M Sivaram – The Consummate Journalist

SE Asia’s roving newshound

News used to be reported from the source with engaging text by journalists, and the challenges they faced and the risks they took are fodder for so many thrilling tales. These days, however, distant back offices help complete news bits with little personal involvement, and pretty soon we will see AI engines churn them out instead. Perhaps it is time to take you back 80 years and get to know a journalist who lived through two world wars and delivered news articles from many locations under duress. This interesting gent who evoked envy and grudging admiration among his peers and juniors, and delivered many a scoop in the 40s and 50s, was none other than Madhavan Sivaram, the intrepid journalist and author of many seminal works from his time.

Old-timers may recall this softspoken gentleman at work, hobnobbing with army brass and the colonial gentry, royalty as well as the peasants, the INA or INC bigwigs, all with ease. Some of his coworkers on the other hand, would remember a hunched man sitting at his table, sleeves rolled up, a cigarette dangling from his lips with its smoke curling lazily away into the rafters, a mug of beer or a glass of gin at arm’s length, as his forefingers pecked away furiously on his typewriter. That was the picture Sivaram presented to a curious observer. Don’t you think you want to know a bit more about him and the 65 years of his heady life? Thottapally Madhavan Sivarama Pillay’s relentless urge to shine and see the world would take him all over Southeast Asia, as he delivered scores of news articles, reporting on the loosening colonial grip on those nations, and many days of war which followed.

Sivaram was born in Nov 1907 in Travancore’s Kuttanad region (South of Alleppey), hailing from the Konnavath tharavad. It would be incredibly difficult for a lay reader to fathom how a boy who never completed college, who worked briefly as a schoolteacher and married young, decided one fine day to simply leave his home and wife Janamma, to chase his dreams and make something of himself in 1929. Fortuitously, or not, after hours of self-study, he had mastered English, and this was to stand in good stead as he prepared to seek a job in the busy metropolis.

Sivaram as we can understand, landed up at the doors of the Associated Press of India (API) offices, in Bombay. Life in Bombay was certainly not fun, post WW 1, as press censorship was rife, newsprint was scarce, working conditions were tough, and the salary was meager. Sivarama Pillay had by then become M Sivaram. When a more affluent life beckoned in Rangoon, much like Dubai and the Gulf these days, Sivaram boarded a ship to Burma, and armed with the short experience at API, took up a job with a Rangoon newspaper as a proofreader. After a short stint in Rangoon, he moved on to take up an Asst Editor’s post in the fledgling newspaper “Nation” in Bangkok. Pretty soon, his skills became apparent to the news fraternity, and he snagged an even better offer as chief editor at the ‘Bangkok Chronicle’.

Bangkok became his home for the next 10 years. His wife Janamma joined him, and his three children were born there. Sivaram’s newspaper career thrived and as Siam was growing from a small kingdom to a lively republic, Sivaram formed a great relationship with the King and many other luminaries in Bangkok. His first book; The New Siam in the Making - A Survey of the Political Transition in Siam, 1932-1936’ was written during this period. A close friend of the King of Thailand and the Prime Minister Field Marshal — Song-Khram, he was the recipient of the Thai ‘Medal for Home Defense’ (equivalent to the Iron Cross – which saved him from being shot at least twice), and was highly respected in Siam. It is said that the king awarded him together with the medal, a grant of 40 acres of land in central Bangkok, which the journalist politely refused. A second work followed – ‘Mekong Clash and Far East Crisis: A Survey of the Thailand-Indochina Conflict and the Japanese Mediation and Their General Repercussions on the Far Eastern Situation 1941’. Those happy days in Siam are narrated in his book - Road to Delhi. A profile entry mentions that he also did some stints in Singapore & Hong Kong (Hong Kong Courier).

In India, the freedom struggle was heating up, and but naturally, expatriates in SE Asia took notice and formed associations and groups, in solidarity. Speeches by Gandhi, Nehru, and other INC leaders were eagerly followed, and local procession meetings, as well as protest gatherings, increased. Sleepy estates with large numbers of Tamil and Telugu laborers joined processions supporting the freedom movement. We had previously studied the IIL activities, formation, and development while discussing TP Kumaran Nair, N Raghavan, and AM Nair. Sivaram too was drawn into the Indian Independence League activities which had originally been concentrated to just Singapore.

To recap the IIL moves – Rash Behari Bose, who had fled India to seek refuge in Japan, had cemented his relationship with the Japanese and established himself in Tokyo, forming an Indian association in 1926. In 1937, the IIL Japan branch had been set up. The Indian Independence League IIL was a political organization, formed to fight for Indian Independence, but also carrying out local social service. Soon the organization boasted branches in every city which had a sizeable Indian community. Sivaram got involved in Bangkok’s IIL activities, as well. Another character whom we have talked about previously and central to the INA organization, namely SA Iyer had also arrived in Bangkok and was working as the Reuters correspondent for SE Asia.

Meanwhile in 1939, war had spread in Europe. Japan was at the war front too but fighting the Koreans and the Chinese. AM Nair, Bose’s deputy in Japan, was the ‘Ronin in Manchuria’, a story which I had recounted some years ago. Indians fighting for freedom now saw a new opportunity to press their case. While Germany was annihilating opposition on the European front, the Japanese, convinced by Rash Behari Bose and AM Nair, decided to support the Indians, albeit to ease their own way into the Indian border through Burma. The Indians in SE Asia had a problem though, the INC supported China, which was at war with Japan, so all influential Indians were anti-Japan. The astute journalist sensed the looming war clouds and potential war movements in SE Asia, left for India on a cargo ship going to Nagapattinam in Nov 1941, to drop his wife and family at Travancore, and quickly returned to Bangkok. For the next 5 years, Sivaram was to operate alone, flitting between Malaya, Singapore, Rangoon and Bangkok.

In Dec 1941, Japan attacked America at Pearl Harbor and joined the Axis powers. The war in Europe had become a world war. The Japanese war machine defeated the British at Singapore, sped through Malaya, and stopped at Burma to recoup and restock. The Indian frontier at Assam was next, and while they waited at Rangoon, the defeated British Indian army soldiers were contacted by the IIL leaders and reconstitute themselves for Indian liberation, marching side by side with the Japanese. Indians in SE Asia rallied to the calls of the IIL and saw in the Japanese a friendly ally. The Thailand government concluded an alliance with Japan after a 5-hour resistance and Sivaram decided to stay and brave it out in Bangkok, concentrating on IIL’s activities.

The formal incorporation of the IIL was announced in Bangkok in June 1942 and as you can imagine, AM Nair and Rash Behari Bose leading those efforts, were supported by Sivaram and Iyer who were residents there. Nair convinced Bose that the IIL management should include Sivaram. As Nair explains - Rash Behari at once agreed and decided to nominate him as the League’s spokesman and publicity officer. Sivaram, captivated by Rash Behari’s charming personality and persuasive manner, discarded all other activity, and joined the League heart and soul, to handle its publicity portfolio. With the help of M. Sivaram and the support of S.A. Iyer, we organized a good publicity campaign in Bangkok, both in the newspaper media and over the radio.

Sivaram wanted Iyer (in the lurch since Reuters London had no instructions for him) to join him but was not able to convince him initially, as he considered working for the Japanese quite dangerous. Aiyer adds- Sivaram coaxed, cajoled, and literally dragged me to Rash Behari much against my will. Not even a hundred Sivarams could have dragged me away from Rash Behari after that first meeting. Rash Behari had a specially warm corner in his heart for Sivaram because, unlike me, Sivaram threw himself heart and soul into the movement from the moment Rash Behari reached Bangkok. And the old man being very human first and last, responded to this gallant gesture of Sivaram with a love and affection which would bring out tears even in the eyes of brutes. And Sivaram, for his part, today carries the sacred memory of his Sensai (teacher) in the warmest corner of his heart, and sustains himself with it night and day, wherever he may be.

The IIL team moved to Japan controlled Singapore to set up the publicity department at their new headquarters. Sivaram, Iyer, and Nair stayed together, Sivaram would listen to all the important radio broadcasts from overseas stations and prepare texts of newscasts to be put out from the League’s Radio station and he then fed the required inputs to a large fleet of translators, announcers, typists, etc. Nair explains - In addition to radio publicity, we undertook the publication of a newspaper in four different languages: English, Hindi, Tamil, and Malayalam. The paper was printed under our own arrangements and widely distributed to the large Indian population throughout Malaya. Our radio broadcasts which on an average lasted about six hours daily, covered about 15 Indian languages, besides English. They would often go on until late in the evening. Sivaram worked like a Trojan, with a very small staff. I used to wonder how, with his frail constitution, he managed to produce so much of work. He was a very thin man, and what was worse, a vegetarian. I think he derived all his nourishment from the beer (which he explained later was very difficult to source in war-torn Singapore) which he would keep sipping whenever he was under heavy stress. He was a popular figure wherever he went.

Rash Behari was however a very ill man, suffering from TB, and so the freshly constituted INA required new blood. The charismatic Subhas Bose who arrived from Japan after Berlin, was introduced to the IIL unit in Singapore, arriving there in 1943. Bose, Nair, Iyer, and others such as KP Keshava Menon, N Raghavan, etc. teamed up to create the new INA, with Subhas Bose in command. Needless to state that the situation became a bit turbulent as Subhas Bose who tended to be quite authoritative at times, sidelined the popular KP Kesava Menon who muttered about Bose’s fascist dictatorial stance, and had him jailed. It is all a long story and suffice to mention that the overriding desire to obtain Indian freedom became foremost in everybody’s mind. They maintained strict discipline and secrecy – Iyer mentions - My friend and colleague, Sivaram, also did not send even a single message (home to family in India), although we two, discharged, among others, the duties of the Director and Deputy Director respectively of the Singapore Radio Station of the Azad Hind Government.

Sivaram with Subhas Bose
Nair remarks - Subhas knew our view very well. Sivaram and I had on several occasions tried to persuade him to re-orient his ideas, but his nature, sincere though it was, had such an inflexibility and obduracy about it that he would not correct himself even if there were very good reasons why he should. We were reminded of a Malayalam proverb describing a man who insisted that ‘the horse he had caught had two horns’, even if no one could see even one on it. Subhas always kept a distance between himself and his co-workers: he seemed to entertain a sort of ‘Master-Servant’ complex. Moreover, it was unfortunate that he exhibited a vague kind of suspicion towards those who had been in close association with Rash Behari, the list included me and Sivaram. The Publicity Department which Sivaram and I had painstakingly organized into an efficient body, received a set-back. Through our widely distributed news bulletins in various languages, and through the radio network, we had implemented a systematic scheme of propaganda in support of the Indian National Congress. The position changed under Subhas. He did not seem to want to work according to any policy in respect of publicity. His approach was merely one of bellicosity, exhibited in fits and starts.

But eventually, a working relationship was established, egos were mostly forgotten, and the publicity group moved to Burma. On the professional front, even though working for the IIL and the INA, Sivaram was working for Reuters as well as their regional manager and chief correspondent. He is one of the rare writers who recalled the tragic recruitment and virtual enslavement of the many thousand Tamils who were put to work on the Thai Burma death railway and of the thousands who perished.

AM Nair continues - A little earlier, around October 1943, Sivaram and a small publicity staff under him had proceeded to Rangoon under Subhas’ instruction, to reorganize the propaganda work there. Initially, Lt. Colonel Kitabe, the head of the Hikari Kikan in Burma, was unhelpful, but Sivaram soon won him over with his tact and managed to set up an effective publicity organization for conducting programs from Radio Rangoon. It was a risky assignment since the whole area was exposed to British bombing. Sivaram’s house was hit during one of the raids. It was a miracle that he survived. The Azad Hind, selling at 5 cents a copy and boasting English and Tamil editions, was a leading example of Sivaram’s work. It was structured along the lines of the Singapore newspaper. He had as many as 300 young men training under him for this work.

In 1944, Bose, who believed that Gandhi, Jinnah, and Nehru would never fight against the British, moved to Rangoon and spearheaded the ill-fated Arakan campaign which stuttered, stalled, and eventually collapsed at Imphal. After the Imphal debacle, Sivaram, who had been unhappy in Rangoon, though still holding Bose in high regard, resigned from the INA, and returned to Singapore to continue with INA publicity work. However, were not going well there either, and it was decided to send Nair and Sivaram back to Japan. Sivaram was to go there to study Japanese diplomatic practices and procedures, which could be useful in the new India under Bose. Together with his ten publicity assistants, Sivaram joined Nair in Tokyo during the second week of Oct 1944.

Living in Tokyo was incredibly dangerous, Tokyo and other cities in Japan were under heavy American bombardment, and the situation was worsening every day. Sivaram and Nair did whatever was possible, to keep up the broadcasts from Radio Tokyo, covering many events, but they knew that the end was near. As the situation became dire, Nair arranged for Sivaram’s departure back to Singapore with a military escort, and the latter managed to get out, just before Rash Behari passed away in Jan 1945 (Another source however mentions that Sivaram went to South Siam). Aiyer corroborates - M. Sivaram, the spokesman of the Provisional Government of Free India, took them to Tokyo, put them in the way (running the radio station even after others had stopped) and returned to Singapore after a few months.

The British were moving in to retake Burma and as the Japanese situation became untenable, the Azad Hind government withdrew from Rangoon to Singapore, along with the remnants of the 1st Division and the Rani of Jhansi Regiment. Bose planned to go to the Soviet Union via Manchuria and according to reports, died from third-degree burns received when his overloaded plane crashed in Japanese Taiwan on August 18, 1945.

Whatever happened to Ayer and Sivaram? Ayer was taken to Delhi to give evidence and became a key defense witness in the first INA trial. Janamma was informed by Ayer that Sivaram was presumed dead, but refused to believe the news. That was the first announcement of Sivaram’s death, which was soon voided by Aiyer who later confirmed that he was alive and healthy. Sivaram got back to Mavelikkara, after selling his typewriter for passage, and it is understood that he was interrogated by the British later.

Sivaram went back to Bangkok and continued as a roving correspondent for PTI and Reuters as their foreign editor. Alexander, his old Travancore friend at Bangkok, was still around and running his brass, silver, and jewelry business, the popular Alex & Co, at Oriental Ave.

Sivaram recorded the biggest scoop in his journalism career reporting the gunning down of Burma’s first Prime Minister Aung Sang with his ministers. Sivaram recounts (Brave New Burma – Democratic world 1981) – I happened to be in Rangoon those days, as a correspondent for Reuters. By some queer luck, I was standing at the telegraph office, opposite the secretariat when the gunmen drove in, in two Jeeps, shooting right and left. I ran after the gunmen who drove out in less than two minutes, shooting in all directions. I peeped into the cabinet room, which was left open by the gunmen, to find Aung San and his colleagues in a pool of blood, and the walls of the room plastered with bullets. I ran back to the telegraph office and managed to send a brief urgent cable, which got out before the Government clamped down a twenty-four-hour censorship of all news from Burma. That little story, of the grim tragedy in Rangoon, was one of the three major world scoops of 1947. Later U Saw was tried and hanged for the mass murder of ministers.

Oct 1950 – The Chinese accession of Tibet, and the statement from Chinese officials that the action was carried out to forestall an Anglo-American plot against China, with Indian support, was reported by Sivaram.

After these dispatches, Sivaram was treated with great suspicion by the Chinese, since PTI was now being considered imperialist due to the Reuters connection. Sivaram decided to leave China and managed to do so eventually. He continued his Reuters reporting from Hong Kong and his expose of Chinese plans & preparations to enter the Korean War, was suppressed by the Indian government. His report was not appreciated by the Indian foreign ministry and his PTI report was blocked (It started thus – “Communist China has completed preparations to throw half a million crack troops into the battle for Korea ' even at the risk of a major war”), it is believed at the behest of Nehru and NG Ayyangar (Nehru later fumed in parliament that Sivaram’s reports were indiscreet, exaggerated, and unhelpful), since India supported China in those days. Reuters abided by this suppression, and the only reporting was in Australian newspapers. As it transpired, Sivaram's report was perhaps the most brilliant one sent by any correspondent during the entire Korean War, forecasting with accuracy, the political and military developments.

Korean War 1950-53 – I had written about the Korean War and the role of VKKM, Thimayya, Kaul, etc., but did not cover Sivaram who was also there as the PTI correspondent. After failed attempts at negotiations on unification, the North Korean military (KPA) crossed the border and drove into South Korea on 25 June 1950. Later in October 1950, Mao’s PRC committed approximately 260,000 troops to combat. Chinese troops attacked and surprised the UN forces, inflicting heavy losses while driving them down the peninsula in disarray. The Chinese continued with more brutal offensives between October 1950 and April 1951 but failed to impose a communist government on a unified Korea.  

Sivaram’s report - Inside Soviet China, 1951, and his articles Behind the silken curtain - China people's Democracy is a Fraud, dated May 1951, Mao-ism - Red China's New National Culture in the Malaya Tribune, 18 January 1951 are quite interesting reads. Later, parts of his China diary were serialized in the ‘Democratic World’ journal. Considered a SE Asian expert, he could speak Burmese, Malay, Thai, Indonesian, and a smattering of Chinese, Japanese, Vietnamese, and Korean. Of course, you should add English, Tamil, Malayalam, and Hindustani to the polyglots list. Let’s now pause and check what happened at Korea.

Sivaram holds the honor of being the first non-communist correspondent to cover the war in Korea from both sides of the parallel. Interestingly it was at this juncture that Col MK Unni Nayar of Palghat was killed in a mine accident, together with two other journalists. Usually, Unni was accompanied by his friend and countryman Sivaram, but Sivaram had flown to Japan the previous day for R&R, and the press, assuming that Sivaram was one of the journalists killed, reported his death, wrongly, for a second time.

The next scoop was from Cairo – On 23 July 1952 at about 1 am, Free Officers launched the revolution with a coup d'état to depose Farouk. It was Sivaram who reported exclusively from Cairo on the ouster of Prince Faroukh of Egypt in 1952 and the army takeover by Gen Naguib.

Journalist Kamath continues the story, in his memoir - Sivaram had fallen foul of Jawaharlal Nehru in his coverage of the Korean War for the Press Trust of India and had retired from PTI, when we took him. And that was how Sivaram ended up joining the Free Press Journal after Sadanand passed away. SA Aiyer (who was at that time the director of Information in the Bombay govt) had recommended him and he was appointed as FPJ’s Acting Editor, with AB Nair as his mentor.  However, he did not get along well there, as an anti-communist, editing a left-leaning newspaper.  Sarat Chandran Nair and others have left accounts of Sivaram’s days at FPJ and how Janamma used to treat all his Malayali friends with home-cooked food etc. Interestingly, Kamat remarks that he had edited Aiyer’s ‘Unto him my witness’, but Aiyer states in the book that Sivaram edited his book in 1951.

He moved on to the AIR in 1953 as its Director of News service, though after a couple of years, he was back to journalism as the Editor of the India news service (He did give an AIR talk on Rash Behari in Jan 1959). Five years later he went back to SE Asia – as the editor-in-chief of Malayan Times in 1962 but returned to India after legal issues with the paper’s owner who owed him $16,000 in back wages.

He then took up roles at the Indian Express, first as a Consultant at the International press institute in 1962, then in 1964 as Indian Express Bureau chief, and again as Consultant International press institute in 1965 (It was during this period that he wrote about Vietnam and its people. The Vietnam war, why? Which was published in 1966). His last assignment was with the SE Asia Press Institute on behalf of the IPI Zurich at KL and Jakarta – 1966-67, this was when the ‘Malaysia’ book was penned. As an IPI consultant, he took classes for budding journalists in Korea & Singapore – on how to write a lead and edit a copy, where to look for a story, what investigative reporting was all about, the basic principles of good writing, clean makeup and creating a smart headline. I wish I had a chance to attend something like that!! It proved very popular, and Sivaram had to split the eager participants into multiple groups.

One of his last official acts was to interview Swami Chinmayanada (who had once been a journalist as well, for the National Herald!) in April 1968, as well as deliver a talk on the Azad Hind in Oct 1968, for the AIR. In addition to reporting for Reuters London, he did a stint at the UN in New York and contributed to The Sunday Times and The Guardian. He also gave evidence to the Khosla Commission in the 70s.

Fatigue must have been gnawing at his bones, he finally retired and moved to his new home ‘Newshouse’ at Kowdiar in Trivandrum, nevertheless, continuing to file some reports for Nava Bharat Times. He then helped set up the Trivandrum press club and became its president, and started the Institute of Journalism in 1968, training young journalists and regaling them with many of his experiences.

Sivaram passed away after a heart attack on Nov 20th, 1972. The pen that drafted many a thousand words would write no more and the typewriter that delivered many a finished article, was to remain silent – its clickety-clack silenced forever.  

Today he is remembered through the M Sivaram Award for News Stories and Features.


Road to Delhi – M Sivaram

Mahacharithamala Vol 65 - R Radhakrishnan, Suresh Vellimangalam

Unto him a Witness - SA Aiyer

An Indian Freedom Fighter in Japan: Memoirs of A.M. Nair

The Dismantling of India – in 35 portraits – TJS George

Ottayan, Ghoshayatra – TJS George

Democratic word – Sivaram’s diary extracts

Photos – Courtesy Ananda Sivaram, Mahacharithamala

Many thanks to Anitha Devi Pillai at Singapore, for helping me establish contact with Ananda Sivaram, M Sivaram’s eldest son, and my gratitude to Ananda for talking to me and providing me with inputs, news clippings, and magazine extracts.

Related articles – Maddy’s Ramblings

AM Nair Ronin-extraordinaire 

Swaraj Institute Part 1, Part 2 

Nedyam Raghavan 

Peace at the 38th - Korea war 

Cyril Stracey 

Propaganda wars - Azad Hind

Azad Hind Bank 


Conceição – Our new book

 The Sad Story of the Conceição – Published by the Chagos Conservation Trust (CCT)

Sometimes I wonder at the surprising turns that life takes. I was researching for material to add meat to the article that I was preparing on Deigo Garcia and chanced upon a site related to the Chagos Archipelago, where I found an old copy of ‘Chagos News’. In there, I did not find much on Diego Garcia as such, but I chanced on an article by Nigel Wenban-Smith, on the sinking of an India-bound Portuguese Nau called Conceição (Conception) in 1555. Intrigued, I read it up and when I saw that it was about a shipwreck among those islands, I became very interested, desiring to get to the bottom of the story. This was in my wheelhouse, so to say, and melded with the many Portuguese studies I had made, while at the same time being on the fringes of the Diego Garcia research. I obtained a copy of the survivor Rangel’s account of the shipwreck in Portuguese, but an online translation did not prove to be very helpful.

As I had worked on a couple of shipwreck stories before this, I had a vague idea of the sailing routines and how complex it was in those days. Remember there was no GPS, no good maps (it was just 7 years after Vasco Da Gama had made it to Malabar), or dependable sailing instructions to Cochin. Sailing was still done using celestial navigation, with astrolabes, and assisted by clues provided by mother nature (color of water, flight of birds, etc.). I decided to contact the author of the article in the Chagos News and was pleasantly surprised to receive a detailed and quick reply from him, stating that his research into the wreck was incomplete and wondering if we could make something out of it, together. Preying on his mind was a question - did the ship get wrecked in the Chagos or further North?

Without hesitation, I agreed, and this was amid the Pandemic years, July 2021, to be precise. The subsequent long-distance collaboration across the Atlantic, over 120 emails, resulted in our ending up as coauthors of the newly published book – The Sad Story of The Conceição.

A bit about Nigel my coauthor - Nigel Wenban-Smith’s career in the British Diplomatic Service (Ireland, Belgium, Canada, East Africa, Malawi) included a spell as Commissioner for the British Indian Ocean Territory in the early 1980s. This sparked his interest in the conservation of the Chagos Archipelago, which led to his involvement, after retirement, in the Friends of the Chagos (now the Chagos Conservation Trust), including six years as its chairman. Over the past decade, he has turned his attention increasingly to the archipelago's little-known history.

While Nigel concentrated on a proper translation of Rangel’s account and the arrangement of the book itself, I provided the background to the voyage, the portions connected to the Portuguese trade with Calicut & Cochin, the India run, the establishment of Estado da India, etc. Careful checking of the account of Rangel and the maps of that period, to zoom in on potential locations where the ship was wrecked, became our final task.

The Chagos News (Feb 2023) introduced the upcoming book thus - The earlier Chagos: A History, explained: “Unfortunately, Jesuit records shed no light whatsoever on where exactly the Conceição went aground, how the survivors found their way to India, or how many perished”. The new book brings new clarity to those far-off events. And the survivor Manoel Rangel’s hardships and courage in tackling them provide a fascinating read in their own right – his account also offers clues as to the wreck site…

However, as in all good detective stories, his clues point in different directions, while learned commentators disagree with one another on practically every point. To thicken the plot, modern experts, deeply familiar with the seas concerned, pounce on each solution the authors propose. As if this were not enough, Rangel’s numbers challenge Manmadhan and Wenban-Smith’s attempt to provide an accurate body count.

I am sure readers will share our excitement as we follow the course of the ill-fated ship and the travails of its hapless passengers.

The book will soon be available for purchase in the UK, please visit the Chagos Conservation Trust website below. Presumably, it will be available in India and the US, sometime in the future. Check for ordering at – Link and Link

We hope you enjoy reading it as much as we enjoyed writing it. 

A note about the Chagos Archipelago - Chagos, about 315 miles south of Maldives, was forgotten for a while, after the Cold War. But its importance is growing due to changing geopolitical balances, while at the same time, the actions of the British in the past are being questioned, especially the fate of the native Chagossians who were expelled and relocated to Mauritius. Britain was gradually dismantling its empire in the 60s and during discussions over the independence of Mauritius, they acquired 58 remote islands comprising the Chagos Archipelago from Mauritius. This then came to be known as the British Indian Ocean Territory (BIOT). Between 1968 and 1973 the island population was expelled, and the area was leased to the US. The Chagos Islands were a strategic spot from which they maintained a strategic presence in the Indian Ocean. Diego Garcia, the largest, is now an American military base. While the UK represents the territory internationally, Mauritius is emphatic over their claims on the islands as well as compensation for the expelled Chagossians. These matters continue to be discussed, disputed, and contested.


The Ceylon Malayalees

Travails of the Kochiyan…

It is difficult to quantify the waves of migrations between Kerala and Ceylon – Sri Lanka over time, and the lines are quite blurred, but then again, there was a time when the relations between Malayalees and the Sinhalese in Ceylon, became intensely turbulent. Though there is a great similarity in vegetation, thought, customs, and looks, as well as a similarity in cuisines, all of which I can attest to as I have been there, the social gap between these two peoples remained vast, way more than what 100 odd miles between the two lands should account for. Let’s go across the waters and check what lurks behind the mists over the Palk Straits.

What is even more strange is the fact that even though there were thousands of Malayalees working in Ceylon during the pre-World War 2 period, none of the returnees recorded their life or times in Lanka, so much so that very little can be gleaned from history books and other records, about their social life, barring some academic essays penned by Sri Lankan scribes. Most of these laborers toiled at low-level jobs and unlike the gulf countries where living conditions were tough, the situation in Ceylon and Burma was somewhat relaxed. Food was congenial and most of the workers led a decent social life, usually profiting from their stay, much to the annoyance of the Sinhalese who bore the brunt of the depression of the 30s.

There were three types of Malayalee workers in Ceylon, the lower class laborers who arrived in the 1920-1940 period (who are the main subject of this article), the supervisory and plantation cadre (mainly from South Malabar or Palghat) who worked alongside Tamils in the plantations, and finally the Ceylon Moors, families dating back to Portuguese period – Marakkayars and Moplahs, comprising a minority plying small trades, lying low and for that reason, never an overt or a covert threat to the Sinhalese, economically.

Reports on the lives of the plantation Tamils can be unearthed, but very few on the thousands of Malayalees who worked in the lowlands and cities. A lone mention can be found in a popular short story and some afterthoughts penned by the great novelist, MT Vasudevan Nair, whose father worked in Ceylon. The story (Ninte Ormakku, and the travelog to (now being made into a movie) on Kadugannawa provide you but a brief and blurry view into the private life of a Ceylon expatriate.

So, let us go back in time to where it all started, and for the curious Malayali, which most of us are, it may prove to be quite a tale.

Intercourse between the island and the mainland date back to ancient times and mentions can be found in various epics and legends. It is only natural that folk traveled sporadically across the short stretch of water separating them, perhaps over a one-time bridge, or on sailboats, or more specifically during the period when Greek and Roman trade with Western Indian ports and Lankan ports such as Jambukola and Mahatittha (the modern Mantota) as well as many other ports intensified. Buddhism was prevalent not only in Ceylon but also in the Cheranad/Malayala part of Tamilakam (the area now occupied by Kerala) and monks would have surely moved back and forth.

During the 2nd century, we come across mentions (Sillapadhikaram) of Gajabahu coming to Vanchi to meet King Chenguttavan for the consecration ceremony at the Kannaki temple (Kogungallur Bhagavathy). Following this and his return with a Kannaki idol to Ceylon, the Pattini (Pathini) cult manifested itself in Lanka. The people of Mattakkalappu or the Batticaloa were the first Malayalam immigrants who arrived in Lanka, apparently at Gajabahu’s invitation. They practiced matrilineal customs and spoke archaic (Malayalnmai Tamizh) Tamil.

Then there is the legend of the King Magha (I will cover this in greater detail in a separate article) – Kalinga Vijayabahu who dealt the ancient civilization of Rajarata a death blow, which was a terrible 40-year reign enforced by Malala and Tamil mercenaries, from which it never recovered during the 12th century. Alakeswara or Alagakonar of Giri Vansa was an adventurer prince from Kerala. They came from 'Vanchipuram,' which was also called 'Malayalam Karuvar.' The 10th in that family was a powerful minister and with the help of this minister, Vilgammula Sangharaja Thera, was able to repair the Kelaniya temple. Later on, one Vira Alakeshwara was kidnapped and taken to China by Zheng He, the Ming admiral. This ruling group was powerful in Raigama, later at Kote, and sponsored seaborne trade, frequently fighting with the Aryachakrawarthis of Jaffna. It is worth noting that the Alakesvaras were not the only people from Malayala, at that time. From the fourteenth century onwards, migrants from Cheranad as well as from the neighboring South Indian territories, had formed settlements in the northern parts of the Island.

The Vaiya Padal (a 14th-century poem by Vaiya, the court poet of the Arya Chakravarthi) mentions Malyalathars, or the people from Malayalam, amongst others, in Jaffna. Some of the old Kandyan homes resembled Malabar Nalukettus and the Kandyan Ves and other dances dance show many similarities with Kerala dances, dancers, hair adornments, dressing (usage of white), and show other similarities. Some of the Kuruppu’s settled down at Panadura – Kuruppumulla and their descendants served not only Parikrama Bahu # 1 but also the later kingdoms around Kotte. During the Portuguese period, many of them converted to Catholicism and later, to Buddhism during the British times, but always held on to the surname Kuruppu.

It was even said that in those periods - All the Malabar ships sail between this Island and the Choromondal coast, but those making for Bengal or Pegu or Siam go round the Island on the southern side. You can also see a lot of similarities between the arts and crafts of the two locales, and in a preceding article on the Kalari of Malabar, I had gone into the subject of Kalaripayattu and its connections to Lanka’s Haramba Salva in some detail. The 16th-century Malala Kathava is an interesting legend, which narrates the tale of seven Malabar princes who came to Lanka.  Kalari explains the movement of mercenaries and the many Kuruppu trainers back and forth between the two states - Kandy and Malabar during the early medieval.

Interestingly, Chaliyars from Calicut too moved across. As the story goes, Muslim traders of Beruvela persuaded a few master weavers from Calicut to emigrate to Colombo. They did well and assimilated with the local Singhalese, but ran into trouble later and were banished to the cinnamon forests, sentenced to work without wages (Rajakarya) or as menial labor. After the Portuguese arrival, their standing changed for the better when Cinnamon became prized produce, and these Chaliayas or Salagamas (after Salawatta the harbor area where they first settled down) as they were thence known, became the bark peelers, later the Cinnamon Forest supervisors and finally their owners, converting to Christianity over time. Not surprisingly, they still celebrate Vishu!

Strange is the case that when Sri Lankans speak Tamil, Tamilians think they speak with a Malayalam accent. Even more interesting is the fact that both Sinhala and Malayalam ancient scripts share some similarities. And the fondness and relationship demonstrated by both communities with elephants are remarkable.

The Marakkayars from Malabar and the Southeast coastal ports were not only connected to the wars between the Portuguese and the Zamorin as sailors and admirals but also in the pearl fishery and regular trade across the Palk straits and with the Maldives. Many of them and their Moplah kinsmen, so also Mukkuva fishermen settlers from Malabar as well as direct descendants of Arabs, went on to create the body of the Ceylon Moor community. These folk were mostly Tamil speakers and assimilated quickly with the other Lankan communities.

KPS Menon provides an insight - A remarkable Indian who had done well in Ceylon was a Moplah from Malabar, one Umbichi. With only a few annas in his pocket, he went as a young man to Ceylon, but now he was worth lakhs of rupees. His wealth came from the import of a single commodity, fish from the Maldives Islands, which gave a delicious flavour to Ceylon curries. Though he was rolling in wealth, he kept his simple habits, never used a car and still went about in a rickshaw. PB Umbichi (Kolamb Umbichi) from Calicut arrived in Colombo in 1870 with Rs 2/-, borrowed Rs 100/- from Arunachalam Chettiar, started selling dried fish and rose to become a successful entrepreneur and philanthropist. Even the land on which the Ratnamala airport was built, was donated by him. He passed away in 1936. He was apparently the person who encouraged Dr. VK Raman who used to work in Ceylon, to start the Ashoka hospital in Calicut!! He was not the only one, there were many others, Kunhimoosa, is another.

MD Raghavan, who spent years in Ceylon, mentions - Cochikade is the name both of a ward of the Colombo Municipality and of a town of considerable business activity in the vicinity of Negombo. Heard in and about Colombo, is the term ‘Cochiyan’ which generally signifies a man of Malabar descent or ancestry. Quite a few Christian converts from Cochin too had moved to support the Portuguese and Dutch colonizers during their heydays, but their Kerala links are difficult to trace out.

But it was the British colonial period that saw large numbers of pliant laborers arriving in Ceylon to create and man the coffee and later the tea plantations in the Ceylon highlands. Through the latter half of the 19th century and the early 20th century, we come across mentions of laborers from Palghat, Valluvanad, and the neighboring areas in the plantations, brought there by the manipulative Kangani.

The Malayalee felt Ceylon quite like Kerala and KPS Menon, the diplomat and diarist, and a career member of the Indian Civil Service addresses this succinctly, in his memoirs…Nani Amma (his children’s Malayalee Nanny) was completely illiterate, and her notions of geography were vague. When we went to Ceylon, the place looked so much like Malabar that she asked whether it was really necessary for her to put on her blouse. Ceylon was indeed like Malabar; nowhere else in India or outside have I felt so completely at home. After three years on the Frontier (Peshawar), so bleak and bare, it cooled the eyes and gladdened the heart to see the tropical vegetation of Ceylon—the tall coconut trees, the slender areca-nut, the waving banana and the spreading mango trees; the tea, rubber and coco estates; the herbs and ferns, the crotons and orchids. If Nani Amma felt like discarding her blouse, I felt like discarding my coat, shirt and trousers, and putting on just a loincloth (dhoti), which indeed I did during my siesta in the afternoon. At night, however, I always wore western-style pyjamas. This was symbolic of the double life I had to lead in the ICS 'heaven-born’ and earth-bound, a sahib and a native, a sun-dried bureaucrat and a man of the people.

He adds - As for fatigue, the Ceylonese are—or were—content to leave the most fatiguing kinds of work to foreigners. That explained the presence of 800,000 Indians in Ceylon and my own presence to look after them. When Englishmen started opening up the Island, and especially the uplands of Ceylon, by planting coffee, rubber and tea, they needed labour which was at once cheap, docile and regular. What easier than to draw it from the less fertile districts of the Madras Presidency where the teeming millions lived on the verge of starvation? These labourers—or coolies as they were called—were recruited on terms distinctly favourable to the employers, under the notorious indenture system, which tied a labourer down to his estate for life. In the twentieth century, Indian public opinion became increasingly alive to the lot of their countrymen overseas. The Government of India abolished the indenture system, took power to regulate, control or even forbid emigration and obtained the right to appoint an Agent of the Government of India in Ceylon to look after the interests of Indian immigrants, and particularly Indian labourers. I was the third incumbent of this post.

Similar to the labor recruitment for Malaya and Burma, the British used the Kangani system – a term derived from Tamil meaning ‘headmen,’ ‘foreman’ or ‘overseer.’ The kanganies on Ceylon plantations were assigned the dual role of recruiter and overseer, belonged to an upper caste, and were from the same region as the labor, thus becoming the patriarch for the 25–30-member gang. Usually, they paid off the loans of the workers back home against a promissory note and the workers then virtually became the property of the Kangani. Not all were unscrupulous, but many were. Many cherumars and other lower classes from Malabar thus arrived at the Ceylon plantations and spent large spans of their lives toiling in the estates.

Jaiswal summarizes - Between 1914 and 1938, an average of about 173,500 Indians emigrated annually to Ceylon. Indian migrant labor formed about 85 percent of the total estate population. The non-estate migrants, also called ‘free’ migrants, consisted of upper classes, including government officials; professionals including medical practitioners, lawyers, teachers, and clerks; and merchants and traders, Mohammedan boutique keepers, the ubiquitous Palghat Brahmin restaurant keepers, the wealthy Nattukottai Chettiars, and Baluchi moneylenders. The non-estate migrants also included large numbers of Tamil and Malayalee laborers, who came from the Tirunelveli, Ramnad, Travancore, Cochin, and Malabar regions of Southern India. These unassisted free migrants (sans kanganis) earned their living as domestic servants, dock laborers, rickshaw pullers, peons, porters, toddy tappers, artisans, coolies on roadways, drainage workers, and as labor in mills and factories.

These Malayalees were the Kochiyans and KPS Menon introduces them succinctly - Another unpopular group of Indians were the Malayalees, or Kochiyans, as they were called. They made excellent domestic servants and were also employed in large numbers by the Municipal Council and the harbor authorities. They, too, did not bring their women with them—indeed, even in Malabar, it was not the practice for the Malayalee woman to go and live with her husband; he had to go to her—but the Malayalees often took Sinhalese women whom they treated with the consideration natural to men belonging to a matrilineal society. This very consideration, which made them desirable in the eyes of local women, made them disliked by local men.

But there is more to that. While they did live ghetto style, they went about their ways, and cases of retaliation were reported only decades later afterlife was made miserable for them by the Sinhala. It occurred during a period of an economic downturn in Ceylon, and as the once self-sustaining island, it had little recourse to mitigation, compared to the mainland. Jaiswal adds - The Great Depression (1929) resulted in severe political and economic repercussions in Ceylon. It was characterized by a decline in demand, prices, and exports of tea and rubber, and in the wages of laborers. The Depression led to increasing returns to India, repatriation, restrictions on Indian labor migration, and riots. Ceylonese antagonism was largely directed against urban, non-estate laborers, where the Sinhalese emerged in direct competition and conflict with Indian migrant laborers during the Depression.

The Malayalees lived in chummeries (like a bachelor’s hostel – comes from the usage for the building in which unmarried British army officers were quartered during the British Raj) housing 30-40 people and it was scandalously reported that a few Lankan mistresses also lived with them. They took evening classes on various subjects and learned to speak multiple tongues, and work through different professions, thus becoming the favorite labor pool compared to the Sinhalese. 

Some of them, it is said, also knew and practiced sorcery, frightening the common man, as this was believed to be a powerful method guaranteed to seduce Sinhala womenfolk or to carry out various evil and nefarious designs! The Malayalam Gurukkam practitioners were quite popular, and many practitioners set up their shops near small temples, with Murugan pictures and Malayalam manthrams (charms) ready at hand. They doled out Anndha podi which when added to food, as the gullible Sinhalese believed, helped seduce women. The kattadiya, yakadura, or yakadessa black magic cum exorcist went a level higher, he made horoscopes, helped the needy out of financial troubles, helped them seek revenge, and whatnot (A Sri Lankan president sourced sorcerers from Kerala well into the ’70s and 80’s).

But as workers, they were pliable, toiled hard, and took on all the menial and unpopular jobs. From a population of around 1,000 Malayalees in 1911, the figure in the ’30s had gone up to 40,000 (and just 600 Malayalee women), of which close to half were Ezhavas and Thiyyas, with many working as Toddy tappers in the S West. This was made possible due to a special agreement between the governments in 1922 which offered free travel. While Jaffna eateries were run by Nairs and Palghat Iyers, the Colombo eateries were run by Kakas from Malappuram and Calicut. At the time of the depression, many Malayalees were employees in all spheres, be it ports, railways, transport services as well as retail and wholesale trade, and, thus the counter-campaign - Ceylon for Ceylonese - gathered steam.

KPS Menon, the Indian agent, meanwhile, encouraged his brethren to form an association to collectively channel and address their complaints and thus the Ceylon Malayalee Mahajana Sabha was formed (now extinct and replaced by the Kerala Sangam and the Vanita Samajam). Other associations followed and a few Malayalam newspapers and magazines as well as cultural events followed.

Let’s now take a look at how Gunasinha, who had once teamed with the same Malayalee labor to rise and become a union leader, changed course to despise them and strove to kick them out of the country. Strikes between 1923-29 championed by him were given wide coverage in the labor party newspaper Viraya. Everything points to the happenings at the Indian-owned Wellawatte Spinning and weaving mills and the many strikes at the printing units. His involvement in some of the printers' and hoteliers’ strikes which took place in the 30’s proved to be ineffective since the British brought in strikebreakers from Madras.

In 1933, workers at the Wellawatte mill struck work to protest the reduction of wages due to the depression and competition from low-priced Japanese textiles, as well as to have their working hours reduced, but this was not supported by Gunasinha as it went against a previously signed agreement between the CLU union and the management. The workers (1,400 strong, 2/3 Malayalees, and 1/3 Sinhalese) led by Malayalees Appuswamy, Kuttan, and Ramaiah among others, chose a new leader, the Britain returnee Colvin, R DeSilva who formed the Wellawatte Mill Workers Union (the youth league) and this was a huge personal affront to Gunasinha, who felt the Malayalees had ditched him. He worked with the owners to discredit the new union which he felt was run by new leaders who had picked up wrong ideas from Russia and America, and even injected CLU blacklegs to break up the strike! In another strike involving Malayali strikebreakers, he denounced them as collaborators and betrayers and went on a satyagraha till these Malayalees left the factory.

Simultaneously, sensing that there was a general reticence against the Malayalees by the Sinhalese, Gunasinha jumped on the opportunity to direct new attacks against the whole community, with inflammatory language, articles in the press and used his retinue of goondas and rowdies to incite and provoke clashes between the two communities. Gunasinha then demanded a boycott of everything Malayalee, and Sinhalese were urged to evict Malayalee tenants and were pressured not to employ them or eat at their restaurants.

The situation deteriorated so much that the government had to intervene directly. Though a settlement was reached, which was acclaimed by the CLU but disappointed the WMWU, this led to an increasingly troubled labor arena. Another union, the left-leaning LSSP was formed, which proved to be more receptive to Indian labor issues. MH Mohammed in his life sketch narrates the visit of AKG from Kerala’s Congress socialist party who visited his LSSP comrades in 1939-40. Gopalan’s meetings were disrupted by Gunasinha and did not get ruffled by the many objects thrown at him. Adding fuel to the fire, as Eric Meyer explains, the establishment of a parliamentary system based on universal franchise resulted in the assertion of a Ceylonese national identity, which exploited the anti-Indian feelings.

Violent skirmishes occurred at Welawatte and Pettah, as well as at many railway workshops. A case of murder was reported in 1931. Rumors were also spread that the immigrants brought in diseases like cholera and smallpox and that they consumed large amounts of opium, a habit that could spread to the Sinhalese! By 1936, the campaign had become virulent and Gunasinha encouraged his supporters with slogans like Kochi Marana (Kill the Cochinis). Surprising indeed, that he was so malevolent against these hardworking people, only because they stood up against his union, and because some had participated as blacklegs or worked for reduced wages. But then again it is all water under the bridge, I guess…

Summarizing, the CLU Leader A.E Gunasinha (Alexander Ekanayake Gunasinha) went on to proclaim that Malayalees, who formed a major proportion of non-estate migrants, as the reason for the country’s unemployment, starvation, and death. Popular protests followed and the anti-Malayalee rhetoric was stoked through the press, public speeches, scurrilous anti-Indian pamphlets, street songs in procession, meetings at which Indians were abused, organized picketing campaigns to drive away Indian traders, and the aggressive boycotting of Indian shopkeepers. Slogans like ‘Ceylon for Ceylonese’ were raised, and policies were devised to exclude Indians from Ceylonese civil services, the Ceylon municipality, medical examinations, port posts, and so on. Open intimidation in boutiques, tea shops, and other places of business was encouraged. There were incidences of violent confrontation in Colombo, which influenced incidences on the estates as well (Interestingly, the Sinhalese, averse to manual labor in the estates did not object as such to Indians working in the estates. 

Something that will interest the reader is the fact that Malayalee food habits had already entered the Lankan mainstream (I had the belief that it was the other way around!), Appam/Vella appam and idiyappam were brought in by the ‘Appu’ cooks, and Puttu with meat had become a perennial favorite, and thankfully Gunasinha did not implore the Sinhalese to change their food habits!

In 1938, the Ceylon government discontinued the employment of Malayalee labor recruited after 1933. The British Indian government retaliated in 1939 by banning all migration. The result was huge unrest and big difficulties in the cities and estates. Violence broke out when Kanganies and Tamils boycotted Sinhalese shops. Eventually, the tension subsided only when the Japanese came around and WWII was in full swing.  But the damage had been done, Malayalee immigration slowed to a trickle and all Malayalee non-estate workers returned. Thus ended the two-decade period when hundreds of thousands of Malayalees teemed in the Lankan labor markets. Between the 1960’s-80’s many of the remaining were compulsorily repatriated.

Of course, there is one person, a Lankan Malayalee that many would recall, none other than M Gopala Menon, who went from Palghat to Kandy and taught in a school, after an apparent excommunication (this being stated in ANM Chakiyar’s book – the last inquisition, p.p. 124). His son returned from Lanka to Madras later and shot to fame not only in filmdom and Tamil politics but eventually become the revered leader of Tamil Nadu. Avid radio listeners may remember another stalwart from Palghat, the famous DJ Sarojini Shivalingam from Radio Ceylon, who used to play Malayalam film songs at 330PM every day. And there was Madhavan from Palghat, who performed Kathakali across Lanka in the ’40s. Not to forget AT Kovoor who gave us the film Punarjanmam and continued a tireless fight against godmen and superstition.

Gunasinha went on to achieve great heights – as the first Sinhala labor leader, he was elected to the state council, became the Mayor of Ceylon, a minister, and finally, the Lankan Ambassador to Burma and Indonesia. I am not too sure that he would be happy seeing the plight of his fellow men, looking down from above.

As for MT’s short story, it involves a man who set up shop at Kadugannawa, kept a Lankan mistress, and brought along a cute little girl, apparently his daughter home to Ponnani, and she gifted her stepbrother a toy owl. Facing pressure at the ancestral home, the father went back to Kadugannawa with the little Sinhalese-speaking girl, never to return to Kerala. This is the story retold in Ninte Ormakku.

In an interview with Dr. Sudha Gopalakrishnan (excerpted and acknowledged with many thanks), MT explains - My father was in Ceylon for a long time. There were other people who went there with my father, as servants, etc. They started spreading rumours about Leela being my father’s own child. That became a huge issue. My parents quarrelled with each other.  My father left with Leela and went to his place. All this was in my mind. Although I travelled to many parts of the world, I always wanted to go to Ceylon (Sri Lanka). But I could never go...even though it's very close and I often visited Madras (Chennai). My father lived in a place called Kadugannawa. When I went there, I could find nothing as he had left a long time ago. The way these imagined narratives that bloom in the mind transform into reality is very moving. I went to Colombo and then travelled to different parts of the country. In my mind, Kadugannawa was my father's place. The address we had for my father was ‘T.N. Nair, Kadugannawa Road’—that’s all. What were we supposed to think? That when we go to a small place called Kadugannawa, there would be people there who knew my father, right? No one was there, no one. Years had passed. Was there a Nair doing business here? No one remembered. Leela was also supposed to have been with him, but no one knew about her either. These are all real incidents, but with the passing of years, the situation had changed. Generations had passed. Anyone who knew about a trader from Kerala named T.N. Nair had left the scene.

MT did make a trip out to see if he could dredge some information on the girl, her mother, and his father, detailing his visit in a poignant retelling of the story in the third person. This tale will arrive on the OTT screens starring Mammooty, shortly titled Kadugannava Oru Yathra Kurippu, directed by Ranjith.

As for me, I can understand these too well. I visit India every year though I left her shores in 1987 and keep my motherland close to my heart. I can assure you, only an NRI can understand another NRI and his thoughts, the plight of the community, the sadness, and in the end, the loneliness one faces after leaving one’s land as I did and like I still do.

The colorful story of the turbulent 20-40s in Lanka can take many pages to be retold in detail, and I must stop now, for fear that the tedium of reading so much, may have already put many a tired soul to sleep. Today there are just a few of our estranged brethren left there, who braved the world war, the 60s, the LTTE years, and the many economic downturns. They will manage, of that, I am sure. The Malayalees are a thick-skinned lot, forever on the move, going where the jobs are, however far or however difficult the terrain may be. But their homeland, on the other hand, is fast deteriorating into a pensioners' and tourist paradise.

Then again, life is like that…

The Keralites and the Sinhalese – Dr. KG Sankaranarayanan
The Malayalees of Sri Lanka – Jagath Senaratne
India in Ceylonese History, society, and Culture – M.D. Raghavan
Many Worlds – KPS Menon
Migration, social mobility, and anti-Indian feelings - Shyni Danial
Mediated (Im)mobility: Indian Labour Migration to Ceylon under the Kangany System (c. 1850–1940) - Ritesh Kumar Jaiswal
Origins of the Left Movement in Sri Lanka- V. Kumari Jayawardena
Rise of the Labor Movement in Ceylon - Visakha Kumari Jayawardena
Ethnic politics in Colonial Sri Lanka – Nira Wickramasinghe
Sri Lanka in the Modern Age - Nira Wickramasinghe
Society and Circulation – Ed. Claude Markovits

Historic alleys – The Kalari’s of Malabar  Link

Maddy’s ramblings – A Lankan Sojourn - Link 

MT’s interview with Sahapedia, Dr. Sudha Gopalakrishnan -  Writeup Link , Video Link (15:18 onwards to 17:50, in Malayalam)

Maps – courtesy Google, images - courtesy Wikimedia

Note- I learned something during this research – the real meaning of the famous Malayalam term Karingali or the English term ‘Blacklegs’, which was always used by Gunasinha during the 1930s when referring to Malayalees, mainly because the British and the railway bosses used Malayalee’s for strike breaking. Where did the usage come from? It came from America, and out there strikebreaking is also known as black-legging or blacklegging. American lexicographer Stephanie Smith suggests that the word has to do with bootblacking or shoe polish, for an early occurrence of the word was in conjunction with an 1803 American bootmaker's strike. But British industrial relations expert J.G. Riddall notes that it may have a racist connotation, as it was used in this way in 1859 in the United Kingdom: "If you dare work, we shall consider you as blacks”. David John Douglass claims that the term blackleg has its origins in coal mining, as strikebreakers would often neglect to wash their legs, which would give away that they had been working whilst others had been on strike. The term was once generally used to indicate a scoundrel, a villain, or a disreputable person.