Features

Who was Anton Balasingham?
by Nalin Fernando

Dr. Anton Balasingham, formerly known as Anton Stanislaus, the LTTE’s international spokesman and theoretician, died in London on December 14 last year.

Few people in Sri Lanka, other than Tiger sympathizers, mourned his demise as would a similar handful mourn the death of his chief, LTTE supremo, Velupillai Prabhkaran.

After all, Balasingham "viewed his role with the LTTE and the struggle as the advisor and theoretician to Pirabakaran (sic) and the organization" while both were "wedded to the core values, goals and techniques of the LTTE" according to Adele Balasingham in her book ‘The Will to Freedom’ published in the U.K. 2001.

Adele Balasingham spells the Supremo’s name in line with the Tamil way. But whichever way she spells it her consort was always identified with Prabhakaran, the international terrorist.

However, there is one person I know who will, in all sincerity, plead on behalf of Anton Balasingham. He is my friend for the past 15 years, L.M.A. Silva, Attorney-at-Law, Wariyapola.

On December 17, three days after Balasingham’s death, he came to my home to use my computer to e-mail his condolences to Adele Balasingham.

His message read;

"Please accept my sincere condolences on the death of Stanny. He was one of my dearest friends from the days gone by and I write to you since there is nobody in S/L with whom I can share my grief.

For the last one month or so I have been trying my best to get through to Stanny but it was of no avail. It was only a few days ago that I approached my good friend who is sending you this e-mail (which I hope and pray for you to receive) to somehow get a letter thru’ to Stanny as soon as possible. He got this contact address only this morning when all is too late, a fear that I had which was the reason for me wanting to write to him after all these years.

Once again I must express to you my grief and my inability to share the burden of my heavy heart with anyone here who knew Stanny as well as I.

Most sincerely, LMA."

After I attended to his request to send Adele Balasingham his sympathies and expression of sorrow at the passing on of his good friend, I poured out a stiff drink for my grieving friend and a stiffer one for myself, raised my glass and said "cheers".

Personally, I was not mourning the death of a Tamil Tiger who condoned terrorism and was the mouth-piece and acolyte of Prabhakaran. I said so to my friend.

L.M.A. then told me it was not right or fair to compare the Balasingham he knew with the others whose names appear as standard bearers for Prabhakaran and the LTTE. He was qualified to say so since he knew Balasingham intimately for many years although not in touch with each other for sometime.

According to him, Balasingham was an intellectual, a philosopher and never ever a destructive and vicious person. He told me that he was very keen to "put the record straight" and wanted my assistance to write and edit an article for publication titled "Who was Anton Balasingham?"

He said he had with him at home some hand-written letters from Balasingham from the time he went to England in 1971 to about 1976 which will confirm the true character of Balasingham.

I, a retired newspaperman, reacted like a war horse in pasture hearing once again a bugle call to battle when he uttered the words "hand-written documents and letters". I poured L.M.A. another dram and lay back and told him to continue his saga. He told me:

Anton Balasingham, then known as Anton Stanislaus, and my friend came together in 1966, with both working for the Information Section of the U.K. High Commission in Colombo.

Their jobs were to monitor the Tamil and Sinhala newspapers and journals published locally, translate news stories and articles of interest to the UKHC and also place news items and articles of propaganda value to British interests. Balasingham also contributed articles to the Virakesari under the pseudonym "Brahmagnani". Both of them became very good friends since they had a mutual interest in the study of human psychology and psychoanalysis.

Balasingham’s capabilities were highly regarded by the UKHC and his forcefulness, outgoing individuality and his good knowledge of English, scored heavily with his employers.

On July 16, 1968, he, a baptized Roman Catholic, married his secret sweet-heart for many years, a Tamil Methodist lady named Pearl Rasaratnam, daughter of a former Principal of Hartley College, Jaffna. The union was blessed in the Methodist Church, Kollupitiya.

In early 1971 they decided to immigrate to the UK where he could continue his studies. Further, Pearl was not a very strong person, prone to fall ill constantly. He wanted her to get better medical treatment than at home. The UKHC readily issued the necessary papers and they left the island on August 3, 1971. At about the same time L.M.A. left the services of the UKHC to practice law in Wariyapola.

L.M.A. told me that he was always puzzled by his friend’s later interest in terrorism and the LTTE which was internationally labeled as a blood-thirsty, inhuman and brutal organization. He always held Balasingham eschewed violent behavior. He was a born leader who had wonderful powers of persuasion without resorting to aggression and hostility. He felt that Balasingham, if he was physically fit, would have had moderate influence in the peace talks held recently in Switzerland. His letters, he said, were proof of these qualities.

(I held up my hand to halt his narration and gave him my car to hare back home and bring all the letters from Balasingham he had in his possession.)

He returned with a folder which contained an untidy bundle of aerogramme and thin tissue writing paper.

While he poured himself another drink, I glanced through the letters and realized the almost historical value of the documents.

I told L.M.A. that I would hold on to them and think about helping him with the "appreciation" of his friend, Stanny. We had another drink and he went back home while I sat back and read the letters carefully and made notations on them for later use.

The first, an aerogramme, is dated September 16, 1971, one an half months after Mr. & Mrs. Stanislaus arrived in London.

He writes from 27, Southwell Road, Camberwell in London, SE 5 as Anton Stanislaus, signing it as "your loving friend, Stanny":

"We are both settling down. Pearl has got a good job in a commercial firm. We have already moved into a small comfortable flat (a room, kitchen and bath). I am offered a place at the Institute of Psychotherapy after a tough competitive admission procedure including five sessions of psychoanalysis. This is a pre-condition for admission since every student of psychotherapy is expected to have an insight into himself to understand others.

As I have been occupied with my course of study, I didn’t bother too much about work immediately……. Life is not very hard here as I thought. We are managing quite easily. If one can pre-occupy himself with learning he will not feel boredom and loneliness."

I spend much of my time in reading and writing. I go to parks and libraries and there you come across young intellectuals, writers, artists with whom I discuss philosophy for hours. Most of the people here are sensitive, serious and crazy for knowledge. Sometimes they take me to their homes and give me drinks and food and thereafter we discuss".

On January 22, 1972 he writes;

"I am now working in the Inner London Executive Council, a Government Department concerned with the administration of health service. I attend lectures in the evenings. I am totally buried in research work and find little time to rest…"

Later, he waxes eloquent in an undated (probably April 1972) lyrical letter on tissue- thin paper. It reads:

"It is spring time here. The sun shines until late in the night. The dark misty gloominess of the English winter has disappeared.

There is a beautiful park near my flat. It is a consolation I seek after a calm, quiet, beautiful environment particularly in this modern mechanised city where there is so much sound and fury of life. Yet the people do not actually hear but simply exist and suffer from utter boredom and isolation. In the park I do enjoy the moments of loneliness when a strange feeling of freedom lifts you to a different dimension, at least temporarily, where you can have a deep insight within and without.

I meet various people, people of different nationalities, people of different idiosyncrasies; new, new faces, faces painted with sorrow and despair and they seek after you to unburden their problems. There are perverts, drug addicts, neurotics, and people with broken homes, people who feel lonely and isolated, people who seek after the meaning of human existence. I have the patience to listen and I am always feasted with varieties of human experience".

On May 26, 1972 he faces a major hurdle. He writes:

"Misfortune has struck me suddenly. Pearl is in hospital for the last two weeks…… Urine examination, blood tests and x-ray revealed that she has a kidney disease. The doctors have diagnosed the illness as CHRONIC PYELONEPHRITIS …….

I am shocked and depressed beyond words. I have taken three months leave and (have been) running here and there like a mad man.

I am in a terrible mess. I have also developed stomach disorders, maybe due to emotional shock and improper meals. You know I love her more than anything else and I cannot stand this calamity…….

Pearl does not know what she is actually suffering from. If she knows she will be worried and her blood pressure might go up. I don’t know what will happen to me if anything happens to her. My life seems to be meaningless without her. Sorrow has engulfed me as an ocean".

On 26 July 1972 he writes: "Pearl is now at home. She has to go to hospital every week for urine and blood tests… She can go on for sometime until further damage affects the kidneys in which case she has to be treated with a kidney machine. She is very weak and in bed most of the time…

My life goes on as usual. The suddenness and unexpectedness of this tragedy made me depressed at the initial stages but I came over it soon with a realisation that one has to accept the inescapable reality of life problems"

On ‘6 October 1972 he writes: "Please excuse the delay. I hope you will understand the nature of my problems. The pressure of time is very heavy since I have to work, study, read, write and further more attend to home problems. In addition to all these I am doing analytical treatment to a few of my friends have acute neurotic problems. I have to write volumes if I had to describe in detail the aspects of my life in London., the nature of my studies my writing and therapeutic work You know pretty well how passionate I am, how devoted I am, in the study of the human mind…

On January 20, 1973 he writes: "I am now out of office work. That means I am free from monotony, routine and regulation. I am self employed in the sense that I practice psychotherapy in a small scale out of which I derive a small income sufficient for our existence…… My main effort is writing and I am putting my total energy on it.

Writing on March 20, 1973 he refers to the political situation in the country for the first time. He asks: "How are things in Ceylon. I hear the Press Council Bill has been passed. How is the political climate? Will this government survive for a long time? How is the Tamil political scene? Please write to me in detail."

There is a gap in correspondence or lost letters in the collection since the next letter available is dated December 16, 1974 and received on March 2, 1975 as it had been mistakenly posted by sea-mail. In it he writes:

"My life is full of restless activity and hard work. One has to accept the challenges from life without protest. When confronted with existential challenges one’s inner resources are awakened to contain them.

Pearl has been through a terrible ordeal. She had a series of operations including a renal transplantation which was a failure. It is a miracle that she survived. She has been very courageous and determined to face all suffering She is now treated with a kidney machine three times a week Her prognosis with renal dialysis in not very good".

On 4 March 1975 he writes from a new address, having moved from SE5 to a "very comfortable London Council house which is centrally heated" in Blenheim Gardens in London SE2.

"The hospital authorities will soon install a kidney machine at home. Pearl is keeping alright but now and then she falls sick. Even now she is very weak and unsteady.

I am buried in learning. I have obtained a Diploma in Abnormal Psychology. If I wish I can practice on a professional scale. But I am continuing my studies in Social Psychology with a state grant. You know quite well that I have a terrible thirst for learning. Wisdom is the true source of happiness"

On April 4 1975 he mentions Pearl’s condition and writes: "Pearl is keeping fine. We have a kidney machine at home now. We both have learned to operate it at home Three times a week. Sleepless nights, of course. Yet I write a lot and have published"

On January 20, 1976 he writes:

With all the pressures of existence, restless turmoil, tragedies, I am moving ahead in my ideal, working very hard. You will be proud of my achievements one day.

Pearl is not keeping well at the moment. She spends much of the time in hospitals and I am with her all the time. She had a major abdominal operation last week. As a result she is very weak and still in hospital as I write I don’t know why she is condemned to suffer so much She sends her love to you, to your wife and your child.

The last letter, dated 6th March 1976, with his return name and address still noted as "Anton Stanislaus, Blenheim Gdns. London S.W. 2", written on an aerogramme and signed "yours affectionately, Stanny" reads:

"I do lot of writing…. My interest in Buddhism has many aspects. I wish to investigate how far Buddhist meditation could contribute to psychotherapy. The other aspect that fascinates me is the Buddhist materialistic conception of the world and how such a conception is compatible with Marxist dialectical materialism. I am also interested in the concept of Dhamma(sic). The Zen Buddhist view that truth lies beyond the realm of thought also fascinates me. These are the areas of Buddhism that I wish to explore. Please take a note of these in the selection of books".

He continues: "Pearl is keeping fine. Life on a kidney machine sometimes depresses her. Yet I could keep her mind peaceful and happy. We have a lot of friends of various nationalities. They are very friendly and helpful".

After I read that last aerogramme, written neatly in pen and ink in an almost feminine fist like all the others, I telephoned L.M.A. and we decided to meet again in the evening.

He continued his saga and told me that Pearl died in hospital that November, eight months after the last aerogramme, with her beloved Stanny by her hospital bed. She was cremated in London and her ashes were brought home by him soon after. There was a memorial service at the Methodist Church, Kollupitiya and her ashes were interred at the General Cemetery, Kanatte. Balasingham went back to England a few days later.

He told me that after Balasingham went back to the UK, the correspondence between them virtually ceased. He recalls receiving one letter in mid-1979 saying that Balasingham was proceeding to India and requesting that they curtail their correspondence for security reasons as he was hoping to get involved in Tamil politics.

L.M.A. next met Anton Stanislaus, then officially known as Dr. Anton Balasingham, in 1989 when he led the LTTE delegation for talks with the Premadasa Government in Colombo.

"We met at the Galadari Hotel and he cracked open a bottle of V.S.O.A, his favorite tipple. We had a few good laughs. He was still the ebullient and good humoured Stanny, telling us that he had psychoanalysed the entire government delegation he was facing at the talks and thought of them as very poor quality and easily intimidated except for Ranjan Wijeratne who passed muster," he said.

Balasingham told his friends he even knew the size of the underwear worn by the government negotiators and to win at negotiations one must know the character and thinking process of those sitting on the opposite side of a negotiating table.

They did not discuss the issues at hand for the peace talks in progress but L.M.A. felt that whatever his friend, Stanny, thought or said would be exactly what Prabhakaran would have thought and said.

==============

I had ended my appreciation of Anton Stanislaus Balasingham and last week I met L.M.A. and showed him the essay which I had compiled and sought his approval to have it published. Both of us sat down and we analysed my dissertation and came to the following conclusion;

He was;

A social psychologist, philosopher, intellectual……

I feel that I have put the "record straight’ as to who Anton Balasigham was purely on the essence of what he has written to his "affectionate friend" and influenced him as he would anyone reading his thoughtful and erudite letters.

That opinion would be that at the time Balasingham put pen to paper, writing from 1971 to about 1976, he is almost maniacal in his quest for knowledge, sincere to a close circle of friends he left behind at home, straight as a die and intolerant of subterfuge. He is a struggling and penurious emigrant in London studying psychology and psychoanalysis, leaving his ailing, bed-ridden wife only to attend lectures on his study subjects. He also gives the impression that he harboured Utopian dreams and was a hopeless romantic. Tigers, the LTTE and Prabhakaran are furthest from his mind.

Balasingham was in love with his wife to the very end and her untimely demise and his alliance with Adele Ann Wilby (who helped nurse his sick wife) soon after Pearl’s death seems pivotal in his transformation to collaborate with Prabhakaran who, according to Adele’s book "The Will to Freedom" invited them both to meet him in Chennai in 1979. That link was established then and remained until his death although he is quoted unofficially as saying that he was a moderate compared to the extremists in the movement.

OR

An egocentric, hypocritical, cunning adventurer

His letters to his "affectionate friend" were a facade and he pretended that he was a sensitive scholar and an idealistic husband, kind and caring to his wife.

He was, in fact, an adventurer, a "cowboy", who had found his niche secretly in an organisation to which he was willing to give his ideological and political support for murder and terror campaign with the same passion and fanaticism he gave his quest for learning and studies. It was the mind of a trained psychologist who got the killings of his own people done by less ignorant men and justified them as lessons in ideology.

He was clever enough to hide his real character from his wife, Pearl, a devout Methodist and this stance hardened and emerged from the closet after her death when he formed an alliance with Adele Wilby.

He then became a willing acolyte of Prabhakaran whom he psychoanalysed and found that he could provide himself a comfortable ‘piggy back’ ride to adventures which satisfied his ego and earned himself and his companion, Adele, a flourishing livelihood and moments of fame in history.

I now pass the ball to better and more competent Tiger Watchers who have not been privy to his letters to an "affectionate friend" to size and comment on Anton Stanislaus Balasingham.

Over to you: Dayan Jayatillke, D.B.S Jeyaraja, Jehan Perera, H.L.D. Mahindapala, Nalin de Silva, Nalin Swaris, Susantha Goonetilleke, et al.

 

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