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 5

My father was easy to deal with, a word appropriate for the occasion will mellow him down. A word from the right person and mostly it was from my sister, that will change his mind. His tongue lashing was severer than the corporal punishment, which he seldom used on us. I learned from a famous surgeon whom I met in Zambia after a long pause in our meeting. My father developed an ailment and after much pleading he agreed to enter hospital for a check up. I dropped him at the Jaffna hospital after seeing to his comforts in his hospital bed. Mother stayed behind. I got a call through my uncle who was the local Post Master and Mahendran's father in law, that mother wanted to see me at the hospital. I knew why I was called.

My father as you already know was a vegetarian and was not used to the unfamiliar hospital environment. I did not insist on his staying at the hospital. I returned to Kurunegala where I was working as the Service Manager for the Importer of Ford tractors and Main dealer for Ford cars and trucks. We were staying in the late Proctor Thambiraja's annex. Mr. Thambiraja was a legend in Kurunegala, and he has just celebrated his Golden jubilee as a member of the Kurunegala bar.

There were a few doctors living down the cul de sac, Dr. Rajappillai a pathologist, Dr. Pasupathy Radiologist, not from The Cncer Institute Maharagama, Dr. Jeganathan GP, Thamby's son in law, Mr. Ariaratnam an entomologist with the anti malaria campaign. He is now living in California and we have met his son Dr. Gopi a few times, to name a few. Naturally talk about my father's refusal to stay in hospital cropped up in one of the several tete-te-tetes with one doctor or another. Their candid advice to me was to get him medical help as they felt as time passed his threshold for pain that was very high may not help.

This was the period of experiments by the government by 'tree climbers' as Kotelawela a one time Prime Minister said about the government of the time, with channeled private practice by government specialists. My wife's eldest brother, she is the seventh in a family of six boys, Dr. Thirunavukkarasu was the Senior Resident in Jaffna. He arranged for a consultation with the Surgeon. The examination was over and the Surgeon asked my father if he was not K.E. Ramalingam, and wanted to know why he did not say so in the first place.

My father with his characteristic grin told that he was a teacher and thousands of students have passed through his hand, and the surgeon would have seen thousands of patients and it was not for my father to embarrass the surgeon and a famous one at that. There was no need to introduce, because, my father was taken in because he was the father in law of the Resident doctor’s only sister. The surgeon then said and I quote as I remember it vividly, " Sir, you are the only person who understood me and told me that I would do well in life, whereas others did not have much hope for me." It was no other than Surgeon Mylvaganam. It seems he was very mischievous and famous for his practical jokes as a student. "You have nothing to worry and you are my patient and leave everything to me." True to his word and because of that word father agreed for a serious operation in two stages for cancer of the bladder.

Dr. Mylvaganam and I met in Zambia after a long time and I had to seek his help for a dear friend who would not have followed us to the US, but for the swift action he took to arrest gangrene from a rare situation of (intrasusception)?-the large intestine swallowing the small intestine. Every time we met and mostly at parties he hugged me to show his appreciation and love for my father and was  I proud of my father? No, because I am proud of my father always and for ever. I understood him and I know my moral courage comes from the understanding of most of his actions, which my brother could not absorb. My father was a fan of Kalladi Veluppillai, and his practical and social reform needs separate treatment later. My father was a liberal in every sense, he never imposed his will on others nor did he let things pass by. He could empathize with all types of people more so with our poor relations who are many. He practiced what he preached. He was one of the anti-western suit teachers whose work is seen today as the 'National dress.'

I was 13 or 14 years old and I liked cow boy movies. In one of the magazines I saw an advertisement for cow boy shirts and jeans. Those days there was no foreign exchange restrictions and VPP-value payable post or COD-cash on delivery as it is called here, was popular and catalogue purchase was easy. We used to import vegetable seeds for our home garden in small packets from Pochas, in Poona in India. I ordered a pair of jeans and the gaudiest-red, brown and blue checked cow boy shirt. When the parcel arrived, nothing was said about it and the opened parcel was given to me, of course by mother. According to father, everything we do had to be approved by the governor our mother. I wore the new dress and paraded in the village.

Unlike in the US, we have, I should say we had people to perform specific functions, Dhoby for washing cloths, Barber for hair dressing, potter for making pots and pans and so on. When the Dhoby made his visit with the washed cloths and took with him the cloths to be washed my father had quietly asked him not to bring back that gaudy looking suit. The next visit from the dhoby did not have my favorite dress, and the next and the next. I was always given some excuse or other. Finally I decided to confront him with my accusation that he was a thief and he had given my suit to his son. Poor fellow, that was too much for him and he admitted that father did not want that suit to be brought back. I could see father turning on his characteristic grin and  waiting for my outbursts.

I think my demeanor of sadness must have troubled him and I still remember his exact words,' Son, you must learn to dress elegantly never ostentatiously.' I have been following that as long as I had a say in the purchase, but today the children, buy most of my casual wear, as I do not need work clothes, I have a purple, a yellow, and several current style shirts and trousers, I even have a fancy pair of shoes with tassels! ‘How to look the gift horse in the mouth no?’

Next how my mother's 'tAlikkodi' fell and scared me to death.

continued

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