While awaiting the charges and the inquiry, I did a little investigation, aided by a wonderful lady called Glencora Perera, who had decided to support me enthusiastically. I had met her through the English Association, of which Ashley Halpe, its long-standing Chair, had asked me to become Secretary while I was at Peradeniya. Glen had known my uncle Lakshman in her youth and thought I took after him: though a solid supporter of the UNP, she was very positive about my resignation, unlike most of the elite in Colombo.
Interesting, I was told by one of them, when I started having problems at S. Thomas’, that one rumour being spread was that I was not really interested in S. Thomas’, but had wanted to make a mark there so that I could then go into politics and rival my cousin – Ranil Wickremesinghe then being Minister of Education. This was a preposterous idea, though I did think that Ranil, though a relatively good Minister, was weak on some matters. I had called him about restarting English medium, and he told me flatly that it was illegal. When I pointed out that he was permitting English Medium to be started in the guise of International Schools, he said that those did not come under him, but belonged to another Ministry. He himself had sent the papers to the Attorney General, to have them prosecuted.
That brought home to me the bizarre nature of the Jayewardene Cabinet. It was Ranasinghe Premadasa, the Prime Minister, who had taken the Colombo International School under his wing, when its Principal, the redoubtable Elizabeth Moir, had a row with the Investors who had set it up. Ironically, the Vice-President of the S. Thomas’ Old Boys Association, when I first started having difficulties, told me that the existing education system was beyond repair, and asked me to join him and some other Old Boys in starting an International School. I turned the offer down, which may, in addition to my response to Alex Wijesinha, that I did not see being Head of a School as a permanent career, have contributed to the rumour of my other ambitions.
But the point was, I thought it better to try to reform the system from within. I did in fact prepare a long paper, in which I pointed out how we could legitimately conduct English Medium classes in terms of the existing regulations but, in the animosity that had developed against me, the paper was never put to the Board.
Glencora approved heartily of all my ideas, and indeed took them much further, which did nothing to reassure Colombo about what was seen as our joint eccentricity. In order to check on the financial irregularities, she made inquiries at the Directorate of Companies, and discovered that Duleep Kumar had recently floated a new company, the address of which was on New Buller’s Road. We found there a large building being constructed, which we felt explained why so much money had been put into a separate account which had not been reported to the Board.
Glencora was scathing about the Members of the Board she felt were conniving in crookedness, but her greatest scorn was reserved for the poor Bishop of Colombo, Swithin Fernando. He was actually treated very badly by the aristocrats on the Board, who relentlessly noted that he had been not an Old Thomian and had not been to Royal either. As an exalted member of the old Karawa elite, Glen herself was aware that Swithin was not from the sort of established family that had previously held Anglican bishoprics in Sri Lanka, notably the clans of Lakdasa de Mel and Harold de Soysa. But her remarks about Swithin, whom in her own way she was fond of, were with regard to what she saw as his lack of a backbone. She decided accordingly to call him the ‘jellyfish’.
I used occasionally to be irritated with Swithin myself, and I felt he should not have let his archdeacon down, but he was a genuinely good man, honest and conscientious, and the pressures on him had been enormous. When Bradman’s Committee finally framed charges, he summoned me to suggest I should resign, since being dismissed would be a blot on my career.
Being dismissed by such a Board, I responded, would be an honour, given that they were a bunch of crooks. In fact I do not think any of the others were involved in the peculation, but they, and in particular the Finance Committee, had either connived in it or been culpably ignorant – except for poor Lyn Dassenaike, who had doubtless not understood at all what was going on.
I had taken all my papers when I went to see the Bishop, and he listened, stroking his cross, occasionally asking the Archdeacon whether what I said was true. The archdeacon corroborated everything, and I think the Bishop was convinced.
Duleep Kumar had tried to get rid of me earlier, by complaining that I had gone abroad without informing the Board. I had indeed gone, for a short but splendid week in Germany on a ticket won in a raffle, and then more excitingly to join the World Campus Afloat, which had suggested to my parents that I take their place as Interport Lecturer, to introduce Sri Lanka to the students before they landed. I had been flown out to Jakarta, and had a wonderful time exploring Borobudur and Jogjakarta, and then Bali and Mt Bromo, the volcano (travelling from Surabaya, a name I had always thought exotic, though the city itself was horridly modern).
In Jakarta I met up with Margaret Gooneratne, the Librarian at the American Centre, who also became President of the English Association, since we had decided to rotate the post annually: after Ashley had gone on his sabbatical, Ranjan Goonetilleke replaced him, and then we had Margaret, who was a live-wire, and was also able to use American resources for regular publications. Margaret was staying in Jakarta with Daisy and Bill Campbell, whom I was to come across many years later, when I was put on the Board of Trinity College. We had a simply marvelous evening in what I recall as an old mansion in Jakarta, and I then enjoyed myself thoroughly on the ship, which was to become a regular feature of my life over the next decade.
I was back well before the Committee that had held the preliminary inquiry without giving me a chance to appear before them, presented its report. Before the main Inquiry was held, there was another meeting of the Board, after my meeting with Swithin. Duleep Kumar did not appear, but sent in his resignation. It was also decided that Lyn Illangakoon would finally retire. His replacement would be Gerald de Alwis’ brother Neville.