L. A. W. Liyanarachchi of Kadawatha, courtesy of the Daily News
The Mahinda Rajapaksa regime dispelled the differences which existed between the Sinhalese and the Tamils, established peace among all nations, and made ‘one nation’ out of the five communities and placed them as ‘Sri Lankans’. During the era our country was a colony of the British Empire, my father was one out of the few locals who were among the European rubber planters. He was at Hatbawe Group at Rambukkana.The workforce in this estate were Tamils of Indian origin who later became citizens like in every other estate in the country. Sinhalese, who lived in the bordering villages also were among them in small numbers, like today.
The estate staff had a weekly get-together with their families in one of the divisions on rotation, to while away the loneliness which surrounded them. Dr. A.B.J. Rajendram from Jaffna was the estate Dispenser.My father and Dr. Rajendram were bosom friends.I was 12 years old when I met him for the first time.He was pious and kind, loved us very much as he loved his only son Mangalanayagam who served in the RCyAF (Royal Ceylon Air Force).
During one such occasion in 1951 he suggested to my father to admit us to a school in Jaffna. My father consented and within a few days I was in St. Patrick’s College, Jaffna with two of my younger brothers under the Very Rev. Fr. T.M.G. Long O.M.I.
Furthermore, Dr. Rajendram designated his intended son-in-law William to be our guardian. William visited us every week and attended to our needs throughout the entire period of our stay there in loco parentis. We hostellers were allowed to go home during the weekends and return on Sunday. Rambukkana was a too long destination for the three of us to avail ourselves of this privilege.
On the courteous invitation of hosteller Ramanathan who took notice of the situation, we spent the weekends with his parents.On the left side of the Tellipalai railway station is a level-crossing. Immediately passing it on the right side was Ramanathan’s house. His merciful and hospitable parents treated us in the same manner they treated their son.
We can never forget the home made Jaffna string hoppers and puttu (pittu) with or without sugar, or with curry, and fruits especially mangoes and other varieties of tasty food we were treated with by his generous mother every time we spent a holiday with them.Her loving motherliness did not make us feel the absence of our mother to whom we were able to go to only once in three months.
When I was with my parents awaiting results of the Higher School Certificate examination I was invited to spend a holiday with this doctor who was then at Kirimittiya Estate at Menikdiwela. My presence with them made the elderly couple happy because I filled the absence of their only son away in employment.
I assisted the doctor in his clerical work in the dispensary.One day the Superintendent of the estate Jack Burtons paid a surprise visit to the dispensary. On seeing him I exited at once.Having observed my calligraphy during his inspection, the Periya Dorai had conveyed his desire to see me at his bungalow.
The following day as I stepped into his bungalow in the company of the doctor at 7 a.m. as appointed, “Do you like to become a planter young man?”, he questioned me.“Yes Sir”, I replied. “This evening you will receive the letter”, he concluded.
On that day in 1958 as destined, I began to apprentice as a Superintendent.When premier S.W.R.D. Bandaranayake was assassinated in 1959 I was Assistant Superintendent of the Peak Division of that estate. This is how the foundation to my future was laid by a Tamil national for the second time.
During my tenure of service in the Gal Oya Development Board, S.C.T. Sambandhan an Assistant Superintendent from Kopay in Jaffna was an official who was close to my heart. I first met him in 1962.When he assumed duties as the Sugar Plantation Manager, he placed me as his Senior Aide and when he assumed duties as the General Manager he placed me as his Personal Assistant
When my six months old twins fell sick in end 1973, I happened to pay an informal visit to my office mate Sinnathamby’s house on my way to the Batticaloa hospital. His parents lived near the railway station close to the GODB’s transit stores. I gave up my idea of admitting my children to the hospital when Thamby’s mother undertook to cure them. So we stayed with them in Batticaloa until she cured my children.She cleaned their wounds, washed them daily and having a box containing the materia medica, treated them and cured them sooner than we expected. She was no second to my children’s own mother.
When my three year old second son was admitted to the Batticaloa hospital in 1974 to be treated for nephritis by Paediatrician Dr. S. Pathmanathan, it was the House Officer Dr. Ragunathan who looked after our son as we were 47 miles away in Hingurana.According to the nursing staff, Dr. Ragunathan had been carrying my son in the nights trying to pacify him when he cried calling for his mother. These are the true qualities of the Tamils.
I am placing this material before a new generation to enable them to understand the true colours of the people of this country and give up spiteful misconceptions rooted in rancorous writings and utterances of the misanthropists of the past.
4 responses to “Everyman Liyana Arachchi’s Thoughts on the profound human qualities of the Tamil people”
Yes, as in the case of this writer, ethnicity was never significant as an ‘identity marker’ for me and many among those of my generation
It is very heartening to read this type of account, although one would anticipate, on “theoretical grounds”, to expect people of a given social stratum with common economic interests and common social backgrounds (planters, speaking English, Sinhala and Tamil, and probably also Scotch by imbibing it together) to forge close friendships.
This is again true in various professional strata (doctors, accountants, engineers, scientists etc), irrespective of ethnicity.
Strangely enough, a completely different dynamic seems to have existed among the members of the legal profession in Sri Lanka, especially if they came from the absentee land-owning class. It is up to the social scientists to examine this more carefully and try to understand it, if it holds water. The rich lawyers who were absentee landlords of property elsewhere (while living in Colombo) were the most chauvinistic, be it Sinhala chauvinism or Tamil chauvinism.
Similarly, while excellent interpersonal individual friendships existed among Sinhalese and Tamils of the same social class, (or caste, especially among Tamils), the same cannot be said of upper-caste and lower-caste individuals.
The amity that existed among “comrades” of trade unions, cutting across ethnic backgrounds, should also be noted. Here, political expediency coincided accidentally with “high principles”. I remember mentioning to Mr. Merrill Fernando (a leading Trostkyite and MP for Moratuwa) that I admired the LSSP policy of “parity of status for Sinhala and Tamil”, considering that it is political suicide to have such a policy. He clarified that, being a revolutionary party, they did not care about election victories, as only the revolutionary path has any validity. Later I came to understand, from Dr. Osmond Jayaratne (leading Trotskyite and Physics academic) that the LSSP policy was based on the demographics of the GCSU, and not the demographics of the country. The GCSU had roughly equal numbers of Tamil and Sinhala speaking members, or possibly more Tamil speaking members — so much for the visage of high principles of the LSSP that Colvin R de Silva liked to present.
Finally, it was (and is) disappointing to find that even lecturers in the University Language departments in Sri Lanka (in the 1970s when I was intimately involved in them), and some “linguists”, knew only their mother language and English, but not the language of the other. In 1974 I tried to get Dr. Sivathamby (who was the lecturer in charge of the Tamil department at Vidyodaya University) to start Tamil classes for Sinhalese faculty members. When I sent a note asking who (among the staff) would sign up for it, the response was apathetic beyond belief, with excuses of various sorts, including the claim made by one learned faculty member that “old dogs cannot learn new ways to bark”.
When curiosity and the wish to learn are dead, the institutions of learning are dead, and their students are unlikely to become open-minded citizens. Instead, they remain frozen within the narrow prejudices of insularity and outdated orthodoxies. Shared economic activity, sports, and education covering the “other”, are the way to breaking such barriers.
Talking of cross-strata interactions, one cannot help thinking of the snide/caustic/witty jabs that G. G. Ponnambalam is supposed to have aimed at Judge Sri Skandharajaha, the latter being deemed to be of a lower caste.
please tell us more –details of WHAT, WHEN and the context.