(Full Text of Prof. Carlo Fonseka’s speech Scheduled to be Delivered at the Rajani Thiranagama Commemoration Meeting in Jaffna on September 20th 2014)
There is no other word to characterize her: Dr. Rajani Rajasingham Thiranagama was the NOBLEST of all my pupils. There were others who were cognitively smarter than her, but morally and ethically she remains unsurpassed. Ludwig Wittgenstein, a great philosopher of the 20th century once wrote: “…I work quite diligently and wish that I was better and smarter. And these both are one and the same…”
Remember, Wittgenstein has averred that “what can be said at all can be said clearly; and whereof one cannot speak, thereof one must be silent.” So he must have clearly meant that “being better” and “being smarter” is really the same thing. Categorically, to be good is to be smart. On this calculus, by being my noblest pupil i.e. morally and ethically unsurpassed pupil, Rajani may well have proved to be my smartest pupil too. There is no need for casuistry and sophistry, Rajani was great and good.
Because Rajani was self-effacing and swore by the Holy Bible, had she ever heard me call her “good” she would have predictably quoted to me the Gospel according to St. Mark chapter 10, verse 18: “Why do you call me good? None is good but One…” Let me come right out and declare for all the world to hear: by laying down her life for her friends, Rajani indeed personified for me my understanding of divinity.
For me to think of Rajani Rajasingham is to see in my mind’s eye the magnificent, erect young woman of queenly demeanor, walking tall with her head held high. Her anatomically perfect head was just what the doctor ordered for a professor of anatomy. Her innocent visage glowing with kindliness and honesty was mesmerizingly arresting. Her finely chiseled features could have come straight from a classical Roman coin. And yet—such is our shared brutish nature—two of Prof. Rajani’s misguided students in the Jaffna Medical Faculty evidently felt that protection of the Tamil people from extinction by the murderous Sinhalese necessitated the extermination of Rajani.
She was deemed guilty not only of political betrayal by marrying a member of the enemy of the Tamil people, but also of hateful miscegenation. For as they probably saw it, at a time when Tamil people were being criminalized, demonized, tortured, raped, murdered and even burnt alive, Rajani had fallen desperately in love and married Dayapala Thiranagama in 1977, thereby audaciously violating the taboo barriers of race, religion, caste, class and even political ideology.
Such a traitor is not fit to live and must be mercilessly liquidated. And that is what they conspired with other like-minded activist to do. In retrospect of Dayapala her beloved, Rajani could have truly echoed Anne Bradstreet’s words:
“If ever two were one, then we
If ever man were loved by wife, then thee.”
But in fact Rajani Rajasingham Tamil by ethnicity, Christian by religion the highly educated, upper caste, middle class, politically pragmatic, eminently nubile 23-year-old woman from Jaffna was not blinded by romantic love when she committed herself for life to her polar opposite Dayapala Thiranagama.
In truth she was the embryonic form of a moving spirit of a future inspired idealistic group now known to history as the University Teachers for Human Rights—Jaffna (UTHR-J). They were destined to generate the seminal document called The Broken Palmyrah. She herself was the highly intelligent embodiment of the supreme virtue of universal loving kindness. For her the oneness of the human family was a self-evident truth.
This is not the occasion for documenting a considered assessment of Prof. Rajani Rajasingham Thiranagama’s life and work. This contribution therefore is not meant to be an obituary, eulogy or panegyric. A quarter of a century after she passed to her eternal rest it is not a lament. For as Shakespearean poetic truth reveals, “to persever in obstinate condolement…shows a will most incorrect to heaven…a fault against the dead, a fault to nature, to reason most absurd, whose common theme is death of fathers…” In the present context, instead of “fathers” we should say “mothers”.
Mother Rajani collaborated with father Dayapala to immortalize herself by giving humanity two brilliant daughters, Narmada and Sharika. Narmada Thiranagama read history at Oxford University and now works for the Trade Union Congress in UK. Sharika Thiranagama read anthropology at Cambridge and is a professor at Stanford University.
Therefore there is every reason to rejoice in Rajani’s glorious memory. Even so, if thinking about Rajani still brings tears to our eyes, let us shed them not for her but for ourselves who are no longer privileged to rejoice in real life, in the lovely, brilliant, loving and queenly creation of nature that was Rajani.