Somasunderam Nadesan Q.C.
On 80th Birthday, 1984
Honour those who are worthy of Honour
- that is the highest Blessing - Centre for Society and Religion
Eminent lawyer and a distinguished
interpreter of constitutional law - Sri Lanka Daily News
An intellect so razor sharp
- Mervyn Casie Chetty
Genius and greatness wrapped in silk -
George Mason, Attorney at Law
Service to the powerless and for the power
- Sinhala Daily, Aththa
An embodiment of erudition, clear
knowledge and simplicity - Wijaya Tilakasiri
A talk with him was a liberal education
Service at Centre for Society and Religion, 15 February 1984
From the Invitation to A Prayer Service of
Thanksgiving on the occasion of the 80th Birthday of Mr.S.Nadesan Q.C.
On the 11th of February 1984, Mr.S.Nadesan will be 80 years old. He continues to
dedicate himself to the people of our country in a special manner in the defence
of human rights. We are glad to invite you to our inter religious prayer service
at this Centre on Wednesday 15th February from 4-5.30 p.m. - Fr.Tissa
Balasuriya, O.M.I., Director, Centre for Society and Religion
1.Honour those who are worthy of Honour
According to the Buddhist Commentaries, during the time of
Lord Buddha, one day an interesting discussion arose in the Public Hall as
to what constituted a 'Blessing' (Mangala - means that which is conducive to
happiness and prosperity in this world and the next). People naturally held
diverse views. Men were so divided in their opinions that it resulted in the
formation of groups and their partisanship ultimately extended, so the story
goes, even as far as the Deva world (Heaven). Being unable to come to a
satisfactory agreement, it was finally decided to approach the Buddha and
obtain his trustworthy opinion. The leader of the group, a Deva, drew near
the presence of the Blessed One and addressed him in the following verse:
'Many deities and men yearning after good, have pondered on
Blessing (Mangala). Pray tell me the Highest Blessing.'
The Blessed One answered and came out with the Mangala Sutta
which mentions 32 blessings and the first stanza of the Mangala Sutta reads
'Not to associate with fools, to associate with the wise, and
to Honour those who are worthy of honour - that is the Highest Blessing.'
In honouring one who is worthy of honour let us all derive
inspiration and reflect more and more, not so much on his achievements and
attainments, but his selfless service to the cause of humanity, the down
trodden and the oppressed.
On this occasion in wishing Mr.S. Nadesan long life and good
health, let us recite the Karaniya Metta Sutta of loving kindness to all
The Metta Sutta
1. He who is skilled in his good, and who wishes to attain
that state of calm, should act thus:
He should be able, upright, perfectly upright, obedient, gentle and humble.
2. Contented, easily supportable, with few duties, of light
livelihood, with senses controlled, discreet, not impudent, not greedily
attached to families
3. He should not commit any slight wrong on account of which
other wise men might censure him.
May all beings be happy and secure; may their hearts be wholesome.
4. Whatever living beings there be - feeble or strong, long,
stout, or medium, short, small or large, seen or unseen, those dwelling far
or near, those who are born and those who are to be born - may all beings,
without exception, be happy minded.
5. Let none deceive another nor despise any person whatever in
any place. In anger or ill will let him not wish any harm to another.
6. Just as a mother would protect her only child at the risk
of her won life, even so let him cultivate a boundless heart toward all
7. Let his thoughts of boundless love pervade the whole world
- above, below and across without any obstruction, without any hatred,
without any enemity.
8. Whether he stands, walks, sits or lies down, as long as he
is awake, he should develop this mindfulness. This they say is the Highest
9. Not falling into error, virtuous, and endowed with Insight,
he discards attachment to sense-desires. Of a truth, he does not come again
for conception in a womb.
2.The Hymn of Creation: (Translated from the Reg. Veda by
Jean Le Mee)
Let us bring our minds to rest in
The Glory of the Divine Truth
May Truth inspire our reflection
The Origins of all the Gods.
We shall now joyfully proclaim
For future ages to behold
When the verses are recited
From the Will, the burning absolute love,
Truth arose and with it the Ocean of Possibilities,
The one who saw the splendour of creation
Unfolding before his eyes,
Can only sing its glory,
Om Shanthi Shanthi Shanthi.
3.A Bhajan in Praise of Lord Krishna: and the philosophy of
A few words of reflection on the Geetha before we listen to the
Bhajan, on the imperishability of the soul.
Never is he born, nor does he die at any time,
he has never been brought into being
Nor shall he come hereafter,
Unborn, eternal, permanent and ancient
When the body is slain, he is not slain,
As a man casts off all worn-out garments
And puts on other new ones,
So the embodied soul casts-off
The worn out bodies and enters other new ones.
No weapon can cleave him
Nor the fire burn him
No waters can make him wet,
Nor the wind dry him up.
For death is certain to one who is born,
To one who is dead, birth.
Thou should not grieve for what is unavoidable,
That man who abandoning all desires walks without attachment
Free from selfishness and vanity
It is he who will attain peace.
4.Short invocation from the Sivapuranam, the sacred work of
the Saivite Hindus:
Let us reflect on the words of the sage
I ask not kin, nor name, nor place,
Nor learned men's society.
Men's love for me no value has
I come to thee, Lord Shiva.
I had no virtue, penance, knowledge, self-control,
A Doll to turn at others whims,
I danced, I whirled, I fell,
You showed me your beauty, made me yours.
With love's mad longing
I come to thee.
5.Rendering a hymn from Rabindranath Tagore's Gitanjali in
the original Bengali:
"Where the mind is without fear and the head held high;
Where knowledge is free;
Where the world has not been broken up into fragments by narrow domestic walls;
Where words come out from the depth of truth;
Where tireless striving stretches its arms towards perfection;
Where the clear stream of reason has not lost its way in the dreary desert sand
of dead habit
Where the mind is led forward by thee into ever- widening thought and action -
Into that Heaven of freedom, my father, let my country
5.One of Mahatma Gandhi's favourite Bhajans:
- A hymn of rejoicing and a recognition of God's glory.
Let us thank the Lord for Mr. Nadesan's life and his enormous
contribution to his family, his society and his country.
Eminent lawyer and a
distinguished interpreter of constitutional law,
Sri Lanka Observer, 10 February 1984
intellect so razor
A body hale and strong
At 80 you have still the zest
For principles and human rights
You spend your talents free
And help uphold the rule of law
And save democracy"
Mervyn Casie Chetty,
Attorney at Law Greetings on Reaching 80
S.Nadesan Q.C. one of Sri Lanka's most eminent lawyers and a distinguished
interpreter of constitutional law, celebrates his 80th birthday tomorrow.
Respected as a gifted and dedicated fighter for human rights, Mr. Nadesan is
a founder member of the Civil Rights Movement and to mark his birthday, the CRM
is making arrangements to reprint two of his earlier writings.
The first "Regional
Autonomy" is the substance of an article published in the "Sunday Observer"
27 years ago, just before the signing of the Bandaranaike - Chelvanayakam pact.
The CRM's decision to get it reprinted, according to a Press release issued by
the CRM, is because it considers the arguments of special relevance to the
present and hopes that their wider dissemination will be a useful stimulant to
further discussion, though the CRM does not take any position on the subject.
The other publication to be reprlnted by the CRM is: "The Strike and Its
Aftermath" written by Mr. Nadesan for the CRM, on the strike of public servants
of 1980 when nearly 40,000 public servants lost their jobs.
The CRM release adds: "Mr. Nadesan has applied his keen intellect and
passion for justice to an amazingly wide range of human rights issues throughout
his life. A representative selection of his writings and speeches would be of
great value; it would also run into several volumes. Today CRM merely presents
two samples as a precursor to the major publication which must follow.
"Genius and greatness wrapped in silk"
- George Mason, Attorney at Law, Ceylon Daily News, 11 February 1984
Arul writing in the Saturday Review, 10 March 1984: ".. I must thank you
for publishing the birthday tribute to Mr. S. Nadesan, Q.
C., by the acting Editor of the Daily News, Mr. George Mason.
You have mentioned in your note that
article was published in the provincial edition of the
Daily News but had been pulled out
from the other
editions. I cannot see, after reading the tribute, any reason why it
should have been pulled out from the other editions. There was nothing
in it to create any dissension among the citizens of our country or to
incite any person or persons against the State! Is the first-hand
information of Mr. Nadesan's generosity and his prowess in the legal
field by a person who had known him intimately for nearly nineteen years
so dangerous to the security of our country?
May I take this opportunity to express a wish which I have been having
for a very long time? A biography of Senator Nadesan, as he is still
known, should be published. His biography would be a part of the recent
political and legal history of our country. Will some person or body
undertake this useful task?"
Life yields greatness to
some, happiness to much fewer. S. Nadesan, Q.C., who celebrates his 80th
birthday today, can claim the satisfaction of a life successfully spent in a
struggle to give consolation to others.
As one whose duties took me
to his chambers almost daily, for nearly nineteen years, I, naturally came to
know him well. I have witnessed some part of his generosity.
Every Sunday, a company of
ten or fifteen men - all in their sixties all of whom have seen better days,
perhaps - would gather at his Castle Lane home. Mr. Nadesan would ring for his
all purpose clerk Ambujan. The latter followed his master�s gaze, then left the
room and came back with a stack of hundred or fifty-rupee notes. These duly
delivered, the visitors would nod to their benefactor and leave.
I have seen young people
who had passed their medical entrance or gained admission to some engineering
course, crowd into his chambers. Each was soon drawing up a list of the text
books, he needed. I saw this not once but year after year. On one occasion,
recall a student tried to tell my senior that some cheaper or second hand
version was available. He was anxious to keep the bill as low as he could.
�I say,� replied Mr.
Nadesan in what to me always seemed a deliberately drawn out style of
speech, �I say, young man, did I ask you to compile a list of second hand
books. Tell me what you want. All you need to see you through to the best
you can do. I say, I�ll find the money. You find the time and the energy to
do your best.�
Mr Nadesan is a deeply
orthodox Hindu. Yet St. Peter�s College, a Catholic institution which stood
close by, found a ready, benefactor in him.
No, you see�, I heard him
tell a client who looked aghast when the lawyer bought one and all of the ticket
books some boys were selling prior to some concert or school show.
�No, you see; I say, those
men there are doing a great human service. I hear that Fr Panditharatne, or some
priest there, has a Ph.D in physics from
London. He has sacrificed everything in the cause of humanity as a Christian.
Surely, we owe it to them, ourselves, I say, to to help causes like that?�
I will never forget one of
the first and finest lessons I�ve learned at M Nadesan hands. Having assigned
some work to me, he got ready to leave for Hulftsdorp. At the door he paused. �I
say, George, not only your splendid phrases � I want my points too, right?�
Of himself, the Queen�s
Counsel would say �I am a lawyer by profession, a physician by vocation and
choice.� The distinction, perhaps, revealed his deeper instincts: his humanness
Once, when Ernest Corea
then Editor of the Daily News told him of a special diet he was ad�vised to
follow, Mr Nadesan cut in �I say, Ernest� tell your Doctor to return my book
when he�s finished with it, will you�!
�Mason, why ever do you
smoke like this?� he would say, urging that he was conducting a one man campaign
against smoking. His patients included Father Justin Perera and veterans like
Proctor A.C. de Alwis Seneviratne.
As a lawyer, he will always
rank with the sharpest minds the bar of this country has ever known.
I�ve heard one of our most
eminent judges address him thus: �Mr Nadesan I�d like to hear more of your own
views on this matter. I find you more illuminating than some of the authorities
Never rile the bench, he
would advise. Always remember your first duty is by your client. Never let
yourself be carried away by some idle remark from anyone however unworthy.
There was one celebrated
case in which Nadesan�s adversary addressed court for almost a fortnight. Mr.
Nadesan�s reply took less than an hour. He won.
Nadesan was not without a
sense of humour. His arch adversary, in many famous cases, the late C.
Thiagalingam, Q.C., once protested to Court at the beginning of a case one
don�t know, your honour, what my learned friend has to smile so much about. He
is wearing a broad grin, if I may use the word.�
�Ah � rose Nadesan to
explain, now visibly shaking good humouredly. �Ah, your Honour, I thank God
for a happy disposition. After all. Sir, we are not here waging war on each
other. Sir, we are trying to seek your judgement on a legal matter in a very
civil and peaceful manner. After all, Sir, I see many things to make me
happy, this fine morning. The sky is blue, the sun is shining, the birds are
singing, the flowers are blooming -- and good cheer is infectious. There you
are, I see your honour is smiling too. After all, sir, life is short. Let us
live and die smiling. For myself, Sir, I have many reasons for smiling and
not the least of them is that it seems to annoy my learned friend��
There was a roar of
laughter throughout the court. Even Thiagalingam could scare forbear a cheer.
Esmond Wickremesinghe, one
of the most astute minds of his generation, had implicit faith in Nadesan as a
lawyer. His tactics, his court craft -
all suited the limitless situations that arose in journalism.
Nadesan is a tireless
worker. His own capacity speaks for his health programme. Often at 3 in the
morning when I was plainly under strain, he would say, �George, you�re tired.
Get home and rest. I�ll sit up for another hour or two. Don�t be worried.
Sometimes for all this study I go in and play it by ear.
To a fanatic who was
mounting a fierce anti Catholic campaign in the sixties, Nadesan said; �I say, I
hold nothing particularly against them. These people think they alone know the
way to Heaven. They may be wrong. But I admire their generous instinct. 'We know
the way and we are determined to take you along with us'. One cannot complain
that they are shutting the gates on us or refusing to share what they consider
their good fortune.�
Mr. Nadesan has written
several brilliant monographs, on the Constitution and on Human Rights, among
other subjects. He has contributed the most stimulating studies to the Press. In
the Senate, his speeches were clear, fearless and learned.
He was - and is - always
ready to fight the cause of the underdog. His clients have been legion. His
Sinhala friends are without number.
I once had occasion to look
for some authority in his library. �I say, Mason,� he interrupted, �surely you
know. I�m not exactly an academic or one who relies overmuch on learned tomes. I
try to think out a solution and then test it with precedents and commentaries I
can lay hold of.�
This was a technique that
the late H.V. Perera, Q.C., once said he himself used to adopt.
Mr. Nadesan has never
betrayed any hint of conceit or malice. A man with a deep philosophic turn of
mind, he is steeped in religious literature, in historical works and political
It is a well-deserved
tribute to the man that he held an esteemed place in the Senate almost
throughout the entire period that we in this country claimed a Second Chamber, a
tribute to him and a tribute and pride to the people of this land, no less.
At eighty, S. Nadesan enjoys a fine clear and
astute mind. He blends in himself a fine balance of a rare mental talent and a
large and generous heart. He has added lustre to our legal history: lustre to
our history as a people. I have known him to help many; never to hurt anyone by
so much as an unkind word.
Service to the powerless and for the
power of truth and the cause of justice
English translation of
Editorial of the Sinhala Daily, Aththa, Colombo, 11 February 1984
Mr.Nadesan who turned 80 on 11 February 1984 is one of the most remarkable
and admirable sons of the 20th century in Sri Lanka. He was born at the dawn of
the century and now lives to see it coming to its end. He has witnessed and has
been a participant in all the major events that have transformed our country.
I will touch on only a few aspects of his personality. He is a person of
great simplicity, personal charm and intense dedication to truth and the cause
of justice. He lives a very simple life in the heart of Colombo. He gets up
early in the morning. By 5 a.m., he is on the roads - often in a pair of shorts
and shirt and walks four to six miles. He does so almost daily. He has no car.
The roads of Colombo are his path for this morning exercise that is both
physical and spiritual. His food is simple, vegetarian. He goes to Courts before
10 a.m. During an important case - like in the defence of Aththa or the
Saturday Review, he is on his feet from 10 a.m. to 12.30 p.m. and 1.30 p.m. to
3.30 p.m. addressing the Judges. All he takes for lunch are two bananas
(anamalu) which he carries in his brief case. He believes in nature cure and a
balanced diet. His advice is readily available to those who wish to consult him
concerning simple living.
A second characteristic of his simplicity is his single minded devotion to
truth and justice. He feels strongly when injustice is done, specially to the
poor and the weak. He does not like the all powerful to get away with injustice.
The law is his weapon for justice. He therefore takes the causes of the
oppressed, specially in matters of human rights. He does not charge a fee when
takes up a case for human rights. In a long career he has won many celebrated
cases and championed many more - even when the odds were against him. More
recent cases were the
Pavidi Handa case during the referendum, the Kalawana Bye Election and the
He studies an issue very deeply. He is not only one of the most knowledgeable
of our lawyers, but also one of the most hard working. He thinks out his case in
depth. When he walks about on the road, he is thinking of the defence of the
rights of the citizen in a difficult situation. He reflects deeply on the
Constitution and the law on human rights and freedom. Brilliant insights
concerning the law and justice come to him due to such single minded attention
to his cause. He works long hours to prepare his material for presentation. For
him Judges are like his students. He feels he has to instruct them. He has had
to defend the rights of the Supreme Court even when the Judges themselves did
not take the initiative - as last year, concerning their oaths under the 6th
Amendment to the Constitution.
He is courageous, fearless and unmindful of the consequences to his
person. When a pistol was placed in front of his chest during the
on polling day, all he said was 'shoot'. This made the younger men withdraw
with the pistol. He is cool and determined in the struggle for justice, when
many others feel it is safer to keep silent. His courage is infectious. He
is a livewire of the Civil Rights Movement, which has defended human rights
courageously during the past 17 years.
He has told us that what gives him strength amid the encircling gloom of our
society is the inner flame burning within him. The consciousness of a union with
the absolute and of the presence of a bright spark of the divine within him and
in all others motivates him, animates him and sustains him. His religiosity is
both internal to him and expresses itself in service to others and the
Mr.Nadesan is one of the greatest Sri Lankans of modern times. We are
grateful to him for his life and work and to God for him and for being an
inspiration for such devotion to human liberation. His contribution and message
is of a deeper nature than that of those who are in power for some period of
time - for his is a service to the powerless and for the power of truth and the
cause of justice.
May he be long with us to render much further service to our people and to
Devotional Homage by
5 February 1984, in Aththa, Sinhala Daily
Translation of Poem
in Sinhalese by Kulasiri Rajapakse
who is an embodiment of erudition, clear knowledge and simplicity,
shown the country the correct path through every one of his speeches and
who has shown the weaknesses in the law and
who has cultivated
noble qualities in the heart of the common man,
You have reached the 80th
milepost in the road of life.
You who have said that the progress of the
country will be hampered by communal discord, and
through such independent
thinking has sought constant peace
Your name is honoured not only in our
country but all over the world.
You have not worn the mantle of erudition to show
off, but you are above others
because of your manly qualities - and also
because you have set sail a big struggle for the rights of the masses of this
That is enough to glorify your name not only for the present but also
for the indefinite future.
You who have shown the country the need to
protect civil rights and
who have rallied together a body of learned
intellectuals to fight for this cause
And also you have cleared the people's
minds of irrational ideas and servility - and by
opening up that new road
gave a new life to the masses of this country
Though some people went against your views and
treated them like poison, today,
it is clear as crystal the meaning of the
value of human rights
In the world thousands of learned men may emerge, but
your greatness will prevail from era to era
firm, and strong as a rock
A talk with him was a
liberal education -
Sri Lanka Sun, 9 February 1984
It is my pleasure to write a few words of appreciation of the
life and work of the famous advocate and Queen's Counsel, S. Nadesan, who
celebrates his 80th birthday on Saturday.
I came to know
Nadesan at the Ceylon University College in 1925 and struck a friendship
with him which has endured for 60 years. He walked with people high and low, but
never lost the common touch. A talk with him was a piece of liberal education.
Mr. Nadesan is a well learned man. I have listened to him very often about
nature cure, vegetarianism, balanced diet, arthritis, Sinhala,
Mahatma Gandhi and
Wedgewood Benn. He has a monumental memory.
He was left with his only
Satyendra when his wife
died. He accepted the calamity philosophically. Father and son were thrown
together more and more and it was interesting to watch the evolution of a
relationship that resulted in the child becoming the father of the man.
Satyendra is now a famous advocate in his own right and the father is justly
proud of him. Nadesan told me one day that Satyendra was riding on a crest.
Nadesan is a generous man. Very few people know of his generosity, for, his
"right hand doth not know what his left hand doeth". He has given to a number of
charitable causes and what is more, he has helped many friends and acquaintances
to rehabilitate themselves.
From the generous monthly allowances he used to give his wife, she gave
freely, to charitable causes. One day I saw her looking through the Observer
Directory to find charitable causes to help. It was interesting to see the
evolution of a sublime relationship that existed between father, mother and son.
When Satyendra left for England for the first time and Nadesan's wife was no
more, I pitied Nadesan as he was going to be left alone. But this proved to be a
groundless fear. He could adjust himself to any situation. With his busy
practice, his voluminous writings and his many friends, he was never really
Nadesan can look back upon his life and work with great satisfaction and we,
his friends thank God for a life usefully lived. We wish him many more years of
health and happiness.