"Learning by hard study must be won. It never entails from son to son": said the poet, Gay. Though this holds good in the majority of cases, yet there are exceptions where certain individuals have inherited a wealth of knowledge from their ancestors, besides acquiring it by toiling upwards in the night. One such individual in our times, who was born great as well as achieved greatness was the late lamented Neelakandan Tiruchelvam affectionately called 'Neelan.'
His father the late Senator M. Tiruchelvam, QC ex-solicitor-general and cabinet minister, was well known for his mastery of the civil law. His paternal grandfather Mr. V. Murugeysen who was a post master in the Malayan Postal Service was said to be devoted to reading English classics all the time and was a graduate of Calcutta University. His mother Punitham was a voracious reader and her passion for books surpassed all other likings so much so that her rooms in the house were full of books. Punitham's mother Soundaram is said to have passed the Senior Cambridge exam from Ramanathan College, Jaffna in flying colours setting an all time record in the island and was an teacher at Drieberg College, Chavakachcheri. Punitham's father Mr. V.Canagaratnam JPUPM had won prizes for Mathematics at St. Thomas College and was a leading proctor who sat on the Commission appointed to revise the Law of Thesavalamai in early thirties. The late District Judge C.Manohara quite famous for his condign judgements in bribery cases was one of his maternal uncles. And as if to crown it all, Neelan maternal ancestor-actually his grandmother's uncle Alagasundaram (later Rev. Francis Kingbury's) father-was the illustrious Tamil scholar of the nineteenth century, the late Rao Bahadur C.W. Thamotharam Pillai. No wonder Neelan's small head could carry all he knew. Guiding Principle Though Neelan's learning had the hallmark of approbation and admiration of foreign scholars, yet it sat lightly on him. All those who are privileged to have known him personally would recall his unassuming nature, sweet speech and cheerful countenance. On the day he died even an auto-driver was heard to say that he was a 'Raththaran Manusseya'. He really walked with the kings but not lost the common touch. His guiding principle seems to have been the ancient Tamil's epigram. 'Every country is my country Everyman is my kinsman' No wonder he is today hailed as a Citizen of the World.
Neelan had a penchant for assigning challenging tasks for those who come into close contact with him. Once he asked me to write the biographies of ten Tamil politicians of yester-year named by him by contacting their descendants and gathering authentic information. This he said would be useful for posterity. I could not embark on the job due to pre occupation with mundane matters. But he in his busy life had the time to write 'Politics and culture-Faces of an era', a collection of biographical sketches and got it translated into Sinhala as Yugayaka Muhunu. Conviction Incidentaly he is the first Tamil parliamentarian to write a book in the language of the majority community. Again when one of the oldest newspapers in the Jaffna peninsula namely, 'THe Hindu Organ', once edited by my mother's uncle, ceased publication due to the ongoing conflict in 1994, Neelan asked me to take it and publish it from Colombo until normaly returned.
A stupendous task for an ordinary mortal as I am and this behest too was not carried out by me. Neelan, I think was 'One of God's great creations in our time' even as Jawaharlal Nehru was considered by Adlai Stevenson.
Neelan could inspire confidence in a person who is in state of despair. His love for his country and his conviction that the Tamils would get their due rights in this land of their birth are remarkable. For instance, soon after the holocaust of July 83, I filled the Australian emigration forms and called on Neelan for his opinion. He talked to me at length and asked me why I want to be a non-entity in an alien land rather than someone in the land of my birth. After listening to him I was convinced that I should stay in my native country whatever happened and at once gave up the idea of migration. He too lived here true to his convictions.
But alas! he had to sacrifice his life for the Tamil cause leaving me in maudlin sorrow.
Neelan's tragic end belies the philosophy of Socrates that no evil would befall a good man either in life or after death. I tend to believe Danial Defoe when he says, 'The best of men cannot suspend their fate, the good die early, and the bad die late.'