Charity & social welfare
Sivanandan, Ambalavaner (3 of 10). National Life Stories: General
The British Library Board acknowledges the intellectual property rights of those named as contributors to this recording and the rights of those not identified.
Legal and ethical usage »
2010-08-13, 2010-08-20, 2010-08-26, 2010-10-20, 2010-11-02
Sivanandan, Ambalavaner, 1923-2018 (speaker, male)
Brodie, Louise (speaker, female)
Part 3: At university it made a big difference to have girls there. AS had had his sister as a buddy, but otherwise no contact. So he idolised women. Some were very political. AS became radicalised. This is what led him to marry his first wife later. The feudal shackles fell off AS. He had to elope as his girlfriend was a Catholic and Sinhalese. His cousin had had an arranged marriage and on the wedding night the man fled, which caused tremendous problems. This turned AS against arranged marriages. He had written an article aged 14 against dowry marriages. [8:26] AS played all the games he could at university, soccer tennis and badminton. For table tennis he played for the national team against India. He enjoyed the trip outside the country. [11:11] He had a third class degree on leaving. AS wanted to be a barrister. His uncle was one, a good orator and lovely man. AS had the gift of the gab and thought he could do something for people. Law was not funded by the government however and his father could not fund him. AS therefore became a teacher. Nepotism was important. Look at the prime ministers, dynasties. [17:19] Comment on unions and human rights at university, people fighting and working with the deprived. The left wing parties were well off, land owners. In the 1930s there was a big malaria epidemic. They gave rural people quinine and so on. They collected money and used political propaganda, it went together with social welfare. Alas, they all became corrupt later. [21:05] AS did not think he would make a good teacher as he was impatient. A teacher got about a third of the pay of a banker, or lawyer or doctor. AS had no connections for a government post. Story of being patronised. There was no training to be a teacher. He went to a poor school where the only other graduate was the headmaster. It was in Nuwara Eliya, a hill station like little England. AS was still young for his age. Crazy with cricket, and love. He rubbed shoulders with the students, and here they were boys and girls. The headmaster was a nasty little man. AS left before he was sacked. Then he went to teach in a Buddhist school in Kandy. The headmaster was progressive, and AS started teaching Marxism. They let him stay on as he was the football coach. [31:10] He continued applying for civil service posts, food officer and so on, as they had food rationing. He applied to the Bank of Ceylon in 1948 which had just been nationalised. What is important about education is the conceptualisation of experience. AS began to see the poverty stricken lives of the children and the oppression which had led to it. Where they could do so, they might set up a little shop, but very few escaped. They had no rights. He began to understand how it had all come about. When he went to Kandy he lived near a big tourist hotel and saw the contrast. He was immersed in Buddhism and they don’t have a caste system. He learnt about the Buddhist peasantry. Charity was the most important thing. [40:35] On the back of Indian independence, Ceylon got theirs. It was a good example of good colonial government, then handing over to the local people. Dissidents like Pereira and Colvin went to prison but that was all. There was no struggle. It was constitutional. There were some strikes but they were industrial. [44:57] Then the banks were not nationalised by the state but wanted nationals to work there, rather than the English. All the bank employees should be Sinhalese, and the same thing happened with other professions. In the bank AS became a staff assistant in charge of various current accounts, and had half a dozen people working for him. During the transition period the general manager, Hunter picked on AS. He got into an argument and was reprimanded. He spent time with Algernon, a Catholic friend, and fell in love with his sister aged 16. When they broke up he was devastated but heard and got to love Beethoven, which later took him to Vienna.
Life story interview with Ambalavaner Sivanandan (1923-2018), director of the Institute of Race Relations and founding editor of Race & Class.