Tamils who were in political journalism profession in Ceylon (later Sri Lanka) were forced to make an unusual decision. Whether they have to be weathervanes or not. Majority (including his namesake, S.D. Sivanayagam) opted to be weathervanes for their paychecks and supper. Only a handful like S. Sivanayagam (1930-2010) and Kovai Mahesan (1940-1992) decided otherwise. This had been my personal experience during the past 50 years of observation. S. Sivanayagam established and distinguished himself, via his editorship of Saturday Review, Tamil Nation and Hot Spring print journals. There is also one particular distinction between S.D. Sivanayagam and S. Sivanayagam. S.D. Sivanayagam could write only in Tamil; S. Sivanayagam could write only in English!
I’m proud to present here, the ‘letters’ written by Mr. Sivanayagam to me since 1994. This collection of ‘letters’ include, handwritten snail mail, fax messages and emails. When I wrote my tribute to Sivanayagam after his death on November 29, 2010, at the end I wrote, “Time permitting, next year, I plan to compile the few, infrequent letters he wrote to me and post them in this website.” [http://sangam.org/2010/12/Sivananayagam_Tribute.php?uid=4143] Now five years had passed by, and I present Sivanayagam’s eleven letters here. These letters span a period from 1994 to 2008. Considering the simple fact that we never met face to face even once, I feel delighted that I was so lucky to be a recipient of his thoughts as well as encouragement for my writings.
Five years after his death, in these eleven letters, readers may enjoy vintage Sivanayagam – His pungent thoughts, his travails and self-deprecating subtle humor. I had faithfully sent him complimentary copies of my books, MGR Movies Revisited and Other Essays (1995), Tears and Cheers: Tales of a Tamil Scientist (2004) and Pirabhakaran Phenomenon (2005). I loved his quip on my MGR Movies book. “The name index in your book itself makes fascinating reading. I don’t think any other book in this world will have names from Avvaiyar to Audrey Hepburn and Clint Eastwood to Tyagaraja Bagavathar! within the same covers.” His random selection of four listed names (two of which are only known to Tamils, but the other two being Hollywood movie stars) was a compliment for eclectic interests. On my Pirabhakaran Phenomenon book released 10 years ago, Sivanayagam had written, “This book surely should reach friend and enemy and all Sri Lankan watchers in the international community.” Again, he appreciated this book with the words, “How on earth did you manage to uncover all those copious references? Apart from being a monumental contribution to the Tamil cause, it is a tour de force in book publishing.”
Sivanayagam also returned the favor by sending me autographed complimentary copies of his two books, The Pen and the Gun: Selected Writings 1977 to 2001 [http://www.sangam.org/BOOKS/PenGun.htm] and Sri Lanka: Witness to History, a Journalist’s Memoirs 1930-2004 [http://www.sangam.org/articles/view2/?uid=911], both of which I had reviewed in this website.
Lastly, in transcribing these letters, I should indicate that while allowing names of some living individuals, for reasons of propriety, I have hidden the identities of few other living individuals mentioned in the letters, with first alphabets (real and fake) of their names.
France, 26th Sept. 1994
Dear Sachi Sri Kantha,
Dr. S1. sent me the copy of your fax message and your address. Apart from my troubles these past three years, poor S. had been trying to make a last ditch stand in trying to keep ‘Tamil Nation’ alive – under heavy obstacles. Dr. S2, our main financier got into adverse circumstances. Mr. A, pulled out. I was in jail, under police detention for 1.5 years. I don’t know whether you knew about my own history.
After prolonged & expensive litigation I managed to get Madras High Court permission to leave India. Otherwise it would have meant indefinite detention in Vellore ‘Special Refugee Camp’ in Tippu Mahal – a virtual jail. Thanks to good friends like Dr. N and Mr. S, I spent a relaxed life in Singapore & Hongkong for about 4 months. Attempts by friends in Australia to get me there failed. In a well-intentioned but unfortunate move Doctors S1 and S2 paid good money to an ‘agent’ to get me down to UK. After spending an unproductive one year in Africa, I finally landed in Paris in June this year.
I know you have been a great source of strength to the paper till the last. I don’t have a clue as to whether I would eventually gain entry into UK as a refugee; or that there is any hope of reviving the paper. Certainly there is a great need for it. There is a plethora of Tamil publications here in Europe & Canada – Eelanadu, Eelakesari, Thamilan, Sentahamarai, along with LTTE’s Kalathil and Erimalai. But not a single English publication, apart from Tamil Times & the various little bulletins brought out by expat groups in UK, Australia, the US.
I don’t think we ever met in person, but I know you are one of the few people we have, who could contribute substantially for an English language publication. If you have any ideas to suggest, I would like to hear from you.
Here in France, I manage to keep myself somewhat occupied – by helping the T.C.C. people who also look after me. They used to bring out an 8-page monthly called Tamil Land, now re-named Tamil Eelam Newsletter, under the banner of the International Secretariat address in UK.
My wife & two daughters are still in Madras – which is another source of worry for me. Yours is a permanent attachment to the Institute – is it? Do you know Seelan Kadirgamar? Because of my present involvement with the T.C.C, I am now adequately briefed as to events & developments back home & in Sri Lanka. The provincial editions of Sunday Times, Sunday Observer & Virakesari arrive here the very next day & the Sunday Island, a week later.
With regards. Sincere wishes.
Thursday, Nov.3, 1994
Thank you for your letter, dated Oct. 4. Sorry I had taken some time in replying. I have got involved with various odd matters here. Certainly I share your thinking about reviving Tamil Nation. But there are too many hurdles to clear, and I can’t see any immediate hope. Dr.S1 left for Colombo & Jaffna about 16 days back. Apart from finding the initial funds, with Paris as my present base, it is difficult, unless someone is prepared to take responsibility at the UK end. I have also some constraints in using my name, as long as my family continues to live in India. Are you in the mailing list of any of the LTTE publications here – the Tamil Eelam Newsletter or Kalathil, which also carries [Mr.A]’s network? And do you do any writing in Tamil? There is a proposal to start a Tamil weekly from January – not an official LTTE publication, but a broad-based one to be run on commercial lines, and also offering scope for general articles of interest to the European Tamil refugee community. They have asked me to oversee the editorial inputs, but of course I don7t have any experience of writing in Tamil. Since I have a feeling that you can use your pen effectively in Tamil as well, and if you can find the time, why not consider it?
That cutting you sent me, about yourself, reminded me of another project I had been nursing in my mind for a long time – an Eelam Tamil Who’s Who – a listing of various academics, professionals among our world expatriates, which could serve as a brain reserve for the future. It could be a tricky business – the question of selection, but there are ways of getting about it – have a small nucleus of prospective candidates for inclusion in various countries who could be asked to use their discrimination and approach others through personal contact. It could be based on the UK Who’s Who. Well, that is one of several publications I dream about.
As I was writing this, C.J. Thamotheram phoned me from UK. He was the man who pioneered the Tamil Times, later helped Tamil Voice International, and then gave tremendous backing to Tamil Nation. Single handedly, he found more than 100 subscribers to Tamil Nation. A former teacher, he is now 76. He rang me to compliment me on my recent article in the Sunday Observer, Colombo. I don’t know whether you saw it. Do you get any Sri Lankan newspapers there? Maybe I could send you a photocopy if you haven’t seen it.
When I mentioned about the Who’s Who, he said the former Deputy Director of Irrigation, [S.] Arumugam has been working on a biography of prominent Tamils from ancient times (going back to [King] Sankili) to the present time! What they had in mind was probably a somewhat different concept. He says the work has been going on for the past 3 years!
We had a good public meeting here – of our people of course – on War & Peace with Fr. Emmanuel, Vicar General, Jaffna, Professor Peter Schalk of Uppsala University, Sweden & Deirdre McConnell of UK. Incidentally do you happen to have a copy of the Tribune, Colombo (edited by S.P. Amarasingam) of August 1977 or thereabouts in which my article on Tamil Eelam (reply to S.P.A. & Fr. Tissa Balasuriya) appeared. Because you are also a collector, I thought you might have it. If you do have it, can you send me a photocopy (including the cover) & oblige? Whatever I wrote are scattered all over, in Jaffna & Madras & London.
You wanted Eelaventhan’s address. I also wrote to him only yesterday – the first time after I felt India in January 1993. Didn’t you write something about Ranee Saverimuttu sometime? Or was it someone else? She taught at Colombo Hindu [College] along with my wife and is an old friend of ours. Anyway I am in touch with her too.
With best regards.
France, Dec.8, 1994
Thank you for your long letter of the 3rd. The name of your new company fascinated me! So did a news item I read in the Colombo papers and I am enclosing two cuttings which might interest you. The Japanese pre-occupation with the aging and the aged interests me too – man on the wrong side of 64! You must be really a workaholic. Whatever you want to achieve you must do it while you are comparatively young. I was myself a sort of workaholic, but with age catching up, with all kinds of minor ailments creeping in, it becomes frustrating. You know that definition of old age? – When the mind makes appointments which the body cannot keep!
Your reference to your Einstein Dictionary reminds me of a friend – an Indian, who was in the US, and who was devoted to the Eelam Tamil cause while there. He returned to India a few years ago, and set up the Albert Einstein Dialysis Centre in Besant Nagar, close to our residence. He became a good friend of mine. When he tried to intervene on my behalf while I was in jail, a high official of the Tamil Nadu government frightened him off, saying that he himself could get into trouble. The poor man went into a shell after that. He is Dr. Benjamin Raj and continues to run the Centre, but I have lost touch with him. I am also reminded of a large poster I saw at the UNHCR office in Singapore: ‘A refugee is not a bundle of clothes: Albert Einstein was a refugee’ – with a large photograph of him.
About the Tamil weekly – they have tentatively named it. Eela Tharakai. Might not take off before Thai Pongal. So take your time. I wish that you write a piece on an Eelam Tamil’s impressions about Japan, the way of life there, the people, culture etc which could hold lessons for our people. Japan is virtually a closed land for our people. They know all about Europe & Canada, but their world view is limited for Tamil readers. If you can get hold of some photographs even those black and white ones taken off magazines – as long as they are sharp enough, it would help. The Chinese used to say, one picture is worth a thousand words!
About Ranee Saverimuttu, I used to write to her addressed to the English sub-department, Peradeniya University Campus, but recently she has gone into a long silence. As for S.P. Amarasingam, I know nothing about him. I didn’t know him in person either. I was working as Editor in the Tourist Board, when I sent the article to him, which was a risk I took. He must have been personally intrigued about me, so he wrote to me before publishing that article, whether we could meet in person, but I declined politely. But he went ahead & published it anyway.
I have given both your current address as well as the new one for posting of Kalathil. As you know it is prepared and printed in UK, not in France. Erimalai of course is printed here. I haven’t yet met the person in charge of that for some time now.
I don’t know whether I asked you earlier – do you knew Silan Kadirgamar who has been in Japan for some time now? Another person with whom I lost touch. He came to look me up while I was in Madras jail. I have got his address in my cards holder, but I’m not sure whether he is still there.
France, Dec.26, 1994
Thank you very much for your letter dated December 16 and the other enclosure that you posted subsequently. Forgive me, this is only a hurried note. I am only hastening to acknowledge them.
With the kind of life I lead here, I could be erratic about my correspondence. Eela Tharakai launch was delayed because of delay in getting it registered here and other factors. But they tell me that by Pongal, they should be in a position to come out. Please go ahead with your proposed articles as and when you find the time. I am wondering how you are coping with all your work.
Maybe in my case, I don’t lead a settled life, particularly with my family away and they themselves leading an uncertain life there, and the winter here adding to my troubles. I shall be writing again when I am in the mood. I have a problem of shifting from my present address. It is not easy in Paris, with having to depend of someone’s generosity. But I shall certainly keep you informed of my movement.
With regards and my good wishes to you and your family for 1995.
Letter 5 [by fax]:
Thank you for the copy of your book, MGR Movies Revisited and Other Essays. Also a fax sent in September when I was in hospital. I had just time to skip through the book, but from what little I saw I’m sure I would enjoy reading it.
I finished Hot Spring work only yesterday. We missed bringing out the Nov. issue on time, and had to make it a combined Nov-Dec. issue with 8 extra pages added. Unlike Saturday Review and Tamil Nation, I have to work under several constraints. There is a suggestion that we move the base to London. After my bypass operation, I am still not back to my old form.
There are a lot of things I would like to write to you, and thoughts I would like to share, but somehow I find it difficult to cope. My wife and two daughters are in Madras, and both daughters are to get married, the elder one in India in Jan. and the younger one in Colombo in April. It is my misfortune I won’t be there for either wedding. It is difficult to arrange things by remote control from here.
The name index in your book itself makes fascinating reading. I don’t think any other book in this world will have names from Avvaiyar to Audrey Hepburn and Clint Eastwood to Tyagaraja Bagavathar! within the same covers. Your old English teacher Ranee Saverimuttu is a family friend. She wrote to me from Peradeniya a few months ago, but that was when I was in hospital. I have yet to reply her.
Letter 5 [by email]:
April 30, 2002
You must be thinking that this letter has been a long time in coming, but what can be done, that’s me! With the bones now beginning to creak a little, trying to progress from the old Remingtons in the Daily News news rooms in the mid-fifties of the last century to this computer thing in the new millennium has not been easy.
Thank you for your earlier e-mail and for your very sympathetic review of The Pen and the Gun. I used to think what a pleasant (?) irony it was that a book by a Tamil promoting the Tamil cause should have a Sinhalese in Australia writing the Foreword, a Sinhalese in Cambridge (Adrian Wijemanne) sending an appreciative message to be read out at the Book Launch, and a Sinhalese editor in Colombo making some flattering comments about the book and the author. Where do Tamils come into this, I wondered. Thank you for saving the Tamils’ reputation.
With our society mass-producing doctors, engineers, lawyers, accountants and armchair critics, where do we go for writers and reviewers? I hope that the ‘Man who never Sleeps’ will continue to uphold the Tamil reputation when the over-70s like us wither away. Thank you Sachi again. I intended to write at length discussing some aspects of your review and share some thoughts, but let that wait for another day. I will be in France the coming week.
Cheers and regards.
Letter 6 :
Paris, Winter 2003
This is to wish you and your wife & two daughters the very best for the coming year. I hope I am sending to your correct address. As for me I don’t seem to have a fixed abode for any length of time anywhere.
Nearly five months ago I left London for Paris with a shoulder bag with every intention of getting back within a week. Alas, the British Consulate in Paris refused to give me a visa to get back. And here I am in France at a loose end killing time and unable to proceed with my book. So much for the bad news. The good news is that here in Paris I met Tamilselvan, Pulithevan, Col.Karuna & others when they came. They are keen I should come and work with them in the Vanni.
When I go to Colombo, hopefully before end December, I will be at Alexandra Rd., Wellawatte.
Sept. 20, 2004
It was a happy surprise getting your letter and the copy of ‘Tears and Cheers’ at my daughter’s address. For a moment I was surprised how you traced me to my daughter’s address and more surprised to know you got it from [Mr.] A, because I had not been in touch with A for quite some time, except for a brief encounter at the International Tamil Foundation annual lunch a few months ago. I make mental appointments to renew my contacts with people like you and [Mr] A, but somehow never get translated into action. Maybe, it was because of the kind of vagrant life I had been leading.
Without an internet connection, no e-mail, no access to web sites, without my own phone and my own room, I have been like a ‘Nondi kuthirai’ [written in Tamil; translation, Lame Horse], both in France and even after I got back to the UK after a visa struggle. So now let me resort to the good old-fashioned snail mail. In a way it is pleasure to get back to hand written letters, after the advent of the computer age, particularly when the recipient is a sympathetic soul!
My problems are now compounded by ill health. I have become a victim of myeloma and am undergoing chemotherapy at an outdoor clinic in a local hospital. My stay in UK is also uncertain (among all other uncertainties!) because my 6-month visa has already expired. I have applied for an extension and am awaiting a response from the Home Office. If I don7t get it I have to get back to France (where I don’t have a permanent address) and then try to reach Colombo as quickly as I can, and join my wife and elder daughter whom I haven’t seen for 10 years. My wife is now here on a visa and is hoping to fly back on October 13.
Although that is how I plan things but nothing goes according to my plans. It is all left to the unseen hand that takes me here and there. You asked me my age, yes, I was 74 on September 7. My wife is an interested reader of your book. Although she didn’t teach you, she was at Colombo Hindu at the same time, along with Ranee and Peyson.
I am glad you are bringing the ‘Pirabhakaran Phenomenon’ in book form. I thought you should have done it in the first place, because once it had been read on a website, its freshness gets diminished.
I don’t know I have told you about my struggle to complete my political history of Sri Lanka, including my personal memoirs whenever it became relevant. I am just about to complete chapter 34 which brings the chronological account up to the year 2000. I may have to do a brief update of significant events from 2001 to 2003. But it is all hard going. I have to take two buses to get to the place where I have my computer – word processor in fact, and all my reference material.
Incidentally a nephew of mine here told me about some problem you had with an airline when you went for some conference at Turin or somewhere. The whole thing sounded very arbitrary and high-handed. Did it appear on TamilNet? I don’t get to see it. I am sad that your uncle K.T. Rajasingam is playing a very dubious role in the Karuna affair and in serving Sri Lankan propaganda. Someone once posted your account about him and his political past. Are you in touch with him?
I am wondering whether I should give you my daughter’s email. That could help in keeping in touch with you. Like you, I am a father of two daughters. Long ago, we discovered that quite coincidentally several friends involved with writing were all fathers of two daughters – Kailasapathy, Indrapala, Thinakaran editor Sivagurunathan. We used to say we must form a club of Fathers of Two Daughters. At one time Sivathamby too had two daughters but went on to have a son, so he was ‘expelled’ from the club!
When were you in Kilinochchi? I should have been there sometime last year, but as you know nothing works out the way I plan. Both Tamilselvan and Pulithevan are both disappointed. I don7t have any direct contact with them but friends who have been there tell me they keep inquiring about me. Anyway, getting my book out is top priority for me. That could be the last contribution I can do for the Tamil cause before my health fails altogether.
OK Sachi, my regards to you and the family.
Colombo 6, Sri Lanka
21 Oct. 2005
At long last I’ve made it. Made what? Two things. I’m writing to you at last. Second: I’ve not only got a computer, but also, since yesterday, an e-mail, which is sivanaygagam2005@…. In a way, both are achievements, having gone through some tumbles on the way. I used to collect your letters faithfully, preserve them, except that I didn’t reply all of them. I was unhappy hearing from you that following the end of your contract, you were still looking for a new posting. I wonder what the position now is.
I came to Colombo in May this year – after 24 years – bringing my myeloma with me! The manner in which I arrived in Colombo was itself somewhat unusual. As a refugee in France I should have gone back there from the UK (where I had already overstayed) and gone through the return process from there; a cumbersome process, and in French. But at it turned out, to my pleasant surprise, the London office of the International Organization for Migration (IOM), not only bought my air ticket, but in accordance with their policy of helping returnees to rebuild their lives in their country of origin, paid for a computer in Colombo at my request. Unlike the usual run of returnees they found in me a totally different kind of fish when they saw my book. In return I had to commit myself against returning to Europe anytime in the future. But that was no price to pay, and moreover I could not have lasted another winter there.
But the computer bought two months ago remained virtually unused because following my stay at Durdans Hospital where I underwent intravenous chemotherapy, a few months were spent on the recovery process from adverse reactions at two more hospitals. I am now on oral tablets. To make life difficult I had developed a wound on my right wrist, due to negligence by a stupid nurse. I could not type, or use my right hand even for writing. The wound has now healed, and although a new skin has yet to form, I am able to type. But only yesterday I got the hang of using my internet, and this letter to you apart from the stuff I sent to Oru Paper, is a pioneering effort.
I have been reading your writings in Oru Paper, but for the last several months even before returning to Colombo, I had no way of looking at any web site. Now I must get on with it. I have been trying to lead a quiet life here without making any contact with journalists and even those who are politically on the same wavelength. But my book had got enormous publicity everywhere. They had a launch at Sydney a couple of months ago, and a Tamil review of my book by Mrs. Parasakthy Sundharalingam has been reproduced in several Tamil newspapers, in Australia, here in Colombo and in Canada and in course Oru Paper. Oru Paper as you might have heard is now being simultaneously printed in Canada. Incidentally, old students of Colombo Hindu in Sydney held a musical concert there, ‘Pannum Parathamum’ to fund an orphanage run by the school at Ratmalana. Mrs. Ganesan nee Peyson had wanted a message from my wife as well for the souvenir.
I have before me your letter dated Sept. 20, 2005 addressed to Colombo and the earlier one dated Oct. 2, 2004 which I received in London along with two photos taken in the Vanni, but I don’t think I replied that. Although I could not bring any of my books or my documentation to Colombo, I have with me at least my address book, all my personal diaries which I had been maintaining since arriving in France and my photo albums. That is something. But without my books I feel I’m living in a state of undress. Since I don’t get out much, or do any writing, or even do much reading except mostly the Colombo newspapers, life has not been productive, treatment for my myeloma being of course a contributory factor.
How is your family, your two daughters (we are both fathers of two daughers, earlier we had Kailasapathy, Indrapala, Sivagurunathan and others in the same club). Professorship or otherwise, you have tremendous energy which I envy. It takes a lot to do the amount of writing you have been doing. What happened to a proposal you had to bring out the Pirabhakaran Phenomenon in book form? It’s a pity lesser mortals had to follow you and do their own writing on Pirabhakaran.
Sachi, long separated from my computer and e-mail, I have now written at length with a vengeance. But it was a pleasure and relief anyway. Here’s wishing you an early return to your professional life and good wishes to you and the family.
[P.S.] What an extraordinary coincidence. Having failed to send the above letter to you by e-mail, I thought I would at least put it in the post meanwhile, hoping to try e-mailing again. As I was addressing the envelope, my door-bell rang, a young man walks in with a book covered with brown paper. He says he is from … and Sachi Sri Kantha wanted it given to me. My thought at that time was your mention in your earlier letter of the second part of your autobiography and I wondered how it could be so bulky. And lo! When I opened the page – no wonder it had to be Pirabhakaran Phenomenon. There is lot to tell you about the book. I was a little unhappy however when I found it to be a limited edition and unpriced. This book surely should reach friend and enemy and all Sri Lankan watchers in the international community. How do you propose doing that without placing it for commercial sale? Anyway. Thanks a lot, I must be one of the few privileged to get an early copy. I have just managed four chapters since yesterday. Shall write again soon.
Letter 9 [by email]:
Oct. 27. 2005
I am not sure whether my note reached you. I have been laboring with my e-mailing without much success. It was wonderful seeing the book. In London, before I got stuck in France I had taken printouts of many chapters but never read them. Now seeing the whole thing in book form, I am astonished. How on earth did you manage to uncover all those copious references? Apart from being a monumental contribution to the Tamil cause, it is a tour de force in book publishing. Congrats Sachi, but I am disappointed it is only a limited edition and unpriced. Surely the book has to have commercial sales. What are you going to do about it, and also it has to come out in hard cover.
Sept. 24, 2007
Thank you for the B’day wishes. Nice of you to have remembered my birthday. No. I’m not bed-ridden, but name the diseases and I have got all of them – from diabetes the last 40 years (now insulin dependent), heart attack in Paris 11 years ago & by pass, myeloma in UK and now in Colombo enlarged prostrate & skin ailment. That’s the score so far, but swallowing many tablets including thalidomide for my myeloma. My computer is not functioning. This is in a hurry. Shall write to you hopefully sometime soon.
Undated [received by Sachi on Jan. 2, 2009]
This is to wish you, Mrs. Saki and your two daughters (They must be quite grown up now), a very happy, fruitful 2009.
As for me, living in Colombo these 3.5 years meant a rudderless life, full of tension, fearful when the next police/army knock on the door will come. No computer (packed away), no internet, I have been living on memories until my Maker calls me.