Reminiscing and a Tribute to Sornalingam

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Many of my friends in Sydney and I were at Hartley in the 60s, the Class of ’69.
Many nostalgic moments come to mind. But one thought that has preoccupied me from early
80’s is the life while he lived and, his memory, after his death of a friend at Hartley. His life
raised in me more questions about myself. Questions reflective of a generation that escaped
from the edge of the catastrophe that was to befall our school, homes and villages of our
cherished youth. A generation affected by dislocation and disrupted close family setting, but
called on to carry a burden to help the land of birth survive and recover.

How did our education in Point Pedro help to shape our lives? While we take stock of
the years past as we reach the end of our professional careers, how can we sum up our lives?
Beyond the academic successes, professional achievements, and economic accomplishments,
can we honestly be proud of who we are and what we have made of our lives?

Sornalingam and many of us played soccer and cricket at Hartley together. In soccer,
he was always ahead of us, as many of the books written about him reveal. We spent many
hours and days as we traveled and played across Jaffna district, as well as in Colombo and
Kandy.

I keep going back to these years to identify and to locate signs of inner working of his
mind that intrigues me still. He wrote in my diary on 5th Sept 1971: “The most important
thing in the Olympic games is not to win- but to take part…the essential thing in life is not to
regret, But to have lived and fought well.” Was this a sign of things to come, where his
destiny lay, closely bound to his people?

When my soccer friends and I travelled to Chennai (Madras) on a tour in ’73 with
Peradeniya soccer team, he visited us one day. But did not reveal any sign of where his life
was heading. Last time I heard from him was in ’83 when he called from England on one his
trips as part of his new mission, when I was in San Diego. He explained the details.

I keep going back to read the beautiful Tamil book, Viduthalai, Anton Balasingam
wrote, and keep re-reading it. What is life? What is freedom? What is history? Can the
wisdom of philosophers provide insight into the calamitous history of our people? From
Hagel’s assertion “history is movement of spirits towards freedom,” Kant’s “perpetual
peace,” Hobbes “life is solitary, poor, nasty, brutish and short,” and Mill’s liberal argument of
value of liberty,” define the responsibilities we face as the diaspora of a people left to
confront the State? Will we get inspired to take some action to help? Have we tried to
understand the dynamics at home, show empathy for the lives of the people we left behind,
and tried to be a voice to the disadvantaged? Have we realized that by doing so, we enrich our
lives than we do theirs?

One single formula will not work for all of us. But should we not inquire into these to
question our life’s worth? When, goals we have sought in the first half of our lives wane in
importance and as we seek for fulfillment, and seek peace with ourselves, I find free inquiry
into our responsibilities to serve our own will benefit us, and may provide answers to turmoil
within us.

Our generation grew up with our career choices limited by the practical need for
economic security. While we sought economic successes, and prospered by the discipline and
hardwork instilled on us by our School and its teachers, did we miss to understand the need to
serve others? Why then have we not seen more Hartleyites in our diasporic networks that work towards a better
future for people at home?

Have we allowed our children to think beyond these and experiment with life? Did
we allow them to fail and learn, and not force them into the traditional and non-risk-only
endeavors? Have we limited our children’s potential to be great thinkers and have we
encouraged them to seek and pursue their inner mission? Have we while teaching our children
to learn, were prepared to learn ourselves?

Have we stopped to think what drove the lives of people like Sornalingam and the
handful of Hartleyites we know of who interpreted life in a selfless way, different to what
many of you or I have done? What drove them to see life in the way they saw?

I rejoice when I see old friends during our visits to Hartley and appreciate the many
old boys associations serving the needs of the current students. But my desire is to see broader
involvement of Hartleyites to build the shattered community in the NorthEast. To see more
join to empower those people and show the true worth of our education.

 
Editor’s Note: Dr M.Sreetharan, Ph.D., is a consultant in Communications (Data and
Voice) and Signal Processing industries. He is the President PCI (Performance Computing
Incorporated), Maryland, USA. 

 

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