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acts-of-faithShiva was related to no one. But he had been with Indra at Cambridge and it is conceivable that his last thoughts, as the petrol flared up about him or, we hope, substantially earlier, were of a punt on the Cam in those heady days and a graceful swan floating past. On the other hand it is also conceivable that his last thoughts were of the placid beaches of his own country, and the sun and the sand and the reverberating sea beyond. At Cambridge he would have said that he was happier there than ever before. Yet later, back at home, his senses sated in his snug retreat by the sea—and indeed elsewhere— he would feel that he had felt all this before, that he had returned to a security registered long before in the dim reaches of the subconscious, and constantly desired since.

This may not have been entirely fanciful. He had been taken away soon after he was born to ancestral palm-decked lands by an immaculate beach on the then almost virgin Eastern Coast. The birth had been a difficult one and his father, whose heart had fluttered, had decided then to endure no more stress. He was an old man, having married late in life when he had already achieved distinction in the Colonial Service, the first Tamil from the relatively neglected East to be knighted. It had been difficult for him to put up with the snide remarks of the Tamils of the North who had resented the conquest of one of their brighter stars by someone they considered an outsider. He was convinced that Lady Lily loved him, and perhaps because of that he had felt obliged to stay on and endure, not to take her away immediately to a place where there would only be himself to divert her. But once the baby was born and there was a threat to her health, he grasped eagerly at the opportunity to retire to the rural retreat he now felt he had dreamed of from the very moment he began to work.

So Shiva spent his earliest years in a dry land where the sun struck warm and the sand lay smooth beneath and the deep blue water rolled luxuriantly over the flesh. He was never lonely for all the children of all the retainers who had clung ever more closely limpet-like to the family through several generations always surrounded him, ministering to his every whim but also, for they were all young and generally uninhibited, suggesting separate consciousnesses that constantly impinged. His father was wholly content and Lady Lily was never unhappy, and her refusal to send her little son to school for long after he should have gone accorded entirely with the wishes of both the father and the son.

Yet the time came at last when the old man, grown frail now, felt that the boy had learned all that he could at home, so that he was sent off at the age of nearly ten to board at his father’s old school. Lily wanted to go to Colombo too and send him to school from her old family house, but the father felt the boy needed toughening up, and in any case she felt she could not desert him at this point. She was glad she had not when he died a few months later, his heart giving way at the news of the racial riots which first erupted then in a frenzy of resentful chauvinism and bitter insincerity.

His first worry was for his son, alone and defenceless in Colombo. He need not have worried. On that occasion, the schools were untouched by violence. But before he died, he told Lily that she must take the boy away to England, and that almost immediately after was what she did. So Shiva spent the next year, alone with his mother and the two servants she had brought with her, in a large house in Hampstead being coached for the Common Entrance. He did remarkably well, but she decided not to send him away to school, but to keep him with her. He was sent to St. Paul’s, where he wasn’t especially unhappy, but he hadn’t many friends for he was shy and withdrawn as a boy and the standards set by the Jews who dominated his time at St. Paul’s, socially and intellectually, were too intense for even a very bright Tamil. Sometimes, he would wish he were at boarding school, which he had just been beginning to enjoy in Colombo, but he was fond of his mother and knew that she needed him with her. More anxious, especially in the cold murky winter and the dismal drizzles of spring, as he sat in his study looking out at the enveloping gloom, was his longing for warmth; but as he grew older, even this diminished, and he came in time to like England and even to feel at home there.

In his last year at school, as he read more and went to the theatre more, he changed considerably, and when he got into Cambridge he was very firm about preventing his mother from coming up to live there too. She was sensible enough by this time not to be hurt at this, and he came back often enough during term to content her, generally with a few friends, sometimes with just one. During his first two years this was Paul who, though as a graduate, had gone up when he did. During the next three it Indra who was an undergraduate throughout that period come straight up from Ceylon. From this you will gather that, though Lily worried that he drank too much and got involved in too many demonstrations and marches (which were a most notable feature of the times), Shiva got a very good degree which enabled him to stay on for a postgraduate qualification. He decided not to wait on for the doctorate though, and came down from Cambridge at the same time as Indra to read for the bar in London. They shared a flat in Kensington at this time, and Lily accepted that there was no point in her being disturbed when he came in or entertained late: but they dropped in often enough and must definitely every Sunday for lunch when they were in town.

By this time, in any case, Lily had a very busy life of her own, for being sensible enough to have brought out much of the family fortune when she came, she had developed into a very able manager and manipulator of finance. Nevertheless, when Indra finally passed all his bar exams (Shiva, after passing and practising briefly, had devoted himself to business at which he too proved adept) and headed home, and Shiva decided to go back too, Lily made up her mind to accompany him. It is probably unnecessary to add that they kept on most of their investments in England, and only gave the house in Hampstead out on a short lease, and kept up the flat in Kensington as a base for the regular visits they anticipated (on one of which Lily was when Shiva died), both for business and for pleasure, over the next few years. They had much to go back to anyway, the property in the East and the house in Colombo, the income from which had been husbanded resourcefully over the past several years. Before they finally went Shiva paid a flying visit to ensure that the house would be done up superbly for them, with separate suites for either and a magnificent den on the top floor through which lay the access to the helicopter pad.

The family newspaper had been taken over some time before Indra went back, but he too had enough money available in other things and abroad to plough together with Shiva into the now newly fertile economy. They set up several hotels and opened up travel agencies; they imported tractors and manufactured pickaxes; they relabelled garments for export and wrapped up toffees for internal consumption; in short, they threw themselves into everything in which tax holidays were offered or could be extracted, and had a ball. Finally, after they were unassailably established, they started a newspaper, two newspapers in fact, one in English and one in Sinhala and several comic and non-comic strip magazines. These were all instantaneously successful. The populace was waiting for reports and comments that were, even relatively speaking, free from government interference and control and this need they fulfilled satisfactorily. Especially in the Sunday gossip column, assumed by everyone and not necessarily inaccurately to be penned by them late and alcoholically on the Friday nights when they always left wherever they were at the stroke of midnight to retire to Shiva’s den, they belaboured everything and everyone, to the tremendous delight even of the many members of society who found it almost impossible to comprehend their allusive style.

It was widely rumoured that the whole enterprise had been engineered by Tom, as a means of subtly warning those under him who were not entirely to his taste; but this was not the case. It was true that Tom enjoyed some of the attacks on his administration, but there were some he could have done without. However, since his previous absolute control of the press had depended for its success on the fact that it had never been challenged, now that it was, he had no idea how to cope with the situation. Unwilling to risk open confrontation, and aware that the libel suits which had served to stifle other organs earlier would not work with the indecently rich, he decided accordingly to make the best of a bad job and take as much of the credit as possible upon himself. He smiled benignly upon Shiva and Indra wherever he met them, and was even more indulgent than usual to his charming but irresponsible brother Dick when he dropped in to breakfast, which he usually did when about to put through a business deal. Indeed, as time went on, Tom almost began to believe that it was he who had inspired the establishment of a suitably capitalistically oriented free press.

But if Tom was complacent and even occasionally amused, his Cabinet was not. Matthew, though he himself was never directly attacked, blood relationships being considered sacred in Colombo unless property was at stake, resented what he saw as a derogation from the strict discipline he felt the new regime demanded; Mark was embarrassed at having to explain to his colleagues his failure as an unofficial censor, and was in any case annoyed at being treated as an ineffectual liberal who was incapable of understanding the dangerous aspirations of his peers; Luke, who saw himself as isolated and disdained, disliked being considered a crooked and cunning manipulator with no scruples at all; while John, who prided himself on his intellect, was bitterly upset at being characterised as a stupid fool who was ruining the economy, because he allowed himself to be dictated to by everybody else. There were then several political reasons, apart from his being a Tamil, for Shiva’s death to be desired at the time when he was slaughtered; though, as we shall see, there was even more to it than that.

Ceylon Today 3 August 2014 – http://www.ceylontoday.lk/96-69506-news-detail-elementary.html

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