Romance and Chemistry
Prince of Wales College science laboratory is associated with many memories despite the traumatic incident where one of our adored teachers committed suicide by swallowing a concoction of concentrated acid as mentioned in my last episode.
The laboratory had a separate partitioned office room where the Lab Master always occupied during off-periods. He was of Indian origin, short and chubby with a strong North Indian brogue, highly temperamental and a romantic type too! When he entered the classroom for physics, students used to shiver with fear.
Our chemistry teacher was also an Indian young female in her mid-20s who always wore sari to work. Both of them had a common bond to share the office inside the laboratory and both of them always made it a point to rest in the lab during their off-periods without using the common staff room - may be due to the fact being foreigners and isolated from other members of staff! We were naive to understand the reasons behind whether it was either due to politics behind or their preference to be isolated from other members of staff for privacy!
Our class, after getting transferred on numerous occasions from one side of the school building to another as punishment for some kind of mischievous behaviour, was again transferred to the same building where the laboratory was located, in fact adjacent to the lab separated by two large windows on one side of the laboratory wall. Gas pipes to the laboratory ran through a narrow and long cemented drain covered with a wooden lid.
Seated in our classroom, students could get a clear reflection of what went on inside the lab master's room through the open windows.
It became obvious to the boys that a seemingly a chemical reaction between the physics and chemistry teacher had developed and begun to precipitate with a romantic upsurge. For this purpose the isolated lab office suited them ideally to maintain privacy, little realising though that whatever romantic action that took place inside the lab office, an equal and an opposite reaction took place inside our classroom as everything reflected and refracted through the glass panels on the office door giving 'an eye full' to the boys!
Physics teacher's Indian accent and pronunciation of some English words confused us when we took down dictated notes at speed- e.g. Pronouncing Yellow Ray as " L... O...... Ray"; End to End as " Yen to Yen" ! Likewise, many other peculiar pronunciations tickled us to no end, but we were compelled to control laughter with difficulty. At every such incidence, my good friend Silva from Dehiwela, with a missing front tooth, could not possibly control his amusement; instead he burst out with a forceful hissing of 'poooooooof', which upset the apple cart. Maddened physics master who realised our contemptuous behaviour punished Silva by ordering him to get up on his chair and bellowed: "Next time, I will bury (baree) you in the lagoon". The peculiar pronunciation of the word bury as 'Baree' made it worse, and the whole class had to spend the rest of the period standing up on our chairs.
Whenever he noticed an affluent student wearing a wrist watch (which was rare at the time) he used to mock the boy by questioning with la-di-da language purposely to embarrass the student: "What does your Chronometer indicate"? Bamboozled poor chap who did not understand the question became tongue tied. Seizing the opportunity the Physics master, like a cock on a brick wall fashion, reviled the boy saying: "You bloody genius coming from the middle school know nothing", which again made poor Silva to spring out with laughter through his missing tooth and lips to get the whole class castigated.
Chemistry lady teacher was quite the opposite. Being a woman she was gentle and petite but could not possibly control our class. Always draping her sari with a long tail behind, and wearing a 'pony tail' hair style, she used to walk up and down the classroom while lecturing. My good old friend Fernando (whom I have not seen for decades) who was seated next to me used to 'wallop' her pony tail very gently as she walked past, grabbed the end of the sari pota flippantly out of mischief and quickly released before she sensed it.
Once she realised the type of monkey pranks boys were up to she demanded to know how many were seriously interested in studying chemistry for GCE examination. To her amazement 16 hands went up; finally as a kind of vengeance, she did not permit the 16 students to enroll in chemistry for GCE examination.
We needed to offer eight subjects in a single examination. In the absence of Chemistry, Fernando proposed me to try Christianity (Non RC) to replace chemistry and gave me a booklet containing 30 pages of St. Mathew's gospel. I memorised the pages, literally word to word, and ended up with a credit pass in Christianity (being a Buddhist), whereas some of the Christian boys only got ordinary passes. Having returned home after a good spell in London I am still trying to locate my good old friend Fernando who, I understand, has ended up as a pastor.
As far as school teachers were concerned there were one or two nasty elements during our time. One such was a (Ceylon) Tamil teacher who could not control his temper and if any student did not pay attention to him, in a rage he always hit students with the blackboard duster which had a wooden base not realising how dangerous it could be.
One particular nasty incident was when Kalu Jine (Jinadasa) either not being able to answer a question or was not paying attention to this teacher received a thundering slap across his ear. The student just collapsed on to the chair holding his ear lobe. The grim incident took a turn for the worse when the boy's father approached the Principal the following morning to report his son's damaged ear drum! The master was reprimanded immediately by the Principal which put a stop to any excessive disciplinary actions by him ever after.
Today the scene has changed where 'spare the rod and spoil the child' has become a reality. Unlike in our time everything has changed from the dress codes to hair styles of teachers and in most cases lecturers seem to have become 'jelly babies' in front of students, sending warning bells to overhaul the whole education system in Sri Lanka.