Notes from an English teacher’s diary
Our reminiscences of GTC Maharagama can never be complete without summoning up remembrance of Mrs Evelyn Geddes (nee Labrooy). Educated at Methodist College, she came to GTC with a First Class Honours degree in English from the University College of those days. It was the first occasion when a woman had secured that rare distinction. She also won the coveted university scholarship to the United Kingdom and went to Oxford, where for three years she drank deeply of “the wells of English undefiled”.
After teaching for a short period at the University College, she joined GTC as Lecturer in English. She trained many generations of teacher-trainees, sharing with them the pure water of those “wells of English”, and exerting a decisive influence on the teaching of English in our schools.
When she retired from GTC after nearly 25 years of service, the late E.H.de Alwis, Director of Education asked in a valedictory note published in Changing Times, “Why has she decided to desert her beloved college where she laboured with such devotion?”.
This was the answer that de Alwis, who had earlier been Principal of GTC, gave: I may be wrong and may be unwittingly doing an injustice to her, but I have a shrewd suspicion that, nurtured as she has been on the lofty “Miltonic harmonies and the mighty lines of Shakespeare, she finds little attraction in the teaching of English as a second language. Structure and pattern, phoneme and phonics are the jargon of the new generation of English teachers. Fries and Palmer, Gurrey and West are the names they now conjure with. Mrs Geddes must occasionally have felt that she was sinning against the light that is in her. Her metier is Literature. I can imagine her looking back with nostalgic yearning to the day when she would declaim some noble passage from a Lord of language and sense the response in the appreciative silence of an understanding audience. Such moments were her recompense in the past. Can the new generation be led, through structure and pattern, phoneme and phonics to perceive
The light that never was on Sea or Land,
“The Consecration and the poet’s dream”?
That said it all about a great English lecturer. Today’s English trainee-teachers will never find lecturers like Mrs Geddes. Such calibre belongs to a bygone era. Nor can teachers find Directors of Education of the calibre of de Alwis and S.F. de Silva, who was GTC Principal in our time. There are so many Directors of Education today!
Mr.D.G. Sugathadasa, (“Sweet Sugi” his teacher-trainees of the fair sex called him), Principal of GTC at the time of Mrs Geddes” retirement, wrote in an appreciation in Changing Times:
With her departure we lose a lecturer with the type of cultural background that few lecturers will have in the future... She will always be remembered as a pioneer in the teaching of English as a second language.
Not only was she conscientious in her work but she had a deep religious fervour too. She realized the importance of religion in education, and that no one could be a good teacher without being essentially a good human being.
She is leaving her motherland to settle down in Australia. She is no ordinary immigrant to that country, but a learned and experienced educationist of whom it may be said, “Those that instruct many into justice shall shine like stars for all eternity”.
M.B. Mathmaluwe ,whose name is now well-known among those who read the features pages of English newspapers, was with us at GTC. Recollecting in tranquility those glorious GTC days of fulfilment when we sat at the feet of Geddes and Walatara, he wrote nostalgically and in his own inimitable style, forty five years later:
Among the vast concourse there, a small exclusive circle took shape. We were brought together, notwithstanding the many differences, by a common interest - a love of the English language and its literature.
After the prosaic business of ‘learning’ was over for the day, we used to often gather in a quiet room on those long afternoons to read, to listen to, to discuss, to evaluate English literature, mostly poetry. Young as we were, with not a care in the world, and as is invariably the case with youth, we were totally absorbed in the exercise, and we went about in a state of “intoxication” with this new wine that had gone into our heads!
Since then years have gathered upon years and we are now old men. Those close friends of the by-gone years have scattered: preoccupied with the pressures of the moment, we have completely lost contact; some of them have gone abroad, some have gone under the sod and a few more seem to be around savouring their last years. Yet, of an evening, when the turmoil and the fret of living have ceased for a moment, the fading but distinct echoes of that totally different era reach out across the years and overwhelm us.
What happened to GTC, where Sinhalese and Tamil teachers, as well as Burghers, received their pedagogical training as secondary teachers from a mixed staff of Sinhalese, Tamil and Burgher lecturers? GTC was obliterated from our educational scene. There is no place that can claim to be a substitute for it. It takes decades for a great tree to grow but only a few minutes to cut it down - at one fell swoop. That is what was done to GTC. Madness!
The quality of wildlife management by the Department of Wildlife Conservation has been seen to be fast deteriorating particularly in the last two decades. Some wildlife watchers might believe that this is largely due to the weak stewardship hoisted on the department, by the appointment of persons outside the department to the post of Director, DWLC.
The present minister for the subject of Wildlife Conservation has failed to appoint a competent person from within the department as director DWLC. He has already, appointed, twice in succession officers from the SLAS pool.
Today the management of wildlife conservation could be said to have come to a virtual standstill, with the National Parks and protected areas, particularly the more remote ones, never or hardly visited, the requirements of the park wardens and other wildlife officers not heeded, and even their urgent calls for veterinary assistance for injured elephants and other fauna, ignored.
Just last week we learnt of an incident where the Acting Director despite repeated appeals by the park warden, had failed to send a veterinary surgeon to an injured elephant in a National Park.
In fact we are grateful to a young journalist in Gal Oya whose article (published in the ‘‘Lankadipa’’ of 21.10.97) gave the tragic story of an elephant shot and wounded at a place by the Ekgal Oya tank, within the Gal Oya National Park. According to the writer the animal had been shot in the front leg causing it severe injury and swelling. Being unable to put his injured foot on the ground, it could move neither forwards nor backwards and from its agonized cries and action such as banging its head on a nearby rock, it was evident that the elephant was in unbearable pain.
The journalist relates that on September 22, the park warden, Vasantha Pushpananda had informed the acting Director DWLC of the injured animal and urgently requested the services of a veterinary surgeon.
Although the acting Director had agreed, after one week no veterinary surgeon had been sent. Meanwhile the suffering of the animal had worsened and villagers would come in sympathy and helplessly watch the beast, being unable to help relieve it. Meanwhile the journalist himself had contacted the Acting Director again and inquired as to what steps she was taking to send a veterinary surgeon. According to him, her reply was that she had difficulty in sending a veterinary surgeon as there was a shortage of veterinary surgeons in the department.
She had also said that Dr. Nandana Attapattu was the only veterinary surgeon available in Colombo at the time and that it was not possible to send him out to attend to every problem concerning elephants. However she had assured him of taking some action without further delay.
Yet, even after the completion of one month, she had failed to send a veterinary surgeon to the suffering animal. On the October 22, the day after the newspaper article I refer to was published, we learnt that on the directive of the new Secretary to the Ministry, the Acting Director had sent Dr. Nandana Atapattu to attend on the injured elephant at the Gal Oya NP.
Several issues would arise in the mind of anyone reading the story of the injured elephant of the Gal Oya National Park.
The Acting Director’s statement she was unable to send a veterinary surgeon to the injured animal at Gal Oya appears to be a contradiction because on her own admission, Dr Atapattu was available in Colombo at the time.
Moreover, it is difficult to accept her position that Dr. Atapattu cannot be sent for every problem regarding elephants as it is well-known he is the person sent out most often to handle situations involving elephants, be it injuries or translocatons.
We have raised the above issues with the Secretary to the ministry overseeing wildlife conservation. We are certain other wildlife enthusiasts will join us in appealing to the Minister and the President to seriously consider the interest of Sri Lanka’s wildlife, already severely threatened, in appointing a person to the post of Director DWLC.
The writer is the President of Sathva Mithra
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