P.A. Subramanian received his secondary education at the Jaffna Hindu College, and graduated from the then University of Ceylon, Faculty of Engineering in 1963. He thereafter worked for the Public Works Department and the State Development and Construction Corporation specialising in highways and bridges. He undertook graduate studies at the University of Birmingham leading to a Master’s degree in Engineering. He worked overseas in Nigeria for several years and spent over ten years with international consultants Freeman Fox & Partners, first in the United Arab Emirates and then in Vietnam before settling down in Perth, Australia with his family. Fondly nick named “short sleeve” in the work places, he was always hard working, popular and won the hearts of his fellow engineers and site workers.
PA’s great virtues were his “simplicity and intellectualism”. Growing up in Jaffna during the early post-colonial period, he was attracted to Marxist explanations of society and approaches to eliminate economic inequalities, caste and race based discriminations in Sri Lanka and particularly Jaffna society. As a passionate student of Marxism and politics, he gained an in depth knowledge of both the theory and practice of conflicts between man, nature, classes and the state, and the dictates of local, regional and international entities. The benefit was there for us to see and be guided by. For the last five decades, PA stood out among his people for his intense opposition to all forms of human exploitation and oppression–both within and outside Sri Lanka.
Even before he completed his studies at the University of Ceylon, PA had become a front line worker with the socialist movement in the South, continuing his active involvement throughout the 1960s and 1970s. Total disillusionment with the politics of the South, drove him closer during the last 15 years to Tamil political movements. He contributed actively to many publications notably The Economist and Tamilnet. PA often differed from me and others regarding compromises between nationalistic tendencies and socialistic strategies, we nevertheless always recognised his positions were always anchored in his fundamental beliefs. PA said it clearly:
“For me oppression (whether it is violent or non-violent, armed or unarmed) is terrorism. Opposing oppression in any form is not terrorism and I am always at home to be on the side of resistance, whether enlightened by Marxism or not.”
He stood for the right of ( external ) self determination of cultural nations but he did not rule out solutions to national conflicts within a single country.
At a personal level, PA was totally devoted to his family. Both PA and his beloved wife Rani always provided the best for their children Nakkeran and Kavitha, both of whom today are successful physicians in Australia.
Always congenial in his dealings, trusted by all , PA was a valuable resource in times of personal stress. PA made us laugh with his sharp-witted comments, and wherever he went generated a joyous mix of sarcasm, cynicism, convictions and laughter. “PA had genuine feelings for his fellow men and women and worked hard to alleviate their problems”. An intellectual from Jaffna with an innate orientation to social commitment, he will be recalled among the likes of A. Vaithilingam, Vice Chancellor K. Kailasapathy, Professor K.Sivathamby, ‘Taraki’ Sivaram and others.
The interpreters of Bhagavad Gita extol the virtues of worldly men dutiful and devoted to their families, and, yet, detached sufficiently in time and spirit to care for and serve ordinary suffering people. The Gita locates these humans into the class of sattvic beings destined for the heavens.
May his soul rest in peace.
P.A. Subramaniam passed away on October4, 2012. He leaves behind his beloved wife Rani and children Kavitha and Nakkeran.
(Dr S.Ganesan studied with P.A .Subramanian at the Faculty of Engineering, University of Ceylon (1959-63). He later worked as a Professor at the University of Hong Kong (1977-2004). Tributes to PA from our class mates: K. Sunthraralingam, N. Kugadasan, P.H.B. Samarawickrema, Madu Soothan and others are included in the obituary.)