EARLY LIFE IN SRI LANKA
The life story approach to oral history often begins with childhood. For some
of our interviewees, youth coincided with the birth of an independent Ceylon, renamed Sri Lanka in the 1972 Constitution. Others came of age during periods of communal conflict or war.

In each case, their stories vividly recall the ebb and flow of daily life in a close-knit Jaffna village or in the bustle of the capital in Colombo. The stories in this chapter touch on memories of childhood and relationships, experiences of town and village, school, faith, family and marriage before the long journey westward.

 

‘Back then in 1947, it was a peaceful time; we lived happily. I was the fourth
child born to my parents. We used to live all together, my mother’s siblings
and her relatives. Everyone was supportive of each other. We grew up happily…
At that time, we didn’t really know much. We were ten children at home.
Our elders had to make sure we were doing our work and then we had to
look 
after our younger siblings and help our mother. Back then, we weren’t
referring to our father as ‘Appa’, but as ‘Aiyya’. We completed the tasks we
were told to do and stayed at home, raising cows, cleaning large walls,
time passed with helping our parents.’

FEMALE, 66, JAFFNA

‘Lovely, I mean carefree, large family, you know. Though we were large I think
I was kind of a bully, you know, being the eldest and my father’s pet and the
favourite, so I think the others were kind of, I don’t know whether they were
scared of me but I was a bully. And my sister who is next to me was more 
close
to the brothers, the youngest girl – there is a ten-year gap. 
So when we were
very young she wasn’t around. But lovely memories, playing
 cricket, cops and
robbers…So always in the evening all you remember is playing 
in the evening
with neighbour’s children, oh, carefree.’

AMBICA SELVARAJ, 62, COLOMBO

‘I loved the festival times. We went to all sorts of temples. That’s sort of part of
everyday life and every week you will be going to temple at some point or 
one
point…I loved the noise. I loved all the, you know, the children’s stuff they 
had,
all the rides and things like that, the, like, funfair, things about the festivals.
They would have children’s stuff, shops, unusual things in the shop and food and
colourful stuff and you can wear all these colourful things. I used to wear 
the long
skirt and the top, which is very sort of traditional for little girls. I
enjoyed all that.’

LAVANNIYA LANGA, 41, KALUTARA

‘Education, education, education, that’s the only one thing everybody would
say…There is a proverb in Tamil: ‘Even if you want to raise chickens, you
should 
be a government employee.’ You have to be a government employee,
you know. The
 reason is you could get a pension or whatever. So you should
have a stable, permanent job. So the only way to find this is that government
job. So whatever 
you do, you should go and join the government service –
so whether you can 
be a teacher, clerk, anything. So education was given a
priority. And, you know, 
all the parents, especially the lower middle class
and middle class parents, 
their aspiration was to make one child an engineer
or a doctor. So that was 
the dream at that time. So my parents thought that I
would become an engineer 
[laughs] and make money and…’

RAJESHKUMAR, 56, JAFFNA

‘Village life is a very happy life. I always had different types of motorbikes.
I always brought my motorbike to the school…every year I would change
my 
bikes…When I took my bike everyone looked at me, ‘That man is a very
smart person.’’

KANDIAH NARENDRAN, 61, JAFFNA

‘…I was a mutt at school – I’m still a mutt. For me school was a playground.
I failed my university entrance exam. I had to wait another year. I wanted
to do law. My father said, ‘I don’t have money and in any case you will make
the worst lawyer in the world because you won’t take any nonsense from
anybody.’ He used to complain that, especially when I ran off with a Sinhalese
girl, he used to say, ‘I gave him the freedom of the wild ass and now he is
using it against me.’’

AMBALAVANER SIVANANDAN, 89, COLOMBO

‘When the proposal came, he [Mr Amirthalingam] heard that I sang that song
and he said he knew me. And part of it was, he liked me, he loved me. So my
father refused the marriage because he said, ‘I don’t want any politicians’…
But my mother and her brother – her brother was from KKS, Kankesanthurai,
and he was working with Chelva [S. J. V. Chelvanayakam, Federal Party leader].
He was also a businessman but he worked with Chelva. So he said, ‘He’s a 
very
nice boy.’ That is what he said, ‘very nice boy.’ ‘He has no bad character 
qualities
or anything. So if my niece is married to him, he will look after her very
carefully and she will be happy.’ So then my mother was insisting. And he
came 
to our village for a meeting so my father and mother went there to
see him. 
She came and told me, my mother, ‘He’s all right. He looks handsome.
He’s a good man. That is what people are saying. He’s a good boy.’ So my father
also then agreed…When I married him, the first day, you know, when we were
registered – he used to come and go but – he said, ‘D. S. Senanayake [first
Prime Minister of Ceylon] is coming and we are protesting it.’ And he went
and 
showed black flags with the younger – that is Thanthai Chelva [Father
Chelva] 
was the leader and he [Mr Amirthalingam] was the leader for the
young group, 
youth leader. So he gathered all the youngsters and protested.
And he was 
beaten or something, at that time, by the police.’

MANGAYARKARASI AMIRTHALINGAM, 79, VADDUKODDAI