The Inquiry was a hoot. It was held in the Cathedral, and I was allowed to take a friend. Radhika Coomaraswamy kindly accompanied me on the first day, but she was a busy person, and subsequently I took Glencora, who sat there throughout the proceedings for the next few weeks, and reacted splendidly whenever occasion offered.
The Board had ignored the advice of the lawyers that they should ask me to nominate someone. There was also a recommendation that the third person should be someone absolutely neutral, but this was ignored, and instead they chose three people, two of whom where former Members of the Board which had selected Illangakoon to be Warden. Clearly they could not accept that he was a scoundrel, so I realized the dice were stacked against me from the start.
The third member was Vincent Thamotheram. He had been with my father in the Attorney General’s Department and Mahinda Ellepola, whom I had consulted, told me that he would in essence get his revenge for the various digs my father had had at his expense. He was also connected to Duleep Kumar. I therefore thought I might as well enjoy myself, and in the course of the Inquiry I accused him of being prejudiced: the next day I apologized profusely and said I had not realized before that he was related to the Treasurer. This caused him apoplexy, and he claimed it was an even greater insult, which was of course true.
There were other splendid moments, as when the Board produced a copy of a confidential document, which it claimed I had distributed openly. When I asked where they had got this from, they refused to tell me, but it so happened that Illangakoon, sitting next to me, had the copy I had given him. I asked to borrow it, and pointed out that the copies the Inquiry was producing in evidence had tear marks that exactly matched the copy I had given Illangakoon.
He snatched it back from me promptly, but the point had clearly been made. In fact I had been told that he had made it available to a group of Old Boys who had rallied to his support. One of them was Nicholas Casie Chetty, who had been a contemporary of mine at school. I was not therefore surprised when he subsequently was made Headmaster of S. Thomas’ Preparatory School, though I believe he has done a reasonable job there, except for his extraordinary hostility to English Medium education when I started it at the Ministry of Education in 2002.
The report Illangakoon had himself passed on was the confidential portion of something I had written on the Ordinary Level Results, which I had found deplorable. The open section had in fact been sent out by the Secretary of the Old Boys’ Association, Sri Sangabo Corea, at my request, though later, when he saw which way the wind was blowing, he changed his stance and indicated, at the Inquiry, that he did not know what he had been asked to distribute.
I was quite proud of the report, and the more so when I received a note of appreciation about it from Nanda Ellawala. His son was due to take his exams the following year, and I think Nanda fully appreciated what I was trying to do in restoring some stature to academic work. So did young Nalanda, who was a charming child. Early in my tenure, when I was trying to restore some order, I would go round the school and give work to students in any class I found empty. I found in fact that in some instances the staff intended to teach were present in school, but had gone off to the staffroom. Illangakoon, to cure absenteeism, had not tried to enforce discipline about leave, but had instead devised a scheme, which the preposterous Board had accepted, of paying masters Rs 2 for every period they actually attended. The boys, being sensible, had offered to give the masters Rs 2 if they left them alone and went to the staff room.
Usually I would ask the boys to write an essay about themselves, which also helped me to understand more about the younger generation. I will never forget how Nalanda ended his piece, saying something like he was small and thin, but he was very satisfied with himself. Reading it I had visions of solid Ellawala rugby players upbraiding the boy for not being larger, but I had no doubt he would hold his own.
His preferred activity was acting, and once, when one of the Boarding House Prefects, Tony Weerasinghe I think it was, who was to marry Nalanda’s sister later, borrowed one of my coats, I found it was so that Nalanda could imitate me. I gather he did a great job. His death, a few years after he got into Parliament, was sad news indeed. I heard about it while I was at Oxford for the operation after which my mother too died.
It was the Report on which I was finally convicted, for bringing the Board as well as the Warden and the School into disrepute. I am not sure the decision was justified on the open Report alone, but the Inquiry obviously was not prepared to accept that it was Illangakoon who had in fact given wider provenance to the confidential sections. Still, that was a small price to pay for the fact that, after that, S. Thomas’ was not able to treat schoolwork as a joke. Earlier, when the Warden had been asked why the Ordinary Level resuts were so bad, he had responded that boys from S. Thomas’ came from a class that did not need to go to University. The Board had evidently thought this a witty remark, though it perhaps contributed to the two Board members who had children of schoolgoing age, Bradman Weerakoon and Derek Samarasinha, finding other ways of getting their through the Advanced Levels, the former even sending his son to Royal.
I thought this disgraceful. Obviously one must do one’s best for one’s children, so their decision to remove their children from school cannot be faulted. What I found abhorrent was continuing to sit on the Board, and presiding over a system they did not think was good enough for their own children.
The charges of usurping the Warden’s authority, several of them, were all but one dismissed, some of them without Inquiry at all, which made clear what a shoddy knife job Bradman and his cohorts had done. The prize finding though was my being found guilty of the final charge, which was showing disrespect to the Board in refusing to accept their acceptance of my letter of resignation.
And so, several months after I had been sent on compulsory leave, I was officially sacked. By then though the College was in better hands. Neville I think did a reasonable job, though he should perhaps have gone earlier, before he got stale. David Ponniah was of course even better, and he had the sense to go when people still wanted him to stay. I had hoped after that that Rev Puddefoot would manage to bring S. Thomas’ to the level it deserves. The continuing influence of a few malign Old Boys seems to have put paid to that, but at least we have now been on a much better level than the school was at the end of the seventies.
One element in the Inquiry still continues to touch me deeply. The various people Bradman’s committee had suggested be asked to give evidence were as negative about me as they had hoped. The exception was Mr Jayasekera, the efficient Headmaster of the Lower School, who had taken over from Orville Abeynaike, when he became Sub-Warden. Mr Jayasekera had made clear to me how badly Illangakoon had treated Orville, and in his quiet way he affirmed this at the Inquiry.
I still remember watching Bishop Cyril Abeynaike listening impassively as Mr Jayasekera in effect pointed out that Orville had been hounded to an early death by Illangakoon. That memory may have created some prejudice, but I was not surprised when, a few years later, sorting through my uncle Lakshman’s papers, I came across a polite but sad letter he had sent to then Bishop Abeynaike, when he felt the latter had not been forceful enough about the programme of Church Union on which Lakshman had set his heart, and which he and Bishop Harold Soysa had done their best to promote.
I suspect Illangakoon was a nasty creature anyway, though Lakshman, kindly as always, told me that he had once told him how he had suffered in government service, which perhaps explains his anxiety to stay on once he achieved exalted status. There are a couple of other explanations however as to why he turned against me so viciously. One was the report after the Ordinary Level examination had been held at S. Thomas’, after it had been taken elsewhere the previous year because of disciplinary problems. The Chief Examiner, a Mrs Kudaligama, and her husband, the Principal of Ananda College, who assisted her, sent a glowing letter about how I had cooperated to ensure that all went well.
I was told that Illangakoon was furious about this, because omitting mention of his name in the thanks implied that he was useless, and had been a disaster previously. Lakshman however, who had not been around much that year, after having had his heart problem diagnosed, had a simpler explanation. He said to me, not entirely in jest, that he had heard Illangakoon had got angry with me when I refused to marry his daughters.