Memories of better days — pre-1960 era in Trinco. district

By R. M. A. B. Dassanayake
In the context of the ongoing deliberations and earnest efforts by the powers that be to forge a peaceful solution to the vexed ethnic question and irrespective of its success or failure, it is considered pertinent to mention some past personal reminiscences in relation to the generally congenial inter-community dealings and harmonious interaction experienced in the halcyon days of pre-1960 era.

In the administrative district of Trincomalee, the former-DROs division of Kattukulam-Pattu comprised of two sub-divisions, namely Kattukulam-Pattu East and K. P. West.

The eastern sector comprised mainly of Tamil villages with a sprinkling of two or three Muslim villages, extending from Nilaveli to Pulmoddai along the North eastern coastal belt, encompassing the well known-Tiriyaya wherein is situated the ancient place of Buddhist-worship known as Girihanduseya or Neethipath Pana. Beyond are the picturesque villages of Kuchchaveli and Pulmoddai - the latter village came into prominence with the discovery of ilmenite deposits on its beaches.

In the good old days these villages were supervised by a superior headman known as the Udayar who had three or four village headmen under him to transact day to day administrative functions - which were comparatively less in volume then-of the peasants and fisherfolk.

The western sector-consisted mostly of Sinhala villages with one Muslim and three Tamil villages extending from Morawewa/Pankulam along with Trinco-Anuradhapura road area upto Rotawewa.

Branching off on a by-road cross connecting Tiriyaya are the villages of Gomarankadawala, Tavuluwewa, Madawachchiya, Kivulekada and about ten other village units - some of which were then mere hamlets consisting of forty to fifty households in each - the Sinhala sector was supervised by a superior headman - Korale Mahatmaya who had five village headmen under him to assist in his duties.

Kattukulam Pattu comprising these two sectors was ably administered by the D.R.O. headquartered at Nilaveli - a Trinco suburban town.

The Sinhala area - although vested in the Jurisdiction of Trincomalee district had its cultural and inter familial link and affinity with the Anuradhapura region.

The writer who was then a very young school boy - from about 1940 to 1950 - could yet recollect vividly the very peaceful and harmonious tempo of co-existence that prevailed between the Sinhala and Tamil communities in those village areas.

They moved, toiled and lived together farming their plots of field and highland. Some small time traders from Trinco town engaged themselves in bartering household provisions clothing and trinkets with the produce of the villages such as rice, bees honey and venison.

The simple unhampered free flow of life of these villagers - caused no rift, division or commotion amongst themselves or with the visiting traders.

It is refreshing to recollect vignettes of that bygone era when every prospect was pleasing and satisfying. The trust, confidence and sincerity those simple people - both Sinhala and Tamil had for one another were incomparable and almost unbelievable at a time like this. Such was their spirit of camaraderie. They shared their meals and even lodgings among themselves as near and dear kinsmen.

During school holidays on my return from Kandy to home-base I remember accompanying my father (Korale Mahatmaya) on a couple of occasions when he visited Trinco town where he drew his salary at the kachcheri or attended to other official duties.

It was a pleasure to have witnessed the bon-hommie and mutual pleasantries my father exchanged with his counterparts and superiors. The warm hospitality with which the DRO and his C.C. treated us during such visits is still vivid in my mind.

On one such visit my father took me to a simple Tamil eating house patronised usually by visiting villagers to Trinco town.

We were served with rice and a variety of fish curry - fried (poriyal) white (vellai) and hot and spicy - (kulambu). We relished those tasty preparations which sharpened the taste buds and satiffied the palate.

My father was a connoisseur of the Tamilian cuisine. Having had his education at the Rama Krishna Mission Hindu College at Trincomalee as a resident student he was fluent in his spoken and written Tamil. He conducted his official correspondence with his superior officers both in English and Tamil. My father’s father was the Rate Mahathmaya (chief headman) in his time and it is said that his proficiency in the Tamil language was the envy of some of the Tamil officers in the Trinco kachcheri.

After my grandfather’s demise the chief headman or - Rate Mahatmayas who were then known as Vanniyar Mudaliyars were all Tamil gentlemen. I can remember Mr. S. Sivapalan, Vanniyar Mudaliyar who after retirement was once a member of the state council. Thereafter the chief headman system was replaced by the DRO service.

I could recollect how as a school boy I enjoyed the interesting and instructive conversational company of some of the DROs who visited and lodged at our abode during their official inspections on their division days.

T. Balasanthiran and V. R. Navaratnarajah were some of those inspiring personalities. We can never forget these two gentlemen as we had close contact with them then.

These officials in the course of their administration were compassionate in their dealings with the poor peasantry in the Sinhala villages and contributed a good deal to the rural uplift and welfare movements devoid of any trace of communal bias or prejudice whatever.

In short, the Sinhala and Tamil people in the area under reference during those halcyon days interacted very much like members of closely knit family units. Those who lived in that region then would endorse this statement which is no exaggeration, but a simple truth.

Pondering over the present war situation between our two communities, it is somewhat inconceivable how some of our people rose up in bloody revolt against one another, culminating in this seemingly implacable ongoing ethnic violence.

It may, perhaps, be due to the hegemonic and monopolist views preached and propagated by a few designing politicians and some ultra nationalists and also due to the non appeasable demands of aggrandizement launched by an equally implacable extremist group on the other side of the ethnic divide.

Going by the saying, "Every dark cloud has a silver lining" - can we not work out a way of reconstructing and restoring the past and thus effect the much needed and yearned for reconciliation even at this late stage.

It is left to the good offices of the enlightened and broad-minded intelligentsia of both communities to take the lead in a spirit of goodwill to strive and create a "live and let live" "give and take" policy of human affairs in relation to our dealings with our own countrymen.