old
school and spend an inordinate amount of time lamenting
If there was justification for all such lamentations, then it means
that all schools are necessarily in a permanent process of decay and are
facing imminent collapse. Indeed, if the horror stories had any basis in
reality, some schools must be commended for actually still existing.
Things are not what they were. All things, as the Buddha said, are
subject to the law of anicca or impermanence. They are born, they decay
and they perish. The reasonable way of viewing all this is to treat it
with equanimity, upekkha. However, this side of walking that
unparalleled and clearly fulfilling Noble Eight-Fold Path, we can I
suppose get some perspective on what we behold.
A young friend of mine, a young old boy of Royal College, wrote to me
recently. He was livid that the Principal of the school, an old Anandian
by the way, was growing pathola (snake gourd) in the quadrangle. The
quadrangle, as the name suggests is a piece of lawn of that shape
surrounded by the oldest buildings of the school. When I was a student,
we used to play French cricket and other games in that area.
Occasionally, the then Vice Principal, Christie Gunasekara (better
known as Katayai) would get errant schoolboys to weed the quadrangle or
clear it of scrap paper (there was no polythene then). There were no
flowers, no vegetables, just grass.
My young friend informs me that the Principal had wanted to turn the
entire quadrangle into a vegetable garden but that strong objections
from the old boys had led to a compromise of sorts. Only a section was
‘taken’ for pathola.
‘I don’t have objections to growing, but the quadrangle is a unique
place; no other school has one and it’s a creation of British
architecture,’ he added. I don’t know how true his claims are about
uniqueness and I certainly don’t thing there’s a lot to celebrate about
British architecture apart from the fact that buildings grow on you and
feed nostalgia, regardless of source of architectural inspiration.
I referred him to Tennyson’s famous poem on the death of King Arthur,
in particular the following lines: ‘The old order changeth, yielding
place to new and god fulfills himself in many ways; lest one good custom
should corrupt the world’ (if I remember right). If the character of a
school is overly dependent on its architecture, then it is sad, I think.
Also, there’s nothing wrong in change if there’s something positive that
is conferred upon the student population.
I remembered an interview in one of the TV channels a few years ago,
where the Principal, Upali Gunasekera, spoke about his ‘agricultural
He said that initially there was a lot of objection from parents,
teachers, old boys and students but this had changed after some time.
Royal College, by the way, was adjudged one of the most innovative
schools in the entire world recently.
What’s wrong, I thought. It is good for children to have their hands
touch soil now and then, feel the Earth, learn some of its many lessons.
It is good that they understand what labour is because whatever career
they embrace later in life they will encounter labour and would
appreciate better the hardships associated.
I remember hating kataya for getting me to pick up scrap paper in the
quadrangle, but I learnt the virtues of keeping common spaces clean. It
is a matter of respecting one’s fellow creatures, is it not?
I was told recently about another ‘agricultural school’; Lindsay
Balika, Bambalapitiya. This school, close to the sea, has a unique
program. The children engage in a recycling project and deposit proceeds
in savings accounts, learning early in life the virtues of thrift and
By the time they leave school they will not be penniless and can help
parents prepare them for higher education. As important, they have
turned the entire school into a vegetable garden, I am told.
The Principal, with the support of the A/L Logic teacher, has
mobilized the students for this purpose. I was told that when one walks
into the school, it is like walking into a home garden in Bandarawela.
‘No flowers?’ I asked. ‘No’ I was told. I remembered something my
father said about 20 years ago. He frequently laments that he has been
denied gardening rights for 30 years. He wanted to turn the front part
of the garden into a vegetable plot. My mother objected. She kept it
pretty. I didn’t take sides, but I think that it would have been no less
pretty had there been vegetables instead or even a 50-50 compromise.
The lesson is not just about aesthetics, as I pointed out. Good to
work. Good to touch the Earth. Good to learn something about the laws of
nature. My little daughter doesn’t like leaving food on the table.
She tells me that her great grandfather had once said each grain of
rice contains 100 beads of sweat. If students at Royal College can learn
that, it’s an invaluable lesson and one that will shape how they will
see the world and engage with it wherever they go after leaving school.
As for pathola in the quadrangle, surely there are more important
things for people to worry about? Would a different vegetable make more
sense? How about gotukola and mukunuwenna and thampala instead of
croutons? Would someone object to that? Royal College is a big school.
Lots of space. I am sure the quadrangle can be spared if it means so
much to the objectors. On the other hand, I doubt if anyone can come up
with an argument so compelling as to stop this agricultural drive of the