Joseph Pararajasingham: Random images

by K.S. Sivakumaran

The assassinated Joseph Pararajasingham was known as P.Joseph
while he was a student at St. Michael’s College, Mattakalappu in the
early 1950s. I was two years his junior in the same school during the
period 1947-1952.

Mattakalappu athletes

At that time Rev. Fr. E. Crowther was the Rector. He was a Sri
Lankan, although his name sounded alien. Readers might
remember him as the Thomian cricket captain. His brother, S. J. K.
Crowther, a novelist was also the editor of the then Ceylon Daily
News.

The school was managed by American Jesuists and had a strict
disciplinarian in Rev. Fr. Fengler and an amiable Principal, Rev. Fr.
Sommers. The school also had other American Jesuits that
contributed to the advancement of the school and the people living
the town and its suburbs. Among them was Rev. Fr. Harold J.
Webber. He had a microphonic voice and plenty of stamina to
encourage the youth of Mattakalappu in sports as well.

It was Rev. Fr. Webber who discovered many athletes and
sportsmen in the east and brought them to light. Mattakalappu boys
and girls from the eastern town, also known for it lagoon, singing
fish and sea food, came to be reckoned with in areas outside their
orbit.

P.Joseph was a promising athlete trained by Fr. Webber. The latter
introduced the ‘western roll’ in high jumping and for the first time in
the sports history of the region, Joseph mastered the technique and
figured in the Public Schools athletics.

Before I come to write about some of the other aspects of Joseph
Pararajasingham’s career, let me list some of the prime athletes in
the region who brought fame to the country as a whole.

Apart from Basketball and Football, the youth were interested in
cricket and other sports. For a long time the Michaelmen were
shining in school basketball championships in the island.

The late 1950s, not only the boys of St. Michael’s College, but also
young men and women from Mattakalappu came to the forefront in
athletics both at the public schools level and the national AAA
(Ameatuers Athletic Association) level.

Two members who held high positions in the Sri Lankan Army were
trained by Fr. Webber. They were Lyle Balthazar and his brother
Fergus Balthazar. They excelled in Discuss Throw and the Putt
Shot. Lyle established a public schools record at that time.

And in 100 and 200 metre sprint, R. P. Ariyanayagam took great
honours in the Public Schools Athletic Meet. J. A. de Silva, Roy
Fernando and R. P. Ariyanayagam were the winners in one event.

In the AAA meet, the relay team from Mattakalappu figured well and
I believe they won the 400 metres relay. The runners were, if I
remember correct, C.Alagaratnam, Dotty Francis, T. Kiruparajah
and J. R. de Silva.

T.Kiruparajah was also prominent quarter mile runner trained by Fr.
Webber.

J. Raphael de Silva created a record for running the 800 metres in
an improved timing. His brother Leo de Silva was also a shining
figure. Their sister Josephine de Silva came third in the women’s
100 metres event with Irene Williams and June de Kretzer ahead of
her.

Sugunam David was another woman trained by Fr. Webber in field
events.

At that time sports too helped in bringing the people from various
communities together. The Sinhalas, the Thamilians, the Burghers
and the Islamite’s worked together in achieving common goals.

Fr. Webber was a unifying force and as a dedication to him, there is
a stadium in Mattakalppu named after him.

Pararajasingham as a teenager

I came to know P.Joseph before I acquainted myself with him in
school. He was an ardent filmgoer. I wanted to see a Thamil film
called "Chandralekha" in a matinee show because my parents had
ruled out going to films except with then and that too only once a
month. But I wanted to see this spectacular film by myself without
their knowledge. However, I couldn’t make it as all tickets were sold
out. I found lanky P. Joseph, whom I had not met before also there
waiting disappointed. We broke into casual conversation and there
began a stimulating conversation on films. I soon realized that he
was very knowledgeable on films, not necessarily Thamil films but
also of English and Hindi films. I learnt a lot of the medium from him.

I left Mattakalappu in 1953 to settle down in Colombo as my late
father, a government servant, came to the metropolis on transfer.

After that, I lost contact with my friends in my birth place.

Later on, I came to know that both Sugunam David and P. Joseph
got married and that Sugunam David was the Mattakalappu
correspondent for the now defunct Thamil daily from Colombo,
"Thinapathi". But in fact, it was P. Joseph who was writing reports
from Mattakalappu in his wife’s name. His news reports and feature
articles and investigative journalism were different from the staid
way of writing found in Thamil journalism. So, I began to take an
interest in reading his articles. His writing style must have been
chiselled by the doyen of Thamil newspaper editors, the late S. T.
Sivanayagam (not to be confused with S. Sivanayagam- a fine stylist
in English journalism, apart from his perceptive political analysis now
collected in book forms)

It was no strange matter to note that P. Joseph became the owner of
the theatre – Imperial- (that was affiliated with the Ceylon Theatres)
where he couldn’t get a ticket to see "Chandralekha" with me some
years ago. P. Joseph became a business magnate in the little town
of Mattkalappu.

There was a long gap of time between my initial introduction to him
and his later progress.

He progressed as a politician with the name Joseph
Pararajasingham.

I had not met him personally after he became a parliamentarian
except on one occasion where I met him at a book launch in
Colombo with his wife, Sugunam. I was very happy that they
remembered me and came near me and exchanged pleasantries.

Sugunam had her cousins living in Lake Road No: 1, where I lived
with my parents. Her cousins living a few doors next to our house
and Sugunam and her brothers had occasionally played with us
(most kids down the road). So, Sugunam could remember me.

The demise of J. Pararajasingham is a great loss for the Thamil
community in particular in this country. He was humane, an analyst
and very fluent in English and Thamil. Perhaps he was competent in
Sinhala too.

Amidst extreme Sinhala and Thamil Nationalism, such people as JP
put their heads a little above and tried to see things in a wider
perspective.

I wish to express my condolences to Sugunam and other members
of her family.
[Island]