Charity & social welfare

Sivanandan, Ambalavaner (5 of 10).  National Life Stories: General

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  • Recording date

    2010-08-13, 2010-08-20, 2010-08-26, 2010-10-20, 2010-11-02

  • Interviewees

    Sivanandan, Ambalavaner, 1923-2018 (speaker, male)

  • Interviewers

    Brodie, Louise (speaker, female)

  • Abstract

    Part 5: He still doesn’t really know how he could have uprooted himself from Ceylon. A particular friend helped Tamils, but others suddenly became Sinhalese nationalists. You had to question what was important to you in your life. Not the bank manager’s wealthy life, but to leave his father was painful and the responsibilities in his village. AS knew it was a selfish decision. He resigned from the bank. He had about £2000 in savings. Mention of a literary magazine which he had started, ‘Community’. He left his wife to sell the house and the car and went ahead to London on 3 months furlough. He left one set of riots, and walked into the riots of Notting Hill [7:15] He had to look for a house and a job. The bank refused to have non-whites in a position of authority. By now in 1958 blacks were becoming settlers. He wanted to do something else, applied for a teacher’s job with the London County Council. The deposit he put down on a house was stolen by the agents. In desperation he rented a room and a half in Notting Hill Gate. Details. By then he had found a job as accounts clerk at Vavasseurs, the rubber company. It killed his mind. Story. He decided to become a librarian [18:00] A friend got him an interview with Berriman at the Middlesex libraries. Basically he was a tea boy. He went to evening classes. Through another advert in the New Statesman, he got a house in Finchley and Bernadette got a job in the Bank of Ceylon as a typist. The children went to a convent in East Finchley and they became good Catholics. They were long days particularly with the studying. Life wasn’t too bad. The people who came to the library liked him, as he was an enthusiast. The libraries were great, they really educated people, music groups and children’s groups, and each old lady had a particular librarian who recommended books to her. AS was promoted to Wembley Central library which was an important hub with reference books and local history. He became second in command to the branch librarian, Mr Cushing, who was second to the district librarian. Then AS qualified as an Associate of the Library Association and became branch manager at Kingsbury. The salary wasn’t enough but working with books was good. [29:20] In 1963 he was offered a Colonial Office library post in Great Smith Street. It was mostly cataloguing books and classifying secret documents. In the public library they had informal meetings and they would make enquiries about tours and so on. People would come and read newspapers and just gather. It was a clearing house for knowledge and information for all ages and widened people’s horizons. More details. So the Colonial Office post was not really to AS’s taste. This was quite difficult at his age, 38 or 39. They had bought a house [37:15] His wife had found a house. The elderly couple who were selling liked them. They got it for £3000. The children were doing well in school, except his son who was more interested in games. AS went for the job at the Institute of Race Relations library. The founding director was Philip Mason who was a great writer and loved Ceylon. Story. [42:30] AS could not participate in the race scene in London at the time, as he was so occupied with existing, and family life. The timing of the breaks in his life gave him an important lesson. How to bring up children and how to leave them, how to have power and not use it. When he looks back, he sees that the timing was right. AS is trying now to come to terms with growing old and finding it difficult. [46:01] Just as AS was getting comfortable, his wife was getting dissatisfied. She didn’t care for working. And she was upset by the fact that the children would not go to church. Hers was a strong Catholic family, and AS was the exception. His son aged 10 or 11, went to a Catholic secondary school. The question of contraception was difficult. They could not afford to have another child. AS was also growing away from her too. It was a slow erosion. [53:35] She left AS. He had the children to look after. A Catholic friend intervened. She would come back home if AS saw a psychiatrist. He was in love with her however. More details of the marriage unravelling. [1:02:02] Another phone call to say she was leaving. She left the children behind as well. AS said, this time he would not ask her to come back. She went to Ceylon. AS did not know how to cook or look after children. This was 1964. They were about 15, 13 and 11 maybe a bit younger. A friend, Colin Fielder, came to give him a hand over the weekend, and stayed for a year. He was studying for his exams, and took an evening job in the post office. They both learned to cook. AS’s father was taken ill just when he started at the Colonial Office library and he went back to see him. He recovered. AS’s wife begged him to see her. He had become a mother to his children. Colin was a great help. But there was always interference from the Catholic church. [1:13:29] AS’s second child missed her mother more than the others and had problems. AS read many books about child rearing and knew better than the authorities what she needed. Details of meetings. In Ceylon his wife begged him to take her back, though she had filed for divorce. His father was doubtful. She had written to the children. They were delighted to see her. He had not wanted to make them bitter.

  • Description

    Life story interview with Ambalavaner Sivanandan (1923-2018), director of the Institute of Race Relations and founding editor of Race & Class.

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