Christie Jayaratnam Eliezer – A Leader with Class
12 March 2008
One Hundred Tamils of the 20th Century
- Mamanithar Professor C.Jeyaratnam Eliezer]
March 10th marked the 7th anniversary of Professor Christie Jayaratnam Eliezer
bidding permanent adieu to us. Coming June 12th of this year also marks the 90th
birth anniversary of him. Thus, I contribute this note to a community leader
Remember that wisecrack ‘World famous in Poland’, made by the egotistical
Frederick Bronski character of comedian Mel Brooks in the movie To Be or Not
to Be (1983). Well, in the quarter century lapsed by since then, it doesn’t
surprise one that quite a few Tamils have been anointed with their Bronski
equivalents [i.e., ‘World famous in Colombo’]. Tiruchelvams, Coomaraswamys,
Hooles, Kadirgamars and Anandasangaris pops up in my mind.
In comparison to the dubious merits of these self promoters, we indeed were
lucky to have one Prof. Eliezer as a community leader amongst us, who was really
world famous. Apart from being world famous, he also was blessed with that
adoring trait, ‘class’ [defined in the dictionary, as ‘a set or category of
things having some property or attribute in common and differentiated from
others by kind, type or quality’.] Possession of this trait ‘class’
distinguished Prof. Eliezer from the other boorish ‘World famous in Colombo’
Ann Landers on ‘Class’
What constitutes ‘class’? I have clipped and saved the words of Ann Landers
(1918-2002), America’s foremost advice columnist and folk philosopher, on this
theme. Here it is, as it appeared in her syndicated column ten years ago [Asahi
Evening News, July 11, 1998], the ten criteria that characterize ‘class’.
“Class never runs scared. It is sure-footed and confident. It can handler
whatever comes along.
Class has a sense of humor. It knows that a good laugh is the best lubricant
for oiling the machinery of human relations.
Class never makes excuses. It takes its lumps and learns from past mistakes.
Class knows that good manners are nothing more than a series of small,
Class bespeaks an aristocracy that has nothing to do with ancestors or
money. Some wealthy ‘blue-bloods’ have no class, while some individuals who
are struggling to make ends meet are loaded with it.
Class is real. It can’t be faked.
Class is comfortable in its own skin. It never puts on airs.
Class never tries to build itself up by tearing others down. Class is
already up and need not strive to look better by making others look worse.
Class can ‘walk with kings and keep its virtue and talk with crowds and keep
the common touch.’ (Thank you, Rudyard Kipling.) Everyone is comfortable
with the person who has class because that person is comfortable with
If you have class, you’ve got it made. If you don’t have class, no matter
what else you have, it doesn’t make any difference.”
I provide below one example of how Prof. Eliezer handled an annoying pest with
Eliezer as a Leader with ‘Class’
Recently, I was mildly amused to see Prof. Eliezer’s name appearing in one of
the foot-notes of a recent research paper by Bruce Matthews (Professor Emeritus
of Comparative Religion at Acadia University), entitled ‘Christian Evangelical
Conversions and the Politics of Sri Lanka’ [Pacific Affairs, Fall 2007,
vol.80, p.470]. This professor from Canada had noted in his foot-note, “For
example, an estimated 10,000 people turned out for the March 2001 funeral of
C.J.Eliezer, a well-known Methodist and Australian Ceylon Tamil figure.”
The context under which Prof. Eliezer’s name had been cited by Prof. Matthews in
this foot-note is somewhat inappropriate and objectionable. And in this memorial
note, I refrain from dealing with this aspect. But the point to note is that, if
“an estimated 10,000 people turned out” [and that too in Melbourne] for the
funeral of Prof. Eliezer, it is indeed a mark of respect he had earned by his
devoted service to fellow Eelam Tamils. After all, he was neither an entertainer
nor a politician.
I had noted that Prof. Eliezer had class. Here is an anecdote which I heard when
I visited Melbourne, that attests to Ann Landers’ first two criteria of ‘class’.
Because of his involvement in the cause of Eelam Tamil nationalism, Prof.
Eliezer and his affable wife Ranee had been at the receiving end of
nuisance/harassment phone calls from a noisy, anti-Tamil crusader in Melbourne.
What troubled them was that this guy who was pestering them with such calls was
one known to them and to whom they had opened their house in the past in good
Christian spirit. To put an end to such nuisance, Prof. Eliezer found a simple
method which worked. When the pestering call came, he calmly retorted, “Will you
hold on a minute? I’ll switch on my voice recorder system.” And that effectively
terminated the contact that noisy pest enjoyed at their expense.
Here is a brief note which had appeared in the Nature (London) journal of
Aug.1, 1959 (vol.184, p. 307) contributed by Prof. R.D.Purchon that informed the
international scientific community about Prof. Eliezer’s decision to move from
the blessed island. To quote,
“The University of Malaya in Kuala Lumpur is fortunate in recruiting Prof.
C.J. Eliezer to the chair of mathematics. Prof. Eliezer is onf Ceylonese
nationality; he graduated from the Department of Mathematics at Cambridge,
was awarded the degree of D.Sc. in the University of London, and has
occupied the chair of mathematics at the University of Ceylon since 1949. He
is a mathematical physicist who is best known for his fundamental research
in the field of quantum mechanics. Having served for three years as dean of
science in the University of Ceylon, Prof. Eliezer will have much experience
to offer in the development of the new Faculty of Science at Kuala Lumpur.”
Here is another criterion of ‘class’ for scientists, that has not been mentioned
by Ann Landers. Brevity in words in expressing one’s thoughts, thus not wasting
the time of fellow peers and students constitute ‘class’. That the great Paul
Dirac (1902-1984), Prof. Eliezer’s mentor, was an exemplar on this aspect is
well known to students of science.
An example attesting for the possession of this sort of ‘class’ from Eliezer was
his communication in quantum mechanics entitled
‘Relativistic wave equations’ that appeared in the Nature journal
(Jan.11, 1947, vol.159, p.60). At that time, Eliezer was in his late 20s and was
affiliated to the Christ’s College, Cambridge University.
Since this is a technical work beyond the interest and comprehension of ordinary
folks, I have transcribed below a Welcome Address delivered by Prof. Eliezer in
1996, on a theme which is closer to our heart. This is a beauty of an address in
exactly 700 words! [excluding the last sentence, “I wish us all a good
conference.”], where Prof. Eliezer has shown by example, that words need not to
be wasted in espousing one’s beliefs and convictions, forcefully and
Human Rights and the International Community [The Welcome Address delivered
by Prof. Eliezer on June 27, 1996, at Canberra, Australia]
"We now come to the Conference theme, ‘Peace with Justice’. One of the
pleasing changes that have come about in our world has been the progressive
recognition that the Human Rights of all people are a matter of concern and
responsibility of the total international community. The late Paul Seighart
in his work The Lawful Rights of Mankind has elaborated this point of
view. I give a brief summary of his thesis:
If in 1936 a group of world leaders had called on Chancellor Adolf Hitler
and told him to stop the cruel treatment of the Jews, he could well have
replied: ‘That is not your business, but mine. This is an internal matter.’
And he would have been legally right as international law stood at the time.
If today a similar group said something similar to a modern tyrant, and he
replied it was internal matter, he would be wrong. For international law has
progressed, and the welfare of a person or community is the responsibility
of people everywhere. I now quote from Paul Seighart:
‘Today for the first time in history, how a sovereign state treats its own
citizens is no longer a matter for its own exclusive determination, but a
legitimate concern for all other states and for their inhabitants.’
The laws and practices to which Dr. Seighart refers are such things as the
UN Charter on Human Rights, the covenants on minorities, the protocols
against genocide, and so on. These vest Human Rights on every human and
sovereignty on every citizen.
Sadly there is considerable difference between theory and practice. Several
governments which are signatories to the Charter, the covenants and the
protocols pay these only lip service. Too many governments close their eyes
to violations by friendly states. So it is that wars and conflicts continue
in so many parts of the globe.
What are some causes of these conflicts? One concern is the control and use
of land. I quote from Philosophies in Peace and War, edited by Prof.
‘The would-be conqueror is always a man of peace, for he would like to enter
and occupy our land unopposed. It is in order to prevent him from doing this
that we must be willing to engage in war and prepare for it.’
Another concerns the claims and denials of self-determination. The UN
Charter approves self-determination under certain conditions. I once heard a
political scientist (Prof. Joe Camilleri) say in a lecture that something
like 900 groups round the world are eligible for nationhood, while only
about 200 are present members of the United Nations.
The Palestinian Delegation’s address to the Madrid Peace Conference in 1991
put it forcibly:
‘Self-determination, ladies and gentlemen, can neither be granted or
withheld at the whim of the political self-interest of others. For it is
enshrined in all international charters and humanitarian law. We claim
this as a right. We firmly assert it before you and in the eyes of the
rest of the world, for it is a sacred and inviolable right which we
shall relentlessly pursue and exercise with dedication and
self-confidence and pride.’
I have been speaking generally but expect that much of it will be relevant
to the conflict in Sri Lanka. I conclude with a particular comment on the
situation in Sri Lanka. Nine months ago, Government forces started their
onslaught on the Jaffna peninsula. During these nine months, the world or
local media have not been permitted access to the war zone or to report on
the condition of half a million refugees. This ‘war without witness’ surely
contravenes international law and practice.
Yet none of the big powers with their embassies in Colombo have cared to
comment on this violation. Their cowardice is staggering. Their aim is trade
and profit. An international consortium has been giving something like a
billion dollars annually to the Sri Lankan Government. Some of them claim
they do this to ensure stability to the place. In fact, it causes the
opposite. Say that you will withhold these donations until peace, and then
peace will be round the corner.
The two-day Conference will give us all a chance to discuss and reflect on
these, and other matters. I wish us all a good conference."
[Courtesy: Australasian Federation of Tamil Association Souvenir entitled
‘Peace with Justice:
International Conference on the Conflict in Sri Lanka’ – held in Canberra,
Australia, 27-28 June 1996, pp. 6-7.]