Our years at the S.Thomasí hostel

chapel.jpg (13803 bytes)Rasika Liyanage and Sepala Jayasinghe
The magnificent edifice facing the quadrangle, the main block of classes, the old science lab and the chapel was the hallowed residence to many a Thomian, away from their true homes. It housed the S.Thomasí College Hostel. The hostel had two houses - Miller Chapman and Copleston Claughton, during our time. We are told that originally it was known as the Claughton house. All these names represent very distinguished personalities connected with the school.

At any given time the hostel had well over 300 students in both houses. As could be expected there was always the gentle rivalry between the houses when it came to inter-house activities. But when pitted against the dayscholarís houses the rivalries were temporarily buried, and the challenge was taken as Boarders vs Dayscholars.

Life in the hostel was one of rigid discipline occasionally allowed to be dented by an act of light misconduct. The gravity of the wrong doing and to what extent it could be tolerate depended on the moods, likes and dislikes of the house prefects in charge of the dormitories.

This is not to say that they always played it unfair, but they never played it fair all the time too. It was their prerogative to totally ignore some of the deeds and put under a microscope some others, looking for incriminating evidence. Many hostellers, however, preferred to take up the punishments meted out by the cops than run the risk of being reported to the house master, whose determinations would have been stricter.

The very disciplined art of waiting in a queue until your turn comes was taught to us by word and action at the hostel. Whether it was collecting pocket money from the office, bathing at the main bathroom or at the main Ďlavosí we had to be in the queue. No matter how urgent and desperate the need, one had to stay in the queue until your Ďafter youí turn came.

One unmistakable sign that a student has graduated from the junior dorms to the senior dorm was that he could not wear any clothes when bathing. He perhaps did not want to, now that he was considered a senior.

Studying hours were known as Ďprepí and there were three sessions. One in the morning and the other two in the evening. Though there was dead silence during these sessions indicating the degree of absolute concentration of the students, the yearly or the monthly examination results of the majority proved otherwise. Looking back, we now realise its true. Though the books were not studied diligently, those many students had been studying how best a Thomian could graduate from the university of life, Decorum was never required to be taught. It was handed down the generations.

The hostellers came from different strata of society, different religions and races. But these were never the dividing factors, not even thought of then. The bottom line was let the best man wins.

The house masters too were of a mixed quality. Among the many names that come to the mind are, L. D. S. Nanayakkara, F. J. Senaratne, Lassie Abeywardene, Quentin Israel, G. Tambidorai, Victory Walatara, Orville Abeynayake, A. N. S. K. Karalakulasingham, Rev. Townsend, Godfrey Senaratne, Daniel Edirisinghe, E. P. Abeysekera, Mr. Vinasatamby and Jackson Karunaratne.

Many are the interesting stories about these teachers. Their personal mannerisms were always a source of amusement and trepidation for the students. Some still cannot fathom why Mr. Karalakulasingham had to use a bat instead of a cane to give eight of the best to a student. Mr. Vinasatamby did manage to hide the toughness behind the white verti he used to wear.

Quentin Israel and G. Tambithorai were maths and physics teachers whilst being housemasters. Both were strict disciplinarians too. Quentin, though being a Trinitian had decided to spend the greater part of his life at S. Thomasí! Arguably the most successful rugby coach of S. Thomasí College, he will be remembered by many generations of Thomians. Quite a vibrant personality, many remember him coming late at night after a session with his pals at the Havies.

An interesting story told about him was how after a night out with his friends, he came back to his room and the light bulb fused. Placing a chair, he stood on it with a new bulb trying to place it in the holder. Perhaps he thought he had it fixed right. But a moment later it feel to the floor making such a big noise that woke up the entire dormitory. None could remember a look of embarrassment on his face. His command of the English language and his teaching prowess was such that he could have used the incident to explain the laws of Newton on gravity.

Nobody really liked father Townsend who had come from Australia. Perhaps years of having worked with inmates in a prison in Australia had made him a cold character. He at times went out of his way to put us into trouble. Looking back one wonders whether he saw any similarity between the convicts behaviour and that of some of the students - the more notorious ones.

Townsend was succeeded by the Rev. Duleep de Chickera - the present Bishop of Colombo. Tall, athletically built, soft spoken, kind, yet a good disciplinarian, he was very popular among the students. He was always ready to listen to our side of the story on any dispute. He became sub-warden and left college to work in the ministry.

So much for the pedagogues. Now about the inmates. The camaraderie was always at an acceptable level. One factor that struck out from the rest was the degree of respect and regard the juniors had for the seniors. There was hardly any bullying or forced stevedoring. The seniors were truly seniors. In fact, some of them were so big, both in size and perception, the juniors considered it a duty to be of any assistance to them.

Among the larger than life characters were, Wendell Flamer-Caldera, P. Wambeck, Azam Hameed, the Gunasekera brothers, (Labba and the other two) the Baines brothers and others. College grape-vine once had this story. It was Wendelís polite reply to a remark made by a senior house master that he was causing him a lot of inconvenience in the running of the boarding. The reply had been "Sir, you canít run the boarding at your own convenience".

The charismatic Flamer Caldera managed to get away with it, but not so lucky was Tissa Jayasinghe. Caught red handed while paying a nocturnal visit to the hostel, after he had left the place, Rohan Jagoda - the head cop deemed it fit to be reported to the Warden. That fateful visit put paid to any hopes Tissa would have entertained of continuing in school.

The period 1963-67 saw the hostel producing no less than five 1st eleven cricket captains of the school. They were Randy Morell, Premalal Gunasekera, Sarath Seneviratne, Anura Tennekoon and Jayampathy Bandaranayake. The Samarasinghe brothers (Baila, Mohan and Rajpal) created history by captaining the college rugby teams. Hockey, waterpolo, swimming were sports virtually dominated by the hostellers. A good fifty percent or more of the teams always comprised hostellers.

The house social was very much looked forward to by many. It was an annual event and saw a lot of merry making and fun. A band was in attendance and there was plenty of food and drinks to go with it. Everyone was attired in the best available.

End of term fights to settle old scores were frequent. They were fought to an end until one surrendered.

The S.Thomasí College hostel was the life blood of the school. The college lived in its hostel. That feeling of being a Thomian and the almost tangible feeling of the days spent in the hostel, really come alive at the yearly get together of the hostellers. The party is held at the O.T.S.C. You should be there to believe it. Itís as if you have been taken back in time to the golden days at the hostel. Thatís why we must all help the warden in his task to revive the college hostel back to its pristine glory.