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Home > Tamils - A Transtate Nation > Eelam > I Remember... the Memoirs of I.P.Thurairatnam
Being the Memoirs of I.P.Thurairatnam
I.P.Thurairatnam served as Principal of Union College, Tellipallai, Eelam, for a period of 29 years. He was 31 years old when he joined and he was 60, when he retired in 1961. E.Sabaratnam, speaking at the farewell accorded to I.P.T on 25 January 1961, commented:
My Contemporaries at University College
Beginning of Tennis Career
Jaffna College Again
Mahatma Gandhi's Visit
Freedom Struggle & the Reaction on the Church
Becoming Head of the American Mission in Tellipalai
At the Bilingual School in Tellipalai
And the Beginning of Union College
The Growth of Union College
Prime Minister Srimavo Bandaranaike's 1960 'take over' of assisted schools
As a child of about five years of age I attended the Tamil Primary School in the mission compound at Tellippalai. I was returning home one noon when it started raining. I had an umbrella in one hand and the slate in the other. I could not open the gate and so I stood in front of it at the junction and cried. A kind passer by opened the gate for me. I was grateful. This is the earliest recollection I have of my childhood. Another day there was a big meeting in the mission compound. In those days meetings were few and far between, just one or two in the year. Every meeting was a kind of festival with people coming from various parts of Jaffna in big bullock carts. Pedlars of all kinds of ware, sweet-meats and cakes also gathered. There were gramsellers too. The grams attracted me more than anything else but I had no money. I went up to a woman and introduced myself as the son of Mr. Ponniah, the Mission Clerk, and asked her if she would give me one cent worth of grams and this was a lot those days. I said I would pay her in the afternoon. She obliged and I was thankful.
When I passed the Tamil 3rd standard I was taken to the English School situated near the gate in the same compound. I was admitted to the First Year class and work started in earnest on the first day itself. Mr. J. V. Chellappah was the Headmaster and he had a few assistants each one of whom was an expert in his own subject and struck terror in the minds of the little boys. They were also armed with a cane each. My first subject was handwriting and the teacher approached it seriously and methodically as if my whole future depended on it. He first told me that I should sit erect and square to the desk and not at an angle. Then he said I must hold the pen straight with the tip of the holder pointing to my right shoulder. The civil service writing was to be our style. To the end of my days at the school I remembered the instructions and followed them.
As I progressed in my studies I came across other teachers equally grave and equally committed. The Headmaster and plural, the masculine and feminine of most of the difficult words in the English Language till we knew the Manual of English Grammar inside out. There was a teacher of History and Geography, a soft spoken but very able person, who snuffed openly and generously in the Victorian style. He made us learn by heart all the countries of the world, their capitals and their imports and exports. He used to dress immaculately in spotless white every day. The verty and the tunic coat with the shirt sleeves showing were well starched and pressed and the reputation was that he changed his clothes every day. But some of the boys, wanting to check on it, would put a cross on the tail of his coat and true to his reputation the next days coat didn’t have the mark.
I climbed up the ladder at the normal rate of a grade a year but with one burden all the time which my father solicitously shared with me. I was extremely poor in arithmetic. My father would teach me every night but the next day my performance was just as bad as the previous day. My father shared this disappointment with his friends and I gained quite a reputation at school and among family friends as being incorrigible in arithmetic. I duly passed the sixth standard, though without arithmetic, and the time arrived for me to join a secondary school. There were two alternatives - Jaffna College, Vaddukoddai, and St. John’s College, Jaffna. I chose the latter perhaps because it was a town school. Or may be my father tilted the balance in its favour. However, my stay at St. John’s was not to be long because of a sad and momentous event in the family. The stay was short but eventful.
My father got me admitted to St. John’s and arranged for me to come home once a fortnight. He gave me a number of instructions one of which was that I should not get wet in the rain for fear of catching a cold or getting a fever. The first two weeks were hectic. Everything was interesting. The boarding was a totally new experience. The arrival of the dhoby was an event. The Class Master of the Second Form was one Mr. Charles, I got along well with him. There was a teacher called Peterson who played the violin and composed English songs to Tamil music. The Principal of the Nallur Girls School - one Miss Willis - was leaving the country and the boys of St. Johns were asked to give a farewell song. Mr. Peterson gathered some of us and trained us. When the appointed day came we all walked from Chundikuli to Nallur, Mr. Peterson leading the procession with violin in hand like the Pied Piper of Hamlin Town and the boys following. And we sang:
Filled with pain and sorrow
Do we gather round,
To say good-bye dear lady
As in duty bound,
How shall we, how can we
Miss you all our days,
The first Sunday was memorable. I was utterly confused by the Order of Service. They stood up ever so many times. I didn’t know when to stand and when to sit. I looked at the others. When they stood up I stood up and when they sat down I did likewise. The first fortnight was coming to a close and I looked forward to coming home. When I alighted at the Tellippalai Station the first piece of news I got was that my father was rather ill with dysentery. That reminded me of his serious illness, also of dysentery, exactly one year earlier, from which be unexpectedly recovered. I was nervous but when I reached home he didn’t look too ill. Dr. Isabella Curr was treating him as she had done on the earlier occasion. When Monday morning came, it was a question whether I should go to school or stay back My mother wanted me to stay but father, being the disciplinarian be was, insisted that I should go notwithstanding his illness. As we were debating I heard the whistle of the train and I ran for my life and jumped into the carriage standing over the level crossing.
The following Wednesday, March 3, 1915, was a red letter day for St. John’s and an ominous day for me. Lord Chalmers, the Governor of Martial Law fame, visited St. John’s in the morning. The boys and teachers gathered in the Robert Williams Hall to receive the Governor and hear him speak. Some of the teachers wore colourful caps and gowns and they looked impressive. At the end of the brief ceremony the day was declared a holiday in honour of the Governor. The older boys adjourned to the playground for a game of football.
As I stood on the sidelines and watched the game it drizzled and I was reminded of my father’s advice. A little later somebody said that my cousin E. T Hitchcock, then working at the Jaffna Kachcheri, was looking for me. He came in a horse carriage and said that my father was seriously ill and that I was wanted at home. As we were driving to Tellippalai I sat quietly fearing the worst. And at noon when we were nearing home I even thought I might hear the weeping and crying of people. However, when we arrived everything was reassuringly quiet. Nothing had happened yet. But the native physicians, who had been summoned at the last minute, were of the opinion that father was sinking and there was not the remotest hope. He was conscious all the time and shortly before he died he called me and took my hand and said, “Study your arithmetic carefully’’. He passed away at 8 p.m.
The funeral took place the next day in the presence of a large gathering. At the service at home I was standing next to the Rev. J. H. Dickson under whom my father was working. When I wept be put his hand on my shoulder and said, ‘Don’t be afraid, we will take care of you”. I went to the graveyard where they buried my father next to the banyan tree which still stands in the centre. My mother was young and beautiful and widowed at the age of 30. My father was 38. We stayed in the house till Saturday and then my mother and the five children, of whom I was the eldest at eleven, left by train for Chavakachcheri and our ancestral home.
The problem of my schooling cropped up once again. Obviously this time it was Jaffna College which was to be my home for the next eight years. I joined the school at the beginning of the second term. Mr. Chas W. Miller was the Acting Principal during the interregnum between Brown and Bicknell. However, J. V. Chelliah was the first big name I heard. Mr. J K. Kanapathipillai, a Trained Teacher of great repute, was our class-master in the Second Form. Fortunately for me he took Arithmetic. Even when I worked only one sum out of five he would pat me on my shoulder and encourage me. I felt a new confidence coming into me. Something clicked and a metamorphsis had taken place, I became proficient in Arithmetic and Mathematics. In the Junior Cambridge I gained a distinction in Arithmetic - the only one from Jaffna College that year - and even then my father's friends continued to ask me how I was faring in my arithmetic. Reputations die hard indeed.
In the Second Form I met two of my old class-mates from the Tellippalai English School - R.T. Seevaratnani and E. Rajadurai - and some other very brilliant boys. Lyman Kulathungam was in the Baby Boarding with me. He had the exclusive privilege of going home every week-end and on Monday mornings would return with a big cake which be generously shared with us. There was another boy who had a leather strap round his left wrist with a key dangling from it. He was some kind of a monitor, officious but honest and fearless, and would constantly report boys to the Dormitory Master for all kinds of little offences. He was able to stand up to the bigger boys who would often bully some of us. His name was Sri Skanda Rajah - a name that was to become dear to me later and for life. Our class came to be known as the best in the school, the Principal rating it first every term.
I passed my first public examination - the Junior Cambridge getting the first place in the school and winning the Rockwood Scholarship. In the Senior Cambridge I came face to face with awe-inspiring teachers like J. V. Chelliah who took English and Allen Abraham, the great astronomer of Halley’s Comet fame, who taught us Mathematics. Up till then they were legends. J. V. Chelliah made learning memorable with his inimitable illustrations and apocryphal anecdotes while Allen Abraham stirred the brilliant students and bored the mediocrities.
I took an active part in games along with boys of my age. I remember playing for Chavakachcberi in the All-Ceylon Volley Ball Finals at Price Park at the age of 15. At about the same age I found a place in the College Cricket Eleven. Thuraisingham, the six-footer and hurricane hitter, Sri Skanda. Rajah, A. P. T. Winslow and Vetbaparanam were some of my team mates. In 1919 we played Jaffna Hindu on the esplanade and beat them by an innings.
When we returned to school that evening I found I bad developed a temperature. I was sent home and the case was diagnosed as enteric. Vaddukoddai had become a hot bed of enteric and this was an annual visitation. I was treated at home by Dr. Christie Phillips, a young . but brilliant doctor. The wonder drugs of today did not exist then. The resistance of the patient and careful nursing were the factors to be depended upon.
On the tenth day I became delirious but could faintly bear the wedding drums for my wife’s eldest sister next doors. Some relatives who came to the wedding dropped in to see me. My condition steadily deteriorated and on the twenty-first day all hopes were given up. My mother wept bitterly and pleaded with God for the life of her eldest child. Many people gathered at the gate to hear the worst. By God’s grace nothing happened that day and I was destined to live.
By the faithful attention of the doctor and the careful nursing and loving care of my mother, fever returned to normal on the forty-fifth day. In the meantime seven of my school mates had died including Perumelpillai Sathasivam, the most brilliant of my classmates. Several others were seriously ill including Handy Perinbanayagam.
My cricket master was anxious to have me back for the next season and so I went early next year to school but I started getting an intermittent fever which persisted. And so I was taken to my uncle’s house at Udupiddy to be treated by a well-known native physician of Pt. Pedro. I would. get the fever with a chill and a violent shivering which broke my bones. After about two hours it would leave me only to return the next day at the same time to shake me still more violently. The physician gave me some drugs and put me on a low diet which seriously weakened my already weak frame. I was reduced to skin and bones.
My mother, who came to see me after a few weeks, was shocked to see my sight, broke down and wept. Through the kind intervention of the Rev. J. K. Sinnatamby, who was then pastor at Chavakachcheri, I was taken to the Jaffna Civil Hospital to be seen by Dr. Gunam Cooke who had just returned from England with high qualifications. In spite of the ominous reports he had had from others about me he declared the case as one of malaria. It could be cured with six injections costing Rs. 5/- each. The most welcome prescription was that I could go home and have a body wash, which I converted into a bath and eat anything I liked. This was release indeed. I recovered fully and went back to school to resume my studies and my games after an interruption of nearly two years.
I skipped the Senior Cambridge and re-joined my classmates in the London Matriculation class. Mr. Allen Abraham taught us Pure and Applied Mathematics but died during that year (1922). I remember waiting at the junction at dusk one evening along with other boys to pay our homage to the teacher, whom we all revered and admired, when his body was being taken from Jaffna to Karainagar.
Sri Skanda Rajah, who had left Jaffna College to go to Ananda, returned after passing the London Matriculation examination of June 1922 brilliantly, being one of the only four to get a First Division in Ceylon that year. Dorothy Anghie was one of the others. K. A. Selliah, Sri Skanda Rajah, myself and two others made up the first London Inter Science class which Mr. Bicknell had planned to start. We began with the initial handicap of losing Mr. Allen Abraham but nevertheless made good. Sri Skanda Rajah, Selliah and I were room mates in what was called the Inter-Hostel at Jaffna College. In July 1923 we three joined the University College and again became room-mates in the Union Hostel at Guildford Crescent with Professor Suntharalingam as our Warden.
Mr. Suntharalingam, after a brilliant career at Oxford, passed into the Indian Civil Service but elected to join the Ceylon Civil Service Getting bored, as he said, with signing dog licenses as a Cadet at the Badulla Kachcheri, he threw up his job and joined his friend P. de S. Kularatne at Ananda. After a short time there, he was appointed to the Mathematics Chair at the Ceylon University College which had just been started. Suntharalingam was a dynamic personality. He was young, energetic, confident and clever. A large number of the exhibitioners and scholars at the University College were attracted by him and joined the Union Hostel. His wife was a beautiful young lady, cultured and refined, with gracious ways. ‘Keybani” was our hostel and the Suntharalingams lived in the corner house next door. Suntharalingam introduced many Oxford traditions into the hostel and tirelessly initiated us into these. ‘Lifting’ and ‘Ducking’ were two of these which have deteriorated into the ragging’ of the present day.
Suntharalingam was the Mathematics Professor while U. D. R. Casperz and F. H. V. Gulasekharam were the lecturers. We assembled in the lecture room on the first day when F. H. V. took the lecture. I was seated at one of the front desks. He suddenly stopped in the middle of the lecture, looked at me and asked, “Are you Annapooranam’s son?’ He was informal and eccentric. I was surprised and embarrassed.
F. H. V. was a relation of mine. Ho knew my parents well and had come home once or twice when I was a little boy. Ho was a great teacher. He always prepared his lectures thoroughly, wrote them down neatly and delivered them clearly. Occasionally he would ask us to underline vertically some important step, this being one of his stock jokes. Suntharalingam would work a sum very fast on the board, making comments as he proceeded. He would arrive at a big expression for the answer and then say, “Let us boil it down a bit”. After two or three more steps he would say, “Which is equal to..... which is wrong gentlemen”, to the amusement of all of us. He would then start all over again and quickly arrive at the correct answer. Casperz, who took Applied. Mathematics was like neither of these. He would come to the lecture with a book on any subject other than Mathematics, may be on Music or Philosophy. He was calmness personified and absolutely unruffled. He was sure of the principles. He would say, “There are three unknowns and therefore we require three equations”. He would write down the three and ask us to go home and work them. There would be only one answer and that the correct answer.
My contemporaries at the University College
At the University College every thing looked new. The environment was completely strange. There were boys from all the well-known Public Schools of the island. They came from Royal, St. Thomas, Trinity, St. Joseph’s and Ananda. From the outstations Jaffna College was conspicuous. The techniques of both teaching and learning were different. The lecturer was not to be interrupted during his one hour performance. Seeing a student dose away Prof. Suntharalingam would say, “Gentlemen, you may sleep but please do not snore”. In my class I met several boys who distinguished themselves later in their respective walks of life:
H. E Peries (Ceylon Civil Service and Secretary to the Treasury), M. W. F. Abeyakoon (Inspector General of Police), Walwin de Silva (Ceylon Civil Service, Additional Director of Education and Vice-Chancellor of the University), S. A. Wijesooriya (Principal, Mahinda College), A. P. Kandasamy (Director of the Observatory), Rienzie Wijekoon, (Director of Public Works), W. A. de Silva (Director of Irrigation), S. Nadesan (Queen’s Counsel and Senator), S. Karthigesu (Surveyor General, D. B. Ellepola (Asst. Surveyor General), E. A. Rajasingam (Lt. Col. and Asst. Surveyor General), and W. J. A. Van Langenberg (Ceylon Civil Service).
In the Union Hostel, I met besides some of the above M.. F. de S. Jayaratne (Secretary to the Ministry of Defence & External Affairs and Ambassador to Washington), Colvin R. de Silva (M. P. and Minister for Constitutional Affairs), M. W. Karunananda (Prinicipal of Ananda College, John Sinnatamby (Asst. Surveyor General) and James T. Rutnam (Historian and Anthropologist), S. H. Perinbanayagam, S. R. Kanaganayagam and P. Sri SkandaRajah, my old friends from Jaffna College, were also at the hostel at this time. One year senior to me at the College were Peter Pillai (Rector of St. Joseph’s), M. Balasundaram (Advocate and M. P.), R. H. Paul (Professor of Electrical Engineering) and V. M. Asaipillai (Principal, Jaffna Hindu College), all of whom won the Govt. University scholarship.
Suntharalingam strode the campus like a colossus. Principal Marrs, who had served in the British Intelligence Service during the first World War and was now carrying the white man’s burden in Ceylon, was not allowed to have his own way. “Sun” was the watch dog of the undergraduates’ rights and privileges. He was the hero of the students and idol of the intelligentsia of the city. For more than a decade he held a pre-eminent place in he University College and played a vital role in every aspect of its life. He was the rising star in the University firmament. He would invite for the formal dinner every Sunday evening at the hostel celebrities like Ramanathan. Senanayake, Jayatilake, etc. He would sit with the chief guest at the high table while we sat separately in the main hail scrupulously observing all the proprieties of a formal occasion.
There were two parties in the hostel with S. Nadesan leading the minority group. Nadesan had found out that the other party was just perverse and would vote at the Union Society meetings against any proposal that he brought forward. Therefore Nadesan would propose and earnestly argue the opposite of what he really wanted. The majority would vote against and Nadesan would get what in fact he wanted. The other side realised their mistake too late. Nadesan was too clever and they could not forgive him.
At the University College we became friends and the friendship has grown and endured for sixty years.
One of the traditions that “Sun” took pains to establish was that the residents were put on their honour to report to the Warden any violations of rules that they might themselves have committed. Others were not to sneak to the Warden. There was a rule to say that residents should return to the hostel before 10 p. m. With the permission of the Warden they may stay out till 12 midnight. But on no account could they stay after that. The other side suspected that Nadesan was violating this rule but not reporting it to the Warden. One day it was 10 p. m. and Nadesan was not in. So, many of the Senior hostellers dressed themselves for a showdown in shorts and sleeveless banians and were in a belligerent mood. 12 0’ Clock struck but Nadesan had still not come. And so they guarded the gate and the main entrance and still Nadesan did not appear. After some time they peeped into Nadesan’s room to find him apparently fast asleep. Nadesan had come through Mr. Hobson’s garden on the other side of the tennis Court, jumped over the parapet wall and gained entrance to his room through an outside door. He had outwitted them. The next day there was a trial before the Warden. The other side was represented by three or four people while Nadesan defended himself. We watched from a distance being never in doubt about the outcome of the case. After a long trial Nadesan was acquitted on all charges. The Warden came down the steps and announced the verdict to an excited gathering of residents and warned them not to touch Nadesan on pain of dismissal.
Nadesan was equally mischievous in the class room. He would tease F. H. V. whenever he got a chance. He would never do his weekly problem papers. F. H. V. told him in the class room one day, “You may be a great lawyer one day but so long as you are here you must do my problem papers”. There was no response and so F. H. V. reported him to Marrs. The Principal called Nadesan and told him that F. H. V. had made a complaint. He was a very faithful teacher and Nadesan should satisfy him. “What am I to do Sir? I have catarrh and bronchitis and cannot sit up and work”. Two days later Nadesan produced a medical certificate from Dr. Coomaraswamy, M.M. C. The Principal promptly instructed F. H. V. to excuse Nadesan from problem papers!
Mrs. Suntharalingam was expecting her first baby and the exciting event was imminent. One morning when we had assembled for F. H. V’s lecture we heard the news of the arrival of a baby son (now Dr. Gnanalingam). As F. H. V. was lecturing we heard the measured tramp and the heavy thud of Sun’s police boots along the upstair corridor. As “Sun” passed our door F. H. V. interrupted his lecture to say, “He thinks it is a big feat, I have eleven of them”.
Beginning of Tennis career
At Jaffna College we were not allowed, as students, to play tennis. It was only for the masters. However, we used to steal a game or two now and then. At the University College the door was open to us. Sris and I grabbed the opportunity and took to tennis with a devotion and enthusiasm worthy of a better cause. We seldom missed a day’s tennis. We were prepared to pay any price. One was to forgo our afternoon tea at the hostel every day. If we were to go to the hostel for tea at the end of the last lecture for the day at 4 O’Clock and then return to the University courts for tennis we were likely to miss our turn. Therefore Sris and I went to Casperz’s lecture at 3 O’Clock with notes in one hand and the racket in the other. As soon as the clock struck four Sris and I would rush down the stairs and run into the court and start the game. We would be already counting one-all when Casperz, passing by in his rickshaw, would say, “You fellows have already started the game!".
Tennis fascinated us. We were possessed by it. We frequently went to the Lawn Club to watch Oscar Pinto and Fred de Saram play. Pinto was our idol. Chopping was the style. Hardly any one drove because this was difficult in Nuwara Eliya where the national championships were played. Owing to the altitude and the rare medium the ball just sailed away. On the other hand the ball could be controlled more easily with chops. Pinto was a master of the volley and the overhead smash. I don’t know of any player in Ceylon who has excelled him in these departments. Thus started a long and successful tennis career for Sris and myself. Tennis gave us satisfaction and a sense of fulfillment.
Jaffna College again
After two memorable years at the University College during which we completed our studies for the London B. Sc. degree, K. A. Selliah and I returned to Jaffna College in July 1925 on the invitation of Rev. John Bicknell to join the staff. I was happy to have the opportunity to serve the school which had done so much for me and I plunged enthusiastically into every aspect of life in the school.
Carl W. Phelps had been our Chemistry teacher and the Physical Director of the School. He was thorough and methodical in everything he did. He prepared as much for work on the playground am he did for work in the class room. His energy was boundless. He set up an elaborate department for sports and it almost appeared that while Bicknell was Head of the Academic Department he was head of the Physical Department. On my return from the University College I found to my dismay that cricket bad practically been given up as an inter-collegiate activity and confined only to internal competitions. To Phelps cricket was expensive and a waste of time. All but two of one side sat in the pavilion doing nothing while the other side strolled leisurely on the field chasing a ball occasionally. The game never appealed to a person of Phelps’ dynamism.
On the other hand Bicknell appreciated the fine points of the game and would sit watching a match for hours. He told me one day to do all I could to build up cricket in the school and that he would back me up fully.
Having played cricket with some success as a school boy and holding the batting record of Jaffna College at that time, I loved the game. Grit, determination, fighting to the last and not throwing in the sponge are qualities of the Englishman reflected in the game of cricket. The saying that the battle of Waterloo was won on the playing fields of Eton is not without meaning. I took charge of cricket and started building up a team almost from scratch I trained the boys on and off the field not only in the techniques of the game but also in its philosophy.
In due course Jaffna College ranked among the best in Jaffna and won the Inter-Collegiate Championship in 1934. Phelps left Jaffna College in 1927 to become Principal of Highclare School in Kodaikanal. I was appointed to succeed him as Physical Director.
Then followed eight years of very hard work in the class room as well as the playground both of which I thoroughly enjoyed. Explaining abstract mathematical concepts to students, opening their minds to the fascination of’ figures, helping them to see the gleam and making their minds click are never-to-be forgotten experiences.
In the playground, staying with the boys through the fluctuating fortunes of a cricket match or the exciting finish of a football game and waiting with bated breath for the winning stroke or a last minute goal and finally sharing in the joy of victory or the sorrow of defeat were precious experiences which strengthened me and moulded the character of the boys.
We won the Jaffna Inter-Collegiate championship in Track & Field Athletics in 1932 and ‘33, Football in 1933 and ‘34 and Cricket in 1934. Jaffna College reached the summit of its glory in sports during these years. Having realized these dreams, I had to leave Jaffna College to assume work as Head of the Mission Station at Tellippalai in January 1935.
This period also brought to me, personally, outstanding success in Tennis. Sri Skanda Rajah and I won the North-Ceylon Open Singles Championship in consecutive years and the Open Doubles Championship many times. I also won the Mixed Doubles Championship with Yogam Muttiah of Chundikuli. Spurred by these victories we tried our mettle at the AllCeylon Tennis Meet in Nuwara Eliya in 1932 and ‘33, and met with moderate success. I won the Handicap Singles while both of us won the Handicap Doubles. In the latter event we created a sensation by beating Fonseka and Tennekoon, a seeded pair, both in the Handicap Doubles and in the Open Doubles.
Sri Skanda Rajah was a courageous player and afraid of no one however famous. Once he drew Andrews, the New Zealand Davis Cup player, in the first round of the Open Singles at Nuwara Eliya. This was to be the opening match of the tournament on the centre court. Most local players would have conceded a walkover but Sris walked into the court saying that he was going to win! Of course be lost, but not before he won two games in each set which was a creditable performance. Once at the North-Ceylon Tournament he studied the draws and told me that he and I were going to meet in the Finals. I reminded him that there was J.C. W. Rock whom he had to overcome and I had another formidable opponent myself. Rock had a tremendous reputation and was a seeded player at Nuwara Eliya. He had just come as District Judge of Jaffna. The Club was dominated by lawyers and naturally all of them backed Rock. When the match started Sris took an early lead and kept it up to the stunned disbelief of Rock’s supporters. He played doggedly and ultimately won to the amazement of the crowd. In the same tournament Sris and I had to meet Rock and Jefferey in the Open Doubles Final. The mood of the crowd was the same, most of them supporting Rock and partner. Our strategy was to serve and storm the net pushing the older pair to the fence. We killed the weak returns. But Rock was a great strategist himself and he lobbed deep into the corners. However, Sris would be there like lightning to receive the ball. We won the match in the fourth set. James Joseph, the Additional District Judge, came up to me and congratulated me saying, “I was a silent spectator, admiring the suppleness of your muscles and the rhythm of your movements."
Mahatma Gandhi’s Visit
In the mid twenties the Freedom Movement in India was gathering momentum. The heroic struggle of Mahatma Gandhi and the Indian people against the British Empire with the new weapon of Satyagraha was attracting the attention of the world. The stirrings in India were causing ripples in the placid life of the youth of Jaffna. Gandhiji’s ideals inspired us. A consciousness of our ancient culture was reborn and we were awakened to a sense of our heritage. It was at this time that the Jaffna Students’ Congress, later known as the Youth Congress, pledged to the revival of our language, literature, music and art, was established in Jaffna with youthful teachers from Jaffna College taking the lead. Jaffna College was in the vanguard of the national movement. The national dress became much in evidence and some of us wore khader (the rough home-spun cloth) in support of the Swadeshi Movement of Gandhi. We invited great South Indian patriots and fiery orators like Satyamoorthy. Prakasam and Kamaladevi Chattopatbyaya to the annual sessions of the Students Congress year after year. A few years earlier I remember listening to the stirring addresses of the Ali brothers - Mohammed and Shakut - Gandhi’s lieutenents before the Hindu-Muslim split and to Dr. Kitchlien in the Public Hall, Colombo. When referring to the Jalienwala massacre, Dr. Kitchuien spoke of the blood of Hindus and Muslims flowing in one common stream.
When I was Secretary of the Students, Congress in 1927 we invited Gandhi to visit Jaffna. I was thrilled to receive the following reply from the Mahatma accepting our invitation:
As at the Ashram, Sabarmati.
I have your letter. During my visit to the South, I should love to respond to your invitation. But there are many difficulties in the way. If I go to Jaffna, I must go to other places in Ceylon which means quite a few days there. This year I want to devote purely to Khadi work and Khadi collection. If therefore I went to Ceylon, I would want to make Khadi collections. The best thing I can therefore do is to forward your letter to Sjt. C. Rajagopalachariar who is organising the tour in the South and let him decide. Please correspond with him. His address is Gandhi Ashram, Tiruchengodu (South India).
M. K. Gandhi
The responsibility, both political and otherwise, of having a person of the stature and significance of Gandhi in our midst for a week was a serious one. At that time not much love was lost between Britain and India and we were only a colony of Britain. The details of organising such a visit and arranging the Mahatma’s itinerary were formidable. Further, the Mahatma had indicated that he would like to use the opportunity to collect funds for his Khadi campaign. But we were young and optimistic and, may be, complacent. We wanted to have a glimpse of the Mahatma and that was the only thing that counted and so we went ahead with the arrangements.
Mr. Waitilingam Duraisamy (later Sir Waitilingam) was appointed Chairman of the Reception Committee. Numerous other committees were set up. Many prominent citizens fell head over heals to help us. The greatest help and co-operation came from a most unexpected quarter. Mr. G. K. Pippet, an Englishman and an Oxford man, was then the Superintendent of Police, Jaffna. In the circumstances one would have expected a representative of the British Empire to be at best lukewarm. But Pippet was a gentleman and his help was spontaneous and whole-hearted. We were able to manage the huge meetings and mammoth crowds satisfactorily.
Gandhi’s party consisted, among others, of Rajagopalachari, his daughter and H. M. Desai. We rented out the large house on Clock Tower Road to accommodate the party. Every morning Gandhi would leave on a tour of the peninsula. Every evening he would return and some of us would sit at his feet and listen to his words of wisdom and also share with him our hopes and aspirations for Ceylon. At street junctions crowds would stop his car and worship him. Women pulled out their bangles and necklaces and offered them as gifts.
A number of meetings were held at important centres where Gandhi spoke. When addresses were presented he promptly auctioned them and raised money for his Khadi campaign. The esplanade was a sea of people. I remember reading the address of the Students Congress. It was printed very attractively on Khadar cloth by Father Beaux of the St. Joseph’s Catholic Press. When auctioned it fetched a considerable amount. The memorable week came to an end with a big Garden Party given by Mr. Waitilingam Duraisamy in his Clock Tower Road residence. Recently the road has been renamed Mahatma Gandhi Road, evidently as a reminder of the Mahatma’s visit and in honour of him.
In those leisurely days we had the time and the disposition for the contemplation of knowledge and the pursuit of ideals for their own sake. We didn’t have to be pre occupied with competition for admission to the University College or with the race for jobs thereafter. There was a wide road and an open door and a decent job at the end of it. The plight of the youth of today is drastically different. They need our sympathy and understanding. We cannot just dismiss them as being indifferent to the more serious things of life.
Reaction on the Church
Freedom is total and indivisible. The urge towards political freedom led us to seek for freedom in other fields. The Potter Deputation of the American Board headed by Dr. Rockwell Harmon Potter arrived in Jaffna in 1927. It was customary for the American Board to send out deputations to visit the far-flung mission fields from time to time in order to evaluate and review their work. The first one was the celebrated Anderson - Thompson Deputation which came in 1354, 38 years after the Ceylon Mission was established. This Deputation made startling decisions the adverse effect of which continued to be felt for many decades. The second - the Barton Deputation - came in 1901. The Potter Deputation was the third in the series. This was after the first World War.
The people in the East were disillusioned by the failure of the lofty ideals with which they had associated the West. The supremacy of the white man was being challenged particularly in India. The Church was in the midst of this and was influenced by these trends. Nationalism was very much in the air. The leaders of the Church, many of whom were also leaders of the National Movement, placed before the Deputation the case for the devolution of all Mission work - hospitals, schools, industrial department, etc. - upon the nationals. The Deputation, sensing the prevailing climate, accepted the suggestion saying that if the Mission had done its work well at all during the previous one-hundred years and more the nationals should be able to take over the mission institutions and run them. Then the American Board could usefully divert its resources to needier countries like Africa. The principle was granted but its implementation proved to be a travail. The existing order was changing and another was struggling to be born.
Some of us, both missionaries and nationals, were appointed to consider the nature of the new organisation that was to take the place of the Mission. We addressed our minds to the question of drafting a constitution. After some years of deliberation we produced a draft. This went up and down the Atlantic for consideration and reconsideration. There were amendments and counter amendments. Finally a draft was accepted by representative bodies on the field and the American Board. The new body to take the place of the Mission was to be called the Central Board consisting of 15 members. These were to be elected democratically, the churches having a predominant say. Accordingly, elections were held and the Board constituted. However, the start was inauspicious. The older missionaries having tasted power for decades were not happy about the proposed change and were unenthusiastic from the start. This was perhaps natural. They were each one a benevolent dictator in his own sphere of work and an undisputed authority. All this was going to be changed by a broad based democratic set-up. Some of the missionaries were of the view that national leadership was not equal to the responsibilities that were being cast on them. The American Board was aware of this opinion. On the other band there was bickering among the national leaders for the crumbs of office. The election results went against some of the influential leaders. Both these factors conspired to bring down the Central Board ostensibly over a technical issue. The Central Board was stillborn and we had to start all over again.
Becoming Head of the American Mission in Tellipalai
The next idea was to bring about the change gradually as and when opportunities arose by the retirement of missionaries. Mr. A. A. Ward had been head of the mission station at Tellippalai since 1919. He was ill with heart disease and in 1934 it was felt that he would have to retire at any time. The Mission, as a first step, decided in 1934 to appoint an Advisory Board to help Mr. Ward. It was composed of Rev. R. C. P. Welch (Chairman), A. A. Ward, Rev. S. Kulandran, J. C. Stickney, J.C. Amarasingham and I. P. Thurairatnam. I was appointed Secretary. The work at Tellippalai comprised the Bilingual School1 the American Ceylon Mission Press established in 1834, the Industrial Department started in 1878 and the A. C. M. Depot. Within a short time of appointing the Board the Mission thought it fit to sell the Press and decided accordingly. This decision was communicated to the Board, the reason being that the Press was losing heavily year after year and was not viable any more. We naturally protested that we had hardly been given a chance. The decision was rescinded and the Press got another lease of life. The Board was on the lookout for a suitable person to succeed Mr. Ward. They had an elderly person in mind but when they met in December 1934 the Board suddenly decided, unanimously, to recommend to the Mission that the position be offered to me.
This came to me like a bolt from the blue. I had no inkling of this development. I had not asked for it, neither did I want it. I had been teaching at Jaffna College for nearly ten years and had looked upon it as my life work. I enjoyed the work in the class room and on the playground immensely.
I was aware that Tellippalai was the lowliest and the least of the mission stations though it had had a hoary past as the headquarters of the Mission in the pioneering days. However, I viewed this call as a challenge to the nationals in the existing circumstances. I decided to accept it provided my Principal, Mr. Bicknell, would release me and send me away with his blessing. I spoke to Mr. Bicknell the next day. He said he himself, as Secretary of the Mission, was faced with the responsibility of finding a successor to Mr. Ward at Tellippalai and, if he was asked, he could not recommend any one better. He knew the College community would not approve my release as the work in the Mathematics and Sports Departments would suffer but the need at Tellippalai was greater. The missionary statesman that he was, he agreed to send me with his blessing.
On the other hand my friends and my relations thought I was crazy. A position at Jaffna College was not to be thrown away so lightly and how about my own prospects and the future of my children who were entitled to some privileges and many advantages. I myself had been elevated to the prestigious and responsible position of Physical Director after the departure of Carl W. Phelps. My efforts had been crowned with success. Year after year we won the Inter-Collegiate championships in all sports. I was also at the peak of my tennis career. All this was to be sacrificed for an unknown future and an undoubtedly formidable task. And yet I decided to take the plunge.
At the Bilingual School in Tellipalai
The Bilingual school was a free school which only the children from the poorer homes of the locality attended. It had classes up to the 8th standard. There were 8 teachers and 150 students. The Sanders Hall and the old assembly hail were the only buildings built of stone. The class rooms had half walls of mud and thatched roofs. Science was not taught. This was all a drastic change from the dizzy heights of Jaffna College where I taught Applied Mathematics for the London Inter-Science class and Pure Mathematics and Physics for the Senior Cambridge. There was also intellectual companionship of a high order and a congenial atmosphere of freedom and enterprise.
On the 1st. of January 1935 I was transported into the strange atmosphere of Tellippalai. I came with my wife and four little kids. Tellippalai was of course not altogether new to me. I had been there earlier as a child and left under tragic circumstances. The office, in which my father worked under the Rev. J. H. Dickson and now occupied by Mr. Ward, was to be my office and the hub of activities in the premises. I soon discovered that all was not well with the several institutions in the premises. The Church, the English School, the Bilingual School and the Press were not on talking terms. The English School and the Bilingual School were daggers drawn. They were a family divided.
I presumed nothing. I set about my work as if I didn’t know anything about the background and history of their disputes. I was starting ab initio. Soon natural and normal relations were established and a friendly atmosphere prevailed among the several departments. However, the English School was not under my purview being managed by Jaffna College and the rapport with this had to wait for a future date. With regard to external relations, the connection with the Hindu School - Mahajana - had been quite strained ever since the inception of that school. The two parties were antagonistic. Here again I presumed nothing and behaved normally, establishing friendly relations.
Internally I became aware of certain unfortunate circumstances which were potentially dangerous but, fortunately, did not materialise as such. There was a Headmaster for the school who had to make way for me. This naturally created some unpleasantness though I was in no sense responsible. I didn’t even know and I was not told about this earlier.
The Superintendent of the Press was 71 years of age while I was only 31 and yet he had to work under me. There were also many others much older than I. Further, they were used for many decades to taking orders from white people. It was only natural that they should feel reluctant to accord the same respect to one of their own. However, these prejudices were soon overcome. They began to appreciate my hard work and devotion and, to a man, pulled their weight with mc. Things began to hum. The Press which was on its last legs got a new life. The school made spectacular progress. In 1937 the Ward Block - a row of eight class rooms being the first building of this century - was put up. In the same year the school staged Rama’s Exile twice before Colombo audiences— one under the patronage of Sir Waitilingam Duraiswamy and the other under the patronage of Sir Ratnajothi Saravanamuttu. These shows were well received and favourably reviewed in the daily press.
And the Beginning of Union College
One problem however remained. There were two schools in the premises - the English School run by Jaffna College and the Bilingual School run by the Mission. Except for the medium of instruction which was English in the first school and both English and Tamil (bilingual) in the second, the schools prepared for the same examination - the Junior School Certificate - and the curriculum was identical. The buildings and grounds, the staff and equipment, were all duplicated. This seemed an utter waste of resources. Besides the schools had grown to their fullest and there was no more room for expansion. On top of all these the two sets of teachers were unfriendly as the destinies of teachers were inevitably bound up with the numerical strength of students.
The Retrenchment Commission of 1939 headed by Oliver Goonetillake argued in essence for a fewer but bigger and healthier schools rather than a large number of small and sickly schools. I thought this was the time to amalgamate the two schools into a Senior Secondary School and put all our resources together to build up an institution worthy of the century-old educational traditions of Tellippalai
Accordingly, I put up the proposal to the Mission which approved the idea. A representative of Jaffna College objected saying that the new secondary school would pose a threat to Jaffna Colleges I replied that I accepted the compliment though I could not agree with the contention. Another friend, who had only the previous night told me that he would support the proposal, spoke at some length, but I really didn’t know on which side he spoke. The subject was taken up the following week at a meeting of the Board of Directors of Jaffna Colleges. The older and reactionary members opposed the proposal while the younger members including Mr. Bunker, the Principal of the College, and the missionary members of the staff strongly supported the idea. The Rev R. C. P. Welch, who had identified himself with the aspirations of Tellippalai ever since devolution, championed the new proposal. This was approved and I was given a letter signed by the Secretaries of the Mission and the Jaffna College Board authorizing me to negotiate the terms of the amalgamation with the Government.
The Director of Education, whom I met, agreed with the idea of the amalgamation of the two schools in the circumstances until I drew his attention to one snag. There were two headmasters for the two schools while in the new one there could be only one. Of course, he said, the other one should be transferred to another school. I said I was prepared to go through with the amalgamation only if it did not involve any hardship to any of the teachers by way of transfer or reduction of salary or status. I argued for two headmasters salaries for the new school as an exception. The two schools were functioning under two different codes and even the quota of students per teacher was different This meant that a few teachers would become excess in the new school and should be transferred. I produced figures to show that computing the cost to Govt. of the existing schools, as they were, for the next ten years and of the new school for the same period, the new school would mean an annually recurrent saving to Govt. which would go on increasing but never decrease.
The Director answered that providing for two head masters salaries for one school was against the law and he could not violate it even to save money. I replied that amalgamation of schools had not been contemplated in the Code but that there must be some authority to approve an exception to the law. I added that I would produce a memorandum on the subject the next day and pleaded with him to seek the authority of the Treasury. He was persuaded. The memorandum made its journey from the lowest staff officer to the highest until finally the Financial Secretary, Mr. Collins, put his seal of approval on it.
I returned to Jaffna a happy man having overcome what was generally considered an insuperable difficulty. Yet, it was not I but God himself who did it. I prayed for his blessing upon the cause from the first day I was moved to undertake it and I was never in doubt about the outcome.
However, when I came back I noticed a difference in the attitude of my friends. Some of them were lukewarm and some indifferent while only a few remained faithful. Then something happened, which in my ignorance of the ways of the world, I never bargained for. Some members of the Mission - all nationals - sent a requisition for a Special Meeting of the Mission to reconsider the subject saying that they had not been given sufficient time to consider a change of policy of such far-reaching implications but that they had been stampeded into a hasty decision. Accordingly, a meeting was called. I supported the motion for reconsideration. I agreed that the matter was of the greatest importance to the Mission and that members should be given another opportunity to debate it. My friends were startled. I believed in the righteousness of the cause and I was sure with God’s blessing it would triumph. At the end the original decision was confirmed by an overwhelming majority.
And yet this was not to be the end. The Education Department had fixed Oct. 1,1939 as the effective date for the amalgamation. So many details had to be worked out and I was extremely busy when, two days before the consummation, I received a telegram from the Director saying, “Postpone amalgamation until further orders”. I smelt a rat.
I drove to Colombo at once and discovered that a member of the Mission — again a national — of high position and great influence had gone personally and protested vehemently against the Govt. violating the law. At the same time the Audit Department also had pointed out that while they would abide by the Treasury ruling, such a deviation from the law required the Governor’s approval. I then had the recommendation sent to the Governor through the Minister. In two days time I received the final approval from the highest authority in the land. Thus was born the Union College of today.
Growth of Union College
Union College is both old and new. It is old in the sense that its early beginnings could be traced to the year
1816 when the pioneer American Missionaries set up their headquarters at Tellippalai and established the first school in the mission field. It is new in the sense that it assumed its present status in 1939.
Except for a short break after 1855 when all English education given under the auspices of the American Mission was suspended as a result of the recommendation of the Anderson-Thompson Deputation, there has been a thread of continuity running through the long stretch of time from 1816 to the present day. Very shortly after the school was started in 1816 English was introduced and thus it became the first English School under the American Mission. In 1818 it was converted into a Boarding School—the first of its kind. Also in the same year girls were admitted into the school and Tellippalai led once again.
In the meantime schools had been started in four other Mission stations and the necessity arose for a Central School. This was established in 18 ?3 at Batticotta (Vaddukoddai) and constituted the beginning of the Batticotta Seminary. Soon after this it was thought desirable to provide a similar Central Institution for girls. Such a school was established at Uduvil in 1824 and Tellippalai contributed the largest quota of students. In order to forward the progress of the Batticotta Seminary the school at Tellippalai was converted into a Preparatory School in 1825. Promising boys from other Day Schools were admitted into this and the school attained such great success that the new department was removed to Batticotta and made an appendage to the Seminary in 1832. Having sent its girls to Uduvil and its promising boys to the Seminary, Tellippalai as an educational centre receded into the background for a few decades. The Tellippalai English School, like all other English Schools under the American Mission, came under the pruning knife of the American Board Deputation of 1855. It was, therefore, closed in 1856 but re-appeared in 1869 under the name Chellappah's School, so called after the Head master, Mr. Chellappah. The school continued thus until 1901 when the Mission took it under its wings and once again assumed the management. After its rebirth the school entered into a very useful and vigorous existence until 1939 when it became one of the twin parents of Union College.
The story of the other parent may be traced as follows : The Batticotta Seminary was closed in 1856 and in the premises of the Seminary was established in 1859 a Theological and Training Institution. In 1871 this institution was shifted to Tellippalai in order to make room for Jaffna College which was established in 1872. The Theological Department was given up a few years later and an Industrial Department added in 1878. The institution was now known as the Tellippalai Training and Industrial School. After 1916 the Training School was shifted out of Tellippalai twice while the Tamil Practising School and Industrial School remained at Tellippalai along with the English School which was an independent unit. In 1929 the Tamil School was converted into a Bilingual School. In 1939 the Bilingual School merged with the English School to constitute the Union High School which a year afterwards was re-christened Union College. The Tellippalai English School and the Tellippalai Bilingual School thus became the twin parents of Union College. The two streams which flowed into Union College—one dating from 1816 and the other from 1871 — I have endowed it with noble traditions and a hoary culture.
The Struggle : I recognized that a long and difficult road lay ahead of the school. The Mission had warned me, while approving the project, that they had no money for the maintenance of the new school and that I should be prepared to cook my own goose. My friends asked me if I was ready to go to an early grave. But the hand of destiny pointed toward the distant goal. The staffs of the two schools were integrated and they were fired with enthusiasm for the new school. The school and along with it they themselves had attained to a new status. The S. S. C. and the London Matriculation classes were added and the curriculum expanded. Qualified teachers were recruited to teach the new subjects. All this meant heavy expenses in the current account. Funds had to be found for capital outlay on buildings and equipment. At least half the parents were poor and could hardly afford to pay the new fees while they were not used to paying anything in the Bilingual School.
My task was to educate not only the children but also the parents. I never spared my breath preaching to the parents that I had brought a secondary school to their very door and the least they could do was to pay the fees regularly. If not for Union College they would have to send their children to distant schools and pay not only their tuition fees but also the boarding fees. I sympathized with them and allowed 25% of the possible fees in the budget towards free tuition for deserving cases. The parents understood the difficulties of the management on the one hand and on the other appreciated the good work and the visible results that were being achieved. Recovering fees became gradually easier. We climbed the steep incline and reached the level in about six years. The Old Boys helped repeatedly in every project for purchase of land and expansion of buildings. No appeal went without a generous response.
As we were thus progressing happily an incident occurred in the school which need not have developed and assumed the proportions it did if not for my national friends outside who used every incident in the school as a lever against me. Nationals who talked a lot of nationalism before devolution could not bear to see a national succeed. That was the sad irony. There was a friend of mine whom I had known both at Tellippalai and Jaffna College ever since 1915. He was a teacher in Batticaloa in 1941 and wanted very much to come back to Jaffna and teach in his home town. He repeatedly asked me for a position at Union College. Though I knew he was somewhat erratic and emotional I offered him the post of Chemistry teacher at Union. We got along well when suddenly one day he took it into his head to interfere on behalf of another teacher who had committed a grievous offence and when the Board of Management decided to punish the teacher concerned, the former went headlong doing rash things and indulging in repeated acts of defiance. It was August and the midsummer vacation was approaching. I waited in patience hoping he would sober down during the holidays. The school reopened and there was no change. He kept up the same tempo of defiance and insubordination. Some action, however unpleasant, had to be taken in the interest of the school which I was trying hard to build up. I framed charges.
He was shocked. He told me he couldn't answer the charges and he would resign. We sat down and talked at length and then prayed together and decided that, if we could not get along well together, the best thing for us to do as Christians would be to part as friends. I offered to get him a job in any mission school of his choice. The next day he sent in his resignation, The Board accepted it and the Department approved it. Once again my national friends decided to fish in troubled waters. They prevailed upon him to withdraw his resignation and leave the matter in their hands. They would fight the battle. True to pattern, a special meeting of the Board was requisitioned to reconsider the matter.
The Rev. R. C. P. Welch, who was Chairman of the Board, had earlier tried to bring about a settlement. I explained that there was no room for both of us at Union and all my efforts to build up the school would be in vain. He accepted my position with great understanding and true humility and supported me at the meeting while some others never forgave me for taking up that attitude. The earlier decision was confirmed but my adversaries would not stop at that. They appealed to the Mission. Powerful forces were ranged on both sides and there was a bitter debate. When arguments would not suffice they fell back upon the well-known sob stuff, "Is it christian? Why don't you forgive him ?" The interest of the school was paramount. I stood firm. The teacher had to go but Jaffna College was persuaded to take him. Thus ended an unpleasant chapter in the school. But this was not the end of intrigue and jealousy.
World War IT. The decade of the 40's proved to be a hectic one for the school and an eventful one for Ceylon, and the world at large and for me personally. In the school a lot of spade work waited to be done. A unit of the Student Christian Movement was started, a Scout Troop organised, Inter-House competitions introduced and an Old Boys Association inaugurated. The school was born shortly after the outbreak of World War II and found itself already in difficulties., However, Ceylon was only remotely involved in the war. With Pearl Harbour and the entry of Japan into the war in April 1942 the war came next doors to us. Singapore, which was the British Naval Base in the East and considered impregnable, fell surprisingly to the Japanese with the sinking of two of the biggest war ships of the British. Singapore and Malaya were over-run and occupied by the Japanese, This affected many homes in Jaffna who depended upon their dear ones in Malaya. The prosperity of Jaffna was due not a little to the pioneers who had ventured out almost 75 years earlier and their descendants who continued to sustain the economy of Jaffna. Many children in our schools became suddenly orphaned and parents came asking for relief. They spoke with sorrow about the people on the other shore from whom they not only received no more money but about whose fate they were receiving ominous news. This became another burden to the new school.
Japan was advancing everywhere with lightning speed—in Malaya, in the Phillipines and in Burma. They bad cast their eyes on India and Ceylon too. To meet this threat Lord Mountbatten established the headquarters of the South East Asia Command in Kandy and Ceylon found itself in the theatre of war. Troops were found everywhere. Many schools and public buildings were requisitioned for the war effort. An elaborate Civil Defence Department was established with Oliver Goonetilleke as Chief and Ivor Jennings as his Deputy. Air-raid Wardens were appointed all over the island whose duty it was to educate and instruct the people abut precautionary measures to be taken in the event of an air raid. I was appointed Head Warden of Tellippalai and the adjoining areas. We were all on the alert expecting a raid at any moment. In fact there was a short but light raid over Colombo on the morning of Easter Sunday, 1942. The Governor was superseded by admiral Sir Geoffrey Layton as the Officer Commanding. Everything was set on a war footing.
Beginning of a Tradition The first Annual Founders Day and Prize-Giving was held in 1940 with Prof C. Suntharalingam as the Chief Guest. He had just dramatically resigned his position as Professor of Mathematics in protest against the appointment over him of Sir Ivor Jennings as Principal of the University College and the virtual Vice-Chancellor of the new University. Referring to this incident he said he had taken this step "to avoid a national insult, vindicate a national principle and above all to assert the honour of the Ceylonese people". Once 20 years earlier it might be recalled that he threw up a position in the Ceylon Civil Service and, when offered the Chair of Mathematics, refused to accept it unless he was treated on a par with the other professors who were all British. The Government advertised the post through the Crown Agents in England who approached many distinguished mathematicians all of whom refused to apply so long as Suntharalingam was there. Suntharalingam ultimately got the position on his own terms.
The Prize-Giving was the first of a series at which we had several distinguished men as Chief Guests. The Union Prize-Giving became famous because of the distinction of the Chief Guests we were able to get year after year and also because of the attractive programmes an invariable feature of which was a one-act English Play to which the elite of Jaffna, who assembled in large numbers, always looked forward. Perhaps the most distinguished Chief Guest we had in this illustrious line, from 1940 to 1963 except for a break of 3 years due to the war, was Dr. Howard Somervell, the Mount Everest hero and distinguished surgeon. After attending Rugby he went to Cambridge where he took a Double First and then to the London University Hospital for his medical studies. After passing out brilliantly there was a place waiting for him in Harley Street, the home of the most eminent British doctors.
However, in 1921 he received a call to join the first Mt. Everest expedition. He accepted the call and joined the team in 1922. As they climbed they were met by angry winds, avalanches and biting cold. They gave up after reaching 27,000 feet. Somervell came down the mountain top and travelled the plains of India from north to south until he came to a place called Neyyoor. Here he saw a London Mission Hospital with only one British doctor for hundreds of thousands of people. He saw the disease, the suffering and the misery of the people and the dire need. Having seen the need, he said he should be a shirker and a selfish wretch if he went back to London and spent his life in Harley Street, He stayed in South India and spent all his life there. He got a call again in 1924 for a second attack on Everest. After repeated attempts Somer. veil and three others struggled to a height of 28,000 feet, just 1000 feet short of the summit. Mallory and Irwin tried to go further but never returned. Somervell was back again at Neyyoor.
I had not met Howard Somervell before but a bright idea occurred to me that the boys of Union College should be given a chance, if possible, of seeing a hero like him. And so invited him for the Prize-Giving of 1953 and, mirabile dictu, he accepted and came with his gracious wife. Hundreds upon hundreds came to see him. He gave a stirring address which still rings in my ears. He said that in the great climb of life we should bind ourselves with the rope of goodwill, friendship and sportsmanship and so establish a common citizenship in the great human family of God. Life must be measured not by gains but by losses. Life was meant to be spent and, if necessary, lost in the service of others. Defeat was not failure so long as a person was prepared to try again.
Fund-raising Campaigns : The growing school was in need of money from the very beginning, 1 had undertaken the task after counting the cost. We set about launching the first of a series of fund-raising campaigns in 1941. Under the auspices of the newly inaugurated Old Boys Association three of us—myself as President of the 0. B. A., the Vice-Principal. Mr. S. K. Rasiah, as Secretary, and Mr. R. T. Seevaratnam, a long-standing teacher in the old English School, set off on a tour of the island to solicit donations towards a Building Fund having already, on faith, laid the foundation for a row of class-rooms. We visited the coastal towns from Puttalam to Colombo and further south to Kalutara. Then we went upcountry to the towns and plantation areas upto Nuwara Eliya and Agrapatna. In Gona Adika estate, Gampaha, there were Mr. & Mrs. Poopalasingam. The lady was an old girl of the English School. She had a piece of land to the north of our small playground which was indispensable for the expansion of the field. I had tried to persuade her people here in vain to sell us that land without which it was impossible to accommodate a good playground within the campus.
When we were passing through Gampola it occured to us that we might call on Mr. & Mrs. Poopalasingam. Mrs. Poopalasingam we knew but the husband was a stranger to us and to Tellippalai. However, we appealed to them to sell us the land for a reasonable price. They both listened and then he took the wife, who was standing in the door-way, into the sitting room After a brief conversation with her he came out and said, " We shall give the land as a donation to the school ". I could hardly believe my ears but further conversation confirmed that they had really meant it. I came away convinced that miracles still happened. That day I opened an overdraft account with the Poopalasingam's which, whatever I might have done for them and their children later, I still feel has not been fully settled. We met with very generous response from numerous old boys and were able to complete the building
Throughout the forties collection campaigns went on side by side with other normal activities of the sehool. A few years later a large piece of land, adjoining the premises and to the west of it, was going to be sold. We wanted it very, very much for a second playground but the school had no funds and there were debts to pay. However, the opportunity was not to be lost and I made up my mind to buy it, again on faith. I paid a small advance and took train that very evening to Colombo to raise at least half the amount from friends and Old Boys. Mr. Advocate Nadesan, a faithful friend from the University College days, had identified himself completely with me and my hopes and admirations for the school. He needed no persuasion. He opened the list with a donation of Rs. 1,000/- and took me round to his lawyer friends and his wealthy clients. In two days we collected Rs. 5,000/-. I came back and paid half the cost of the land. The balance was paid sometime later.
The school was growing fast. In 1947 when schools were graded for the first time Union College found itself in Gtade I, along with much older and more well-known schools, having satisfied all the requirements regarding buildings, grounds an d equipment. Some of the old schools were graded below, having fallen short in these respects. The needs continued to grow and we felt that a more imaginative promotional effort should be undertaken. In 1947 we decided upon the ambitious project of a Carnival & Exhibition in spite of the formidable difficulties presented by post-war conditions. I convened a meeting of Old Boys, Friends and Well-wishers of the school in the Jaffna Town Hall to consider the proposal and enlist their support for the cause. The response was warm and the idea was accepted. It took many months to organize the Carnival. Several Govt. Departments responded to our invitation to take part. Hundreds of details had to be thought of. Practically everything was in short supply in the country and on ration. Permits had to be obtained for kerosene, petrol, sugar, flour and even paper. All the carnival equipment had to be brought from Colombo, and plans co-ordinated. It was a gigantic effort but we had an army of helpers. It went on for ten days and proved much more than a financial success. On the last night of the Carnival I spoke to the helpers and to the large crowd present over the public address system as follows :-
I call you friends from the bottom of my heart, for during the last ten days and indeed ever since we decided in February to hold this Carnival you have lavished upon me your friendship and goodwill. Some of you have been old friends of mine and the school. Others are new whom we are happy to have made during the Carnival. I cannot think of anything I have done to deserve your support and your friendship, but you have in your generosity extended these to me. I am grateful to you beyond words. The Carnival has been worth the while, if only for the friends we have made.
All along I had thought that a Carnival had material values only, but now I have learnt that a Carnival has spiritual values too. During these days I have seen human nature at its very best. On the other hand I can assure you that 1 have seen nothing low or selfish. You have all gone through a severe test demanding selflessness, devotion, energy and endurance. At the end of these ten days I am glad I can honestly say that you have acquitted yourselves as creditably as any band of workers anywhere in the world could have done. Yours has been voluntary service, freely offered. It has been a labour of love.
The whole undertaking involved attention to thousands of details and co-ordination of so many branches of work. That things should have gone as smoothly as they have is a tribute to your imagination, consideration and co-operation. Some of you have been sitting at counters from 5 p. m. to 12 midnight at one stretch day in and day out. You have seen very little of the Carnival. You have stuck through, monotonous work and even drudgery denying yourselves many amusements and much fun. You have gone the second mile. I thank you.
I have always had a great admiration for the tenacity, endurance and efficiency of women. What I have seen of their work during the Carnival and the manner in which they have done it has further enhanced my admiration. They did their work quietly and unostentationsly. They had to work throughout the day in order to serve good meals at night. In every stall there was a safe nucleus of women on whom we could depend. On the eve of Dominion Status, it augurs well for the future of Ceylon that we have mothers and young women with such ability, devotion and faith.
I am grateful to the several Government Departments and other stall-holders for their kind co-operation. The Carnival could not have been a success without the variety of their contributions and demonstrations. I also wish to say how thankful I am that they have roughed it out here sportingly and ungrudgingly without giving me the least trouble.
I must not fail to express my gratitude to the staffs of the College and the Press, both overhead and subordinate, for all their help and co-operation. Everybody had to work at top pressure and there was hardly a man who failed to rise to the occasion.
The conduct of the large crowds that assembled here day after day has been exemplary. There have been many anxious moments when lights failed or rain came down. But there was never any panic. The order and discipline and the sense of security everybody felt has been the subject of flattering comments by many. I am thankful to all for this. I must not forget to say how deeply we have all appreciated the help rendered by the Police. Their work has been both efficient and acceptable. My sincere thanks to them.
Finally, many of you may be anxious to know how we have fared after all, and I think you who have supported us have a right to know. All that I can say at the moment is that we have not lost and that is what matters. How much more we may get I am frankly unable to say. However, we have gained many things of permanent value—your friendship I sincerely hope is going to be permanent, the Pictorial we are very happy to possess. The varied' experience gained in running this Carnival is worth all the trouble and time put into it. The Staff, I am sure, is all the more united as a result of this common endeavour. I honestly believe that these are of inestimable value.
I have not said "Thank you" to each one of you personally. I have not even had the time to nod to people in the midst of several preoccupations and the terrific rush. I am sure I have left many things undone, sometimes even perhaps the most obvious duties.
For all these I hope each one of you will forgive me and others who have shared the work with me".
The Carnival remains a memorable event in the annals of the school.
Malayan Campaign : A fund-raising campaign in Singapore and Malaya which we had planned for 1942 could not be undertaken then owing to the outbreak of war. This had to wait until 1954 when peace and prosperity returned to those countries After nearly a year of organising the campaign my wife and I started on this campaign on March 22, 1954. We flew to Singapore and from there all the way up to Penang and back again detouring quite a bit to visit a number of towns not on the main route. Wherever we went we were received with the utmost cordiality and kindness. There was a minor slump at that time, also there were three other parties from Ceylon on similar missions. And yet they gave generously and ungrudgingly. Giving was not new to them. Widows and old women gave their mite but apologized that they couldn't give more for such a noble cause as education. The pattern of the campaign was for friends to organise meetings in every town where I was asked to speak on some subject of current interest such as: 'Education in Ceylon today", "Ceylon after Independence", "The Philosophy of Free Education", etc. At the end of the meetings I gave a Film Show which consisted of Travelogues of America, the United Kingdom and the Continent and most important of all a Documentary Film of Union College which I had produced showing all the activities of the school such as The Prize-Giving,
Inter-House Sports Meets, Drill and March-Past, Industrial Department, Cricket, Football, Net-Ball, Gardening, Picnics, etc. They were naturally interested and the next morning when we went they were quite enthusiastic about giving to such a school.
Bandits were causing havoc in Malaya even 9 years after the war. Sir Gerald Templar was adopting herculean measures to stamp out banditry. Yet it was dangerous to drive through certain areas of the country. You would come across huge notice boards on the roadside announcing that you were entering a Black Area ' and it was risky to do so. We came across these sign-boards more than once but we had come on this mission and the risk had to be taken. We had some Old Boys in the Oil Palm estates of Layang-Layang and decided to go notwithstanding the news that only two days earlier a Britisher, one Mr. Shawcross, had been shot dead on his way through Layang-Layang. We located the house of one of our prospective donors—an Old Boy—and stopped the car. Alighting from it I saw in the sitting room a very fair, old man with long hair and flowing white beard. He was the very- picture of Santa Claus. I thought we had mistaken the house. However, we entered and were greeted warmly by the old gentleman.
A little while later, our friend, the inmate of the house, appeared with another young man. After talking many irrelevant but interesting matters, which is a necessary prelude for an appeal for donations, I came to the point. When the old gentleman realized the purpose of our visit, he entered into the conversation animatedly and this surprised me somewhat. I had not come to see him but he dominated the scene. I began to be suspicious about his bona fides. He spoke on what a noble cause education was and how worthy of support. I passed the list to the one I had come to see and he subscribed generously. We had no claim on the other young man who, though not an Old Boy, was from a neighbouring village. The old man stepped in at this stage and recommended the cause to the other friend. After all, education was a universal cause, he said. On his last visit to the Punjab he gave Rs. 10,000/- to his old school. All this time the old man had a mischievous twinkle in his large blue eyes. I was intrigued. I thought he was pulling our legs and indulging in a bit of sarcasm. The other friend then subscribed. And when we got up to go, the old man asked for the list, subscribed a hundred dollars and paid the money on the spot. Then I knew his name was Hakim Singh. He was indeed a Santa Claus. My first impression was also my last though, in between, I had many moments of doubt.
The Chinese Taxi Driver : The day after I arrived in Singapore I started on my mission in right earnest. My host and friend, Mr. S. K. Ramalingam, and 1 decided to see a wealthy friend of ours living in the outskirts of the city. We took a taxi and drove about six miles along a main road. Then we had to turn into a bye-road. It was dark and the road unlit. The Chinese driver suddenly stopped and refused to go any further. We got down and paid the fare.
Within seconds of the taxi scooting off I realized that I had left my brief case in the car. I shouted in desperation to my friend, " My brief case, my brief case". My friend in turn shouted, "Taxi, taxi". But the taxi had gone. I stood dazed and petrified. My brief case contained all my earthly belongings, at least all that mattered then—my passport, travellers cheques, subscription forms, lists of prospective donors and their addresses, etc. My mission seemed ended before it started. I couldn't even return home without my passport. I tasted frustration and futility. We were stranded in that lonely spot. There were very few taxis at that time and at that place. To add to our discomfiture it started raining too. After some time we saw a car approaching with flickering lights and we hoped it was a taxi. Indeed it was. We hailed it and got into it. We reached home and found the women folk chatting gaily. Concealing my embarrassment as best I could and putting on an air of nonchalance, I started to tell them about the misfortune that had befallen us. But before I came to the point I heard a knock at the door. I opened it and, to my utter amazement, I found the Chiness driver with the brief case in his outstretched hand. Was it a dream? Could it be true? It was something out of this world. My brief case, a Fifth Avenue executive bag, let alone its contents, would have tempted most mortals. And yet here is this stranger restoring it to me. I thanked God for honest people such as this.
But how did he find my address? He had opened the bag and pulled out a loose-leaf file from it. The first paper in the file was a subscription list and the first name on it was my host's with the address, "892, Geylang Road ". Before starting out on the collection my friend asked me for the list voluntarily and insisted that he and all his earning children should contribute first if he was to help me effectively in this campaign.
My heart overflowed with gratitude to the Chinese driver. How could I repay him? I squeezed his hand warmly and pressed a five-dollar bill into it. He accepted it with dignity and left without a word. The campaign that started with the good-will of the Chinese driver progressed with good-will on every side up and down the Federation, and culminated in the erection of the Malaya Block at Union College. This building will for ever remain as a token of gratitude to our kith and kin in Malaya for their many benefactions to Jaffna.
Bolt from the Blue
Many dreams for the school were coming true and I had reasons to be happy and satisfied. However, a sudden and unexpected announcement on July 2, 1960 by Prime Minister Srimavo Bandaranaike came to us like a bolt from the blue. She announced the ' take-over' without compensation of all assisted schools with effect from that date. It was a simple word with far-reaching consequences for education and the youth of the country. Where this would lead to was not correctly appreciated by parents or teachers. The teachers thought only of non-contributory pensions and railway warrants. They were prepared to surrender their heritage of freedom for a mess of pottage. Writing 23 years after the change I have seen with great sorrow the calamity that has befallen some of our great schools. Teachers are transferred for transfer sake. They don't know what the morrow may bring. No one is allowed to feel. " This is my school ". No school can develop a personality and no teacher a loyalty. The only silver lining are the private schools which are mercifully allowed to exist but without charging fees. That they have managed to exist for 23 years and the parents are willing to support them is their greatest justification.
In 20 years Union College had attained to the highest status of any school in the island. Its record in both studies and sports ranked very high. The Old Students distinguished themselves in several walks of life. They occupied high positions. However, Union College was taken over along with other schools overnight but I had three more years to retire. During this time I managed to maintain the high standards usually associated with the school. I had hoped that teachers would look upon schools as the schools for the children of our people and therefore give of their best. The management might have changed hands but still they were our schools. But this was not to be, They became government servants and assumed their mentality immediately. They absented themselves frequently from school and took the maximum possible leave. They were mindful of what they were going to get out of the school and not what they might give to it. The schools deteriorated rapidly, and Union College along with them, to my great sorrow.
The worst calamity that befell the Tamil people was not the Sinhala only' bill or the colonization policy of the government or its land alienation policy but the 'take-over' of schools. The hundreds of assisted schools in Jaffna found ready employment for the thousands of our young people and gave a sound education to tens of thousands of Tamil boys and girls. And most of these after following higher education in Ceylon or in South India were absorbed into our assisted schools as teachers. But now the schools have become government institutions and this door is practically closed. The economy of Jaffna has been shattered.
I retired from Union College in January after 29 years of service as Principal. The Old. Students and Parents accorded me a farewell on January 25 at which representatives of Old Students, Parents and Friends spoke appreciatively of my services to Union College and Tellippalai. The following account of the function appeared in the "Morning Star" of 31st. January, 1964 :—
"In Mr. Thurairatnam's veledictory he spoke of his 29 years in Tellippalai, since the Mission asked him to leave the staff of Jaffna College and become the first national Principal of one of its schools. He was 31 then ; the day before this farewell he was 60.
"He spoke of pride in his students. could always trust them', He mentioned the joy he had in the fine spirit of his staff." When Mr. Thurairatnam paid a special tribute to his mother and his wife, he was visibly moved. He announced that, as a sign of his delight in the community, he had built his new home at Tellippalai. Earlier, the community had expressed its appreciation in his settling among them by pledging to electrify that home. He expressed gratitude to others— Senator Nadesan, Bishop Kulandran, and to the Chairman, Mudaliyar S. K. Appadurai, whom he had known since 1907, and who came out of the quiet seclusion of his home very specially to preside on this occasion.
"At the end of his concluding vote of thanks Mr. E. Sabaratnam reminded that, when a Hindu man reaches 60, he has a sort of second marriage; so out popped the garlands the Thurairatnam's put round each other's necks. Then appeared drummers and pipers, the crackers began to explode ; firework-fountains sparkled upwards ; and over the Thurairatnams's heads was raised an ornate arch. So they merrily paraded away from the platform, followed by the laughing crowd.
"The following spoke :— Rt. Rev. S. Kulandran, Senator S. Nadesan, Mr. A. Vaithilingam, Magistrate, Pt. Pedro ; Mr. G. C. Niles, Additional District Judge, Jaffna ; Mr. T. T. Jayaratnam, Principal, Mahajana College, Tellippalai ; Mr. K. Muttuvetpillai, Principal, Manipay Hindu College ; Mr. C. M. Tharmalingam, Advocate ; Messrs. G. C. Chellappha, M. Rajaratnam, M. Velautham and Mr. C. E. Rajasingam, Vice-Principal, Union College.
"One's remembrance retains a record of cumulative praise - for Mr. Thurairatnam's vision of the union of two schools, his dogged pursuit of money for new lands and buildings, his extra-ordinary administrative ability, his ceaseless energy, his creativeness, his own prowess in sports and his encouragement of his students' athletic skills, his identification with the Tellippalai community, his integrity and discipline, his passion for gardening, his success in photography, ventures into running the Press and the Carpentry Shop. And none forgot Mrs. Thurairatnam, her motherly interest in the students, her hospitality, her aid",
One afternoon, in pouring rain, she came to the Mission House and pleaded with me to show her Manager Thambipillai's house which she had tried in vain to find for several hours that morning. She asked me to drop her there and come. Thambipillai was an orthodox Hindu, proprietor and Manager of Nateswara College, a Hindu school, and a leading citizen of the place, Her mission was to get the use of the hall for a Pentecostal Convention ! She persuaded the gentleman not only to lend the hall for a Christian cause but also to give all the available seats and lights and anything else she wanted. When I went to the meeting I found banners stretched across the hall with Bible verses in bold letters just as in any Pentecostal hall. The atmosphere was faithfully reproduced. She made it an annual convention. My mother was a go-getter.
During the latter days she fell ill frequently, mostly with boils. Once she had a boil on her back and was seriously ill. The standard treatment was application of oil and praying over it. She survived. Another time she got a boil on her foot. We suspected diabetes but there was no way of finding out. She survived this too.
Finally, she developed a stomach trouble and she was so bad that we felt the light was going out of our lives. She succumbed. We removed the body from my sister's house at Inuvil to the Chundikuli Faith Home for the funeral. As she lay in the coffin, dressed in an immaculate, white saree with the end drawn over head as a veil, she looked regal. Perhaps she looked as beautiful as she did on her wedding day. We laid her to rest in the Pentecostal section of the New Burial ground in Jaffna on Feb. 21, 1959.
Epilogue - My Mother and My Wife
Mr. A. M. K. Coomaraswamy used to say that my mother was the most beautiful bride he ever saw. There was another aspect of the wedding which also made it memorable. What took place that day was a double wedding. My father and mother made up one couple while my father's sister and my mother's brother made up the other. Both marriages were solemnized at the same time. This was unusual and unconventional. Mr. Coomaraswamy was a little boy and he asked, " What happens if the brides are exchanged ? ". The weddings took place on Friday, Dec, 20, 1901.
My father died in 1915 leaving my mother a young widow at the age of 31 with five children of whom I was the oldest at 11. Very soon after the death of my father my mother and the five children left for Chavakachcheri and our ancestral home. We lived there for some time with out grandmother and other members of the family. My mother then realized that this arrangement could not go on for long. With characteristic foresight and unswerving faith she quietly arranged with my uncle and her uncle too, in another ways to purchase a small plot of land in a corner of his extensive property. My father had left a small sum of money by way of insurance which came in handy for the purpose. With the little that was left, and again with surpassing faith, she laid the foundation for a small house with two rooms. We moved into this house which became our home for the next 25 years.
My mother married for the second time Mr. D. S. Nicholas, a senior teacher at St. Patrick's College, and he came to live with us. A son was born to them — Donald Selvaratnam — and he naturally became our pet. We and all our relatives called him 'Baby ' then and call him `Baby' still. He married Chandra, the second daughter of Mr. & Mrs A. M. K. Coomaraswamy.
My mother struggled hard to educate the children. Jaffna College offered me free boarding and tuition which carried me through the high school. I passed the London Inter-Science from there and the time came for me to think of the University College for my degree. Finding the wherewithal for this was my mother's responsibility. One night, leading me by one hand and with a lantern in the other, she took me to a wealthy and enlightened young lady of the village and told her of my predicament: that I had passed the Inter-Science examination, that the next step was to go to the University College in Colombo for my degree, but how was she to find the money ? The young lady listened sympathetically and replied, "Of course he can't stop half-way. Send him and I shall lend you the money on mortgage". This was another answer to my mother's prayer and a response to her undaunted faith.
My sisters had to be educated too. She put them in the Uduvil Girls School with the promise that, " When my son returns from the University College and starts teaching he will settle the bill". The bill arrived during the first week of my teaching at Jaffna College. I went to Tellippalai in a Motor Cycle with my friend Sri Skanda Rajah, borrowed Rs. 500/- from the Co-operative Society, and settled the bill at Uduvil. This was the first of many debts I had to incur in respect of the education of my brothers and sisters.
In 1927 my mother gave my sister Thiravy in marriage to my cousin, Jeyarajah, who was interested in her for many years and had made no secret of it. This was the first marriage in either family and the loyalties of our immediate relatives were divided. The burden of organizing and conducting an elaborate Jaffna wedding such as this fell heavily on my mother who was, however, equal to the task. She took me by the hand, as was her custom, and went about various houses to collect utensils and articles, big and small. As usual she was undaunted and the wedding proved a big success.
One day she said I must get married. I replied that I had my next sister to give in marriage and other brothers and sisters to educate. She said that if I was to wait until I had discharged all my responsibilities I would have to wait indefinitely. The thing to do was to marry and then look after these duties. With clear vision and unerring judgement she had chosen a girl who would fit into a role such as this. She and my uncle knew what they were looking for. They had chosen for me one of four eligible sisters in the family. This had been known for some years. I started liking the girl whom I was to love. She was a good singer and a good violinist. She was modest. She was amiable. Liking blossomed into loving. I did not waver. I had found the girl I wanted.
We married on April 17, 1929. The ceremony was simple and short. Only 50 guests, mostly teachers from Jaffna College, were invited. They came by the 7 a. m. train and left by the 8 a. m. The solemnization took about 25 minutes. My wife and I took part in a family lunch and drove off to Elephant Pass immediately afterwards for our honeymoon. We stayed for three days. We returned to our mother's home at Chavakachcheri. My wife fitted into the family without difficulty and settled down to a life of service and usefulness.
In the early 30's the Pentecostal Mission became very active and even aggressive. Their meetings proved a novelty. The services were long and the sermons loud. The fluent quotations from the Bible ranging from Genesis to Revelations impressed the listeners. Faith cure and the total taboo of medical treatment became the inflexible doctrine of many innocent believers. One week the Mission held a few meetings in a neighbouring house. My mother was inquisitive and just wanted to see what the meetings were all about. She went one evening and then the next. I was afraid where this might lead to. Their relentless belief in faith cure to the total neglect of medical treatment was irrational. Some people survived though others succumbed but their belief remained firm. My mother went to the meetings again and again. I tried to stop her and even fasted for two or three days but she would not yield. Her will triumphed and she became a 'believer'.
Then, after some time, she became an active worker in the Mission and was called Mother Annapooranam. She started leaving home frequently to attend meetingsand conventions. She was a great organizer and the Mission assigned her to various pioneering jobs. If a Faith Home had to be established in Pt. Pedro they would send her there empty-handed. She would go about the village and collect miscellaneous materials such as some rafters from one believer, a few corrugated sheets from a friend, an old gate from a sympathizer and assemble them to make up the nucleus of a Faith Home. She was sent on a similar mission to Chavakachcheri where she even got a land donated for the purpose.
The Mission once sent her outside Jaffna to distant Nawalapitiya where she worked among the estate population. They extended her work to South India and we didn't know she had gone until. we received a letter from Sivakasi, a Hindu strong-hold. Another time we received a letter from the Ceylon Pentecostal Mission in Royapuram, Madras, which reported her serious illness of cholera from which she miraculously survived.
Wherever she was, she returned to us on important occasions and in times of crisis. She would suddenly appear at the Mission House and ask me, "How is everything in the school, any trouble?". Then she would kneel down with me, put her hand on my head, and pray earnestly. I got up strengthened and fortified. In all my travels and long absences from home I always felt that there was a mysterious power that sustained me. It was my mother's prayer.
Our eldest child, Harichandran (Hari), was born the following year. I was then a teacher at Jaffna College and went home for week-ends. We shifted to Vaddukoddai soon after and lived in a College house by ourselves. It was a small house but my wife had a large heart. There was room for my two brothers and two nephews who were students at Jaffna College. From then onwards for many years, both at Vaddukoddai and at Tellippalai, my wife continued to be the. mother of all my brothers and sisters. Indeed, they looked upon her as such. She started getting her own children but that made no difference.
A small boy used to bring milk, morning and evening, to our home at Tellippalai. He was not attending school and so my wife taught him the alphabet a few minutes every day. He was progressing well and she thought it would be a good thing if the boy could be admitted to my school. She pleaded for the boy and asked if I could give him free tuition. I accommodated him and in course of time both of us forgot about him. Many years later, on the road, a young man got down from his bicycle and greeted my wife. He introduced himself as the boy who used to bring milk to the Mission House and whom she had helped to put through school. He was now well employed in Government service. There is a saying in Tamil which goes. " If you stroke the head of your neighbour's child your child will grow by itself ".
My wife brought forth seven bright children all of whom are doing well. I feel God has richly blessed us because of my wife's goodness and generosity. People forgive me because they didn't want to hurt her. In the early years. before marriage, she used to teach at the Tellippalai English School. After my retirement she started a Nursery School for the little kids in the village. This proved to be efficient and popular. She enjoyed the company of little children and they loved her and adored her. As she walked along the highways and byeways of Tellippalai, old and young call her " Rose Acca ". Every evening she gets out on her rounds of visits to homes, Christian and Hindu. If she fails to visit a home for a week or two friends begin to wonder.
For 43 years, from the time I came to Tellippalai in 1935 and until she suffered a stroke and was incapacitated in 1978. she was the Choir Mistress at the Church and played the violin. Swinging a violin from home to church and back again was a familiar sight at Tellippalai.
There was hardly a function in the school in which she did not take an active part—Prize-Givings, sports meets, matches, farewells etc. She knew the boys and girls of the school closely and remembers them to this day even more than I do.