Sunday, August 26, 2007

Senator Murugeysu Tiruchelvam QC: A tribute to an intellectual by Prof AJ Wilson


The 29th death anniversary of Senator Murugeysu Tiruchelvam, former Minister of Local Government and Solicitor-General took place recently. We reproduce a tribute written by Prof. A. J. Wilson of the University of New Brunswick, Canada in 1981.
It is a curious phenomenon in recent Ceylon Tamil social life that some families have tended to give rise to two famous persons at a time from their ranks.
The Ponnambalam brothers, Ramanathan and Arunachalam; the Saravanamuttus, Sir Ratnajothi, Colombo wartime mayor and Paikiasothy the civil servant who handled our tea and rubber quite successfully; C. Vanniasingham, the parliamentarian and C. Balasingham, his reputed civil servant brother and in present times, Murugeysu Rajendra, a distinguished former Secretary to the Treasury and the late Senator Murugeysu Tiruchelvam, eminent Queen's Counsel, a very honourable Minister of Local Government and the supreme political strategist, par excellence, of all time in Tamil politics.
Senator Tiruchelvam was in every way, but in name and blood relationship, the son of my father-in-law, the late SJV Chelvanayakam.
I came to know him in 1952 and was his close and admiring friend throughout this phase of his life until his sad and premature demise in 1976. My father-in-law regarded him with love and affection, chided him at times as if he were his own child, and implicit father in him.
Tiruchelvam for his part reciprocated this confidence and trust and never ever uttered a word of criticism against my father-in-law. Such was the bond that held these two men together.
In part, the close ties were due to the fact that as a boy Tiruchelvam was sent to Ceylon to attend secondary school at St. Thomas's by his parents, and his ward, guardian, and foster father from then onwards was Chelvanayagam. He learned his law and imbibed his nationalism from his mentor but he was also in his own right a civilized and cultured man - he learned history and completed his degree in that discipline at the then University College.
It is difficult to write about Tiruchelvam without the feeling of intense emotion. He had the capacity to evoke such attachment and it was principally due to his humane and lovable ways; he could strike the right chord in certain human beings. He had the will to survive and to triumph, to outmanoeuvre adversaries, and as my father-in-law once remarked in a different context, to display that rare quality of good generalship in times of adversity.
When I was once despondent about the fate of my brother and his family after the great cyclone in Batticaloa district in 1959 Tiruchelvam gave me encouragement when he said that I should not despair; that human beings had a tremendous capacity to survive. He brought this philosophy into politics.
Long before most other men (in the post-1947 period), Tiruchelvam showed evidence of intense devotion to the cause of nationalism. He was Sir Alan Rose's (Legal Secretary under the Donoughmore Constitution and later Chief Justice) junior in drafting the Soulbury Constitution and Rose accepted the junior's view that care was needed in the work of that Constitution.
On Independence Day, 4 February 1948, Tiruchelvam boldly had the Nandi flag flying in his car, not paying attention to the consequence that could visit him. As one of the crown's most skilled lawyers, he did not seek to conceal his nationalism for petty gain or rapid promotion.
In his profession, he was clever beyond comparison. His involvement in history enabled him to see the law in a clearer perspective and he had more than the capacity to split hairs. He could, like the English metaphysical poets of the seventeenth century, fuse disparate, relate distant and different things to each other, win argument by matching far fetched examples, all due primarily, in my view, to his successful training in another discipline. He had a mind that cerebrated nimbly.
That mind was formidable asset to the country in the post 1956 years.
Tiruchelvam's wide horizon and agile imagination enabled him to make three noteworthy contributions to the Tamil community. It was he who with the cooperation of J. R. Jayawardene steered the Federal Party into a coalition with Dudley Senanayake's "National Government' of 1965, thereby providing the Tamil people with the much needed opportunity to recuperate from the harsh and severe treatment accorded to them by the 1960-65 SLFP government headed by Mrs. Sirima Bandaranaike.
He envisioned and was guiding spirit of the Jaffna University Movement. There were others whom he involved in the movement but it was he who received instructions, advice and political direction from Chelvanayakam.
Between 1965-70, when he was Minister of Local Government, he could at any time have obtained a university, almost overnight, for the Tamil people within the precincts of the Jaffna peninsula but he preferred to go along with my father-in-law's desire to have the institution sited in Trincomalee. The people of the Eastern Province were not going to be let down by the Federal Party.
It can nevertheless be said that it was due to his pioneering zeal that there is today a university in Jaffna.
As Minister of Local Government, he framed the Tamil Regulations of January 1966 under the provisions of the Tamil Language (Special Provisions) Act of l958. He consulted me on the political implications of the regulations.
And he made the excellent legal paint that "prescribed purposes" as provided for in the 1958 Act could mean either everything or specific matters. He chose the former and thus laid the foundation for the Tamil language becoming the language of administration in the Northern and Eastern provinces.
He gave of his best in the framing of the District Councils Bill of 1968, a document which may well stand the test of time, a compromise which may have deflect the demand for Tamil Eelam had it been implemented. He was virtually its sole draftsman and his health perhaps suffered not a little in this deathly labour of love.
It must also be mentioned here that he played a leading role in the trial-at-bar case involving prominent politicians of the Tamil United Liberation Front. In all this he played the sacrificial role. And he was to Chelvanayakam what Liaquat Ali Khan was to Jinnah.
In 1976, the cruel hand of fate took him away from the country, an irreparable loss from which the country can never recover. A versatile man of such rare accomplishments can emerge only once in awhile.
History, law and politics proved an unbeatable amalgam and it made him make history. As a person he remained youthful to the end, he could communicate freely with younger people, he was the complete liberal, emancipated and free from bias.
He had a puckish sense of humour that together with his mordant wit sent his listeners into peels of laughter. More than everything else he was a loyal friend and a reliable ally. He gave himself unstintedly to the cause though in the process he was buffeted by strong winds.

This tribute by the late Prof. AJ Wilson appeared in the Sunday Observer on April 23, 2006.

2 comments:

Anita Sri-Ananda said...

Uncle Tiru was not only a man of high legal intellect who along with his wife, Punitham, wete ahead of their time in their attitudes towards addressing social inequalities and promoting cultural awareness/tolerance...because they actually were involved in creating and providing jobs for those unfortunate people who otherwise would have needed to resort to begging to survive. Tiru was always a kindly man of few words who loved family. I recall visiting Sri-Lanka at age 6 on holiday with my father Dr Sri-Ananda (Canagaratnam) and my mother June who was a Burgher. Punitham Aunty (who was married to Uncle Tiruchelvam), was my fathers only sister and he doted on her and they were very close. My father was chosen as Godfather to my cousin Bunno who made my father so proud as he followed in my fathers footsteps and joined the medical profession as a surgeon. Punitham Aunty didnt believe in wasting opportunities or children being idle, so she organised a math tutor who drilled the 12 x times tables into me for days and on returning to my Auntys home each day, I had to recite what I had learned. I hated maths lol and much preferred to be wandering around reading the many books in their large home or walking outside in the coconut grove as I liked watching the coconuts being harvested by the men who would climb up so quickly using a rope or cloth but gave my Aunty high anxiety as I would be always watching too close and the coconuts would be crashing down around me lol. However, the best time to slip away and hide so Punitham Aunty couldnt send me off to the maths was the time in-between lunch and the evening meal. I would quietly wander around to Uncle Tiru's study/home office because he often called me in to let me browse his huge bound book collection.Sometimes as I read his books, he would ask me to spell long words or tell him the meaning of obscure words,
I was a curious unusual 6 year old child as I had been reading from the age of 3 and I often read books far above my age level (like my Dads medical texts and journals). Having lived in remote areas with my parents and akways mixing with adults, I was well used to conversing with adults but not very comfortable mixing with peers my own age. Uncle Tiru sensed my peculiar ways and I enjoyed sitting in his office reading massive textbooks but unfortunately Punitham Aunty would realise I wasnt around and would usually find me in his office so she would send me packing to the kitchen to be minded by "Alice" the family cook who had been working there a very long time or I would be sent to the maths tutor. Sadly she never believed me when I told her Uncle Tiru used to call me into his office and would give me the books to read...so then she would punish me for being in his office, for lying, for touching his book collection and for risking disturbing him. Ahhh, the tribulations of childhood lol. Uncle Tiru never fessed up either...I think he liked hoodwinking my Aunty who was very accomplished, serious but also a bit bossy, so ni doubt seeing her get flustered whenever she caught me in his office must have been novel. She probably thought that he was annoyed with her for letting me "run wild" and for disturbing him lol and of course he would also have guessed that I was hiding from Punitham Aunty to avoid being sent to the maths tutor so although he didnt say much, when he talked, everyone listened and although he appeared serious and stern, he had a great sense of humour...and liked to rock the boat by inviting nosy 6 year olds to sit in his office and read a text or two. I regret that I didnt have the opportunity to get to know both of them when I became an adult, but sadly both of them passed away when I was too young, so I never got to tell them how fantastic I thought they were. They were both amazing people who helped others directly and indirectly through the different innovations each of them implemented and in fact, they each achieved things that not only helped people, but changed those peoples lives for the better.

Anita Sri-Ananda said...

Uncle Tiru was not only a man of high legal intellect who along with his wife, Punitham, wete ahead of their time in their attitudes towards addressing social inequalities and promoting cultural awareness/tolerance...because they actually were involved in creating and providing jobs for those unfortunate people who otherwise would have needed to resort to begging to survive. Tiru was always a kindly man of few words who loved family. I recall visiting Sri-Lanka at age 6 on holiday with my father Dr Sri-Ananda (Canagaratnam) and my mother June who was a Burgher. Punitham Aunty (who was married to Uncle Tiruchelvam), was my fathers only sister and he doted on her and they were very close. My father was chosen as Godfather to my cousin Bunno who made my father so proud as he followed in my fathers footsteps and joined the medical profession as a surgeon. Punitham Aunty didnt believe in wasting opportunities or children being idle, so she organised a math tutor who drilled the 12 x times tables into me for days and on returning to my Auntys home each day, I had to recite what I had learned. I hated maths lol and much preferred to be wandering around reading the many books in their large home or walking outside in the coconut grove as I liked watching the coconuts being harvested by the men who would climb up so quickly using a rope or cloth but gave my Aunty high anxiety as I would be always watching too close and the coconuts would be crashing down around me lol. However, the best time to slip away and hide so Punitham Aunty couldnt send me off to the maths was the time in-between lunch and the evening meal. I would quietly wander around to Uncle Tiru's study/home office because he often called me in to let me browse his huge bound book collection.Sometimes as I read his books, he would ask me to spell long words or tell him the meaning of obscure words,
I was a curious unusual 6 year old child as I had been reading from the age of 3 and I often read books far above my age level (like my Dads medical texts and journals). Having lived in remote areas with my parents and akways mixing with adults, I was well used to conversing with adults but not very comfortable mixing with peers my own age. Uncle Tiru sensed my peculiar ways and I enjoyed sitting in his office reading massive textbooks but unfortunately Punitham Aunty would realise I wasnt around and would usually find me in his office so she would send me packing to the kitchen to be minded by "Alice" the family cook who had been working there a very long time or I would be sent to the maths tutor. Sadly she never believed me when I told her Uncle Tiru used to call me into his office and would give me the books to read...so then she would punish me for being in his office, for lying, for touching his book collection and for risking disturbing him. Ahhh, the tribulations of childhood lol. Uncle Tiru never fessed up either...I think he liked hoodwinking my Aunty who was very accomplished, serious but also a bit bossy, so ni doubt seeing her get flustered whenever she caught me in his office must have been novel. She probably thought that he was annoyed with her for letting me "run wild" and for disturbing him lol and of course he would also have guessed that I was hiding from Punitham Aunty to avoid being sent to the maths tutor so although he didnt say much, when he talked, everyone listened and although he appeared serious and stern, he had a great sense of humour...and liked to rock the boat by inviting nosy 6 year olds to sit in his office and read a text or two. I regret that I didnt have the opportunity to get to know both of them when I became an adult, but sadly both of them passed away when I was too young, so I never got to tell them how fantastic I thought they were. They were both amazing people who helped others directly and indirectly through the different innovations each of them implemented and in fact, they each achieved things that not only helped people, but changed those peoples lives for the better.