The Royal College ’60 Group comprising students who entered the first form at Royal College in 1960 met on 5th March at the Hotel Lanka Oberoi to felicitate one of their numbers who attained the office of Prime Minister of this country for the second time.
The evening began on a quiet note with the ‘boys’ trooping in, most of them accompanied by their wives. Ranil and Maithree arrived around the expected time of 8 o’clock, a good Royal trait, by which time some of the early comers were just getting into the Royal-Thomian spirit of things — the big match being just two days away!
The ’60 Group has now formed into an association to comply with the constitution of the Royal College Union to which it is affiliated. After group photographs were taken the formal part of the proceedings commenced with the observance of two minutes silence in memory of two of our colleagues, M. A. Ossman and S. V. W. Goonewardena who had passed away in the preceding year. The incumbent president of the ’60 Group, R. J. de Silva in his opening remarks rambled on about politicians past and present and their connections to the ’60 Group, reminding us lest we had forgotten that he too was a nephew of a prominent politician of yesteryear!
It is now accepted that no occasion is complete without "Bulla" de Silva having his say. Although called upon to say a few words he seemed to quite forget that the key word was ‘few’ and in the absence of a Speaker (though an ex-Speaker was present) exceeded his time allotment. Anyway he kept us all entertained and speculated, in the light of recent statements by one of those present, as to whether the next presidential election would see two erstwhile classmates contest each other. The comments emanating from Anura Bandaranaike left one with no doubt that this would be so!!
Bulla went on to reminisce of his days in Form 1C when Mr. Cantlay the class master (affectionately known as Canto) decided to have the class act "Alice in Wonderland". A sweet fair little boy was picked to play the part of Alice daily until one day he went up to Mr. Cantlay and said that he couldn’t play Alice anymore which abruptly terminated "Alice in Wonderland" for Form 1C! It was Alice who thirty three years later went on to be the Prime Minister of the country. We believe Alice has greater things in store for "her" in the not too distant future and are convinced that "she" will be able to create a "Wonderland" in the land of Sri Lanka once again. Maithree appeared to be highly amused to hear this little episode from the past.
Following "Bulla" was Anura who in his usual eloquent style recalled his long enduring friendship with Ranil. While conceding that the next presidential election may pit him against his friend, he did not fail to remind those present that it was he who apprised Ranil of a possible palace coup at a critical phase of the last Parliament. Such loyalty one would imagine would qualify for a consolation prize in the future if things don’t work out as planned!
It was finally the turn of the Prime Minister who thanked his classmates who, he joked, took the opportunity to wine and dine on the pretext of felicitating him. On a serious note he projected his twin visions of a) surmounting race, caste and creed in bringing peace and prosperity to this country once again and b) creating a new political culture in the country. We should all join him in working towards these worthy goals.
In Royal circles it is often debated over a drink (whether strong or soft) as to which was the most outstanding school batch of all time. Two contenders for that honour were the batch that produced J. R. Jayewardene, Colvin R. de Silva, D. W. L. Lieversz, etc. and that which produced Lalith Athulathmudali, Nihal Jayawickreme, Rohan Hapugalle, etc. However the ‘60 group is just as pre-eminent. For the record, the products of the ‘60 Group include Prime Minister Ranil, a former Speaker and Leader of the Opposition, Anura and Party Leader and former Cabinet Minister Dinesh Gunawardene (who usually stays away from these occasions) among the politicians. Also in the batch are Chairman of the ruling party Malik Samarawickrema, that great benefactor who likes to maintain a low profile, incumbent Solicitor General J. K. C. R. de Silva (better known as "Bulla"), whom we are sure will move on to higher office and three Professors in Vijitha Kuruvita, W. D. Ratnasooriya and Ranjan Ramasamy in addition to the numerous professionals, successful businessmen and officers of the Armed Forces.
The ’60 Group stood out even in school. Fr. Peter Pillai was the first student to obtain distinctions in all eight subjects offered at the old G.C.E. (Ordinary Level) or its equivalent. The next student to achieve this many years later in 1964 was I believe, Ranjan Ramasamy. If he wasn’t the first (who I’m told was another Royalist) he was the second. It is rare for a batch to produce two first eleven cricket captains. Ranjith Gunasekara and Eardley Lieversz Jr. who captained the school in 1968 and 1969 respectively were of the ’60 Group. In 1968 Royal dominated the Royal-Thomian for the first time in the sixties and in the following year the latter led Royal to victory in the Royal-Thomian match after a lapse of 18 years. Bulla de Silva led the rugby team in 1968 in which year Royal won both the Bradby Shield and C. V. Gooneratne Trophy for the first time in the same season and remained unbeaten. The Group also produced an Athletics captain in Malik Samarawickrema in addition to a few other captains in the less glamorous sports.
The ’60 Group consists of persons born either in the year of or the year after the country gained independence. They were also the last batch to study exclusively in the English medium. This inherited cosmopolitanism became their strength. Many in the ’60 Group inherited the radicalism and nationalism of their parents as well as the best aspects of the British legacy, notably an English education and an ability to surmount ethnic and religious differences. They used these gifts to negotiate social change and in doing so came to embody the best of indigenous and western culture. It is their arrival at the crossroads of Sri Lankan history and what they made of the moment that marks this group of Royalists from others.