After nightfall on 21st September 1989, Rajasingam Master called on his bicycle at my mother’s home quite unexpectedly and delivered his pithy message, “Rajini has been shot.” His voice showed no evident emotion. After a brief exchange of words, he turned back. He was stoic, incorruptible, who lived by his strong sense of duty. Master, his wife MahilaAcca, and their daughters, Nirmala, Rajini, Sumathy and Vasuki were familiar to us from childhood days in the St. James’ Church choir. Had Master been more ambitious during his university days, he would have left his mark as an outstanding mathematician in our university. What he did as a school master at Hartley and Jaffna College was no less important. His zeal for catching hold of students who seemed to be in need of inspiration and getting them to work Mathematics problems remained a passion with him to the end of his life.
As a man called upon to manage church and school finances, he remained sharp and knew well the foibles of those he worked with. Having stuck on in Jaffna through times that saw the worst of moral and physical turpitude, he saw through people and their hypocrisy and opportunism, but kept things to himself. At best a wry smile might have escaped him. Whenever he undertook a commitment, he carried it through to the end and brooked no interference. As a trade union man, not only did he take up the cases of three teachers dismissed from St. John’s College in the late 1960s, against strong pressure from the Church, but did the impossible in ferreting out the money to meet the legal fees, using his knowledge of miscellaneous accounts.
Rajasingam Master’s personality would have been impoverished, but for Mahila, a superb classical pianist, singer and violinist in both the Western and Carnatic traditions. She trained choirs and during the war years, taught English Literature to Advanced Level students at Chundikuli Girls’ College. Despite these graces and accomplishments, she was not the withdrawn housewife. Her combative no-nonsense approach could be seen in her daughters. The word that one most readily associates with the Rajasingams, is Quality. Ben Bavink of Vaddukkottai and Amsterdam, a close friend of the Rajasingams, about a year after Rajini’s death presented to me his copy of Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s ‘Letters and Papers from Prison’, which has the words, “Nobility springs from and thrives on self-sacrifice and courage…it demands a recovery of a lost sense of quality and of a social order based upon quality. Quality is the bitterest enemy of conceit in all its forms.”
Bonhoeffer, a prisoner of the Nazi regime, was thinking of recovery of quality in a post fascist society, the kind of society we are in now. A dominant feature of loss of quality is puruda– a word close to chicanery and farce, whose meaning in Tamil has been enriched through association with Tamil life and society during especially the fascist period (1986 – 2010), particularly when reverence was demanded under threat for the horrific and ridiculous. The Rajasingams were sticklers for quality and the ability of a society to lift itself back to quality depends on the presence of families strongly rooted in it. Rajini was killed because she would not compromise with puruda in politics that claimed the divine right to purify the ‘nation’ through murder.
The war being over, farce has assumed the dominant role in puruda. Why do our leaders who had the best of education and held responsible public office, feel impelled to praise the LTTE leader as a great man of genius and commitment, who failed to liberate the Tamils only because of traitors in our midst? Why not tell the truth that the ‘genocide’ at Mullivaykkal owed as much to the missiles of the Sri Lankan forces as to senior Tamil leaders lying to the world that the people held hostage by the LTTE were staying with them of their own free will and devotion?Why do these bankrupts lie about Thileepan who, under the watchful eye of the Leader’s men,thirsted to an excruciating death, as showing most nobly the Gandhian way of Ahimsa; when many ordinary members of the public who witnessed the event spontaneously exclaimed, ‘They killed him’?
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