Monday, April 4, 2011

In tribute to a great teacher : Mr. Rienzie Gunaratne

Last Saturday (2nd April 2011) evening, when I was watching ICC world cup finals, I heard a very shocking and a sad news that one of my great teachers, Mr. Rienzie Gunaratne (72) has passed away.

If I consider myself has gained some kind of success at this age of mine, he is surely  one important pillar of that success. He was by profession a lecturer at teacher's training college-Maharagama. I joined his English classes at the grade of 8. Soon I found his teaching very methodical and very inspiring which led to the ultimate results of me winning subject prize for English at grade 9 and obtaining distinctions for both English language and English literature subjects at GCE O/L examination.

But it is not the part that I am going to talk about here and it is not the part which had a lasting impact on my life.

Two things that made lasting impacts on us were: the public speaking training sessions he conducted in each day of English language classes and great life time lessons he taught us, the morals he cultivated in us during English literature classes in early mornings of Saturdays for 3 years.

Talking about the first thing above; apart from the subject curriculum, he took an innovative approach in improving public speaking skills of his students by having prepared speeches and news diary sessions where we got a chance to use our creativity skills and imaginations skills while learning techniques such as keeping eye-contact and composing speeches at a very young age of 13-14 years. And that practice has helped me many times during my university life.

The second and the most important impact we had from him was the universal lessons we learned from him in his literature class. 
He was not satisfied with the formal curriculum and genuinely wanted us to learn the beauty of literature where he had selected a valuable set of poems from great old literature and taught us the hidden messages in them relating to the real life, in a very convincing manner.

Even today, after about nine years, those poems help me to be inspired, be happy during the difficult times of life. I go through them or keep me reminded about them whenever I feel down, frustrated, less motivated and so on..
I would like to share some of those great poems here with you too....

The value of perseverance for one's life and the moral of not giving up was emphasized when he taught us the following poem:

"Drive the nail aright boys
hit it on the head
Strike with all your might boys
while the iron is red
When you have work to do boys,
do it with a will
They who reach the top boys
first must climb the hill
Standing at the bottom boys
looking at the sky
How can you get up boys 
if you never try
Though you stumble oft boys,
never be downcast
Try and try again boys
you will win at last."

Even today I can remember that he did not forget to mention that the above poem addresses 'boys' because at the time the poem was written, only the boys were privileged to have education and mentioned us that it equally applies to girls as well in todays world.

He taught us the importance of hard work through the following quote by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow.

"The height by great men reached and kept
were not attained by sudden flight
But they, while their companions slept,
were toiling upward in the night. "

The poem that I love the most among the ones that I learned from him is the poem "IF" by Rudyard Kipling. The way he taught us this poem, has helped me sometimes to use those lessons to face the challenges and complications of life and society.

"If you can keep your head when all about you
Are losing theirs and blaming it on you,
If you can trust yourself when all men doubt you,
But make allowance for their doubting too;
If you can wait and not be tired by waiting,
Or being lied about, don't deal in lies,
Or being hated, don't give way to hating,
And yet don't look too good, nor talk too wise:

If you can dream - and not make dreams your master,
If you can think - and not make thoughts your aim;
If you can meet with Triumph and Disaster
And treat those two impostors just the same;
If you can bear to hear the truth you've spoken
Twisted by knaves to make a trap for fools,
Or watch the things you gave your life to, broken,
And stoop and build 'em up with worn-out tools:

If you can make one heap of all your winnings
And risk it all on one turn of pitch-and-toss,
And lose, and start again at your beginnings
And never breath a word about your loss;
If you can force your heart and nerve and sinew
To serve your turn long after they are gone,
And so hold on when there is nothing in you
Except the Will which says to them: "Hold on!"

If you can talk with crowds and keep your virtue,
Or walk with kings - nor lose the common touch,
If neither foes nor loving friends can hurt you,
If all men count with you, but none too much;
If you can fill the unforgiving minute
With sixty seconds' worth of distance run,

Yours is the Earth and everything that's in it,
And - which is more - you'll be a Man, my son!"

--Rudyard Kipling (1865-1936)

Two novels Oliver Twist and Mill On the Floss that he walked us through were like two universities teaching the kids of that age about the society and the people. I still can remember that while he was teaching us Oliver Twist and explaining how the gangs of evil will be dissolved with in a short time and how the humane people thrive in the society one day,  he predicted with confidence that same thing happened to the evil gang of Oliver Twist will happen to the LTTE one day, which came true after about 8 years of his statement.

So let me ask from myself, isn't he a philosopher in that aspect?

I can continue the list of great things he taught us like this, but I would like to stop by mentioning a poem he used to teach us the uncertainty of life or the short-lived nature of life. It is the poem "To Daffodils"-by Robert Herrick as follows:

"Fair Daffodils, we weep to see
You haste away so soon;
As yet the early-rising sun
Has not attain’d his noon.
Stay, stay,
Until the hasting day
Has run
But to the even-song;
And, having pray’d together, we
Will go with you along.

We have short time to stay, as you,
We have as short a spring;
As quick a growth to meet decay,
As you, or anything.
We die
As your hours do, and dry
Like to the summer’s rain;
Or as the pearls of morning’s dew,
Ne’er to be found again.

But I doubt whether I fully understood the universal truth conveyed by the above poem, and that may be why I feel so sad when our teacher has faced the reality spoken by this poem.
Sir, the memories of yours will last with us till our deaths and the legacy that you left behind to this world, through your students, will do a lasting contribution to this world too.
Today, on the day of your funeral Sir; hiding my tears, I would like to say that I was so much lucky to have met a person like you in my life and have got values added from you, and also that I would determine to be more of the person you wanted us to be in order to contribute to this world for its betterment.

Related article:
In this article another student of him speaks about his greatness:


  1. my sympathies Hasi.. Glad to know that you had got a chance to learn from such a great teacher.

    Kathiravelu Pradeeban.

  2. Hasini! i just came across this blog and im tearing after reading it! im Rienzie sir's second daughter.and im so happy to see such a great tribute to my father! and im sure he would have being so proud of u because you have really gone through the path he has taught!!! same as he was a great guru for you'll he was the GREATEST FATHER a daughter could have!!! thanks hasini for this great tribute for thaththi!!!!! and i wish you all the best for a bright future....


  3. My sincere gratitude to the GURU who showed me the path to life.

  4. This could be the greatest ever thing we can do for him, following the path he showed us. He didn't just teach us English, he taught us meaning of life..
    Tribute to my great mentor...

  5. First of I feel terrible about not knowing this unfortunate incident.But I must say what ever I'm today Sir played a really big part..Thank you sir for everything u thought us and we're so grateful for that..Rest in Peace great mentor..may heaven look upon you.....

  6. Just a short while ago I was looking up the great man's name in the internet. I don't know what thought process made me do it. But out of pure randomness I did it, and it brought me here.

    I attended his English classes when I was in Grade 11, until my O/Ls. I was there for only a short time, but if that period wasn't a significant part in my life I wouldn't be writing this post now.

    He was a great teacher, always committed to deliver the best to his students. I enjoyed his teaching methods very much, specially the writing, reading, and speaking assignments. I can surely say that they nurtured my creative writing skills and public speaking skills. They helped me build confidence to present myself to any gathering with no reluctance, and I'm reaping that advantage today.

    I should also mention that he was one of the strictest teachers I've ever known in my student career. I had received a couple of well-deserved punishments from him myself. But playing back those memories in my mind brings a smile to my face, although it might have hurt a little bit at the time.

    When I was looking him up today, I wasn't expecting this kind of news at all. I'm shocked and deeply saddened. Because I knew this great man at one point of my life, and I had learnt things from him that shaped me in to the person I am today. It's been more than a year since he passed, and there couldn't have been any chance of getting to know it because I've been out of the country the entire time.

    But I wish, I only wish, to walk to his residence and tell him these three words, “Thank you sir!”.


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