தமிழ்த் தேசியம்

"To us all towns are one, all men our kin.
Life's good comes not from others' gift, nor ill
Man's pains and pains' relief are from within.
Thus have we seen in visions of the wise !."

- Tamil Poem in Purananuru, circa 500 B.C 

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Journey Down Memory Lane To Reach 'tamiz Izam'
R.Shanmugalingam

Chapter 3

Family-'kudumpam'-I take the dictionary meaning that closely explains 'tamiz kudumpam,' "A group of people related by blood or marriage; relatives."

We have cousins moved four, five times or even more. Geography plays a very important part in maintaining the closeness within families. Nevertheless, absences for long periods of time do not alienate members of the family. Immediately after the second world war, there was Radio announcement of names of survivors in FMS-Malaya was then known as Federated Malay States. I remember my father, glued to the radio.

Radio was a luxury those days, but my father spared no expense to expose us to the best of facilities, even if he had to part with his family estate. He had a physically handicapped brother, and his elder brother at the age of 18 or 19 went away to Malaya, no sooner their father died, leaving behind the two brothers, mother, and their family property.

That was an HMV radio powered by a 12 volt heavy duty car battery. We had two batteries as one was left for charging with Samuel & Sons in Jaffna while we used the other battery. Oh! what a pain it was. The reception was always accompanied with static, yet we used it mostly to listen to BBC news and local news to improve our English. My father was eagerly listening for the announcement of that name Kathiravelu Vallipuram Chinniah and family of Kedah, and one day that came. That was the first and last time I have seen my father cry aloud. Other times when he recites 'tEvAram, tiruvasakam, tiruppukaL,' he teared but never cried.

My paternal grand father's family were a sort of feudal lords, and very religious. Religion-Hindu, the alien religion as practiced by many, if not all 'tamizar' today, was at the root of the caste system, and my father's family was no exception to practice that aspect of Hinduism. So early in life we were influenced to recognize different castes and act according to the norms prescribed for interaction among the castes. My father's family virtually owned a few other families and shared the services of some other caste families with the so called 'vELALa' families.

The ironies are many in these situations, but, I will mention two of them. One, depending on how you get married, you are either accepted as the higher high caste 'vELALan' or lower high caste, or simply high caste, or just plain 'vELALan.' The second one is even more funny and perhaps borders on hypocrisy. Those who cling on to the caste system, because it was the Hindu thing to do, and I have heard this explanation for opposing the abolition of caste system in the forties, by such pious, and God fearing people of the various Hindu societies, the names I did not care to remember even at that tender age.

They 'religiously' go to temples every Friday, and some even the days before, observe Full Moon and New Moon fasts-'paRuvam, amAvAcy viratam'- and the following Saturday, you can enjoy a good lunch or dinner with a freshly slaughtered goat 'piraddal and kuzampu' curry in most of these homes. My grandfathers ancesters I was told meted out instance justice to thieves who were caught stealing bananas, by cutting the head and exhibiting at the entrance to the farm as a deterent to others.

We had to pass through the phase of getting Baptized the Hindu way-'camaja tIdcy' and were vegetarians for nearly 3 years. It is a funny story how our good Hindu status changed. Every day before going to school and on week ends and holidays, we had to do the 'anuddAnam' chanting the mantras facing east after a bath, and making up with the ritual tri-lines with 'vipUti', the crude antiseptic from cow dung, a useful antiseptic as a band aid remedy for many a children's ailment, on specific part of the body from forhead to knee.

It was a Saturday and it was raining and we could not get wet to perform the'anuddAnam'. It was also lunch time and mother as all mothers are was very sorry for us that we were not growing well without good protein, and suggested that since we did not make up, it was no sin to eat fish. We did not need any arm twisting to jump at the idea. Of course we observed the Friday, fasting, Nallur and almost all the 'kOvil viratam' including Kathirgamam. I have even fasted some years during kantha shashti, by drinking only water for six days. All this changed in 1964, and that is another story.

There were people and there are still some, who are vegetarians for Hinduism sake and there are many vegetarians for other reasons. My mother's side is most of the plain 'vELALa' clan. In Chankanai, I did not see that feudal system, except in one family, and they are not the indigenous Chankanai crowd. My maternal grandmother was one of a family of seven siblings and whose mother was from a family of seven siblings, and the family tree puts them as the owners of the land commanded by seven wells- 'Ezu kinhaRRadi muticam.'

One of my maternal granduncle married out of the accepted social group, a very pretty woman, and it is said that they were of Dutch origin. I tend to believe that, because one of the sons had blue eyes and very fair skin and he was easily mistaken for a European. This was reason enough for some of the cousins who were actually a little jealous of my granduncle, for re-possessing property, as he was a PWD Overseer. I say repossess because my great-grandmother had mortgaged some of her property, and I know some old folks refer to my mother's family as the clan that ate their family wealth. I learnt something about our social fabric here, 'blood is thicker than water,' but blood line is even thicker. So the cousins who claimed superiority in their caste, could not ignore the cousins and devised a compromise,

That was, only male members of the lower stratum of the 'vELALar' were invited to the same feasts at weddings and other functions that are usually accompanied by a large feast. This system confirms the matriarchal society I spoke about earlier, where the purity of the caste is supposedly maintained by the women, and their social behavior is slave to the dictates of that society. Whereas man and here men do not have to follow such stringent rules as they eat and drink anywhere their tastes and interests lay. I do not want to mention the name of the village, but the rich Colombo Tamils-they are not 'tamiz.'

When somebody says Tamil Eelam, it reminds me of a baby formula with lamb in it-ENFAMIL Lamb. That is one major reason for me to use either Thamizh Eezham or transliterate as 'tamiz Izam.'

When they visit their ancestral home and talk about 'kinhattadi mAmi' and 'puLijadi mAmi,' and make their visits coincide with the 'kOvil tiruvizA, panang kaLLu' and mango season. It is not always that the purity of the caste is maintained by women. It is the acceptance by society that matter. I am not casting any aspersion on any one, and as I am only narrating my experience, I have heard one of the so called low caste man who looks after the horse and carriage of the rich say that his son is in Colombo and the 'NyjinAr's' son tapping toddy! A possibility after a day's good toddy potion indulgence.

My father at the early age of 13, had a mother, and a sick brother and the family business of farming, the major produce was banana. He had the family 'owned' labor to help, but as in any business, absentee operation is to a large extent doomed for failure. My father used to help in the farm every morning and walk from Kopay to Kilner College the forerunner to the present Jaffna Central College, although both functioned simultaneously for a short time from two different locations.

My maternal aunts and uncles embraced Christianity, and one of them was an Edward who wrote books in 'tamiz' on arithmetic, he was also the Principal of Kilner College, who was also my father's mentor. I have heard my father say, but I am not sure about names. Two brothers Paul Pillai and Rajaratnam were the first Ceylonese to obtain a BA Degree from Serampore College in Calcutta, India, where my father also obtained the BA Degree.

My paternal grandmother's sisters only child the late E.C.A. Navaratnarajah BA (Hon.) in English was a teacher at St. Johns College Jaffna, and for a short time at Jaffna College. He uprooted from Jaffna and settled in Nugegoda as the Principal St. Johns College. I used to visit him in Colombo during school holidays and help him in his school expansion program.

My brother Mahendralingam and I were very close to my uncle's family. I remember Ranjan their youngest son's piggy-back rides. All his children, Late Marcus, he died recently in Canada, Vasantha, Mohana, Bala and Ranjan they are all in Canada and I meet them every now and then. My uncle was a devoted Christian, and naturally was pro UNP K.M.P. Rajaratna's wife Kusuma was appointed a teacher at St. Johns Nugegoda direct from the University, even before the results were out. KMPR was contesting in the 1956 general election, and he wanted a cash advance against his wife's salary to make his election deposit. ECAN, as my uncle was known could not oblige KMPR.

After the election and during the first Sinhala hospitality towards 'tamizar' in 1956, ECAN was pulled out of the bus and given a good beating in the name of KMPR, who made it a point to mention KMPR for future reference. That was enough for the passive ECAN. Fortunately for him and his family and I would add it was the good fortune of Kopay Christian College where the Principalship was open and ECAN and family moved into the Principal's bungalow, as he had disposed off his house and property when he moved to Colombo.

During the 1958 Sinhala feast to 'tamizar,' Sinhala thugs have demanded to see the deeds to the property now owned by a Sinhala. I mentioned that he had a BA Hon. Degree in English, to tell about how some of his English friends tell him how jealous they were of him because although English was their mother tongue they could not get an English Honours Degree from London. I would also hasten to add he was not the only 'tamizan' with an Honours Degree in English.

More about the family to follow.

continued

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