In Memoriam: Dr Rajan Sriskandarajah

(1943 – 2023)

by Sachi Sri Kantha, February 3, 2024

Dr. Rajan Sriskandarajah

When I heard the news of death of Dr Rajan Sriskandarajah last November, I felt so sad as if I had lost one of my family members. Though I came to be acquainted with him only in 2001, when I was 48, he was like an elder brother whom I was unlucky not to be blessed with. Rajan was one of my confidants and counsellors. He living in New York and I living in Japan; we exchanged emails on themes of mutual interest frequently until towards the end of 2018. But we never met even once, face to face. Once, when I was passing through a rough patch in my career, and blaming my fate as ‘a half-filled cup as a Tamil expatriate’ he counseled me with the words ‘Sachi, your life is filled to the brim with your achievements and your writings that give hope to fellow Tamils. Stand up please.’ Rajan was 10 years senior to me, and like me, he was also an alumnus of Colombo Hindu College, Ratmalana. This ‘old boy’ bond tied us strongly.

In 2016, I had written about how I came to be acquainted with Rajan, via Nadesan Satyendra in this site, with the caption ‘15th anniversary and future hopes’. [https://sangam.org/15th-anniversary-future-hopes/]

 

My Email exchanges with Rajan in 2018

For me, it was a delight to have email exchanges with Rajan. Due to my routine work place dislocations among the universities in Japan, when I foolishly used the university email system as the primary email link, I had lost almost all my email exchanges with Rajan from 2001 to 2017. What remains now are few which I could retrieve from my current gmail account. Sample excerpts are recorded below. Occasionally, he provided hints to me on topics to write about. One was about the Sinhala Buddhist savant Anagarika Dharmapala (1864-1933).

Rajan – Jan 22, 2018: I found the following at the old tamilnation website on Anagarika.

Sachi – Jan 23, 2018: Thanks for your latest mail. Yes, I did get the file from old Tamil Nation site. From the citation,  i gather that it was taken from the big book on Anagarika’s collected essays and speeches.

Rajan – Jan 23, 2018: I think this story needs to be retold. The racism of his writings, the anti-Moslem tirades, misplaced loyalties of the Tamils and the ultimate betrayal. On the internet he has been canonized to be a peace loving Saint. Who better than you to tell this story. Think about it.

Sachi – Jan 24, 2018: Thanks for your thoughts. Yes, what you suggested on Anagarika is appropriate. I can do it. But, as they say with aging, ‘Spirit is willing, but the muscle is weak.‘ applies to me too. Though I’m ‘technically retired’ (I’ll be 65 in May), I have to keep on working, until my end. Problem is, for me (a transplanted SL guy), pension benefits are nil! So, I have to keep on working part time jobs, with whatever comes my way to support me and my wife. I had lived a care-free life until now, without any savings, no home, no positive bank balance. My only collections have been books, journals and magazines. Now, time has come to dispose these items too. There are no takers for this.

Earlier, I used to write 3 pieces per month to sangam site. Now, somehow I try to contribute at least one per month. When, appropriate time comes I’ll tackle Anagarika again. More than Anagarika, my concern is weeding the views of fellow Tamils of our generation. All know that Anagarika was a racist. But, he is entitled to it, being a Sinhala Buddhist. He died more than 80 years ago. What do you think about the anti-Tamil, anti-Hindu drivel filled by the likes of Hooles, Anandasangaree, …even Kadirgamar’s daughter. I’m more keen on rebutting these guys.

Rajan – Jan 25, 2018: I understand. I am sorry about your situation. I am not too far behind you. Soc. Sec. here is not enough to live on. There is no other pension, except what I saved. I planned for illnesses, but not this. Who does? We are facing ruin if we outlive our savings.

I often wonder how things would’ve been for us if I had spent more time on my practice and less on Tamil affairs. My wife used to warn me. Except for people like you, I am largely a forgotten activist. When young Tamil activists used to ask who’s SJV [Chelvanayakam] I used to think what’s wrong with these guys.

Don’t worry about Anagarika. What you have in mind is important. Living guys need to be named and shamed. Stay healthy.

Sachi, Jan 26, 2018: Thanks for your thoughts, and I appreciate it. You did mention about Anagarika. Another interesting guy (first his friend, and later foe) was American Col. Henry Steel Olcott. This guy’s history is revealing. In SL, he was a Buddhist hero. He has a statue and a road named after him.  But, why he landed in Ceylon is interesting. He did fight in Civil War in 1860s. Later, he became an embezzler, and charlatan, and to escape his past, he moved to Asia (after leaving his wife and kid). He shacked up with Madame Blavatsky, the Russian mystic, and landed in Ceylon. There is an entry about him in the Dictionary of American Biography. I haven’t written about him yet. But, I’d like to do this.”

Subsequently in October 2018, prior to my move from Gifu City to Tokyo, Rajan and I had the following email exchanges. I provide excerpts.

Rajan – Oct 19, 2018: Hi Sachi, How are you doing? No contact for quite a while. I am about the same.

Sachi – Oct 19, 2018: Hello Rajan, Nice to hear from you again. How is your health these days? Latest news from me, is that after spending almost 19 years at Gifu city, I move to Tokyo at the end of this month (30th!), to be closer to the families of our two daughters. Thus, I’ve temporarily suspended my writings to the sangam site. After settling down in Tokyo, I’ll re-boot the writing activity.

Rajan – Oct 20, 2018: Good to hear from you also. I am about the same. Minor improvements here and there. Otherwise life goes on.

Sachi’Sri Kantha’s two autobiographical books – Tears (2004) and Sweat (2016)

Sachi – Oct 20, 2018: Hello Rajan, Thanks. I remember that when I wrote the first vol. of my autobiography ‘Tears and Cheers’, 14 years ago, you quipped that you wanted to read the final vol. of the series to be entitled, ‘Semen and Senses’. I replied, for that I have to wait to see my Grandchildren. Now I’m 65 years and 6 months.

In fact, I did print a small number of volume 2 of my autobiography, ‘Sweat and Savor’, a collection of my correspondence with American information scientist, Dr. Eugene Garfield, who died early last year, after getting his permission before his death. I consider him, as one of my mentors in science and writing. I printed only 100 copies, for educational purposes, for free distribution to students, to show them how to maintain a long running correspondence by letters (pre-net era) and by email.

Rajan – Oct 22, 2018: Dear Sachi, With my disability I cannot write long letters anymore. I write with a stylus attached to my hand. Congratulations on your grandchildren. I have twin granddaughters. They live in California. I don’t get to see them frequently enough. Twice an year. Good memory for an (65 yr) old man!”

As for my autobiographical writings mentioned above, after I published the first volume of autobiography with the caption ‘Tears and Cheers’ in 2004, to commemorate my father’s first death anniversary, I expanded on this a little more with Rajan. Volume 1 was limited to only 200 pages. Then, I was 51 years. And I had to leave a lot of my correspondence from it. As such, I wrote to Rajan mentioning that I intend write at least 4 more volumes- each 200 pages long. Each of the volume will have a body fluid in it’s title. As the first one was ‘tears’, the following ones could be vol. 2 – sweat, vol. 3- blood, vol. 4 -saliva and the last vol. 5 – semen. For this, Rajan replied humorously, ‘I want to read the volume on Semen, next. I volleyed the banter stating, ‘For that, I’ve to meet my grandchildren first’.

In this memoriam, I wish to focus on two items where Rajan stood by me. First, was in my effort to bring my Pirabhakaran Phenomenon series that he took over from Nadesan Satyendra’s now defunct ‘Tamil Nation’ website into a printed book. We made efforts to get the book published either in India, or in Malaysia or in UK. But couldn’t find a reliable publisher who had the courage to print such a ‘heavy’ book with political message. Eventually, we settled on the mode of a cooperative effort (like ‘cloud funding’ which came into popular parlance subsequently) of Tamil diaspora, and get the book printed in USA. It worked, and the book was published in 2005. More than ten Eelam Tamil well-wishers (then living in USA, Canada, UK, Australia, Saudi Arabia and me in Japan) cooperated in contributing the seed money of $10,000 to get this work completed. Rajan was one of them. We were able to print 1,000 copies and distribute copies among the Tamil diaspora.

Secondly, when Prof. Ratnajeevan Hoole mis-represented the professional qualifications and academic competence of Mr. Nadesan Satyendra and me in one of his screeds to the digital media in 2006, Rajan stood up to rebut the false facts. I never requested him to do so, and Mr. Satyendra also didn’t ask him; this, I checked with Mr. Satyenda, in a phone call then. Rajan’s rebuttal, under the byline of his initials K.S.R., appeared in the sangam site, with the caption ‘Response to Dr. Hoole’s Recent Article.’ Those interested, can check this link. [https://sangam.org/taraki/articles/2006/12-30_Response.php?uid=2148]

Rajan’s conclusion on Prof. Hoole’s lack of public decency was charming indeed. “The tenor, the language, the falsehoods, the grandiosity, and the paranoia in his letter is quite revealing of a man who is in need of a serious help with his mental health.” Considering the bizarre political posturings engaged by Prof. Hoole since 2006 to promote his acumen as a Tamil prophet, many Tamils in Sri Lanka and elsewhere would find it difficult to disagree with Rajan, on these sentiments.

Rajan invited to me to participate at the Sangam’s Silver Jubilee meeting in November 2002. As there was a scheduling conflict with my research then, and regrettably I had to negate his request. Thus, I had to miss meeting him face to face. Subsequently, when I suffered from a health scare event in 2008, Rajan offered vital tips to recover my health, for which I have been so thankful. I do remember vividly that Rajan mentioning about his childhood interests in learning violin when he was young. But, his father – a disciplinarian – had negated Rajan’s wish by saying ‘Violin is only for girls!’ and thus he had to cast aside his interest in learning music.

Last but not the least, Rajan was a good writer in English. His superb review of the biopic ‘No More Tears Sister’(2006) movie, directed by Helene Klodowsky, providing an angle on the life of Dr. Rajani Thiranagama nee Rajasingham (1954-1989), is a beauty in this regard. Rajan’s thoughts on issues related to Eelam Tamils are still available in the defunct Tamil Nation site [https://tamilnation.org/forum/rajan/] and in [https://sangam.org/index_orig.html]. Though Rajan bid adieu to us on Nov 4, 2023, at the age of 80, he will remain in the memories of those whose lives he had enriched in so many occasions.

*****

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  1. Sachi Sri Kantha

    For proper referencing to Rajan’s rebuttal to Prof. Ratnajeevan Hoole’s letter to the Editor of sangam site, dated Dec 16, 2006, I mention the source of Hoole’s letter. It appeared in the ‘Asian Tribune’ site, dated Dec 18, 2006. ‘Asian Tribune’,s caption of Hoole’s letter was ‘Vice Chancellor of Jaffna University Ratnajeevan Hoole questions the warnings issued by the Messenger of Deaths in Japan.’
    For the uninitiated, I do mention that the long time editor of ‘Asian Tribune’ site was Mr. K.T. Rajasingham – an estranged uncle of mine from Point Pedro.

    Reply

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