COLOMBO: As former Indian President A.P.J.Abdul Kalam was laid to rest at Rameswaram across the Palk Strait on Thursday, Sri Lankans mourned his death and recalled his association with the island nation which was longer than people imagine.
Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe said in his message that Kalam had told him that many of his relations were living in Anuradhapura, Mannar and Puttalam. Former Lankan MP, A.H.M.Azwer, told Express that a close relation by marriage was living in Anuradhapura but had moved to Chilaw about three years ago.
“Kalam’s relations are said to be living in Kesselwatte (Vazhatottam) area of Central Colombo also. They are petty traders or in the lower ranks of the white collar occupations,” Azwer said.
Kalam himself came from a lower middle class boat operator’s family which he had to support in his boyhood by vending newspapers every morning.
The Marakkayar or Marikkar community of Tamil-speaking boatmen cum traders of Arab origin, to which Kalam belonged, are spread across Tamil Nadu, Kerala and Sri Lanka.
Prime Minister Wickremesinghe recalled that when Kalam mentioned his kinship ties with Sri Lanka, there was a “lively” discussion. “He had, in the distant past, on many an occasion, entered Sri Lanka illegally, as was the practice in those areas in the 1950s,” the Prime Minister said.
In the 1950s and into the 1960s, when border security was weak at both ends of the Palk Strait, there was much unauthorized two-way traffic between the coastal areas of Tamil Nadu and the North Western and Northern coastlines of Lanka. As per the folklore of North Lanka, cinema crazy youth of Jaffna and Mannar used to take a boat to the coastal towns of Tamil Nadu to see first shows of films featuring their favorite stars like Sivaji Ganesan and MGR and return early next morning.
“I had accompanied him when he visited Jaffna in January 2012. I persuaded him to talk to the Northern Tamil fishermen who were suffering because of intrusions by Indian fishermen. Kalam met them and suggested that Indian and Lankan fishermen be given exclusive fishing rights for three months each. If this proposal had been implemented, the problem would have neared solution,” Azwer said.
Wickremesinghe noted that another interest he shared with Kalam was the latter’s PURA concept (Provision of Urban Amenities to the Rural Areas). The Lankan Prime Minister plans to form “cluster villages” and provide all modern facilities to each of these clusters on the lines of Kalam’s PURA scheme.
Tamil associations and some political parties had inserted obituary notices in the newspapers as a mark of respect for the much loved Dr.Kalam.