Charity & social welfare
Sivanandan, Ambalavaner (4 of 10). National Life Stories: General
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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 4: [Second Session 20 August 2010] AS went to the bank in 1948 just before independence. This had opened up an opportunity for him as there was a scarcity of graduates. But the general manager at the time was a rough Cockney, authoritarian, efficient and nasty. He didn’t like AS because he didn’t fear him, and because he supported the clerks. Also he had fallen in love with a Sinhalese and Catholic and neither of the parents liked it. They eloped one night and got dispensation for marriage in the hill station in Kandy. AS transferred to the bank there. AS’s wife fell ill and the manager wouldn’t allow AS to go to her. AS went and he was suspended from the bank. [8:31] There was an enquiry but the board were sympathetic to AS and he was reinstated. The family of Bernadette, his wife, hated that he refused to convert. One brother was going to become a priest. One sister, though a strict Catholic, helped them for the romance of it. AS had to promise that the children would be brought up as Catholics. Their friends were good to them, particularly the Sinhalese, generous, the Tamils were a bit dour. [15:33] AS started a union for bank clerks, this was after he was married and had a child. What was important always for AS was the symbiosis between action and thought. The first child was a girl, Tamara. He was delighted in having a child of his own. He had sent money to his father for dispersal to the family, but now his father would not accept it. [20:27] AS went to Vienna, being facilitated by the man he had met, and went to work in the bank there, Oesterreichische Landesbank. He worked in the foreign exchange office and taught them English. The bank had a leisure centre in the country. He had a high time. He lived with an old couple. He also went to Salzburg, the second most beautiful city in the world, after Kandy. Story of queuing for tickets for ‘Judas Maccabeus’ and meeting the professor of the art school, Reinkenhof. Suddenly AS got a letter saying that their daughter Tamara had polio and he arranged to go home. But he had a telegram to say she was better and he came to England instead. He had a great time over New Year, then he went round Europe and enjoyed the art galleries which he loved. He visited Florence, Rome, Holland. Then he went home. After nine months, [29:21] And his second daughter, Natasha, had been born. The bank managership had changed and it was nicer. He was doing well, and is afraid he became a bourgeois. He was in charge of handling a barter agreement selling rubber to China in exchange for rice. He had to inspect the rubber factories, and make sure there was no cheating. He was leading a high life in Colombo. Bernadette loved this, she was used to good living. They were both good at ballroom dancing. In Vienna he had sung, and saw how early church music and Tamil music had common factors. He still yearned for music and art and poetry and writing. Their third child was born, a son Rohan, and they bought a lovely house, and car and had servants. [36:40] But AS felt there was an uneasiness in his wealthy life. Then the riots happened in 1958. Then party politics established dynastic lines. When the first prime minister, Senanayake, died his son took over. Then the cousin. Mr Bandaranaike was a distant relative. 70% of the people were Sinhalese and Buddhist. He got into his eastern clothes proclaiming that they would give their birthright back. He introduced Sinhalese as the national language. It became the issue. They said that the Tamils had been over-represented in the previous administration. The government took away the Tamils’ language, and English too. [45:19] Trouble broke out. Tamils were unemployed. Instruction was in Sinhalese and the Tamil culture was being annihilated. Violence was provoked by the government. The democratic process was adhered to in one way, but not in reality. It turned AS’s stomach. Racialism was beginning to creep into people. There was a lot of misery, murder and mayhem. It was in the urban areas, not in the north. Slowly it led to the ethnic cleansing of 2009. [53:09] AS felt he couldn’t live in Ceylon any more. His wife’s mother was excellent and took in Tamil refugees at a risk to herself. Others pin pointed Tamils’ houses, and they were killed. His brother-in-law’s nephew was murdered. AS’s father lived with his sister on the outskirts of Colombo, and a mob gathered outside. AS’s brother came to find him, but the police, even a friend, could do nothing. AS found some khaki clothes and borrowed an old gun with no cartridges. And drove through the mob, shouting obscenities. He rescued his family on that occasion. The last straw was when his 5 year old daughter showed signs of racialism. He did not want to live in a country like this. The history after 1958 is a history of betrayals and blood lust. AS felt he had to leave.
Life story interview with Ambalavaner Sivanandan (1923-2018), director of the Institute of Race Relations and founding editor of Race & Class.