Sunday, December 11, 2011

Jayantha Anandappa's Memories - Part III


In the second year, as Halls of Residence were not provided we had to stay outside the Campus. Most of the batch found accommodation in rooms of E-quarters, and boarding homes in Penideniya, Meewatura and the surrounding neighbourhood. Seven of us were lucky to find lodging in a large, comfortable home at Handessa, where facilities, food and the “environment” were quite good, though the walk to the Faculty seemed quite long which would make some of us invariably late for the first lecture. This was always a problem if the first lecture happened to be Prof Mahalingam’s “Theory of Machines”, with the late arrivals having to contrive their own ways to enter the lecture room from behind without being evicted.

Those who lodged in E-quarters always appeared to have problems with either the quality or the quantity of food, or unbelievable appetites. It was not unusual to see some of them walking to Akbar Nell Hall around 8 o’clock in the night to have dinner as the special guests of the Sub-warden who had his own way of turning a blind eye to the “gajayas”. (This was the time that the Akbar Nell Hall was known as “Gajayas’ Paradise”).

An interesting exposure was attending those ESU meetings held in the auditorium then known as “Sukavathi”. The meetings were always conducted in English. Depending on what was at stake and the issues, debating would get heated, voices would be raised and one would often think that this was not the ideal place to make your debut in public speaking. There were few ones like GH Pathmasiri and Sarath Perera who had a flair for public speaking who would have thought differently. In our four years Laxman Tillekaratne, J Thavarajah, Ranjan Abayasekara and Mohan Kumaraswamy respectively were the Presidents of the ESU. All worthy of that high post! I remember this rather funny meeting when Thavarajah was the President.

Thava, the senior citizen had a supreme command of English. I must recount this incident too which happened in a Dean’s Day. The delegates that attended this particular Deans Day sessions included Dr SA Wickremasinghe, and probably Mr Chelliah Kumarasuriar and Neville Jayaweera, the first two were powerful Ministers of Mrs B’s UF Government and the latter a highly respected Civil Servant. I can’t recall what Dr Wickremasighe spoke that day but being a communist his speech must have been heavily tainted with Marxist ideology, certainly his answers to the students’ questions were. Not prepared to take this in anymore, Thava who was in the audience in the capacity of a student wanted to have the last say and quipped: “So Mr Minister, you say that communism is something like a brassiere that is used to lift up the sagging (morale of) masses?” I can’t remember Dr Wickremasinghe’s response, but he retorted at the end: “I know nothing of women’s under garments!”

During Thava’s tenure as the President, a small but highly vocal aggressive group once stormed into an ESU meeting and carried a well-orchestrated attack on the Committee in Sinhala. This pro-Sinhala faction was extremely critical of the ESU Committee that was not really keen in promoting the idea of duplicating lectures in Sinhala (except for the first years). When it came to Thava’s turn to defend his Committee, Thava was unperturbed and was at his eloquent best. He spoke about hypocrisy and was continuing: “Gentlemen, the vulgarity of this situation…..” or something to that effect. One of the main agitators from a senior batch who had been doing the bulk of the speaking, interrupted the President and charged in Sinhala “Sabapathi-thuma, apita “vul-gaerandi” kiyala kiyana eka waeradiyi nay!” (Mr President, why do you want to call us “vul-gaerandi”! (literally meaning wild rat-snakes!)

With the demand to have parallel lectures in Sinhala in the second year causing complex problems and almost dividing the batch, I recall some approached Dr S Sivasegaram (Lecturer of Thermo Dynamics) and requested that they should be at least allowed to write the coursework report in Sinhala. Dr Sivasegaram, a man dedicated to the cause of the common man and a person of high principles, also in charge of this particular coursework, agreed. A batch mate who managed to solicit this concession from Siva, probably also thought here is an opportunity to take liberties at will when writing the discussion. Who would guess that Siva was going to read a discussion written in Sinhala? (Siva himself corrected this particular coursework). I am not sure whether Dr Sivasegaram himself read the discussion or got some one else to do the reading for him. But in the corrected discussion, spotting a section outrageously out of context, the two words “Budu Ammo!” was scribbled in Sinhala letters in the left margin against the offending paragraph highlighted.

In Oct 1973 the University closed suddenly due to the Food Crisis. We had to pack our bags and go home without knowing as to when the Campus would re-open for the Part I Examination. The Campus was closed for more than five months. Although some of us later managed to secure vacation jobs, this disruption and the uncertainty was quite frustrating. During this period, it was a common sight to see bread queues at 4 O’ Clock in the morning. Food and groceries became scarce and prices skyrocketed. Restaurants were forbidden to cook rice on certain days!

When the Campus reopened in Feb 1974, we were given halls of residence again. By necessity in the Halls and the Campus, things had changed; the most notable change was in the area of quality and the standard of hall food.

Though I cannot point to a specific reason, in Feb 1974 when we returned many of us felt somewhat unsettled and insecure. This was probably because we knew that although the Campus re-opened, nothing had really changed outside. When we returned in Feb 1974 most of us were in the New Wing of the Akbar Hall. We only had a very short time to prepare for the Part I Examination. This was a testing time. During this narrowest window of opportunity to study, I recall BK Jayasundera and BDG Gunasekara (and few others) often would go “horse riding” along the length of the hall corridors- they would complete their laps “galloping” from one floor to the other and with sound effects just like in a Western Movie. They would stop the “races” only if a senior intervened.

To be continued with PART IV

-Maximus Jayantha Anandappa

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