Burly Mr Suraweera & his flying missiles

In 1965, I was in the 5th grade, class 5A. For the first time in our school life, we had a male teacher, a burly Mr Suraweera. Until then my classmates had only female teachers. Mr Suraweera was an imposing man with a quick temper. He was notorious as a tough teacher in school. With his ill reputation, when we were in grade four, we started to feel apprehensive about what awaited us next year.

Kids adapt to any situation quickly. Everyone adjusted to Mr Suraweera’s rough style in no time. His punishments were harsh, making boys stand and kneel. He admonished boys with expletives. Depending on his anger he hit them on their ears with his hand or knocked them on the head with his fist. He threw things at the boys, the duster, pen and other items that he had on hand. He had uncontrollable anger and a violent tendency towards young boys.

In year five, the last year of primary school, we were housed in a temporary building made with cheaper materials. The furniture was basic. The roof was covered with thatched Cadjan leaves. For young kids, the quality of the classroom shelter was never a concern. Instead, they were intent on having a good time, despite the dark shadow of a tyrant bully of a teacher.

Over the last few years, a bunch of natural leaders among our classmates had emerged, Rohan Vincent, Rohan Weerakkody and Sirimal De Zoysa. This fearless trio led the rest of the boys in adventures, games and forays into the surrounding properties of the school. Nobody dared to challenge anyone in our class, because of the steel ring of this fearless triad. The daredevil troika of two Rohans and Sirimal was feared by the rest of the primary school. Ours was the most adventurous class in junior school. Nobody messed with us.

In the adjoining class 5B, the class teacher was Mr Herbert. Mr Herbert was the stark opposite of Mr Suraweera. He was well-liked and was also the sports master of the primary school. The kids naturally gravitated towards popular Mr Herbert.

With the fragile nature of the thatched Cadjan roof, if it rained heavily, the classroom flooded. The classroom thus became inhabitable forcing the school to grant us a holiday. Trying to force a holiday, the boys came up with an adventurous idea to make the classroom flood. When dark clouds formed, they poked the Cadjan leaves with sticks to make a few openings on the roof, hoping when it rained the classroom would get flooded. Most of the time their attempts never succeeded. So desperate were the boys to get a school holiday, away from the sterns of Mr Suraweera.

The class of 1965 was full of events. One incident made a profound impact on many students in our class.

Our famous trio generally sat in the last rows in the back of the classroom. Rohan Vincent sat at the very last bench while his friend Rohan Weerakkody sat exactly in front of him. Rohan Weerakkody was not paying attention in class and instead was chatting with another boy while Mr Suraweera was explaining a point.

Mr Suraweera was incensed, he tried to resort to his habit of throwing the duster at Rohan Weerakkody. Seething with his uncontrolled anger, he could not find the duster near the blackboard within his reach. He was so angry, the only item that was within his reach was his bunch of keys. Keys, back in the days were heavy and not light as now. He, in his rage, threw the bunch of keys at Rohan Weerakkody across the class over the heads of the students in front of poor Rohan Weerakkody.

Rohan Weerakkody was always quick to react to being good at sports and saw the keys coming at him. All he could do was duck and that’s what he did. Fortunately for him, he escaped the keys but the deadly missile of keys then headed towards Rohan Vincent, who was immediately behind Rohan Weerakkody. Rohan Vincent was oblivious to the danger that was fast approaching. The bunch of keys, at that high speed, hit Rohan Vincent on his face, on his eye. It was a huge impact. Metal on a kid’s face.

Rohan Vincent got up holding his eye bleeding profusely from its socket. There was chaos in class, Rohan Vincent crying in pain. The students next to him rose to help him. Uncontrolled Mr Suraweera, still seething in anger, instead of helping Rohan Vincent, was hell-bent on punishing Rohan Weerakkody, the intended victim of his outrage. Mr Suraweera walked up to Rohan Weerakkody and started beating him mercilessly with his bare hands, while the rest of the boys were trying to help Rohan Vincent. What a violent drama for the ten-year-olds.

Mr Hubert the class master next door in 5B, heard the melee and came out. So was the class master in another class Mr Walter Fernando. These two teachers came in and quickly assisted Rohan Vincent. He was carried to the school office and was immediately rushed to the General Eye Hospital in Colombo in the only school van.

It was a chaotic day in our class. The boys did not know what to make of this violent incident by the teacher put there by the school to teach, protect and be a role model. Mr Suraweera disappeared and was hardly seen after that for the rest of the day. We did not do much in class and went home feeling anxious for Rohan Vincent’s safety and pondered on the cruelty of what we had witnessed.

On the next day morning, Rohan Vincent’s father came to the school, in his car, wearing a suit. He took Mr Suraweera aside and gave him a good yelling in stern English. Rohan Vincent’s father lambasted him and promised that if his son’s vision was damaged that no mercy would be spared to Mr Suraweera. Watching Rohan Vincent’s father, we were delighted to see him put the fear of God in our renegade class teacher and hoped our violent teacher would not repeat his assault ever again.

The school plunged into action to care for Rohan Vincent for a crime that had occurred under the school’s watch. They arranged for him to be taken to the eye hospital every alternate day by the school van. During that period Rohan Vincent was treated like royalty in school. Fortunately for Rohan Vincent, there was no permanent damage to his eyes and he recovered quickly.

Mr Suraweera would have been severely admonished by the school authorities because he changed his behaviour immediately. He did not punish anybody physically after that traumatic incident.

This incident made a profound impact on many students. I considered leaving the school and transferring to another school. Fortunately for me, that did not come to pass. Everybody was glad when that turbulent year came to a close.

In the new year, in grade six, everything changed. Mr Jayamanne, a caring teacher became our class master. The majority of my classmates became good students under his loving guidance. Mr Jayamanne encouraged my creative talents. He was so good at child development that I often became the first in class under his wing. He liked and connected with the boys so much that he moved with them to grade seven, continuing as our class teacher, two years in a row.

Mr Jayamanne was a fabulous teacher who understood his students well. He was a huge contrast to Mr Suraweera, the violent bully.

Denzil collaborated with his classmate and lifelong friend, Rohan Weerakkody, a leading character in this story.

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Images and illustrations belong to the original owners.

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Lifelong learner, tech enthusiast, photographer, occasional artist, servant leader, avid reader, storyteller and more recently a budding writer

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Denzil Jayasinghe

Denzil Jayasinghe

Lifelong learner, tech enthusiast, photographer, occasional artist, servant leader, avid reader, storyteller and more recently a budding writer

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