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Manipay Hindu College in my time - an alumnus remembers

by Subramaniam (Nesaratnam) Somasunderam

Manipay is renowned for its heritage of philanthropists, statesmen, scholars, businessmen and industrialists of eminence. The two illustrious brothers and celebrated statesmen of Ceylon Sir Ponnambalam Ramanathan (1851-1930) and Sir Ponnambalam Arunachalam (1853-1924), Members of the Legislative Assembly, who pioneered the 'Independence Struggle' for the country, are from this town.

Yet another outstanding figure was Rev. Dr. Isaac Thambiah, LLD (1869-1941) a learned Theologian, Barrister-at-Law and literacy scholar who was the chairman of the first committee that established the nucleus of the reputed Jaffna public library on 1st August 1934.

Mudaliar Sangarapillai, Adigar Sellamuttu and Sir Pararajasingam belonged to the era that followed. The noteworthy Green Memorial Hospital, founded by the American Missionary Rev. Samuel Fiske Green in 1870, was the first academy of western medicine for doctors in Ceylon.

Maruthady Vinayagar and Velakkai Pillayar Temples together with Anglican, American Mission and St. Anthony Churches, all coexist in close proximity. We cherished, respected and intermingled in each other's culture, customs and traditions, which catalysed our attitudes and outlook in life.

It is in this wealth of heritage, culture, tradition and institutions that the revered Mudaliar Sir Sangarapillai, founded Manipay Hindu College (MHC) on 4th July 1910.

The period of my student career in Yalpanam was a saga of contrasts. Neither electricity nor radios were available in our area, town criers beating drums, read proclamations from vantage positions.

Manipay, Chankanai and Chunnakam markets were active business centres, not too distant from us. We purchased almost all grocery, seafood, meat, vegetables and fruits there.

Cadbury and Dolca chocolates, Huntley & Palmer biscuits, Parrys candies, Raleigh bicycles, Singer sewing machines, building materials, stationery, textiles and even some pharmaceutical products were available there. We studied with the 'hurricane' lanterns.

We studied English Language and Literature, Arithmetic, Mathematics, Tamil, Latin, Chemistry, Geography and Art. We learnt Hinduism separately. There was also a Buddhist priest who taught Sinhalese language.

There were Sinhalese students too at College, We generally played all popular sport of that time never forgetting our culture, traditions, heritage and identity. We were exposed to a harmonious blend of the best in the East and West, and the old and new. Our school played an important part in this.

I have a hereditary bondage with Manipay, as my father, grandfather and even my great grandfather are from Manipay, more specifically from the area known as 'Aayiramkaachipilavady' - the location of the 1,000 jak-fruit bearing tree. We chose to reside in Kaddudai, a serene little village surrounded by lustrous paddy fields.

Having completed my three years compulsory Tamil primary education in Saivaprakasa Vidyasalai, Kaddudai, I enrolled as Nesaratnam starting January 1931.

My class was 'First Year C' located in the Vaheesar Hall, with Coomarasuriar as the teacher. Medium of instruction was in English. I had to walk three kilometres barefeet from Kaddudai, worshipping Maruthady Vinayagar on my way.

The distance was even more when I had to reside in Chankanai with my aunt, 12 kilometres both ways. Bicycles were owned only by more mature students who travelled long distances. We would skillfully kick a mango seed all the way along the road. Some of my mates used to crack pranks on 'Rod Master' cycling his way to Jaffna College and ended up with bashes. He got that nickname for using the measuring rod for punishing students.

Another familiar personality whom we met on our way to College was our post-peon Veerakathy, dressed in his khaki coat bearing red epaulettes and 'veshty', had his hair tufted (kondai). He used to hand his canvas mail bag across his shoulders, and delivered the mail on foot. Unfailingly he collected his gift from my mother whenever he delivered a parcel sent by our father on special occasions, such as Deepavali and New Year.

Our class teacher Coomarasuriar came in a buggy-cart drawn by a single bullock (thirukkalvandil) from Araly. The bullock had a collar of jingle bells around its neck, which heralded his arrival. His black cane (thuwaramthadi) for goading the animal was in exceptional cases used for punishing mischievous students.

Fortunately I was never at the receiving end. Our Deputy Principal Somasunderam, dressed in impeccable white nationals, closed neck coat and a dignified turban, travelled in a rickshaw.

The Napoleonic administrator principal V. Veerasingam (in short 'Singar') manifestly enforced discipline. He became a widower early and devoted his entire life to education and service to the community.

He pioneered the very successful co-operative movement in the northern province, which is one of the best in the world. He used to dress himself in Western suit, but changed over to the Tamil national dress later on, with the shawl folded and tied around his waist similar to Swami Vivekananda.

He passionately nurtured the College to its pinnacle of glory and left behind a legacy of distinguished alumni. After retirement he was elected member of parliament for Vaddukoddai. It is a very fitting testimony that in his memory the most impressive and lofty building 'The Veerasingam Hall' in the Jaffna city was named after him.

An unfortunate incident at College has made an indelible impression in me. We were celebrating the King's Birthday on 3rd June 1934 of His Majesty George V. The principal had rehearsed the ceremony on the previous afternoon and instructed scout troop leader Muthucumarasamy to assemble the scouts at eight o'clock for the parade.

As scheduled the chief arrived promptly at the grounds to hoist the Union Jack, along with the college flag and take the salute. Prefect Muthu most unexpectedly failed to turn up on time and we were not regimented.

Principal Singar became totally upset and he immediately notified the staff and students to assemble in the Hutchinson Hall.

The apprehension amongst us was dismal and tense. There was a weird muteness in the air as the chief mounted the rostrum.

He was an impressive figure of stocky build, dark with wavy hair parted in the middle. For a while he stood stunned, holding the cane in his hand. His eyes fumed red with wrath and his glance blazed across the assembly. The moments of suspense anti-climaxed when the stalwart principal turned the cane on himself. Muthu was petrified and he broke down wailing.

The teachers restrained the chief imploring mercy and reconciliation. That was the priceless stature and dedication of our educators and pupils.

Such was his genuine love for his students, that he inflicted severe pain and humiliation on himself. What made him do it is still mystifying to many of us? Probably he felt that would inculcate in us the morality by the penance he underwent on behalf of a recognised student.

This incident created a special link an affection and respect for that exemplary administrator. In due course Muthu graduated as a dental surgeon and served in many high positions. After retirement he devoted his leisure to the service of the Sathya Sai Organisation, Nallur in perpetual devotion.

The Founders Day - 4th July is a festival of the town and its surrounds. Several months of preparations, practice sessions, drama rehearsals, activities involving art, handicraft, music, elocution, sports and stalls presentation all culminate on the 4th July annually.

Almost a full day activity, ending in the evening with music drama, prize-giving and addresses by eminent personalities. Soon after the Junior School Certificate I left Manipay Hindu College and joined St. Peter's College in Colombo.

Some years later I was privileged to marry a member of the staff of my old college. We settled down in the property only a few blocks away from college which I would have passed at least four thousand times during my college career. My wife too is from Manipay.

As I remember our College on the forthcoming Founder's Day I pay my tribute in letters of Gold for imparting to me the wealth of education, enjoyment of sport and culture and furthermore for inculcating in me the realistic values in life. All this has given me the confidence to face the challenges in many parts of the world and reap the rich rewards with immense satisfaction, gratitude and grace.

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