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Justice Ramanathan: A genial judge

6 December 2015 07:20 pm - 0     - {{hitsCtrl.values.hits}}

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I thought I would try, on the anniversary of his death, to say something which late Justice Ramanathan himself will appreciate - going a little outside the ‘box’ when writing a review of a good and a would respected Judge - who with his not to be missed broad and commanding figure was a part of our legal world a few years ago.
To me, and I am sure many share this, his caricature if drawn would resemble those of some of those Judges from England which hang in our chambers - ‘rotund figure, full cheeks, florid complexion and gray hair, who carried the atmosphere of the court everywhere’ they went’. I have often watched him in court and, in between cases where we do some day dreaming, thought to myself that he would fit in very well with the likes of these judges.
But he had in him more than what many knew, including myself, who learnt very much more about him after his demise, which often happens of people like him who do not make a show of themselves.
Of course, I did not know him like some of his close and dear friends who grew up with him in London and who still recount some of his doings. I got to know him, and I would say, quite closely and warmly, for a period of time ensconced in our little world in the Attorney General’s Department.

 

"Whilst he maintained his dignity of office and was alive to the long and distinguished heritage which he inherited, it has been said that Rama was not overawed by them."



At Hulftsdorp, he had a lot of friends, both in and out of the Department. So, his elevation to the Bench portended a solemn break for many of us as we could not, and did not, in the best traditions of the Bar and Bench continue with the same relationship we had with him. But the times we met him outside the trappings of office, it was the same warm relationship, with him regaling us with interesting anecdotes and observations of life on the other side of the legal divide.
A much respected Chief Justice (Chief Justice G. S. S. de Silva) relates an interesting anecdote about him, which was vintage Rama. “It is a little known fact that he had an impish sense of humour and a very rare capacity to laugh at himself! Many years ago, we went to Anuradhapura. We dropped in at the Court-House and our younger daughter Swanthri asked him “Uncle, where does the rogue (accused) sit?” He unhesitatingly said, “As far as I know the ‘rogue’ sits there!” The spontaneous reply to a question asked by a child revealed a heart and mind as ‘big’ as his physique. High Office sat very lightly on him.”



In my experience the respect given in the after years of judicial or public life is based on the maturity and grace shown by the adherent, rather than the pomposity or cleverness which one seeks to display.
Whilst he maintained his dignity of office and was alive to the long and distinguished heritage which he inherited, it has been said that Rama was not overawed by them. As has been said he was very much anti-elitist nor did he care very much for money. The only elitism he pampered to, perhaps, was having some of the best dachshunds in Sri Lanka.
But this was because he loved animals. His dogs were champions of the Kennel Club. With his characteristic and self - deprecatory sense of humour which he possessed in abundance, he once said of his beloved dogs, “When I am dwindling my pups are bringing me fame”.
 I was the one shooting all over and Rama had to guide me gently through all this. Well, it was years later that I was told that he was a respected member of the Sports Shooting Association of Sri Lanka.



Several anecdotes could be related about Rama, but though these were totally were without malice, the piquant wit displayed (which he had in full measure) would cause some confusion, like when he took oaths before President J. R. Jayewardene as a Judge of the Court of Appeal, President Jayewardene asked Rama, “What happened to the other Ramanathans?” The spontaneous reply from Rama was “ruined by wine, women and song”. Hence, I desist. Of course, he had a heart of gold. He was a very compassionate person.  
A unique feature, perhaps for others but not for him, was his request to play Frank Sinatra’s “I did it my way” when his body was being removed for cremation.
His request was fulfilled by Mano, his dutiful and caring wife, whom Rama often referred to as his “Wind beneath my wings”.
His request was fulfilled, by Mano his dutiful and caring wife whom Rama often referred to as his “wind beneath my wings”.



 I have seen him assisting the minor staff of the Department on several occasion they came to him with their tales of woe. He was also closely associated much with Mother Theresa’s projects. He had many useful discussions with Mother Theresa during her visit to her Missionaries of Charity in Mattakkuliya in the years 1987/1988. Keeping with Rama’s likes and wishes Mano continues to be associated with Mother Theresa’s projects in Sri Lanka.
He ended his life on this very day several years back. A unique feature, perhaps for others but not for him, was his request to play Frank Sinatra’s “I did it my way” when his body was being removed for cremation. His request was fulfilled, by Mano his dutiful and caring wife whom Rama often referred to as his “wind beneath my wings”.
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