Wednesday, 24 March 2004  
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Murugupillai Navaratnasamy - the maestro swimmer

by A. R. S. Mahalingam

Murugupillai Navaratnasamy, a house hold name in every nook and corner of the country in the mid nineteen fiftees for his exceptionally extra ordinary attempt in successfully swimming the thirty four mile stretch of the Palk Strait Channel from Vatvettiturai (V.V.T.) to Point Calimere, better known as Kodikarai, in Southern India on the 25th of March 1954 was indeed forty four when he achieved this hard earned fame and glory!

The Golden Jubilee commemoration of this memorable event that placed this little island prominently in the world map then, is to be celebrated now, in an elaborate scale at Thondaimanaru, the place of his birth, by the "Super Swimmer" Murugupillai Navaratnasamy memorial Golden Jubilee Society on the 25th of March 2004 to honour and to reminiscence the super human effort of this memorable character.

While being a student at Hartley College, Point Pedro the little navaratnasamy learnt from one of his tutors with wide open eyes the astonishing feat of an Englishman successfully swimming the English Channel, hitherto unattempted, by swimming across a distance of 25 miles.

The thought of swimming the neighbouring waters leading to India began germinating in his young mind on that very hour that began taking root as years passed by. From then onwards he took to the waters like a duck never failing even a day to practice swimming in all possible hard and strenuous ways thus conditioning his physique in challenging any eventualities.

Having joined the Government Service as an Agricultural Instructor, he made his mark as an energetic worker, thereby earning quick promotions that enticed many a damsel to fall for him. He entered his matrimonial life with Leelavathy, a cute young thing from the village and led a contended wedded life, that was not to be for long. The couple were blessed with three sons but however the destiny of fate had the life of the young wife plucked midway leaving Navaratnasamy devastated and the dream of his life long ambition shattered beyond renascence.

It took him an unusually long time in coming to terms with death - that shattered his future and that of his three little ones, by which time he had aged beyond forty. His associates friends and many who were aware of his dreams rekindled his boyhood ambition by constant persuation and flattery which however when failed used the innocent influence of the three small kids as the last resort.

The latter paid dividend in the form of Balachandran, the second son, who in later life when on sixteen created havoc by swimming from Kayts to Karainagar and back with having both his hands and legs tide up, making a vow that he would fulfil his fathers ambition if the latter does not do so.

Navaratnasamy's first attempt on the 16th of March however had to be abondoned due to the rough sea that was accompanied by gale and storm though being only seven miles away from his destination Point Calimere. Undeterred he decided to have a second go nine days later. A mammoth crowd thronged the shores of Valvettiturai from where he took off on the 25th of March 1954 at 4.00 p.m. in the presence of a distinguish gathering in the likes of C. Barr Kumarakulasingam Commissioner of Assize Jaffna, T. Ramalingam M. P. Point pedro and the special representative of the Prime Minister V. Nalliah M.P.

The strenuous exercises he has under gone, the sacrifices he had made in having his middle aged body trim and fit, the different strokes of the game he has learnt and mastered-all came into play in the challenge to cover a distance of 34, long miles in the rough sea that experiences a change of tide every six hours making swimming more and more difficult when the waters of Bay of Bengal enter the Indian Ocean and returns back.

The shark infested sea with reptiles and sea snakes a plenty did pose problems and hindered his progress. Overcoming all these constraints the dare devil hero set foot and hoisted his flag at Point Calimere exactly at 7.00 p.m. on the following day the 26th of March 1954.

It was a historic event indeed that brought praises and bouquets from all over the world for this little isle of ours and hero Navaratnasamy was received at this end by a crowd well over twenty five thousand on the shores of V.V.T. including many VIPs and politicians and the entire peninsula took a festive mood with crackers and fireworks being displayed all over.

The media - the press of both countries India and Ceylon gave very wide coverage and messages of congratulations were received from Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru, Prime Minister of India and his counter part here Sir John Kotalaela.

The super swimmer was honoured with a public reception in Jaffna by the City Mayor presenting him with a valuable golden memonto. In Colombo a public reception was held in his honour with the premier Sir John Kotalawela presenting him with a Silver shield. In addition there were a host of congratulatory messages received from Foreign dignitaries taking pride of which was Her Majesty the Queen forwarding a medal to be worn in commemoration of Her Majesty's Coronation - 2nd June 1953.

The old boy on reaching sixty retired from the Govt. Service in 1965 and while in retirement was practising to row around SriLanka in a Catamaran - a distance of 760 miles which brought him his death on 30.06.1969. He is now survived by his eldest son N. Ramachandran who is in the managerial grade of Bank of Ceylon Jaffna. May this dare devil Super Swimmer M. Navaratnasamy's name be remembered for many more years to come.

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