The independent

Mrs Subramanium is the personal assistant to the head of one of Jaffna’s most popular newspapers. She reflects on her approach to life and death and why, despite the constant pleas from her diasporan family, she refuses to leave Jaffna. Photography by Kannan Arunasalam.

Join the discussion: 18 comments

  • Kannan Arunasalam says:

    My parents, like many other Jaffna families decided to emigrate to London in the 70s. But there were those who steadfastly refused to leave, irrespective of the war. People like Mrs Subramanium, who for 17 years has worked as the secretary to the owner of Jaffna’s most popular daily newspaper, Uthayan. As I arrived they were printing the last pages for that day’s edition. Large archaic machines rattled as Uthayan went to press. Mrs Subramanium was a one woman hive of activity, manning the phones and typing up letters. She’d been working for hours, but her starched sari was still crisply in place and there was a neatness and compressed energy to her movements. She’s 83, and still has no plans to retire!

    Mrs Subramanium was born and brought up in Jaffna. She went to Chundukuli school, a popular girls school in Jaffna – my mother’s old school. Mrs Subramanium became something of a legend on the sports ground. For decades, there’s been a steady stream of people leaving the conflict ridden north including several members of Mrs Subramanium‘s family. But, despite their repeated pleas for her to follow, she refuses to leave her job or her home.

  • Sharni Jayawardena says:

    A simply beautiful story. I wish we could comment on some individual photos. Some great ones here.

  • Ashanthi says:

    I guess until we, Tamils and Sinhalese, start talking about the violence that this old woman works in there will be no point in telling her story.

    I think you need to read between the lines. Hard for those who are not on the receiving end to do.

    She is a legend, a saint and probably a relative. You’ve got her, we haven’t. What’s the solution?

  • mp1 says:

    Beautiful photography capturing simplicity at its best. Mrs. Subramanium is wise and simplicity has given her contentment, as reflected in her demeanour.

  • Dominic Sansoni says:

    What an inspiring collection – the words, the pictures. THANK YOU – and so looking forward to more interviews (and many more pictures…)

  • Chavie says:

    Couldn’t have said it better than Dom, keep up this brilliant, brilliant work, and I wish you all the best! Thank you for doing this! :)

  • Helga De Silva Perera says:

    Thank you for this. Totally inspiring, wonderful collection of interesting, lovely people…Great shots telling their own stories …Looking eagerly forward to more. Inspired…THANK YOU.

  • Nancy Fernando says:

    Here is a woman of substance, hats off to her.

  • Nelum Gamage says:

    I wish I had met her.

    A courageous story of a simple lady…the pictures capture her simplicity, courage and also her beauty!

    This is indeed a fantastic web site…
    I am sorry I did not see this earlier so that I could have at least had a glimpse of this great lady.

  • Martina Mascarenhas says:

    Wow…love the idea behind this project…inspiration is what everyone needs every now and then and this definitely does exactly that. You have an amazing eye…it’s truly wonderful to see these individuals and learn their stories. It provides an insight into what they go through and have gone through in the past and lends a strong voice. Looking forward to more stories and more voices! Cheers.

  • Nia_Murphy (Nia Murphy) says:

    ‘simplicity is the mark of genius’ Make some tea & spend a few hours with the @iam_project, Sri Lanka.

  • myooran says:

    I’m proud to say that I’ve worked with this “iron lady”…Mrs Subramanium…brings back memories of the good old days…

  • Gayathri Fernando says:

    At first I was lost in her VOICE, it was so REAL, so hauntingly Sri Lankan from a generation that is at the end of its era. In the South, in Dehiwela, resides a lady who is Sinhalese who speaks in the same tones of Mrs S. I close my eyes and I cry for the pathos in this VOICE. I am an oral history enthusiast. Thank you Kannan, thank you.

  • Helga De Silva Blow Perera says:

    Lovely, strong, woman. Much to be admired.

  • I AM | Ranga de Silva says:

    […] all but there’s an interesting clip about a lady living and working in Jaffna. (Follow link She talks about her experiences during the conflict and about the incident at the cement factory. […]

  • magerata says:

    I wish many more people listen to her. Thank you for this and all other stories you have woven.

  • Siva Sivakumar says:

    I endorse Mrs. S’s view. It’s better to be in Jaffna rather than emigrate to a foreign country and fall in line with them. Otherwise you will be hurting the sponsors and you will also get hurt. Hats off madam and I bow down to you. God bless.


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