16th July 2000
When many people are ushering in change, this first year of the new millennium the Patricians are celebrating the 150th year of their Alma Mater on a tranquil note, with much expectation.
The products of St. Patrick's College, Jaffna, an educational institution par excellence, is not only confined to the shores of Sri Lanka, but also, extends to other countries including Africa. Prince Kibuka a person who excelledboth academically and in sports and went on to reign his subjects prudently with justice, was a proud product of St. Patrick's.
Memories of the tutors of the Indian contingent include Johnson, Menon, Kuriakose and Subrmania Iyar. They not only dispensed education, but also knowledge and inculcated values in the students who were devoted, committed and dedicated.
None of the Patricians can forget the late Sam Alfred (our Chemistry tutor). The late F.N.C. Saverimuthu, who taught English was known for his impeccable attire and thespian manners. A nudge at the knot of his tie coupled with the theatrical movement of his neck and a punch for Latin derivation to elicit the meaning of a word in English, were his trade mark. Many luminaries have passed through the portals of St. Patrick's. Rt. Rev. Dr. Savundranayam, Rt. Rev. Dr. Joseph, Rt. Rev. Swampillai, the Bishops of Jaffna, Mannar and Trincomalee and Rt. Rev. Dr. Vendargen, Archbishop of Malaysia/Singapore are all proud products of St. Patricks. Former Rector, Rev. Fr. Arulnesan was a source of inspiration. Frenchman, Rev. Fr. John Mary Couchoron who assumed duties as Vice Rector cum Prefect of Games went on to hold the prestigious position of President of the Jaffna Football Association, which was then the most powerful and influential sports body of the peninsula.
The late Rev. Fr. Mathews is perhaps the forgotten foreign priest of our College, who adorned the large rectangular Rector's office, in the late1920s. He had been an adorable, simple cleric with a magnanimous heart. It is on record that during his rectorship, St. Patrick's College had the distinction of producing the highest number of passes in the whole island at the London Junior/Senior Cambridge exams and the London Mariculation exams.
His successor, Rev. Fr. Long never forgot this gentle cherubic priest, who was his mentor and friend. The three-storey building has been named 'Mathew's Block', Rev. Fr. T.M.F. Long was feared, yet the most respected Rector. "Burning of canes at St. Patrick's College, Jaffna", that took centrepage in the local dailies of yesteryear during the era of Rev. Fr. Long was a manifestation of the stringent discipline maintained at the college.
Fr. Long was a household name in Jaffna. However, when Jaffna needed him most, he was reluctantly compelled to leave his beloved college, students and people. It is said that when he left abruptly, there was a tear in everyone's eye. He went to Australia, where he established a school, but his heart and soul remained in Jaffna. He had withstood the destruction of time, upholding the three-leafed Shamrock with the Green and Gold flag flying high reminding the Patrician family of the motto "Fide et Labore".- Christy Rasaiya
It was obviously meant to be a display of revolutionary fervour and international support. Eleven organisations, headed by a body calling itself the Committee for Universal Rights and Liberties (CURL), had announced they would stand outside the Israeli Embassy here and show their utter displeasure-nay anger-at the great betrayal. "Many other national and international organisations" were also supposed to have lent their support according to the notice, for this demonstration against the Jewish State for its military help to Sri Lanka.
On the appointed date (as old legal hands used to say), which was July 1, these demonstrators representing organisations ranging from the Tamil Action Committee and the Tamil People's Forum to the African People's Socialist Party and the Turkish Youth Centre were to meet opposite the Israeli Embassy in High Street Kensington, display slogans condemning Israel and hand over an open letter addressed to the Ambassador.
In fact one of the signatories to the open letter was a group somewhat curiously named the Hundred Flowers Community Centre. It was never made clear in pre-demonstration literature who or what this group represents. Was it meant to shower the Israeli Embassy with flowers as a gesture of goodwill and peace while other demonstrators shouted themselves hoarse?
Some of those who remember Mao Zedong might be forgiven if they immediately recalled the Great Helmsman who was to steer China through the Great Leap Forward and the Cultural Revolution.
In the early days of China's Cultural Revolution, Chairman Mao invited a thousand flowers to bloom and a hundred schools of thought to contend. At Mao's invitation thousands of flowers began to emerge only to be nipped in the bud. As for the hundred schools, they did not last too long either. As soon as they started to contend and question the direction of the long march that was to make China a great nation, they lost their voices- with a little help from Mao's wife and the Red Guards. So much for flowers and schools of thought.
Anyway, with all the revolutionary power of all these national and international organisations about to be unleashed on the Israeli Embassy, the Ambassador and his staff must have been quivering in their military boots or whatever they use as footwear.
So when the revolutionary forces descended on the embassy on the afternoon of July 1, the incumbents of that diplomatic mission appeared to passers-by to have fled in ignominy. Not a mouse squeaked inside the embassy at the sight of the revolutionaries, banners in hand, bearing down upon the poor Israelis. The beleagured diplomats would have wished they were with Haim Divon, the then head of the Israeli Interest Section in Colombo, now safely ensconced in Jerusalem. Or even with David Matnai, an old Sri Lanka hand, who is still Israeli Ambassador in Bangkok.
Maybe Ruth Kahanov of the Asia Desk was monitoring from Jerusalem the approach of the revolutionaries and their cohorts via a spy-in-the-sky.
The Israeli ambassador and his staff in London had no intention of being cannon fodder for the verbal onslaughts from the Committee for the Unification of the Revolutionary Left (Sri Lanka) whose acronym is CURF, and the Flower Children of the Hundred Flower something or the other. Between the CURF and CURL-the two committees fighting to liberate Tamil Eelam and Sri Lanka- it seemed like a new tea-manufacturing process.
But then what do the Israelis know about manufacturing tea when all they have learnt to grow is Jaffa oranges.
In fact nobody should be surprised if these Great Liberators in London discover one of these days in the British Museum, evidence that oranges were first grown in the Jaffna peninsula. From there the Israelis stole some seeds, planted them successfully in Israeli and called them Jaffa oranges, simply dropping the letter "n".
Their open letter was so open that it has not only gone to the UN Secretary General and the LTTE, but also to me through a circuitous route. So there I was reading the small print, literally I mean, and was to learn that the "call for a separate Tamil nation state (Tamil akam) came around 1923 with the formation of the Ceylon Tamil League".
I would be the first to confess I'm no historian though I can come up with a few historical facts from here and there. So I thought I'll contact my old university contemporary and Marcus Fernando Hall colleague C.R de Silva a one time Professor of History at Peradeniya. Then I realised I didn't have a way to contact him having misplaced his number when I left Hong Kong.
So interested was I and surely thousands of others in this historical discovery, I telephoned the number given in the open letter. A voice said the person I wanted was having a bath. Waiting some time for a return call I was hoping my possible elucidator had not gone down with the bath water, when the telephone rang. Mercifully it happened to be not only the Convenor of CURF (not CURL, if you please) but the very person who had unearthed the historical fact that Ponnambalam Ramanathan had called for a Tamil nation state.
Good for him- Ramanathan that is, not Nirmal Fernando the chap at the other end of the telephone, who apparently learnt his Marxism at Ananda College in the 1970s.
I got an earful of Marxism-Leninism and dialectical materialism and other sundry shibboleths which left me wondering why the communist world did not collapse long before the Berlin Wall.
But then Mr. Fernando does not have much faith in revisionists-or so he told me- and he is busy in London doing his bit for the cause of the Revolutionary Left and has as CURF's associates the LTTE. Now can anybody think of a more revolutionary group than the Tigers- why split hairs whether it is Left or Right, whether it is Vickramabahu Karunarate or Adolf Hitler?
Mossad must surely have dug into Nirmal Fernando's revolutionary background. Fearing "unceasing waves" of revolutionary rhetoric the Israelis appear to have fled when the brave 40 demonstrators( according to the organisers that is) turned up at High Street, Kensington. Nobody was in sight except for a handful of lonely Bobbies who, someone claimed, actually outnumbered the demonstrators.
The Israeli Embassy gates were securely locked that Saturday afternoon.
No wonder. The great revolutionary protest was on a holiday.
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