Ilankai Tamil Sangam

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Association of Tamils of Sri Lanka in the USA

S. Sivanayagam

The outstanding journalist who wielded his powerful pen to liberate Tamil Eelam

by M.K. Eelaventhan, TamilCanadian, December 7, 2010

Mr. Sivanayagam in his introduction to Sri Lanka: Witness to History, says the following: “Writing of history has of course its own pitfalls. Do the Sinhalese and the Tamil peoples, whether scholars, commentators or journalists, look at past events wit the same pair of eyes? Very seldom they do. For, if that were so, much of the conflicts that have been beset the country could have been avoided.”

His pen was mightier than the Sinhala sword

Gowthama Buddha, the greatest rationalist the world has witnessed said that disease, decay, and death nobody can conquer. That is will of nature. In keeping with his maxim, Buddha passed away at the age of eighty. Saint Appar or Thirunavukkarasar who said that service is his duty and it is God’s duty to look after him. He too passed away at the age of eighty-one. Vadaloor Vallalar, the revolutionary Saint who believed in deathless life finally vanished into thin air. In the recent past two important political personalities Rajaji and Periyar who never saw eye to eye in politics remained the best of friends in their personal life. They passed away in their nineties. Mr. Subramaniam Sivanayagam a leading journalist of high repute passed away at eighty with two months added to it on Monday the 29th of November. The month of November is considered the month of heroes. Mr. Sivanayagam is a hero in the field of writing. If Mr. Prabhakaran’s movements are visible he’d have certainly conferred Mamanithan title on him. His books, Pen and the Gun, Dear Sri Lanka Ambassador… (Your slip is showing) and 10 Years of JR. Jeyawardene’s Rule and his latest book consisting of 685 pages Sri Lanka: Witness to History can be considered his magnum opus- his master piece. This latest book covers a journalist’s memoirs (1930-2004) and was brought out in London by the end of 2004.

Mr. Subramaniam Sivanayagam was born in Kokuvil a bordering village of Nallur. Mr. Sivanayagam speaks of his village in this vivid manner, “Kokuvil was a happily placed village because of its proximity to the Jaffna town, the residents had the best of both worlds: a bit of the urban and quite some of the rural. While the meandering labyrinth of lanes and by-lanes (and little side lanes that ended up in a few houses) along with village temple that gave them their intimate rural community life, the Jaffna town with its hustle and bustle and noise was not far away either, a mere pedalling distance by bicycle or a quick journey by bus.”

Sivanayagam’s Youthful Memories

Mr. Sivanayagam brings back sweet memories of his youthful days in the following manner. “At the age of nine one is not expected to know anything about the deleterious effects of western colonialism that originate from five thousand miles away, except that by eating Huntley and Palmers biscuits and British marmalade made colonialism seem desirable. But there was one thing I was sure about at the time: I was strongly on the side of Britain and the Allies during World War II which broke out in Europe in September 1939. How it came about was not surprising. We used to subscribe to the Ceylon Daily News, the only morning newspaper of that time, delivered daily at home and oh! what a lot of war pictures did it carry! It goes without saying that the news and pictures were naturally tilted in favour of the Allies, even when Hitler was overrunning one country after another. More than Churchill with his cigar it was Field Marshal Montgomery who in later years made a greater visual appeal on me. My habit of cutting and pasting and making scrap books which has endured these seventy odd years had its beginnings at the ages of ten and twelve. How old habits die hard!”

Like Mr. Sivanayagam and his old habit of making scrapbooks, from a young age, I have been addicted to cutting and pasting and making scrapbooks on subjects covering politics, philosophy, literature and allied subjects. It is not doubt a meaningful habit but when the collection exceeds a point, the problem of space starts haunting me. Mr. Sivanayagam and I can console ourselves by comparing ourselves with Mohammad Ali Jinnah, the creator of Pakistan. He also was of this habit of having paper cuttings inside his books. They were to him an asset for his political thought and development.

Jaffna College Shaped Sivanayagam’s Career

Mr. Sivanayagam had his early education at Kokuvil Hindu College and later shifted to Jaffna College. Here Mr. Sivanayagam speaks of his crucial career in the following manner and pays his tribute to Handy Perinbanayagam. Here too, the writer would prefer to allow Mr. Sivanayagam to speak his mind. “From the point of view of preparing for the second year university entrance course, 1949 was for me a wasted year, with the school not quite equipped for the task. This was compensated for by the fact that the six of us, four boys in the arts class and two girls in the science, yearning a certain air of freedom during school hours. Sometimes asked to keep the peace in the lower forms in the absence of a teacher, and getting conscious of a new false status! It was principal Handy Perinbanayagam who rescued me from this mental rut and packed me off to Jaffna College, even at the cost of losing a pupil who he probably thought deserved something better. At Jaffna College, I became a hosteller for the first time in my life and awakened into a new world of student life that I never knew even existed, used as I was to my cloistered life in Kokuvil. When much later I read a line from Ralph Waldo Commercial.. (the secret of education lies in respecting the pupil), I knew what it meant. I thought immediately of Handy master, I knew then from where his hidden springs of educational philosophy shoot forth. Any principal could be relied upon to look after the interest of his school. It called for a range of values for Handy Perinbanayagam to give thought to the future of his pupil. In sending me to Jaffna College, he imperceptibly changed the course of my own life. He gave me a sense of direction, a thing that I needed badly then, buffeted as I was by some domestic unhappiness.” On a lighter note, he says “there was one extracurricular activity though, was not officially recognized by the school authorities, and that was a secret meeting of love birds in the secluded library corners during quiet weekends.” Here, it is in Jaffna College, where he met his future wife who proved an asset to him in his tumultuous career. The result was two charming daughters, Sivanangai and Sivanarayani. The couple could feel proud of these two young intellectuals.

According to Mr. Sivanayagam, his writing career started at school itself. The hostel mate who from Batticaloa who later became a vet, asked me one day why don’t you write something for The Young Idea which was a student magazine published every term and edited and run by the students themselves with funds provided by the school. His Jaffna College career was on the whole interesting, instructive and illuminating. His future brilliant career can be traced to Jaffna College.

He started his journalist career in the lake house, joining the daily news in 1953. Following his career in the daily news he served in the Times of Ceylon and the Daily Mirror. In the seventies, he was editor for the publication of Ceylon Tourist Board. There was a vibrant Tamil theatre in Colombo in the latter half of the 60s and the first half of the 70s prior to pogroms against Tamils in 1977 and 1983. During this period, Mr. Sivanayagam, wrote reviews of many of these plays in the English paper, Daily Mirror, introducing them to the non-Tamil readers under the non-deplume Arjuna. His discerning arts and cultural reviews were in an exquisite language were eagerly read by his readers.

Founding the Saturday Review

With the ethnic crisis taking a turn for the worse, he was the founder editor of the Saturday Review which was started in Jaffna in 1982. This weekly made a name in the early stages of the Tamil militant struggle and came to an abrupt end by the end of the 1983 pogrom. Mr. Sivanayagam, with his captivating style, speaks of his adventure in journalism of launching Saturday Review in Jaffna covering a short period of 1982 and 1983 but within this short period, the impact of Saturday Review had a permanent effect. This modest looking paper was launched on January 30th, 1982. A weekly one, a tabloid of twelve pages. The rational behind the venture of this paper was that Tamils in Sri Lanka needed a forum to ventilate their grievances and to express their point of view. It was a long felt need. According to Mr. Sivanayagam, as they were living in a dangerous situation, we could not survive even a hundred Saturdays before the government lost its patience and came down with a heavy hand, banning the paper and sealing the editorial office on July 1st 1983. That was three weeks before the holocaust began in Colombo which was to open a new gruesome chapter in the history of the country.

There was a calculated move by the Sri Lankan Government to arrest Mr. Sivanayagam and take him to the fourth floor of the Colombo Criminal Investigations Department. Fortunately for Mr. Sivanayagam and for the Tamil community, the liberation Tigers came to the rescue in a hurried manner and took him in a boat and landed him safely in Tamil Nadu. If this had not happened the history of the Tamils would have been different. Mr. Sivanayagam describes this escape in Chapter 18 of his book Sri Lanka: Witness to History starting on page 273.

Launching of Tamil Nation in Tamil Nadu

In Tamil Nadu, he launched a newspaper naming it The Tamil Nation. His language was typical of him and assertive and he was arrested and kept in prison in Tamil Nadu for several months. Though a legal battle was fought, he could not remain in Tamil Nadu but he was given a concession to leave Tamil Nadu at his earliest opportunity. He left Tamil Nadu to Singapore, then to Hong Kong, then to some South African State and from there to France and then to London. The details of his suffering during this period cannot be easily described in words. It has to be felt and realized. During his period in Tamil Nadu, I worked with him very closely and I am a witness to all his sufferings. Every week, his wife, his daughters and myself visited the prison to console him.

Sivanayagam’s Closeness to the Author

Because of his closeness to me, he pays a tribute to me in Sri Lanka: Witness to History in pages 211, 294, 328, 400, 552 and 616. On page 211, he speaks of the TELF, a dissenting section of the Tamil United Liberation Front that broke away spearheaded by the strongly motivated and articulate radical M. K. Eelaventhan. On page 294, he says that he hired a three wheeler and accompanied by a tireless Tamil campaigner M. K. Eelaventhan, he covered all diplomatic missions in Chanakyapuri including the Sri Lankan High Commission at some personal risk. On page 328, he speaks of the TESO Conference organized by Mr. Karunanithi at Mathurai. He speaks of this writer, Kovai Mahesan editor Suthanthiran participating at the conference in Mathurai. On page, 400, he speaks of how Mr. R. Namasivayam, attorney at law and presently, heading the Thiruketheswaram Restoration Society, and M. K. Eelaventhan were arrested by the Tamil Nadu government and released the same day. However, the police continued guarding their residences for an indefinite period. On page 552, he writes the following: “Eelaventhan and others acquitted in Madras” Five Tamils, alleged supporters of the LTTE who were accused by the Q Branch of the Madras Police of having tried to procure medicines to a banned organization were all discharged by the Saidapat Courts on September 8th. The accused were M. K. Eelaventhan (65) of Arumbakkam, Chennai, Mrs. Malini Thevi Rasanayam (58) of Sydney, Australia, K. Satchithanandan (57) of Maruvampulavu, Chavakachcheri, Dr. Sritharan (32), and Indian national of Annanagar and Pandian Muralitharam of Nallur, Jaffna. In acquitting the accused, the magistrate said there was no evidence to prove that all five had engaged in any conspiracy to perform any unlawful attack. On Page 616, he speaks of my deportation from India in the following manner. “A minor drama took place during the month of December, 2000 that went largely unnoticed in Colombo. On December 4th, M. K. Eelaventhan, a high profile Eelam activist in Chennai was deported to Colombo. Indian immigration officials and a team of policemen went to his house at Arumpakkam around 5am. He was driven to the airport and put on a Sri Lankan airlines flight. Well known in Tamil Nadu for his consistent campaigning for the Eelam Tamil cause, he never hid the sympathy for the LTTE, despite the organization being banned in India.

In this context, DBS Jeyaraj, in a full page article in the Sunday Leader (Sri Lanka), reported that the King of Eelam (Eelaventhan) was deported to Sri Lanka. Mr. Sivanayagam had passed away at the age of 80 doing his best for the Eelam Tamil Liberation. As the author said at the beginning of this article, Mr. Sivanayagam’s pen was mightier than the sword of the Sinhalese. The Sri Lankan government was determined to arrest and harass him in 1983. Fortunately for the Tamils, the Liberation Tigers came to his rescue and saved him and in turn saved the Tamil community. If he had been arrested in Sri Lanka, what would have followed none could say. In Tamil Nadu too, because of his writing, he was arrested and kept for a long period of time in Tamil Nadu prison. He was a diabetic patient and the sufferings he underwent need a separate chapter. He withstood the entire onslaught on him with a smile which cannot be easily forgotten. His wife and children underwent untold suffering. Mr. Sivanayagam speaks of this incident in his book SriLanka: Witness to History. Personally, I’m also a witness to our history and also a witness to the mental tension and physical suffering of his wife and daughters. The writer too has experienced what is suffering in prison in Sri Lanka and in Tamil Nadu and knows the meaning of deportation. Those who have suffered harassment and deportation know what is real suffering. That is why the sufferings that Mrs. Sivanayagam and daughters underwent still haunts me.

Sivanayagam Speaks the Truth

Mr. Sivanayagam in his introduction to Sri Lanka: Witness to History, says the following: “Writing of history has of course its own pitfalls. Do the Sinhalese and the Tamil peoples, whether scholars, commentators or journalists, look at past events wit the same pair of eyes? Very seldom they do. For, if that were so, much of the conflicts that have been beset the country could have been avoided.” What truth he has a spoken.

What Adrian Wijemanne speaks of Mr. Sivanayagam

Sri Lanka: Witness to History is the magnum opus of Mr. Sivanayagam. The forward given by Adrian Wijemanne of Cambridge speaks of Mr. Sivanayagam in the following words. “Tamil nationalism in Sri Lanka is but another instance of it, and perhaps one of the most formidable. The state adversary it faces is but a weak and fumbling foe dependent on outside help and so vulnerable to international pressures of all kinds. The Sinhala nationalism that is just stirring is backward-looking and medievalist in its thinking and programmes and as such is out of sync with the modern world. Mr. Sivanayagam’s experiences and this book in which they are so eloquently recorded have the great advantages of personal acquaintance of the events whereof he writes and also of alignment with one of the great transforming movements of the contemporary world. It is a combination which makes for a riveting read and one which will reward an audience even wider than that which adheres to the Tamil national cause.”

In the last paragraph of his forward, Adrian Wijemanne, appeals to Mr. Sivanayagam that he should not “lay down his pen and will continue to dazzle us with this brilliant exposition of the great cause to which he is committed.” But unfortunately for him and for us and to the journalist world, Mr. Sivanayagam is no longer among the living to carry out his wishes. His diabetes aggravated by bone cancer has taken him away from us but the world of literature can console itself by saying that he continues to live in his writing. Let me quote, “In books lies the sole articulate, audible voice of the past when the body and the material substance of it has altogether vanished like a dream.” Thomas Carlyle said these years ago, but it still applies today when we think of Mr. Sivanayagam.

M.K. Eelaventhan
Former Member of Parliament (Sri Lanka)
Member of Transnational Government of Tamil Eelam representing Canada