Viji Weerasinghe the living spirit of Royal
by Hemantha Warnakulasuriya
The name Viji Weerasinghe remains etched in the memory of most Royalists who had the opportunity of knowing him, first as a teacher, then as a friend and later as a guiding light. No Royalist would ever permit another to speak or even mutter ill of him. There was religious fervor which was dogmatic and fundamentalist in nature attached to super teacher status he achieved. Even if there was nodding acquiescence when some, in a heated debate, scorned the idea Royal being the foremost educational institution in the country, there would a loud protest even from them if anyone would even dare say anything which would hurt the feelings they had towards Viji Weerasinghe. He was an icon of goodness to all those who were fortunate enough to have stepped into the sanctum sanctorum of Royal, an institutions that has made and changed the destiny of our motherland.
When I was in form 2, he was our English teacher. A subject I hated. A subject, which gave me so much pain and even brought tears to my eyes. To learn this awful language, so foreign to me, was something I loathed. My parents spoke in Sinhala, I was a gamaya who came from the deep South. In my village, only a very few could read or understand the language. At that time, when I was very young, there was so much confusion when the villagers received a telegram in English. Viji Weerasinghe instantly knew who the godayas were in his class. He cared for them, and showed them how to get rid of their inhibitions associated with the villagers’ ‘kaduwa’ mentality. The abridged version of Robin Hood was read by him. I still remember the incident when he asked me the meaning of ‘sward’ I said ‘Kaduwa’ the students had hearty laugh at me, as I had mistaken ‘Sward’ for ‘Sword’. But, he called me to his room and gave me and other godayas other books which were simpler than what was used in school. He reminded us that after all, Sinhala literature may not be the best in the world. He showed us that there are other great novels and short stories which were written and sometimes translated into English, written for the benefit of students learning English as a second language, in simple English so that we could read and at least understand the story.
Thereafter I did not sustain the same hatred towards the English Language. But, I never got good marks, I was below par compared to the others who hailed from Colombo. They were equally bad in their Sinhalese.
The next interesting episode was when we went to the Head Master’s room to borrow his car to collect advertisements for the Royal Thomian Souvenir. I never believed that as the Head Master of Royal junior, Mr. Weerasinghe would ever give his car keys to us, who were teenagers and never had the license to drive even a scooter. He had utmost confidence in his students. He taught us the art of living, confidence building, facing challenges and the world.
He used to remark jokingly at the ribald songs we sang at matches. These songs had so much originality and someone even remarked that we should publish a collection which will better the ‘rugby songs’ published in England. Weerasinghe never frowned or looked down upon the lyrics which would even put the great Sinhalese lyricist Karunaratna Abeysekera to shame.
I had to depart before I could finish my learning at Royal, in keeping with the College motto ‘Disce Aut Disce De’. I became a Lawyer. One day, I got a frantic call from Viji Weerasinghe requesting me to defend another institution which was almost sine qua non with the Royalist spirit, ‘Kadalay’, the gram seller who sold his wares near the entrance to Royal. When I was in the Kindergarten on one side of the entrance to Royal Primary was ‘Kadalay’ selling his gram and on the other side was ‘Balloon’, was selling his balloons.
I could not believe that Kadalay was to be produced in Court. I believe Royal lost some of its prestige when the education department decided to appoint non-Royalists as its principals. This principal was furious with ‘Kadalay’ who was drunk and cheering at some school match. Thereafter, there was an incident where he got involved in with the boys of the rival school. The Old Boys of both schools later had amicably settled it. The Principal wanted the law enforcement agencies to take Kadalay into custody and produce him in Court. Viji Weerasinghe wanted to intervene and settle this, but the principal wanted to charge and get rid of Kadalay forever. When I heard this, I was furious at this unwanted intrusion by an educationist who had no knowledge of the bond the Royalist had with ‘Kadalay’. I appeared for him and he was finally discharged. All those who shared a joke a cheer and even later at the Royal Thomian, as old boys who shared a drink with Kadalay, have achieved greatness and have brought so much credit to their Alma Mater. Viji Weerasinghe knew this.
The old boys wanted Mr. Weerasinghe to continue with his work even after his retirement, so that Royal would not be just another school. No one knew the great traditions of one of the oldest schools in the country like Viji Weerasinghe. His loss will be felt for years and may even tranform Royal into a different institution.
If there was ever a teacher who understood the spirit of Royal, he was none other than Viji Weerasinghe
(The writer is the Ambassador to Italy)
I was present last evening at the CR & FC Grounds to witness the “Royal Rugby Fiesta 2007” project organized by the Royal College Group of 91, for all the Old Boy Groups. They had published a souvenir to coincide this event and saw this article written by Sir . Viji Weerasinghe and thought that I should share this with all of you.
Hony Secretary - RCU
DOWN MEMORY LANE
Having been within the precincts of Royal College, in one capacity or another for a total of 73 of my 80 years, the sprit of this wonderful school of ours has found its way into my blood and penetrated my bones!
I started as a student in 1933 at the former Royal Preparatory school from where I crossed over to the Royal College in 1939 and left in 1947. For the next two years I taught at St. John’s, Nugegoda while studying for examinations and was then requested by my former principal at College Mr. J.C.A. Corea to stand in for one of my own teachers – Mr. V.O. de Alvis Gunawardana who had retired prematurely and so in January 1950 I came to teach and what started as a temporary assignment became my life’s work. In 1971 I was appointed Head Master by the then Principal Mr. D.G. Welikala and in 1978 elevated to Deputy Principal by Mr.L.D.H. Peiris. I reached the age of retirement in 1987 but two successive Principals requested me to continue on a departmentally approved contract. Ten years later in 1997 I decided to accept the old boy’s request to work in the Union Office where I have been to date.
Mine has been an eventful stay during which I took the rough with the smooth and enjoyed every minute of it. If I were given a choice to live my life all over again I would not choose differently,
seen many generations of Royalists come and go, many teachers and many
Principals come and go and I have watched the changes that the winds of the
passing years have brought – but one thing has remained constant – the
Royalist student community which has not changed radically. Let us bow our
heads and thank the Powers that Be that the present Royalists from the
Andersons to the Zaheeds the assorted Pereras, Fernandos and Silvas, Saldins
the Pillais and the Weerasinghes are no different from their counterparts of
earlier vintages and that they are even now laying in their personal
treasuries of rich and golden memories of forbidden fruit which they
Let us all pray that the spirit of Royal will remain as it is till the end of time!
– a birthday tribute to a great teacher and a concerned human being
The very mention of the name will surely warm the hearts of the many who know him. Come September 17 2007 Mr.Viji Weerasinghe, very affectionately "Duckie" to all of us of an earlier generation, will be reaching a memorable milestone of four score years. During a career and an inalienable association with his Alma Mater, Royal, that spanned well-nigh sixty years he had been a teacher, benevolent administrator, confidante, an invaluable friend and adviser and above all a very concerned human being.
He joined Royal College in
1939 in the First Form after having spent a formative six years at what was
then known as the Royal Preparatory School, run as a part of the Government
Training College , under the care of that renowned educationalist H.S.
Perera. In a recent conversation with me he recalled the 'test' he had to
face to enter the
Surely the streak of
enthusiasm and entrepreneurship would have tilted the scale in his favour,
which eventually got him to
In 1950, Mr.Corea, who always had an eye for picking potential requested him, (through another respected Master at Royal, Mr. Cameron "Bappa" Samarasinghe), to stand in for V.O. de Alwis Gunawardena, affectionately known as "Kotiya", who was a teacher at Royal during his time. So what began as a temporary teaching assignment at Royal turned into a long and joyful journey!
We were, indeed, extremely fortunate that he joined the staff at Royal. For it is an undisputed fact that he was a teacher par excellence. Those of us who were taught by him remember him with great affection, particularly those Latin and English Literature classes he taught with such characteristic élan. He had the remarkable ability to bring a certain infectious vivacity to the subjects he taught which made us eagerly await his lessons. Invariably, these lessons were interspersed with such exciting anecdotes that facilitated the ready assimilation of what he taught. He gave us a solid foundation in these subjects for us to build on. I would specially recall with gratitude the early lessons in Latin he gave which evoked such interest in me, more than sufficient to persuade me to continue to read Western Classics.
Having spent a long time as a teacher, and being a man of men and matters, he was able to move onto to hold the seats of Section Head and then as Deputy Principal with ease and acceptance. One of his greatest attributes was his ability to easily relate not only to his young charges but also to the many others with whom he interacted. He had a deep understanding of human nature sufficient to reach out to people with a genuine concern for them. Being a Latin scholar he believed in the adage – Homo sum; humani a me nihil alienum puto. – I am human. Therefore, I think nothing human alien to me. It was this same understanding that helped him to serve a succession of Principals at Royal with equanimity and equal acceptance and to provide them with solid advice, especially at times of impending crisis. I am personally aware of how with characteristic tact he had been able to persuade them onto the right path, as it were, when required. Whenever, he smelt impending disaster to the hallowed well-being of his school such as tinkering with her time-tested traditions he put his institutional memory and persuasive powers to good use to steer them and the ship to clear and cleaner waters. He continues to hold this place of confidence to this date.
His remarkable memory also
served to endear himself to many. There wasn't a single student, who went
through him, whose name he couldn't remember. There has been many an
occasion when his pupils have actually shed tears of joy when he was able to
recall their names and associated escapades, after many decades. On one such
occasion he was met by one of them down
On one of my recent visits to see him at his residence in Nugegoda, he was relating his joyful days as a student and as a teacher. He was able to recall the names of his classmates who entered College in 1939, (along with mini-biographies of all of them to boot, and their current whereabouts)- not to mention some scrapes and escapades they had got into. Like any other schoolboy he too had many scrapes and escapades to relate and relish, some of them so delightfully identical with the scrapes and escapades of our times or thereafter -a reason why he was able to understand student behavior better than many others would.
Viji Weerasinghe was a man of great humour as well, who could diffuse a situation with a pithy remark or humorous turn of phrase. In fact, he preferred to use these as an instrument of discipline rather than resort to corporal chastisement. He used to tell us in class that if we do not do our home work dire consequences will follow. It is not a threat; he used to insist, but a promise. These dire consequences never followed because we saw to it that we did the needful in time. Once a pupil came whistling into class soon after the lunch interval only to be asked whether he had had bird seed for lunch! The remark was far more effective than six of the best with the cane.
Giving well-nigh sixty years of his life to an Instititution with a remarkable dedication and commitment has been a rewarding experience for him. Once he told me in no uncertain terms that he would not have bartered that experience for anything. What is more rewarding than this, he asked me, with a satiated glint in his eye. He had simply refused to leave the staff of Royal in the face of many other, perhaps more lucrative opportunities offered to him - once as the secretary to the Arts Council, for which he was eminently suited for he was not only a man of literature but also of music and the arts as well, then as a DRO and as an Assistant Commissioner of Marketing.
Had he taken up any of these positions surely he would have carved for himself a profitable career and shone in one and all of them. Even a more lucrative teaching assignment abroad could not lure him from the call of dedicating himself to his Alma Mater. Nor could an offer of a local position in management on 'you name your price' terms. He simply brushed all these opportunities aside to heed the call of his Alma Mater, jealously guarding the bridge, as it were, to repay the debt he owed and to keep the fame of his dear old school inviolate: the school that nurtured him ,and, indeed, all of us, to Man's Estate.
It was Royal's great good fortune that Mr. Corea took that sagacious decision to invite Mr Viji Weerasinghe to join the staff of Royal way backing in 1950 and what an eventful and wonderful journey it has been for him , for his school and for all of us.
Over the years he had grown like a massive oak tree whose endearing branches had given, and still continues to give, that essential shade and comfort to many a Royalist, young and old, from near and afar, exuding a certain vibrancy and fragrance of rectitude, dignity and integrity- values he endevoured to instill in all of us.
For the relentless and dedicated service he has rendered with such loving care to his Alma Mater, he will not only remain one of the more distinguished old boys, more distinguished than most, but also one of her noblest sons. Generations of Royalists, young and old, from all walks of life, all over the world will bow their heads in deep respect and gratitude for all what he has done and continues to do for them and for his school. A Right Royal salute to you, Sir, Magister Carissimus, on your 80th Birthday! May you be blessed with good health and contentment in the years to come.
The Icon of Royal
By M. Rizan Nazeer
Mr. Vijitha (Viji)
Weerasinghe, an icon of
Viji Weerasinghe joined
the kindergarten of the
From those early days in 1933, his progression through the school to which he returned as a teacher and retired as Deputy Principal, continuing post-retirement at the RCU, has been in the view of all who know him to be invaluable and outstanding.
"It's hardly an imaginable record and the thought of it ever being broken seems most unlikely if not impossible," an old student said.
Viji learnt of books and learnt of men at Royal, engaging in the fun and frolic that boys of his age have indulged in over generations. All these obviously moulded him to be the great teacher he was, able with an unmatched understanding of the schoolboy's mischievous tendencies. He had an innate talent to deal with them humanely while at all times retaining his charges' respect and affection.
Weerasinghe's greatness as a teacher has stood at test of time. English literature and Latin were subjects which he excelled in teaching and nobody who was in those classes will ever forget them. His pupils are in many walks of life, both humble and exalted, and they keep coming back to their old teacher for the pleasure of his company and also sometimes to clear a doubt they might have on any and everything.
I was fortunate to be in his English and Latin classes and I recall with much nostalgia the poems he read out and passages of great works in English. His reading aloud, with the right inflection of voice, capturing the drama in what he read was an unforgettable experience. He did justice to the substance and the explanations that followed complemented the spark he lit by his manner of delivery. Literature came alive in his classroom and I was not alone in resenting the bell signaling the period was over.
Those classes will remain in the hearts and minds of his students wherever they are just like those daffodils in William Wordsworth's immortal poem.
A student of Viji who is now an English newspaper editor freely admits that the only Shakespeare he knows is what he was made to memorize by Viji as `punishment' for some small transgression. "You will curse me now but might bless me later," Ducky would say marking out a passage of Shakespeare to memorize. Not for him those traditional 100 lines proclaiming that "I will not make a noise in class." In fact, nobody ever made a noise in his class.
Tirelessly he would direct his students with wisdom acquired through years of experience. He would comfort the stricken, encourage the striver and never throw even the most unwanted boy out of class. He was a breath of fresh air in the classroom and a tower of strength to all who came to him. A significant feature in Viji is his ability to shoulder any responsibility with great acceptance and treat all with equanimity with sympathy.
Nobody has ever known Viji
to lose his temper. His memory was remarkably prodigious and he never forgot
the name of any of his students despite literally thousands passing through
his hands. Years after they had left school, he would surprise them by
addressing them by name and recalling special anecdotes of their schooldays
long be forgotten by all but the participants! That's what made him special.
Each of us was his personal concern and
On rare occasions when he found it hard to find the right word in English, his sense of humour and his knowledge of Latin came to the fore. He would quote the appropriate phrase in Latin, translating into English for the uninitiated that included most of us!
Principals and teachers down the ages sought him out for advice in all matters needing another opinion. His advice was invaluable. Who but Viji knew so well Royal's long traditions and the emerging trends of the times.
So we see this man with an
unwavering vision who carved a mission for himself within the portals of our
school, ever alert to the changing fortunes of the
Mr. Weerasinghe, Sir, I am especially grateful to you for moulding me. There was a time of great sadness in my life when I lost my mother. I was a very small person and I felt the void acutely. Sir, you took me under your wing, comforted me and took me through those difficult days, instilling in me many noble thoughts and telling me to "seek to strive and to find" and also serve our school.
In fact the position I occupy in life and the office I hold in the Old Boys Union are the culmination of many lessons and ideas that you imparted to me. I have, and will continue to hand them down to as many Royalists and others whenever the occasion presents itself. Thus, in a way, I will be handing down the torch that was lit in eighteen hundred and thirty five, it's flame ever growing, ever glowing, a beacon flare from the dome of The Royal College, for the entire world to see.
Mr. Weerasinghe carries this torch resolutely and as the saying goes
"A teacher affects eternity. You never know where his influence ends."
You are that teacher, Sir,
Happy Birthday to you. May the powers that look over us strengthen your hand, the hand that reaches out to all of us.
writer is the Hony. Secretary of the
GREAT TEACHER: “What a teacher is, is more important than what he teaches” This quotation of Karl Menninger stimulated me to pen a note to appreciate this great teacher, who has rendered yeoman service to us Royalists for more than five decades.
It is said that a good teacher is like a candle - it consumes itself to light the way for others and that is exactly what Vijitha Weerasinghe has being doing almost his entire professional life, as teaching remains the profession that teaches all other professions. It is our wish that this candle should go on for decades.
I walked into Weerasinghe’s room, fully equipped with an exhaust fan a safety precaution, to prevent the visitors from getting choked on the 11th of September to seek permission, to write about him to the media on his eightieth birthday that falls today, only to be flatly refused.
When I explained, my desire to write about him, which was not only as a mark of respect and to wish him well on his eightieth birthday but also to make it an opportunity to make the world know, “what a noble profession teaching was” and its sad plight today, when we hear teachers holding students to ransom, following the foot path of learned medical men like us, who are famous for holding patients to ransom at the drop of a hat, when we hear of teachers brutally assaulting students and are refereed to as brutes, my request was granted conditionally.
Teaching is not a lost art, but the regard for it, is fast becoming a lost tradition, as the age old saying goes “Nostalgia is like a grammar lesson, the present is tense and the past was perfect”, and so it was.
One looks back with appreciation to the brilliant teachers, but with gratitude to those who touched our human feelings.
There were teachers and teachers at Royal but Viji Weerasinghe was unique; this uniqueness is explained adequately by William A Ward’s famous quotation: “The mediocre teacher tells. The good teacher explains. The superior teacher demonstrates.
The great teacher inspires. Need I say more? He was; he is and he will be an inspiration to all of us hopefully for a long, long time. In a nutshell he is an island of excellence in a sea of mediocrity.
My first acquaintance with this great teacher was way back in 1961 as a student in his Upper V Latin Class. Two things I remember, one was everybody except yours truly, got distinctions and the other was his famous saying, Da mihi basia mille, meaning “Give me thousand kisses” If you tell this to Weerasinghe today, I bet my last copper he will go on, Da mihi basia mille; deinde centum; dein mille altera; deinde centum.
The subjects he taught us were English Literature and Latin. In those good old days Mr Viji Weerasinghe was a robust young man, who was referred affectionately by a nick name which I am forbidden to tell, for reasons best known to him. Mr. Weerasinghe had a pleasing personality and was one who never lost his temper and kept his cool as far as I can remember except for one occasion.
In the Latin class for some stupid thing I did, which I can’t remember, Mr Weerasinghe did hammer me first by hand and then by Virgil Aeneid the Latin text.We used to get slapped virtually by every master at college not because teachers were bad but we were.
This was routine. How ever you might probably be hearing for the first time, an incident where Mr Viji Weerasinghe has hit a student. This is true. I happen to be the only student Weerasinghe had hit in his entire teaching career. This paid rich dividends later.
It was in 1982 that I went to meet Mr Weerasinghe when he was the Deputy Principal to seek his advice to get my son admitted to college. Those days there were men in the legislature who could formulate laws for school admissions unlike today but the competition was still stiff to get a child into Royal.
I was given an additional mark at the interview that followed, in open court for being the only student to have got hammered by him. See how far small things go. This is the uniqueness of Weerasinghe.
He had character and integrity and never hesitated to call a spade a spade. Weerasinghe had spent 73 years of his life at Royal, 14 years as a student; 21 years as a teacher; six years as a head master; nine years as a deputy principal and ten years as a vice president and advisor to the Royal College Union. This indeed should be a world record and find a place in the Guinness book of records.
Weerasinghe was not only a teacher, not only a head master, not only a deputy principle, not only an adviser to the College Union but was more a human being par excellence.
Every time I left this noble personality, either at his residence or at his office, never did I fail to worship him, in our traditional style irrespective what attire I wore whether that of a General or that of a civilian.
In this context what better way can I sign off, other than quoting a Gatha from the Maha Mangala Sutta “Pujacha pujaninanan, ethan mangala mutthaman” Sir, You are one person, who should be venerated; and we shall.
Today on your eightieth birthday, Royalists Young and Royalists Old join me in wishing you a Very Happy Birthday and a Long Life.
[Daily News - Mon Sep 17 2007]
Vijitha Weerasinghe on his 80th birthday
It is with a sense of
admiration and love for this colossus in the field of education, that I
write this appreciation of a person of distinction- Vijitha Weerasinghe. He
was not only a doyen in the field of Education, where he excelled by
becoming one of the Principals of Royal College, he was also a humane,
humble, benevolent son of mother Lanka. He was a gifted and noble
educationist, principal and headmaster par excellence and endeared himself
for over 50 years to his Alma Mater by his dedication and sincerity.
Vijitha Weerasinghe was my Principal from my childhood days at Royal Junior School, now known as Royal College.
Going down memory lane in
1944, two incidents remain etched in my memory of this remarkable and humane
individual who was more than a Principal to me.
Many years ago, I went to Royal College as 1 had some work concerning the Royal College Old Boys Union. I had to pass the office of the principal of who was known to be a strict disciplinarian. As I was not a student of the school anymore, I was not wearing a white trouser and shirt. From somewhere in the building I hear someone shouting at me and asking me what I was doing there, in front of many students and teachers. I was shocked, and told him why I had come, and who 1 was. Without even bothering to hear me out fully, he told me to leave the place at once. I walked out of his office, very offended. While going out I met a former teacher who recognised me. I related the story to her. She told me not to worry as the principal of the College was a very outspoken man. I then walked straight to Royal Junior School, and went to the office of the Principal Vijitha Weerasinghe. He was at a meeting with some teachers, so his secretary asked me to sit in the library, until he called me. Within a few minutes, I was asked to go inside his room. I then stood at the door of his office, and asked him if he could remember me. He welcomed me with open arms, saying, “ My dear friend Amyn Chatoor, you seem to be visibly upset. Please come in, and talk to me.”
I then told him in blunt words, about my encounter with the Principal of the school. He replied by saying,“ Son, that is no way to speak about elders. However, I apologize to you on his behalf for the treatment he has given you. Now tell me what I can do for you as it is indeed a pleasure to meet you after such a long time”. He solved the problem for me in a second, offered me tea and spent over an hour with me in spite of his busy schedule. Even though I kept asking him if I could leave, he wanted me to stay and spoke to me for an hour. When I finally left the school, I was a very happy person, because of the advice given me by this humble and noble human being, - Vijitha Weerasinghe .
Another example that remains etched in memory was when the Royal College Union Secretary had sent a circular asking for donations towards the Vijitha Weerasinghe Fund for his yeomen service towards our Alma Mater. As a gesture of gratitude and love to this humane individual, I sent my donation to the Secretary of the Union, and forgot about it. About a fortnight later, I received a letter by registered post. It was a personal note from him to thank me. I was touched and immediately sent him a letter telling him that it was my duty to do whatever I could for him as he was more than a Principal to me.
In conclusion, it is my earnest hope and prayer, that this benevolent, humane, humble and gifted son of Mother Lanka, continues to serve our Motherland, for many more years as an Educationist par excellence.
Honourable Sir, may God bless you with eternal happiness, peace and longevity, and may you continue to serve humanity, for many more years to come.
[Nation Sunday Oct 7 2007]