MEET JAYAM RUTNAM
A man’s feet should be planted in his country, but his eyes should roam the world!° – George
The above proverb came to my mind spontaneously when I had good fortune of making the acquaintance of Mr. Jayam Rutnam. As the 5″ son of a Sri Lankan Tamil Doctor of Philosophy, Dr. James T Rutnam, and a Sinhala mother -Evelyn Wijayaratne, (sister of the Donalds Studio owner), belonging to the Colombo elite class, no doubt his childhood cum school days were spent, if not in the lap of luxury — in quite comfortable circumstances. As such, it stands to reason to expect him to be self-important, over indulgent, rather arrogant and lazy. But not so, our hero Jayam! At barely 21 years, bugged by the travel-itch, his eyes had begun to peer over the horizon into unknown lands in search of adventure! Perhaps, emboldened by the courageously defiant step taken by his eldest brother Rajah, who incidentally Happens to be the 1st Sri Lankan immigrant in US far back in 1952, and also his 2nd brother Chandran, Who followed in Rajah’s footsteps without delay, and who later became a renowned film director, Jayam too yearned to seek his fortune in ‘the land of opportunity!’
Jayam’s mother stands in front of their home known as Baron’s Court
It so happened that in addition to his natural curiosity and wanderiust, the passing away of his mother: at only $2 years, 1964, may have contributed considerably to his decision. Having travelled to and fro on several occasions to visit Rajah and Chandran, USA had taken the fancy of Evelyn Rutnam gradually. It had been her dream that the whole family should one day establish themselves in USA. After ber demise, with nothing to hold him back, her wish foremost in his mind, Jayam too decided to leave. Any quaims he may have had would have been dissipated due to his young age and excitement of challenge!
Chandran had been there to receive him when he arrived in 1966 and Jayam settled down in Southern California.
Hits father, Dr. James T. Rutnam, had been a well-known politician, businessman, philanthropist, journalist, and historian. Though well established in the shipping tade, he had an excessive Jove of research and leaming. He had owned 2 private library of books and research articles from University donations, researchers, leading legal figures, and businessmen. Scholars from far and wide had used the library freely. As an encouragement to young learners, this library had eventually been donated to Jaffna College.
(Indrani, Jayam, George, Padmini, James(Father), Rajah,Evelyn(mother),Iswari, Kshirabdhi(niece),Chandran and Dennis)
The bereavement from his beloved wife had been an irreparable blow to Dr. Rutnam. In her memory, The Evelyn Rutnam Institute for Intercultural studies- a non- profit organization, had been established on 10th May 1981. In Thirunelvely, Jaffna with the primary objective of facilitating inter-cultural relations and encouraging research into past and present cultures. This remains to this day under the care and control of the Jaffna University.
As regards his shipping business, Dr . Rutnam had the firm belief that Jayam would be best able to carry it forward. This led him to send Jayam to London to study at the Institute of Chartered Shipbrokers. Finishing his studies and a work stint there, he returned to Sri Lanka and carried on his father’s work for a brief period. Anyway, far away lands beckoned him and he went hither!
Once in USA, Jayam first opened a Sri Lankan — Indian Restaurant named Taj Mahal, in Hollywood, and had been hiding his time to get into shipping. When an opportunity had presented itself, he sold his restaurant, and joined a Shipping Company in California. Very soon, he had managed to achieve permanent acceptance among not only those in shipping but also the rest of the community. As he gained in experience, his connections with people of influence grew and very soon he had managed to suggest suitable positions for his other brothers in various Shipping Companies. He had even helped by coaching them in the work they had to do. With everyone comfortably settled and doing well, he felt that sending him to London for his studies by his father had paid off in the long run!
Not long after, he had gained promotion to the highest sale position in the company and then managed to form his own shipping Company and worked diligently till he felt that he should sell it and retire from the work.
Considering his life in USA, he had never been at a disadvantage due to his Asian origins. The beauty of American culture is such that, he had been regarded favorably, accepted, was never discriminated or felt prejudiced in all these 50 years!
Due to his early life in Colombo 7, associating with the cream of society, attending St. Joseph’s College and keeping company with British and American friends, and then being in London, he was well-acquainted with the Western way of life. In USA, he adjusted to the life smoothly and presumptuously as a duck takes to water. He was young, had enough money in his pockets, there was no supervision and plenty of attractions lay before him. Having always been enamored by the US culture, he had enjoyed the fantastic life of a free spirit to his heart’s content! Movies, meeting with cinema people, and other fun- things were his priorities.
At one point, his sister had been teaching in a school in California. He had often heard her talking about an Italian teacher who was her friends. But none of the family ever got to meet her until Jayam’s birthday party 2years hence It had indeed been a fteful meeting and almost without any delay Jayam had clicked with Gina! They had married with the blessings of both parties and each other’s rapport with the two families had been excellent at all times. At present, she works as a Mortgage Banker for a leading lending institution. Their daughter Aliki, is married with 2 kids already and the son Jean-Louis followed in the mother’s footsteps and works as a Mortgage Loan Officer at another lending institution in California.
Jayam Rutnam is acclaimed as one of 8 Sri Lankans who were the founders of the SLAASC- (The Sri Lankan American Association of Southern California.) It was in 1973 when the Sri Lankan population had been around 1000. (The statistics in 2010 shows that the number had risen to 65000).
The main objective of forming the SLAASC was to serve the Sri Lankan community in Southern California by fixing up a Community Center to gather to gather for social activities, celebrate Sri Lankan festivals like Sinhala – Tamil New Year, Vesak and so on and to ascertain the basic requisites of new Sti Lankans settling down in California. Arranging funerals for lonely Sri Lankans was another splendid service rendered by them.
Jayam had even been awarded for his dedicated services for Sri Lankan expatriates, by Dr. Walter Jayasinghe of the Sri Lanka Foundation. SLAASC Committee Members and others had met the then Foreign Minister, Mr.Lakshman Kadirgamer and were instrumental in establishing a Consul General’s Office in Los Angeles for issuing and renewing passports and for keeping Sri Lanka aloft in the world map. For the entertainment of the Sri Lankan expatriates, the SLAASC was first in bringing the Marians and Gypsies to Los Angeles and in 2006 produced the show, Swamamaya Raathriyal’ under the direction of Udeni Liyanage. Here, the Sri Lankan guest star, Malini Fonseka sang a duet with the Sri Lankan doctor, Lakshman Makandura.
Apart from the work in shipping and that of the SLAASC, Jayam used to wiite to Sci Lankan newspapers and also the San Gabriel Valley Examiner, as he had a flair for writing. This had not escaped the notice of his long-time friend Eugene Moses who was also the publisher of San Gabriel Valley Examiner. Jayam was recmuited as a reporter when he retired from his Shipping Company work in 2010. At present he works as a Senior Staff Reporter, writing about events in Glendora, such as The Memorial Day, Veterans’ Day, Independence Day, elections, candidates, schools, Boy Scouts, etc. He also writes feature stories and reviews new movies shown in California. His success as a writer depends on his innate style, finesse in writing, precision, accuracy and faimess. All events in Glendora are covered by him complete with pictures and Jayam delivers 2 plethora of stories disclosing exclusive accounts in a distinctive and remarkable Tanner. Thus he harmoniously meshes into the American society he loves and knows well
‘Aman, proud of the place where he lives, lives in such a manner that the place wil! be proud of him.”- Abraham Lincaln.
Jayam’s writing expertise also extends to a Sri Lankan newsletter called,’ Good news from Jayam’ which he publishes fortnightly. It is favorably received by the over 13000 subscribers worldwide. Acknowledging his emotional attachment to the place of his birth, Sri Lankan ‘good news’ is penned by him which the expatriates devour eagerly. His contention regarding this is that he wants to showcase the progressive aspect of the country when everyone else contributes only the adverse information. The only news item in his newsletter lacking positive attributes — nevertheless of much importance to Sri Lankans are the obituaries!
Jayam is careful to keep his newsletter impartial and unbiased both politically as well as ethnically.
Though most of his life was spent out of sri Lanka, he reiterates that his feelings for it are very high. These bond would perpetually make him elevate Sri Lanka in the world annals and every § years he visits renewing his memories.
Jayam speaks nostalgically about his ancestral home in Guildford Crescent, Colombo 7. Named ‘Baron’s Court’, the colonial mansion had been well located and tastefully furnushed!
The Rutnam children having left Sri Lanka, the house wes later sold. Eventually, the house was demolished to build a block of Embessies and homes. Hearing about it from his father, Jayam had rushed hither and tears pouring unheed, thay had watched it being pulled down. Jayam had got a brick from the floor of the house intact with cement and plaster,brought it to Los Angeles where he now lives, and had implanted it in the wall of his home. incidentally, the name of his present house is, “Baron’s Court!”
Written by: Subhadra Balasuriya