36th Anniversary of burning of Jaffna Library by government thugs and police.

By Manekshaw

The 36th anniversary of burning of the Jaffna Public Library was commemorated at the library building which has been now refurbished with new book shelves containing even a vast collection of books of Communist stalwart and Minister late Pieter Keuneman donated to it after his death in January 1997.

Pieter Keuneman was one of the intellectually sound politicians with the broader outlook in the South saddened over the destruction caused to the Jaffna library and it was his last wish that his collection of books should be donated to it after his death.

So, in the backdrop of the 36th anniversary of Jaffna Public Library going in flames, it is important to remember another institution, the Eelanadu newspaper which was founded in 1959 that was also set on fire on the same night by the same hooligans who were responsible for the destruction of the library.

Being a popular regional newspaper in Jaffna competing even with the leading Tamil National dailies in the country, Eelanadu had its office at its founder late K.C. Thangaraja’s residence at Bullers Road, Colombo.

Late Thangaraja had been the highly successful chairman of the now defunct paper factory at Valaichchenai, in the Eastern Province.

Eelanadu with a vast readership in Jaffna, a couple of days after it was set on fire started its publication for the appreciation of its admirers and picked up extensively in its sales when the newspaper commenced its publication rising like a ‘phoenix bird’ from the ashes.

One of the premier events to be covered extensively by Eelanadu after the newspaper recommenced its publication was the visit of Queen Elizabeth II and Duke of Edinburgh to Sri Lanka from October 21 to 25 in 1981 during President J R. Jayewardene’s period.

Subramaniam Mahalingasivam popularly known as ‘Mali’ among his media colleagues was the Eelanadu correspondent in Colombo covering the Royal visit along with nearly 100 local and foreign journalists in 1981.

Duke of Edinburgh announcing his retirement from his official duties recently, Mali who is presently domiciled in the United Kingdom remembered a brief conversation he had with the Duke when he was covering the Royal visit as Eelanadu correspondent.

So in the backdrop of British media giving extensive publicity to the retirement of Duke of Edinburgh from his official duties Mali had also penned his memories, a few days ago, on the Royal visit to Sri Lanka in his Tamil magazine Naligai published in London.

Trenchard House

The Royal couple hosted local and foreign journalists, who were covering their visit, to tea, at the British diplomatic community’s Trenchard House in Colombo 7.

Eelanadu correspondent Mali was among the scribes who had the opportunity of interacting closely with the Royal couple at Trenchard House.

The local scribes were introduced by the late Minister Gamini Dissanayake one by one to the Royal couple and the couple spoke warmly with the local scribes on the matters they were interested in about Sri Lanka.

When Mali’s turn came, Duke of Edinburgh shook hands with him and very eagerly asked from whether it was safe to go to Jaffna.

Being a correspondent of a newspaper in Jaffna which was set on fire five months before the visit of the Royal couple to Sri Lanka, Mali was speechless and only responded to the Duke with the smile.

Another interesting thing that Eelandu’s Mali had come across during the Royal couple’s Sri Lankan visit was the umbrella that was used to welcome the Queen at a civic reception accorded to her in Kandy.

Mali who was a member in the press contingent which was covering the Royal visit had seen the beautifully made umbrella which was used in temple festivals and to welcome distinguished guests at State occasions in Jaffna.

Spotting the umbrella used to welcome the Queen in Kandy, Mali’s inquisitiveness even led him to have a close look at the elegant umbrella to find out where it was made.

Mali, to his surprise found that the white umbrella with gold colour embroidery was made in Jaffna and the label found inside the umbrella precisely indicated the address of the place where it was made.

As the Jaffna Public Library has now been elegantly restored to its old glory with modern facilities marking the 36th anniversary of its destruction on 1 June in 1981, as a senior member of the editorial team of the Jaffna Eelanadu which was also set on fire on the same night the Jaffna library was burnt, Mali (S. Mahalingasivam) recalled his meeting with the Duke of Edinburgh to highlight how effectively and rapidly Eelanadu newspaper recovered within a couple of months from the destruction it suffered and even gave extensive coverage of the Royal visit to its Jaffna readership.

It would have been not safer for the Royal couple to visit Jaffna when the Duke of Edinburgh asked the Eelanadu correspondent of visiting the Peninsula in 1981.

But now with relinquishing his official duties, the Duke of Edinburgh could visit Jaffna where now the sounds of the big guns have been silenced.

However, with the influx of Jaffna men and their families in their thousands migrating to the United Kingdom in the past three decades, the Duke could get the Jaffna experience under the shade of the Union Jack in his kingdom itself.

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