28th May 2000

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He gave of his best, but died a disillusioned man

Fifty years ago today, died one of the finest products of Ceylon in the twentieth century. Many were the tributes paid to him referring to his rather untimely death at the age of 58 after a remarkable career in the Ceylon Civil Service and also after an abiding and dedicated contribution to the development of cricket in this country.

He was a good sportsman at S. Thomas' College but a better student, winning the highest prizes in Classics, English, Mathematics and the much coveted Victoria Gold Medal for the best student of the year. He excelled at games, winning his colours in athletics, football and cricket and also the shield for a consistently outstanding batting performance.

He was a graduate of the University of London and a teacher at Royal College for a short time. When teaching at Royal, he had the habit of walking up and down between the rows of desks whilst teaching Latin Grammar and English Literature. He noticed a particularly mischievous student who was up to pranks behind his back. When he next passed him with the text in hand, he lifted the boy off the chair with his powerful right hand and dashed him on the seat. The boy so punished was J.L. Kotelawala (affectionately called "Just Like Kalu Dodol") who, later in life, became Prime Minister of this country.

P. Saravanamuttu was the brightest star in a family of six boys (all of them over 6 feet in height) and two sisters. They were an outstanding Jaffna Christian family from Chunnakam where P. Saravanamuttu's grandfather, Vetharaniam was a highly respected leader of the people. Among his many gifts to them was a large piece of land for a public market during the time of P.A. Dyke, who was the Collector of Jaffna from 1829 and Government Agent from 1833 to 1867. Vetharaniam's son, Saravanamuttu, studied medicine in Colombo and obtained his M.D. in the United Kingdom.

He was a popular and much sought after medical doctor in Colombo North. His eldest son, Dr. Ratnajoti Saravanamuttu, carried on the family tradition of medical practice. Dr. Ratnajoti Saravanamuttu's wife was the first lady elected to the Legislature (State Council of 1931) of this country. She died whilst a member of the State Council in 1940. Unfortunately, his father died at the comparatively young age of 60 in 19l2 when only the eldest and the second son, N. Saravanamuttu, had got into the medical and legal professions respectively. The young mother, a widow at 40 years of age, rose magnificently to look after the four younger sons and two daughters.

She, I am told, was a pioneer in organizing the Tamil Women's Association of Colombo along with Dr. (Mrs.) Mary Ratnam. Her ancestral home in Vaddukoddai was the residence of the Principal of Jaffna College for many years. The family was held in such high esteem in the Colombo area that Dr. R. Saravanamuttu and his brother, Proctor N. Saravanamuttu and the youngest, Lt. Col. S. Saravanamuttu (Advocate) were all three elected members to the Colombo Municipal Council as late as 1937. Dr. Ratnajoti Saravanamuttu was the first elected Mayor of this Municipal Council since its establishment in 1865. He was knighted for his dedicated services to the city, particularly during the Japanese bombing of Colombo in 1942. His medical practice was inherited by his son, Dr. Chinni Saravanamuttu, and later carried on by his niece, Dr. Manorani Saravanamuttu, whose son was the brilliant young Richard de Zoysa who died tragically a few years ago.

Public service was in the tradition of the Saravanamuttu family. The third brother was T.V. Saravanamuttu who also had a brilliant career at S. Thomas' College. When the Excise Department was created by Ordinance No. 12 of 1912 during the height of the Temperance Movement and at a time when (Sir) Ponnambalam Ramanathan, the "educated Ceylonese" member elected to the Legislative Council of 1911 was vigorously fighting for the reduction of taverns in the country, T.V. Saravanamuttu, then just over 21 years of age, was appointed by the Governor as an Assistant Superintendent of Excise in 1912. He had an unblemished record in the department and retired as Commissioner of Excise in 1951. One of his daughters Lohini married an outstanding Civil Servant of our times L.C. Arulpragasam who worked in the F.A.O. - Rome.

Of the other two brothers, M. Saravanamuttu, (father of Dr. Manorani) also after a brilliant record at S. Thomas' College, both in studies and sports, crowned his career by winning the Government Scholarship in l915 and joined St. John's College, Oxford. Later he settled down in Malaya as leading journalist, and a leader of men during the Japanese occupation. He was Ceylon's High Commissioner in Malaya and Singapore and Ambassador to Indonesia, retiring in 1957. The sixth son, Lt. Col. S. Saravanamuttu, before he was 14 years of age, represented S. Thomas' at cricket and played for 6 years and as captain in 1917 and 1918. He scored the fastest century in school, knocking up a 100 in 24 minutes and another 100 in less than half an hour. Whilst P. Saravanamuttu is rightly and duly honoured as the brightest star of the family, his youngest brother sometimes stole the day. He is said to be the first to make 2,000 runs in a school year and ended up at St. Catherine's College, Cambridge. He had the glory of making 132 runs at Lords against the MCC. He scored a record 35 centuries in first class cricket in the space of 20 years in an era when such matches were not regularly played. P. Saravanamuttu joined Fitzwilliam Hall (College), Cambridge University in 1915 with a reputation as a brilliant scholar and an outstanding sportsman. He was a candidate for the Indian Civil Service examination. Three of his tutors commented on his consistent punctuality, legibly neat handwriting, pleasant manners and dignified personality, his dependability, his lucid and precise literary style and, above all, his exceptionally high and impeccable character.

They found him able to appreciate criticism and perform his duties with efficiency and expeditiousness. His deliberate manner concealed an alert mind ready to deal with emergencies. He was a conscientious student, discussing questions with logical precision, who also gained considerable distinction in the playing fields. He was "highly recommended without any reservation for any post of trust and responsibility". They all expressed their sadness when financial losses arising from the War compelled him to return to Ceylon although he had passed Part I of the Mathematical Tripos and was preparing for the Finals in Law also. They felt that they were both fields in which he would reach the pinnacles of success.

However his friend, and later his brother-in-law, P.C.S. Jayaratnam, who had won the Ceylon Government Scholarship from Royal College and was in Cambridge with him, remained at his studies and passed into the Indian Civil Service. His daughter Jehanara (P. Saravanamuttu's niece) married Jaipal Singh, leader of the Janpath Party, who was a member of the original Indian Constituent Assembly. Jehanara herself was a member of the Rajya Sabha and Deputy Minister of Shipping and Tourism in Mrs. Indira Gandhi's government. Her younger sister, Malini Balasingham, having retired from the UN, is living here in Colombo engaged in dedicated service in the field of mental health.

Incidentally, the second sister of the Saravanamuttu family married R.A.M. Thuraiappa, appointed by the Secretary of State as an engineer in the Public Works Department. Her grand-daughter, Dr. Shevanthi Homer-Vanniasinkam, is a Consultant Vascular Surgeon at the Leeds General Hospital and is also Professor of Bio-Medical Sciences at Bradford University.

On his return to Ceylon after having abandoned his studies at Cambridge, it was announced that an examination was to be held in Colombo to recruit four members to the Ceylon Civil Service. P. Saravanamuttu, the former teacher at Royal College, and his friend E.W. Kannangara, who was teaching at the Government Training College, decided to study together, meeting at each other's homes on alternate nights. P. Saravanamuttu's home was at Melbourne Avenue where his mother used to prepare coffee and eats for them. She never went to bed until they had finished their studies. At E.W. Kannangara's aunt's house at Silva Lane, they carried out this same routine, except that as E.W. says his "aunt neither sat up nor gave them coffee". Having studied Latin and Greek for their London degrees, both of them had considerable experience in hard organized work. They also offered Pure and Applied Mathematics and, of course, English.

The results of the Civil Service examination came to them from London in a strange way.

A friend of E.W's at the Colombo Telegraph Office, rushed to his home with the news that a cable had arrived from the Secretary of State for Colonies but it was in code. The only words he could recognize were Saravanamuttu, Kannangara, Poulier and Perera.

Needless to say, these were the four candidates who came on top and they were duly appointed to the existing vacancies. R.S.V. Poulier on his retirement, after a successful career in the Ceylon Civil Service, was appointed to the Senate in 1953 and functioned as Chairman of the Public Accounts Committee. T.D. Perera, (brother of H.V. Perera, K.C., that remarkable genius in the legal field) went on to perforrn special duties in the Income Tax Department which was created in 1931 and ultimately retired as Commissioner of Income Tax and Estate Duty. E.W. Kannangara, for years Clerk to the State Council, which was then a Civil Service post, later became Commissioner of Local Government and retired as Secretary to the Ministry of Local Administration. He was elected to the Senate and served from 1954 to 1959.

Meanwhile P. Saravanamuttu, having started his career in the Colombo Kachcheri, later as Assistant Government Agent, Mullaitivu, organized extensive relief work during a period of unprecedented distress in the district. As AGA, Hambantota, he pioneered the founding of colonies in village expansion for the Malays in the district and also took steps for the establishment of the vast Ridiyagama Colony.

He made memorable contributions as a judicial officer in Badulla, Kegalle, Kurunegala and Kalutara. He always discountenanced any attempt at bullying a witness, keeping at bay counsel inclined that way by interposing and asking, "What is your question?". He had a dignified sense of humour and sometimes made a remark, accompanied by a twinkle in his eyes. Once, he found a senior lawyer seated at the Bar table in a white suit. While all the lawyers expected him to be dealt with for contempt, P. Saravanamuttu looked at him, smiled and said, "Mr So and so, why are you so comfortable when we are all sweating in our formal attire?"

Though a big-made, tall, imposing figure, he had the ideal, kindly judicial temperament and his strength and vigorous personality displayed itself in all its humility. He maintained not only a firm independence in the administration of justice, but wherever possible he impressed upon both branches of the profession that he expected the highest standards of conduct and etiquette in the profession to which he failed to enter though he did so well when he was at Cambridge where he had read law up to Honours standard.

In 1934 he was attached to the Ministry of Agriculture and Lands and made preliminary investigations regarding the control of rubber production. These were difficult days, and with the Depression raging, it was found necessary to restrict the production, not only of rubber, but of tea as well. D.S. Senanayake, his senior at S. Thomas', as Minister found in P. Saravanamuttu, an ideal public servant for these arduous tasks. Till he retired in 1946 from service, his whole life was spent dealing mainly with the tea and rubber industries in the country. He was given a free hand and millions were spent by him. He was probably the highest paid public servant receiving the maximum remuneration at the time but there never was a single murmur of any irregularity in the management of his vast empire, so transparently administered during the war. The British Government was so impressed with his outstanding performance that the Secretary of State for the Colonies proposed to submit his name for the honour of a C.M.G. in the New Year's List of 1946. He declined this honour with polite dignity.

He manned his departments, not so much with clever men, but reliable, loyal men who were most welcome if they could play games, particularly cricket. He pioneered the tradition of employing good school cricketers. He sought them out, sometimes by sending talent scouts, and gave them a local habitation and a name in his departments. Once a schoolboy from Trinity College, C. Dharmalingam, took a double hat-trick in a school match. He was snatched up by P. Saravanamuttu and became an outstanding cricketer in the 1940s. His younger brother, C. Mylvaganam, was not so lured but went on to the university, entered the Ceylon Civil Service and proceeded to nationalize the Port of Colombo. Giants in the history of local cricket like Sargo Jayawickrema, (and others whose names are too numerous to mention) were all proteges of P. Saravanamuttu. Incidentally, his eldest son, Dr. Baski Saravanamuttu (father of the present Dr. P. Saravanamuttu, head of the Centre for Policy Alternatives at Flower Road, Colombo 7) and his second son, Chandri, both played for S. Thomas' between 1941 and 1945.

P. Saravanamuttu was a regular member of the Tamll Union Club from the time he left S. Thomas' College. He made a big contribution in nurturing it to become one of the most prestigious sports clubs in this country. In his honour the Colombo Oval was renamed the P. Saravanamuttu Stadium in 1977. He was President of the Club for several years, President of the Ceylon Cricket Association (1937 to 1950) and was worthily elected the first President of the Board of Control for Cricket in Ceylon (1949 to 1950). It was to remember him that the Board offered the trophy named after him for the Division I Cricket Tournament.

As a young member of the Tamil Union, when their grounds were at Campbell Park, P. Saravanamuttu always felt that they needed a bigger place to expand their activities. He realized his ambition when he found what appeared to be a marsh at Wanathamulla that could be converted into a beautiful playing field. Away from the hustle and bustle of the city, the ground could be developed to international standards. He supervised the work day and night and produced the Colombo Oval. The Tamil Union owes a permanent debt to him because it was mainly his vision and hard work as an official of the Tamil Union that laid out and created the magnificent Colombo Oval to make it the best ground in Ceylon at that time. A great tribute to his memory is the present attempts to restore his life's work to its pristine glory.

One of the earliest social functions held at this magnificent ground was on May 1, 1943 when Mr. and Mrs. Saravanamuttu's only daughter Sakuntala married P. Rajagopal, the dashing young horseman, then a young Engineer who later became Chief Mechanical engineer in the Ceylon Government Railways. It is sad to reflect that both Sakuntala and their daughter passed away some years ago. Fortunately, the youngest of the four Saravanamuttu children, Ajit, is still with us and so is Raj, still athletic though past four score years and more.

The Saravanamuttu family had an abiding interest in public service.

With the prospect of Dominion Status and Independence after the departure of the Soulbury Commission in 1944, P. Saravanamuttu had dreams of entering the Legislature. He retired from Public Service in 1946 and it was rumoured that he was offered a seat to contest on the UNP ticket but the quality of sturdy independence did not permit him any course that would, even remotely, deter his independence.

He had foremost the cause of Ceylon in his heart and next to that, naturally, the cause of the Tamil community. Ultimately he decided to contest the Colombo South seat as an Independent candidate at the General Election of 1947.

At that election, R.A. de Mel, the UNP candidate and ex-Mayor of Colombo, received 6,452 votes and P. Saravanamuttu received 5,812 votes, thus losing by a majority of 640 votes. In an electorate of about 30,000 votes, only about 18,000 voted. This was a poor poll.

An election petition was filed challenging R.A. de Mel's election to the Colombo South seat. Eleven months after the filing of the petition, Justice R.F. Dias (Bandaranaike) delivered judgment on August 23, 1948 declaring R.A. de Mel's election void as he was guilty of corrupt practices by aiding, abetting, counselling and procuring the offences of impersonation. At the resultant by-election, Major T.F. Jayewardene was nominated as the UNP candidate. The only other serious candidate was P. Saravanamuttu himself, who again contested as an Independent. The two Marxists who contested the 1947 elections, namely Bernard Soysa and M.G. Mendis, do not appear to have contested.

In what appeared a straight fight between the UNP and Independent candidates, P. Saravanamuttu was defeated, thereby highlighting a situation which resulted in so much damage to the country. Had D.S. Senanayake supported P. Saravanamuttu to become a member of the Legislature, he was such a respected gentleman of impeccable character, a striding colossus, a well-tried and proven man of ability and unchallenged integrity, that he would have left no room for lesser men to have had the opportunity to do the things they did. From thence can be traced some of the biggest setbacks in the development of this country in the second half of the last century.

P. Saravanamuttu died virtually a broken-hearted man who had given of his best to our country, just as another hero of a previous era Sir Ponnambalam Arunachalam had died a broken-hearted man, when the expected seat for Tamils in the Western Province was denied. It was Sir Ponnambalam Arunachalam who was the architect of the Ceylon National Congress formed in 1919. He brought together the Ceylon National Association, the Jaffna and the Chilaw Associations, the Low-Country Products Association and the Ceylon Reform League, to make joint representations under the one umbrella of the newly constituted Ceylon National Congress. The united demands for reforms resulted in the Manning Constitution of 1921 but Sir Ponnambalam Arunachalam had no seat in spite of his historic pioneering address on "Our Political Needs" on April 2, 1917 and his Presidential address on December 15, 1917, probably the first political conference which had met in Ceylon for at least a hundred years, - a landmark in the history of the island.

Although it had been said that racial representation was pernicious and had operated to widen cleavages to obstruct that unity and harmony which we should all do our best to promote, he did not get any of the seats allocated to the Western Province - lesser men did. Such was the gratitude of a people whom he had led so far on the way towards representative and responsible government. He died a rather disillusioned patriot before the Devonshire Reforms increased and enlarged the Legislative Council to 49 members.

Ours is a country which has consistently conceded too little too late, which continues to prove that the greatest lesson of history is that we do not learn the lessons of history.

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