By P.B. Sawant Former Judge, Supreme Court of India
It was, I believe, 1993. The occasion was the Conference of the Chief Justices of the countries in the Asia Pacific region in Colombo and I was representing my Chief Justice. As soon as I, accompanied by my wife, entered the Colombo Airport on my arrival from India I was met by a tall, handsome person with a smiling face and friendly eyes.
As I learnt soon after, the imposing personality with the winning smile was none other than Justice Ramanathan, then a judge of the Supreme Court of Sri Lanka. It was a friendship at first sight and we became friends forever. To our added delight we met Mano his endearing and ever-caring wife, during our first dinner hosted by the Prime Minister of Sri Lanka. The couple, devoted to each other, made a lasting impression on us.
As days passed, many facets of Justice Ramanathan’s personality started unfolding. Although never in politics, he had a clear grasp of the political situation in the country and also in the world. He didn’t mince his words when expressing views on both and showed rare understanding and perception, in the analysis of the social, political and economic forces at work. His keen intellect and wide learning were manifest in the discussion on various issues, and he expressed his views emphatically though non-offensively. With all his attainments he was unassuming, courteous and respectful towards others and his suavity never left him, even for a moment, although the topics under discussion were controversial.
As a judge, he acquitted himself with distinction with statesmanlike handling of the cases before him, and endeared himself both to the Bar and the litigants. In my sojourns in Sri Lanka, I never heard any criticism of his judicial work. He was as popular in the social circles as in the legal world. His broad outlook, helpful attitude, friendly gestures and sportsmanlike spirit, which all came to him naturally helped him not only to become a popular judge but also a popular man.
The prestigious positions which he occupied outside his judicial career, only cast lustre on his many faceted personality-whether it was the governorship of the Western Province, the Chancellorship of the Uva Wellessa university or membership of the Permanent Council of arbitration at Hague. No wonder, the country honoured such a personality with the country’s highest award Deshamanya.
Such persons are rare in any society. When people like us, his friends abroad, feel so much acute loss on his sudden and untimely departure from amongst us, it is not possible to guess the grief his countrymen must have suffered, when he took leave of them quietly and without warning. And how can we console his ever energetic wife Mano who always stood by his side like a rock, ever caring and ever inspiring him in all his trials and tribulations.