Colombo Telegraph

The Royal Cabinet And School Chauvinism

By Udan Fernando

A hot topic among the middle class circles in Colombo and on social media in the last couple of weeks was the humongous number of ‘Royalists’ in the Cabinet. Factually that’s true. But why is there such a big noise about it and a waving of the blue-gold-and-blue flag, two months before the Royalists can do it at the SSC grounds?

We had a period close to a decade which was dominated by an extra-large Cabinet that drew Ministers who went to so many unheard of schools. Interestingly, nobody talked big about the respective schools the former President and Prime Minister attended. The former President is said to have gone to a half a dozen of schools from Galle to Colombo and nobody claimed that he was a product of this school or that school. But could it be that no school wanted to make that claim due to their embarrassment about their product? Probably. After all, school OBAs are nothing but Ego-Gyms. So why would they claim for themselves someone that would be a liability and tarnish the reputation and image of a school?

I think the current Royal-claim needs to be unpacked. In my observation, Royalists are not a homogenous group. Rather, there are a few types of Royalists and there seems to be a hierarchy between them. I shall therefore organize them along the following typology.

Type I Royalists: Those who genuinely live close to Rajakeeya Mawatha and Ried Avenue. I say genuinely, because many become Royalists thanks to the efficient document forgery services available in this country. Those who live genuinely close to the school also have a class affinity because Colombo 7 is not like a plot of land from a former rubber plantation in Bandaragama. So you get my message, right? And one can also be a Type I Royalist, if his father or grandfather is a Royalist. I have come across many people claiming that they are third generation Royalists. So here, we see a hierarchy within the Type I.  Such a system would separate a kid of nouveau riche parents — who could afford to buy an apartment building close to the school — from a Real-Royalist!

Type II Royalists: Those who get admission to Royal based on high marks gained at the 5th Year Scholarship Exam, aka the Pahe Shishyathvaya. Now these kids come from every nook and corner from the island simply because they earned their admission by sheer hard work and success at the exam.

Type III Royalists: There are so many ‘Royals’ in many parts of the island : Maharagama, Panadura, etc, etc. How can one say that they are not Royalists? Or would one say Panadura Royalists?

Type IV Royalists: There’s also a higher education institute and an international school with the inclusion of Royal in its name. This institute was started by a popular tuition master from yesteryear and is located in a not so posh-looking area in Colombo (this morning I was amused to see a kiosk called ‘Royal Burgers’ located just opposite the school! Royalists eating Royal Burgers like, ‘mutton eating croton’, a Singlish slang). This Royal has prepared many graduates who sat for the University of London degree programs. But I wonder whether the kids who went to this Royal call themselves Royalists. Probably not. Still they remain Royalists by virtue of the name of the educational institute they were attached to.

I was telling a friend of mine who went to St. Bridget’s College that the newly appointed Women’s Affairs Minister is from her school. The response was not very enthusiastic and jubilant as I expected: ‘oh must have been there just for ALs’. So you see, the subtle owning and disowning of the Alma Mater! Another friend was telling me that the current Ladies’ (College) is not really the Ladies’ of those days. She meant that there are a lot of kids of nouveau riche parents, a situation which became rampant in the last 20 years. So the parents of traditionelle riche are now sending their kids to international schools. This is also a common trend seen in other private schools in Colombo.

Mr. Mahinda Deshapriya became the Man of the Match at the Prez Elections though he had the humility to say that he was in fact the Grounds-man. I have a vague memory that some time back, Mr. Deshapriya was trying be the President of Galle Sports Club. Or have I got it wrong. If so, the error is regretted. Anyway, Mr. Deshapriya went to Dharmashoka College, Ambalangoda, which is a dream-school in the South. Many children from the South who passed their 5th Year Scholarship Exam would strive to get admission at Dharmashoka. I saw a paid newspaper advertisement – quite a large one that covered half page of a broadsheet – with a photo of the Elections Commissioner, praising the crucial role he played to restore democracy in this country. The two individuals who identified themselves as ‘Damsokians’ – or a similar sounding name — had sponsored this advertisement to express their pride and joy about a fellow-Damsokian.

The desire to be identified with one’s school, especially after they have left school, seems to be catching up with schools out of Colombo as well. My friend, Lakshan Dias, Attorney at Law, had observed this well during his many appearances in Courts in remote areas. He asked me whether I could guess the schools attached to terms like ‘Garbians’ and Mudaliyans’. I thought  for a long while and gave up finally. Can you? If you can’t, here’s the answer:  ‘Garbians’ and ‘Mudaliyans’ are those who went to Ibbagamuwa Madhya Maha Vidyalaya and Lalith Athulathmudali Maha Vidyalaya, Ratmalana, respectively! My friend had seen these terms on banners close to the two schools announcing a carnival and another event organized by the past pupils who identify themselves with the above names. Interesting, isn’t it?

(School) name-dropping is indeed an interesting sociological phenomenon one should study to understand the dynamics of the class system and the trends of social mobility in Sri Lanka. Like the ‘glass-ceiling’ concept in the gender discourse, there seems to be a ‘school-ceiling’ that constraints the social/political mobility of people albeit in a subtle manner which is unwritten and often unspoken. I recall a term, ‘Bamunu-Kulaya‘, attached to the 1956 change that claimed the collapse of the aristocratic system that flourished with the colonial period and the emergence of a new social strata of people who were educated in the vernacular and whose roots were in non-Colombo or non-cities. In a way, this trend was reversed in the post 1977 period when a ‘yet another Royalist’, JR Jayawardena, took the reigns of the country. The Rajapaksha Decade turned the trend to another direction and established an Ananda-Nalanda supremacy. But Mr. Rajapaksha sent his three sons to a prestigious private school run by the Anglican Church, established when the then Ceylon was under the British. I wonder why Mr. Rajapaksha didn’t send his three sons to Royal College. Perhaps the father didn’t have the Type I qualification and the three boys could not attain the Type II qualification.

Let me come back to the Royal Cabinet. I tease my friends from Royal (Types I and II) that after all, all those Royalists are serving under a Polonnaruwa Royalist. President Maithrpala Sirisena went to Rajakeeya Maha Vidyalaya, Polonnaruwa. And I read an interview given by the daughter of President Sirisena that she was sent to the same school. Is this perhaps another twist to the Bamunu Kulaya saga. Or is it just an insignificant coincidence? Anyway, I hope and pray that this ‘Royal Cabinet’ will ‘disce aut discede‘. What matters is their performance not the school they went to.

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