Many men walk the earth but few have accolades written of them. Often such accolades come after death, and are exaggerated and of little value. T. Kandasamy, former Government Analyst (GA), is a man who deserves accolades while he is alive. And with his real achievements, there is no need to exaggerate anything.
His early life was in Burma (Myanmar) where his father from Ceylon was a Station Master for Burma Railways. Given the nature of his father’s work, young Kandasamy was boarded at a Rangoon Catholic School, spending only 3 months a year at home. His schooling ended when the Japanese declared war on 7th December 1941 and he came to Ceylon in July 1942. It involved a long march to India that left many dead.
He went to Skanda Varodaya College Jan. 1943 – Dec. 1946. He did the school proud by being the first boy to gain university entrance. At the university, he was one of seven selected for the BSc Chemistry course after the first examination and graduated with 2nd class Honours in 1950. He was appointed to the GA’s in April 1951 from where he retired as GA in 1986.
Kandasamy went to England on a Colombo Plan Scholarship to specialise in Pharmaceutical Analysis. He earned his M.Sc. London and DIC in Food and Drugs at Imperial College of Science and Technology. He had training at the Quality Control Laboratories of Burroughs and Glaxo and at Government Chemist Laboratory, London. He followed evening classes on the Chemistry of Food and Drugs to take the Branch E Diploma examination conducted by the Royal Institute of Chemistry – a required qualification under the Food and Drugs Act to be appointed as Public Analyst in the UK.
These were amazing achievements on one scholarship for the MSc which was a rare degree in the 1950s. However, I see his values and example as far more important to posterity and that is what this article is about.
Kandasamy: The Person
My wife Dushyanthi worked for Kandasamy for three years and resigned to marry me the day she was confirmed-in-post, and lost one of the many scholarships that Kandasamy had arranged for his staff. He is too modest and says he was merely following the scholarship tradition set by his first boss W.R. Chanmugam. But Kandasamy was more systematic, believing that every officer should be trained abroad for international exposure. He would wait for the Colombo Plan announcements and apply.
Dushyanthi spares no words in his praise: “He always looked out for us.” He insisted that every new recruit should first be trained under him for six months and attributes her bench dexterity with speed and accuracy to Kandasamy’s training.
Private Work was usually taken by a couple of seniors. Kandasamy took charge of Private Work when he became Deputy GA (Food and Drugs) and distributed it to all the staff. Juniors doing the analyses would get 40% of the fees and the seniors taking responsibility and signing 60%. He took on no work for himself! Private Work expanded making everyone happy.
After the riots, most Tamil Officers had gone to Jaffna but Dushyanthi was in Colpetty. Her services were badly needed. With her safety in mind, Kandasamy picked her up to work and dropped her off after work, even though it was off his route. When she asked for 2 days’ leave for our first meeting in Jaffna, he insisted, “Take the whole week and come back married,” which she did!
Although Kandasamy could have gone on as GA till the age of 60, he retired at 59 so that the two to follow him in seniority would each get 2 years as GA. That is the kind of man he is.
The Time of the Riots
On Monday of Black July 1983 he knew at 5 AM that some disturbances were on but he still went to work in Torrington (although he stopped his children from going to Royal College, and Dushyanthi too). As Additional Government Analyst in charge of Finance Kandasamy had paid the staff their salary on Friday and the safe keys were with him. He went that fateful Monday because some were yet to be paid. As the day progressed, things turned horrific. When four Tamil officers could not go home, he took them by car with a Sinhalese translator along Bullers Road, only to be stopped and turned back by well-dressed youth near Bambalapitiya Police Station.
Returning to office, he saw the entire subordinate staff including the Chief Clerk on the office lawn. All Staff Officers had left! The stranded staff, all Sinhalese, had no bus services. He had to get some to Ratmalana and others to Borella from where they could get buses. He got two curfew passes and used the two office cars to make several trips. “I had the satisfaction of being able to help the staff – all Sinhalese,” he reminisces happily today.
Despite his curfew pass, he slept the first two nights (Monday and Tuesday) in office because of the four Tamil officers stuck there. A Navy Lieutenant asked him whether it was safe with the Sinhalese driver, a labourer and watcher in office. Kandasamy says he gave no thought to it, but Dushyanthi remembers one labourer as very hostile.
The government asked everyone to return to work on 1 September. The Tamil officers had left their families in Jaffna, and returned alone. Kandasamy told them they could work on weekends, and put in 50% more work than on a normal working day. He gave them lieu leave for longer stays in Jaffna. The Deputy Government Analyst warned him he would be classified a communalist and that he was violating regulations. He said he would take the responsibility. He went on weekends for short periods as encouragement. The backlog from the riots time was cleared.
One difficulty in working in Sri Lanka is that bosses have power and seem to think they own us. Thus when government employees apply for another government job, the Boss would forward the application with the endorsement “Cannot release.” As a result an applicant is either denied the job or has to start as a fresh employee losing past service
Being modest, Kandasamy says, I learnt from Mr. Chanmugam who poignantly asked “Why should the Department Head stand in the way of a person bettering his prospects?” Chanmugam actually released an officer who had gone on training to obtain a US PhD in Analytical Chemistry to move to Colombo University, transferring the Bond he signed.
Kandasamy is adamant that “Cannot release” should never be used. After all, he asks, why stand in the way if someone thinks his future is better in the other place. In 1985 one of his officers, a good worker, wanted to apply for the post of Chemist at Kandy Municipal Council because her husband was transferred to Kandy. Kandasamy forwarded her application, endorsing “Release may be considered if selected.” She moved with all her benefits. When senior officers criticised him, his simple answer was this: “Her husband is in Kandy. She was in Colombo. Importantly, her work in Kandy is useful to Sri Lanka.”
After retirement in 1986, until 2010 he spent his time productively on the government’s Food Advisory Committee (FAC) and at Sri Lanka Standards Institution where he served on various committees and was given their gold medal and a plaque reading “It is with great gratitude we appreciate the immense contribution made by Mr T. Kandasamy to the Sri Lanka Standards Institution during the past 50 Years.”
On the FAC which he served for 47 years, he was involved, inter alia, on GM food and bottled water regulations. He has served on many projects as Consultant to WHO, FAO, and UNDP. He is one of the chief persons behind the Institute of Chemistry which awards degrees in chemistry with graduates seemingly better than those by the university. In the 2nd year of the course when there was problem of venue he made arrangements with S. Thomas’ College to use their labs and thereby saved the programme from collapse.
As a Family Man
What is most important is how Kandasamy accounted for himself as a family man because many great public men neglect their families. Not Mr. Kandasamy. He was a devoted husband and loving and caring father to his two sons and supervised their studies. They both went to Moratuwa University and moved on to North America. It was after losing his wife last year and suffering from spinal problems that he moved to Calgary to be with his son. If not for his aching bones he would still be serving us ably in Sri Lanka.
His is an example that we would all do well to follow.