As if the sufferings of the Tamils in Sri Lanka were not enough, fate dealt them a big blow in August, in the form of the loss of Dr.Kunanandam. Those of us who escaped to be abroad have lost almost the only one of us who had the guts and commitment to give up the cushy and safe life in the west, to return to Jaffna to serve our kith and kin. Kunanandam had given up his settled position as a neurosurgeon in the UK around 1997, in order to work in Jaffna- he did this despite the fact that he had to leave his wife and two children back in the UK.
Kunanandam was unique in DOING things rather than getting a name for it. He was quietly efficient and did not bother to seek recognition. That was the way he was at Hartley too where he studied from 1955 to 1964. His elder brother V Nithiyanandam is also a well known Hartleyite. We all knew Kunanandam as a helpful and kind senior who showed an interest in research, and wanted to emulate him. When I last met him, in Jaffna in 2003, I could see he had dedicated his life to providing better medical care for the Tamil population and better medical education to the ever-suffering Jaffna medical undergraduates and postgraduates.
I knew him also as a senior at the Peradeniya University, and here too he progressed serenely, qualifying in 1970 and went on to train in neurosurgery. He came to UK in 1977 and obtained his Fellowship of the Royal College of Surgeons, and returned to Jaffna in 1981. He came back to UK due to the political situation in Sri Lanka and proceeded to obtain the Fellowship in Surgical Neurology, and became a real doctor when he achieved his PhD in Medicine (neuroscience).
Kunanandam was Visiting Professor of Surgery and Honorary Consultant Surgeon at the Jaffna General (Teaching) Hospital from 1997 and held the Faculty of Medicine together. He was responsible for obtaining the CT scanners for the hospital and continued his research even in those difficult circumstances.
Kunanandam in his final year was responsible for setting up the Eastern University in Batticaloa, the new Faculty for Medical/Health Sciences and was in fact Acting Dean of that Faculty. He was made a member of the University Grants Commission in March 2006, but a sudden illness struck him soon thereafter, and he passed away peacefully on 6th August 2006 in Southampton, UK.
He leaves his wife, Selvarani, a daughter Thushitha who has followed in her father's footsteps to be a surgeon, and a son, Suren, who has emulated his father in obtaining a PhD.
Kunanandam was an unsung hero in his own motherland, among his own people, but Hartley can be proud of this son, and we as Hartleyites will feel a glow, just like the common trees that feel scented by standing next to a sandalwood tree.