Mrs. Dulcie Ganendra de Silva, former principal at Musaeus and mentor to me and countless others, is no more.
Mrs. Silva was the beloved principal and mathematics teacher at Musaeus College from 1963-1972. She continued to receive the adulation of her students throughout her retirement in Brighton, UK.
The beginning of Mrs. Silva tenure at Musaeus shows how in those days school boards were able hand-pick the best. As Mrs. Silva related to me when I visited her a few years back, she never taught school before she became the principal at Musaeus. After graduating with a BSc (Hons) in mathematics from the University of Colombo, she was married off to Mr. Harrison de Silva, a landed proprietor. After marriage the young couple moved to the estate he managed. Knowing that Dulcie could neither cook nor keep house, her mother made sure that she had the proper entourage of servants to support her. Young Dulcie tutored children of friends and family to while away the time. Luckily for Musaeus College, the chairman of the board at the time met this educated housewife. Impressed with her knowledge, personality and attitude, he recommended to the board that they hire her as the principal. The Chairman’s hunch was right. Mrs. Silva’s youth, energy and outlook on life brought a renaissance to the school and a pride and joy to the Musaeus community at that time.
She certainly brought many changes in my life. From my hair cut to my approach to solving math problems, I learned from her. She was always well-groomed and I always wondered how she managed to have matching shoes and a clutch purse for any outfit. The secret was revealed when I visited her in in Brighton. Her husband Harrison, who was her dear partner till his death, would insist, she told me, that she buys all the colors available in the designs she liked. I always aspired to be well-groomed like her, and my husband has always been supportive like Harrison, but, unfortunately, I go astray too often in that department. Sorry Mrs. Silva.
When I visited her in Brighton in 2008, I was planning to spend the night with a friend in Lewes, but, on an impulse, I asked whether I could spend the night on her couch instead. She readily agreed. The 24 hours I spent with her are some of most precious moments in my life. The anecdotes she shared filled the gaps in my canvas of her life.
Mrs. Silva was born to the illustrious Kularatna family of Heron de Silva Kularatna and Laura Elsie Jayawardene. The third of four girls, she always had a soft spot for the third girl. (When my father brought the eldest to be enrolled, she had asked whether there was a third girl. This inquiry perhaps inspired my father to give me a chance, before my second sister, to move from Kalutara Balika Vidyalaya to Musaeus College).
Mr. P. de S. Kularatna, the noted educationist, was a paternal uncle. Both academic and extra-curricular activities were stressed for both boys and girls in the Kularatna family. The growing-up she described perhaps captures the socio-cultural milieu represented by the low-country elite in Sri Lanka during the early 1900s. Buddhism was very much a part of their upbringing, but English was the language spoken at home. Meals were entirely western except for Sundays when they had rice and curry.
When she became the principal of Musaeus she brought with her the best of that upbringing. Most of us at the school at that time were products of a parallel layer of society. Our parents were wealthy but they became so in spite of the low country elite. On their way up the economic and political ladder, the old order represented by the low-country elite was an obstacle. Luckily, in the education sphere the two layers meshed. Mr. P. de S. Kularatna, Mrs. Silva’s uncle, is credited with Sinhala Buddhist education revival through his service at both Ananda and Nalanda Colleges, school to many boys from families like ours. Mrs. Silva, representing the next generation of the low-country elite, introduced me and others at Musaeus College to a Western culture with a local flavor.
She recruited the best possible teachers to shape us yokels. For science and math she recruited retired teachers of high caliber. Mrs. Silva herself taught Math for our class, her favorite, I think. Vinnie Kirtisinghe, an uncle and a legend, taught us physics. Mr. Silva, one of the erudite Silva brothers from Panadura including the famous educationist and historian S.F. De Silva, taught us Chemistry. Sister Sudharma, the premier Buddhist nun at that time, was the resident teacher for Buddhism. Beautiful Miss Welaratna fresh from the University of Peradeniya taught Sinhala (she later married a Sangakkara to produce a cricket legend). Miss Diane Lockhart, so incredibly smart in her tight skirts and high heels, taught English. For teaching math at the advanced level Mrs. Silva recruited Mr. Dantanarayana, another giant, recently retired from Mahinda College.
For non-academic subjects too the best were recruited. Mrs. Oosha Saravanamuttu taught a form of Western Dancing called Eurythmics. Kandyan dance master Nittawala Gunaya’s son and a famous Tamil mother-daughter pair taught dancing. The tennis coach was the tennis giant Mr. DDN Selvadurai. Mr. Templar gave swimming classes. Even the gym teacher and librarian were the best. All those talents, except those of the well-read librarian, were wasted on me, but, thank you, Mrs. Silva for exposing me to quality.
Love of science and math and reasoned arguments, I carry to this day, and it sustains me and my small efforts at making a difference in society. Thank you, Mrs. Silva, for that gift and many more.
Mohan, Mrs. Silva’s eldest son, died in 2009 but she bore the grief as a true Buddhist. Thank you Naomal and Binal for taking care of your mother so well till the last.
Sujata Gamage, PhD