One day we all will depart!
On a journey free of cost!!
Don’t worry about seat reservation, it is confirmed.
The flight is always on time.
Our good deeds will be our luggage.
Humanity will be our passport
Love is our visa
Make sure we do our best to travel to heaven in business class. ~ Dr. A.P.J. Abdul Kalam, 11th President of India
Yes, animals have feelings, and they can also experience joy and sorrow, just like us. I start with my salutation to Simba, the German Rottweiler- a good-natured and obedient dog, genial in its faith to his master – my late brother Dr. Rajasingham Narendran and his family members.
Simba – The great
It took a while for me -the visiting brother- to befriend Simba. I had to take the vigilant step to bribe him with mutton curry pieces and bones from my plate despite vigorous protests from my brother’s children and his daughter in law. He soon became a jolly good friend of mine, sleeping on my lap at times of distress. It is worthy to mention a few of his inexplicable responses towards my brother.
When I was in Sri Lanka with my eldest sister from Canada in October 2016, my brother walked down a few stairs to the front garden and returned to rest on the first step. I went to his rescue when he struggled to rise up. Sensing his master’s strain, Simba too jumped forward and gave me a threatening roar for me to step back. Next, was his own manoeuvrings when he placed his right front foot across my brothers lap and raised him from below the back with the sheer strength of his head and neck for him to stand up and walk back into the house. It was an unimaginable and overemotional experience for us.
Brother’s death brought the Pulayaveli Village to a halt and Batticaloa MP’s profound tribute in Tamil soon after his heath
Then the day before my brother’s death (1/9/17), whilst I was on the phone with him around 2.00pm (UK time), Simba unusually jumped onto my brothers bed and was resting his head on his lap. My brother was stunned and said: ‘I do not know why Simba is behaving like this? He never did this before’. The third encounter was experienced by the youngest son of my brother Mayan, when Simba was restless, barking and running around my brother when his soul was departing.
Simba’s senses were so prevailing beyond the six sensed human brain. Dr Narendran – a passionate veterinarian had his best affection and farewell from his much loved Simba – leave aside his loving and wholehearted family, relatives and friends.
Our parental connections
Born on 31 May 1946, Dr Narendran is the eldest of the seven siblings, with an eleven year span between him and the youngest. I am the sixth with the age width of nine years. My father was the descendant of well-known Penang (Brown) Kathiravelu and Gate Mudaliyar Nicholas and my mother was from a much humble Samuel stock. Brown Road in Jaffna is a representation of Brown (Penang) Kathiravelu.
My father’s adamant stand towards my mother to become a Hindu immediately after their marriage led to our family becoming Hindus from that day. My father was a bright intellect and was not a possessive character. He was not a futurist in familial sense but a thinker far beyond the normal day to day life. My eldest brother enjoyed the best of my father’s early years and inherited wealth of his knowledge and exposure to his intellectual engagements and my mother’s patience and hardworking life. He – my Anna (brother), was everything for all of us until his death.
His school days
When my father was serving in the Customs as Divisional Preventive Officer with occasional transfers, my brother too was moving around. His school life started from Badulla and moved to Kurunagala to be settled in Colombo at St Peters College and then Hindu College, Ratmalana. He was one of the brightest and was the Senior Prefect at Hindu College, Ratmalana. He won many awards for his oratory skills and the highest was the award for his speech on Swami Vivekananda- the speech he eloquently delivered at the Hindu College Annual Prize day at Saraswathy Hall, Bambalapitiya in 1966 – the Chief Guest was the Minister of Education J R Jayawardena. His appeal to the Education Minister for a day off for both Bambalapitiya and Ratmalana wings of the school, the following Monday, was granted instantly by JRJ amidst euphoric applause from the audience.
Higher education and work
He entered Peradeniya University in and around 1966 to do Veterinary Science. He recalls how our mother felt when he was leaving the house to the University. ‘The first bird is leaving the family nest’ was her emotional comment that he recalled many times with me. We had to leave Colombo to Jaffna under compelling circumstances in 1969. My brother held his breath to stay at the University without being emotionally carried away, for the right reasons. As the eldest, he thought about his long term responsibilities and his education was important to give the much needed financial strength to us all. He determinedly accomplished his wish. After his finals, he was appointed as Assistant Lecturer.
He was the student leader of the Tamil Union of the Peradenia University and played an important role to construct the Shree Kurunchi Kumaran Hindu temple in Peradenia. He was an overwhelming, no nonsense figure and was able to manage the disruptive internecine conflicts responsibly and hold the official Kumbabhishegam (opening ceremony) with much glamour and publicity.
He got married in 1971 and went on to do his PhD at University of Guelph, Canada. He returned from Canada in 1976 to serve as Senior Lecturer at Peradeniya University. I too moved to Kandy to be with my brother to pursue my studies in Accountancy. My second brother Late Manoharan was in his final year pursuing his degree in Agriculture at the Peradeniya University. He too spent much of his time with us.
Victims of the 1977 Anti-Tamil violence
Dr Narendran – fluent in all three languages, enjoyed the opportunity to start his family life on return from Canada in a village not far away from Pilimatalawa, where the Theological College is based. Our maternal uncle Late Rev. Dr. D. J Kanagaratnam was a resident lecturer at the college. My brother rented a newly built hill-top house. It was a paradise home with beautiful surroundings of paddy fields, the river (Nanu Oya), mountains around and fruity trees in abundance. The villagers were very friendly and interacted very well with us.
1977 was the year democracy was facing its testing times in Sri Lanka. A polarised parliament with the majority Sinhala United National Party (UNP) headed by J R Jayawardena was elected with two thirds majority to govern, with the separatist Tamil United Liberation Front (TULF) becoming the main opposition party. The frenzied election campaign was hate driven and further polarised the communities. The TULF presiding over the opposition in the parliament was anathema for the extremists Sinhalese, whom exuberated the tense nationalist feelings that resulted in the anti-Tamil violence throughout the country.
My brother had gone to University on the fateful day in July 1977, when a group of men about 25 headed by the local thug Jayasinghe invaded his house. I, and my sister in law Mrs Narendran carrying her little son Murali had to run through the back door and we jumped over the deep and wide land-divide to save our lives. How we managed to jump, still puzzles me. Must be Gods will! It was a harrowing experience. Even the local Grama Sevaka would not accommodate us, fearing reprisal from the hoodlums. The hoodlums ransacked and looted the house. When reaching their hands on the jewellery of my sister in law, in particular her expensive wedding chain (Thali), they abandoned their looting spree and went on the merrymaking spectacle of shouting ‘Jayaweva! Jayaweva!! (Victory! Victory!!)’ and walked away.
On hearing the news, our deeply distressed maternal uncle Late Rev Kanagaratnam rushed to the scene in his cassock from his lecture room, and he was then joined by my brothers Dr Narendran and late Monharan to rescue us. We were taken to our uncle’s residence at Theological College. On hearing the attack, Dr Narendran’s passionate students (both Sinhalese and Tamils) at the university, rushed to see him. My brother advocated defiance and took the position to return to the looted house. The loyal students too offered their help to provide security against any further violence from the hoodlums.
Whilst all three brothers and a dozen of students were at the looted and damaged house, a much bigger group of thugs (over one hundred) led by the very local thug Jayasinghe gathered to continue with their spree. They were overwhelming and we had to run for our lives. A Tamil student was caught and severely beaten and all the others had to run hither and thither through the difficult terrains to reach our uncles house at the Theological College.
The frenzy mob did not end their mayhem there. They assembled at the Buddhist vihara on a mountain top facing the Theological College to continue with their bender in the church premises. The timely arrival of Rev Luxman Wickramasinghe – Bishop of Kurunagala, on the request of the Principal of the Theological College, brought an end to the crisis. A contingent of army arrived at the scene on his request and rounded up the hoodlums in a military operation and took them away in a bus load to the army camp.
We were then taken to the newly set up St Sylvester College (Katugastota) refugee camp where we stayed for about two weeks.
Life in the St Sylvester College (Katugastota) refugee camp
We were the first arrival at the camp, followed by the arrival of over thousand refugees affected by the racial mayhem. Dr Narendran, with his down to earth engagement evolved as the leader and managed the camp under compelling circumstances with our assistance. At the age of 31, he co-ordinated with the army, police and the social network to bring food provisions and medical assistance for the refugees and ensured orderly conduct of distraught victims. He was a towering figure for everyone.
The camp was soon wound up, and his role in facilitating the return of the refugees to their homes or to the places they chose was a laudable experience.
Throughout, he was a passionate commander in chief, without the attire of a commander.
Over a week in Pilimatalawa
We returned to Pilimatalawa and stayed there for over a week. My brother established contacts with the Superintendent of Police, Kandy. On hearing my brothers’ ordeal, he facilitated a truck load of army to undertake house to house searches in the village to recover the looted goods. My brother went with the army and recovered almost 75% of the goods including the chicken and goats looted from his house. The whole experience showed how my decorous brother earned the reputation at his young age. The army was praiseworthy and the soldiers did their job with true conscience without any partisan feelings.
Retuning to Jaffna
We decided to return by train to Jaffna soon after. On arrival, we heard the local gossip from our mother that my brother Narendran’s foot had been severed away by the yobs in Kandy. It was a big relief for her and our other siblings and relatives to see him intact.
On our return, the circumstance facilitated us to engage in refugee rehabilitation activities. My two brothers got heavily involved in the refugee rehabilitation work. They travelled to Vanni, Vavuniya, and even Vadamaratchi to help the stranded and helpless refugees. Finding shelters and relief provisions for them was their innermost yearns. In association with the noble visionary K C Nythiyanantha – the former GCSU leader, they did their part for the distraught refugees.
Hopelessness was saturating me. Being the victim of the hurtful anti-Tamil Standardisation Policy of the government, that prevented me from proceeding with my higher studies through a University, and then the anti-Tamil riots that strained me from furthering my studies in accountancy, succumbed me to the feverish Tamil militancy that was progressing at a faster space. The insensitive, hate manoeuvrings and un-accommodative extremism of the government laid the foundation for the Tamil militancy to turn into a violent struggle. As a humanist and a victim, I too felt enraged when my fellow school mates were brutally assaulted and tortured by the state forces- some of them for reasons unjustifiable.
The government appointed Sansoni Commission to investigate the 1977 anti-Tamil violence, which held its first session in Jaffna library. My brother was one of the first few witnesses to give evidence of their experiences that received glaring publicity in the media. All three brothers worked round the clock to reach the victims of the 1977 riots to give evidence before Justice Sansoni.
Returning to Guelph
On hearing the troubles faced by my brother, University of Guelph (Canada) invited him to join them. He made the reluctant decision under compelling circumstances to leave Sri Lanka in 1978. He was an unhappy man to be further away from Sri Lanka.
He was looking for opportunities closer to Sri Lanka and joined the King Faisal University of Al-Hasa, Saudi Arabia as Associate Professor in Veterinary Science in September 1980 – at the time I moved to the United Kingdom to further my studies.
After serving a few years in King Faisal University, he joined a leading agrarian company in Saudi Arabia and he continued to work until his retirement in 2015. His employment contact facilitated reasonable holidays and he made use of them to travel to Sri Lanka to be with his family.
1983 Anti-Tamil Violence
My brother’s eldest son Murali was the victim of the racial violence. The house of his aunt with whom he was residing for studies in Wellawatte was looted and the residents driven away by the Sinhalese mobs. My brother decided to send his wife and children to Kodaikanal in India.
During the peak of violence, our uncle Rev D J Kanagaratnam was arrested by the police together with Fr Singarajah and Fr Sinnarasa of the Catholic Diocese. When my uncle was arrested by the Superintendent of Police (SP) of Vavuniya, he worriedly queried the reasons for his arrest. The SP said: ‘there no law in this country now and if I want I can just bump you off’.
Rev D J Kanagaratnam was soon released from detention on the intervention of President J R Jayawardena, following substantial pressure being put on him by my brother and father through my paternal uncle R Gunasingham, who was serving as Secretary to the President.
Our innocent mother and brother killed by the Indian Peace Keeping Force (IPKF)
With the wider vision, my brother built an admirable house in Navatkuli, Jaffna in 1980 with the utopian vision to establish a strong family base to overcome our painful past and to have a peaceful life. The escalating military confrontations with the LTTE (Tamil Tigers) shattered his hopes. In the moment of insanity of violence against innocent civilians, both our innocent mother and brother were gunned down by the Indian Peace Keeping Force (IPKF) on 16 October 1987. Their killing was a well- documented case of war crimes but the constrained world politics refused to consider even a discussion on the blatant violation.
It was harrowing experience for my brother to break through barriers of the ravaging war to witness the decomposed bodies of our dear ones and the gardener. He demanded that I should not join him to avoid complications due to my radical past and mindset. As a result, I decided to fly to India to be with my father and sister.
His experience to cremate the decomposed maggot infested bodies was an experience that no one should encounter in life. Whilst he was disposing the remains, a visiting IPKF soldier behaved in a threatening manner. He had to restrain because of the presence of the Sri Lankan army helping my brother to dispose the bodies. The petty minded officer asked my brother why he was disposing the body of our brother with the wristwatch on his hand. My brother’s response was: ‘My brother is more important to me than the wristwatch and if you want, remove it yourself’.
In my article ‘A painful homage to our dear ones’ with the contribution of my brother widely published five years ago, I expressed the collective feelings of our family:
‘Our mother Florence Ariamalar, brother Manoharan and the gardener Rasiah were killed by the IPKF on the morning of 16th October’1987. Their encounter and the painful experience of my brother Dr R Narendran to dispose the decaying bodies were aptly reflected in his ‘Open letter to the Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi’and the memories of their deaths are irreconcilable and painful for us to live with.
‘We as a family were very shocked at the meaningless murders of our mother, brother and the gardener, and the callous manner their bodies were left to rot for ten days. My brother-Dr. Narendran- until his death was not been able to cry for them because of what he saw on the 10th day after their deaths. He was beyond crying, because what he saw was beyond normal human responses.
‘For those of us living, the memory of our loved ones and the manner in which they died are a constant daily memory lurking in the background over the past twenty five years (thirty years this year). This memory has permitted us to empathize with those who have suffered similarly or worse in the subsequent years. The innocence (almost to a fault !),intelligence, culture, simplicity, lack of an ego and selfishness, courage, generosity, ability to forgive, fortitude in the face of adversity and character to keep her equanimity in the face of immense problems, were characteristics that stood out in our mother. She gave her love and effort without expecting anything in return.
‘Her love was tangible but never proclaimed. She was a great human, a caring daughter, an exemplary wife and a mother who has left her indelible stamp on us. She was not the epitome of perfectness, but was quite near it. She showed us by example how to be moral humans and defined for us what is right and what is wrong. She was a mother who let our father define for us the larger/higher aspirations in life, transcending the mundane. She would have been a ‘great’ grandmother too. She has been our example in the past twenty five (thirty now) years. She has stood us in good stead in both her life and death.
‘Our late brother Manoharan was meticulous in what he did and had a natural empathy for those in need. His interest in agriculture was immense and his aspirations centered on it. We as a family had come to depend on him for many things in our affairs. He was a brother, who has left a large void in our lives and a man of much potential the Tamil community and Sri Lanka lost. We wish he had lived long enough to prove his worth. Our late brother’s two children, who were less than three years old at the time of his murder, are young adults now and the tragedy in their lives has made them wholesome and resilient human beings. They have become individuals we are proud of. We wish they had the time to know him as a father and a man.
‘Our sister-in-law has faced up to this tragedy and subsequent challenges with fortitude and today, finds much joy in what her children have become. We have seen the best and the worst in people. We have learned the best and the worst are not limited to any grouping of people and that these labels describe what manifests from us, as individuals, under certain circumstances.
‘We have faced many serious problems in subsequent years and have dealt with them in a manner, we do not regret. Time heals, though memories do not die. Memories continue to teach us lessons and guide us through life as it unfolds. The next generation is taking over the baton from us now and I am sure they will carry this story and the associated memories to the generations that follow them. It is a lesson learned that should remain with what is becoming a much larger family for as long as it can. It is yet a pleasure to hear those who knew our mother and brother in life talk good of them, not in platitudes, but out of genuine appreciation. Theirs was a life worthily lived’…….
Lokh Sabah election 1977
His poignant open letter to the Prime Minister of India during the general election and published in the Indian Express, caused considerable consternation for the Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi.
This is the extract of what the eloquent former editor of Saturday Review S Sivanayagam said in his personal note to my brother on reading his Open Letter published in the Indian Express. The letter was copied to me by my brother with the stressing note ‘For Your Eyes Only’ and it is now opportune to reveal the introductory comments herein after 28 years.
‘ Dear Dr Narendran
‘I am sitting down to write immediately after reading the ‘Open Letter to PM from a Lankan Tamil’ in the INDIAN EXPRESS this morning. Please permit me to congratulate you – not on one, but several counts. It was a very telling letter, expressed in controlled anguish; it was courageous act, and a hammer blow on behalf of Eelam Tamil opinion; and because it came from the heart, even Indian readers who were unable to understand our point of view vis-a-vis IPKF and the blundering jackasses in Delhi, caused by a false sense of patriotism are bound to see our feelings in new light’……..
My engagement with my brother to expose the brutal death of our dear ones was so intense and interactive in the constrained media and telecommunication age. He was a towering figure at his young age to deal with from the remote Saudi, at the time of my declining health after our dear ones deaths.
Passion for Sri Lanka
My brother was forthright in his views and never feared to comment on any issues, regardless of the person’s political or social status. He did this in the interest of a united Sri Lanka at the time when moderation was overwhelmed by escalating rabid racism and violence.
His passion for Sri Lanka was such, he invested a large portion of his savings to establish a wood carving factory in Moratuwa in 1990/91, employing over 100 persons, mainly from the majority Sinhalese community. His private Agni Enterprises Ltd progressed to manufacture household furniture and was even able secure contracts to export. With the violent polarising politics escalating further with the Jayasekuru Military Operation of 1997-1999 to wrest control of Jaffna, the business too faced difficulties. He decided relinquish his hold in the company and management following threats of death from his staff. Apparently a group of men had warned ‘Sinhaya thanakola nevei Kanne’ (Lion does not eat grass).
My captivity by the LTTE
My captivity by the LTTE for 62 days post Tusnami in 2005 is an adequately reported issue. It was testing time for my family members, relatives and all those associated with me. My brother took control of the situation and told everyone to stay quiet and he made strenuous efforts to know the facts about my fate following my disappearance in Vanni.
In fact, I visited the Nandavanam reception office of the LTTE in Killinochi a few days before my captivity with my brother Dr Narendran and my friend A K Vivekananthan before my brother’s departure to Saudi Arabia. During the visit, we had a meeting with the unknown Nediayavan. It was not a healthy meeting as he was found gloating with the power of LTTE rule and saying all and sundry about their glorifying crusade. My brother raised issues of how his house in Navatkuli was run down by the LTTE during their forceful occupation and valuable historical books and records of our father were looted by them.
He also advised about the need for broader political approach in LTTE’s dealings. When the issue of proscription of the LTTE in the West were raised, the response from Nediyavan was ‘we (the LTTE) don’t care’ and that: ‘we know how to overcome it. Once we take control of all the Tamil diaspora organisations under our control the proscription will be meaningless’. My brothers’ very presence prevented them from holding me and Vivekananthan captives.
As my captivity was prolonging indefinitely, my brother took a unilateral decision to give an ultimatum to the LTTE through one of our known contacts. He demanded that either I should be killed or released within 48 hours and warned further that my captivity would be brought to the wider attention. His fearless stance at a critical time and the involvement of British government facilitated my release.
My brother too was saddened by the nauseating hate campaign of the Diaspora LTTE against me for revealing my story about my captivity to the media.
Post my captivity
My brother’s capacity to deal with any issues however complex is unimaginable. His knowledge and experience was so vast that he had the ability to give insight on anything instantly. His strength was his thoughts for detail and his memory never failed him. He is a person of astonishing willpower.
Our brotherly relationship progressed in a scale only few bothers would have enjoyed. It was fulfilling experience. Since the end of war, we were meeting at least twice a year. It was my son who was advocating that we must meet regularly as we are reaching our critical ages in our lives.
He turned into a feature writer and wrote valuable and insightful articles on varied issues – much of it was socio-politics which were published regularly in the Colombo Telegraph and other media. Reader’s comments spoke of respect he earned for his far reaching insights on issues.
As he progressed to get involved in practical projects, he limited his contributions to comments on articles of others. These too were highly valued by the readers.
Since 2008, he had fairly good engagement with political leaders and made fearless representations. Soon after the war, he visited the refugee camps and witnessed the true conditions of the war victims and the refugees and he fearlessly expressed his views in the climate of point scoring, adversarial and partisan campaigns by the vested interests.
About five years ago, he promoted the idea of developing a massive agrarian and livestock investment in the East of Sri Lanka. In association with some determined, resourceful and foresighted friends, and with political support through his contacts, he was able to earmark acres of land in the East. A full scale project proposal was drafted and funding for the project was recognised. When it came to the commissioning of the project, the heavyweights of the Rajapakse regime demanded treasures under the table for the provision of the land for the project.
The very demand of bribe was anathema for my brother, even if it was a cent. He did not succumb to the dirty demand and walked away with deep hurt.
Involvement in the establishment of Albethnal Junior School
Following the war, the Sri Lankan army withdrew from the land I inherited from my maternal uncle late Rev D J Kanagaratnam in Navatkuli. My Brother took care of the land and secured it against forceful occupation by the rogue land grabbers in the north. Having considered various ambitious projects in the land, we settled for the establishment of the Albethnal Junior School in the land four years ago. He gave all the support to establish the school to ensure they were successful in their endeavours to educate the children.
He was also a member of the Lions Club, and actively associated in the campaign to help the poor school going children.
Campaign against land grabbers
With the post war confusion and social degeneration, the war torn areas were terrains for land grabs by the organised criminals (Tamils) in the north. When the political campaigns of the Tamils in Sri Lanka and overseas were uncompromisingly focussed on the army withdrawal from occupied lands, consideration was not given to the well organised land grabs by the masterly criminals whom were fast-tracking their venture to grab lands without any resistance.
In Thenmaratchi and further down to Palai, Killinochi and Vavuniya, these organised criminals were rolling their criminal business without any hindrance. The land grabs were even taking place around the Northern Provincial Council complex without any response from the elected council members.
Dr Narendran determinedly and successfully spearheaded his campaign against the gang headed by the notorious nicknamed Pulavar and Late Paramalingam, despite threats of violence against him. In 2014, in my very presence, a major land grab was thwarted resulting in the arrest of the operatives. This very threatening and challenging encounter was claimed as his own achievement by the controversial former parliamentarian Suresh Premachandran (TNA) which I publicly countered from London on my return.
Socio-economic project in Batticaloa.
The post war peace in the Tamil Diaspora facilitated to extend the scope of the London based temple Eelapatheeswarar Aalayam, which I represent as a founder trustee. Feelers were put to the committee members to come out with ideas to help the war victims in Sri Lanka. Various ideas were floated and consensus was reached to undertake a much bigger landmark socio-economic village development project in Vanni.
Timely contact with Mr Amal Vyalendram MP (Batticaloa) shifted our focus to Batticaloa. Amal’s request was only funding for improvement of education facilities in the east and it evolved into a much bigger project for the people in the east. Our temple was able to initiate the Pulayaveli-Thambanamveli village development project after undertaking a fact finding mission.
My brother who had wider vision for Sri Lanka, naturally fitted for the project. He too was yearning for this lifelong. With sheer determination, he accomplished the two main stages of the project within one and half years. The two stages were provision of water resources for the villages, with six tube wells being successfully dug, and construction of a modern Hindu temple for the villagers to worship their beloved God Peychi Amman (Luxmi). The idea is for the temple to be the hub of the socio- economic project and my brother went into meticulous details in its construction.
I was in contact with him daily. There were occasions when we have spoken five to six times per day. That was the progressing intensity of our engagement for the past one and a half years. When I once did not phone in the morning, he was distressed and called me when I was at my office to enquire about my wellbeing.
Just two months before his death we ventured into the third stage of the project. In that, the sewing school and the IT centre were in the verge of functioning at the time of his death.
I conclude with my brother’s affectionate message of wises for my birthday on 30 December 2016: ‘I have no words to describe how I feel. May you be blessed,’ I will miss such heartfelt expressions in the future and his absence will be a huge vacuum in my remaining life.