By S. Pathmanathan( Principle Emeritus, Palaly Teachers’ College)
A role model entrepreneur, P.Nadarajah passed away yesterday in his 69th year.
He rose from scrapes to be an industrialist, providing employment to hundreds of people. He was the founder of the Anna Industries. He had encouraged several small industries and had received several awards and titles by dint of his sheer hard work and entrepreneurship. He leaves behind his wife and three children.
We republish below an article titled “Anna Nadarajah – the symbol of perseverance” written by S.Pathmanathan (Principal Emeritus, Palaly Teachers’ Collage) published on Tamil Diplomat on 11 January 2015.
Inuvil is a typical Hindu Village that lies 5 km from Jaffna on the Kankesanthurai Road. It is inhabited by a humble people engaged in cultivating vegetables, tobacco and subsidiary food crops. Although the red loamy soil is fertile, underground water has to be used for irrigation. The wells are very deep. 65 – 75 years ago, well – sweeps operating in the farms were a common sight. Irrigation needed three people: one to draw water, one to go up and down the well – sweep and one to water the plots. Neighboring farms were owned by brothers / relatives who took turns to irrigate their plots. It was a well – knit community life which has suffered many changes over the last six decades.
Inuvil is a land of temples – some historic, like the Pararajasekara Pillaiyar temple and the Segararajasekara Pillaiyar temple which date back to the times of the Tamil kings of Jaffna. These temples have been the pivot on which community life turned. Priests, Musicians (esp. Nathaswara – thavil vidwans) and a host of minor craftsman engaged in temple service lived around the temples. It was through this set – up a very rich culture evolved. The foundations of this Hindu Culture was so strong that Christianity which had gained roots in Manipay and Uduvil could not intrude into Inuvil.
It was at Inuvil that Anna Nadarajah, the daring pioneer, the very embodiment of sheer hard work, was born in 1937, the eldest son of a humble farmer. He had six sisters, and a brother. What that means in the Jaffna Society ridden with the dowry system is anybody’s guess.
Anna had to find a job. At 20, he became a Tally clerk at the Colombo harbor. He quit the job in a few months. His stint at a Press did not last long. He returned to Jaffna to accept a job as a Road Supervisor. Had to stand in the hot sun. Once, when he was sitting on a rock boulder by the roadside, a passerby, an old man asked him : “Who are you? Why are you seated here, forlorn?”. When Nada told him what he was doing there, he commented: “Work hard when you are young. “Enjoy the fruits when you are old.” The old man went his way. Puzzled Nada asked the proprietor of Chandra Stores (opposite) he answered “Don’t you know him? He is the sage Yogar Swamy. I saw him patting you. You are blessed indeed!” In fact Nada had close contact with a host of sages who had their ashrams at Inuvil spending their time inspiring devotees through their tapas and meditation.
“Milkwhite” Kanagarajah, the legendary soap maker happened to notice the young Nada and condescended to chat with him. “Milkwhite” invited him to his factory. Nada who was on the lookout for a “job in the shade” opted to work there. But in was not enough to support a big family.
Nada now decided to try his hand at farming – not Jaffna a style, but on a large scale. He snatched the Government’s offer of 3 acres paddy land and 2 acres highland at Vavunikulam. The jungle had to be cleared. The colonists were expected to put up a shed for shelter and start cutting down the bushes, burn them, build a fence, till the land and do chena cultivation. For this challenging venture, the money had to come from home! Nada leased out the land and got back home, shattered.
Annamalai, the Siddha was made of a different stuff. His house at Sudumalai was a hive of activity. Patients would start arriving as early as 4 a.m and queue up for consultation. Treatment was free. Nada was staring at the notice which read “All those who arrive at God’s shrine are equal”. Annamalai was the magnet which drew Nada, the seeker. At his suggestion and under his guidance he started preparing herbal tooth powder. He labeled the product “Annamalai Ayurveda tooth powder”.
Milkwhite Kanagarajah inducted him into the Coffee Powder industry. Coffee was ground at home – the whole family participating in the production. Kanagarajah offered to take Nada in his vehicle on his selling spree. In 1959 Nada bought a grinder and the following year he bought an A 40. Kanagarajah was Nada’s role model. He was the innovator who produced Milkwhite Blue soap – the first one of its kind in the whole country. He had a passion for the propagation of the palmyra – theKatpaka Virutsha of the North. He used to take palmyra seeds in his lorry to the Vanni and the East. If the thirty – year war had not wiped out the palmyra palm, it was because of the groundwork done by Kanagarajah single – handed. Whatever he earned was used for the development of the community and the nation.
In 1975 Anna started his Agriculture Farm on the Maruthanamadam – Urumpirai road in a land adjoining the crematorium and therefore avoided by the people.
At Vasavilan Nada opened a vineyard on a partnership basis. Anna Farm became a model farm. It included Dairy, Poultry, Piggery, rabbit–rearing etc. and was visited by ministers Gamini Dissanayake and S.Thondaman. A wind mill was installed to generate power for the water – pumps. British M.P James Gill who visited the farm in 1982 was very much impressed
During the war, when fuel was scarce, production of bio – gas was another innovation. In the meantime, the industry was expanding gradually. Packeted rice flour, chilli powder, curry powder and coriander powder were introduced. Anna blue, Anna incense, Anna joss sticks were another range of products.
Jeevaakaram is a nutritious, tasty, balanced supplementary food especially developed for infants, children, pregnant and lactating mothers. It contains the following ingredients: soya, black gram and part–boiled red rice which is rich in starch and the main source of energy and essential vitamins. Soya and black gram provide essential protein, amino acids and fatty acids. It fulfilled the nutritional needs of a population that was affected by war. Anna happened to meet an expatriate Tamil doctor who had come to Sri Lanka to see his mother. On hearing about Jeevaakaram he undertook to popularize it abroad. He kept his promise.
A retail shop at the New market in the heart of Jaffna fulfilled the long-felt need of the public. A branch was opened at Vavuniya too. The next step was a branch at Kandana in the Ja – Ela district. This was followed by Anna International Private Ltd, the culmination of Nadarajah’s 33 year mission. Anna products were now available to the world at large – in particular to Sri Lankans living in North America, U.K, France, Switzerland, Germany, Australia and the Scandinavian countries.
As business prospered, Nada blossomed into a philanthropist, helping educational and religious institutions and other worthy causes. Through free booklets and pamphlets he sought to educate the community. In this he was inspired by Kanagarajah.
Nada’s life was not one of plain sailing. He had his ups and downs – trials and tribulations. As a young man he struggled with Poverty and family responsibilities.
Later on, it was the political upheaval the country was going through. Two important trials he faced need mention. The Indian Peace Keeping Force landed in July 1987. In a matter of months hostilities broke out between the IPKF and the LTTE. Combing up operations and arrests became the order of the day. Anna Industries (at Inuvil) was sheltering over 400 people of the area who thought it was a safer haven. The Peace Keepers were obviously impressed by the Meditation and Prayer meetings that were going on there. They even supplied some dry rations. But later on, when all civilians were suspect, Nada was taken into custody and detained at Palaly. He was not a young militant. He was 50, a respected community leader. Handcuffed, head shaven and humiliated he was kept there for two months. In the adjoining block he could hear the wail of women. He thought he might be shot. Was it going to be the end? Oh, no. Call it luck or God’s grace; once when he was taken to the hospital, Dr.S.Sivakumar examined him. He was his family doctor and he probably mentioned his case to those who mattered. He was released.
The next trial was in October 1995, the Sri Lankan Army launched the Riviressa operation to capture Jaffna. The LTTE decided to withdraw. They “advised” the civilians to evacuate Valigamam and move to Thenmaradchi and thence to the Vanni. No excuses. No exceptions. Anna Industries was forced to pull out – lock, stock and barrel. It was no easy task. Nada and his workforce found accommodation at Meesalai. Anna’s grinders now rolled in cadjan sheds. Six months passed. The army was bent on taking over Thenmadadchi. The LTTE withdrew to the Vanni. Most of the people followed suit. Same opted to get back to Valigamam, now under army control. Nada’s brother Vivekananthan returned to Inuvil with the machinery they had at Meesalai.
Nada crossed the lagoon through Kilali with part of the equipment he had and re – started the Industry at Kilinochi. But with the escalation of war, Anna Industries shifted to Vavunikulam – to the very land Nada had cleared in 1958. The war caught up with them there too. They moved to Jeyapuram in Mannar.
Plagued by war, economic sanctions, scarcity of spares and the need to support the workforce that was following, the future looked bleak. But Nada still had hope. His Faith – faith in God and Man – seemed to work. The A- 9 high way to Jaffna was opened. The Industry had suffered heavy losses but with bank loans and a committed workforce it was gradually able to commence production in full swing. Anna rose like the mythical phoenix from his own ashes.
This is the story of a man who came up in life the harder way, who refused to accept defeat, reversals and disasters, who didn’t run away from the country when it was going through the darkest period of its history, who stood by his workers like a loving father.
Today Anna Industries towers over all other small industries making its presence felt in the North and the South, at home and abroad, thanks to the untiring efforts of Nadarajah.