Tissa Devendra, in Island, 14 June 2020, where the title is “Remembering College House, K.G hall. Villa Venezia 1948-1952″
Those of us who had the pleasure (yes!) of being admitted to the (one and only) University of Ceylon seventy-one years ago shared the distinction of being the first freshmen of newly independent Ceylon. Nervously we clustered round the portico of the elegant old mansion we, later, came to know as College House – an irreverent salute to the University College that preceded our University. The men hung about in groups of former schoolmates, as did the chattering young women draped in, yet unfamiliar, saris.
We were duly summoned to the office of the genial Registrar Mr.A.M.K.Coomaraswamy who welcomed us and directed us to his assistants who attended to the ‘nuts and bolts’ of undergraduate life. We then crossed tree shaded Thurstan Road to our next activity at K.G.Hall, passing the pillared corridors and lecture rooms of the stately main building. We listened awestruck to Vice Chancellor Jennings who addressed us as Ladies and Gentlemen and spoke to us of our responsibilities. Apart from Law Faculty undergrads we rarely interacted with him as he strode past us in his white suit and University tie. However, he presided magisterially over lectures in K.G. Hall by such distinguished visitors as Dr. Sarvepalli Radhakrishnan, Pandit Nehru, High Commissioners, and Ambassadors [among them the Burmese diplomat who, later, murdered his wife].
Behind College House was the rather shabby, half-walled Tuck Shop our most popular hang-out for tea/punts, courting couples, gaggles of women undergrads and inveterate bird watchers of the beauties tripping along to the baroque splendour of the Library at Villa Venezia – now demolished by philistine sledge hammers.
There were a few tennis courts on in the gardens of College House and quite a few tennis players – as the University yet had a disproportionate number of undergrads from elite schools. One court, nicknamed Jungle Court, was set apart for beginners. Their sky high volleys occasionally shot over the wall of India House and were politely lobbed back by the High Commissioner.
The garden also housed the Union Society building where the Society met, and was the centre of its annual election. Vociferous election meetings were held here and vigorous canvassing was conducted in the Tuck Shop, for popular posts in the Committee – President, Secretary,Sports& Social Sec, Treasurer and Editor. It was accepted that any such post inflated CVs for future appointments.. Voting was conducted on the premises as was the vote count. Frenzied cheering greeted the results followed by tipsy cycle parades to the legendary Lion House and a raucous invasion of the Majestic Cinema.
A row of barrack looking buildings also bordered the tennis courts. They housed a Common Room, Table Tennis , a disreputable, but popular, “cut-table” for gamblers. Off hours it also provided secluded corners for lovers to cuddle.
As the nerve centre of University administration College House recorded and displayed all notices of University events as well as the results of examination results.. And here it is we climbed the few steps in the verandah to peer at the glass fronted notice board which announced our fate
Thus ended our wonderful undergrad years that began in the very same College House to which we now sadly bade good bye.