Uncle Rama was my father’s friend, my mother’s friend and my friend. Yes, I came to know Uncle Rama as a toddler. He endeared himself to Malli and me, and became our mentor, friend, and a role model.
Today, on the 14th anniversary of the passing away of Deshamanya Justice P Ramanathan, many legal luminaries will testify to his outstanding career, bold judicial verdicts, and indomitable spirit. They will reflect on the many lasting impressions he has left behind as a lawyer, judge, colleague, mentor, and friend. I, on the other hand -although a member of the Bar, wish to remember him with fondness and reflect on his gentleness, love, and kindness which he bestowed upon me and my family.
Justice Ramanathan was a dear friend of my father for over 45 years. As a result of this friendship, many of my childhood days were spent with him either at our home, his home, or on short or extended holidays. As a young girl I have fond memories of Uncle Rama’s comforting presence in our lives -including him picking me up from school along with my father, and persuading my father to treat me and Malli to an ice cream on our way home. Yes, Uncle Rama could find the time for anybody, however young or old he or she may seem.As I grew older, he became my confidante, he shared my fears, joys and sorrows. He played with us, laughed with us, and on occasions comforted us when we were in tears. He provided a shoulder I could lean on and negotiated, what then appeared to us teenagers to be daunting and insurmountable “issues” which only a fond uncle could put to parents. He was supportive and gently persuaded my reluctant brother and myself to take to law. I recollect that at a very close family gathering, at my home, on the occasion of my passing my Bar exams, Uncle Rama fell back on his memories of the Inns of Court and reminded me that I had become an “Utter Barrister”.
Uncle Rama never pulled rank or hesitated to give a helping hand to anybody. There is a much-remembered incident that took place when he was the High Court Judge in Kurunegala. High Court Judge Ramanathan used to do his usual walks in the evening, clad on such occasions, in a well-worn pair of shorts. None would recognise him as the august figure that presided in the High Court. He used to drop in for a cup of tea at a neighbouring boutique. The boutique keeper confided in his humble looking customer that business was bad, and that he was having lean times. High Court Judge Ramanathan thereafter used to highly recommend the “chai” boutique to all and sundry, including the members of the Bar and to all who mattered in Kurunegala. Naturally, soon afterwards, the boutique-keeper prospered thanks to the High Court Judge. This is just one example of Uncle Rama’s kindness, sensitivity, and burning desire to help others. Uncle Rama had a handful of coins in his car and on those occasions when he treated us to the goodies at Green Cabin, I vividly remember him distributing the coins among the beggars outside, who I noticed appeared to recognise
Uncle Rama was well-read and used to fascinate us with tales from English Literature and discussed current news.
Justice Ramanathan hailed from a distinguished family, being a descendant of Sri Ponnambalam Ramanathan. He lived up to his heritage, becoming a Prosecutor in the Attorney-General’s Department, High Court Judge, the President of the Court of Appeal, and a Judge of the Supreme Court. He was known to be firm, but kind; and most importantly, ruggedly independent but without any ostentatious display. In this regard, I need hardly cite by way of example, his notable dissenting judgment in the case of Sirimavo Bandaranaike v. Times of Ceylon delivered during the J.R. Jayewardene era.
We teased Uncle Rama that he should acquire a wife. My dad and mom made some gentle, and sometimes not so gentle suggestions in this regard. But Uncle Rama good naturedly shrugged them off. We did not know that Uncle Rama “loved his neighbour” and had found his ladylove in ‘Aunty Mano’, the accomplished lawyer-daughter of a much loved and respected Advocate. When therefore Aunty Mano came into his life as his wife we were overjoyed, and our extended family grew. Aunty Mano is a permanent fixture in our family; and for that we
My heart is filled with gratitude to the Almighty, for giving us the privilege of having had the lovable Uncle Rama. When I remember him, there is always a lump in my throat. May he find peace and we who loved him solace in our remembrance of a life well-spent.
Faisza Musthapha Markar