To go into details of my roller-coaster ride at S Thomas’ would take up too much space and time, but an overview would be interesting, given what it taught me about elite society. After I had withdrawn my resignation, Illangakoon wrote what can only be described as a literary masterpiece. He claimed that he had long wanted to give up being Warden, and now asked again to be relieved, but added that he had nowhere to go and was unable to live on his pension alone. He then went on to say that he found it impossible to work with me.
The Board accordingly decided to accept my resignation. Lyn Weerasekera and my old Chaplain Baldwyn Daniel pointed out that it was wrong to do this after I had been persuaded to withdraw, but the Treasurer produced a lawyer who said I had made conditions, and the Board could therefore reject these. When I got the letter claiming that the Board accepted my resignation since it was unable to accept my conditions, I pointed out that I had made no conditions, I had simply requested the Board to inquire into Mr Illangakoon’s conduct, and their refusal of my request did not affect the withdrawal. The Treasurer, a man named Duleep Kumar, tried to insist, but they then consulted proper lawyers, including Sam Kadirgamar, who said that there was now no resignation before the Board.
So it was decided to accept Illangakoon’s resignation, but he was allowed to stay on in the Warden’s bungalow, and was to be paid till the end of the year. The Archdeacon of Colombo, Rev Gnanapragasam was asked to officiate as Warden. He reluctantly accepted the responsibility, but in effect left me to do the work, dropping in at College when he could, but otherwise working on files that I would take to him as required.
Unfortunately all hell then broke loose, in that we discovered what for those days was massive financial impropriety. A representative of the Australian Old Boys, Wyvill Scharegnuivel, whom I had had known of previously as swimming coach when I joined College, and whom I now know as Sharya de Soysa’s husband, brought a cheque, and asked that it be used for the purpose for which it had been collected. A previous donation had instead been put into a fund they had been told the Board had approved as an investment for future development. Illangakoon however rounded on Wyvill at the OBA meeting where this request was made, and said that the money had to remain unused because the Australians had not sent enough for the bus which they had promised to fund, and the bus would be bought as soon as enough was sent.
Wyvill did not argue there, but he showed me the letter Illangakoon had sent. The Archdeacon however said the Board knew nothing of such a fund. Then, coincidentally, Mr Ossman (who was later to become the first General Secretary of the Muslim Congress), who had run a raffle during the Centenary Fair, sent in a cheque which he said was the residue. He wanted to know what had been done with the previous much larger installment, which had also supposedly been put into the investment fund approved by the Board.
I think this was the main reason the Treasurer and his allies got the Board decision reversed, though Illangakoon’s active resentment also contributed. Derek Samarasinha changed his vote, and confessed that this was after Mrs Illangakoon had called up his wife in remonstration. So the Board decided that the Archdeacon was to be sent off, that Illangakoon be persuaded to return, that I be sent on compulsory leave pending an Inquiry designed to dismiss me, and Duleep Chickera be appointed as Sub-Warden. This was particularly ironic since, when I had previously suggested that he would be a good choice to take over as Warden, both Illangakoon and Duleep Kumar had claimed he was utterly unsuitable. One claim that I remember was that he was a coward who feared that bombs had been buried in the College grounds.
So I was sent off, though I informed the Board that I would continue to occupy my Quarters in College until the Inquiry. This threw them into a panic, and they actually found an ancient relation of Illangakoon to come into College to make sure that the boys did not talk to me. A few brave ones did, amongst them those who have done spectacularly well since, which I think is no coincidence.
I think I was expected to resign, but I was determined not to do so. A Committee was then set up to frame charges, and they did so without hearing me at all. This took some time, given the absurdity of the whole situation. It included Gerald de Alwis, who was still thinking of becoming Warden, and was chaired by Bradman Weerakoon, who was a bosom friend of Duleep Kumar’s.
I had first met Bradman a few months earlier, and been utterly impressed by his intelligence and charm. But when I mentioned this to my uncle Lakshman, he promptly cautioned me that the man was not to be trusted. The reason he gave for this was that he had betrayed Mrs Bandaranaike, whose Secretary he had been when she was Prime Minister in the early sixties, by giving evidence against her brother in a bribery case. According to Lakshman, Mrs Bandaranaike had declared that Bradman had said what was not true, and Lakshman, who had a high regard for the lady, believed her. It was odd therefore to find recently that he was asked to contribute to a volume to commemorate her. But I suppose new alignments in politics (or rather old elite realignments, which the previous generation of Bandaranaikes would have found preposterous) make for strange bedfellows.
When the Board had made its decision, the Archdeacon called me up and said he wanted to see me. He asked if I was hurt, but I said not, since I did not really have much respect for the Board. His response was that he was hurt, since he had been summarily sent away, when he had previously been persuaded to take on a position he had not wanted.
When he came to see me, he brought with him several of the files I had taken to him, which had records of the financial improprieties. He said Lyn Dassenaike, the Manager of the School, yet another Illangakoon relation, had asked for the files, but he had replied that he would return them the following week. He told me that I should make copies of any relevant material, and this I did.
It took several months for Bradman and Co to frame charges, and by then I had abandoned my rooms and come back home. There was reason for despair, for Lyn Weerasekera had died. Before the crucial Board meeting, he tried to persuade his colleagues not to change the decision. To see S K Wickremasinghe, I think it was, he climbed several flights of stairs since there had been no electricity. Soon afterwards he had a heart attack and, after a few days in hospital, he died.
I have never forgotten him. Perhaps the strongest line in James Joyce’s ‘Dubliners’ occurs in ‘The Dead’, when the protagonist’s wife recalls a young man who had been in love with her. He had died young, and when her husband asks how, not having heard the story before, she says she thinks he died for her.
Some years later I saw the Huston film of this story, and I still remember how Angelica Huston uttered the line with a catch in her throat. I have that same catch when I think of Lyn Weerasekera.