Sockanathan – A Brother's Appreciation
Subject: Sockanathan - A Brother's Appreciation
My dear Daughters, Sister, Brothers, Cousins and Friends,
I copy below a feeble attempt at an 'appreciation' of my elder brother. It is hard to disentangle emotions from memories of innocent and honest splendour.
But I have given it a try.
Please feel free to pass it on to other cousins, friends and whoever you think might want to remember Sockananthan with fondness and gentleness.
Sockanathan – A Brother's Appreciation
It was the great Rabindranath Tagore who wrote:
'Peace, my heart, let the time for the parting be sweet.
Let it not be a death but completeness.'
These are lines that I have had to remember very often in recent years, as friends, contemporaries and relations have begun to bid sad farewell.
I had grown very fond of Sockanathan in recent years and we had developed, without intentions on either side, a pleasurable routine of ringing each other almost every Sunday, wherever I was. He was as always - and as far as my remembrances go, back on time's treacherous arrow - cheerful, light-hearted in touch, generous and humorous, none of the attributes I was ever able to cultivate. He seemed to have been endowed with these noble qualities, almost from birth.
In childhood, we had a different Sunday routine; after Sunday morning classes at the Ramakrishna Mission, we were given permission to walk on to my Paternal Aunt's home, down Ratnakara Place, for a sumptuous lunch. Rasathi Mami – my Aunt - would prepare a wonderful chicken curry - using that inherited talent from Paatti, my Grandmother - and shower us with food and sweets and love and kindness. Even though we were young boys, always wanting to be on the street down Madangahawatte Lane, playing cricket, we would never miss those enticing Sunday Lunches at Ratnakara Place. It came to an end in April, 1956, when we - alas - moved from 17 Madangahawatte Lane.
It may well be apposite to mention here that the unfortunate 1964 Royal College cricket team that lost to the Thomians contained four players who were born and lived, as neighbours, down Madangahawatte Lane, in the early 1950s: Sockanathan, Cedric Fernando, Lakshman Thalayasingham and Asoka Samarajeeva! I still recall, with pure pleasure, the cricket we played in the small Thalayasingham garden, in those halcyon days.
He was also, always, immensely more talented than I was, or even than any of my other siblings; anything he touched, in childhood, turned into success. I recall the grinding paths I had to carve for myself, for any meagre success I ever achieved when growing up. Large doses of luck and hard work were necessary ingredients in my path in life, and even then success was always tempered by failures. His talents, gifts and light-heartedness seemed almost to have been the 'winner's curse' - since he did not have to try too hard, he - perhaps - did not have to cultivate the disciplines one needs for survival in a world that is infested with the Red Queen syndrome.
When Sockanathan was a student at Madras Christian College, I think he once told me that he played and opened batting for the South Zone Universities the same year that Sunil Gavaskar opened for the West Zone Universities and they played against each other. This was, I think, in 1967. I visited Madras to see him, on my way from Kyoto to Colombo. I had booked a large room at the old Woodlands Hotel; Sockanathan, Rajan Namasivayam and Ramanan, Mr Ratnathickam, our shcool history teacher's nephew, came to meet me at Meenambakkam airport. We shared that one room I had booked and enjoyed three days of pure splendour - eating every night at the Madras Buhari Hotel.
My father once wrote me: 'Sockanathan is like an elephant; he does not know his own strengths'. I still have that letter Appa wrote me, in 1973.
It was wholly characteristic of him and wonderfully amusing when I last met him, at my Sister's daughter's wedding, to look hard at me, with unblinking eyes - in response to my embraced greeting - and ask me: 'And who are you?'. I nearly dropped with laughter, thinking he was, as usual, being that little bit mischievous!
I shared many moments of splendour with him, some even enchantingly comic.
When he first arrived in Sweden, he sat next to Shivantha Tambiyaiya, on the plane journey. During that journey he had shown his disfigured passport to Shivantha - disfigured by an unnecessary stamp by the British High Commission in Colombo; Shivantha, being slightly irresponsible, had taken it and scratched over the British High Commission stamp and told Sockanathan that 'they - the British High Commission - had no business stamping with seals that were not requested'!!!!
So, he arrived in Sweden, and with admirable and princely unconcern, showed me Shivantha's silly handiwork.
I was aghast and had to devise a most devious and totally improper way of dealing with it so that he could get his visa to go on to England. It was a method a Swiss Pastor in Chur in Switzerland had taught me, having practised it during his years as a Partisan in Ticino, near the Italian border, to help Italian Jews to escape across the border near Porlezza.
But Sockanathan was completely unfazed - either by Shivantha's totally callous act or by my own trepidations!!
That was typical of him.
Whenever we spoke, on our regular Sunday conversations, it was invariably also about cricket and whatever match was then going on. He kept himself fully informed of the current cricket scene.
Since about his last birthday I had begun sending him some of my older cricket books - by Cardus, Arlott, Ray Robinson and so on; they gave him great and undiluted pleasure, to read and reminisce. He remembered more than I could, about the times of Hassett and Morris, Laker and Lock, Lindwall and Miller, Ramadhin and Valentine. It was with tremendous enthusiasm that he would, time and time again, recite that great calypso about 'cricket lovely cricket ... with those two little friends of mine, Ramadhin and Valentine', celebrating that famous Lords victory by a West Indian side blessed with the legendary 3 Ws and Ramadhin and Valentine.
Like my Father, Sockanathan never had a cruel or unkind word or opinion of anyone or anything. He was wholly devoid of envy and completely innocent of greed.
We had been brought up in a relatively enlightened Hindu home, observing – as most Tamil Hindus of old Ceylon did – the usual rituals and ceremonies. However, at some point in the mid-1970s, Sockanathan, I think, felt the need for a more individually satisfying faith and embraced, wholeheartedly, the Christian faith. I rarely spoke to him about his commitment to his new found faith, nor the kind of sustenance the new beliefs gave him – partly because my own experiences of being a student at Kyoto, Lund and Cambridge during the turbulent late 1960s and early 1970s had radicalised my views and visions of Church and State. But I know, from his silences and serenities, that he was at peace with himself, in spite of personal difficulties during the last decade of his life.
My fond memories of childhood holidays, shared with Sockanathan and my elder Thiruchittampalam cousins – Rohini, Chandran and Sarojini - in innocence and honesty that only children can muster, are still a source of great happiness. We spent happy times in Chavakachcheri, Kankesanthurai, Kalkudah, Kalmunai, Bandarawela, Nuwara Eliya and Kurunegala. The memories of unadulterated enjoyments at Paasi Kudah are unforgettable. Another holiday, together with intimate class mates – Rajan Namasivayam, Ravi Somasundaram and Rabindran Namasivayam (our cousin), at an 'uncountry' Tea Plantation that was being managed by Rajan's maternal uncle (for S.J.V. Chelvanayagam) was one of our most cherished shared memory.
Now, alas, Sarojini, Sockanathan and Rabindran are not among us.
In Chavakachcheri, it was he who introduced me to the wonderful sands and taught me to appreciate the 'Manal Pitti', off the Jaffna Lagoon – these are, in fact my own earliest memories, going back to 1951 and 1952. Often, during the 'December holidays' spent in Chavakachcheri, we would be taken to Keerimalai, to bath in the holy waters and, then, after a wonderful breakfast of hot thosai or puttu, to the Kandasamy Temple in Nallur. Occasionally, after that, a visit to Sangili Thoopu, in Nallur, my Paternal Uncle's home, situated where – allegedly – Sangilian had his courtyard during his reign.
Sockanathan's own earliest personal sadness was experienced when he lost his close and much loved friend, Ronnie Fernando, who died under tragic circumstances. For years he kept a framed photograph of Ronnie in his room at home.
But I think – and feel – that he had come to terms with 'loss as a way of life', in a graceful and serene way. Perhaps it was his commitment to the faith he had embraced that gave him some inner strength to sustain and overcome grief and loss and tackle these imposters with a judicious combination of disdain and reluctant respect.
I would do him no justice if I did not mention the last few years at Royal College and the evenings and weekends spent playing cricket at 'Uncle's Paradise'! The emotions and the enjoyments are impossible to describe in words – only those of us who were part of the 'Uncle's Paradise' community will know and understand what that camaraderie meant. The dusks, as the sun set, and as the last overs were being bowled, one began to savour the taste of the thosai or the rotti one was going to eat at Saraswathi Lodge or Buhari's or wherever one went, on any particular day, after a wonderful evening of cricket and friendship among friends. Often, the evening came to an end with more talk and gossip at the home of Norbert and Lloyd Perera, which was always open and welcomed all and sundry with immense kindness and generosity.
I will miss him and our routinised Sunday conversations - and for the inspiring light-heartedness that was infested with joy. But he has left me – and many others – with shared memories that enriched us in his lifetime and will enliven us in his absence, till we also reach him, and relive the past.
I can only recall Emily Dickinson's poignant words of Farewell, as dusk comes, yet again:
'Good-by to the life I used to live,And the world I used to know;And kiss the hills for me, just once;Now I am ready to go!'
Farewell to thee, my beloved and gentle Brother.