Vihanga Perera’s Biographical Fiction (2006-2014): Putting Kingswood On the Map

by Malitha B. Wijayaratna

The only place I have seen Kingswood portrayed in popular art is in the “Amba Yahaluwo” teledrama, based on TB Illangaratne’s novel, which I used to watch as a little boy. In that teledrama, Kingswood is used to represent “Vasantha Vidyalaya”, the school Sunil attends after moving to Kandy. The famous “Mal Pipei Deneth Aerey” song is recorded in the Kingswood Main Hall. In Vihanga Perera’s work Kingswood is presented as Kingswood – for what the school is and what it is seen by the writer. It is shown in the same way James Joyce writes of Dublin; and in the same spirit in which R.K Narayan writes about South India.

Vihanga Perera’s writing has a habit of trespassing Kingswood College, Kandy. This can well be because Vihanga had his high school education at this institute in the 1990s and early 2000s; but, one way or the other, the school and its territory has been a part of work such as The(Ir) (Au)topsy – written in about ten years ago – as much as it is intrinsic in Fear of Gambling (2011) and Postcards to Bentham (2013). In The(ir) (Au)topsy, we see Rusty – supposed to be a member of the Kingswood rugger team – in the story “Yellow Card”: a story in which the writer criticizes the behaviour of the rugger players of the school. In another story, “The Highlander”, the story refers to the protagonist’s adolescence with debating cults and school friends. In a surreal scene, being chased by the Police for murder, the protagonist takes refuge in a house of a school-time friend, Mabrook. The story also ends back at school – presumably Kingswood – where the protagonist is seen giving a speech before a gathering. In fact, Vihanga Perera is known to have a schoolhood friend by the name of Hamza Mabrook, who is a few years junior to him.

Kingswood College

Kingswood College

Kingswood is seen both in Stable Horses (2008) and The Fear of Gambling (2011). In Stable Horses, there is a reference to a schoolmaster’s death. The schoolmaster is said to be a tall person, who organized all religious programmes in school. In the book, he is named as Alfred. A master with similar qualities served at Kingswood during the time Vihanga Perera was a student. His name cannot be mentioned here, as that master is retired from service, but still very much alive. In the Fourth Chapter of the novel, there is a scene where two boys are looking out of the window of the religion room for the last time as they see the western music teacher passing in the distance. At Kingswood, there is no “religion room” as such, specially, as Vihanga must be referring to either Roman Catholicism or Islam (because students never went to a special room for Buddhism studies). During the 1990s, both these subjects were taught at a space near the school’s Main Hall. From that place, of course, there is an open view of the school’s road to the main offices and past the nelli tree. I feel that it is this space near the Main Hall that Vihanga refers to as “religion room”.

The school’s legendary nelli tree is well depicted in The Fear of Gambling (2011). In fact, this work of fiction has a wide representation of Kingswood, as Vihanga doesn’t hide much in this book that part of the story is about his adolescence. There are references to Principal Rambukwelle – the Principal of Kingswood between 1989 and 1997 – and to the geography of the school: the nelli tree being just one reference. Vihanga also refers in several scenes to instances of him playing Cricket with class mates in school and to actual events known to have happened during the late 1990s; such as, for example, a strike organized by (part of) students and teachers against Principal Rathnayake. One of the last chapters is dedicated to a reference to this picket, which was both tragic and comic for different reasons. Vihanga, however, seems to condemn the picket which I feel was born out of many timely needs at that point in history. The school, as I recall, was anarchic at that point and a strike by some motivated teachers, old boys and students was unavoidable.

The writer argues that 'The Fear of Gambling' is a milestone in the portrayal of Kingswood in fiction.

The writer argues that ‘The Fear of Gambling’ is a milestone in the portrayal of Kingswood in fiction.

Following the same pattern, Vihanga Perera’s Postcards to Bentham has two references to Kingswood. The second story – Sacred Avenues – deals with a school Cricketer who is facing a crisis in his personal love life. This boy, however, is seen to play for the Kingswood Cricket team. Towards the end of the story, we are given a scene from a “Big Match”; and one team in this match is referred to as the “Rajans”. Historically, the “Rajans” (the name which we use to refer to boys from Dharmaraja, Kandy) play their Big Match with Kingswood. However, the Kingswood team Vihanga speaks of in this short story practices in a splendid esplanade, much unlike the Kingswood ground at Randles’ Hill. Also, Vihanga refers to a player who played for Kingswood in 2005, by the name of Haleel Jibran. There is no historical record of such a player. These, I think, are fabrications to make the story interesting.

In the short story My Generation, the story ends – again – in the Kingswood playground, where the protagonist is trying to re-live him playing in that field many years ago as a schoolboy. He is unable to map the different points of the ground, because the ground has changed so much from his days. He remembers him waiting for a schoolmate to run in and bowl at him, long ago.

The only place I have seen Kingswood portrayed in popular art is in the “Amba Yahaluwo” teledrama, based on TB Illangaratne’s novel, which I used to watch as a little boy. In that teledrama, Kingswood is used to represent “Vasantha Vidyalaya”, the school Sunil attends after moving to Kandy. The famous “Mal Pipei Deneth Aerey” song is recorded in the Kingswood Main Hall as much as several school scenes which are shot inside the school. Other than in that tele drama by Sudath Rohana I haven’t seen Kingswood portrayed in a work of popular art. Then, again, in Vihanga Perera’s work Kingswood is presented as Kingswood – for what the school is and what it is seen by the writer. It is shown in the same way James Joyce writes of Dublin; and in the same spirit in which R.K Narayan writes about South India. Vihanga, over the last ten years or so, has put Kingswood on the map of Literature in a slow but sure way. Only Kingswood boys should know whether this is to be taken seriously or not.  

 

Note:

[Malitha, the writer of this article, was known to Vihanga Perera both at Kingswood — where they were three grades apart — and, later, outside. He has put to a premature end his involvements with Literature and Drama and has taken up banking as a permanent investment].        

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