Ilankai Tamil Sangam

Association of Tamils of Sri Lanka in the USA

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Remembering Sivaram

by Prof. Karthegesu Sivathamby, Sunday Observer, April 30, 2006

'Like an immortal celestial he descended on this earth and disappeared from it in the same (unexpected) manner.' -- Puthumy Pittan

On April 28th last year Sivaram was eliminated from the political arena of this country in a very gruesome manner.

To a country which has been used to political assassinations and gruesome murders, the news of the death of Dharmaratnam Sivaram came as a great, rude shock.

Sivaram was no doubt an influential political commentator with special expertise in the analysis of military moves. His writings were read by all those who had an abiding interest in the ethnic war of this country. His writings were known for the stand point he took intimating to English readers the grievances and the demands of the Tamils, explaining to them the wisdom or otherwise of the moves and counter moves by the state forces and the Tamil militants. He was perhaps one of the most well travelled Sri Lankan journalists.

Silent writer

He was invited or expected in such strategic places like Delhi, Washington, London and Brussels; the centre for the European Union.

Yet, it is also true that beyond his writings he was neither discussed about nor spoken about, in any "public manner." Within the influential circles in Sri Lanka he was closely read, and there was a diligent silence about what he wrote.

The news of his killing led to an upsurge of grief and sorrow. The greatest surprise was the praises bestowed on him by political commentators and writers who never shared his beliefs and visions. In fact, most of them held diametrically opposing views. It was this unexpected opening of the flood gates of praise and sorrow that made his friends and associates realise the national significance he had, not only as a writer, but as a great human being.

It was really an act of rediscovery. It was his death and the condolences it received from writers and diplomats, friends and foes alike that enabled us to rediscover him and locate his contributions against the background of almost 35 years of ethnic war in Sri Lanka.

It was after his death that the Tamil people in Sri Lanka realised the significance of his contributions. Through his writings, he brought out the depth and the breadth of the Sri Lankan Tamil grievances. His weekly writings and his expert comments over the BCC revealed to readers and listeners the intensity of the Sri Lankan question, especially in terms of the militancy it bred and the militant leadership it had.

With Sivaram no more around us, we see the irreplaceable contributions he made to the understanding of the Sri Lankan Tamil question. A fleeting thought of a hypothetical withdrawal of his writings in this subject would reveal to us how much the literature on this war would be poorer without his contributions.

His presentations revealed the wider perspective in which he thought and wrote. His writing in Tamil are equally important. They were very thought provoking. His friends and well-wishers have attempted to bring out piecemeal his writings. It is important that those are brought out finally well edited with introductions. The most unforgettable aftermath of his death was the outpouring of praises from fellow professionals.

They did not always agree with his views, but now, they saluted his memory for the great warmth he showed as a human being, and for the courage and genuineness of his convictions. In a way, the more he was against the political stand of fellow commentators, the more he was close to them as a friend, and more than that, a man of deep understanding.

This was something very new to the annals of Sri Lankan journalism. It is now seen how much he was respected and revered.

It would be grossly unfair to view him and treat him as just another journalist, another political commentator. Retrospectively now, we see his breadth of vision and depth of political acumen, it was this difference that made his writings sincere and profound. One should not fail to see the serious researcher within him, the ever searching student of human thought and behaviour. The range of his reading was truly fantastic.

Serious researcher

To me it was the student of history within him, the history of Tamilian society and thought that brought him close to me. Here again, the range of his readings and the areas of search were unbelievably deep and wide.

From 'Purananuru', the Sangam classic to the monumental work on costs and Tribes of Southern India, he saw a continuity, hitherto unexplored. He was attempting to delimitate the history of the Tamil society through the militaristic behaviour and activities of the Tamils, responding to his questions so naively put, I always thought my scholarship and were in the docks in front of him. Was he seeking explanations? Or measuring my inabilities? To this day I'm not sure.

I miss him, not merely as a friend, but as one who made me think, or to be more exact, rethink. It is a pity that none of the universities of the North-East has yet thought in terms of honouring his historical acumen.

Sivaram was a wonderful friend. The hallmark of his character was that he never told any one of his friends who his other friends were. It was really shocking for me to see such a number of people at his funeral. They came to see him as their friend and as really genuine friends. They could neither hide nor wipe away their tears as they stood around his body.

Sivaram was a devoted husband and father, very proud of his family. The 'chatty' of curd that he took with him on his last journey was to enjoy a luxuriant vegetarian lunch with his children the next day. There is a famous line by 'Puthumy Pittan', the greatest fiction writer in Tamil so far - 'Like an immortal celestial he descended on this earth and disappeared from it in the same (unexpected) manner.'

Let it be a resurrection or rebirth we, his friends are awaiting Sivaram to return.

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