Deshamanya P. Ramanathan
It is timely that the country remember the Ramanathan legacy that enrich the local metropolis of Colombo and suburbs in the 20th century. Late Justice P. Ramanathan was the remaining relic of the Ramanathan legacy up to the threshold of the century. As a Sri Lankan Tamils by birth the generations of Ramanathans have been able to co-exist with the Sinhala majority with ease in the city of Colombo.
Today many politicians look to our cricketers as an example for national reconciliation and co-existence but do not recall the healthy times the Ramanathans, Arunachalams and Ponnambalams have had in the 20th century in this respect. In a society of tremendously heterogeneous of mixture of racial ethnic and religious groups living together have a tremendous bearing on the life and times of Ramanathans from the time of the British who left Ceylon to its native.
It is fitting example even to the future generations of the 21st century yet to be born to have a leaf from the Ramanathan legacy that was moduled and followed by contemporary national leaders like late Neelan Thiruchelvan and Lakshman Kadirgarmar. They paid a heavy price by trying to do this in Colombo, but they would be setting an example for the times yet to be born to keep the Ramanathan tradition alive.
Prof. G. L. Peiris former Vice Chancellor of the Colombo University a close admirer of the Ramanathan family declared at a Ramanathan memorial lecture in Colombo that above all the qualities of late Justice P. Ramanathan he admired, the quality of humility in the person. He maintained that this family tradition had no ill will towards the Sinhala Buddhists or Muslims. Prof. Peiris addressing the lecture declared that he lived upto the famous English idiom that "One must not be one". Late Justice Ramanathan excelled in many disciplines.
He was a senior judge of the Supreme Court, Chancellor of the University, Chief Minister and finally the Chairman of the Human Rights Commission, the position he held upto his passing away.
The former V.C. said that his influence by Buddhist philosophy of Upeka which made him to live a simple life and the embodiment of the Hindu training prescribed in the 'Bhagawath Geetha' is established beyond reasonable doubt in the life and times of P. Ramanathan. His tolerance compassion and understanding, interwoven in this life style is a pride to the late Sir Ponnambalam Ramanathan of Sri Lanka who heads this legacy and who stood by the Sinhala Buddhists in 1915 riots.
It is timely that in the way out sought to national reconciliation the life and times of Ramanathans surface out like a vibrant philosophy.
DN Jun 11 2007, COLOMBO: Justice Ramanathan was called to the Bar by Gray's Inn, he returned to Sri Lanka, spent a short time working with Lakshman Kadirgamar who had quickly become a leading practitioner.
Later he joined the Attorney General's Department, he was both conscientious and popular, said President's Counsel Desmond Fernando at the six months remembrance of Justice P. Ramanathan held at Galle Face, Colombo recently. Export Development and International Trade Minister Prof. G. L. Peiris was the chief guest.
Yajna Sathasivam Tyagarajah, Ranjan Gooneratne and Faisza Muthapha Markar also addressed the gathering.
Mano Ramanathan, widow of Justice Ramanathan delivered the vote of thanks. President's Council Desmond Fernando said, "I remember an instance where the late Federick Obeyesekere, a lawyer, an old Cambridge man was seated next to me in the Supreme Court. Justice Ramanathan was a young State Counsel.
He was appearing in an appeal from a Magistrate's Court. The accused appellant was not represented, presumably because he could not afford a lawyer. Young State Counsel Ramanathan got up and told court that the conviction could not stand and gave the reasons why it should be set aside. Court then set aside the conviction. Federick Obeyesekere turned to me and said "the last gentleman in the Attorney General's Department".
Spending some years at St. Joseph's College, he was sent to a leading public school in India -Montfort Boys High School. Here he excelled in sports and was cricket captain of the school. His leadership and oratorical skills resulted in his being elected Prime Minister of the school Parliament.
From here he proceeded to Britain for University education. He graduated from St. David's College, Lampeter of the University of Wales and then came to London to read for the Barrister's Exam.
Justice Ramanathan came from one of Sri Lanka's most distinguished families. He was the great grandson of Sir Ponnambalam Ramanathan who was the first elected member of the Legislative Council.
Ramanathan's great granduncle was Sir Ponnambalam Arunachalam, the founder of the Ceylon National Congress. The great scholar, Dr. Ananda Coomaraswamy was the son of Sir Muthu Coomaraswamy.
Ramanathan was honoured with the title Deshamanya and more recently appointed Chairman of the Human Rights Commission, a post for which he was eminently suitable, given his commitment to Human Rights and his great concern for the poor and underprivileged."
REMEMBERED: P. Rama (as his friends affectionately called him) was an avid follower of cricket. It was in fact this abiding interest of his that brought us together in the late 1940s and early 1950s.
He had come to watch a cricket match played between St. Joseph’s College (his own school) and the Royal College Under 14 cricket team of which I happened to be the captain. My century in that match - I had scored 112 runs - captured his imagination.
He was some years older than I was but our common interest in cricket quickly broke through this barrier.
At a later date he introduced me to that gentleman of cricket - T. Parathalingam, who had captained the Royal College First Eleven a few years earlier, and the finest of the famous ‘lingam brothers’. Rama was always generous, and shared his friends with his other friends.
He continued to watch these matches till the late 1950s, and was one of the first to congratulate me on winning the Sir Cyril de Zoysa Challenge Cup for the Best Performance at the Royal-Thomian Match in 1955.
We then lost touch temporarily when I entered Medical College, joined the Faculty of Medicine and subsequently went to England for higher studies.
I was offered a place in that veritable haven for postgraduate scholars - London House - which was modelled on an Oxbridge college and provided luxurious accommodation and subsidized meals in the heart of London, with beautiful surroundings, a park of its own and cricket nets down in the basement.
Residents were generally postgraduate scholars from the old British Commonwealth, but London House had recently opened its doors to North American scholars as well, because North Americans had funded it handsomely.
The first Ceylonese I met when I went there in 1966 was an old friend of Royal College days, Ajit Jayaratne, who was following Accountancy studies. (His brother Bhathiya had been my classmate at Royal Primary, and his parents too were known to me) The next person I met was Rama, following a legal career attending the Inns of Court. (Rama had been in London House some years before: one was allowed a stay of three years with a maximum of four).
I subsequently met other Ceylonese including Kumar Ponnambalam, my classmate at Royal, then studying for a degree in Law at Cambridge; Indran Kandiah, who was doing postgraduate medical studies; Girja Rajapakse; Vijay Malalasekera, another Royalist, whom I had coached at cricket some years before; Bimal Rajapakse, just finishing a Law degree; and Ranjan Gooneratne also completing his studies in Law.
Later on I met the mysterious ‘Mr. Perera’, who had apparently come to London many years before, and having flunked his higher studies, stayed on living in digs around the corner. He was an excellent cook of Ceylonese food which he invited us to share. He was game for any suggestions regarding the menu on these occasions, and when one was made he would blink and say “Why not?”
Later on, Lakshman Kadirgamar and Sinha Basnayake too became part of this contingent, and we formed a lively group of Ceylonese in London. Of these Rama, Ajit and Kumar were my particular friends, and we would eat out together off and on at favourite restaurants.
Then - some time in 1969 or 1970 - Rama told us that he was thinking of returning to Ceylon. We were rather taken aback because we had considered him a permanent fixture in the London firmament.
But he did finally sail away to Ceylon, and his London House friends (comprising postgraduate students of English, Australian, New Zealand and a host of other nationalities) gave him a rousing farewell, never quite believing he would continue to stay on in Ceylon. But stay on he did, never once returning to England!
I met Rama again in Ceylon when I returned after my postgraduate studies, and visited him in Anuradhapura where he was, I believe, a High Court Judge. He had contracted malaria and was recuperating at the time.
In 1982 he married Mano, who has been a wonderful wife to him, and an intellectual companion in his subsequent career. She had her own professional life in the Legal Draughtsmen’s Department, and now serves the community in many capacities, notably in Zonta, the women’s social service organization.
Rama and I met often when I returned from Australia, and my wife Yasmine and I were regular guests of Rama and Mano. Quite often Rama and I lunched alone, but Mano, Yasmine and Premala Jayaratne sometimes joined us; or we met common friends such as Chandra (‘Malli’) Crossette Thambyah, Desmond Fernando, Ajit Jayaratne, Kumar Ponnambalam, Ranjan Goonerate and, subsequently, Lakshman Kadirgamar who had also returned from his UN assignments to work in what was now called Sri Lanka, and Sinha Basnayake who continued to drop into Sri Lanka off and on.
We were occasionally joined by Percy Colin-Thome and the former international expert in deciphering hand writing, Mr. Samaranayake. We always enjoyed these meetings, because of the stimulating conversations we had, and the camaraderie displayed. It was Rama who knitted us together.
During one of these gatherings (at the Flower Drum Chinese restaurant), something happened that changed the course of Sri Lankan history. One evening Lakshman Kadi, who was a regular member of our dinner group in the early 1990s, told us that Chandrika Bandaranaike Kumaratunga was to contest the Presidency following Lalith Athulathmudali’s assassination, and had wanted Kadi to come in on the PA National List at the next election. Kadi had never met CBK before this time; in fact, he had not met her even at the time the offer was made.
He wanted our views on the matter; and though the others present (Percy Colin-Thome, Rama, Ajit Jayaratne, and Kumar Ponnambalam included) were rather lukewarm about it, I told Kadi that many thinking people were aghast - as we were ourselves - at what the UNP under J. R. Jayewardene and in particular Premadasa had done to law and order in this beautiful country of ours.
Violence and corruption had become the order of the day; and as he was trained in politics and the law, having been President of the Oxford Union in his time and an eminent barrister, it was a heaven-sent opportunity to get in there and do something to right wrongs of which he had always been severely critical.
We talked it over after dinner as we left the restaurant, and then again with the car doors open for another hour, as Sri Lankans are won’t to do. We resumed this conversation at dinner the following day, and again the next day at a lunch engagement.
Finally Kadi took the plunge, and made Sri Lanka proud by his conduct in public life, his marshalling of facts, his rhetoric and the sheer brilliance with which he carried out his duties as Foreign Minister.
But, as Rama always said, we and Kadi’s relatives had to pay a price for my having persuaded him to accept CBK’s offer: Kadi found new political friends and no longer had time for our group’s meetings.
We could never understand why he did this, but we accepted it and moved on, continuing to meet at lunch and dinner in his absence. Kadi and I occasionally met subsequently at funerals or weddings, but that was all that remained of our old and valued friendship.
Rama, meanwhile, had ascended the Bench as a Supreme Court Judge, yet remained his genial, unassuming self. He figured in a number of important trials and in Commissions set up to probe assassinations of prominent personalities, especially politicians. His judgements were always to the point of the law, fearless and absolutely impartial.
After his retirement from the Bench, a chance meeting with Lakshman Kadirgamar resulted in his appointment as Governor of the Western Province from which he went on to become Chancellor of Uva University, and subsequently Chairman of the Human Rights Commission.
Rama took appointment and disappointments, good health and ill, in his stride - never complaining, never displaying rancour or bitterness, always laughing off any bad moments that came his way with some jocular remark. That was the greatness of the man.
Rama was a truly precious friend to me of more than fifty years’ standing, sharing my literary interests and those of my wife. His gentleness, integrity, generosity, loyalty and his sense of fairplay will remain forever etched in our memories.
Justice Ramanathan: An embodiment of Upekhkha
By Dilrukshi Fernando - DM JUun 11 2007
A photograph garlanded with red and white roses was the focal point of the family and friends amassed at the Palm Lounge of Galle Face Hotel on June 7. The picture depicted a gentleman, with a slight smile on his face, dressed in a judge’s robes of black and crimson. He was the reason which directed the gathering towards a common purpose- to remember an individual who had touched their lives in many ways and left a lasting impression despite his demise six months ago.
Deshamanya Justice P. Ramanathan has
undoubtedly lived up to the famous quotation of Thomas Campbell “To live in
hearts we leave behind is not to die”, to which his family, relatives and close
friends were ample proof on his six month remembrance ceremony. “He was an
individual who encompassed qualities which are all too rare in times we live
in”, said Minister of Export Development and International Trade G.L Peiris, the
principal speaker at the occasion.
The Minister further said how Justice
Ramanathan, fondly known as ‘Rama’ by his friends, was an embodiment of the
trait ‘Upekkha’ revered in Buddhism. “He personified it in his life and was
always there to offer support, goodwill and friendship when people were in their
lowest of spirits”, he added.
Perhaps the most important aspect of
Justice Ramanathan’s life was his ability to feel very much at home with people
from all walks of life, a point emphasized by all speakers. “Hailing from a
conventionally elite family, being the great grandson of Ponnambalam Ramanathan,
the modesty he demonstrated reflects the fullness of his personality”, Minister
Reflecting upon his extremely successful
career in the legal profession, it was pointed out how it was dominated by two
aspects, firstly his compassion, and secondly the application of law in its
substantial social relevance. Having come up the hard way to reach the apex of
Sri Lanka’s judiciary by being appointed as a judge of the Court of Appeal in
1978, Justice ‘Rama’ epitomized true professionalism, which is lacking in most
Thus it was small wonder that his best
friend and President’s Counsel, Desmond Fernando described him as the ‘last
gentleman in the AG’s department”. Justice Fernando also spoke of how Justice’s
‘Rama’s’ commitment to Human Rights and working for the poor led him to being
appointed as the Chairman of the Human Rights Commission; a post which he held
till his demise. Education was also important to him and as Chancellor of Uva-
Wellassa University he did a valuable service.
“…Unmoved, unshaken, unseduced,
unterrified, his loyalty he kept, his love, his zeal...”, an extract from John
Milton’s ‘Paradise Lost’ was the apt choice of Ranjan Gooneratne, to describe
the multi faceted personality of his friend of nearly fifty years.
Justice Ramanathan whose philosophy in
life “One must never be one”, led him to acquire roles of peace-maker,
arbitrator and advisor…not in the profession of law but in his capacity as an
uncle to his niece, Faiza Mustapha Marker, who related the numerous incident
where ‘Uncle Rama’ had been her saviour from her parents when she got into
escapades in her journey through childhood to adulthood.
Yajina Sathasivam Thyagarajah, first
cousin of Justice Ramanathan also spoke on behalf of his family and recalled
fond memories how as a relative, “Aiya was a pride, joy and strength to us all”
Following the Christian teaching of ‘love
thy neighbour’ in its literal sense, Justice Ramanathan married Mano, his
neighbour down Melbourne Avenue, which according to family and friends proved to
be a wonderful union. As she thanked all who helped to enrich the lives of her
husband, she expressed in a voice with emotion, that his demise was “a shock too
severe to part with my Rama who I love so dear”.
The audience got a glimpse of moments from
his life as a child, adolescent and an adult, which came alive through a video
presentation compiled beautifully. Included in it were a series of photographs
marking important milestones in his life, his registration of marriage, taking
oaths as a judge at the Court of Appeal, and even one from his college cricket
days in India, of which he was captain.
Gleanings from Justice Ramanathan’s
writing were also presented and a piece titled “The prayer of a sportsman”,
which read “Let me take off my hat and cheer as the winners go by”, was
especially memorable, and caused many in the audience to become misty eyed upon
As the slide show ended, one last image of Justice Ramanathan attired in black tie and donning a pair of sunglasses rested on the screen. Frank Sinatra’s classic “I did it my way” filtered through the speakers as the audience stood in respect of a man worthy of being called a human being, who truly did things his way, impeccably, and knowing that he will forever stay in their hearts as, his cousin put it, “Death ends life, but not relationships”.