On a dark, rainy day in 2003, Prof. Ravindra Fernando
accompanied by a few colleagues and a Buddhist monk went to Angunabadulla,
a village in the Thihagoda area on the Matara Hakmana road, about
168 km from Colombo.
“A dilapidated tarred road spreading through
green paddy fields led us to Angunabadulla. As we turned our vehicle
to the gravel road leading to the temple, an old man dressed in
a white shirt and sarong, and carrying an umbrella smiled with the
Buddhist priest. That is William, said the priest.”
This old man was one of the key figures in a murder
trial more than 50 years ago- the Sathasivam case which had grabbed
newspaper headlines then and is now the subject of a book by Prof.
Released last month, ‘A Murder in Ceylon’,
Prof. Fernando’s exhaustive account is the story of the murder
of Mrs. Anandan Sathasivam, the grand-daughter of Sir Ponnambalam
Ramanathan and the 57-day trial that saw her husband, well-known
cricketer Mahadeva Sathasivam in the dock.
It was while doing his research for the book that
Prof. Fernando decided he would like to track down William, the
servant boy in the Sathasivam household who had turned crown witness
during the trial.
William had married and had seven children, one
of whom had died of a crocodile bite. Now 76, he was doing odd jobs
in the village.
“He came out as being very intelligent.
He started talking without any hesitation of the murder that happened
52 years ago and kept to the same story he had told court,”
Prof. Fernando said.
| Prof. Ravindra Fernando at the launch of
The meeting with William came ten years after starting his research
and the book took twelve years to write, recalls Prof. Fernando,
Senior Professor of Forensic Medicine and Toxicology, seated behind
his desk piled high with papers and books at the Colombo Medical
Faculty on Kynsey Road. “I worked on it on and off, because
I had to divide my time between other things.”
His interest, he says, was kindled even before
he entered Medical School, through newspaper articles which dealt
extensively with the case. Later as a student of forensic medicine,
he was further intrigued by the complex medico-legal issues of the
case. But it was only in 1993 that he found the time to begin his
|Mr. Sathasivam (in white suit), with his counsel.
Colvin R. de Silva on his left with T.W. Rajaratnam on his right,
after the verdict.
“Prof. G. S.W. de Saram, the first Prof.
of Forensic Medicine in Ceylon carried out at this very Department
of Forensic Medicine, experiments on prisoners who had been executed,
to enable the determination of the body temperature and time of
death of Mrs. Sathasivam,” he said.
Another important witness for the defence was
an eminent Professor of Forensic Medicine from the University of
Edinburgh, Prof. Sydney Smith who subsequently wrote about the Sathasivam
case in his autobiography ‘Mostly Murder’ devoting a
chapter titled ‘A Murder in Ceylon’ to it. All Prof.
Smith’s documents including his handwritten notes and photographs
on the case had been donated to the library of the Royal College
of Physicians at the University of Edinburgh.
|Still unchanged: The room at the Department
of the Forensic Medicine where Prof. Saram’s experiments
were carried out
“Initially I only wanted to analyse the expert
evidence but then realized that it would not help in the interpretation,”
says Prof. Fernando. “It was a sensitive subject and I had
to be absolutely accurate.”
Recalling the events leading up to the trial,
Prof. Fernando believes the public had already tried Mr. Sathasivam.
“With Sathasivam, the problem was that he had a motive. He
had access to the victim. Therefore people thought he was the person
who had killed her. The public convicted him before the trial itself.
“The public don’t like killing a woman.
Sathasivam was the first suspect. There were no eyewitnesses. The
only two adults there at the time were Sathasivam and William. Even
some members of the Police and AG’s Dept. genuinely thought
that Sathasivam did it, but scientific and circumstantial evidence
indicated otherwise. The Police were divided.”
“One of the major issues was that Sathasivam
loved his kids. If he killed his wife and left, having already sent
William out, his two younger children would have been alone in the
house with the body of their mother.”
Commending the the scientific investigations carried
out at that time, Prof. Fernando said the police kept the body at
the crime scene without removing it till the evidence was taken.
Today they would have removed the body to the mortuary.
“The case also showed the brilliance of
defence counsel Dr. Colvin R. de Silva,” he said.
Sathasivam was in remand for 625 days and Justice
E.F.N. Gratiaen commented that it was too long, Prof. Fernando added.
What next for Prof. Fernando? He has plans of
translating ‘A Murder in Ceylon’ into Sinhala but quips
that he hopes it won’t take another twelve years.
“ A stylish right-hand
batsman and a maestro of the willow, he used to cut, drive
and pull with extreme power. His late cut with the flashing
blade was considered his best shot.”
The case apart, Prof. Fernando’s book records the
cricketing genius of the man who had the rare distinction
of captaining two countries-Ceylon and Malaysia.
Considered one of Ceylon’s cricketing legends, Mahadeva
Sathasivam started his cricketing career at Wesley College,
Colombo where he played many memorable innings for his school.
“His last season for Wesley in 1936 was considered by
far his best and most magnificent, when he terminated the
season with a brilliant 145 against S. Thomas College at Mount
Lavinia,” Prof. Fernando writes.
He went on to captain Tamil Union and made his debut for
Ceylon in 1945, scoring 111 against India. In 1948, he captained
Ceylon against Don Bradman’s all-conquering Australian
It is said that he so impressed former West Indian captain
Sir Frank Worrell that Worrell had remarked that if he were
to pick a World XI, “the first batsman he would pick
would be Sathasivam from Ceylon”. Worrell is reported
to have cabled Sathasivam on hearing of his arrest telling
him to hire the best lawyers that he would pay the costs.
Another international cricketer who had close ties with
Sathasivam was Australian Keith Miller who had toured Ceylon
with Don Bradman’s ‘Invincibles’ back in
1948. Visiting Ceylon again in 1953, this time as a member
of the Lindsay Hasset’s Australian team on their way
to England for the ‘Ashes’, Miller went to visit
Sathasivam, then in remand prison.
Sathasivam’s innings resumed after his trial and his
brilliance was in no way dimmed as he demonstrated by scoring
153 for Ceylon against the Indian Gymkhana Club in England.
“His best and last century in the island was in 1955
when he scored 206 not out for the Rest team against the Government
Services team in a tournament at the NCC grounds,” the
Migrating to Malaysia in 1958, Sathasivam went on to captain
Malaysia in 1959. In 1977, he was made an honorary member
of the MCC (Marylebone Cricket Club) for his unstinted services
and devotion to cricket.
1 - Body in Garage
The 9th of October 1951
was a humid, sunny day in Colombo, the capital city of the
beautiful Indian Ocean island Ceylon, as it was known then,
with temperatures hovering in the region of 84 degrees Fahrenheit
(29 degrees Centigrade).
It was another routine day for Austin, a 24-year-old laundryman
from Meegoda, a sleepy village in the suburbs of Colombo.
Austin’s occupation was to remove soiled laundry from
residences in Colombo and its suburbs for washing and ironing,
and return them in a few days. In the era before washing machines,
this was a common practice in some upper as well as middle
class families, living in cities in Ceylon.
At about 3 in the afternoon, after delivering some clothes
at Wellawatte, a town in the city of Colombo, Austin proceeded
to ‘Jayamangalam’ the house at No. 7, St. Alban’s
Place, in the adjoining town Bambalapitiya.
Alban’s Place was a gravel road on the seaside of
the main Colombo-Galle Road, leading to the south of the Island.
It was about 20 feet wide sloping gently towards the sea.
The house No. 7 was situated approximately 90 yards from the
It was the residence of Mr. and Mrs. Sathasivam and their
As the front door of the house was open, Austin went into
the house and peeped into the lady’s bedroom upstairs.
The room was open. He did not find the lady or anyone else.
Then he came downstairs and saw Mrs. Sathasivam’s two
younger children, aged 4 and 3 years respectively, and asked
them where their mother was. The children murmured something
that could not be clearly understood.
But as they mentioned the word ‘garage’, he
went through the kitchen up to the garage. What Austin saw
Mrs. Sathasivam, the lady of the house was lying on the
floor of the garage face upwards with a wooden mortar placed
on her neck.......
Journey through rebellion to fond acceptance
The Winds of Culture by Angela Fernando. Reviewed
by Salma Yusuf
Coming from mixed European and Asian ancestry,
Angela Fernando, born a Singaporean and now a Sri Lankan national,
takes the reader on a journey of her life’s experiences. The
dominant theme, which runs like a thread through her book, is the
conflict of cultures- one she faced at many points in her life.
The Winds of Culture, is almost autobiographical
and follows a chronological sequence in presentation.
The writer goes back to her early childhood in
pre-World War II Singapore, from where she fled after her father
was captured by the Japanese as a Prisoner of War to the harsh circumstances
of living as a refugee for nearly two years in India, and lastly
to boarding school in Western Australia which she recalls as the
best years of her life.
After her matriculation, she entered the University
of Melbourne where she met Jerry Fernando, a Sri Lankan, who would
become her husband. She recounts the divergence in cultures which
caused setbacks in her relationship with him-from being rejected
by his family for being a foreigner; to expectations from her conventional
husband to wearing a saree; and sporting a ‘konde’.
But her great love for her husband and his for her, helped them
bridge these differences.
Her inspiration to write the book came after her
husband’s death, when she felt the loss of a buffer factor
which had until then helped her to bridge the cultural divide to
a great extent, Angela explains. “In writing this book, I
decided to explore the culture myself and gain greater insight into
why people think and act the way they do in this part of the world,”
She points out essential driving forces that cause
the difference. “In the West people keep up with modernization
and progress whereas Asians lean more towards maintaining customs,
habits and norms which are often accepted merely because it has
been practised by their forefathers. This is rarely compromised
in any situation.”
She also highlights how the Asian lifestyle is
far more personalised than the Western and how she has grown to
love the former. For instance, when you go shopping in Sri Lanka
you learn that the fishmonger has nine children; the vegetable vendor’s
mother-in-law has run off with someone or that the butcher up the
road has hacked his rival with a hatchet.
There is also a touch of satire in her writing
when she highlights the hypocrisy of rabble-rousers who scream at
the West but educate their children in Colombo’s international
schools. On the other hand she excludes pseudo western Sri Lankans,
whose lives revolve round parties and other socialite functions
as being ‘truly Sri Lanka’.
She also recounts how she discovered cultural
differences through day-to-day incidents. For example how she had
to discontinue the practice of carrying on discussions with colleagues
sitting on a tombstone in a cemetery close to her university in
the West, once she came to Sri Lanka as the cemetery is seen as
a place to be avoided; to finding out that killing oneself over
a doomed love affair was quite common here but almost unheard of
in the West; the warmth of Sri Lankan hospitality where no visitor
is allowed to leave without joining for a meal if they happened
to visit at meal times; to how her mother couldn’t come to
terms with the fact that she had to eat with her fingers and gave
her a set of cutlery as a parting gift.
Through these sometimes humorous episodes she
explores a deeper theme of how one’s way of thinking affects
the fundamental behavioural patterns of different cultures and the
sacrifices one has to make to adjust and understand.
The reader can almost feel the metamorphosis the
writer undergoes, from a questioning rebellious individual to that
of resignation and eventually an understanding and fond acceptance
of the differences.
She says her challenging experiences led her to
ensure that her six children married into the same Asian cultural
background so that they would not have to undergo the same kind
of sacrifices and adjustments she had to make in her life.
“I am happy with how my children are living
their lives. I didn’t want them to experience the cultural
adjustments I had to go through,” she say.
The first person narrative style adopted by the
writer makes the novel both entertaining and very personal.
At different points in the book, the author digresses
to her children and friends. Part of the book is dedicated to her
handicapped son, JJ, a lesson in love and patience.
In her postscript, written after the tsunami,
which killed many in her family, Angela considers revising her way
of thinking . She says the winds of culture blew away any differences
that existed over the years in her mind. She grew to realize that
man’s humanity overrides everything else.
When asked why she decided to continue her life
in Sri Lanka even after her husband’s death, she says with
much conviction, “when you marry for love, you don’t
cut off connection with everything that is essentially him, after
he is no more….”