It is nearly sixty days since Jeya Nallasivam left our shores. She passed away peacefully on the 20th of March 2015 after a terminal illness. She had only a few weeks to say goodbye to her loving family, relatives and friends. Some people have the tendency to tip toe softly into one’s life and shut the door with a big- bang when they leave. Jeya Nallasivam is one of those kinds who have left a void among the Ballajura Tamil community.
I came to know Jeya Nallasivam more than 20 years ago when her family moved to Perth from the Northern Territory. Prior to meeting Jeya, I have met Mr. Nallasivam at a function in Perth; to be precise it was on a staged debating session opposing each other.
The following week, my husband and I happened to meet him again at the Ballajura shopping centre. Mr. Sivam kindly asked us to follow his car to his house to meet his wife as they were also living in Ballajura. I vividly remember that it was a mid-summer day when we arrived at their residence at Premier Place. The first memory of meeting Mrs. Nallasivam was that she was helping Asokan, her son to lay out lawn strips in their front garden. She dropped what she was doing and greeted us and invited us into her home. Jeya was friendly, hospitable and was willingly entertaining the strangers who have just arrived at her doorstep without prior notice.
I learned from her that she has taught at Chundikuli Girls’ College in the early sixties well before I had attended the College and was enquiring about many tutorial staff who taught during her time. We were connecting our conversations about people who were known to both of us. Then and there a seed of friendship was sown.
Prior to the Google and You-tube era, when Tamils lived away from Tamil land and craves for the vernacular literature it was very difficult to get hold of Tamil books. Both of us had the love for books and hence our relationship bloomed exchanging books. Our book exchanges included various Tamil books whichever we could lay our hands on including Tamil weekly magazines (Anandavikatan, Kumutham , Kunkumam etc). Jeya also indicated that the Ballajura public library was also holding some Tamil books which made me also to raid the library. I can assure that the library records would show that all the Tamil books in the library would have been on loans on both of our surnames. We also had lengthy conversations on Tamil movies, Kalki’s epic historical fiction “Ponniyin Selvan” and works by authors like Kannadasan, Akilan etc.
During one of my visits to Sri Lanka I did purchase 10 volumes of Kavijnar Kannadasan’s “arthamulla inthu matham”. They were 10 skinny books and Jeya was happy to borrow them and when she returned the books, I was surprised to see that each of the ten books was dressed in book covers! When I thanked her for taking time to cover the books, her reply was that they will last longer and that the original bindings were not in good shape. She was right and I still have those books on our book-shelf with her covers on even though the books have been flicked through many times. I have always referred Mrs. Nallasivam as Jeya instead of our cultural accessory “Aunty” even though she has the exact age of my mother’s. Both my mother and Jeya were born on the same day of the same month of the same year but one was in Kuala Lumpur and the other was in Jaffna, Sri Lanka.
Both Jeya and I have inherited different faiths by birth but this did not deter our friendship and we always had healthy sensitive conversations about our faiths. The respect she showed for other religions was most appreciable. This may have inculcated in her from her young age by her family or mingling with students and teachers who were embracing different faiths. This was very noticeable when at one of her family functions she has requested a few of her Christian friends to do “aarathi” for her granddaughter. It was my debut in the ritual and Jeya was willing to teach me how to go about it.
Jeyadevi was born in 1933 as the youngest of three and the only girl to Jayaluxmi and Selvadurai in Malaysia (then Malaya). Her early childhood was affected by the Second World War as Malaya was one of the key posts for the British Empire and it was also occupied by the Japanese. After the war her family returned to Sri Lanka (then Ceylon) as many of the Tamils did at the time. Jeya was 12 years old when her family settled in Colombo, and she started her education at the Methodist Girls’ College in Colombo.
She was selected to do her undergraduate studies in 1953 at Peradeniya University in Kandy at the age of 20. Her speciality was Tamil and Sanskrit. She completed her studies with an excellent Bachelor of Arts (Hons). It was during her carefree university days that she was smitten by her future husband Mr. Kandasamy Nallasivam.
Jeya’s first teaching post was at Chundikuli girls’ College (CGC), Jaffna in the late nineteen fifties. She has tutored Tamil (and Sanskrit) for the upper secondary classes which was then called HSC. She was with the CGC tutorial staff for six years under the principalship of Ms Mathai and Vice principal Miss E.I. Kelk (See photos below).
Jeya married her love of her life Mr. K. Nallasivam in 1961 after seven years of courtship. Soon after her marriage the young couple settled in Colombo and Jeya continued her teaching career of over 25 years at the Rathmalana Hindu College until her retirement. The couple were blessed with 2 children Chelvi and Asokan and were living in Mount Lavinia.
The happy family life of Nallasivams’ was interrupted during the 1983 ethnic riots in Colombo, Sri Lanka. The family lost all of their belongings including their home and were left with their clad – clothes alone. They stayed in a makeshift arrangement for 2 weeks in Colombo and then moved to Jaffna for a short while. The resilient Nalasivams’ returned to Colombo due to their work commitments. In 1987 the family subsequently migrated to Darwin, Australia where Jeya’s brother was living. The children continued their studies in Darwin in the Northern Territory. Once their daughter Chelvi got married and moved to Melbourne and son Asokan followed his career to Perth and Nallasivams’ also moved and settled in Ballajura in the Northern suburbs of Perth.
Among the Ballajura Tamil community Jeya is known as “Jeya aunty” or simply aunty. Jeya is a humble lady with a few words and a big heart. She was very supportive and helpful to the community. Nallasivams’ move to Perth was a gain for the North of the river Tamil migrants.
The Perth suburban area in Western Australia is divided by the Swan River to the North and South of the river. Majority of the early Tamil migrants settled in the south and have established Tamil schools and Hindu temples in that region. Travel time from North to the south during weekends for Tamil classes or to the Hindu temples took a toll on the travellers. Mr & Mrs Nallasivam spearheaded the idea of starting a Tamil school in the Northern suburbs and established a Perth Tamil school in Ballajura 20 years ago. The Tamil school is still operative and Jeya has been a pillar for the initial establishment and taking Tamil classes for the children whose parents have originated from India, Sri Lanka, Malaysia, Singapore and the Maldives.
Nallasivams’ also established a Ballajura Hindu Prayer group which has been functioning for the last 13 years. I learned from the eulogies that Jeya has hand-written all the Thevaaram, prayers and ensured that the copies were distributed to facilitate the group singing for the sole use of the Ballajura Hindu Prayer group. She was also keen to teach new Bajans to the children by viewing the You tube videos and writing them down. She also had led the bajans with her beautiful voice. Even though she had a beautiful voice she always encouraged others to lead the bajans wherever possible. According to the eulogies she has rendered her voice on the 2nd of Januaray for a beautiful Vinayagar lyric “ katpaga vinayaga kadavule poetry” written by Supramaniya Bharathiyaar and that has been her swan song.
Jeya’s fervour in her own faith was well displayed at her funeral viewing day when all the Tamil children from primary school age to seniors sitting around her coffin and singing Bajans. I am sure that she would have had a proud smile from wherever she was and would have been satisfied with the outcome of leading another generation in Hindu worship. Jeya will be a conspicuous absentee at the Ballajura Deepawali gatherings in the future.
There are two kinds of people in this world. The first kind is that who always trumpet that they know everything and make sure that the others know about it. The other kind is that who sit quietly and will discuss matters if asked upon. Jeya fits the latter model and one needs time to learn through conversations that she was a well-learned humble lady. God does not make “Jeya-models” any more perhaps they may not survive in the current “Me” world.
Jeya is a softly spoken gentle lady who is young at heart and is very knowledgeable in every aspect of the world under the sky. The topic may vary from Tamil books to religion, histories of the world and even to the gypsy tribes of Europe and India. I do recollect that she mentioned that there is a link between those two gypsy tribes.
My husband and I go for visits to Nallasivams at their Tabubil place with the estimation of an hour but always end up overstaying with discussions about politics, history religion etc. Most of the time Mr Sivam will do the talking but as we get ready to leave, Jeya will be quietly chatting about matters which were dear to her.
A couple of years ago a request came to me from a Malaysian marine biologist for a Tamil translation of a document. He wanted an environmental notice to be translated to Tamil for the islanders of Pangkor. Jeya willingly edited my translation and I was informed that the notice is currently displayed at the Pangkor island beach. Please spare a thought for Jeya, if you pass along the islands of Malaysia in your travels.
In the nineties and when the Past students’ associations of St. Johns College and Chundikuli Girls’ College were actively functioning, Jeya will be one of the first few members to renew the subscription annually and was a keen member supporting the association. She was always interested in matters at the CGC where she was a member of the tutorial staff.
We heard the shocking news of Jeya’s illness while we were touring India this February. After our Indian trip both my husband and I visited Jeya at her unit. As usual she welcomed us and was conversing as normal. We clearly understood from her that she doesn’t want to talk about her illness instead she wanted to know the places we have visited, particularly the places in Delhi and was comparing the time when she visited as a young lady with the Chundikuli staff in the sixties. She specifically asked about Qutub Minar, Taj Mahal and the Red Fort of Delhi. She also mentioned that in those days they were able to stay at the guests’ rooms at the Delhi & Agra railway stations. Of course the time has changed from the time Jeya visited Delhi. I also took a Tamil short stories book with me to Jeya written by the late Sujatha and Mr. Sivam mentioned that it was the last book she was able to read.
The students of Mr. Sivam mentioned that Jeya always made a drink or bubble tea for them when they go for tutoring at their house and I am sure the young minds are carrying fond memories of Jeya in their hearts.
Tributes from the grand children indicate that Jeya had been the lynchpin of the family who had the “complete faith in the order of the world, that everything would work out at the end and she was the voice of reason and the beacon of light in the family. She was calm and composed who enjoyed gardening reading and expanding upon her already profound knowledge of history and geography”. Jeya has been a great influence in their upbringing particularly teaching Tamil, reciting thevaaram and singing Bajans and even Tamil cinema songs.
I know that I have many things to ask Jeya about Tamil and Sanskrit. I do recollect that I asked her whether I could learn some Sanskrit from her and she willingly accepted it but it never eventuated. I think that it will stay as a dream with me.
In a way I am glad I was able to meet a lady like Jeya in my life.
Jeya has taken her life’s journey to an unknown pain-free destination.
But she has left a huge luggage behind, for all of us
Nearly 63 years of memories for her husband Mr.Sivam,
Life- long motherly memories for her Children Chelvi and Asokan,
Many years’ of fond “maami” memories to Ranzil and Shamina
And gentle soft fluffy packages for her five grand children,
And some pleasant memories for her friends and relatives,
Let us cherish her memory by sharing them in the future.
Finally I would like to share a poem written by Dianne Arcangel:
Grief comes in one size, Extra Large!
If we tuck it away in the bottom drawer where it never sees the light of day,
it remains exactly the same.
On the other hand,
if we wear it,
talk about it,
and share it with others,
it is likely that it will become faded, shrunk and worn,
or will simply no longer fit.
When grief has served its purpose,
we are able to recognize the many gifts we have gained (from the departed)
Ranjana Thambirajah (nee Sabaratnam)
(This is a tribute given at the 31st day of Jeya’s antheyeti . Some excerpts are added from her “Ninaivu Malar”)