Although there were several ‘hard nuts’ with ‘light fingers’ at our college, there was always an unwritten law that no one should steal from classmates. Whenever there was any such misdeed our drawing master became a self appointed ‘criminal investigator’ with his remarkable psychological tactics. Apart from his yarns, he was very popular for his self-styled investigations and earned another nickname as the ‘PWC CID’.
He was short with a small constitution, wore full white drill western suites daily, a pair of dark glasses to cover one blind eye. With such appearances he was well known for his sensational actions as an investigator as well and not second to ‘Sherlock Homes’ !
As opposed to his hunting revelations, he managed to condition the minds of students to make them believe that he practised voodoo (mantra) too! - Needless to say the boys were alarmed to a certain extent.
Local Sherlock Homes
With a puny frame and 4ft 8 tall, in Western attire, collar black tie and a pair of dark glasses, he quite fitted to assume the role of ‘CID’ investigator! Had he worn a British style Sherlock Homes hat and the bowed pipe, he could easily have been Sri Lanka’s Sherlock Holmes!
Spirits, ghosts or jinns (smoky type) are believed to be the souls or spirits of the deceased who appear in barely visible wispy shapes to give realistic lifelike visions or other manifestation to the living. His stories about dabbling in the supernatural world made desperate students to seek his assistance whenever there was a need.
Becoming exceedingly popular in his analytical activities the college magazine - The Cambrian - too carried his caricature once under the caption - CID PWC with an outsized head, dark glasses and a teensy figure in trouser suit.
The beauty of it all was that everyone ‘accepted’ his ‘black magic’ when he always came up with positive results at the end. His normal psychology during an investigation was to lecture the whole class with graphic details on supernatural beings and their activities. He then clenched his fist and whispered into it, as if to fire up a mantra, while closely watching faces of students in the classroom with an eagle eye through his dark glasses to detect any change of countenance on a face.
Naturally, in such circumstances the guilty students cracked-up mentally and got exposed through their facial expressions. Having earmarked the victim he subsequently approached the targeted student and had a polite conversation privately ensuring not to embarrass the offender. It is immaterial what transpired during the dialogue, but at the end of the day all lost items were found without much damage to anyone’s reputation or any embarrassment, which could be put down to his ‘undercover’ skills.
Once there was a novel experience when a boy who complained about his bicycle bell-cap went missing within the college premises. The student complained to the ‘CID at PWC’. That time the master adopted quite a different technique altogether. He requested all students in the classroom to write their names down on a piece of paper, roll up the name tags and place them into a container.
While mimicking a gamut of unusual gesticulations supposed to be paranormal exercises to ‘please the devils in order to get the work done out of them’, his vigilant eye started rolling from one corner to the other of the class room creating a scene of a mello-drama. Suddenly the school bell rang for morning tea break and students rushed towards ‘Top Charlie’s tuck shop’ to enjoy a patty and a large mug of tea which cost only ten cents.
In the meantime, he walked up to some ‘Endaru’ bushes in Kuttaph’s garden adjoining the college premises, plucked a leaf and wrote the nervous looking boy’s name on his left palm with the help of latex of the plant using it as ink and the stem of the leaf as the pen ! When the latex dried up the colourless stains of the boy’s name remained on the palm embossed and colourless.
Once the teaching resumed after the interval, he called all the boys of the class round his table, placed the rolled up name tags into a fireproof container and struck a match stick and set fire to all the tags with names. Once the whole thing burnt and turned into ash he asked the boys to get back to their seats once again and started to play another game as a magician.
Boys looked serious at this new operation when the CID at PWC took the burnt ash from the container and rubbed in between his two palms until ash disappeared leaving a stubborn black mark on his palm which happened to be the suspected student’s name.
He then opened his palm out and displayed it at a distance so that only the writing could be seen by the whole class but not the name to avoid any to embarrassment to the culprit. With a certain amount of pride he then said :
“ Now I have the name of the person who has stolen the bell cap already written on my palm but I do not want to embarrass him in front of the class. So will the person who took it please replace the bell cap without making a fuss “.
Finally the bell-cap miraculously appeared on the bell frame before the end of the day, thus solidifying his ‘Sherlock Holmes’ tactics further.
Uniform and power
There’s a certain amount of truth in the saying that the personality of anyone in a uniform changes, be it a security guard or a top ranking official in the Forces. This I experienced when I was a junior cadet and recall how pompously I rode my Raleigh Sports bicycle to College wearing my cadet uniform for cadet practice.
The most embarrassing incident of all PWC activities took place when the Junior Cadet Platoon went to Boosa Camp for an annual competition. On the final day, prior to the inspection ceremony, we were given a thorough lecture on discipline, how to look smart in uniform, polish shoes to give a mirror effect and particularly advising us how to behave while in the camp. Another demand made from our junior cadets was to salute any Officer any time we confront such an officer irrespective of the fact (during the day or night whenever we came face to face with him.
One evening three of us ( Everie, Tissa and I) walked up to the canteen when Tissa who suffered from a terrible stammer suddenly got very excited having spotted someone in uniform. He immediately stopped, assumed an ‘attention’ position and saluted to the official in uniform to be realised later that he had mistakenly greeted the Bugler! That was enough for us and the poor fellow got a belly full of honking ever since including a good supply of toothpaste all over his body and powder on top of it while he was fast asleep and snoring in the night.
During the final day official drill ceremony all college platoons paraded to be adjudged on a competitive scale, one after the other, from physical training skills to marching modes. It was a moment that made everyone anxious and excited as the winning of the Cup depended on the absolute performance of the platoon.
I can never forget how Mr. Perera, our Contingent Master shrieked, under his breath, while grinding his teeth, having noticed one of my white socks had disappeared into the heel area in my tennis shoes during the physical training inspection.
Mr. Perera had a shattering voice which suited to command an Army Platoon. In an attempt to shoot his mouth off and boast about his commanding cadence he decided to stand quite a few yards away from the platoon while a Senior Judge observed our performance to allocate marks.
We marched perfectly to a rhythmic movement until Mr. Perera attempted to show off his dominant tenor and stood quite a few yards behind the platoon and commanded,
‘Squad……. Right Form’……….!
It was a disaster indeed! Two lines of the platoon turned to the right and the other two lines to the left directing the whole operation into such a muddle. Naturally we lost that year to St. Sebastian College!
Feeling quite dedjected through disappointment we travelled back to Moratuwa from Boosa by train enjoying the scenic beauty of Sri Lanka’s coastlines while reigning silence.