Monday, 16 June 2003  
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Recollections of Yogendra Duraiswamy

Yogendra Duraiswamy

I am glad and honoured to offer my memories of Yogendra Duraiswamy as a contribution to the observance of his death anniversary which falls tomorrow. Yoga as he was called and I entered the University of Ceylon, the same year which was 1944 and from the outset we were drawn to each other.

Yoga was a striking figure who was the living image of his legendary father Vythalingam Duraiswamy who had dominated the political scene of this country as the Speaker of Parliament. With his commanding personality and professional skills he was a Speaker par excellence who was greatly honoured in the country and idolized by those around. His son Yoga was one such admirer and it was clearly his desire and ambition to emulate him.

This was a frequent theme of our conversations and I strongly encouraged this desire. The question was how this could be achieved given the circumstances that he was an undergraduate heading for a professional career.

This was, however, an open question and Yoga concentrated on preparing himself for the role. This was through the development of his public speaking skills and an outgoing personality of charm and bonhomie. He expressed himself forcefully on political themes and impressed those around. The venue for such performances was obviously the Tuck shop where Yoga was usually seen addressing a group. However, his real efforts in this direction was in the Union Society where he fully exploited the opportunities for public speaking and addressing audiences. His efforts bore fruit with his election as the President of the Union Society, which was certainly the most prestigious position for an undergraduate at that time.

This pursuit of political interests was not at the expense of other attributes and in fact Yoga excelled as a friend for his endearing personal qualities.

This in fact was where I entered his life being devoid of any political ideas or ambitions. My specialty was history and culture in which Yoga was keenly interested and our companionship was marked by preoccupation with these subjects which became a personal bond between us.

It should be said that despite being the son of the outstanding Tamil leader of the time there was no ethnicity or allusions to race in our exchanges. Yoga belonged to a time when this communal factor did not enter into relations between communities in the country and close relations were possible between them and Yoga and myself clearly exemplified this. This was the secret of his appeal which made him a good friend to all and his close links with me were a measure of this.

These early bonds in the university became closer when Yoga and I had the unique honour of being admitted to the first batch of the recruits to the Ceylon Overseas Service in 1949 on the results of a public examination. We were part of a batch of seven and our relations dating back to our university ties became closer than ever. This was a unique experience for all of us and Yoga and in particularly revelled in it because of our earlier ties.

For Yoga it was a dramatic breakthrough as it opened a career after his own heart which would give full reign for his talents for public speaking and communication at the highest level. The probation period was not exciting being one of listening to odd lectures and briefing and the overwhelming thought in our minds was the prospect of our postings, which dazzled our imagination. Would it be London, Washington or India as the other glamour spots like Paris, Tokyo, Germany, Canada had no Sri Lankan Missions at that time. The announcements came in early 1950 and Yoga was among the first to get a posting which was in New Delhi which was highly coveted because of the high standing of India in Sri Lanka's foreign relations. Yoga's posting to New Delhi was the start of a long and impressive professional career in which he distinguished himself and lived up to expectations. This posting also marked the end of our close relationship in which except for serving together in the Ministry in the 70s we were geographically apart and out of reach.

Yoga's exit from the service gave the opportunity for the fulfilment of what was no doubt a cherished dream to serve his country and people at home in the footsteps of his great father. This was his appointment as Government Agent of Jaffna where in an official capacity he assumed leadership of the people of Jaffna and as able to serve them more effectively than as a political leader. I recall reading press reports of his appointment and performance where with characteristic zeal he endeavoured to fulfil the aspirations of the Jaffna people. I had no contacts with him at that time but I could imagine him rising to the occasion and using his great professional skills and diplomatic experience to carry out his mandate. It was indeed a unique situation in that instead of serving as a political leader in the footsteps of his great father he was probably able to achieve more as the head of the adminstration.

He was probably able to achieve for the Jaffna people not less than his father had done. I cannot speak at first hand of how he felt as I was no longer in touch with him but knowing him as I did I am certain in that he regarded this part of his life as a true realisation of his desire to be worthy of his father. Yoga died I think prematurely I do not know under what circumstances and this was a tragedy for him and the country. His memory is kept alive by his faith and gifted widow through writings on him which have highlighted his life and achievements. My own impressions are limited by my restricted knowledge of him but they bear out the view that his was a predestined career which ended with his realising the ambitions which were closest to him of being truly his father's son.

Looking back on my relations with Yoga I think of him not only as a good friend but a worthy representative of his generation who combined personal appeal, professional skills and political idealism. His life was an embodiment of these attributes through which he was able to achieve a career which won him fame and respect. The secret of his success as his fidelity to his father who was his inspiration and his desire was to emulate him and even outdo him. Fate decreed otherwise with his premature death but he left behind a career of which his great father would have been proud.

- Dr. Vernon L.B. Mendis

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