Ilankai Tamil Sangam

Association of Tamils of Sri Lanka in the USA

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Tribute to the Late Mr.Thamotheram

from Sivanayagam, Colombo

Read at Jeyam Thamotheram's funeral in the United Kingdom on November 4, 2005

Dear Friends,

This is no ordinary occasion for which you have met today. This is not like any other internment. This is not like any other funereal gathering. In marking the passing away of one individual, you are today marking the end of an epoch in the history of Tamils in this country. It is not one Thamotheram whom we have lost, but by his loss we are in danger of losing a part of our identity as a Tamil people.

It is my great regret that I am not physically present in your midst, to share the feeling of tremendous loss that you all feel – you, the many mourners and friends of Mr. Thamotheram, whom I count as my friends as well. Like many things in life which become richer by sharing, even grief becomes tolerable by sharing. Unfortunately, here in Colombo I grieve for him in isolation. That itself makes it hard.

My sense of gratitude to Mr.Thamotheram, my indebtedness to him in many ways, is something very personal to me. That naturally makes his loss more heart-rending. But then Mr. Thamotheram was a public person. He was my patron and friend, but he was also leader of a whole community in this country. He belonged to all of you. If he was an institution in himself; many are the institutions that he had founded – the first English-language journal, the first Tamil school, the first think-tank, the International Tamil Foundation, and in his eighty sixth year his mind was active enough to think of another first – a Writers’ Guild to propagate the Tamil point of view. But alas, before he could breathe more life into his latest foundling, he has gone.

Three days before I left England for good and flew to Sri Lanka, I called on Mr. and Mrs. Thamotheram at their home in Ealing along with my friend Bala. We had a long, long chat. It was really my farewell visit to him. That was the last I saw him in person. I sent him a card on his 87th birthday on the 19th last month, which he told me he liked very much.

Parted physically did not mean the end of our association, or the end of his personal affection and concern for me. In a letter he wrote to me on the 7th July, which he dictated to his brother Edgar, he said (Quote) “My dear Siva, this is a letter that I had wanted to write to you for the past two months, but illness and other distractions had come in the way….First of all, do tell me how you spend the day in Colombo. I know you must be concerned about your illness, but I understand you have already begun treatment under an encologist. What is his prognosis? Are you eating well and also able to sleep in that hot weather…I do miss the almost daily telephone conversations I had with you when you stayed with your daughter in New Malden” (Unquote) Friends, here is a man who had the largeness of heart to be so concerned about another’s health, another’s welfare, when he himself had begun to struggle with his own bodily ailments. In the same letter he was expressing his great worry about the deteriorating physical condition of another mutual friend, Adrian Wijemanne.

His concern for his fellow men apart, Mr. Thamotheram’s thoughts to the last remained with the Tamil people he loved and the Tamil cause to which he was wedded. In his letter to me, he wrote – (Quote)  “The Tamil community here lacks leadership. We are fast losing our Tamilness, unlike the Jews who maintained their Jewishness whether they lived in Moscow or Morocco, New York or Norway. I am astounded by the number of marriages taking place between Tamils, mostly professionals, and the host community.” (Unquote). Friends, it is distressing to say that, but I cannot help feeling that we, as a people, and as a community have failed Mr. Thamotheram, failed him in sharing his deep values, and failed to reciprocate by our own actions what he stood for, and what he strived for. It is part of human fallibility to take a person for granted when he is alive. It is only when he departs from us, we suddenly realize how empty the world around has become.

If I may be permitted to believe that I am talking to you, Sir, as you lie in that casket, may I say this. Although you have left us, I can always hear your voice whenever I choose to. Your speech at my book launch function is on video tape. I can still see you on that stage, large and life-like. I can yet hear you, when I choose to, loud and clear. Memories of you are too embedded in my consciousness, not to be erased until the time comes for me, too, to walk the same path as you and go across to the beyond.

Farewell, dear Sir. You shall always remain part of Tamil memory.